Month: July 2016

Jim Croce, Communication, and Social Media

I will rarely ever get political on social media anymore. There is just so much to communication that gets lost between the transmitter and the receiver when the only medium for that which is being communicated is the printed word. I can type something with the intent of it meaning one thing, and you or anyone else could read something entirely different. It happens enough when I post something as trivial as a Seinfeld meme; I can only imagine how it much worse it would pan out if I tried to posit my unsolicited political opinion into the mix.

It’s because social media lacks the other, more qualifiable elements of communication. Elements like vocal intonation and body language and even the very pretextual relationship between the transmitter and the receiver – anything from barely being acquaintances all the way to being the best of friends for years – just aren’t there. And since those elements – the vessels of communication in general – are lacking, the true communication of the message is in jeopardy.

One time, I tried. I really did. It involved a blog post that I have since deleted, but I tried. I wrote one of those “open letters” that contained my unsolicited political voice to a certain group of people. I took it down for three reasons: one, because I did not know the full situation until after I had published my post; two, I was publicly shaming other fellow believers – something Jesus himself was totally against (heck, He was against publicly shaming people in general); and three, deep down, I just did it for the clicks.

Nowadays, I just stick to the finer things in life: family pictures, theological maxims, brief but pertinent social quips, movie reviews, podcasts, Seinfeld memes, and the occasional pun. Of course, I’ll also share any creative endeavor via this blog – like poetry, short stories, and what not – but not much else. Not much else intrigues me anyway, so.

It saddens me, though, to see others fighting on social media. Fathers and sons, husbands and wives, high-school friends (former and current), religious and non-religious, everyone is at odds with someone. I know it’s just the way things are; people are people, and “you do you” and all that, but it doesn’t excuse the maliciousness, vitriol, and disrespect on either side.

Then again, if there really is no moral arbiter, then who am I to say who’s right and who’s wrong? In both their messages and the words through which they send them?

Either way, here’s some Jim Croce.


My Month at Regent

“Instructions for living life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”
— Mary Oliver

Last month, I attended Regent University’s three-week theatre residency program. Monday through Thursday from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM was the Acting class, and Tuesday through Friday from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM was the Directing class. I was one of eight students in the program, and we are all stuck together during those three weeks. The training was intense – at times, abrasive and even sharpening – but looking back on it now, I am so glad I went.

The brightest point for me was getting to meet the professors. Both were (and still are) working professionals in the field, and both have let their love for God instruct their paths. April Poland (Acting) has been a professional actor in Seattle since 2003 and has somehow found the time to teach theatre at the College of William and Mary during the academic year in addition to teaching at Regent for the summer.

BUT! There’s also Dr. Gillette Elvgren, Jr. (Directing), who has been doing his playwright and directing across the world for the past thirty years, and even though he’s technically retired from teaching full-time, he still makes time to help out Regent whenever he’s called upon. It was a blessing to experiment under their tutelage, and I’m thankful for them.

First day of class, I thought April was a student, and then this five-foot-something ball of fire starts stretching and warming up. She began each class with a round of warm-ups; everything from stretching the facial muscles and vocal chords to rolling down the spine. April’s mission then was to get us to understand the difference between “action” and “tactics” and “being present in the moment” and “remembering to take time to be astonished in those moments” and that one of the harshest and cruelest things an actor can do to an audience is to expect them to overlook his or her not being in that moment.

To be honest, I think a lot of her words went over my head while I was there, but I think that now – since I’m a couple of weeks removed from the whole thing – it’s all starting to click. Then again, I can say that sitting down, but I won’t know until I get back up and start practicing what she preached. I want to play.

(One thing I think I’ve realized about myself during this month is that whenever I “learn” something new, I have to play it out without being enraptured within a flux in order to fully grasp it. Sixteen-week courses being crunched down into three-week courses – for me, at least – creates a flux. It’s an intense pressure…like the middle part of an hourglass – a bottleneck, if you will – and, again, for me, it’s difficult to soak in the knowledge without it being distorted by the time constraint.

BUT! That’s just me. Not making excuses, just giving the reason.)

TBB - Directing

Gil began each class with a Bible reading and a prayer. Then, it’s off on the Gil Train. Careful now, though: if you ain’t in the right car, you’re gonna get steamrolled. For my personal example, I thought I had a good concept for Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. Well, it may have been decent enough for the scene I was assigned, but it would have not nor would it have ever been good for the rest of the play. Gil quickly told me to nix it and come up with something else. At the time, it hurt, yes, but I knew that Gil knew better than I did, so I trusted in him, and I actually came up with something that I personally think was better – more workable, more playable.

Gil’s got a certain quality, though, for encouraging what works and dousing what doesn’t. And whenever he saw something that did work on the whole but still needed some tinkering, he would gracefully explain what did work and why, then exclaim “BUT!”, and then proceed to mold and craft and elevate the scenes to new places. He’s an older gentleman, but that didn’t stop the gleam in his eye and the fire within him when he saw a good idea that needing prodding or a bad idea that needed quenching – when he saw something that “really cooked” and something that…well, didn’t.

Second best part was getting to know the classmates. Like I said earlier, there were only eight of us students in the program, and we all spent a lot of time together – class time during the day and self-disciplined rehearsal at night. Some I had already known (kinda-sorta) through the online classes I took in the Spring, and some I had met for the first time while there. For the ones I already *knew* from the online courses, it was nice to finally put a living face and a beating heart to those entities behind the discussion board posts.

And these fellow students hailed from all kinds of backgrounds. A stage director and a collegiate technical director came from Mississippi, a high school theatre teacher of twenty years came from Georgia, a recently made high school theatre teacher and a professional Michael Chekhov actor came from Florida, another high-school-age theatre teacher came all the way from Arizona, and a practitioner fresh out of Regent’s undergrad program. We were all strangers in the beginning, and now…well, we’re all Facebook friends…BUT! I know what while we were there, we were a family, and it was so refreshing to have all of them there.

To say that the whole experience was anything shy of a blessing would be a lie. I know I consider myself blessed and encouraged and even provoked to use these new storytelling skills and start implementing them whenever I can. And no, I still don’t know what form that will take, but I do know – now, with certainty – that I am closer to meeting that goal because of my month at Regent.


It was one of those movies I had always heard about when growing up; “Ah, that movie’s so good,” someone would ineffable praise, or “Ugh, that movie’s so long” someone else would particularly complain. Even Seinfeld had an episode in which Jerry and his flavor-of-the-week girlfriend were caught “making out” by the villainous Newman during a screening – an action with which Newman reached out to Jerry’s parents who later chastised their son for such shameful behavior.

Then over the past year, as I’ve frequently met with a group of great friends for a weekly Bible study / encouragement session, I’ve been prompted by two others in the group – one a filmmaking aficionado and the other, well, just a lover of Christian stories in general (even if the stories don’t necessarily mention “Christ”) – to watch the movie. Upon hearing of its three-hour-and-fifteen-minute screen time, I initially shied away. But as I’m discovering more and more recently, shyness is a crutch, and sometimes, ya just gotta go for it.

That being said, I’ve finally watched Schindler’s List, and the first thing that comes to my mind is Steven Spielberg’s penchant for bringing real-life heroes like Nazi businessman Oskar Schindler to the public eye on such a grand scale that he did. Had not it been for this film, I wouldn’t have even known about Mr. Schindler’s crafty ways of saving almost 1,200 Jews from being slaughtered in the Holocaust. Like he does with Tom Hanks’s character James Donovan in the more recently released Bridge of Spies, Spielberg has a knack for properly displaying the diamonds of this rough world. He gives us, in visceral detail, examples to follow – an extraordinary gift that any storyteller wants.

Was Oskar Schindler, as depicted in the film, a perfect man? No. He drank, he womanized, and he initially only wanted the Jews to work in his factory because they were cheap labor. Was Oskar Schindler, as depicted in the film, a Christ-figure? No. He didn’t let himself be captured and kill so that the Jews under his care go free and never to be caught or punished again. Oskar Schindler, in the end, was just a man; however, he was a man who did what great things he could with what few resources he had (or had swindled from other wealthy entities).

That is the take-away not just for Christians but for anyone: to take what you have and use it to save the lives of your fellow human beings even if they are of a different ilk (religion, race, etc.). Life is life, and to stand idly by when anyone is arbitrarily taking life from other people is just as bad as committing the initial atrocity. Oskar must have resonated with that sentiment, or else he wouldn’t have gone to such lengths to save those lives.

SCHINDLERS LIST Liam Neeson Ben Kingsley

Furthermore, we can glean from Schindler’s List an example of how what we do in the present affects what happens in the future. Our actions in the here and now can and will change for either better or worse the then and thereafter. Because of Schindler’s saving of those 1,200 Jews of his present, thousands more still live and thrive today from the original Schindlerjuden. Spielberg shows this beautifully as, at the end of the film, he shows the real Holocaust survivors walk to Schindler’s own grave and place a commemorative stone on the marker.

The scene that got me the hardest, though, happens after it has been announced that the Allied Powers have just liberated the Jewish people and that the Nazi Party will (in a sense) stand in a tribunal before those Powers. Schindler and his Jewish confidante Itzhak Stern are escorting the Jewish factory workers to the front gates of his plant’s campus, and Schindler breaks down in tears with the guilt that he couldn’t save more lives than what he did. He points a car that he could have sold for scrap and bought ten more Jews, then he snatches his swastika lapel pin and – as if realizing that it was made of gold for the first time – grieves the idea that he could have sold that pin and bought two more Jews. He keeps looking around him – at all the faces of the people he’s just delivered from death – and he still feels inadequate. Stern rushes to his friend’s side as Schindler’s legs buckle from beneath him, and soon after that, others surround Stern and his broken friend in a love and support that will stir anyone looking on it.

It’s easy to feel like we haven’t done enough for God. To be frank, He killed His own Son on our behalf just so we could once again be called “righteous” in His sight – a mandate not even Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish faith, could obey. What’s worse, though, is when we let that feeling of “not being equal” with God stop us from even trying to obey Him in the first place. Again, to know of others’ afflictions and not do anything about them – even if it’s just because we don’t know how to start – is just as horrendous as causing their affliction. (I only keep typing it out so that maybe I can begin to let it affect me like it should.)

There’s a lot to learn from just this one viewing, and I’m sure I’ll pick up on the deeper-deeper things as I proceed to rewatch it a few more times. Meanwhile, if you’re one of the few people still living under the proverbial rock and still haven’t seen Schindler’s List, now’s a good time to remedy that. Heck, given how certain faith groups and nationalities are being persecuted even in our own time, one can’t help but wonder if Schindler’s example can be somehow revived as a means of present grace in a presently ungraceful political landscape. The List, after all, is life – and life is life, no matter what.

Whatever the case, now I just wanna relish in the fact that Oskar Schindler trained Batman.