camer picWhenever I mention to someone that I’ve never been out of the country I’m always met with a blank stare and then a, “Oh… like, you mean… besides Canada?” to which I’ll then affirm that I do indeed possess the knowledge that the region to our north is an individual nation and no, I have not even been there. I will soon end this repeated dialogue once and for all, as I am traveling to Prague in a few weeks to attend orchestra sessions with the City of Prague Philharmonic, one of which will be to record some of my own musical compositions. It doesn’t really matter whether the sessions takes place in a European capital or the South Pole – I’d be ecstatic either way – but going to an exciting city like Prague is a plus. 
As I learned from my traveling millennial friends, the first step to going out of the country is to apply for a passport, which requires a unique passport photograph.

* * *

The day the trip was finalized, I headed out the door to Walgreens. I had been like a junior high girl on school picture day, carefully choosing my outfit, arranging my hair, and applying my makeup. As I drove, I imagined what it would be like:

I would walk up to the counter and say, “Good morning! I need to get a passport photo.” The employee at the counter would say, “Oh really! How extremely interesting. Where you going?” and then I would say, “To Prague!” and he/she would say, “What a miracle! I don’t recall the last time anyone went to Prague. Why are you going there?” to which I would reply, very modestly and shyly, “Well, if you must know, I am going to record some of my musical compositions with a symphony orchestra.”

What would ensue would resemble the opening number of a Broadway musical. The employee at the counter would call out, “Did you hear that ladies and gents? She’s going to Prague to record with a symphony orchestra!” Then the other employees – probably about thirty of them total, all tap dancers – would appear with jazz hands waving. There would be ten different light cues, five costume changes, and a key modulation at the end as the scene culminated with the company handing over a photograph of yours truly resembling Grace Kelly on the cover of the 1955 edition of Life magazine. To say that I had high expectations for my local Walgreens’ customer service is perhaps putting it too lightly.

* * *

I walked into Walgreens and saw a sign at the back of the store that read, “Passport Photos.” I went to the counter where a high school-aged boy stood, his hair falling into his eyes.

“Hello!” I announced, “I am here to get a passport photo taken!”

“Okay,” he said. “Stand over here.” He pointed to a white wall behind him, looking slightly bored.

I was taken aback by his lack of interest; perhaps this was a more common ordeal than I had thought. But no matter – nothing was going to injure my enthusiasm. I obediently stood against the wall. The boy raised the camera, then lowered it.

“You better take those off.” He motioned to my sparkly silver earrings.

“Oh, right! Sorry,” I said “Okay.” I took them off.

“And your hair,” he continued. “Tuck it behind your ears.”

I regretfully pushed my carefully assembled strands behind my now naked lobes. But I was unaffected, and cranked out my best Walt Disney World-ready smile to make up for the missing elements. The boy lowered the camera once again. He looked just a little more bored than when I had first arrived.

“No smiling.” he said.

“Right!” I said, “Got it!” It took a minute to register that this would mean changing my current facial expression. “Oh! Like, stop smiling. Like, just… look at you. Okay.”

It briefly flashed through my brain what my sister had told me a few years ago when she was on a Project Runway kick: “Smile with your eyes; at least, that’s what Tyra Banks says.” So I tried to emulate Tyra’s peepers while also trying to turn my mouth up just slightly, also fighting the urge to grimace as the boy thrust the camera what felt like ten feet too close to my face. You can imagine the incongruous countenance this created.

“Okay,” the boy said once he had clicked. “Now you can wait for about ten minutes while I get this processed.”

I meandered around the store feeling a little deflated, but also recognized that, even if the boy had asked where I was going, he really didn’t seem like the tap dancing type.

It wasn’t until I was alone in my car that I actually pulled out the photo to take a look. I gasped in horror. Surely this woman pictured could not be me! Forget Grace Kelly and replace one of the Marx brothers, complete with furrowed brow. Yikes! Tyra’s advice had certainly not done me any favors. I considered my options: burning it, shredding it, or mailing it to Timbuktu. In the end, practicality won out over vanity.

* * *

I am now the proud owner of my very own passport. I have allowed only a few select loved ones to view it, all of whom I feel confident that the photo will not alter their opinions of me. While they remain loved ones, they do agree that it is a terrible likeness. Of course, they don’t outrightly say this; the conversation usually goes something like this:

ME My passport photo is the worst picture ever taken in the history of humankind.

LOVED ONE Oh, it can’t be that bad.

ME Believe me, it is.

LOVED ONE Let me see.

Loved One looks at photo and attempts to stifle some sort of animated expression, usually the widening of the eyes.

LOVED ONE Oh! (pause) Hmm.

That “Oh! Hmm” says it all. Fortunately, the only humans needing to see the photo will be total strangers who I will most likely never see a second time. Then again, maybe airport security will stop me because they will refuse to believe that such a lousy picture could really be the image of the charming girl they see in person. I, of course, would take this as a compliment, though I’m sure my travel party would be less than enthused. However, it certainly would make for a very entertaining musical number.

About one month ago I completed the writing process for Majesty, the final work in a series of three, following Messenger and Messiah. To complete this trilogy is exciting, and also surprising, as only fifteen months ago I didn’t know this project would exist! I am thankful for the opportunity to study and meditate upon three incredible passages of Scripture and create songs that reflect the powerful emotions and truths of these stories. Messenger follows the book of Malachi, Messiah tells the story of Christ’s transfiguration as recorded in the Synoptic gospels, and now Majesty concludes with the two witnesses who come to prophecy in Revelation 11.

I look forward to presenting Majesty for the first time on Sunday evening, March 26. The piece will be presented during the 6pm service at Grace Community Church in Hudsonville, MI. It is about fifteen minutes in length and features three soloists who portray various characters from the passage. All are invited to come!

In writing Majesty, I came across a verse in Romans 11 that refers to “the kindness and severity of God” (Romans 11:22). This small statement carries much weight, and for me it lended insight into the passage of Revelation 11, as well as the book of Revelation as a whole. Revelation tells about the judgment of the wicked and the reward of the righteous; God’s great severity and God’s great kindness. In Revelation 11, God sends two witnesses (whom I strongly suppose to be Moses and Elijah) to earth to proclaim the gospel. These witnesses cause plagues to happen on the earth, and with deadly fire from their mouths they kill anyone who dares to come against them. Their actions reflect the severity of God’s judgment, encouraging people to repent and believe in Christ, who thus will be welcomed into God’s lovingkindness. These witnesses are an extreme grace, a final call from God to His people to turn to Him. In my study of this story, I was moved by the great mercy of God to reach out to His people. My hope is that those who listen to Majesty will turn back to this passage of Scripture and recognize the kindness and severity of our King.

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The time for Kickstarter 2017 has finally come!! The campaign to record Messiah and Majesty was launched this morning, and I have 30 days in which to raise the needed funds. Please take a minute to watch the video and consider taking part in this project HERE. I am excited to take this next step!

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In my post The Story of Messenger, I introduced the idea of there being two additional pieces to accompany Messenger called Messiah and Majesty. I wrote Messiah this past fall and performed it this past Sunday with piano and three vocalists, and am currently in the midst of writing Majesty. It has been exciting to see doors opening for the production of these two pieces, as David Clydesdale has agreed to arrange these two works, and both he and Brian Felten are traveling to Prague this spring to record with the City of Prague Philharmonic for various other projects. Because of this, it is possible that the recording of Messiah and Majesty could be tagged on to these other sessions. I will begin another Kickstarter campaign within the next couple weeks to raise the needed funds. I don’t know what God has in store, but I am taking this step, as it seems He has led in this direction. I have full confidence that He will provide according to His plan. I will be certain to post again once the Kickstarter is launched – hopefully sometime next week! More to come soon. 🙂

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Messiah performance – January 22

 

 

I recently watched a video featuring author Elizabeth Gilbert called “Your Elusive Creative Genius.” Elizabeth begins her Ted Talk session by raising concern that the modern creative has a reputation for being emotionally unstable. She notes that several artists since the twentieth century either committed suicide or were “undone” by their work. As a writer, Elizabeth is uncomfortable with this idea and wonders if it has to be this way. Better, she says, if we “encourage our great minds to live!”

Elizabeth looks to the past in order to offer a solution. She tells of ancient times, when people didn’t believe that creativity came from an individual, but rather from a divine outside source. In ancient Rome the word “genius” referred to a spirit that existed to assist the creator with his work, not the actual person. This “genius” protected the artist from both sides of pride: one could never fully take all the credit if the work was good, nor all the blame if the work was bad.

Elizabeth then fasts forward to the rise of rational humanism and points out that this new frame of mind put the individual as the source of creativity instead of an outside entity. She believes this mindset put too much responsibility on the artist himself and has been killing off great creative minds ever since. Elizabeth ends her talk by encouraging her listeners to dismiss the thought of their extraordinary aspects coming from themselves, but to believe that they are on loan from some “unimaginable source.”

I found this talk fascinating and absolutely agree with Elizabeth about today’s stereotype of an artist, having thought many a time myself that this modern age of human-centeredness has led to the devaluation of both art and the artist. As Elizabeth rightly points out, this narcissistic outlook has led to the destruction of both the successful and unsuccessful, as the former dissolves into meaninglessness and the latter into despair. What seems painfully obvious to me is this: humans were not created to be worshipped, but rather to be worshippers.

I appreciate Elizabeth’s reference to the ancient Greeks and Romans, especially the insight that the word “genius” used to be a divine outside source, not an individual. I might add that these words from the Creative Genius Himself, found in the book of Job, only enriches and fleshes out this concept:

Have you ever in your life commanded the morning,
And caused the dawn to know its place,
That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,
And the wicked be shaken out of it?
Have you entered into the springs of the sea
Or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
Or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you understood the expanse of the earth?
Tell Me, if you know all this. (Job 38:12-13, 16-18, NASB)

No, humans certainly are NOT creative geniuses! And yet this does not bind, but rather frees, at the realization that the true Creative Genius is not an elusive spirit or unknowable entity, but one God who has interacted with mankind on a personal level ever since His masterful creation of this world. He created man in His image to be creators themselves, that they might craft works that reflect His glory. These are the truths that give me joy and freedom in my own creative work, and dismiss the depressing modern idea that I am an end to myself. Instead, I say with Job, “Behold, I am insignificant. What can I reply to you? I lay my hand on my mouth,” (Job 40:4) and sing with the psalmist, “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven.” (Psalm 138:13, NASB)

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film-picA trip to La La Land this winter costs $7.50 (if you use the coupon before 1pm) and lies within a twenty minute drive away from any given location in West Michigan. And no, I’m not talking about Los Angeles or a pre-planned daydream.

La La Land, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, opened December 9 to select U.S. cities, but just arrived in Grand Rapids on Christmas Day. The film opens with a song and dance sequence more about the sport and spectacle of a large-scale movie musical than plot, but story drives the show for the remaining two hours of the film, telling the tale of Sebastian (Gosling) and Mia (Stone), two no-names attempting to fulfill their dreams in Hollywood. Sebastian, a pianist, longs to open his own jazz club, and Mia, an actress, aspires to land just one of the many roles for which she’s auditioned. The down-and-out pair meet and – surprise, surprise – after a few pieces of witty dialogue, along with a tap dance number, end up falling head-over-heels.

Classic movie aficionados will appreciate the multiple references in La La Land  to films from the 40s and 50s. I especially enjoyed the subtle nods to Casablanca hidden in the dialogue and storyline. Times have changed since Bogart’s time (e.g. cell phones and gluten-free pastries) but the general flavor of the movie is a complete throwback to the good ol’ days of Singin’ in the Rain with prolonged dance sequences, colorful costumes, elaborate sets, and a lovable hero and heroine.

Perhaps the most surprising part of La La Land is the conclusion, which hit me like a brick the first time I saw it. While it was unexpected, the ending adds depth to the story that I hadn’t foreseen. After watching It’s a Wonderful Life only days before viewing La La Land, I was struck by the parallel themes; both films communicate similar messages from opposite points of view. As a dreamer and aspiring creative myself, I found my thoughts trailing back to these themes, carefully considering what they meant for me personally.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed La La Land and recommend it to anyone who likes music and art in general. The songs are catchy, the musical score is beautiful, and the cinematography is exquisite… La La Land is a treat for the eyes as well as the ears. Since it’s rare to find an original musical in movie theaters these days, particularly a musical as old-fashioned and clean-cut as La La Land, I was thrilled to discover this fresh cinematic treasure.


water-picI am a sponge, and I desperately need to soak in God.

The thought unraveled in my head one afternoon as I sat in my living room, looking out the window. Snowflakes glittered and Christmas lights shined – a happy sight – and yet all I could do at the moment was somberly stare them down. I was mulling over the past year and considering the year to come, a normal and appropriate December activity, especially for a melancholy writer-type. As anxiety crept in, I remembered Christ’s words to Martha and applied them to myself:

[Anna, Anna], you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary. (Luke 10:41-42, NASB)

And that’s when I pictured myself as a sponge and knew that only God Himself could satisfy my longings for the year to come.

***

“So do you have a word for 2017?” she asked. “You know… a phrase or something. That you’ll try to live by this year.” She smiled and took a sip of coffee. “Mine is ‘lean and embrace.’ That’s what I want to do this year. Lean in to my fears. Embrace what life brings. But what about you?”

I set my mug on the table as my mind climbed back to the memory from two weeks previous. Usually a question like this would catch me off guard, but I had an answer before being asked. I related my memory to my friend.

“So what would your word be?” she asked. “Bask? Soak?”

I paused and perched my chin on top of a fist. “I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to think about it.”

***

Today, on this New Year’s Eve, I have been searching the Scriptures, looking for a word in the Word, trying to bring clarity to the concept my mind has been fumbling over. Perhaps it is most clearly expressed in Psalm 42:

As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God? (Psalm 42:1-2, NASB)

The wonderful beauty of this season is celebrating that God was the One to appear to us. We could never stand before a holy God, but He loved us so much that “He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NASB) The Son offers water, and “whoever drinks of the water that [He] will give him shall never thirst; but the water that [He] will give him will become a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14, NASB) Psalm 42:7 continues with, “Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls; all Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me.” God has certainly drenched us in His lovingkindness by giving us the gift of Christ.

I suppose if I had to choose a word or phrase for 2017, it would be “drink Christ.” It is tempting to scheme up ways to get my hands on the elixirs of this world that offer the fleeting pleasures of success, financial stability, popularity, and health. But nothing satisfies and gives true life like the rich, cool waters of the Son of God. May I ever seek to drink deeply from Him.