christian

Francis A. Schaeffer on Christians and Art

From my Theatre Research and Aesthetics class at Regent University, I’ve obtained a compilation called The Christian Imagination: The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing. The assigned portions of the text were made free for the class, but I found what little bit we had to read all so compelling that I had to buy the book for myself.

I’ve yet to read anything else besides the assigned readings, but it has essays from J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Flannery O’Connor, George MacDonald, G.K. Chesterton, and so many others that have incorporated their Christian worldview into the storytelling. These writers let their worldview guide their artistry, and their work is acclaimed by those within and without the faith (well, except maybe that Jesus lion Lewis incessantly droned on about).

One author I want to focus on now is Francis A. Schaeffer. He was a prominent evangelical apologist in the last three decades of the 20th Century, and he had a lot to say about the Christian worldview and its confrontation with art. At times, he may seem legalistic and uber-authoritative, but he makes several fine points – one of which being this thought on regarding the “technical excellence” of an artwork as a criterion for discerning its greatness:

By recognizing technical excellence as an aspect of an artwork, we are often able to say that while we do not agree with such and such an artist’s world view, he is nonetheless a great artist. We are n ot being true to the artist as a man if we consider is artwork junk simply because we differ with his outlook on life.

The older me would not have seen the social and even spiritual grace reflected in these words. “If the artist isn’t a Christian,” I would often think, “then they can’t possibly make anything good.” And “if they are a Christian,” conversely, “then whatever they make will be good.” Growing up, that was the way I learned how to think. It’s how many of those in my circle and many more of those who share the Christian faith with have been raised and reared to think. Schaeffer addresses this phenomenon:

Christian schools, Christian parents, and Christian pastors often have turned off young people at just this point. Because [they] did not make a distinction between technical excellence and content, the whole of much great art has been rejected with scorn and ridicule.

I don’t bring it up to shame anybody. In fact, I’m sure that whatever choices were made in my own upbringing regarding cultural engagement were made in my best interest. We all know of those movies we weren’t supposed to watch for Reason A and those songs we weren’t supposed to listen to for Reason B. It’s a fine line, though, between rightfully “guarding our hearts” and shutting ourselves off from the world we’re called to rescue.

I’m not saying everyone should go watch anything that would sear their conscience, but you can’t tell me that The Shawshank Redemption – in all its beautiful, horrible depictions of reality – isn’t a story teeming with the Gospel.

Schaeffer concludes his point on technical excellence thusly:

Instead, if the artist’s technical excellence is high, he is to be praised for this, even if we differ with his world view. Man must be treated fairly as man. Technical excellence is, therefore, an important criterion.

I may not have been exposed to vastly different worldviews in artform had it not been for my collegiate theatre experiences. For example, I played Moonface Martin in Motlow’s 2010 production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes! Moonface was a gangster on the run from the law, and his only way to evade the coppers was to disguise himself as a priest while aboard the S.S. American (the setting of the play).

While the role was fun to play (one of my favorites to date), I remembered being slightly deflated when I learned that that was how Cole Porter perceived the Christian faith and those who believed in it: clumsy thugs and criminals disguised as priests and holy men. After researching some more about Cole’s personal life, I could only sympathize with him on his point.

TBB - Moonface Martin

I know what you’re thinking…pics or it didn’t happen…so here ya go.

The difference in worldviews didn’t stop me and the rest of the cast from enjoying our time together in the show, nor did it stop the audience from enjoying themselves as they watched it.

All that to say that one doesn’t have to be a Christian to make good art, and not everything that a Christian artist makes will be good art.

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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.

Finally Saw SCHINDLER’S LIST

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.

The Devil At Work (a poem)

Most people think that the devil at work
is a creature with horns, a red cape, and a fork
that sneaks up behind us and tells us to sin
whenever we’re tempted to stumble again.

That could be the case if the devil were God
and was at one time everywhere and abroad
and actually used all the power we give him
instead of the fear in which he has been livin’.

But all our mistakes and the folly we live in
result from the chances we think we’ve been given
and choices we make when we try to be level;
the devil just doesn’t have time to be “devil.”

The devil at work isn’t worth the explorin’ –
our pride and our lust will do all the work for him.

This is an image of a hollow tree.

More or Less (a poem)

Is anybody right anymore?
Can anybody say the right thing anymore?
Can anybody do the right thing anymore?
Can anybody stand up for the right thing anymore?

More or less.

Will anybody fight anymore?
Can anybody keep the fight up anymore?
Can anybody let the fight down anymore?
Can anybody stand up and fight back anymore?

More or less.

Is anybody light anymore?
Can anybody leave the light on anymore?
Can anybody turn the light out anymore?
Can anybody let their own light shine anymore?

Moral-less.

This is an image of an outdoor archery range in a wooded area.

Searching for Better Ways: A Reflection on Eugene O’Neill and Hitting the Mark

While working backstage for the Fly Arts Center’s most recent play Daddy’s Dyin’ Who’s Got The Will, I was aptly reminded of how creatively taxing and draining being in a production on either side of the curtain is.

For the actors on stage, they were telling the story by creatively blending the playwright’s words, the director’s blocking instructions, and their own vivifying actions. They were actively listening to and watching each other to ensure everything that needed to be said and done was in fact and indeed said and done. (If anything, this is another image of how engaging live theatre is for the players as well as the audience.) The story on the spectrum of “light” and “dark” spanned all the way from comical levity and lightheartedness to antagonistic gravitas. And it takes a deep well of creativity for an ensemble cast that can constantly vary and navigate its position on that spectrum, especially while maintaining that energy in front of an audience.

I was in a wholly different world backstage. My job wasn’t to entertain and divert the audience; instead, it was my duty to help the actors fulfill that role by providing them the property – simply, the props – with which to continue to tell the story realistically. I had cues just like everyone else, except my reactions to those cues weren’t spoken; instead, my response was handing from a cup of coffee to a full pot roast dinner to an actress so she could “act” like her character has just prepared it as if she were real person bringing these food items from a real kitchen. Very engaging stuff.

We closed the show Sunday. If you got a chance to see the show, I honestly hope you enjoyed yourself. For myself, the cast, and the rest of the crew, we are worn tired and are spending this week in recovery mode.


It’s here that I want to draw attention to the words of one of modern theatre’s founding fathers Eugene O’Neill.

A man’s work is in danger of deteriorating when he thinks he has found the one best formula for doing it. If he thinks that, he is likely to feel that all he needs is merely to go on repeating himself. I certainly haven’t any such delusion. And so long as a person is searching for better ways of doing his work he is fairly safe.

Eugene O’Neill was an Irish American playwright in the Golden Age of Broadway (late 1890’s to late 1930’s) who focused his work on the gritty fringes of society as opposed to the “high life” that the rest of the Golden Agers were highlighting in their plays.

O’Neill’s words here should resonate with Christians on several levels (unfortunately including the brief blip of braggadocio). I want to focus on emboldened phrase “searching for better ways.”

The phrase alludes to a true Standard that we – not just as people in general – will often fall short while trying to meet, even though we hope to meet it with every attempt.

Imagine an archery range. You’ve got the tools you need – simply the bow and the arrow – with you on your side and the target on the other. You know that you at least have to load the arrow in the bow, but from there everything is a technique. employed to hit the bullseye. How far back “should” you pull? How high “should” you tilt your bow? How much “should” I allot my actions for undetermined gusts of wind that may or may not affect my shot?

Finally you shoot, and you either hit the mark or miss the mark. Any more shooting after this point is then determined by either the hitting or the missing. When we miss, we subsequently strive to hit, and when we hit, we subsequently strive to keep hitting. Welcome to being human: the constant struggle between hitting the mark and missing the mark.


So let me encourage you here.

Remember all the times when you have missed the mark. Remember how bad it felt to miss and how guilty you felt for missing it. Bring that to God, and let him carry it.

Now remember all the times when you have hit the mark. Remember how good it felt to hit and how fulfilled you felt for hitting it. Bring that to God, and let him increase it.

This is an image from the music video of the song SAVE ME by Gotye.

Christian Salvation in Gotye’s “Save Me”

In 2012, musical artist Gotye released his third studio album Making Mirrors.

This album was catapulted to international fame because of its third track “Somebody That I Used To Know” (click the link if you want to add to the over-500-million-and-ever-increasing YouTube views); however, I believe the best song on the album is the eleventh track, “Save Me.”

For this post, we’ll look at this song at how it can serve as a signpost that can point people back home to God.

But first, if you haven’t already (or if you want to again, like I do), listen to the song.


These convicting lyrics, though.

Something like a story exists in the lyrics of this song because they feature a conflict that is resolved in the end.

The persona of the poetry starts out by showing us how he was once in a state of hopelessness:

In the mornings, I was anxious,
was better just to stay in bed;
didn’t want to fail myself again.

Running through all the options, and the endings
were rolling out in front of me;
but I couldn’t choose a thread to begin.

Before the change, he was in a constant state of worry and anxiety so heavy and burdensome that he didn’t even want to get out of bed because a step out of bed would be a step toward recurring failure.

And even though he wanted to alleviate his distress, he was so overwhelmed by all the ways to do it that he became metaphorically paralyzed.

In the first chorus, he shows us how far down he really is in his despair because he can’t love:

And I could not love
’cause I could not love myself;
“never good enough, no”
that was all I’d tell myself.

And I was not well,
but I could not help myself;
I was givin’ up on livin’.

His deepest and scariest realization wasn’t that he’s hurting but that he couldn’t help himself; he needed something or someone stronger than himself to pull him out of this pit. And he needed this helping hand fast because he was on the verge of suicide.

In the second verse, however, the persona turns and introduces us to another figure into the narrative:

In the morning, you were leaving,
travelling south again,
and you said you were not unprepared.

And all the dead ends and disappointments
were fading from your memory;
ready for that lonely life to end.

The persona is now remembering a time when this other person was ready to leave him.

But something changed in the other’s mind, and they decided to not only stay but rescue the persona from his own depression with love:

And you gave me love
when I could not love myself;
and you made me turn
from the way I saw myself.

And you’re patient, love,
and you help me help myself
and you save me.

The glory thus shines for our persona. He is reinvigorated with the love shown by the other, and his sense of self-worth is revived. Ultimately, the other has rescued – yes, saved – our persona.


Just Like How Jesus Saves Us

I can identify and sympathize with the persona of this piece in that I’ve hit some immobilizing low points in my life. They were the kind of troughs that I couldn’t climb out of alone.

Even though I haven’t been diagnosed with clinical depression, it does run in my family, and I have several friends who either have been or still are thus afflicted (some who didn’t come out of their own troughs alive). I’ve been as close to depression as one can get without being there myself, and I can tell you that the sentiment of the first half of the song is accurate.

But when I realized that I couldn’t save myself from my own pit, that’s when I realized that I needed someone else – an “other” – to help me out. Such is the human condition when we realize that we’re not as good as we think we are. From here, we then realize that we deserve nothing more than to be abandoned by the God who we betray and crucify every time we want something more than Him and His love.

This hopelessness and despair is where our Lord and Savior’s hand reaches down and saves us. Whenever we forget how to love, He reminds us by loving us; when we feel like we’re worth nothing and don’t mean anything to anyone, this love restores the value within us.

Jesus is even so patient with us that He is willing to walk with us for the rest of our earthly lives and even throughout our heavenly perpetuity.

All of the above is how He loves us and continually saves us.

This is an image of the front facade of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Waiting In Line At The Holocaust Museum

Until now, I’ve neglected to share anything from my trip to Washington, D.C. As impactful as it was, I’ve been too busy ever since I returned home to solidify any thoughts and type any of them down (but that’s no excuse, and I know it).

These images, however, has been stuck with me ever since. It’s not a burden, though; I’m actually glad I was able to capture them. I didn’t know why I needed to take these pictures when I did, but I did anyway because I felt like it needed to be done (attribute it to being an INFJ if you must).

We begin at the waiting line of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

After driving through the Sunday night/Monday morning, we were too pooped for anything major on Monday night. Bright and early Tuesday morning, however, we were greeted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. However, we spent a good amount of time in the wrong waiting line. Apparently, we were lining up for specially guided Foreign Language tours. We didn’t know why we felt like we were on the back end of the Tower of Babel until some tour guides who could speak English were able to help us out.

Thankfully, they showed us where our waiting line was, and we booked it to the spot: a brick wall with built-in concrete benches that faced the side of the museum’s building and separated from it by a sidewalk.

I sat looking at two different edifices: the steel and the brick.

From my bench, my line vision of divided in half: the cold, gray steel on one side, and the natural red brick on the other. There exists an interesting, intriguing, and even poetic juxtaposition between the two.

This is an image of the outside wall of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Nuts and bolts bullet the steel frame which held the panels in place, and I think of the Nazi party and as “structured” and “firm” it was on the outside thanks to the facade its leaders gave it. This trait is also found in the harsh exterior of the concentration camps and the grotesque devaluation of human life which was housed and perpetuated within them.

The opposing brick then made me think of the people who were left on the outside of this stronghold and left defenseless: the Jews themselves. They began just as clay does as it is removed from its home in the subterranea of the earth and ended in being removed from the crematoria just as a horde of brick is removed from the kiln.

They were the bricks upon which the Nazis built their power and would have continued to fuel had not the camps been liberated.

It’s in this “liberation” where the branch in this picture comes in.

In this next picture, we see the steel panels and the brick wall side by side in the background. In the foreground, however, is a branch from a thankfully well-placed shade tree – one of many that also lined our concrete benches.

This is an image of the outer side of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with a sole branch in front of it.

The branch in the picture then becomes a symbol of everyone that came into the camps and abolished them. Armed forces from Great Britain, France, Canada, and the United States all stepped up and did their best to rescue any survivors from these hell-houses.

Because of these actions, the world was being prepared to be put back to rights, people could see the light at the end of the tunnel…

…and the value of human life was revived.

That’s what we have to remember about this whole ordeal, I believe.

Sometimes, we want to remember only the bad, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is full of plenty of the bad that the Jews went through – two out of four floors of it, to be exact.

It’s easy to not want to stop thinking about these atrocities because we see it all around us still today among the different peoples of the world, and we kinda put ourselves in a bottleneck of perception where we can only see what’s closest to us and lose all hindsight and foresight.

But the branch still grows, and life goes on. That’s the beauty of how God’s world works, and that should encourage you as much as it does me.

This is an image of a modern soldier's helmet.

The Helmet of Salvation

For the helmet of salvation that we don

and the trouble that we have to keep it on,

it’s no wonder that we falter

with the mind of a defaulter

when the hope to rest in Paradise is gone.