Family Christian: Congratulations on your new album! What can people expect to hear on this CD?
Jeremy Camp: Thanks! People will hear music that encompasses a new season in my life. It’s more of an exhortation for people to go out and have a heart for the lost and understand what Christ has done in our lives.
I hope it helps encourage people to go serve and love on everyone, no matter who they are! I am so overwhelmed by who Christ is and I have to go proclaim to everyone who He is and what He has done for all of us. That is what these songs are about!
FC: "Reckless," the first single from the album, really challenges believers to live in radical faith. What inspired this song?
JC: I feel that God has brought me to a season in my life where He is challenging me to live recklessly – not in a destructive way, but in an “all for Him” way.
I’ve also been inspired by verses like Matthew 28 18-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
FC: How have people responded to "Reckless"?
JC: A lot of people have said that they have a lot of challenges in their life, especially fear, that this song has helped them overcome. It’s helped them to have a renewed outlook on exactly how they are living their life for the Lord.
FC: We're featuring your worship album, We Cry Out, as a Members Only title right now. It's full of songs that align our hearts for worship. So we wanted to know: what's a worship song that's meaningful to you right now?
JC: I would say "Never Let Go" by Matt Redman. It fully relates to my life and all the things I have been through.
FC: We'll soon be wrapping up 2012. What were some of the highlights of the year for you?
JC: 2012 has been an amazing year and God has been doing some awesome things. One of the highlights has been starting our nonprofit called Speaking Louder Ministries. I’m excited to be able to use this ministry to serve communities in major cities around the world and host free concerts where I’ll be able to lead worship and share the gospel.
FC: Wow, that's a full year! What are you looking forward to in 2013?
JC: I’m excited to see what God’s going to do next year and how He’s going to use this ministry. We are preparing to play overseas in several different countries that God has placed on my heart. Other than that, I’m really looking forward to releasing my book, I Still Believe, and the new album!
FC: As we wrap up, what are some of the things God has been teaching you lately?
JC: The biggest thing right now that I feel the Lord is teaching me to do is rest in Him and His goodness. To trust fully in ALL of His ways. To be still and listen. I know I still have a lot to learn about this subject of rest, but feel each day I am getting closer to understanding the fullness that God has for me in this.
She recently took a few minutes to chat with us about the memories and moments that make Christmas the most wonderful time of the year.
Family Christian: Tell us about one of your favorite Christmas memories.
Francesca Battistelli: My mom set up a nativity scene every year at Christmas. She would hide the baby Jesus in an old Grandfather clock, and it was always my job to place him in the crèche on Christmas Eve. Such a fun and memorable tradition!
FC: Are there any other Christmas traditions you love?
FRANCESCA: Being with family, talking about Jesus, eating delicious food and sleeping under the Christmas tree!
FC: Music is such an important part of the season. So what Christmas songs or carols hold special meaning for you?
FRANCESCA: I've always loved "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and my favorite non-traditional Christmas song is "Breath of Heaven."
FC: You have two little ones now. How have your children changed how you experience Christmas?
FRANCESCA: I think this year will be the best yet, since our son is 2 now and really understands what a gift is. It's incredible to see this time of year through a child's eyes.
FC: So what are you looking forward to celebrating this year with Eli and Audrey? FRANCESCA: We're going on tour with NewSong, and so there will be much Christmas cheer to be had with their "Poppa" (Billy from NewSong)!
FC: 2013 isn't too far away. What does the new year hold for you?
FRANCESCA: Watching my little ones grow, touring in the spring and starting to work on my third album!
With his new autobiography Finally FreeMichael Vick opens up about his past, controversy and a brighter future ahead. We caught up recently to meet a little bit of the man behind the cleats.
Family Christian: Michael, can you start by giving us a synopsis of your childhood?
Michael Vick: My childhood consisted of pretty much a little bit of everything. Almost like any other kid. A lot of ups and downs. Situations that occurred – where you have to think through. Some you do, some you don’t. [I got] a lot of spankings, a lot of learning, and a lot of football games that I played at a young age. A lot of trophies and relationships that I was able to build.
As a kid, I always set my sights on doing the right thing. [My goal was to] make my mom proud. Before I did anything, I always thought about her.
FC: As you look back at your childhood, would you it was a good one?
Michael: Yeah. Looking back at my childhood, I would say that I had great childhood. You know a lot of things that I went through shaped and molded me into the person that I was. Growing up into a young man there were times that it was tough. My mom and dad faced difficulties that reflected on us as kids. We managed to keep the faith and pull it through. My mom was the rock of our family. Her faith is through the roof… like out of this world. Even when we were going through trying times, she was always somewhere praying. Even talking to her now, she is always telling me that God has answered so many of her prayers… prayers that He answered while I was in prison.
FC: Fast forward from your childhood, you obviously at some point started getting an interest in football. Was that something that was born instinctively within you or was that as a result of family members or people in your neighborhood? How did you start experiencing the desire for football, then recognizing your own talent?
Michael: When I was six years old, my grandmother was a Washington Redskins fan. She always watched the Redskins on Sundays. So I used to sit and watch the games with her. Then I would go outside and play the same type of football with my friends. Even though we didn’t have pads on, we still played aggressive-style football. I tried to emulate everything that I had seen on TV. Which, I think, [plays] into the player that I have become. That and [eventually] a lot of coaching and great people [who came] into my life. When I was younger, I thought it was one of the best games ever created.
FC: You obviously played it in high school, as well as college. Did you have a good time playing football in college? Was it that a good experience for you?
Michael: Yes. College football was a great experience, because I knew I was one step away from a accomplishing my lifetime goal; making in to the NFL. When I played, I had so much confidence, belief in myself and a higher power, I was able to just enjoy it. I wasn’t out worrying about having great stats. So putting up tremendous numbers just kind of happened. And I think because I enjoyed it so much was the reason why I was able to go number 1. Because I had a great time playing football.
FC: You then signed with the Atlanta Falcons and had a great career with them – about 5 years. What were some of the highlights that you had with being with them?
Michael: Some of my greatest highlights were from the playoff game against Green Bay. Beating them for the first time, when they had never lost a playoff game. Obviously playing in an NFC Championship game in which I took them to 2004, which was a great milestone for me at such a young age in my career.
All of the relationships that I was able to make – Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Jim Mora, who was a great coach. Dan Reeves. The people that I was able to meet while I was there. Anybody that I left out – they know who they are. Just a lot of great people. More than anything, I still have those relationships.
FC: And then it all came crashing down in 2007.
FC: Are you okay talking a bit about that time?
Michael and Tony Dungy
Michael: It’s okay. In 2007, I was convicted of a crime that I was involved in. And everything kind of came crashing down. I lost everything. I was put into prison. I didn’t have any money. My family didn’t have any money.
All I could do was depend on God, my Higher Power – and to keep
the faith. My faith was through the roof. I just felt like something was going to happen. Especially while I was praying. That’s when I grew closer to God, and the things that I needed the most. [To move] away from disobedience.
Michael: I met Coach Dungy one time in 2005. But [it was] really when he came out to visit me during my prison sentence [that we got to know each other]. We just sat and talked for a long time. Shared a lot of life experiences together. He just told me that he believed in me. He told me that my future was bright. I may not be able to see it, but that he had faith in me. That’s where we made that connection. I do appreciate Coach Dungy so much to this day.
FC: Michael, where was God in all of your life up to that point? In your childhood, you talked about…
Michael: He was always there.
FC: He was always there.
Michael: I always knew that I had to have a form of obedience, a form of belief in God and the Holy Spirit. When I was in high school, I slept with the Bible under my pillow, I talked about that in my book – because I believed that the only way that I could get there with all the adversity and controversy that I was facing then as a black quarterback… that I needed to do something different. I felt like I just had to have a great deal of faith. A great deal of understanding and to comprehend by doing the right things.
During all that – the only answer I could come up with was “put my faith in God.” Still to this day, I find myself doing it. I did it this morning. I am doing it right now. I’ll be doing it Sunday before the game. So on and so forth for the rest of my life.
Michael ministers to people in prison.
FC: Is there a particular Scripture that you have in mind that continually comes back to you? That you find a lot of encouragement from?
Michael: Psalms 23. You know Scripture.. Everyone pretty much knows there is so much merit to it. It gives you confidence, plus it gives you strength. It gives you faith in yourself. Belief in yourself. And whatever you are about to endure, you can always walk through it with confidence if you read that Scripture before it. Off the top of your head, you can just rehearse it in your mind. It puts you in a different mindset.
FC: As you look over your life, your past and your present, and obviously on into the future, without stating the obvious Michael, you are a famous person. There are thousands, if not millions of kids and adults that certainly look to you, some with a critical eye and some with fondness. What do you hope that people would know about Michael Vick above everything else?
Michael: I want people to know that I was true to my faith and that I was true to myself. When things weren’t going so well, I acknowledged it, and I accepted it. I believe that change can come and that it happened. I couldn’t have done it without God... and I’ve got to give all the glory and thanks to Him.
So I just hope that everybody sees that I am changed person. That it’s my faith that really got me through it. It was me believing that something was really going to happen. For that next day. Or the next day. Or the next day. Whether it was just me changing my mindset, or life was changing, or my financial situation changing. My living situation. Or the situation with my family. It all came to fruition – and it was all because of my faith.
FC: What do you think of the upcoming season?
Michael: I’m excited about the upcoming season. I think it will be one that we will all remember. I have been doing a lot of work and preparation. I believe in myself. I believe in my team. And I know that we can kick this off.
From the unexpected beginnings of Desperation Band, to the ups and downs of serving in his local church during a tumultuous public scandal, Jared Anderson has learned that he’s never walked alone. His new album, The Narrow Road calls believers to trust and walk a God-centered life, even through the toughest times.
Family Christian: So where did you get your start leading worship? At New Life Church in Colorado Springs?
Jared Anderson: I did grow up at New Life but I went away to Oral Roberts University [in Tulsa, for college] where Glenn [Packiam] was my next door neighbor and Jon [Egan] was on my wing. I met all those guys that are in Desperation Band. And we all ended up at New Life together. None of us intended to go to the same place or thought we’d be working together at all, so it’s pretty cool how that all happened. Came back, [although] I swore I’d never go back to Colorado…
FC: …And you left because Oklahoma was so beautiful?
Jared: (laughs) Ha, yeah… no. In high school I always thought, “I can’t wait to get out of here.” But it didn’t take too long of living in Oklahoma before I realized, you’ve got a pretty sweet spot in Colorado. I did not see myself working in a church or leading worship – [but I] started helping out and kind of didn’t realize that I became a worship leader until I was one. I was just trying to help out and serve, but the Lord had me there.
FC: Did you go back to Colorado with this idea, “hey, we’re Desperation Band”?
Jared: No, not at all, the only reason Desperation Band happened was because David Perkins wanted to start a conference and he asked Glenn to lead worship at it, because Glenn was there about nine months before Jon and I came on staff. So once that happened, David was like, man, these guys are writing songs, it would be great to record a CD to help get the word out about the conference. And when they said we’re going to record a CD at the first conference Glenn didn’t want to do that by himself so he asked the two of us to be a part of it. [And] that was our start. So the band started for the conference, but then we started getting asked to do stuff, and we were like, we gotta call this something.
FC: So then how long was it before you decided to go out on your own?
Jared: Glenn stepped down in ’08, the first conference was in 2002 so that was 6 years, then I stepped off the staff in ’09 and moved to Nashville and that’s really when Jon started running with the band. I was doing solo stuff on the side anyway, so we felt like that was the right fit for all of us.
FC: And are you still in Nashville?
Jared: No, I was there for one year writing and trying to figure out – I knew I wasn’t supposed to be on staff but I didn’t know what the next step was. We had sold our house and we were going to build a house, but I said, before we build I want to make sure this is the right thing for me.
FC: Please keep in mind that if we ask anything uncomfortable you don’t have to answer, but we’d like to talk a little about the massive transition New Life went through a few years ago, which led to Pastor Ted Haggard stepping down. Obviously people on the outside had a lot of feelings about how the church handled it and you were on-staff at that point. Everybody could kind of imagine your response corporately, but how about you individually? How did that unfold or affect your walk?
Jared: It was massive. (pauses) I think… it is really difficult to lead while you’re processing, yourself. It was really a vulnerable [time] because you’re like “there’s no handbook for this. I don’t know that I want to lead or even have anything to give at this point.” But somebody’s gotta lead – I mean, what are we going to do, all stay home? It’s a point of decision to put one foot in front of the other. We’re going to worship the Lord. Really, the fire has a purpose of reducing to the gold. The gold is only refined in the fire and I feel like every church, every Christian has to walk through that to realize, to know if there’s anything there or not.
FC: So now 6 or 7 years ago when you look back at that, we’re assuming you don’t look at it fondly, but what is your feeling of that time? Specifically concerning your own personal walk with Christ, or your view of what happened corporately as a body, your family. Would you characterize it as a wilderness?
Jared: Totally. I mean, it’s what makes you who you are, ya know? Anyone has a testimony, it’s not something you would ever wish on anyone to have to go through the struggles that you went through, but everybody’s going to have to go through struggles. So if this is the thing that makes me who I am, great, because the Lord was with me the entire time. With my wife, with our marriage, with our church and we’re still standing. I think that’s a testimony.
FC: As a follower of Jesus, outside of this job of leading worship – how did you walk through, what sustained you?
Jared: I went through several seasons of doubt like, well I just drank the Kool-Aid, I’ve been living a lie, my leader had been leading something that wasn’t true, self-admittedly so! [I wondered] maybe there’s a lie inside of me that I have to discover and so [it led to] this question of okay, what do I believe? If none of this structure still stands, what do I carry inside of me? And it’s the faith – following Jesus. It was just one foot in front of the other, He’s still there, He’s still faithful. We’d get together as friends – the staff – night after night after night. We’d play it all out in our heads and try to analyze it, discover it, but then finally you just gotta quit talking about it and go back to living, ya know? I think what it did primarily is change my “success criteria” of ministry. That’s the bottom line. What a trial will do is make you go okay, what does it mean to be successful? And that’s to follow Jesus, to raise godly children, to have a great marriage that reflects Christ and to minister to people in authentic ways that lead them by the Holy Spirit to the person of Jesus.
FC: So your family has grown, you have four kids and you’re in the process of adopting. When do you hope to have these 2 additional children?
Jared: Last year we had two miscarriages in the span of about 8 months and my wife really started to feel like her desire to bear more children was lifting – which I never thought would happen because she loves having kids. We’d had miscarriages before, and they’re hard, but you get through them. So we decided to start the adoption process in November [of 2011]. We went down to Haiti in January to meet the director and we met John Diego then.
FC: So what has the adoption process been like for you so far?
Jared: When we lived in Nashville our neighbors were in the process of adopting when the earthquake hit [in Haiti], so they went down and got their kids out – and we watched that process happen. We thought this is amazing, when we’re done having our own, we want to do this. So that’s kinda how we got started. We went down there with our old neighbors and met all of the people that they already knew and were just kind of curious about this little boy, John Diego, when we were tucking all of the kids in at night. We thought he probably had a home because his crib was decorated with little toys and stuff and that usually comes from the parents who come to visit, so we’re like oh, isn’t that fun, he’s got a little family waiting for him. So the last night we’re there we’re like, we should check and see if he’s available at all and turns out he was, so we thought we’ll take him. They called us about 6 months later, [and] they were not supposed to have any girls available for 2 years and to get a baby girl was even more distant. But they called us at the end of May and said – we have a 5 month old girl for you. So we hung out with her in June. So we’re just going to keep going down there to visit our kids until we get them and it will probably be at least another year. The orphanage is called New Life Link and we work with an adoption agency called Love Beyond Borders.
FC: Here at Family Christian our calling is James 1:27 “…to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” so that’s what all of our efforts are really for; to help propel that Kingdom calling. We want kids adopted and foster kids in homes.
Jared: One of the things the Lord laid on our heart was that we’re not supposed to carry this burden on our own, so we had this puzzle made. We took a picture of John Diego and had a 250 piece puzzle made of it then asked people to sponsor just a piece of the puzzle. We’ll write their names on the back of each piece and then at the end, we’ll get a 2-sided frame and hang that in his room so he’ll know who helped to bring him home. The time has come upon us to have all of the finances and we have to raise about $15,000 [more] in the next 40 days so we’re on an active mission to get the word out.
FC: Let’s talk briefly about The Narrow Road, your new record. Everything you’ve talked about today, Colorado to Oklahoma to Nashville to Colorado, then everything you went through at your church and now the adoption. Do all of these things feed into the record? What’s the theme?
Jared: Yes, for sure. When I left the staff position at church I felt very much like the instruction God gave Abraham leave your country and go to a place I’m sending you felt very much like [what He was saying to] me. Two things really helped shape my psyche in this transition: First was reading The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. It’s all about the journey of Christian away from the city of destruction to the Celestial City. And his wrestling with distraction and meeting all of those characters along the way. And the other was the experience of visiting one of our missionaries in Mexico and going from house to house with him; his process of making disciples. Discipleship is you come with me and we go here. And I think in the mega-church world that had become to me kind of a lost art. Training people to just pick one [person] at a time, and [say] you and I are going to live life together and go forward. That’s reducing discipleship to its most basic format and anyone can do that. The road is narrow and only a few find it. That’s a hard message to swallow sometimes, but this is calling people to holiness, a separateness away from worldly wisdom and away from morality and religion and these things that take our focus and distract us and make us think that we’re successful. [These places] where we can have the appearance even when we’re not really on the road. That’s sort of the journey I’ve been on.
FC: In talking about “the narrow road” you mentioned Abraham being called out of something and into something. How much of this record reflects this idea of I’m moving and I don’t know where? Is that part of the story for you?
Jared: I think every season builds on itself so I don’t know that I’d say… well like, there’s a line between leaving and disowning. I’m not disowning anything of my past. That has brought me to what I am, but I do feel called to run with a message that the Lord has given me and it’s a new season for me doing this full-time. Going and ministering to people on the road it’s like – ok, what is the message? I’m not just a songwriter or a song leader – I’m a message bearer, an ambassador. To go and preach the Gospel really is the goal, so that’s kind of a new effort.
FC: What do you hope this record will do?
Jared: I think it’s the soundtrack for that road, for the journey of life in Christ.
FC: When you write your songs, do you write for yourself, for individuals you know, for the broader audience who is participating in worship music?
Jared: I write what I need for me for the day. That’s the Lord’s reveal. I can’t give anybody anything that I haven’t experienced. A lot of times I feel like I write a message or a burden that’s in my heart, and the Lord causes me to have to live that out. For instance, the song “Jesus Makes the Impossible Possible.” It’s something I needed and am still walking through with this adoption, like man, what a burden, what a journey, how’s this ever going to work out? How long is this going to take? It’s my ‘impossible’ right now, it feels like a huge mountain to climb. And yet I know that this is what God has called us to do and He’s going to make a way. He’s going to reveal Himself through it. So that’s joyous… There’s joy in that.
FC: Has there ever been a song in your catalog that you go back to and you’re like – I don’t know how I wrote that song, but it was for me?
Jared: Yeah, well like, “The Great I Am” totally. I couldn’t go back and just sit down and say, I’m going to write a song like that today, ya know? [laughs] But that has been a journey for me to draw near to the Lord and then to see how big, vast and overwhelming He is. To ask, why have I ever had any trace of fear when I’m included in a God of this magnitude…?
Just as mountaintop experiences are a part of the Christian faith, so are valleys; moments of struggle and searching for truth. Bebo Norman’s new album Lights of Distant Citieswas forged through just such a time. What Bebo discovered through the process was this: sometimes it takes a dark time to see just how beautiful the light is...
Family Christian: So could you start by giving us some personal background?
Bebo Norman: I grew up in a town called Columbus, Georgia, about 90 miles south of Atlanta. Not a super-small town – probably a couple hundred-thousand people. Definitely off the beaten path, a little bit. I honestly grew up in a Christian home, in a strangely functional family. I say that with a grain of salt, because we definitely have our dysfunctions just like any family. But it was a pretty beautiful environment to grow up in, honestly. [I had] believing parents, but also parents who sort of gave us… well we grew up under their strict guidelines in a lot of ways. [However], they also allowed each of the four kids in our family to have their own sort of freedom in finding our way to faith, if that makes any sense. And so all four children did, in their own unique time through some labor and struggle. That’s were I grew up and what my back ground was.
FC: Where did the name “Bebo” come from?
Bebo: My younger sister; the youngest in the family. When I was probably 4 or 5 years old, she couldn’t say “big brother” and started saying “Bebo” instead. Which is super cute when you’re four, and not quite as cute when you’re about to be 40. Know what I mean? [laughs] So I have had to sort of adjust, but it is what it is.
FC: It is what it is.
Bebo: People ask me a lot if it’s a stage name that I made up. And I’m like “seriously?” If I was going to make up a stage name I can promise you it wouldn’t have been Bebo. It would have been something much cooler like “Sting” or something… Well, I suppose Bono is not exactly too cool, but he is a pretty cool guy.
FC: So at some particular point the persona out weighs any type of difficulty with the name.
Bebo: That’s what I like to tell myself anyway.
FC: So how did you get introduced to music and songwriting? Was that a part of your upbringing?
Bebo: It was. My dad played this thing called a Uke which is basically a four string guitar or an oversized ukulele. He [also] played guitar. And he didn’t play it extremely well. And honestly I haven’t seen him play it since I was a kid. He used to play these old folk songs, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez songs and really old folk traditional folk songs. And he would make up songs about our dogs and anything random that he could. That’s my first real memory of loving music – my dad playing those songs to me and my brother. We shared a room, and when we would go up to bed at night, he would come and play a song every now and then. And the truth is, he may have only done it a handful of times… I don’t really remember, but it was enough to make a significant impact. And I think the interesting thing was he was playing these old songs that were really written about kind of plain, ordinary life. And sort of finding these strangely profound things within the context of playing in a plain and ordinary life. And I think in a lot of ways that’s why I write the way that I write. And of course that has a lot to do with what influenced me once I started playing music and once I started writing music.
I still listened to a lot of singer/songwriters at that point. But it has a lot to do with the fact that that’s how faith is played out in my life... in finding the profound and the extraordinary in a plain and ordinary life. I think that is kind of how God has moved in my life. And so it tends to be why I write about the things that I write about. So I think my dad’s influence early on had a lot to do with that.
FC: So at some point did something happen in your heart or your head where you said “I want to switch gears and maybe make this a full-time gig”?
Bebo: Well, honestly, it was definitely an end-of-college/post-college sort of thing. I tell people all the time that I have a degree in biology – that is what I studied in college – and my plan was to go to medical school. Which is just insane in my mind to think about now. Mostly because that was almost 18 years ago now. The thing was, I started writing songs and playing the guitar when I was probably 16 or 17 years old. I started writing songs pretty quickly after that. Once I knew a few chords – and ironically I write most of my songs with the same few chords. It was an interesting process going through college and starting to really focus on songwriting more as my own sort of personal therapy sessions, more than anything else. There was no desire in my mind at that point to play my songs for people. I mean, I did, but that was not at all where it came from. I played them for friends and every now and then for small groups of people, but I never really performed for people – it was more just something that I did. And if somebody heard me singing they might ask me to play it for them or something. Right before I was graduating from college I just started feeling this intense sense of “Hey I need to at least see what would happen with this music.” A lot of that came from people in my life where they sort of forced me to ask that question, and they would say, “Hey, you need to at least see what would happen with music.” So, I tell people all the time I took a year off after college before I was going to go apply for medical school just to see what would happen. If I am honest about it, it was probably a little more intense for me than that. It was more of an intense “Yeah, I am thinking about taking a year off to see what happens, but this is really what I feel like what I am supposed to do.” In an intense calling sort of way. And oddly enough that year has turned into seventeen years.
You asked me if it was a hard decision or if there was a definite moment where I felt compelled to see what would happen with it. But I never felt like “hey this is going to be my life or my career.” I just thought that this was something that I needed to dive into and see what could happen – and still [all these] years into it, I feel kind of surprised a lot days that I am seventeen years into it. So, it’s been an interesting journey to say the least.
FC: So then you met the guys in Caedmon’s Call? Or somehow you were introduced to Watershed Records and did a deal there... How did you feel after that first record came out when you realized that you had national exposure?
Bebo: Well I was completely surprised by it. I was in the independent music world for years. So I really didn’t know what I was doing. Honestly I took out a loan when I graduated from college. My dad co-signed the loan for me to make an independent CD. And it was the beginning of the days of being able to make a CD digitally. We recorded it on these digital machines back in 1996. And that is when it released. So it was one of those things where I didn’t have any real expectations except, I am going to make this record and if I am making a record then maybe I should try to find places that I can go play, because I made a record before I played any real concerts. Then I started playing for Young Life camps and things like that back in the day. And that led from one thing to another…
[So] this independent music scene was sort of rising up at that point and I had heard of this band Caedmon’s Call through independent music circles. And they had heard of me. And oddly enough, I was traveling through my home town, (I wasn’t living there at the time, I was living up in North Carolina), to go play a show in Florida and Caedmon’s Call happened to be playing a show in my home town and a friend of mine was promoting their show. So I went over to see the show. It ended up that these guys knew of my music and I knew of their music and we sort of hit if off that night. They asked me that night if I would tour with them the next spring. They were releasing their first national record at that point.
So that was the beginning of this process of getting real national exposure. That’s when record labels started talking to me. And I ended up on Watershed/Essential Records with Caedmon’s Call and Jars of Clay. Andrew Peterson came shortly after. That record label is now Provident Records which is probably one of the largest record labels in the Christian music world. Definitely an interesting journey. That is how it all sort of unfolded early on.
FC: So was it in your time with Young Life that you learned how to play wiffle ball so well?
Bebo: [Laughs] Such an obviously leading question.
FC: Well I remember reading something about that a couple of years ago – didn’t you break a bone?
Bebo: Yeah, I did. That was it. I would love to be able to tell people that I broke my leg doing some extreme sport like sky diving or something, right?
FC: I was going to say, don’t you play wiffle ball with a plastic ball and a plastic bat?
Bebo: In my way of wiffle ball, it’s a high collision sport. That’s the way I see it. High impact. It was a random, random thing on a Memorial Day. I can’t even remember how many years ago it was now. In fact, it probably was six years ago, because I broke my leg right before we had my first son, who is five now. So anyway all that to say – yeah, I had to have surgery, three pins put in my leg all from a silly, little game of wiffle ball. I was running home and jumped up and landed funny. Just a complete freak accident.
FC: Did your team win?
Bebo: No! [laughs] I tied the game up when I landed on the home base. And then we went into the bottom of the last inning. The other team scored. Not even worth it… It was not even worth it.
FC: Great story, nonetheless. Maybe someday wiffle ball will be at the Olympics.
Bebo: That’s right. That’s right. And if it is, I won’t pretend to be a player, maybe I can be an honorary coach or something.
FC: So since your time at Watershed, you’ve moved labels and are now with BEC Recordings. You’ve been really active since signing with them and have a new record coming out called Lights Of Distant Cities. We came across this quote recently and wondered if you could kind of talk us through what you meant a little bit. “The last few years have been pretty intense - a long, slow progression, or digression, into a spiritual desert. I struggled to write anything hopeful. But I wanted to be true to the season I was in, so I simply wrote about the hopelessness I was experiencing.” Now often times, Bebo, throughout the history of Christendom, there are people who follow Jesus and they say “there is absolutely no darkness once you are with Jesus.” From your quote, it doesn’t sound like that’s necessarily the case. Bebo: Well, I certainly don’t fall into that camp. It wasn’t given to me as my spiritual gift. And I say that honestly. There was a time in my life where I really found great frustration with God in the sense that, in the fact that I felt like, that was sort of the thorn in my side, in my flesh, if you will. Which makes me question the whole [idea] that when you become a believer, there is no darkness. Just because Scripture doesn’t seem to back that up, at least the Scriptures that I have studied. So I struggled with the fact that I had this tendency towards that doubt. Tendency toward questioning. And this tendency toward this idea that I sort of spiral at times into a place where I look around the world and it seems – and this is where I was writing from on this record originally – looking around the world and seeing so much that is dark and difficult and confusing. So much that is broken about the world.
I just started asking this question “It just doesn’t look like love is winning in this world. So well, if love is not winning, then is God not winning? And if God is not winning, then who is God? And if I am wondering who God is, then, who am I within the context of who God is?” So much of my identity is wrapped up in what I believe and not just in just my Christian world view, but in how I have been transformed by who I believe God is.
So that’s where I started this record. And even coming out of my last record which is really a record that is a lot about longing for something and being honest in writing about being in that place of longing for something. And I think this record, in a strange way, ended up becoming about finding that something. Because where I started writing from has a lot to do with the quote that you just read, this place of really struggling with the idea that our faith has these two counterpoints to it. One side is what we know to be true, and the fact that we make choices and the “decision” part of our faith. The willing ourselves toward love and toward faith because we know that truth is truth. There is a decision part of that and a will part of that. The other end of the spectrum is the emotional part – the part that feels what we feel. The things that when the Holy Spirit sort of overwhelms us, and gives us a sense of what it means to really fall in love with God. With a real understanding of what God is doing in the world.
I think when we are young, our tendency is toward that emotional side, and it can tend to really sway and lean heavily on what it feels like to have a faith experience with God. Then we get older and we begin to realize that our emotions ebb and flow. They wane at times. Then they are full of hope at times. They are full of desperation at other times. We can start to really rely heavily on that decision. That “will” part of faith. I think I just found myself in a place, that slow digression that I mentioned, where I have been praying for so long to God. To find that first love again. To experience that feeling of falling in love again. That emotion of faith. That being overwhelmed with the Holy Spirit. I had been relying on for so long – it felt like years really – on the will part of my faith, on the decision part of my faith, to trust that truth is truth, regardless of what I feel. I just started praying real honestly to God as I looked around the world and saw all things that were wrong with it. Love was not winning. Just praying that God would really give me a sense in my heart and in my emotions again, that He really is who He says He is. And that He still really is in control of the world that just feels so out of control from time to time.
What ended up being profound to me while writing for this record is that I started writing in that place of desperation and kind of about half-way through the writing process. And by that I don’t mean that I had written half of the songs, and then wrote the next half of songs. I had written half of all the songs. All eleven. They were all, kind of, half-written. I was writing again from that honest place, wanting to convey those emotions. The desperation. About half way through that process, God sort of met me in a really profound way.
There were three days that I went and spent in solitude by myself. And God just showed up in a pretty moving way. For me. In an intense way. I just felt overwhelmed with a sense of what it means to fall in love again. To be moved by what God is doing in this world that feels so out of control at times.
So in a strange way, all the songs on this record sort of represent that transition. That transition from the season of desperation to the season of recovery and renewal. So the title, Lights in Distant Cities, that’s what that song and this record is about in a lot of ways. As I look back on the writing process, it’s that moment when you come around the bend and you see something in the distance that is beautiful. And mysterious. And moving. And that thing, sort of likening that to lights in distant cities, it’s what pulls you forward in life. It’s what draws you in that direction again.
And that is how I would describe what God did. How He pulled us into those places where He gives us those glimpses of who He is. A profound sense of who He is. That really draws us forward in life, and pulls us out of a season of darkness that we might have been in.
So that is really where it was written from, where the title comes from and really what I was hoping to convey. Or what turns out was conveyed on the record in the long run as a whole.
FC: Do you think that’s indicative of the Christian walk? That there are times in our lives – in a true, authentic walk – that we go through periods of wilderness or desperation?
Bebo: Absolutely. I don’t know how… well… it certainly has been in my life. Like I mentioned earlier, there was a time in my life where I really felt frustration with God. That He gave me this tendency to doubt, this tendency to sort of move into the wilderness places. I sort of came into this place of real gratitude for that. Because in a lot of ways I think it sort of keeps us as a church, at least from my perspective. I think most often in walks of faith that I have seen in my life, from people, whether they are authors or friends in my life, they have all gone through these seasons of real wilderness. A sort of dark night of the soul.
It kinda keeps us from becoming that church of Ephesus. The church that Revelation 2 talks about, the one that becomes the “loveless” church. They were the ones that had done so many profound things in their faith, but then became [the church] that lost it’s first love. I think when we go into those seasons of desperation, when everything else gets stripped away, we can’t become fat and warm and lazy. Or sort of lukewarm as a church. Because we feel desperate. And we feel lost. And we realize that we can’t pull ourselves out of it. It’s really about relying on a God Who’s bigger than the burdens of this world to pull us out of it.
So absolutely, I think that’s indicative of what it means to walk and live our faith. Do I absolutely understand it? Absolutely not. Do I wish in a lot of ways that it wasn’t that way? Absolutely, because it can be painful at times. But my goodness, it makes for a beautiful experience. And one of the real quotes that moved me in the writing process for this whole record was a quote from an old German mystic from the late 1300’s, Meister Eckhart was his name. A lot of times when I have fallen into that place where I say “God, why did you build us this way, where we have to go through these seasons of the desert? Why is the world the way it is with all this darkness built into it?” Meister Eckhart said simply “If the soul could have known God without the world, God would have never created the world.” So, in some way we are built so that our soul, to really truly know God, has to go through those seasons; has to go through a world that really is a bit broken and dark, in order to really know who God is.
That quote was a pretty massive turning point for me in the writing of this record. As simple as it is, it was pretty profound and foundational for me in a lot of ways.
The Broken - lyric video
FCS: We so appreciate your honesty. Bebo, what would you say to brother or sister who is struggling right now in the wilderness? Who seems either overwhelmed by sin, whether it be their own, or sin in the world, or just overall darkness. That they just don’t feel like their prayers are getting to God. Like they would feel like their prayers are just hitting the ceiling. How do you speak to somebody like that?
Bebo: The first thing that comes to mind and that would come out of my mouth is I’m with you. I mean, I have been there. I will be there again. I happen to be in a season right now where God has really kind of “shown up” for me. In a way that I was just describing to you before. But it came out of a long season. A really long season, honestly, of feeling like my prayers were going unanswered. Feeling like… you know there is a song on the record called “Collide” and it’s probably the most indicative song of what you are talking about. That talks about these kingdoms that we build. When I don’t feel love. When I don’t feel saved. When I feel emotion-less in my faith. When I am thriving and surviving only on will and decision. Knowing that truth is truth, regardless of what I feel. When I go through long, long seasons of that, which I have done several times in my life, my tendency is to start looking for that feeling elsewhere. So I start to build these kingdoms up. And I might be peoples’ tendency to be in a dark place right now, or overwhelmed with their own sin or the sin of the world or the brokenness of the world or their own brokenness. We start to build these kingdoms up that are our attempts to fill that emotional need in our life. And those kingdoms can really be beautiful things. Things like family. Like our children, or our spouses. Or community. Even my music, for me, has become a kingdom at times. Where I seek to find my value and my worth in that kingdom. And I seek to be filled in that emotional sense. Or what strangers think of me as a musician. Of filled or completed by what my wife thinks of me. Or how I am as a father with my children. Those can be beautiful things, but when they become the center, when they become what we are drawing our emotional value from, they are bound to crumble. And truthfully, every single kingdom that I have ever built in my life has crumbled in one way or another, because they are all temporal.
My wife is not meant to be the source of life for me. And I am not meant to be the source of life for her. My kids are not mean to be that for me. That’s too heavy for them to carry, and my wife to carry or for me to carry. Certainly our music or our career is not meant to be those things for us. They are meant to be beautiful things, but they not meant to be the source. So the song “Collide”, that is what the whole song talks about, is these kingdoms that we build. And we continue to do it over and over. The whole song is written from this desperate place and the very last line of the song says “I build these kingdoms. I continue to build them. I continue to watch them fall.” Then the last line of the song says “And then You say to me, “You’re mine.’” Here I am, this desperate guy, seeking to find you in all these other ways, and you still continue to manage to show up in some way, and remind me that I am still yours.
And that’s what I would say to someone who is in a desperate place. Hang on for that “bend” that comes when we go around the corner as we see lights in the distance. [Lights] that are mysterious and beautiful and intriguing and they pull us forward in life. Because that to me, is how God has worked profoundly in my life and in the course of writing this record.
FC: Are you a book reader?
Bebo: I am. I love to read. I am slow book reader. So I tend to read just a handful books a year. And a lot of times I read them several times, to try to soak them all in.
FC: What are you currently reading?
Bebo: I am reading a couple right now. I have gone back to sort of start a book again. I love Tim Keller. He is one of my favorite authors, or really pastors. He has a book called Reason for God. Which every now and then I just need to go back and be reminded of the details of what a real, healthy Christian worldview is. I am also reading a book by Bob Goff right now called Love Does. He is a friend of mine. So both of those I love. But my staple, that I go to a lot is an author named Annie Dillard. They are not novels in any sense, but she has a profound spiritual sense in how she writes and what she writes about. That’s what I go to a lot. I am reading a book from her right now call the Maytrees that I just started. So those are the ones that I am reading currently. I read a whole bunch all at the same time.
FC: One last question for you. When you go into a Starbucks, what drink do you order?
Bebo: A decaf triple-tall, Americano. That’s my drink. I haven’t done caffeine in ten years, but I love coffee. So I pay a little bit more to get good coffee, because bad decaf is horrible. So good decaf may seem like a misnomer to some people, but I am here to vouch for the fact that it’s true. So that’s my drink at Starbucks.
Matthew West loves stories. And those stories sometimes turn into songs. Matthew recently spoke with Family Christian about how the stories he's been collecting ended up on his new album – and touching his life.
The songs on Into the Light are inspired by true stories from people's lives. How have those stories impacted you personally?
Matthew - Since first giving people the opportunity to share their story with me a couple of years ago, I've received over 20,000 stories from all over the world. I've made it my mission to read each story in the hopes of giving those stories a voice through song.
What I didn't expect is how much opening myself up to the stories of other peoples' lives would affect me. One by one, they have opened my eyes to see how God is uniquely at work in each and every one of our lives. I;ve been so inspired by all of these people who are willing to allow God to use their stories, even the parts that may be less than perfect. These storytellers are heroes to me and have taught me what real, authentic Christianity looks like. Just imperfect people allowing a perfect God to shine through them!
The story behind the first single, "Forgiveness," is really powerful. How have you seen God using that song and its message in people's lives?
Matthew - I think at one point in time every one of us has been wronged by somebody, maybe hurt by a family member or betrayed by a friend. And for me personally, I've been known to be able to hold a grudge with the best of them.
Renee's story of how God helped her to forgive the drunk driver who took the life of her precious daughter is a powerful reminder that there is freedom in forgiveness. It’s not that we have to forget, but we are not meant to carry the weight of bitterness. It's too heavy and it will hold us back from finding that freedom that comes when we set it free.
I'm hearing so many stories from people about how Renee's story and this song are challenging them to deal with some situations in their lives where they know God wants to break the stronghold of bitterness. I think the neatest thing I'm hearing is how, really, this story can bring us all back to the reminder of just how much we are all in need of forgiveness. God offers us that gift over and over again, and He calls us to do the same.
What do you hope listeners take away from the songs on Into the Light?
Matthew - I hope that stepping Into the Light will become contagious. I believe these people who have stepped forward to tell their story to me and inspired these songs will cause a chain reaction encouraging others to do the same.
Something special takes place when a person stands up, brings their story into the light and says, "This is who I am. Look what God has done!" The rest of the world takes notice, and it's like “Hey, I'm not alone. Maybe God can use my story too.” That's what I hope people take away from these stories and songs. We discover our life's purpose when we step out of the shadows and trust God with our whole lives, holding nothing back.
You recently traveled to Haiti. Tell us a little about that trip.
Matthew - My band and I traveled to Haiti with Compassion International to see firsthand what life is like in this poverty stricken country. Honestly, it was quite difficult to even begin to process the darkness and despair that we witnessed. My heart breaks as my mind replays the images of that trip.
But, in the middle of what at times looked like a hopeless situation, I saw God at work restoring lives and communities through the work of Compassion. This trip really lit a fire in me to make sure that I am not simply talking about being God's hands and feet, but actually doing something about it.
Christmas will be here before we know it, so we wanted to know: what's on your "must listen" Christmas playlist?
Matthew - Well, my CD, The Heart of Christmas, of course! No, seriously, I love the classics. Put on some Bing Crosby, Eddie Arnold or Nat King Cole and I'm happy. Also love Amy Grant's classic Christmas CD.
And what are some of the traditions your family celebrates every Christmas?
Matthew - A Christmas Eve candle light service is a family tradition we've observed ever since I was growing up in my dad's church in Chicago. There's something about standing with my family, singing "Silent Night" and lighting a candle that always seems to rescue my heart from the chaos of the season and help me return to what it's really all about: Jesus.
Matthew's Christmas album, Heart of Christmas, can be found by clicking here.
If you would have told the 15 year-old version of Jon Erwin that he’d end up creating a movie that would grace the cover of the New York Times – he probably never would have believed it. But that’s what his God does – the impossible. And he recruits people – like you, and the Erwins – to join that effort.
Family Christian: Could you give us a brief history of Jon and Andy Erwin?
The Erwin Brothers
Jon Erwin: (laughs) Well, we’re a couple of guys who had a hobby that went completely out of control. We were given an incredible opportunity in this business very early, as teenagers. When I was 15 years old, my dad was in Christian radio and I worked at a cable station and became a cameraman there. I was an apprentice under a guy that was a sports freelancer and worked for ESPN. So one day on a gig he was doing for a University of Alabama football game somebody got sick just a few hours before kickoff. They were scrambling, so Mike called me and said “hey get over here, I talked to the director and he knows you’re green, no one knows quite how old you are, but get over here and run this camera.” And so I did, this wide-eyed 15 year-old kid. I ran this huge camera and all I knew was that I could zoom into the moon (laughs). It was like a telescope. I think the first time that that red light came on my camera, I was just hooked. I knew that’s what I would do for the rest of my life. So I was freelancing for ESPN literally at the age of 15. When I was 16 my dad helped my brother and I get a $10,000 loan for our first video editing equipment and we started a video production company in our hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. We did commercials, weddings and church and ministry promotional videos.
FC: So you were 16 when you got the loan. How old was your brother?
Jon: My brother was 19. He was at Bible college in upstate New York, so he came home and we started working together. The more we did, the more people called us the Erwin Brothers. [So it] literally was a decade-long practice track where we could refine our skills. And it just grew.
FC: And so how did you transition into the Christian world?
Jon: Michael W. Smith actually gave us our break into Christian music videos, where we [ended up having] our greatest level of success. I don’t really know why he let us, it was very low budget and he kinda put his name on the line for these two kids from Alabama, but it turned out great. It was a very emotional video. Oddly enough it was Rachel Hendrix’s (who stars in October Baby) first time on the screen. It was How to Say Goodbye by Michael W. Smith. We’d found her at a community college and one of our crew members had put her in a short film he had done, so we cast her in that video about a father saying good bye to his daughter, which is very ironic. The video did very well and propelled us into doing a lot of videos in the Christian space. We won a lot of awards for that video. [Then] we did documentaries and dramatic television. Ya know, I’d say we were the Hans Solo of the Christian world. If you had money, we had a ship. We were a hired gun. I went on to direct second unit on Courageous for the Kendrick brothers… I was responsible for a lot of the action in the film and we had a blast. It was so much fun working for those guys, and they really challenged me. Alex [Kendrick] asked me “Jon, what’s your purpose? What’s the purpose of your work?” And I had a hard time answering that question because I was raised a Christian and my faith has always been important to me – but there’s a huge leap between doing something for somebody and getting a paycheck, to being passionate about an idea and raising money for that idea… following it all of the way through. It’s just a very, very scary transition and I think Stephen and Alex really came alongside us and helped us be brave enough to make that jump. About that time we were thinking about using our gifts and how we hadn’t really tried to get into entertainment and film, God had just put us in it.
FC: So tell us a little bit about October Baby. How did the concept come about?
Jon: [Making the film] was a period of two years. We had worked decades to kind of refine a style working for other people. So we thought our first movie would be a football movie or something with lots of explosions because we love doing that kind of work. So lo and behold I went and heard Gianna Jessen speak – she is an abortion survivor. I had no idea that those two words could go together. And ya know, she has a lot of physical problems because she survived a saline abortion, [including] cerebral palsy but she’s such a beautiful person with a beautiful spirit. There’s this wonderful quality about her. I was mesmerized by her story and her angle and a section of our culture that I honestly didn’t know existed. It moved me so much that I started researching it with Cecil Stokes (one of the producers of the film). I’d dare anybody to Google “abortion survivors” and try to read the stories for 20 minutes and not have to walk away from your computer because it’s so tragic that this has happened, is happening. I could not stop thinking about it. We felt like we need to expose this – we need to share this. I took it to my brother and we started thinking about it. We thought, you know if we do a documentary it would be very difficult, maybe impossible to watch, but what if we told the story of this beautiful, 19 year-old girl that discovers this about herself, that she was adopted because she was a survivor of a failed abortion? So she has to go on a journey of discovery, to find answers, to find herself and to find the power of forgiveness – which I think is universal. And that’s the film that we set out to make.
At every stage [of making the movie], there were a lot of people who didn’t understand what we were doing – like, why is this your first movie? Why isn’t it an action or sports movie? A Christian abortion movie from two unknown movie guys from Alabama is not the easiest thing in the world to market. But at the end of the day we had that still small voice that this was what we were supposed to do and that this was the story God wanted us to tell. It’s a scary subject for the church; for all of us, but it needs to be addressed. [James 1:27 says] “True religion is caring for orphans and widows in their distress…” and I think part of that is giving a voice to those who don’t have one. I think this represents a massive portion of our society that doesn’t have a voice and we thought we could give them one with this film.
October Baby trailer
FC: Give us some insight as to how you guys transitioned from sports TV into Christian music videos and then into cinematic releases.
Jon: A big part of it is that part of me (and my 3.5 year old daughter has inherited my DNA which makes me wife’s job so much more difficult) is I am so ADHD and hyperactive that I can’t stay in one place for very long (laughs), so I think there was a natural longing to… I’m telling you, beyond my relationship with God and my family (in the work world), there is nothing more gratifying than staring at a blank piece of paper and having a passion for an idea then seeing it come to life, in a collaborative way. Our team, our film crew is the best on earth. Our marketing team and our team at Provident are the best on earth. And when all these people work on this idea and then see it on a 40 foot screen with people enjoying and genuinely being moved by it… I can’t even describe what it feels like. I love sports but you don’t get that feeling. There’s no real higher purpose to what you’re doing. Moving to Christian music, I loved doing Christian music videos, and collaborating with all of those bands and being able to visualize their vision and build relationships – as fun as that is, there’s still an itch for something more. And I think that itch was to really use that skill for a higher purpose and calling. It’s like the first words in A Purpose Driven Life were “It’s not about you,” we’re all made for something more. It was that drive, that instinct that our skills could be used for something more, for some reason we just weren’t comfortable working for ESPN and understood it to be just a stepping stone, not a permanent place to stay. I think the permanent place is to stay in what we’ve found. There’s no going back to that after something like October Baby. It’s Peter Jackson who said “pain is temporary, film is forever.” It really is true in our culture. There’s no more effective way of communication today in our culture than entertainment and it’s very gratifying. It’s very nice to know that October Baby will outlive me. That’s what’s so exciting about movies like this. I think in 50 years Fireproof will still be changing marriages. I hope that October Baby will help people to value life more. So I think we finally found something that we can hang out in for a long time. What we did before was fun, but it wasn’t fulfilling.
FC: So when you boil it down, what do you hope people take away from this movie?
Jon: I hope that you get swept away in the love story and are entertained with October Baby, but I hope that it will really make you stop and think about how you value life. I hope it moves people like it moves me. I would consider myself like a “pro-life pacifist” before this film. My dad was a two-term Republican state senator so I was certainly a conservative but it was just not something that I thought much about. I think in a lot of our minds we think, well it’s a done deal. It’s not a done deal and there’s plenty we can do about it. You can stand up for them. It’s what we should be doing.
FC: So this topic is a weighty one. Not just politically, but also in the church. What have you told people when you’ve gotten some controversy over the film, or harsh critiques?
Jon: (laughs) Well, I guess I didn’t quite know what we were signing up for, so I guess on the front end, ignorance was bliss. We didn’t quite know the firestorm that we’d be entering. Having said that, the biggest thing was we didn’t want to necessarily make a movie that told you what to think as much as we wanted to encourage you to stop and think. To me, my interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan was – the three people that walked by the guy on the road weren’t necessarily bad people, they were just preoccupied people. We have never been more preoccupied, there’s never been so much noise in our culture before. Now we deal with Google and Facebook and bombarding entertainment it’s very difficult (if not impossible) for us to slow down and ask the big questions. But you get [people] into movie theaters, you can’t escape (laughs). So the idea was, can we make people stop and think about this issue? I’ve heard it said “films shouldn’t only give answers, they should ask very penetrating questions.” And so our goal with October Baby was to get people to stop, think and talk. I think no matter what your political or religious perspective is it’s a valuable conversation to have. So when the New York Times roasted the movie or when I’m on NPR Morning Edition and they ask me every possible controversial question (although the final piece was very positive), that means people are talking about it (laughs). It was great when we opened at number 8 and then a few days later we’re on the front page of the New York Times. That says that we had fulfilled our purposes and hopefully a lot of good was coming from it. And then when we started getting the stories back of the good, for every difficult review that was written on the film, or for every time we were roasted, there was 200 stories of someone’s life being changed from this movie. It became a lot easier to weather and a little bit easier to get over my own ego with the reviews when you heard of lives being changed. It was very interesting to see on RottenTomatoes.com where they aggregate the critics and also the audience, we have like the largest gap of any film we could find the site between the reviews and the people (laughs) our approval rating. I think Walk Disney said it best “I don’t make films for the critics, I make the films for the people.” It was cool to see our audience embrace the film and see lives changed.
FC: Tell us a little about the feedback that you are getting…
Jon: I remember these two moments that I’ll mention. I got an email from a Christian girl who had taken one of her friends to the film who had been to a clinic three times and was pretty set on having an abortion. After the movie she decided to keep her child and said the movie had given her the courage, faith and hope to have her baby. I was so blown away by that. Then I was in a screening and this little 12 year old boy said to me, your movie just changed my life and I thought he’d come out of another movie (laughs)… I think you’re mixed up buddy, my movie doesn’t have any pirates or explosions in it (laughs). But then I thought – oh maybe he’s adopted or something and he said my dad had an affair against my mom and I’ve been angry at my dad. But after seeing this movie I’m going home to forgive my father. And I’m just like (laughs) Thank you! I just didn’t know what to say. The biggest surprise is (if statistics are accurate) 4 out of 10 women have experienced an abortion. And that means that millions of men have experienced an abortion too, I mean, we all know someone who has. There were thousands of people who approached us that had had an abortion and had carried the weight. Something about the words “I forgive you” being written on the screen and being part of the story was very cathartic and healing to them and they would just come to us in droves.
Impact of October Baby the film:
FC: With the release of October Baby you also created another site called Every Life is Beautiful where you incorporated other peoples’ conversations. How has that been received? And is it helping to propel the message of the film?
Jon: That’s a great question. Ya know, what’s funny is some things you just kind of discover along the way, and the tagline to the movie took a little while (laughs). There were all kinds of taglines tossed out. We did a limited release of the film in October of 2011 with American Family Association to sort of test the movie. It was just 14 theaters and that’s really where we discovered that the movie had an audience. That was also where we discovered the tagline because when we would show the movie people would tell their stories, about abortion survivor or someone that “shouldn’t” have lived or an adoption and it was like the aggregate of all of these stories. Some that were better than the movie in some cases (laughs)! And it was simple to find it. That was the whole point. “Every life is beautiful.” We’re celebrating the value of every person’s life, no matter your disability, your race, no matter who you are. You have value to God and to us. That became the tag. So then we thought, can we do something more? So we created that other site to follow up with web vignettes with people that you’ve heard of (Christian celebrities) and others. We just did one about this girl in Texas who survived an abortion and her story – there’s no way on earth she should have been alive and yet here she is; it’s just the coolest story. Bobby Downs, the producer, shared his story of adoption and so it just became a place that we could celebrate life. I think the movie is not just about what we’re against. This movie is also about what we’re for. And what we’re for is life. We’re PRO-life that’s the whole point. In the marketing of the movie we wanted a communal celebration of the value of life. We also wanted to put 10% of the profits of the movie into a fund. So before I turn a check from the profits of this film, a check will go to a pregnancy resource center or an orphanage, or a frontline organization that’s helping orphans or young girls navigate the toughest decision she has to make. I’m anxious to see what kind of life the site takes on. My hope is that we could propel it to keep going.
FC: How much of the movie (if any) involves your own personal stories?
Jon: I’m a big fan of [Director] Christopher Nolan who said that he believes the audience can tell when a filmmaker is taking an emotional journey versus if the filmmaker is using his bag of tricks to make the audience feel something that he himself doesn’t feel. He believes that a film has to be real first to the filmmaker. JJ Abrams said that you have to have an overriding confidence that if something is inspirational and meaningful to you, it will be to your audience as well. So at the end of the day I think you have to make a movie for yourself; a movie about things you’re trying to process emotionally. So October Baby really covers a time in my life where I was saying, like James, faith without works is dead, and ya know, we’re kind of defined by what we do. When it comes to the area of the sanctity of life, I hadn’t really done anything. Sure I go to a great church and I vote Republican, but I haven’t really done anything. So it was me trying to process that. I wanted to make a very honest and raw piece that was a part of my journey and something that I was struggling with answering for myself, so that’s what we did. It was intensely personal all of the way through. From writing the script to producing the movie, we put ourselves in it. That’s one thing about working in the music business as long as I did, I really gravitate to people who write their own music because you just get so much more of a sense of who the artist is, as opposed to someone who records songs that were written. So we wrote it, produced it, I shot it, Andy edited it, it really is us. It’s deeply personal and I hope that when you see it you get an idea of who we are and what we appreciate and value. Then also it started with the title. A lot of people have asked me about that specifically. My wife and I were driving down the road (and she’s a total planner, I am not a planner, I’m a delinquent creative) and we were talking about our second child. She said, if we have a summer baby, we can buy this type of clothes, if we have a winter or December baby, we can buy these type of clothes, but if we have an October baby… and that’s kinda when I snapped back into the conversation from daydreaming and said, that would be a great title for a girl just trying to find herself or taking life’s journey to discover who she is. But I just sort of shelved that idea away for a long time until I learned about the issue of an abortion survivor and I married the two. And then (our son) Ethan ended up being born October 28th and then my brother’s daughter Amelia was born the next October, so there’s kind of three October babies. It started that way and I hope the people can get to know Andy and I – who we are and that this isn’t just some script we read and wanted to direct. It’s something that was two years of our lives and something we’re deeply passionate about. I think the body of Christ and the Christian community does a lot, but we can do so much more of caring for the orphan and the widow, the ‘least of these’ in our culture. I hope that this movie is an encouragement to everyone to say, what can I do? as they enjoy it.
FC: What is your favorite movie?
Jon: Asking me what my favorite movie is, is like asking a cook what his favorite meal is!
FC: Ok, one that would qualify in your top 5?
Jon: Ok, I’m going to get myself in trouble here so I’m going to say that I do not approve of all of the content in these movies, but like pastor’s all over America, they’re favorite secret movie is Braveheart. And I’d put myself in that category. I think the line “every man dies, but not every man really lives” has to be the greatest line ever written in the history of movies (laughs) and every time I see that it moves me emotionally, it encourages me to chase my passion and dreams. I’m an epic guy who likes epic movies. I like The Lord of the Rings. I dream of a day when we can interpret the Bible in that way. We have the greatest book of all time and the rights are available. If we could translate the Bible into a movie like Lord of the Rings I think that would be my ultimate dream; goal in life. I was definitely in line for The Dark Night Rises, I also like Pixar. I love the experience of going to the movies. It’s one of my favorite things to do. In fact, my 3.5 year old daughter and I go to the movies together, we call them “daddy dates.” We just saw Madagascar, I love that experience and that we can use it for a greater purpose. I have a running list of my favorites and I go to the movies a lot. Great films stick to you like glue, you can’t get them out of your mind. And every movie has a world view, a message, a set of morals. Don’t tell me you can’t make a movie that’s overtly toward your view that doesn’t do great numbers, I mean, look at Avatar. That’s one of the more overt movies that I’ve seen, but it’s the number one movie of all time. It’s a great business we work in. We have a lot of work to do, a long way to go, but I think we have just scratched the iceberg of what can happen. We have the largest core audience in America and I hope we realize how powerful we are in rallying around a movie – it’s our nation’s largest export. I think it’s upstream to politics now, entertainment is, it’s something we say – we’re buying back our culture one movie ticket at a time. You have no idea how much good you’re doing when you buy a ticket to a Christian movie – it’s like a vote. Exciting times, I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.
We love getting to know the artists behind our favorite Christian music and we’re pretty sure you do too! Here’s a quick Q &A with the artists appearing on the Proof of your Love Tour: for KING & COUNTRY, Dara Maclean and Jason Castro.
FC:What was the first album you ever owned and do you still own it? If so, do you still listen to it?
Joel (for KING & COUNTRY): I'm not sure I could say I official "owned" this record but nonetheless, when I was about 5 years old I clearly remember sitting in front of a vinyl 45 record playing in my parents home in Sydney Australia. I was staring at a Stryper record cover in awe with the music blaring in the background! Good moment.
Luke (for KING & COUNTRY): Hmmm, this is a really sad realization but I don't remember the first album I bought! Now that being said, our Dad was a concert promoter in Australia and brought over bands like: Stryper, Whiteheart, Carmen and Amy Grant. I might not remember the first album I 'bought' but I certainly had those records around my house from when I was very young!
Dara: The first significant album I ever owned was not one, but all of Crystal Lewis' records! It changed my world musically when I was 8 and inspired me and my sound as a female vocalist.
Jason: One of the earliest memories I have of actually owning an album goes back to when I was maybe 12 or 13 years old. I was at a Christian bookstore with my parents and my dad told my brother and I that we could each pick out a CD to take home. My family was pretty frugal, so this was pretty special! I bought the very first Relient K album and listened to it non-stop. I don’t have that CD anymore and I'm pretty sure that if I did, it wouldn’t work because I know I wore that thing out!
FC:What was the first concert you went to?
Joel (for KING & COUNTRY): Our pops was a concert promoter and he had brought over Stryper for an Aussie tour. I remember the concert well, I sat on Dads shoulders with the palms of my hands over my ears soaking it all in. I was also the on-stage t-shirt mannequin. I went up with my pops and stood there during announcements, the shirt was so large it was touching the floor.
Dara: KLTY Joy Williams Brown Bag concert!!
Jason: Hmm...I think the first concert I actually went to was at Six Flags Over Texas. There were a lot of bands playing, but the ones I remember most from that show are The O.C. Supertones and Switchfoot. It was a blast!!
FC:What has God been teaching you lately?
Luke (for KING & COUNTRY): My wife and I are expecting our first child this Christmas and I've been challenge by the thought of how my kids will view me as their father. God calls us to be servants and if I can think of one characteristic that I'd like to be known for, it would be having a servant’s heart. Certainly easier said than done, but I feel the Lord tugging at me to be a servant to all.
Dara: He has been teaching me about rest. How when we trust Him and His way of doing things, you can do more by resting in Him then by striving and exhausting yourself all day. True rest is only attainable through Him, the greater one living within us.
Jason: Humility, humility, humility! Pride makes everything worse and it never ceases to amaze me how fast humility can turn things around. "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble."- James 4:6. Another passage I have been loving on humility is Philippians 2:3-11, check it out!
BONUS - Here are the latest music videos from each artist:
for King & Country
Recently, we exchanged a few questions with author Dee Henderson via email.
FC: It’s been many years since your last book, we missed you. What have you been doing?
Dee: It’s always nice to be missed. It wasn’t a plan to have so much time between books; it’s simply how this particular story evolved. Full Disclosure originated in a mystery series I had developed over the course of a couple years. That series turned into the back-story for a larger single title. I don’t recommend arriving at a book that way, but I personally like the results of a richer plot line and more complex characters.
I’m wired by God to be a storyteller. Hours spent working on a story are not a job, but are in fact the reward for having gotten the rest of my life uncluttered enough that I can go do what I want. And most often that’s a pen and paper and being lost in a story I’m creating. So I hope to be creating stories for my readers to enjoy for decades to come, just hopefully with not as much time between finished stories in the future.
FC: For those of us who are excited to read Full Disclosure. Tell us about it.
Dee: In Full Disclosure I gave two very good cops a car wreck, a suspicious death, and a lead on a hired shooter. The case which began so simply will lead them to the kind of secret that will change how history is written once it is known. So at its most basic, Full Disclosure is a mystery and a romance.
I enjoy writing about cops. With this story I wanted to portray the job that a cop’s life really is—the cases keep coming to be solved, and if you’re going to have a private life, space for it is going to have to be carved into the flow of work.
I also like to write about falling in love. I decided to write a bit against type in this romance. From the beginning, Paul Falcon wants to get married and is looking for the right lady. Ann Silver is content being single and hasn’t been thinking about marriage. It created a unique romance that I loved.
And I enjoy writing about faith. What characters think about God, whether they believe or not, interests me. I’m not ready to say a manuscript is finished until I’ve figured out what I want the book to share about God. In Full Disclosure I explore how God is involved and interacting with us in our day-to-day life.
FC: How would you compare Full Disclosure to your other novels?
Dee: It’s a more complex book with a richer plot than my prior books, and the story continued beyond the romance and wedding to the first months of their lives together. I describe it as an O’Malley book plus more.
I write a lot about survivors—overcoming what’s happened, learning something about yourself and friends, deepening what you know about God. This adds a rich layer to the stories I want to explore. This book follows that basic theme, so I think it’s going to read as familiar to my fans even though it’s more layered than prior books.
FC: Who’s your favorite character in all your books and why?
Dee: I love Quinn and Lisa as a couple. Lisa has a depth to her back-story I didn’t realize was there until I wrote The Truth Seekerand it fit so well with the faith theme being the resurrection that I think it was God-inspired in small ways. There are scenes with Lisa and Quinn I remember better than any of the other stories I’ve written.
FC: Are any of your characters based on real people?
Dee: You can pretty much read a book of mine for the dog I either have or want to have. But the characters in my stories come from my imagination.
FC: Are you a character in any of your books or is there one character you relate to the most?
Dee: Ann Silver in Full Disclosure is probably the character I understand best. Her personality is closer to mine than most I’ve written. Part of that was simply the back-story Ann needed for the book required a certain type of personality in order to sound authentic.
FC: What are your favorite books to read?
Dee: It’s a family joke but true that I read everything. Recently, books on business, economics, marriage, painting, and politics. I love to understand how something works and what a job is like. I read a lot of fiction. I read to understand how another author got that emotional reaction from me or made me sit up and notice a well-developed plot.
Some titles I’ve reread this year: Certain Prey and Mortal Prey by John Sandford—absolutely fascinating lady shooter and ripping plot lines. The Good Guy by Dean Koontz—a great hero and you don’t realize why until the end of the book. I loved how the author played out the information about his hero. J. D. Robb—I love the Eve and Roarke story line that threads through the series. I like the depth of their unfolding relationship and how well it’s played out across multiple books.
FC: Are you a music lover?
Dee: I don’t hear well enough to hear music like others do, so while it is often on in the background, I’m not one who could tell you what the words are to a song.
FC: What’s your favorite thing to do to relax?
Dee: I walk when I’m given the chance to fill half an hour. I pick up a book and read when I want to wind down at the end of a day. If I have a few hours where I know I won’t be interrupted, I may paint. I enjoy television where a good plot line is rolling out, where dialogue is flowing at an interesting pace.
FC: What has God been teaching you lately?
Dee: He’s working on teaching me to live within my limits. I tend to stretch too far and not leave enough margin in my life, around my finances in particular, or my health. I find it easier to manage areas like my time. On that, I keep a limited list rather than a to-do list. I know I won’t get done what everyone would like from me, so I choose the items that personally matter to me or impact my family. Most stuff simply doesn’t get done. It’s easier to accept that than to live like you can do everything. The other areas of life are much tougher for me to discipline. Anyway, God’s been working on that one for a while. I’ll be glad when he’s helped me solve it.
FC: What’s on your bucket list?
Dee: I was asked one time, “What’s your favorite holiday?” And I replied, “I actually don’t like holidays—they’re too busy. I’d rather have a regular day that goes 24 hours without something going wrong during it. That would be a nice holiday.”
When I read your question about a bucket list, I had a similar reaction. I want more of the same. I want a week like last week, where I wrote some on a story, talked with friends, took a walk with God, read a few books, watched a movie, and slept. Oh, and my mother called and asked if I wanted something brought back from the Dairy Queen. It’s hard to beat that kind of nice week. Even the weather was nice. Sometimes earth feels like a slice of heaven. I don’t have major goals I want to accomplish or things I dream about doing. I’ve already got them. I simply want more of the same, and time to enjoy them.
Moving from the financial industry into the film-making world may sound like a big leap, until you hear Jason Atkins talk about it. And suddenly it makes perfect sense. Why? Because when the Holy Spirit directs something, He makes all the difference. And the way He pulled together the story, the script, the actors and the message of Unconditional (arriving in theaters this month) is something that only He could do…
Family Christian: We always like to start out our interviews with some background. Tell us a little about Jason Atkins and what brought you to the idea of creating the film Unconditional…
Jason Atkins: Sure, my background is originally in the finance world. I had worked for about 12 years in the hedge fund community and prior to that was working for a Global 100 accounting firm. But one morning in 2006 while I was praying I felt the Lord start to speak to me about media. Out of that time of prayer He referenced [me] back to Hebrews 11:3, [where] the things of the seen came from that which cannot be seen. He began relating that to me [by] cross referencing back into the Old Testament where the prophets were bringing His messages to the people into a visual context, essentially, things that could not be seen into realms that could be. So back in 2007 our foundation decided there was more love, hope and truth that we could offer the world through our foundation and supporting media than just making money for institutions and wealthy individuals which is who our clientele was. So within our investment firm we started the Doorpost Film Project whose purpose was to identify the next generation of filmmakers and instill love into those individuals so that they could move up in their craft; becoming the leading filmmakers of the next generation... that the nature of their content would reflect the values of the Kingdom of heaven. So we started that project and in the first year it was named [among the] top 25 film projects in the US. We had a few thousand enter into a film contest that we held. We had 3,000 artists and creatives sign up to participate in our social platform, somewhat of a “MySpace for filmmakers” that we developed and those 3,000 filmmakers produced short content out of which we selected the best and most promising to remake content on the topic of hope. My current business partner and a producer on the film Unconditional, felt like the Lord was saying, we shouldn’t necessarily preach to these individuals because we needed to meet them where they were and show God’s love to them, but what we could do was set a platform for them to discover truth. And so we used the biblical principles (like redemption or forgiveness or love) that the submissions for this contest had to be attached to one of these concepts. Then, those that we selected participated in a final round that we provided some funding for and told them they had to make their film on [the subject of] hope. They had to explore hope in order to try and to be true to that concept. It was their own discovery process and it was the Holy Spirit’s responsibility to bring them to a place of what truth might be within that concept that is His. And so through that, it opened our eyes to the nature and impact of media, and we saw several people come to know Christ through that experience, for others it reshaped the way they were thinking about the contest and even a couple that has said they were [previously] thinking about giving up on making movies all together had this contest not come along. If they hadn’t made it into finals they were going to quit what they were doing and go back to their previous day job. One of those filmmakers is Brent McCorkle who ended up directing Unconditional. About half of the finalists in 2008 and 2009 (the two years that J. Wesley Legg and I led that project as a side bar to our hedge fund investment firm) were believers and about half of them were not. They were all exploring “how can I make my own impression on this world” some for good and some not. Hopefully over the 2 years that we led and the 3rd that an independent board led the Doorpost Film Project, the future of film-making was impacted for future generations. We’re excited that since that project, we’ve had multiple filmmakers go on to make feature films, some go on to write large budget Hollywood films and their careers are on a fast track in many ways to become the influencers of this generation. But in 2008 I was continuing to pray and I felt like the Lord was telling us the time to shut the hedge fund down and move into media full-time was something He had a real interest in. The more we pushed into it, the more that became evident. In the middle of 2008 we opened the second office for our investment firm in Nashville, and by the end of the year we came to the conclusion that even though we were growing, the Lord had different plans for us and it was time to shut down. So we let our employees know, it was a 6 month process in that transition phase, but by middle of 2009 we had shut the firm down and had started the process of making our first feature film with the idea that we would continue to sow into future generations, but the need for truth in the world today, and the need for inspiration and hope was a present problem, not just a future issue. So that’s when we began to [ask] what should our first feature film be? Shortly after arriving in Nashville, we had begun to participate in an inner city ministry working with at-risk children and youth called Elijah’s Heart. They provided food, after-school mentoring and their biggest ministry is a youth choir that’s multi-race and works across 7 different projects in Nashville. So through that ministry we got to know an individual named Joe Bradford who was just one of the most humble, gentle, meek, kind individuals we had ever had a chance to get to know. The Heart Behind Unconditional
Through the process of seeking what our first film should be about, I felt like the Lord said I should talk to Joe about his story. Now, at the time my perspective of his story was not film-worthy, I knew he had kidney disease, had a transplant and I knew that he worked with at-risk children, but in and of itself in that did not make for a theatrical experience, at least in my mind’s eye. But I asked Joe to lunch one day and I brought the topic up and he started to weep in the middle of the Five Guys Burger. I was kind of looking at him stunned and he said I knew this day was coming and I didn’t know when or how, but I knew I was supposed to share my story with you, and what I’m about to tell you no one other than my wife knows, and I’ve been scared to share it with others because I didn’t know if you would still be my friend. So I shared with him “Look Joe, I love you, nothing you can share with me would change my opinion of who you are, or the friend that you are.” So he goes on them to share his story, of growing up in a small, rural town being the only African American growing up in an all-white town. He was dirt poor to the point they did not have indoor plumbing nor did they have their own outhouse – He had to use the neighbors’ outhouse in his childhood years. He taught himself how to play the saxophone and then took some karate classes. Through the whole process of him laying out the components I began to see (laughs) well maybe there are some theatrical elements to this. So then he goes into his adult life, becoming one of the world’s first hackers and almost definitively one of the world’s first African American computer hackers. The events that led up to his ultimate “fall” from a place of growing prominence within the University of Tennessee and a job at IBM to a place of incarceration. Then he carried it further and talked about what happened in prison, and how it happened and the nature of how God started to transform his life and where He showed him new value and new hope – what love really was about. And shared more about his views of “the highway of love” how scripture lays that out and ultimately to the point of working with children through “walks of love” that he does with these inner city communities. It all just began to really sink in that Jesus knows more than we do. (laughs) My preconceived notion of what makes a theatrical story was not just wrong, but was dead wrong. And the thing that He was really just pushing into me at the moment was that we don’t always have to make up stories to glorify God, he’s already written truth before the foundation of time and the story that He’s written for each one of us truly is a theatrical experience that we can all marvel at, wherever He’s involved. And so the nature of Joe’s story having true elements that people will see on screen became more and more profound as I learned more and more and the realization that truth has so much more power than fiction. So that led to us beginning to develop the script and write the story, and incorporate as many of the true elements of his life that we could. Our first version was about 3 hours long, and we tried to whittle it down and in the process broaden the character base. We took some artistic liberties with a few characters and changed some names and basic profiles but left everything around Joe’s story as true to form as we possibly could. In some places we dumbed it down because we didn’t believe that audiences would actually walk away believing [it was] true because sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. The elements that people scoff at most when they watch the movie and say that couldn’t have really happened were much more bizarre and unusual than what we even put on camera. So the entire process was God, we want our life to matter and we love what we’re doing as investors and You’ve blessed us in the business that You’ve given us, but our lives feel like they’re isolated and buffeted and we want every component to be of value. So in that process of seeking He began to unveil the Doorpost which led to Harbinger Media Partners. So the thing we delighted in doing and what was a blessing, He chose to shut down for a new path and Lord willing this will be one of many stories to come.
Unconditional Movie Trailer
FC: What an incredible story. So does that mean the Doorpost Film Project is officially shut down or is that still sort of running behind the scenes?
Jason: I wish that it were. We turned it over in 2009 to an independent board and we gave them the funding and operating budget for the following year with the understanding that they’d become self-sufficient and it did not work out.... it unfortunately closed its doors (at least from an outside perspective). The database and all of the underlying work is still there, but on a day-to-day basis it does not have an active presence anymore.
FC:Unconditional is just the sort of film that grapples with your heart. What’s the process of going from script to recruiting actors, and how did these big names react to the message of Joe’s story?
Jason: The process is one of writing the scripts (we wrote 7 major iterations, 13 total drafts of the script) and getting to the 13th draft and having it pass through the muster of scrutiny from multiple demographics and geographic parts of the country to make sure there was some measure of poetic flow to it. We went out to actors and used a casting agency in LA. They were fantastic, they gave us recommendations of who they thought would fit well to play the characters because they read the script as well. We had our own wish list of actors that we thought would be right to play various characters and so we went out and made offers to a handful of people. The process was one of offer and either acceptance or rejection – when you get to that level of talent they can select which projects they want to participate in. The interesting thing about it is not knowing the full background of all of these actors and actresses that we were making offers to. It’s a scary proposition because you never know what you’re going to discover after the fact and in some cases we were just very thankful that God saw fit to provide us cover and work it out the way He did.
Michael Ealy was one of the very first people that we went to. We didn’t know he was a believer but he is. He’s an amazing man with great wisdom – he helped to cover us in a lot of areas of production. Being first-time producers and directors we could have made mistakes that would have been hard to come back from, but he really helped us to avoid them. He helped to lead and guide elements from a talent, acting and production flow perspective. He was just amazing. He spent a lot of time with the real Joe Bradford to make certain that he was embodying as well he could the personality and the love of the Holy Spirit in Joe. Michael has been a delight from the beginning.
Lynn Collins was another really cool situation in that she grew up in a home of faith in Texas and had been in Hollywood for awhile. Upon talking to her about the story, she shared that she was really pleased because this is the type of content her mother was really excited about. She had been talking with several [people] recently who’d recognized that it felt like the world needed more hope and more positive pieces of content. She was thrilled to be a part of something like this that she had not had the luxury of doing for awhile. She had just come off John Carter which was a $250 million movie that she was the lead in. Michael had just come off of finishing Takers which was a blockbuster that he was a lead in. So they really kind of just identified with the story at different levels. Michael because of a heart for children and the challenge of playing a real guy that was a positive role model within the African American community as a male figure who was being the father to the fatherless; embodying the essence of true religion according to James. Lynn grew up in Texas and had horses. She said that she would share secrets with the horses that she wouldn’t share with anyone else and went through periods of her life where she had battled elements of depression, so the character played out in a way that just mimicked her real life as a child and adult. She was able to embrace and realize that others could take the story and find a real place of hope.
FC: So you guys are doing something unique because you’re literally calling people to action after viewing the movie. Can you tell us a little about that?
Jason: Sure. When we went down the path of making the movie, the question that kept coming back to me, when I was praying about the situation [was], God is this the movie we are to make? And what kept coming back to me was “Are you going to remember my forgotten ones?” That question really didn’t haunt me, but it felt really important. (laughs) The heart of God is for the fatherless for the widow for the broken and what are we going to do as the church? As believers? As His children, to remember those that society in many ways has forgotten, that we often turn our back to, or we feel like they might have gotten themselves into bad situations. The one thing about children is that they don’t choose which home they’ll be born into. They didn’t decide where they would be born geographically or to the gene pool they came out of. They’re innocent in the form of their circumstance. In part, their conditions were never ones of their own choosing. And yet God was asking the question – are you going to love them? That in part sprang up the genesis of the title of the movie, Unconditional.
So what we wanted was not just to entertain but hopefully inspire believers that come out of the theater – that their lives can be of greater value. That they can be a hero. It doesn’t take much to be a hero for someone else other than to just share a life of love. And so we’ve begun to partner with organizations all over the country in just about every city that we’re opening in – we will have at least one and in most cases more than one that we’re calling ACT partners. These are organizations that serve the broken, the needy and the hurting. Whether it’s helping children with after-school mentoring programs, feeding programs, adoption situations and in some cases job training… we’re raising [people] up as the hands and feet of Christ, to let them know that they are loved by the Father in heaven, that their life matters and they can become more than what they see around them. Their lives are precious and treasured. Our hope is that people will leave the movie and get activated in such a way that they become the hands and feet of Christ to someone else. And whether they see themselves this way or not, they become a “Papa Joe-like” character where they’re the hero of their own story for someone else just by sharing one life at a time. Right now we’re thrilled because not only do we have great partners, but we’re already hearing the magnitude of the great impact of these partnerships. Even people coming out of the first private screenings, general audiences of pastors and business leaders were saying – I’ve got to do something else, I’ve got to either start a ministry or I’ve got to plug into a new one. I’m not doing enough – my life can be worth more to someone else than to myself. And that’s really encouraging and exciting. At the end of day I think it’s touching the heartbeat of God and ultimately the purpose of why He’s called us into making this content to begin with.
FC: We think it’s just great that you not only display this story to be enjoyed, but then encourage people to go make a difference themselves. Will there be a soundtrack to go along with the film?
Jason: We talked about doing an “inspired by” CD, because there are only five songs in the entire movie – the rest of it is score-based, so we don’t have enough songs to make a full-blown soundtrack. We potentially could if there was demand, we could add to that list another 7 tracks that we kind of drew upon ourselves while writing the movie to cobble on to it. We released a new single on gospel and some contemporary stations called “Hope” and it was written initially by Grammy award-winning songwriter Aaron Lindsey. We just re-recorded the vocals recently with Brian Courtney Wilson. The other songs were sung by a husband and wife duo who go by the name of Johnnyswim. They’re good friends of ours, the female voice is the daughter of Donna Summers, Amanda Ramirez is her current married name and Johnnyswim is absolutely phenomenal. One of their songs is in the main body of the movie, and the other is at the beginning of the credits. The one in the credits is called “You’re Not Going to Leave Me Here” which is a really cool song basically about love getting us where we are and that it won’t leave us in the place of brokenness and the other one is called “Good News.” They are a wonderful group, but also amazing people.
FC: Ok, one last question for you. What would you say to a young filmmaker who is a follower of Jesus and feels like they have talent for film-making that they want to pursue?
Jason: Good question. Pray… and don’t rush it. Not in the sense of don’t push into it quickly – but don’t rush a product. We have a lot to learn and as believers we have a duty and responsibility to excellence and honoring our King with something that is capable of standing on its own as an artistic piece. That is glorifying not just in its content but in its production. And we are nowhere near that ourselves, so that’s not coming from a place of pride – I recognize on the front end at Harbinger that we have a long way to go to meet the threshold that we ultimately want to be at. I think the danger and the trap is for believers who are so eager to bless the name of Jesus that we sometimes diminish the value of the art itself to where it can’t be received by the audience it was originally intended to be received by. It’s more of a challenge than advice because we all have to find our own path and I would not be presumptuous enough to say that I know the best way, but my heart is this: that others who God is calling (and He is calling quite a few), will take the challenge seriously. That [the church will] reemerge as the leaders of art and culture and no longer sit back and say a tithe or a partial tithe is good enough in the form of our art. It needs to truly be an offering, in the sense of giving everything. For hundreds (if not thousands) of years the church led in the nature of content, art and shaping culture through the arts, and because of our willingness to accept lower production value and quality, we’ve really lost our voice in many places. I’m just excited to see that God is raising up those that are extraordinarily gifted and I believe that’s an area of society that He’s going to leverage to lead in again. However, we [at Harbinger] can serve those that He’s calling and we want to do that. He’s bringing them to the marketplace but if they can [they should] be as patient as possible to bring as beautiful an offering to the table as they can. And not rush quality, because I don’t think that quality can be rushed, it is something that has to be developed and nurtured.
FC: Excellent words, Jason.
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