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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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Tips and Tricks

A little bit of advice from my point of view

A Little Christmas Cheer for You

I’ve spoken a bit about my work in Drama Ministry at my church. Today, I want to share with you just a piece of what we do. In the video below, we took an internet sensation, “Kid History,” (or “Kid Snippets”) and re-purposed the idea with the nativity story.

The results are pretty funny.

Check it out here:

When you’ve had a little chuckle, you can check out the other two videos in our series:

For those who are curious, the process for making these videos is a lot of fun.

  1. We begin by asking the parents of the children to read through the story. They work the kids until they can work their way through the story. At the same time, I’m coming up with questions that will prompt the kids to give us something along the lines of what we’re looking for.
  2. My filmmaker Jeremy and I then take a couple hours with each set of kids (two sets in the first two videos, three in the Christmas one) to record them telling the story, making jokes, playing around, and generally being kids. We ask our questions, get them to act out scenes, and sometimes just let them go.  In the last video, we ended up with about an hour of footage for each set of kids.
  3. After that is compiled, we note our favourite parts. Jeremy then spends a good number of hours cutting away everything we can’t use, such as adults speaking or airplanes ruining our sound, or whatnot.
  4. After all the fat is cut away, we start compiling all of the lines that we need to tell the story, and the golden bits that we just NEED to have in the video. For Christmas, this left us with about 13 minutes of footage.
  5. Then comes the heartbreaking process of cutting out a number of those NEEDS in order to get the video down to a proper time, in the most recent case, about 8 minutes.
  6. Jeremy then hands off the 8 minute video of the kids to me, and I create a script for our actors. This involves a lot of listening to a few seconds, typing it out, then listening again to make sure I’ve got it down properly. Some times, when I can’t actually figure out what the kids are saying, we have to figure it out as we film. This is where we decide which character gets to say what lines.
  7. The final script is sent out to our actors along with the audio of the kids for them to begin practicing. They will listen and read through the script a few times to make sure they know what’s expected of them.
  8. I then get to create a beautiful storyboard for the film. Sometimes, Jeremy and I will work together to make sure we have the same vision for how each scene will play out. It looks something like this.

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    Brilliant Storyboarding Skills
  9. Then we shoot! Costumes and props are collected, green screen, lights, and film equipment is set up, and food is laid out. Our adult actors show up, and we spend between 7 and 10 hours filming over the course of a Sunday afternoon-evening. Jeremy and I co-direct, and we work through our storyboard, crossing out shots as we go. For the first time, our Christmas video required a second day of shooting, but it was just one of my scenes (seriously, like 10 seconds of footage), so we didn’t need to bring everyone back in.

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    Jeremy directing our lovely shepherds Lynley and Briana
  10. Then begins the time-consuming process of editing our adult shoot into the wonderful video you see before you. Jeremy carries the heavy load here, with my input helping to guide a few times over the week. Backgrounds are chosen, colours are corrected, effects are added, and magic happens.
  11. Finally, we preview the video for staff and cast and make any final edits we deem necessary before:
  12. We show the video in church!

And that’s the process. The Christmas video took well over a month from first recording the kids to final presentation, but it was worth it.

I hope you find the videos uplifting. In the end, I think that we’ve created something entertaining that also gets the story of Jesus out there. But what do you think?

Blessings

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5 Lessons From the First Year of Drama Ministry

The first year of the ministry was always meant to be a learning year. It was the dipping of our toes into the water that would allow us to see if the pool was warm enough before jumping in wholeheartedly. It allowed us to see if there was interest, if there was talent, and if there was congregational support. We quickly learned that we had all three and only needed to apply the organization and leadership to make it happen. And so we did.

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Yet, it was not without its bumps along the way. Here are five of the most important things I learned about starting a Drama Ministry this year:

1. Everything Takes Time . . . sometimes a lot of it

This is true of all endeavors, but seems to be doubly so when working with churches and volunteers. Coordinating actors, directors, filmmakers, pastors, and worship teams can be a hassle, but it needs to be done early. It always takes longer to get confirmation from everyone than you’d like, so start early. Especially when working with church leadership, having the script or video fully prepared with enough time to show everyone BEFORE the week of the event can help keep everyone on the same page. Always a plus.

Along the same line, if you are working with film, it will almost always take longer to shoot than you expect it to. I’ve learned to figure out how long I think it should take, and estimate longer when communicating with my crew. They are rarely upset that the shoot is short, but going longer is not okay.

2. Plan, Plan, and Plan Some More

When you are dealing with an established church, new ideas, and several volunteers, more forethought is always better than less. We found that the more effort we put into planning our film shoots resulted in smoother shoots, less wasted time for our volunteers, and more room to play artistically. I learned that I hate wasting people’s time and just a little forethought can make sure people don’t end up sitting around doing nothing for hours at a time.

3. Be Prepared For Curveballs

On the other hand, things are going to go wrong. People are going to be late, other groups may have taken over your rehearsal space, costumes might not fit. When these things happen, we can have a fit and try to force our first plan or we can compromise and find a new way to tackle the problem. When one of our shooting locations was being used by another group that had run their rehearsal several hours over their time, we ended up moving to a new space that suited our needs even better. Sometimes God puts blocks in our way to make us go in a better direction in the long run. Remember that.

4. Don’t Shut Out God’s Work

One of our mandates has involved aiming for great work in our ministry. We don’t want to be doing bad church drama. Everyone has seen that kind of work, and no one likes it (except maybe the performers’ moms). Yet, some of the most amazing performances we’ve had this year have come from people with little or no experience. God can work with anything that we give Him, and sometimes we need to be open to that. Give people a chance to shine and see how God works miracles.

5. Don’t Stop Learning

The purpose of my first year in Drama Ministry was to learn. I had to learn about how the church works, find out how many and what kind of volunteers we have available, and how the integration of drama would work in a multi-site church. Having this kind of mentality has made this year far less stressful than it otherwise might have been. Although we almost drove ourselves insane by having performances at all our sites for each weekend in December leading up to Christmas, we walk away realizing that we don’t have to do that again. When we understand our audition process has been inadequate, we can learn what went wrong and restart with that information next time.

Looking back on this list, I realize that each of these tips can be useful in most of life’s  crazy circumstances. I think it’s neat how God uses our everyday circumstances, like work, family, and school, to teach us really big life lessons. As long as we can continue to learn from them, we can grow and mature and continue on this journey. We become better artists, better disciples, and better people.

Let’s keep learning.

Blessings,

Building a Rock Solid Identity in Five Steps

I hope you all had an excellent weekend! For my Canadian friends and family, you should either just be recovering from the feasts of the weekend, or succumbing to the final food coma before the long weekend is over. Either way, I’m glad you’re here.

I’ve talked before about the importance of identity and the role it plays in our journey toward God. Today,I want to talk about building an identity marker for yourself. This is especially important for artists, who often can get lost in their craft, sacrificing everything for the betterment of their work. Even those who are not in the arts can feel the opposing pull that can come from our duties as parents, workers, and members of faith. If we are able to build a hierarchy of identity, perhaps we can keep our bearings through this crazy, hectic, and stressful world.

To accomplish this, we need to follow 5 steps. They won’t always be easy or simple, and may take a lot of time for reflection, but I think it will be worth it in the end. For this article, I will use myself as an example, in case anyone gets lost.

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Step 1: Find What You Worship

This is your centre. The central driving force behind your entire being. It isn’t what you like, or are passionate about, or even love. This is your all. Without this, you would cease to be who you are. You might be a comparable copy, but not the real you. You think about this when you get up, and before you go to sleep.

For me, I worship Jesus Christ. My entire life is based around my relationship with the Son of God. He affects how and where I work, how I treat my wife, what movies I watch, what games I play, and what books I read. He is the reason I write this blog and go to school and make art. I could lose everything else in my life, but as long as I had my faith in God, I would still be me. I will never lose that.

Step 2. Find Your Greatest Relationship

We were created for community. Even introverts that I know (myself included) admit that being around people is good. We need friends, family, and coworkers to lift us up when we are hurting and to kick us in the pants when we’re getting a little too big for our britches. Even deeper, we need someone who knows us in light of what we worship, and hopefully worships the same thing. This person is your companion through life, no matter where you will be. You trust this person with everything you have, from your life to the five bucks he or she has borrowed. In this life, they are your partner.

It may not come as a  surprise, but in my life, this is my wife. She is my best friend, my confident, my partner and companion. We do everything together, and she knows everything about me. My joys and my fears. My greatest accomplishments and most shameful regrets. She is loyal and loving and with me until the end. I am called to be her husband and love her until our dying days.

Step 3. Find Your Legacy

What will you leave behind when you are gone? What will remain of your time on earth after you have stopped living on it? For some, this may be dictated by your beliefs, chosen by your passions, or shaped by your career. We all are aware that our lives will some day come to an end, and figuring out how you will leave this planet is an important question that we must all wrestle with.

With the imminent birth of my son, I know that he (and any other children God blesses us with) will be my legacy. I must take my calling as father very seriously if I want my life to be of lasting impact. They will be free to make their own decisions in life, I have no desire to create clones of myself, but I want to leave a legacy of God-loving, passionate, and kind people. I will pour my efforts into raising a responsible, fun-loving, and caring generation.

Step 4. Find Your Calling

We are all gifted in some way. Some are gifted in far more ways than others, but we all have something that we are naturally good at. What we do with these gifts is of vital importance and will probably reflect your answer to step 1. If you are gifted at making money and worship security, you may end up running a large corporation and hoarding your wealth. If you are excellent at photography and worship yourself, I bet you take some stunning self portraits. The important thing at this step is to find what you are good at and figuring out how you will use those gifts in light of what you worship.

I am an artist. I act, dance, sing, write, and direct. I take photographs and choreograph dances. I paint and colour. I knew all of these even before I decided what I would worship. Yet, as I have grown in my faith, I have understood that these talents and skills are from God and should be used for God. Now, I aim to be one of God’s artists in the world, showing His beauty, His Grace, and His story to a society that desperately needs it. It is my calling.

Step 5. Find Your Passion

Steps 4 and 5 may seem similar, but there are differences. In addition to talents, we all have causes that we uphold. Social justice for the poor. Ethical treatment of animals. Liberation for enslaved peoples. Our hearts break for certain causes more than others. We are not blind to the suffering of other groups, or the need for change, but our passion lies in helping this particular cause. This is not a bad thing, for no single mortal person can take on every injustice in the world. That is why we each have our own passions. Finding ours can help give specific direction to our callings.

My heart lies in helping guide the spiritually hungry in my community. This is why I want to be a pastor, especially a pastor for artists. I want to show them hope and help and freedom from the troubles that plague us here in the West. I know that there are starving children around the world, and my wife and I help where we can, but my focus is on the spiritually poor here in my city.

When you have meditated, wrestled with, and found answers to these questions, you should be able to build a hierarchy of identity. For me, it looks like this:

CHRISTIAN
HUSBAND
FATHER
ARTIST
PASTOR

If I am ever in a situation where my duties to two or more of these identity markers are in conflict, I just look to the list. The one closest to the top wins out. Some may disagree with the placement that I have, and I would love to talk about it. My list is based on my study of biblical principles, so you may have a different order, even with the same five categories. That’s alright. If it works for you, then you’ve accomplished this task.

What did you come up with? What five words would you give to describe your identity to someone who has never met you? I’d be very interested to see what other people came up with!

Blessings

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