Me, AME & My Church Dilemma Continued…

10 06 2013

shieldSo I figured I should give you all an update on my church situation since many of you have been praying and checking up on me regarding this issue, and for that I say thank you.

One day after I re-read my last post about trying to find a church, I had an epiphany that a lot of the qualities that I was looking for are already in the AME church, the denomination I grew up in and left 13 years ago for what I thought at the time were “greener pastures”. AME churches have a great way of blending what’s old and what’s new, and as of late, I’ve been craving some good, old-fashioned gospel music and hymns mixed with some contemporary gospel. I also miss seeing the mothers of the church and the teenagers all worshiping in one church together. I miss seeing the stewardess ladies in their matching white suits and hats serving on communion Sunday. I miss a good choir, I miss the “bounce” of the sway when rocking to your favorite song, I miss the sound of an organ–I miss SOUL.

So with that, the past few weeks I’ve been visiting First AME Church here in Pasadena, and what a blessing it has been. These weeks have reminded me of the rich tradition that is in this denomination, as well as the strong sense of community and faith that I experienced growing up. I am reminded of the AME church’s strong commitment to scholarship and to reaching out and serving its community. I am reminded of its sense of dignity and pride that it tries to instill for every Christian, but especially for those of African descent. Now grant it, the theology there is not deep, but at least it’s not false. I disagree with some of its doctrines on things like baptism, they don’t sing any Hillsongs, and they get a #fail on the “turn to your neighbor and tell ’em” stuff. But the gospel is being preached. I guess when I thought about it, I realized that I never left the AME church out of hurt, anger, or because they were preaching absolutely false and damaging doctrine. That was the case with some of the other churches I attended, and I think that has affected my aversion to the black church for all these years since.

I haven’t joined First AME or anything just yet. Truth be told, I’m not even 100% sure yet that I actually want to officially join there. I’m still very cautious about it all. What’s difficult about attending there is that as much as I love its self-awareness, I am also aware of the fact that there is no more diversity in the AME church than there is at any of the white churches I’ve been attending. I may not be the minority in this context, but many of my friends would be. So much for trying to be part of multicultural church. And part of me wishes that more non-black people would come there just so they can experience what I have been feeling for the past 8 years of my church life. One thing is for sure, this experience is giving me new insights into my feelings about multicultural churches and how they could best serve the various cultures that walk through their doors.

But I am enjoying myself. I feel like I am home. Who knows, maybe AME is in my blood and I was bound to come back at some point anyway. Or maybe it’s just that in all my efforts the past few years to be an advocate for the multi-cultural church, I’ve forgotten what my own cultural tradition brings to that conversation, therefore making my contribution less fruitful. Or maybe I just miss my mama ‘nem on the east coast and this is just my way of feeling close to family. Either way, for now, I’m just enjoying the experience…and the little old ladies on the front pew with their hats…


Random Thoughts on a Saturday Night

28 04 2013

So I know I’ve been quiet on here lately. School has had me super busy the past few months, and in order to preserve my sanity, I had to slow down on the blog posts. But I have been writing! I recently became a contributor for Reel Spiritualityone of Fuller’s many initiatives in the ongoing conversation on theology and film. That has been a real blessing to me, and I encourage you to check out the link and see some of the articles and podcasts I’ve done. I also  became one of the writers for the “Sabbath Reflections” portion of the Windrider Forumanother website that focuses on theology and film discussion. I also wrote an article for the SEMI, our campus newsmagazine last quarter, and I’m getting ready to launch a new blog with my friend, Angela Harvey, where we discuss all things black entertainment. So I haven’t completely lost it writing-wise, I’ve just been writing through alternative venues.

I’ll try my best to do better about posting links to my other writings onto this blog so that you all can keep up. This blog will become more of a spot for me to just keep you all posted on what’s going on in life, so that you can keep up and so that you’ll know what to pray for, if you’re into that kind of thing. I’ll think of this blog as my living room, the place where I can kick back and relax and be a little more informal after writing all those more formal blogs for other sites. 

One thing you all can continue to pray for is that I find a church home. Finding a church home can be hard period but it just seems extra hard right now. I want a church that’s ethnically diverse and casual and doesn’t make you turn to your neighbor and say awkward things during the service. I want a church that accepts women in ministry, because I really still don’t get this whole complimentarian thing. I don’t have any plans to be a preacher but I would like to know that the church I attend is not discriminatory in terms of who can lead people and who cannot. I will save my rant on that for another time, but that is something that has really been bothering me as of late. I want a church that has old people in it. Old people have such great wisdom and insight on things, and they’re just cute. I want a church that’s friendly and not weird. I want a church that understands and accepts its call to be good neighbors and to reach out to its surrounding community. I want a church that knows how to strike a balance between tradition and innovation. There have to be ways to respect the history of our faith and not be afraid to pioneer new ways of doing things and new ways of reaching out to people. I want a church that has good preaching, but also knows the value of good, soul-stirring worship as well, whether it’s traditional or contemporary. And for the record, call me crazy, but I believe that hymns and Hillsong can co-exist, they really can!

I guess what I am looking for doesn’t exist this side of heaven. It’s the same story, I’ve blogged about this before so blah blah blah. I just hate always having to pick and choose what out of that list I’m willing to give up for a season, just in order to have some place to go on Sunday mornings. As I sit here tonight trying to figure out where I will go tomorrow morning, I’m getting a headache because I feel like it just shouldn’t be this hard. 

Self-Service Gas Stations for Creatives

27 02 2013

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Every now and then, I think all creatives go through a period where we start wondering “What am I doing with my life?” If you’re anything like me, this question creeps up during those moments when you can’t see what is in front of you clearly, and you start to second-guess whether or not you made the right decision to do what you are currently doing.

I can’t stress enough how important it is for people like us to keep a journal. They’re like self-service gas stations for creatives. Anytime I’m feeling empty, or doubtful or unsure of my calling, reading past journal entries is always a good pick-me-up. Why? Because I’m always brutally honest in my journal. Somehow, re-reading the goals, dreams, fears and frustrations you have  written down in the privacy of your own room during times of vulnerability can provide great perspective on where your life is now.

If you don’t keep a journal, I’d encourage you to do so, or find some other means of giving yourself a needed refill. If you do keep a journal, I’d encourage you every now and then to go back and read it. Do a check-in, and see if you are on track. See if you still have the passion to do what you thought you’d be doing years ago. See if there’s any adjustments that need to be made, or if there’s anything that needs to be revisited. And if you’re a creative, you’ll probably find that you had some great project ideas back in the day that need to be resurrected!

Be encouraged today, my fellow creatives! And find your way to refill, recharge, and keep chugging along toward your dreams…


Harlem Shake 2.0

26 02 2013

You know what they say, “What goes around comes back around.” Or “History repeats itself.” Well, for some reason, dance history is repeating itself–well, kinda sorta–in this rash of Harlem Shake videos that have been circulating the ‘net as of late. One day I kept seeing these videos of people doing some weird kind of jerky dance with costumes pop up all over my newsfeed, and I couldn’t help think “This is strange, I thought the Harlem Shake came out years ago? Why are people doing videos about it now? And from what I remember, it didn’t look like that!”

It’s just so funny to me how the freedom of social media can allow for images, memes, and traditions to be rediscovered and reinvented, all with some editing and the click of a button. If I wanted to get all serious about it, I could look at this as yet another way in which street culture is hijacked, pimped by, and conformed to mainstream culture. It’s a C-O-N-Spiracy! But nah, I won’t.

I just listened to a short blurb on NPR about the origins of the Harlem Shake, in which they interviewed Jay Smooth, host of the hip-hop video blog “Ill Doctrine.” He says no harm, no foul, it’s all in good fun: “it’s sort of an example of how a cultural artifact can fly around in this sort of global game of telephone. And these questions of appropriation can rise up, but there isn’t really any intent to steal or make fun of. It’s jut the way that ideas propagate nowadays.” I agree with Jay…it’s all good. But I do agree with what he says at the end of the interview–can we have a compromise and just get at least one person in these videos to do the real Harlem Shake? LOL…

At any rate, I personally got excited about this video with some folks doing the Harlem Shake I’m more familiar with. I love to see young people dance, and I love the fact that social media has given them an outlet to in a sense reclaim their cultural artifact. You gotta love how sista’ girl in the green breaks it down, and then they put the impostor “Harlem Shake” in the garbage can…Have fun and dance on, chil’ren! 🙂

From SoCal to NorCal…And Director Pet Peeves

18 02 2013

Tonight I had the awesome opportunity to share some words of encouragement with The Creative Crew, an artist’s meet-up group that my friend Tony Gapastione started up in Redwood City, CA. I had a great time sharing via FaceTime (don’t you just love technology?!) what I’ve learned throughout the years as a writer/director, they had some great questions, and it was just a lot of fun. They asked me to write down my top pet peeves as a director and to post them on their Facebook page so I thought it’d be fun to share them with you all as well. Ok so here goes…

My Top 5 On-Set Pet Peeves:

  1. When people don’t follow instructions. Quiet on the set means quiet on the set. This is not the time for you to tip toe over to the craft services table, no matter how quiet you think you’re being. Just sit down. Don’t you know the sound guy has bionic ears?
  2. Know-It-Alls. I’m all for collaboration. But have some set etiquette, dude. When it’s time to hear your opinion (because I’m sure it’s great), we will most certainly ask for it!
  3. Divas. I usually try to keep a pretty laid back set, and there is nothing more annoying than someone going around snapping at the cast and crew so that they can get their way. Calm down. It’s only a movie. We’re all working hard to make a good product so take a chill pill and try not to think of yourself  as more important than the rest of us.
  4. Not being honest about time commitments. I once had a D.P. (Director of Photography, i.e. camera guy) to tell me in the middle of our last day of shooting that he had to leave. You can imagine my disbelief when my main camera guy (whom I was paying, by the way) didn’t offer an explanation but just decided as we were setting up the last scene that he had to go. Fortunately, most of the equipment was my own, and the 2nd camera operator stepped up to the plate and shot the rest of the film (which turned out to be my favorite scene, BTW). Point being, if you know you have an appointment or an obligation at some point during the day, be honest about it and tell the producer or the director as early as possible, not as they’re about to call “Action!” I think he told me later on that he had an emergency or something. Still, communication is key, and the earlier that happens the better.
  5. People who crowd the “Video Village”. For those of you who don’t know, the “Video Village” is a nickname some people use for the area surrounding the video monitor on set. The people that need to watch the monitor during the shoot are usually: the director, the D.P., the gaffer, the assistant director, the production designer, the make-up artist/stylist, the producer, the script supervisor. These are the people that have specialized positions when it comes to the image that is in front of the camera. If something is wrong, these people have the knowledge and expertise to fix it. If you don’t have that type of position, then you shouldn’t be around the Video Village, especially if you are blocking the view of one of those people that needs to be there. For the record, sometimes actors can be in the Video Village, just as long as they don’t get too self-conscious about seeing their performance in an unedited form.

Those are just a few of my pet peeves. A lot of it really just comes down to set etiquette. Exercise some common decorum and you’ll build some good relationships on-set and stay in good graces with the director. 🙂

Black Women an Anomaly at #Sundance?

12 02 2013

As i continue to reflect on my Sundance experience, the other morning I started thinking about all the films I saw and the wonderful Q&As that followed. Then I realized something–there was little to no representation of black women filmmakers at Sundance this year. This seemed to be the year for black men–Ryan Coogler’s wonderful film “Fruitvale”, Andrew Dosunmu’s visually stunning “Mother of George”, George Tillman’s “Ineviteable Defeat of Mister and Pete”–but I don’t recall seeing a black female lead any Q&As, or even black female crew members, with the exception of Frances Bodomo, the director of the short film “Boneshaker”.

Don’t worry, this is not a post about the lack of diversity at Sundance. Last year Ava Duvernay did her thing and won Sundance’s Best Director award for her film “Middle of Nowhere.” And I couldn’t be happier for the black men that represented this year. They all did great work. But sitting at a panel on women filmmakers, as I listened the stats on the lack of female directors in Hollywood in general, I couldn’t help but wonder if I even stand a chance as a black female filmmaker?

How is the voice of color being grafted into the conversation women are having on what it looks like to see images of ourselves on the screen? A woman in the audience tried to engage that conversation in the room, to which another woman in the audience basically answered in a tone that said “There was a panel for black people last week so stfu”. Well, so much for female empowerment.

My point today is simply to encourage my sister filmmakers to keep writing and making movies. My Twitter timeline stays full of feeds from black men who are doing web series and making films. Bravo for them. But we have a voice too, and let’s make sure it’s not silenced.

Dear Lord, Help Me to Love Christians

11 02 2013

Dear Lord, please help me to love Christians.

The ones that have become too smart for their own good.

The ones who know nothing but You.

The ones who baptize babies.

The ones who don’t.

The ones who still like worship music.

The ones who scoff at it.

The ones who believe the Flood was literal.

The ones who sing hymns.

The ones who dance.

The ones who clap their hands.

The ones who think it’s ok to swing from the rafters.

The ones who don’t.

The Calvinists.

The Arminians.

The Reformers.

The Lutherans.

The Methodists.

The Baptists.

The Pentacostals.

The ones who speak in tongues.

The ones who don’t.

The ones who are embarrassed by the cross.

The ones who tell stories when they preach.

The ones who read their prayers.

The ones who shout them.

The ones who preach sin.

The ones who preach love.

They all are my brothers and my sisters. I have been with them all. Lord, help me to walk in love with the Christians that disagree with my point of view on things. The world would love for us to choose sides and pit us against one another because of the different ways we worship. I give up. I’m tired of it. My church is not better than your church. I just want us all to walk with Jesus–together. Is that so much to ask?

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:20-23