Category Archives: Media

“Spring” fueled by vulnerability and emotion.

spring awakening

Top left, Adam Cerny and Anastasiya Newkirk as Melchior and Wendla. Top right: Aaron Lord as Moritz and Tina Hayz as Melchior’s Mother (and all other female adults). Bottom right: Cerny as Melchior

When I saw Spring Awakening for the first time, I had no idea what to expect. I knew that it was ‘R’ rated. I had seen on Wikipedia that some of the songs have adult language, and that it is about teenagers exploring the very adult themes of sexuality, suicide, abortion, faith, and doubt. I knew not to bring my daughter, but I had no idea what I was in for.

I had no idea that I would be treated to one of the most emotionally charged, passionate performances I have ever seen. That was 2014, when the Center for Living Arts presented Spring Awakening for the second time. I was so dumbfounded by the performance that for the first time in my life, I saw the same show again on the following weekend.

This time when I saw it, on Opening Night 2016, I had no excuse to be surprised. And yet shocked I was.

Shock is a dangerous word to use when describing art. There is a lot of art out there that is designed to simply shock. It has little value other than to cause disgust, hoping that it draws eyes in the same way that an auto accident draws gapers.

And while there are moments that can be described as shocking, that is never the point. Yes, lyrics like “totally f-ed” (which is sung with passionate, emotional, perfect articulation of a word that rhymes with ‘ducked’), and “it’s the bitch of living,” might give you a jolt. But the point is not to swear – it is to express a rage that rises under the weight of suppression and finally boils over in, dare I say, a climactic release.

Yes, watching a young man beg his Dad for another minute in the bathroom is a little uncomfortable. But the point is to show that the shame that the adults have attached to sexuality. It is to show that privacy is precious, and sometimes hard to come by.

Yes, watching the female cast explore their (totally clothed) bodies with their hands as they sing “Touch Me” made me feel a little like a dirty old man watching something I shouldn’t be watching. But the point is not to arouse. It is to reveal that there are things going on inside which they do not fully understand. Set up by the agonizing first scene of a girl’s mother unable to give even the most basic information about sex and reproduction to her daughter.

Yes, watching the main characters finally give in to their bodies in a passionate moment in the hay loft could be described as shocking. But the point is not voyeurism. A particular choice made by amazing Director Dino Hayz was made to show that these are two young people who care about each other and are doing something that feels natural and good. They are feeling something real for the first time in a culture that has told them over and over again that feeling anything is dangerous.

All of these moments, and more which I did not describe, are incredibly intimate. There are times in the cozy Center for Living Arts theater that some of the actors are literally inches away.

There’s not a moment that the actors can hide. They are there, exposed, even while fully clothed. They are so vulnerable that it brings you to the edge of discomfort. Some highlights:

Myka Waljasper, singing “The Dark I Know Well,” crushes me. Every time. She puts on the character of Martha like a well-worn coat. In both the 2014 and 2016 versions she sang the song beautifully. In 2014, I remember Martha more as brutalized and frightened. This year, she projects bold defiance to survive in the face of brutality.

Noel Huntley plays one of my favorite characters, Ilse. Her “Blue Wind,” comes right after a heartbreaking bit of nostalgia between her and Moritz. We all wish we could go back to their childhood. Back to a simpler time and play pirates. Ilse, who escaped one abusive home to find only an abusive community, sings of the blue wind of autumn, cold and sad. The misery of a lost childhood is clear in both her song and acting. In doing research for this review, I learned that she is 16 years old, and once again – almost a week after seeing the show, I’m shocked.

I imagine that someday I will see a production of Spring Awakening that does not include Aaron Lord as Moritz and Anastasiya Newkirk as Wendla. Frankly, it will be strange.

Lord’s Mortiz is the nervous, hyper-anxious friend of Melchior. The weight of expectations is too much for him. Lord, reprising his role from 2014, makes it feel as if all of Mortiz’s anxiety travels up through his eyes and oozes into his hair. He channels the pre-1995 punk intensity of Billie Joe Armstrong. I half-expected him to break into, “Sometimes I give myself the creeps. Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me,” from Green Day’s ‘Basket Case,’ which was an anthem of my own youth.

When Newkirk is on the stage, it is almost impossible to stop watching her. From her first scene, when she defiantly tells her mother, “You don’t think that I believe in the stork, do you?” to her last, she reveals the heart of the show. The changes she experiences are the emotional center of it all, and Newkirk carries it well.

Adam Cerny gives Melchior a bright-eyed optimism that I hadn’t seen before. In the story, he is the voice of truth. He questions authority, sticks up for his bullied friend, and sees the world for what it could be. Somehow Cerny is able to make this teenager who is wise beyond his years at the same time naïve and joyful. His emotional scenes with Wendla are believable, and his agony and turmoil in the second act is gut-wrenching.

In the end, all of these performances matter only because of the story. It is a story that needs to be told. It is a story that I, as a pastor and father, need to hear. It is a reminder that winds change, no matter how much we wish they wouldn’t. Faithful begin to question. Boys grow into men. Girls grow into women. Grief heals. Grace abounds. And yes, winter turns to spring.

So we must be ready. We must embrace the change, not with lies or easy answers. We must face the truth of pain and struggle if we are ever to live with hope. In the end, the cast sings of the Purple Summer, when the butterfly sings and opens its wings. The Purple Summer, when we can look out in wonder. The Purple Summer, when we can hold onto one another, and allow grace of new life to flow.

Good art makes you feel. Great art makes you change. The story of Spring Awakening is a reminder that I cannot hide pain of change from my girls. I cannot shy away from the tough questions of the youth I am charged with leading. I cannot be another weight of expectations and judgment upon kids who are already shackled.  I can decide to either be a part of the cold blue wind, or hold onto the hope of the warm purple summer. I choose grace. Purple has always been a favorite color.

Spring Awakening is playing on Friday and Saturday, March 18 and 19 at 7:00 p.m. at The Center For Living Arts, which is located at 2008 4th Avenue, Rock Island Il. Go to http://centerforlivingarts.org for more information. You can go to the Spring Awakening Quad Cities Facebook page, as well.

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I wonder if anyone in the coffee shop saw me bawling as I watched this

I’m a sucker for an video about people doing the right thing. This video is a two-minute anti-bullying ad. I came across it on my Facebook feed while doing some sermon prep at a local coffee shop. I don’t think anyone there noticed the tears rolling down my cheek as I watched, but I’m okay if they did. It was worth it.

The girls in the video are actors. Two are noticeably older – or at least more mature. They do a great job of being jerks. Really, they are scary – but not so over the top as to be unbelievable. I watched the video with bated breath, even though I knew they were actors, hoping that the adults within ear shot would do something. I hope that I would do the same thing as these adults. Kindness is a powerful tool. I wouldn’t be surprised if this video made its way into a sermon sometime.

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The Gospel According to Pixar: Finding Nemo

Dear Daughters,

On your first day of Kindergarten I wore sunglasses. It was a sunny day, but that is not why I wore the shades. I wore them because I didn’t want you to see. I didn’t want you to see the redness in my eyes or the tears flowing down my cheeks. Your mother and I walked behind as you and your sister walked together, hand in hand, toward the school. It looked so big, and you looked so tiny. Your head seemed to barely peak over the top of your backpack, which was wider than your body even though it carried only the lunch I had just made for you.

You walked to the big lot where all the other kids were waiting. Other parents. Other sunglasses. I wasn’t embarrassed of my tears. Everyone who knows me knows that I a crier. You even know it, but not today. I didn’t want you to be thinking about my tears. You had enough to deal with. You found your line. We gave you hugs and waited for your teachers to come. And she did. The line of kindergarteners started to move. Some of the parents walked with their little ones. It was a first-day exception to the rule that I was not aware of. I didn’t know that we could walk in with you. So Mommy asked. She bent low and said to you, “Do you want us to come with you or do you want to go alone?”

“I want to go alone,” you said. And into the deep blue you swam.

Into the deep, fraught with dangers on all sides, you ventured. There, kids could be mean to you. There, teachers could crush your spirit. There, cafeteria chaos loomed. There, I would not be able to scoop you up if you called out, “Daddy uppy!” There, into the deep you swam. There you ventured out, wanting to go alone. Needing to go alone. It is possible to be both overjoyed and terrified at the same time. For in that moment I was joyful that you were ready. I was so proud of my brave, independent, smart little girl; and I was terrified for my precious, vulnerable, sensitive little girl. So I waved, and I watched you as long as I could. Then you were in the building, and somehow I went about my day until it was 3 p.m., and I found that you had survived.

Finding Nemo is about a Dad, Marlin, trying to find his son, Nemo. Along the way Marlin bumps into Dory, a wonderfully optimistic fish with an extremely short attention-span. She reminds Marlin that when things look difficult, the best thing to do sometimes is “just keep swimming.”  Most of the story of the movie is of their adventure. They engage much danger along the way, encounter strange creatures, and develop a lasting friendship. Meanwhile Nemo is made a pet, trapped in a tank in a seaside Dentist’s office. Here, Nemo makes some unlikely friends, draws on his own courage and teamwork. Eventually, Marlin and Nemo are reunited, and through the power of teamwork and positive thinking, they are freed from a fisherman’s net.

It is a wonderful adventure, but it is easy to forget how it all started.

I get Marlin. Here, on Nemo’s first day of school, he is rightly worried. Maybe he goes overboard, but I understand his desire to protect his son, and I cringe at Nemo’s open defiance. Marlin knows that the deep blue is a dangerous place. He knows that something as simple as touching a boat can get you killed. I struggle with the same emotions as Marlin. I think every parent does, and I don’t expect it to get any easier. The dangers just seem to get bigger as life goes on. In the end, all I can do is trust.

I trust that the things your Mom and I have taught you can hold true even in the midst of hardship. I trust that you feel my love and my presence even if I’m not there at your side. I trust that there will be others that care about you that will guide you on your way. I trust that there will be friends who will love you for who you are. I trust that your own strength and resourcefulness will surprise you when you need it. Above all, I trust that the same shepherd who guides and protects me through the darkest valley is the same shepherd who will watch you too. If I am to claim faith in the Scriptures, and find solace in words like the 23rd Psalm for struggles in my own life, it means I have to find solace in them for you as well. Even though you will walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil. For the same rod and staff that protects me, protects you as well. Surely goodness and mercy pursues you as relentlessly as it pursues me, too.

Holding onto this is the only way that I can let go of you, and letting you go is precisely my job as your father. The only way for you to become the amazing women that God has created you to be is if I allow you to venture. I have to allow you to get lost, to play in the rain, to have your heart broken, to scrape your knee. You both have so many gifts. You have incredible kindness and curiosity. You are ferocious and gentle. You are passionate and loyal, and sometimes agonizingly stubborn. So go out into the deep blue.

Explore. Fall. Imagine. Sing. Bless. Feed. Dance. Play. Read. Love. Fail. Forgive. There will be hard days, and sometimes the best thing to do is just keep swimming.

Through it all know that no matter what, I will pursue you with as much goodness and faithful love as I can.

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The greatest sync since The Dark Side of Oz

A lot of awesome stuff happened in 1989.  The Berlin Wall fell.  The USSR ended their war in Afghanistan.  A brave man stood in front of a tank in Tienanmen Square, inspiring millions in the hopes of democracy.  The Velvet Revolution produced free elections in Czechoslovakia.   The Boys of Zimmer won the NL East.  Montana to Taylor won Superbowl XXIII.   Taylor Swift was born, and there was a National Aerobics Championships.

Tonight, my daughters and I enjoyed a spirited dance party to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” in our kitchen.  After finding this video, my only question is, “how did they get a camera in our kitchen?”

Seriously though, this video is truly amazing.  It was posted on my Facebook as a link from Huffington Post.

Unfortunately the Huffington Post article, and the maker of the video incorrectly identify this aerobics championship as the 1989 season.  This is actually the 1988 championship.  It was hosted by Alan Thicke, and apparently, this happened too:

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Help me invite Amy Poehler to be on my podcast #AmyOnPulpitFiction

amy poehler

Dear Amy Poehler: You are amazing. Please come on our podcast. #AmyOnPulpitFiction

Yesterday I read this story from a website called Deadline.  It is painfully short, so I’ll sum it up for you: The greatest TV show ever is coming.  OK, so that’s not exactly what it says, and I don’t know if Amy Poehler’s newest project will live up to my expectations, but I am excited about the possibilities.

My wife and I love Parks and Recreation. It is smart, funny, poignant, and touching.  It is full of lovable, flawed, believable, and honest characters.  I could go on and on about how much I love that show.  You can bet that every episode of its upcoming final season will be appointment television for my wife and I.  And now Amy Poehler is in production of a show for NBC with a similar style that is set in a church.  Imagine it: Nick Offerman as a member of the trustees.  Aziz Ansari as the youth pastor.  Aubrey Plaza as the secretary. Rob Lowe as the District Superintendent. Adam Scott as the finance chair.  Chris Pratt as the leader of the praise band (Church Rat).  

So here’s the part where I ask you for some help.  If you are as excited about this as I am, then do me a solid.  Go on twitter and use the hashtag #AmyOnPulpitFiction.  You may or not be aware of the fact that I co-host a podcast called Pulpit Fiction. It’s a weekly discussion between my friend Eric Fistler and me. We talk each week about the Bible, pop culture, sermon writing, the church, and other fun stuff.  We’re just two good friends who are pastors talking about the Bible.  In addition to our weekly podcast, we do periodic Thursday Night Specials.

During these Thursday Night Specials we interview authors, musicians, and other awesome people.  We’ve had some great conversations with Adam Hamilton, Rachel Held Evans, Nadia Bolz Weber, and Jennifer Knapp.  We want to talk to Amy Poehler about this new show.  It would be incredible.  It’s a long shot, but it would probably be the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life.  I’m not sure if Amy is on twitter.  The closest thing to a personal twitter account she has is @smrtgrls.  Her partner in producing the show is Aisha Muharrar.  Her twitter handle is @eeshmu.  Today I sent a letter to 3Arts Entertainment in hopes that it would somehow get to Amy.  Any help you can give us in getting noticed would be greatly appreciated.

So please, right now, go to Twitter and ask Amy and/or Aisha to be on Pulpit Fiction.  Tweet something like “@Smrtgrls and @eeshmu So excited about your new project, please go on @pulpitfpodcast to talk about it #AmyOnPulpitFiction”

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The Dad Life (2:04 is me, to a T)

It’s the Dad Life, and I wouldn’t trade it for any other.

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Nothing to be “Mad” about here. Go Green. Go White.

I have a lot of fun with March Madness.  One of my most-read blogs of every year is when I pick the entire NCAA tournament based on which Mascot would win in a fight.  Its silly, a little juvenile, sometimes humorous, and hopefully informative. This story about March Madness though, is none of those things.  This is a story of an unlikely friendship.  It is about how we can be inspired by each other, and draw strength from others.  There’s a cynical part of me that gets tired of worn out cliches about sports.

The way we idolize sports figures is troubling.  Sometimes it is absolutely dangerous.  There are times I want to quit sports all together, just wash my hands of the whole dirty, bloody, idolatrous affair.  I know, however, that I can never give up sports all together.  Sports are a part of my history, my family, my very being.  Yet I get weary of the packaging of sports.  I get tired of the human interest story.  I get tired of the coach-worship.  I get tired of lazy metaphors and the emotional manipulation.  Just when I’m about to give up on believing that sports are anything more than a distraction from what really matters, I come across something like this.

So the cynic in me wonders: Is this just another fluff piece thrown together by a media outlet with an interest in showing the “good side” of sports? Is this just another attempt at making an athlete more than we ought?  Is this just another case of emotional manipulation?  It’s hard to judge how much of this video is real, and how much is good story telling.  There are two things that are undeniably true in this video.  Lacey’s struggle, and Lacey’s smile.  That’s all that matters.

All of the sudden sports have won me over again, and the Spartans have another fan.  Go Green. Go White. Go Lacey!

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Sometimes the best way to dance is to just put your feet on Daddy’s, and hold on.

Dancing on Daddy

 

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One piano sounds like a string symphony playing Christmas Classic

Every time I watch the Piano Guys, I find myself doubting.  They cannot possibly be doing this with just one piano.  This is truly remarkable.  I could write more about being inspired to use old tools in creative ways, or the power of team work, or the discipline it must take to perfect this kind of performance.  Instead, I’m just going to take it for what it is – a beautiful piece of music that should be savored.

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Praying for peace on Veterans’ Day

Veterans Day

I can’t help but feel like the best way we can support Veterans is to pray for peace.  When you get up from your prayer, do something like write a Christmas card, support the USO, hire a soldier coming home, or offer free babysitting to a family that is missing a parent.

Support the USO
Support the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
Support the Wounded Warrior Project

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