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Reflections on 9/11 as an Artist

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Exactly ten years ago, this exact hour, I was trapped in the number 3 subway underneath the Chambers Street Station as horrific events of 9/11 took place above me. I was trying to get home after organizing a prayer meeting for PEOPLE INVOLVED IN THE ARTS in a building on the Westside. By the time the subway back-tracked to 14th St., 45 minutes later, the towers were gone.

My wife had just dropped off our two youngest children at PS 234 only two blocks from the towers. It was their first day of school.  As I ran back toward home, brushing against business folks covered in the white ashes, I realized that our loft may not be standing.  Instead, I decided to go to my studio below Canal St, ten blocks from the towers, where my wife, thankfully, left a telephone message saying that the children had been evacuated safely, and that she would meet me at the studio. Even at that point, I had no idea what really happened.  Soon after, my wife’s ghostly face told me enough: she had met Death face to face and survived.

We have been involved in Redeemer movement since 1992. Tim’s admonition to the leaders to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” (Jeremiah 29) meant considering to raise our children in the heart of this city.  We followed Jesus’ leading to do so, but we did not realize that in doing so, we will become Ground Zero residents.

As an artist, I HAVE spent the last decade searching for a visual language to capture the terrors of our days, but using the medium of art to transcend fears, to infuse hope, and to walk through the fires of life to find the sanctifying fire of God waiting for us. International Arts Movement, a non profit arts organization I founded, made a radical effort to co-create in the midst of the chaos by providing an opportunity for downtown artists to grieve.  I am grateful for Redeemer Church to have supported this effort, called TriBeCa Temporary, as we were able to give voices to many artists who were outsiders to churches. Art mediates such dark journeys, and even artists who were not cognizant of God’s grace appreciated being part of a project that allowed them to hope, to create, and to re-humanize.

After 9/11, Judy and I, as parents, had to decide whether to stay or leave. We decided to stay and to commit to raising our children here. Our children learned to invest their creative energies into this broken city. As our youngest daughter heads off to college now, we are indeed grateful that all of them have grown to love this city, to gain empathy for the suffering of others, and to dare to create in the midst of the chaos. Our children are the visible reminder of Jeremiah 29’s promises being fulfilled, even through our uncertain, feeble prayers uttered on the morning of 9/11/2001.

By Makoto Fujimura


What is Your Reaction to Movies?

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Paramount recently picked up an as of yet untitled movie which Miley Cyrus is producing / starring in a God based comedy. They aren’t releasing too many details , but the plot is going to be based upon a broken promise to God. I caught myself thinking what the “Christian reaction” is going to be? A lot of times, there is a knee-jerk reflex of God centered movies such as:

“How is Hollywood going to screw this one up?”
“Can a God based comedy really be funny?”
“How can Miley Cyrus pretend to produce a God based anything when she has that video of her as a caged bird and in her underwear – and the whole bong incident last December?”
“Why Paramount? Can’t Christians make Christian movies, why does it have to be Hollywood?”

A lot of times, we as Christians are the first to list complaints when Hollywood attempts to produce movies and television shows which aim at the fledgling “God following” demographic. The relationship between mainstream Hollywood and the church as a whole does not have the greatest of history, and the tendency is to think the worst and assume that they “won’t get it right”. What is often missing is an understanding that changing anything, especially within the culture, is one step at a time and we should be thankful that Paramount is willing to take a chance at a show like this. Then we can pray that the people creating it will honor God and His principals in the process The verse which comes to mind is Proverbs 14:4 (KJV) “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox”. Even God things can be “messy” to us when it doesn’t fit our own beliefs. There may be things about this movie which may not sit right with me, but I will go see it out of support. I applaud Paramount ’s decision to make the attempt.

Please, let’s pray that Miley Cyrus, her mother (who is also involved in the project) and the other creators will present a film that is uplifting, encouraging, and honoring God and his character. Also pray for unity and patience within Hollywood and the church to make more attempts to create more movies of truth and beauty and that supporters will go see them

By Chuck Hayes, Actor/Writer

Why Should We Pray for Someone in Hollywood Who We Have Never Met?

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If one wants a biblical principle of praying for strangers, Paul didn’t know the Colossians when he prayed for them and wrote his letter. They were, in a sense, strangers to him.

There are also many practical reasons for praying for strangers in Hollywood. It seems that there are too many battle lines drawn between Christians and Hollywood where there really shouldn’t be. At the risk of exemplifying the extreme, if Christians do not pray or intercede for Hollywood, what would one expect to come out of this place?

If you pray for someone, you can’t hate them! There is a bond which prayer itself brings – the person who prays with the person being prayed for. In praying for people whom you have only heard of through PR groups, newspapers or magazines, the Holy Spirit has a tendency to present these demi-god, A-list celebrities, directors, entertainers, as human. There’s a danger we Christians can fall into of “de-spiritualizing” people who need our intercession because the world may already deem them successful.

There’s little question that Hollywood needs to change and we know that only God can bring about that change. And that’s what HPN is all about. What better way for transformation to occur than to have that alteration come at the personal level of those “strangers” already working in Hollywood? Won’t you intercede for them, to God, on their behalf?

Celebrities aren’t the only ones who need your help. The Christian “strangers” in Hollywood covet your prayers as well. I covet your prayers. As a representative of a stranger in Hollywood who you don’t know, you can certainly start praying for me. HPN also has a prayer partner program. They team you, the intercessor, with a Christian professional in Hollywood. It will change your prayer life.

By Chuck Hayes, Actor/Writer

Actors Uncertainty: Questionable Content

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I thought that I had reached a milestone. I was first cast as a background bar patron on a pilot then called again to potentially be a “regular background” on a new television series. Being a regular background meant a certain level of stability in a very unstable economy.  It meant I could join the union and there would be that longed for union job on a regular basis for me.  If they liked me, I could eventually get a line or perhaps become a semi-occurring character. This is precisely what every background player dreams of.  After three years of silently walking past the on-camera action, sitting for hours on hard bleachers pretending to cheer at various high school sporting events, pantomiming without acting, etc., etc., this could this be the break which I had been praying for. Only after they stopped calling did I take a look back and see that the series which they wanted me for was one of the worst, carnal glorifying, and socially damaging shows that the network has green-lit this year. What was I thinking? I knew that I had no control over the content. I was just doing a job, right? I was not in any of the nudity scenes (it is a cable show), my mother and pastor back home would never watch it anyway. It’s a resume builder, that’s all.

What does a God fearing believer bent on changing American culture through visual storytelling do in the above situation? I had no creative control.  I was there to do a job and hope they’d call me back.

Content is one of the biggest issues the American church has with present day Hollywood. There is a cyclical process of movies and television telling the “everyman” story about him and his culture, the very culture, which in turn influences. So where does that leave the believer, the actor or writer who loves Jesus and is called to work and minister in Hollywood ?  How do we change the content which comes out of this place? We want God fearing professionals to be the decision makers in the studios.  ut the problem is, how does one get there without morally compromising? I thought of Joseph and Daniel who were God fearing men, yet were under the rule of foreign kings. They served. They served faithfully, had favor from God, and then were eventually put in places of authority. They became decision makers in their perspective foreign pagan kingdoms.

This is the constant dilemma that believers are put through. There are no easy answers or “proven” formulas. I received that word about Joseph and Daniel through devotional times and through the teaching of believers who have been in the industry for years. But ultimately, the peace came from Christ. Please pray for people such as myself and other believers in Hollywood who have answered the call to serve Christ here.

By Chuck Hayes, Actor/Writer

Actors Dilemma: Milestone? Where’s the Destination?

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“…and they lived happily ever after.” How many stories end with that line? Probably about as many as Industry believers step off the plane at LAX and proclaim that they made it! No, just as Prince Charming and his newly rescued beloved have another journey of life ahead of them, so does the believer and Christ have a journey together once they arrive in Hollywood. It takes a lot of faith to hear the call to entertainment Insdustry and probably more to actually arrive here. So why is it that a surprisingly large number of the called don’t last a full year? I’m not the only one who had just assumed “All I need to do is somehow get to Hollywood, and God will take care of the rest.” Well, there’s more truth in that statement than most people are comfortable with, and there’s usually nothing “happily” about it for quite a long time. Of all the veteran believers in Hollywood , every one of them (including myself) has had to go through spiritual gauntlets which (by divine design) no one could possibly prepare for. Most have assumed that God’s favor meant shortcuts to success, but from what I have seen, the opposite is more often the case. There is a refining which the loving father puts us through. There are deserts and crucibles which only God can orchestrate and only by his grace can we endure. Believers learn to rely on one another, work with each other, build professional and Godly character, place aside denominational differences and learn to collaborate in unison. It’s not a foreign concept that Hollywood is not a safe place, especially for believers. Maybe that is one of the reasons why Yeshua calls us here.

So, if Hollywood isn’t the destination, what is? How does one know when one has arrived, made it, successful, fruitful? Those questions cross the mind of everyone in Hollywood .  Everyone has their own fears, insecurities, anxieties and breakdowns. So, what can you do? Pray. We covet your prayers. Pray for spiritual stamina, grace, patience, unity, and peace. Pray against spiritual attack, discouragement, disunity and misunderstandings. There are more believers in Hollywood than you probably are aware of and we need your prayers and petitions to come before the throne of grace on our behalf.

By Chuck Hayes, Actor/writer

An Artist of Our Own

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A prayer campaign for Justin Bieber—complete with a church discussion guide—initially struck me as a reach. Justin Bieber? Isn’t a teen idol who’s already a jillionaire about the last person on earth who needs prayer? Get serious.

Then I saw an advance screening of the film, NEVER SAY NEVER, and reconsidered. Justin is not merely a teen idol but a musical prodigy. Right now, as an unformed teenager, he’s the creature of his talent, driven to unimaginable heights of popularity by musical gifts from God that he cannot yet fully appreciate.

All great gifts, including musical gifts, are also spiritual burdens because they confer the responsibility to be used for the glory of God. Most in Justin’s position simply notice that they are treated as gods and misbehave accordingly. I’m sure the temptation to do so must be overwhelming at times—what if seemingly every young girl in the America worshipped you?

If he were my son, I’d certainly be praying for him. And our family as well.

Amazingly, Justin has a mother who understands these issues. His mom wants Justin to find his true value in being a child of God rather than his status as a pop icon. That’s going to be a huge spiritual struggle, and one in which we all share to a degree as we try to center ourselves in God rather than worldly status.

Praying for Justin is a good thing in itself—who knows what he might accomplish for the Kingdom if he actually lived out his life as a solid Christian. It can also be a way of teaching and praying for our own children who must learn the same lessons. Our value lies in being creatures made in the image of God; not in what we can or cannot do. The gifts we have are not our own but come from a loving Creator to be used in the service of others. These are important themes that the prayer campaign for Justin can open up for discussion.

The film also presents with a light-hearted touch the devotion of Justin’s fans, legions of adolescent girls who share a universal ambition—to be Justin’s wife. They form their hands into the shape of a heart—his signature image. They don’t want to be his girlfriend, his squeeze, his sex toy, or…fill in the ever coarsening blank.  No, they want to be his wife!

In a lovely way this demonstrates the desire of most young women for home and family. It shows the healthy, natural desire of teenage girls before our culture convinces them to get down and get dirty like their male counterparts. It’s a great opening to discuss gender differences and the proper respect women ought to have for themselves, as well as demand from their male teenage friends.

Why doesn’t the church ever produce great artists? some ask. Actually, the church does, nearly constantly, but achieving widespread success in the United States usually means becoming ever more secular. It will be a true miracle if Justin does not follow the usual path by soon adopting an image that’s more about sex than love.

So pray for the young man—this musical genius who has emerged from a Christian background. Use NEVER SAY NEVER as a springboard for discussions about finding our identity in God, using our gifts in God’s service, and the true nature of marital love.

For once, can’t we keep one of our artists as our own?

By Harold Fickett, Editor-in-Chief, Catholic Exchange