Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Louie Giglio: the Essential Collection, DVD

Giglio highlights God’s wonders, from the furthest reaches in space to the human heart.

Louie Giglio: the Essential Collection, DVD
Publisher: sixsteprecords
Length: 5 DVDs; each over 40 minutes

I want to share it! That is how I feel about Louie Giglio: the Essential Collection, DVD. Giglio’s primary audience may be college-age youth, but this is relevant to most age groups. I want to share this with my mom, a friend and the person who does not know Christ.

Giglio is an excellent communicator, which is one reason I am comfortable recommending this to a wide variety of people. He is passion personified and has the knowledge and experience to make each subject relevant to real life. He is winsome but does not sugar-coat the topics. He acknowledges that inspirational speakers often resolve conflict and tension with a satisfying conclusion. I appreciate his desire to avoid being untrue to the way God works. Perhaps it is a reminder that whatever relief we experience now is only temporary and partial. God does not right every wrong in this life. He is moving toward something that defies imagination, when time shall be no more.

Giglio sees this big picture. He imparts a vision that inspires people to live for God rather than themselves. Those who need a more expansive view of God and what he can do in their lives will be well-served by the encouragement found here.

This is especially true of the talk “Hope: When Life Hurts.” This gets beyond everyday trials. Where do you turn when your life is shaken so badly that you wonder if God is even there? This is a message that one could return to repeatedly when going through life’s worst moments. 

Giglio draws attention to the cross, which is not just for salvation, as important as that is. Much has been said and written about the cross of Christ, but it can still be a challenge to comprehend what it means to the Christian in suffering. Giglio connects the dots in a clear and unforgettable manner.

This third talk is comprised of two complete messages even though it is counted as only one of five talks. Here Giglio tells the story of Ashley, a University of Florida student, who is nearing graduation. Though exposed to Christianity growing-up, Ashley chose the party lifestyle and sided with her atheist father. Giglio tells the story of how her life intersected with his in a way that has impacted people all over the world. He tells it in these two parts and in “Fruitcake and Ice Cream,” the fourth talk in the series.

Giglio is probably best known for the first two talks, which are older, “Indescribable” and “How Great is Our God.” Here Giglio’s love of astronomy helps viewers get a sense of the greatness of God. After seeing this one could say that the word “awesome” should be reserved for God alone. It will be a challenge for anyone to watch this and not come away with a larger view of God.

Passion conferences are known for worship music. I would have liked to have seen performances of the songs from which these early titles come in the form of bonus content, even though they are available in other formats. It would have been like icing on the cake. On the other hand, I recognize that the production on these earlier talks is slightly inferior and that this might have carried over to any music videos. I was more than pleased, however, to see Chris Tomlin leading a special song at the conclusion of “Symphony (I Lift My Hands),” Giglio’s latest talk.  

This is a beautiful ending to a fitting finale. If the first two talks extol the greatness of God, and the next two grace for salvation and suffering, this last message is about our response. It recognizes God’s centrality not just in our lives but in the universe, which in itself amazingly offers ceaseless praise. Giglio provides a taste of it. Since I like surprises, I will say no more so as not to spoil it for viewers.

Again, this is suitable for any age, except for young children, in an individual, group or even church setting. A discussion guide is included. This was my first exposure to Giglio, and I was not disappointed. This inspires hope and noble aspirations.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Remedy Drive - Resuscitate

Remedy Drive survives breakup to sound more alive than ever.

Artist: Remedy Drive (http://www.remedydrive.com)
Label: Centricity Music
Length: 10 tracks/36:43 minutes

The difficult road to Resuscitate by Remedy Drive began when lead singer David Zach’s brothers decided to leave and pursue other options. This was not a band on life-support but in the throes of demise. That such a solid release has emerged, one that must rank among their best work, is a tribute to Zach’s persistence and the synergy he has with the new members.

As Zach affirms in a couple of the songs, losing our way does not make us a lost cause. Crisis serves as a setting for the brokenness and hope that inform the lyrics.

On different note, if Coldplay helped bring the piano back to rock, Remedy Drive benefits from that legacy. The creative use of keyboards woven into the fabric of many of these songs is striking. They are the first sounds that you hear on the opening, “Better than Life.” They continually add a subtle and satisfying beauty to the well-crafted pop/rock found throughout.

I enjoy the latter and normally don’t gravitate towards heavier fare. Even so, the hard rock heard on the title track and “Make it Bright” are strangely beguiling. The raw energy makes these tracks explosive and compelling.

But have you heard the story of Elijah, the Old Testament prophet? God was not in the strong wind, the earthquake or the fire, but in the sound of a low whisper, a thin silence, which brings me to “God I Hope So.” It is not the sound of quiet desperation, but rather a hopeful longing. It’s an honest cry that yearns for a better day. It carries even greater weight than the heavier sounds in the aforementioned tracks. I appreciate the uncertainty because that’s what life is like. We can be certain of God but not much else.

Remedy Drive move toward modern worship on “Crystal Sea” and “Glory”. If the band was ever dead, this is life from the dead. They add their voice to that mighty throng that stands by the crystal sea.

The theme of the closing “Hold On” reminds me of the words from “Rock of Ages,” “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” When all is stripped away, we must depend on God.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Blue Like Jazz, DVD

Blue Like Jazz provides something better than quick resolve: the beginnings of a genuine faith.

Blue Like Jazz, DVD (www.bluelikejazzthemovie.com)
Publisher: Lionsgate
Time: Approximately 107 minutes

In Blue Like Jazz, a Steve Taylor film based on the bestselling book of the same name by Donald Miller, jazz is a metaphor for the complexities and unresolved issues of life.

A willingness to explore fallen human nature without rushing toward an obvious conclusion sets this film apart from others that are marketed to Christians. The filmmaker was not afraid to skewer evangelical subculture, which should not surprise those familiar with Steve Taylor, who frequently employed satire in his music. If the movie exaggerates, it is only to show just how wacky and hypocritical church life can be.

This is not a “come to Jesus” movie. There are no altar calls. This has little in common with Billy Graham films or Sherwood Pictures, the makers of Facing the Giants, Fireproof and Courageous. As good as those films may be, to use the words of Paul Metzger in praise of the book, the movie Blue Like Jazz is “honest, passionate, raw … real.”

That is not to say that the other films are not. It just seems an apt description of a movie that has an indie/art-house feel, whereas the other films are more standard fare. “Christian” films typically take fewer risks and are not as creative. They appeal primarily to Christian audiences. Skeptics, seekers and unbelievers may be more at home with the content of Jazz than Christians, who may have their sensibilities offended by the debauchery depicted, which is mild by the world’s standards, and the language used.

By the way, if some Christians are put-off by the trailer, they might consider that trailers can be misleading. Scenes ripped from their context can communicate a different meaning than what is in the film. Suffice it to say that one quip from the trailer can be unsettling until one hears the complete thought.

Perhaps we Christians need to further educate ourselves in how we evaluate movies. A movie like this requires patience. There is no quick resolve with jazz.

Author Donald Miller uses the film to briefly show viewers the elements of story. It provides clues as to where we are in the movie. This might sound rather wooden but leave it to Miller and Taylor to be wildly creative. Don’t be surprised if one moment you see a bit of animation and the next you are watching someone floating untethered in space. The latter is an apt metaphor for a young, sheltered Don losing his way in an anything goes environment.

It’s not just cloned Christians that are exposed and get lost before the camera. Political correctness run amok is also a target. The left can be just as predictable and stereotypical as the right. Neither is a good scenario if the kind of jazz you hope to create is marked by creativity and authenticity.

The characters are well-cast and likeable, even if, sadly, many Christians might shy away from their counterparts in real life. Early on at liberal Reed College Don befriends a fellow-student, who is a lesbian. They support each other through difficult moments. Penny, Don’s romantic interest, is introduced as somewhat of a radical protester, but as it turns out with many of these characters, there is more depth than is first apparent. Penny somewhat hides a significant part of her life until later in the story.

The intriguing DVD cover image comes from the scene where Don learns from Penny that Portlanders do not use umbrellas. I enjoyed the interactions between Penny and Don, and true to the jazz metaphor, there is no easy resolve, but both deepen as they improvise.

The story, of course, is based on Miller’s life. I am not sure how much is factual. The book is a series of essays rather than a biography. Miller and Taylor had the challenge of making it into a compelling narrative, and for the most part, they succeed.

Miller makes a cameo as an author speaking in a corporate bookstore that becomes the target of a protest.

Danny Seim of Menomena produced the soundtrack. He met Taylor in a record shop. The music also includes snatches of “All I Ever Get for Christmas is Blue” by Over the Rhine and “I Hurt Too” by Katie Herzig. And what would this movie be without some music from jazz-great, John Coltrane? I like the scenes where Coltrane records are in view and where a needle is gently placed on spinning vinyl.

One could point to examples in the past, but here is a modern day film made by Christians for the irreligious. Believers can appreciate it too if they can get past the irreverence. There may not be any resolution in jazz, but this movie earns its satisfying conclusion: the beginnings of a genuine faith, something that anyone can relate to.

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