Monday, January 15, 2018

Martin Luther King, Jr. & Sh**hole Counties...

Last week, the president was reported to have said he didn't want immigrants from certain "sh**hole," countries coming to the United States.

He supposedly made these remarks, several times, during a meeting with Congressional leaders who were focused on DACA and immigration reform.

When the conversation came around to Haiti and Nigeria, the president allegedly said, "Why would we want these people from sh**hole countries?"

The remarks came at a time when close to 800,000 DACA immigrants are a few weeks away from being deported. Last week the current administration in Washington decided to deport 200,000 Salvadorian refugees. In many cases to their death upon return.

The president spoke about welcoming immigrants from Norway. I'm not sure that the president realizes seventy-two percent of Norway's population growth in recent years was due to immigration. 

Yet, Norway is a country that is economically healthy. 

In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, it has the lowest economic inequality in the world. 

Norway is also know for its socio-economically diverse schools, coming in second worldwide for the countries that the World Economic Forum (WEF) tracks.

The WEF points out that one key to Norway's success is its diversity. Immigration hasn't damaged the Norwegian economy, it has strengthened it.

So, the bottom line is that, most likely without much thought on the subject, the president pointed to a country that was a perfect example of the benefits of immigration.

Tyler Cowen, an economics professor at George Mason University in an opinion piece written for Bloomberg View stated that "One of the most striking facts, unbeknownst even to many immigration advocates, is the superior education of Africans coming to this country. Of adults ages 25 or older born in Africa and living here, 41.7 percent have a bachelor's degree or more, according to 2009 data." This compares to a rate of 28.1 percent among native-born US residents. And the estimated percent of African-born migrants without a high school diploma is 11.7. About 11.4 percent of native-born US residents do not have a high school diploma. 

Cowen continues, "Consider Nigerian-Americans, Nigeria being Africa's most populous nation. Their education levels are among the highest in the US, above those of Asians, with 17 percent having a master's degree."

This week we celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., and later this year we will mark the fiftieth anniversary of his assassination. Here's a few quotes from him:

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that."

"The time is always right to what is right."

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

"I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

"The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand in moments of challenge and controversy."

The New York Times covered the response of blacks in the US to the president's remarks. Here's what some of them said:

"We are in the grips of the revenge of an American conscience that's never repented of racist history," Pastor William Lemar said. "Things that were left smoldering, embers have caught a bit of wind from our current president, and from time to time we are are seeing flashes of fire. The narrative that held America together has been fractured. The ground is shifting underneath us. You have to tell a truthful story about how America got where it is. The factories are not gone because of immigration."

"The Haitians are family-oriented, strict with their kids, and hard-working," said Xavier L. Suarez, who became Miami's first Cuban-American mayor in the 1980. He went to Notre Dame d'Haiti on Sunday to show support.

"If you're going to stereotype them, you should say they're law-abiding, super-ethical, warm and kind to strangers," he said. "They want to thrive in this country, as I did, and become part of the American dream."

There were a host of other international organizations that weighed in on the president's remarks.  Time magazine reported that Rupert Colville, the UN's human rights spokesperson said, "There is no other word that one can use but 'racist.' This isn't just a story about vulgar language, it's about opening the door to humanity's worst side, about validating and encouraging racism and xenophobia." 

Photo Credits: first two - The New Yorker

Monday, January 8, 2018

Meet Kaz Boyle: Composing Music for Films

Kaz (Kazimir) Boyle
After completing his Bachelor of Music in Composition at the U of I, Kaz (Kazimir) Boyle attended the University of Southern California graduate program in Advanced Film and Television Scoring, studying under such legends as Elmer Bernstein, David Raksin and Christopher Young. While at USC Kazimir met many film students and soon gained a reputation as a trusted musical collaborator.

Kaz then joined Hans Zimmer's team at Media Ventures. His experience in Zimmer's tech world led to several opportunities working for James Newton Howard.

In 2002 Kazimir opened Flash Music, LLC, his own studio in Hollywood. Since then he has been busy with myriad freelance projects: independent feature films, cable television MOWs, television commercials and cutting-edge short films. 

You went to USC attending their master’s program in advanced film & television scoring. What was your main take-away from that experience?

I’m most grateful for the people I met while studying at USC. There were several film students, as well as my fellow composers who have remained friends and collaborators to this day.

What led you to USC in the first place? i.e. The move from a love of music composition to a love of scoring music for film and television?

I’d already loved the idea of composing specifically for film, and I knew that a move to Los Angeles would be essential to make that happen. USC was a great facilitator – I was able to make the move with a plan in place for my first year.

You created the score for OLD FASHIONED, along with more than 15 other films. How do you begin a collaboration with a director? What do you discuss?

This is an excellent question, and the answer is specific to the director and the film. Many projects, like OLD FASHIONED are first time collaborations, and it takes a lot of listening, a lot of asking questions, and a healthy amount of trial and error. In an ideal situation, the director walks that line of knowing what he or she wants the music to DO for the film, but open to my creative approach for what the music will BE.

How about your experience with OLD FASHIONED, specifically – what made this project different and/or appealing?

OLD FASHIONED was one of these felicitous collaborations. Rik ADORES music, and its role in the film was exceptionally important. Music was built into the script, and features heavily in many scenes. Before I began working with him, Rik already had a playlist of music that inspired him, and reflected the beautiful story and the characters Amber and Clay. He had ideas for instruments he felt captured moments and the setting. Clearly music was not a weak spot in his director’s tool belt, yet he was open to listening thoughtfully to new ideas. He trusted me, and appreciated experimentation.

You’ve also done lots of additional musical arrangements for other film projects. Can you describe the networking that results in receiving such assignments?

So many of my opportunities I can trace back to a combination of luck, and hard work. I’ve never been good at “networking” when it hasn’t been organic. I have, however, tried very hard to say yes to everything, and that can open some surprising doors. Once a door is open, I do the best work I can, and that breeds successful repeat collaboration as well as word of mouth recommendations.

You’ve worked with Elmer Bernstein, Hans Zimmer and Quincy Jones. That’s quite a wide range of composers/arrangers/musicians! Is that sort of range normal for folks in the industry?

I don’t think there is a “normal” anything in the world of film music. Every composer has a different story about their start in the business, the musical gifts they bring to their work, and the folks that helped them along the way. That said, I’m very aware that my opportunities to work for the legends that I have, has been an extremely rare blessing.

You’ve also worked for quite a diverse group of organizations, including Pushing Daisies (ABC), Hallmark Entertainment, ESPN, the History Channel and HBO. Is that range also normal for someone in the industry?

I do feel that if you do put in enough years, get a healthy dose of the aforementioned luck, and say yes to whatever project comes you – eventually many composers do build up an interesting resume of production companies and channels that have featured their work.

What made you decide to open up your own studio, Flash Music LLC?

Film scoring is primarily a freelance, project-based career. Though I often wish I could work for a company that paid me to show up 9-to-5 to compose music, much of my work has had to be entrepreneurial. Starting Flash Music allowed me to formalize and add structure to how I go about business part of my career.

Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for anyone interested in pursuing a career in scoring music for film?

In no particular order: Learn the craft. Learn about story, about character. Watch movies. Listen to movies. Listen to as much music – soundtrack and not – as you can. Know more than enough about the music-making technology to facilitate your creativity. Be a people person - this career is all about working with many other people to tell stories. Be prepared to balance your assured awareness of your genius with crippling self-doubt. Find opportunities to actually write music to picture – failing and getting up again is essential. If you’re able to identify and nourish a music that is innately your own, that is so much more valuable than being able to sound like a clone of some top tier film composer. Be savvy about finances. Try (it’s hard but try) to find balance in your life – work and family. And I’ll sound like a broken record here, but SAY YES!

Looking back, what particular skills/experiences contributed to your success?

My undergraduate study at the University of Illinois introduced me to experimental music, which I feel contributes to my open mindedness and willingness to experiment. My work under Hans Zimmer taught me many skills, particularly electronic music production. My upbringing instilled in me the value of being kind, honest, and friendly.

Who are three of your favorite musicians/composers, and why?

This is a tough one, so I’ll just stick with film composers and list the first three that come into my head. First is John Williams. His mastery of the orchestra is unparalleled. His brilliant thematic writing combined with his narrative approach to a scene sets the bar for every other composer. Next is Ennio Morricone. Morricone has written some of the hands-down most gorgeous melodies of all time. Finally, I’m going to say Hans Zimmer. I have come to appreciate so many elements of his genius. Zimmer is an envelope pusher who strives to discover a story’s “big idea”. His control of sound and love of experimentation has allowed him to reinvent himself musically many times over.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Thank you so much for this opportunity, and the great variety of questions. It’s not often that I take time to put my ideas and experiences into words, and it allowed me to be mindful of my past, as well as my present.

You can find out more information on Kaz, via his website.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Practical wishes for the New Year

Happy New Year!

Happy 2018!!!

As a kid, the slow movement from one year to the next didn't really register like it does now.

Then came adulthood.

And for some unforeseen reason, someone messed with the time clock and pushed the "fast forward" button.

But even at this stage of life, post-retirement, the value of fresh beginnings isn't lost.

Fact is, there is something powerful in experiencing the turn of the calendar from one year to another.

It's more than marking a change from 2017 to 2018. More than acknowledging that one year has come and gone and another stands fresh before us.

We need a re-set. Especially living in the Northern Hemisphere - where the onset of winter is readily apparent.

Our human concept of time can only take in so much. Spiritually speaking, I believe that God knew this and did us a favor by giving us one year at a time.

2017 may have been a great year for you. It may have been awful. Or somewhere in-between. But the fact is, it's not 2017 anymore.

The New Year gives us a chance to be refreshed mentally, physically, emotionally and deep in our spirit.

So, here's what I wish for you this New Year:

Patience: Not everyone thinks, looks or acts like us. Patience helps us slow down and begin to understand and appreciate the differences. Patience allows us to see people and situations from another point of view.

Love: Almost every religion on the planet places a great emphasis on love. One of the classic definitions of love is found in the 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians. "Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance."

Kindness: Is the oil that lubricates human relationships.

Forgiveness: It's been said that God is a God of second chances. If we're made in God's image, then we're in a perfect position to pass some of that forgiveness along. If you don't believe in God, then consider this - if you've been alive for more than a year, the chances are very high that you've needed to be forgiven. Why not choose to pass the favor along?

Grace: This one is linked closely to forgiveness. It's unmerited favor. Being extended a helping hand when you didn't necessarily earn or deserve it. Grace comes in many forms - like the last time someone let you into the turn lane in rush-hour traffic. Or someone offered to carry your grocery bags to the car when you had small kids with you. Or a neighbor shoveled snow off your sidewalk.

Hope: The epistle to the Hebrews begins with, "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see." It's interesting that this same epistle goes on to list several people who lived out this hope. Often in the middle of very difficult circumstances. Even if you aren't a Christian or a believer in any religion, there's no denying the positive effects of hope. Hope lights the way through tough times, helping us realize we'll get through them. Alexander Pope said, "hope springs eternal in the human breast."

Peace: This isn't referring to the absence of war. Rather, it's the calm of knowing we're all connected to the same human race. It's assurance (call it "blessed assurance," if you're religiously-minded). It's comforting and it indeed settles the soul.

Happy New Year to you!

Photo Credits: top; middle; bottom pinterest.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Reader's Choice: Top Posts for 2017

Over the course of this year, here are the top five blogposts that you, dear readers, have chosen:

Kaitlin Curtice
Meet Kaitlin Curtice

Kaitlin is a writer, worship leader and Native American. Her book, GLORY HAPPENING, which is about finding the extraordinary presence of God in the middle of the ordinary, just went into its second printing. It reads very much like a spiritual diary, with each section offering a prayer of inspiration. Kaitlin lives with her husband and two sons. She had a lot to say about her book, and her own faith journey. Kaitlin is scheduled to be a speaker at the upcoming Why Christian? Conference in 2018. You can read Kaitlin's interview here.

Meet Greg Brown
Gregory Brown

Gregory Brown is a chaplin, writer and visiting professor at Handong Global University, living with his family in South Korea. He's authored a series of bible studies, titled the Bible Teacher's Guide. Each book in Greg's series includes scriptural references, topical questions and a study guide to facilitate group discussion. If you're interested in going deeper into some of the books of the Bible that Greg has offered, it's time well spent. You can read Greg's interview here.

Sonya Hollins
Meet Sonya Hollins

Sonya Hollins runs a publishing business (Season Press) with her husband Sean. She's also been a journalist and writer for a couple of decades. Additionally, Sonya founded and coordinates the Merze Tate Travel Club, named after the first African-American woman to graduate from Oxford University in England. In her career, Sonya has received numerous awards to reflect her commitment to making the community around her a better one. You can find Sonya's interview here.

Meet D.L. Mayfield

D.L. Mayfield lives in Oregon and has a ministry of living and working with immigrant families, mostly from African countries. D.L. has been doing this work with her husband for over a decade. She's also a writer and her book ASSIMILATE OR GO HOME has rapidly drawn attention for its authenticity. D.L. frequently writes on the issues of immigration and refugee reform. You can read D.L.'s interview here.

Beth Watkins
Meet Beth Watkins

If you aren't a follower of Beth Watkins' blog, you should be. She's consistently written compelling, thoughtful and insightful pieces - mostly on the subject of social justice and the church. Especially focused on refugees and immigrants. Beth spent six years working with vulnerable children and refugees in the closed countries of North Africa, South Sudan and also in Egypt. You can read Beth's interview here.

I'd like to thank all of the writers who took the time to be interviewed this year. And you, the readers of this blog, for taking the time to get to know them.

Best wishes to everyone for a wonderful New Year!

And speaking of 2018, if you know of an up-and-coming author or social justice leader that you'd like to see interviewed on this blog, please leave a comment letting me know their name, and if possible, their contact information!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Advent's Hope

This is the last week of Advent.

Traditionally, this season is one of contemplation.



Ever growing excitement.

The spiritual equivalent of a young child sitting in a darkened living room, captivated by brilliant Christmas tree lights reflected off dozens of shiny ornaments. If Advent were a fragrance, its name would be anticipation. 

This year, I've come to hover around the story of Mary (Jesus' Mom).

It's a very familiar scene as Luke records it. (Luke 1:26-45)

The angel Gabriel visits Mary.

Gabriel tells
her she's going to have a child. God's son.

Then a few days after this happens, Mary decides to go visit her (much) older cousin, Elizabeth, who was already six months pregnant with a baby who would grow up to be John the Baptist.

Elizabeth sees Mary coming and the baby jumps in her womb "for joy."

I've tended to skip over the rest of Elizabeth's response and cued in on Mary's response (traditionally called The Magnificat.)

But not this Advent.

This time,  I was stopped dead in my tracks by the tail end of Elizabeth's greeting to Mary, which is this:

"You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said."

Wow. Such a bold declaration!

If there were ever a time when we needed hope, this is it!

Trump's tweets. Mueller investigation into Russian meddling. Korean crisis. Global Warming. DACA held in limbo. A new tax bill signed into law that hardly anyone understands (including the people who voted for it).

The list goes on and it's seemingly endless.

Are you old enough to remember the old Wendy's commercial, with the spunky elderly woman who had the audacity to ask, "Where's the beef?" 

Maybe it was a simpler time. Or maybe it was the practicality of it - if you didn't like Burger King, chances are a McDonald's was bound to be across the street, flanked by a Taco Bell or Kentucky Fried Chicken at the next intersection. Whatever the fast food folks promised you, if they failed, it was no big deal. An alternative was always within walking distance.

But things aren't so simple anymore.

How do you handle an administration in Washington like the current one that can't seem to get through a day without lying about it? (It's not that I dislike republicans - it's that I can't handle consistent lying as a way to govern effectively.)

It's enough to make a person very unsettled. As in, who can you rely on these days?

Which brings us back to the main point.

Right in the middle of her own pregnancy, Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth and gets an incredible boost.

"Blessed are you because you believed what the Lord has said he would do."

There's a lot a person could say about that one sentence.

. Trust reaps dividends
. But it's important to know who you're trusting
. God honors his promises
. But you've got to know the promises to actively hope in them.

If you believe in God. And if you believe that God can't lie. Then you can safely put your hope in God. And by extension, God's son.

"Blessed are you

because you have believed
what the Lord has said he would do."

As we head into the final days of Advent, that is absolutely good news!!!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Photo Credit: top - Santa Fe Presbyterian Church
middle - praiseworld

Monday, December 11, 2017

To Kill A Mockingbird & Alabama's Senatorial Race

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch
Where is Atticus Finch when you need him?

Remember To Kill a Mockingbird?

Atticus was Scout's widowed father. And an unswervingly moral lawyer.

Atticus, Scout and her brother Jem lived in Alabama and their story takes place during the Great Depression.

In case you don't recall it, or haven't read this marvelous, Pulitzer Prize winning novel, here's a synopsis. But you really should do yourself a favor and read Harper Lee's brilliant work, and then see the film.

At any rate, at one critical point in the story, Atticus chooses to defend Tom Robinson, a black man who has been unjustly accused of raping a white woman.

Very few white people in the town are sympathetic. So the all-white jury quickly renders a guilty verdict when Robinson goes on trial.

In the film version, Atticus camps out on the front steps of the small town jail before Robinson is sent to prison. During the night a crowd of white folks gather in front of the jail, hell-bent on lynching Robinson. Atticus stands them down. But it's Scout who diffuses the situation by simply asking one of the men how his son is doing.

It was this simple act that appealed to another person's humanity that caused the crowd of white men to walk away in embarrassment for what they were about to do.

Throughout the book and film, Atticus stands tall. Refusing to give in to group pressure, and he continues to see Robinson as a fully equal human being who was unjustly accused. (Gregory Peck won an Oscar for his role, and the screenplay won an Oscar as well.)

Harper Lee won a Pulitzer because her writing was deeply personal and deeply universal in its telling of the truth - life in a small southern town in the 1930s.
Harper Lee

With the current focus on Alabama and the senatorial campaign of Roy Moore, I wonder what Atticus and Harper Lee would have to say about it? It's ironic that the character of Atticus was a lawyer, and Moore was suspended from his federal judgeship on two occasions for refusing to follow the US Constitution and encouraging Alabama residents to follow his example.

Moore also has made a point of parading his so-called Christian values as an excuse for why people should vote for him, even though he is in the middle of a scandal involving multiple cases of pursuing teen-aged girls when he was over 30 years of age. He has also made racist remarks. He  makes no apologies for his behavior and continues to deny the allegations. And he says he'll continue to be guided by his "Christian values" if he's elected to a seat in the Senate. 

It's also highly ironic that Mr. Moore has most recently been endorsed by President Trump, who has been accused, by at least a dozen women, of inappropriate sexual contact. The Washington Post, a few weeks before election day, broke the story of a recorded interview where Mr. Trump boasts about his own sexual philosophy.  Shortly after the story broke, Mr. Trump, under pressure from his campaign heads, half-heartedly apologized. - actually it was more of an excuse for his behavior than an apology.  Now that he's president, Mr. Trump has denied that it was his voice that was recorded. He's also denied all of the allegations made during the campaign. (His accusers say otherwise.)

I feel sorry for the people of Alabama who have to face a senatorial race with such a person on the ballot. I feel sorry for the evangelical pastors of Alabama who have been telling their congregations to vote for Moore, as a test of their own Christianity. 

Most of all I weep for our nation that doesn't seem to have a single Atticus among its republican members of congress (except two) who had the courage to speak out and break away from Moore and from the president - the supposed leader of their party. The subsequent results of Alabama's special election should serve as a clarion call that the republican party would do well to heed.

Here's the trailer for To Kill a Mockingbird, with the scene where Atticus explains to Scout why he's defending Tom Robinson.

Photo Credits: top pintrest, bottom

Monday, December 4, 2017

Simple tips for a peaceful holiday season!

True confession: over the past few days there has been a lot happening that, at times, had head my head spinning.

But then I took a deep breath. And got to thinking, soon we'll be celebrating Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas. Some of these celebrations involve gift-giving. So, in the spirit of the holidays, here's a few recommendations:

1. Give yourself the gift of more peace by unfollowing @realDonaldTrump on Twitter if you are following him. Ninety-nine percent of his tweets are false or divisive, or both. Don't worry, you won't miss important news by doing this. Speaking of which...

2. Give yourself the gift of being informed. Get in the habit of getting your news from reliable news sources. For instance, a daily newspaper that has a legitimate news team and clearly separates news from opinions. It's no accident that one of  Mr. Trump's chief targets is the news industry, which he regularly accuses of spreading "false news." If you're watching television news, steer clear of any news cast that runs segments of people yelling at each other. That's not news. That's divisiveness. Speaking of which...

3. In an effort to give the gift of peace, refuse to give in to the temptation to add to what is already a volatile level of division in the US and the world. Don't hang around divisive people. Steer clear of political quicksand when posting on Facebook or other social media. Posting your political opinions on Facebook usually won't convince anyone. Speaking of communication...

4. Give the gift of listening. Practice being an active listener. Be eager to hear what your friend is saying. Nothing enhances friendship like actively being engaged in a conversation. But at least half of that conversation, under normal circumstances, should involve being quiet and listening to what your friend has to say. While you're listening, watch body language for non-verbal clues. Here's another, very important way of communicating...

5. Become an encourager! I recently listened to a podcast by Rick Warren in which he made a simple but profound suggestion. He said get up every day and ask God (if you believe in God) to help you find a few people that you can encourage that day. It can be the cashier at the grocery store, the clerk behind the counter at the convenience store, the person sitting next to you on the subway, the bus driver on your bus, your neighbor or friend. The only caveat is that it has be genuine. If you can sincerely look at someone and tell them, "Good job!" or "Good morning!" You've just encouraged them. Speaking of which...

6. Give the gift of yourself. Go out of your way to meet people who don't look like you or think like you. This is probably the toughest gift to give. For example, volunteer at an after-school program in a neighborhood where most families don't have as much as you. Look for opportunities in your community hosted by cultural organizations or churches/other faith-based groups to get together and learn about other cultures. But be prepared, you'll probably wind up receiving more than you may give.

7. Most major religions of the world teach the importance of getting outside of ourselves. That it's better to give than to receive. To look out for each other.  Because, ultimately, what happens to the least of us has consequences for all of us. (You could probably make a case that, from God's point of view, there really is no such thing as the "least" of us. God simply doesn't have a ranking system.) Having such an inclusive world view actually promotes mental, spiritual and physical health. Speaking of which...

8. Here's something from Nicholas Kristof. It's his annual gift-giving list. More accurately, it's a really good list of alternatives to traditional gifts. These are gifts aimed to support non-profit organizations around the world that are doing amazing work in very cost-effective ways. Please take a look. It'll do your heart a world of good!

If you have any other gift-giving ideas, please feel free to comment and share them!

Photo Credits: top: 123greetings; middle afrocentriqueAZ; bottom