Thursday, January 4, 2018

To Be A Giver Will Make You Glow

It seems to me anytime the church starts talking about generosity our minds immediately go to monetary giving.

While it’s a biblical principle to tithe (giving 10% of our income), this wasn’t the point my pastor brought up recently. Instead, the focus was on giving of our time, resources and more. That we should be generous in every area of our life.

A quick study of the word “generous” will lead you to its origin in the late 16th century. Coming from the Latin generosus - noble, magnanimous - denoting someone of noble birth with the characteristics of courage.

A favourite author of mine refers to the nobility in her novel as ‘Sacrifice’, because they recognised their lives belonged to their people. They sacrificed their wants and desires for those of the kingdom.
As sons and daughters of the King of kings, Jesus said, we are to take up our cross and follow him - to be ‘Sacrifice’ - denying selfish ways in order to be selfless.

So how much more should we look at generosity - the act of being a giver - as a mandate for our lives?

Generosity is actually healthy for us

A study in 2013 linked generosity with reducing the risks of stress-related deaths. When we give, it sets off a chemical reaction which reduces stress and makes us feel good. Stephen G. Post, director of the Centre for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at New York’s Stony Brook University, calls it a “giver’s glow”.

Our brain releases ‘happy’ chemicals, in the mesolimbic pathways, also known as the reward pathways. It’s a chemical mix of dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin, which Post says, “give people a sense of euphoria […] which is associated with tranquility, serenity or inner peace.”
It’s a chemical cocktail of goodness.

Scientists have discovered even the thought of being generous can trigger this pleasure and reward system. One study in California discovered volunteering - giving of your time - to be more powerful for stress relief than exercising three times a week! Another showed regular church attendance to also reduces stress.

I was excited when I read this. Mostly because the heartbeat of my church is to be ‘Sacrifice’ by volunteering in different ministry areas. Whether it’s the creative team, kids, hosting or cafe, I’d say the majority of my church are volunteers. Scientifically, we’re getting a double portion of  “giver’s glow” because we’re volunteering and attending church regularly.

No wonder we’re such a happy and healthy community.

The beauty of this scientific research gives Psalm chapter 139, verses 13-14 a whole new meaning to me. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
God literally wired us to give.

Perspective is a Necessary Key to Generosity

It’s important how we feel when we give. If someone gives grudgingly or out of obligation, it doesn’t produce the ‘giver’s glow’.

When we give, whether it be a financial donation to a charity or volunteering at a soup kitchen on the weekends, we have to want to give in order for the chemical cocktail to kick in.

When we give from a selfless perspective, “people say their friendships are deeper,” Post said, “they’re sleeping better and they’re able to handle life’s obstacles better. On a scale of 1 to 10 – and 10's a really powerful drug like insulin in the treatment of diabetes – this stuff is probably up there around a 7 or 8. And the amazing thing is, you don’t need to go to a drugstore for it."

Both Colossians chapter 3, verse 23 and Ephesians chapter 6, verse 7 mention the importance of giving and doing it whole-heartedly, as if you were doing it for God and not man. Again these verses come more fully alive with the scientific evidence of giving.

More than any other time, this message of generosity needs to provoke us. As Christians we are supposed to be known for our love for one another.  (John chapter 13, verse 35) but time and again, I meet people who are surprised when Christians are generous, or loving. I can only imagine how God’s heart grieves for us to be whole-hearted in our giving.

Maybe the idea of giving is overwhelming to you. Maybe you feel anxious about being ‘Sacrifice’ to those around you. I know it happens to me. I feel too tired to give. Too tired to be whole-hearted in what I do.

But the times when I persevere and cling to these biblical truths, I find it becomes easier. Which again makes me think Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Being generous produces in us the ‘giver’s glow’ and love comes quicker when we’re living in a state of inner peace and euphoria.

So let’s take on this challenge. Let’s be generous. Let’s be Sacrifice. Because the more we do, the more the ‘giver’s glow’ will make us whole and healthy individuals. Shining like the star of Bethlehem, proclaiming God’s love.

Originally published on Christian Today

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Out of the Woods, Why Independent Film is Powerful

Originally published on The Independent Initiative

If someone gave me the “dream job” on ten different popular movies filming in the next year, I’d turn them down. Yes, it sounds crazy, but I find what I do now is more powerful.

I work in independent film with The Initiative Production Company. We’re still a young company, having been around for just under ten years. In this time we’ve produced two feature films, a documentary and countless short films. 

So why do I think what I do is more powerful than those ten popular movies and the “dream job”?
Because independent film gives me more opportunities to help the creatives around me grow in their talents and skill.

Our most recent film, Out of the Woods, which we’ve started a crowdfunding campaign for, is rife with examples of why independent film is powerful. Not only was it a great experience for me as a first-time feature film producer, but it allowed me to give real opportunities to other aspiring filmmakers and actors.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve never heard of a film company who cared more about building up the next generation of filmmakers and actors over making lots of money. 

Real opportunities

During production of Out of the Woods, we ran an internship. We gave them real responsibility by placing them within the film crew instead of just being interns.

We created a live/learn experience.

As an example, one of our interns held the sole title of Unit Production Manager. Others held titles as 3rd Assistant Director, Gaffer, Concept Artist, 1st Assistant Camera Operator and many others.

This isn’t normal for a film internship.

But as a company, we believe giving them a real job is a better learning situation than just being the coffee getter or copy printer person.

We walked alongside our interns and treated them like part of the crew. Yes, we gave pointers and guided them in one direction or the other, but as our company is called The Initiative, we also encouraged them to take initiative and ownership of their role on set.

Being a stepping stone

We also brought on film school students from local universities, placing them in roles like Sound Mixer and Wardrobe Assistant. Creating a feature film opportunity for them and giving them much needed experience of set life.

A producer friend of mine, stopped by set one day and was amazed at the professionalism we’d established on set. Especially knowing the majority of our crew were interns and film students.

As a company, this is the heart of why we do independent film.

We want our company to be a real stepping stone for aspiring filmmakers to the world of the industry. It’s our hope they’ll be able to start on the bigger sets as something more than a Production Assistant.

We believe so strongly in building the next generation of filmmakers and actors, that all the funds we receive for our films go straight back into making that film stand out. None of us in The Initiative, make money on what we do. We’d rather see our story come to life and in the process create more set life experience for young filmmakers/actors.

Out of the Woods

It may sound a bit crazy to work in a company where we don’t get paid for all the hours of extreme labour and long hours which we pour into not only the film but those we train, but it actually opens doors for us to work with more creatives in the Brisbane area.

When they discover we’re doing this for the passion of it, it ignites their passion too. It creates an environment of like-minded individuals who put their all into a project because it’s a story worth telling.

It also gives everyone the opportunity to grow in their own skills and talents.

I love working with The Initiative Production Company.

I love that our focus is to be an encouragement and aid to creatives everywhere. I love that we get to give set life experience to aspiring filmmakers and actors.

I love that we continue to support those who come through our doors, by helping them find other jobs within the local industry and more. My job may not be financially beneficial for me, but the benefits I do receive through new friendships and adventures far outweigh anything else.

I can say truthfully, I am living the dream. We’ve created an innovative, tenacious community of film professionals, and I love every second of it.

We’d appreciate your help to continue to inspire young creatives by donating towards our crowdfunding campaign, Get Us Out of the Woods.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Tall People & Rose

I'm excited about Ethan Renoe's, The Tall People: And Other Collected Stories. Coming from the minds of 14 creatives, this collection of short stories has something for everyone - including a story by yours truly, titled Rose.

Be sure to read Ethan's post to see a list of all the writers.

I want to tell you a bit about my short story - Rose...

... Adora's abducted and forced to work in The Factory where her captors use her blood to entertain the masses and give them the ability to fly, among other things. She soon discovers she's not the only one being forced into this bizarre entertainment, and begins to plot for a way out - not only for herself, but the others too.

Available now on amazon
This was a different story for me to write. Darker and riskier than anything I've told before, but one I found to be full of inner depths.

As the story flowed, I found myself challenged by her situation and wanted to do what I could as a creator to give justice to this character and the bigger - real life - issues it actually explores.

Adora's story became symbolic of both the truth and the lies people believe when they find themselves in domestic violence situations.

It grew from there to also explore the objectifying of women and how much it actually happens around us in every day life and from there explored the similarities between objectifying people and human trafficking.

As I wrote, I was amazed to see how many small little lessons and ideas were coming out on the page and I know it's because I had the ultimate Creator right there writing the story with me.

I hope you'll pick up a copy of The Tall People: And Other Collected Stories and read Rose. I know I learned heaps from Adora's story and I hope it will challenge, inspire and encourage those who read it too.

For now, I will leave you with a small excerpt from Rose.

The room for all it’s warm colors chills me. I blame the bright pain blossoming from my shoulder blade and the embarrassment of being so utterly exposed.
“Don’t move.” The tattooist warns, his eyes on my bare flesh.
Breathe. Keep breathing.
I’ve lost the will to turn away from the sharp needle. It’s agitated gyration skips over my skin, imprinting it with the outline of a vining flower. I thought my flesh would numb from the hours of work, but it only seems to be getting worse with every passing second.
Margaret, who stands above me, squeezes my hand. The gesture turns my focus away from the bright prickling sparks. “You’re doing great, Adora.” she smiles. “It’s almost over now.”
It scares me when she’s nice. It means there will be consequences later. She never does anything to leave a mark, but she hurts me worse than any beating ever could. Tears build at the thought and one escapes down my cheek.
“You’ll ruin your porcelain complexion, Adora.” She squeezes my hand harder. A warning. “Can’t have one of my girls looking emotional now, it’s bad for business.”
I bite the inside of my cheek to stop the tears, and put on what I hope is a brave smile for Margaret and the man who’s wiping navy blood from my shoulder and arm.
“You’ve outdone yourself, Magic. The roses are stunning.” Margaret runs a hand across my puckered flesh. “How long before I can make use of her?”

Tune into the next stop on The Tall People Blog Tour and hear what David Alves has to say about The Tall People and his story - Sub Rosa.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

My Hope For America

My country is bleeding right now. Divided into two separate sides. At least that's what a lot of people are thinking, that the other half of the population has no understanding of how their feeling, that they're belief system is twisted and wrong.
I've seen the evidence of this belief on both sides of the argument.
What scares me the most though, is how black and white we think the issue is, when really it's a lot more muddy and grey.
Lessons from Harry Potter
I was talking with a friend this morning, who was telling me how nervous he is for the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. He has a strong dislike for the director, David Yates, because Yates focuses more on style than on character.
When I asked him what he meant, he started describing the differences Yates made to the last few Harry Potter movies to what actually happened in the books.
The best example he gave me was when in the book, Harry tells an enemy, Peter Pettigrew, that he forgives him and if his parents were alive, they'd forgive him too. Peter is so moved by this astonishing forgiveness; he knows he's so completely unworthy of it - being the one who helped murder Harry's parents - but he's eager to live up to this incredible forgiveness and decides to help Harry and his friends escape.
In the movie version, Harry and his friends just knock Peter out and escape and the story suffers as a consequence. The message of forgiveness is lost completely.
My friend kept talking about how the characters are not black and white, they are a mix and I can't help think of the correlation to what I see happening in the US.
We've become a people so fixed on blaming the other side for the splinter in their eye that we've forgotten to take the log out of our own eye first (Matthew chapter 7, verse 5). There is no side that is all right and no side that is all wrong.
The more we point the finger, the more divided we'll become.
Lessons from The Project
The night of the election, I watched Channel TEN's The Project. I've always liked their more laid back way of sharing the news, but I was surprised with a rather heated segment.
Steve Price and Jamila Rizvi exchanged, what I felt, was an uncharacteristically tense conversation.
Jamila was asked a question, and Steve Price started sharing his opinion. He didn't get far into his opinion when Jamila started to explain what she felt about what he was saying. What followed was an awkward few moments of both trying to say their piece, until Price went quiet. Jamila finished what she had to say and Price came back with, "This is why Donald Trump won..."
What I noticed was that both parties were in the wrong, but only one was called out on their tone. My point is not to place blame on one or the other. In fact, I've strived to be as non-biased as possible with even my word choice in describing the situation, because what I want to focus on is that both made wrong choices. Both of them fought to be heard over the other. BUT, both of them are human beings, fallible and prone to make mistakes.
What I'm getting at, is that we all make mistakes.
The majority of people on both sides of the vote were not "out to get" the other side, but that's what we're all believing now.
I have friends tell me, "The other side may have meant well, but now I'm living in fear of what will happen to me." And what may surprise you, is that I hear that from Hilary supporters AND Trump supporters.
Half of my country is scared that the colour of their skin or their sexual orientation are going to be ridiculed and bullied. The other half are scared that they're going to be ridiculed and bullied because they voted for Trump and therefore must be bigots and rednecks.
We've stereotyped BOTH sides and it's killing us. It has to stop.
The only way I see it stopping is for us to be more like Harry Potter. To recognise that once, Peter Pettigrew was a close friend of his parents' and the only way to end the "war" is to extend his hand in forgiveness.
My country will continue to bleed until every American chooses the higher road of forgiveness. Until we can look at the other side and stop seeing it as the "other side" and recognise them as people. Neighbours, friends, even family.
In his acceptance speech, President-elect Donald Trump said, "Now it is time for America to bind the wounds of division... to all Republicans and Democrats and Independents across this nation I say it is time for us to come together as one united people."
I don't know if he really meant those words or if he was pandering to a crowd. But the people of the US have the opportunity to choose to be united or not. No one man can change us, or unite us - no president ever has - it's going to take every single one of us to make the choice.
Can we do it?
Can we choose to lay aside our differences and hurt and be the bigger person and forgive? Can we focus on what we have in common and really choose love for one another over pointed fingers and hatred? I truly hope so and this is what I will continue to pray for.

This is my hope for my country.

Originally published on Christian Today

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Daystar: The Days are Numbered by Anne Hamilton - A Review

Daystar: The Days Are NumberedDaystar: The Days Are Numbered by Anne Hamilton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Daystar: The Days are Numbered is a children's fantasy novel I recently read. The story follows young prince Ansey as he and his new friends go on an adventure that could change their lives and if they're successful, save the ancient principality of Auberon-Zamberg.

The world Anne Hamilton created for her characters is full of fascinating creatures and cultures. There are frost giants, dwarves and knights. Talking foxes and magical Powers that hint to more than meets the eye. There were a few times I found myself getting lost in the story and wanting to see just around the corner.

One of the things I appreciated most about the story was what it was encouraging in the reader. It's a story of teamwork and perseverance. Of finding identity and discovering the armor of God. And ultimately it's a story of trusting the Ancient of Days.

I thought it was a very clever way to tell children about the armor of God. I've always been a big believer that the things God has for us are much more tangible than we think. So reading Hamilton's tale of finding Powers and seeing the allegory of them being the armor of God made me smile.

It's a tale I would have loved to tell.

There were only a few parts that felt false to me. There is a character who is autistic. While I love the idea of an autistic character, it felt a bit forced. More preachy than letting me, the reader, discover more about how a person with autism acts. However, knowing this is a children's book, reminded me that it would have to be written more that way in order for children to understand.

So. While it was one thing I didn't particularly care for, it also made me realize how much I'd forgotten I was reading a kids book. My love for story had consumed me until that moment.

Daystar reminded me of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia and John White's The Sword Bearer. It's rich story world and characters came to life in my mind and I for one, hope Anne Hamilton writes more adventures with Ansey and his companions.

If you have children, I encourage you to go and purchase this novel and read it with your kids.

You can purchase Daystar: The Days are Numbered on Amazon.

View all my reviews

Monday, April 4, 2016

Ancient Paths

Life is suffering. An up-hill battle, an adventure.

A constant struggling forward.

Lately the weight of life has gotten me down. I've spent a few nights crying myself to sleep. Wondering what on earth I'm doing with my life. 

On the outside, it looks like I have it all. I'm a filmmaker. Producing my first feature film. Working in an office of wonderful people, who I get to adventure with. I'm writing a novel and part of the worship team at church. I have great friends and a loving family. I have all the creature comforts I could want and am surrounded with good things.

On paper, I've got a pretty charmed life.

But the life of a creative is a constant struggle. And that's ok.

Because without a little conflict, life would get pretty boring. I don't want a life of all highs and no lows.

It's in the lows I remember to crawl back to my Papa and cry for his help. It's then I remember, I've got an amazing God, who is using every present struggle for the working of my good.

His plans are for our good.

If there is one thing I can stress to those who are going through a difficult time. Even if it feels like that difficult time is always. On-going.

Do yourself a favor. Turn to Papa God. He's the only one who can meet you exactly where you are.

I've been listening to Bethel's new album, Have it All, and been reminded that when I focus on the struggle - I will be overwhelmed.

But if I focus on God and His phenomenal amazingness - I will overcome.

As soon as we tell God that He can, indeed, "have it all." That stress and worry. That frustration, it will lighten. I don't mean it will go away. I'm still facing a big giant, but my perspective has changed. I can't see the giant, because I'm too transfixed by the glory of my Daddy.

Jeremiah 6:16 says, "Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls."

Oh that we would turn our hearts back to God and take those ancient paths.

Think about an ancient path for a moment. What does it look like? Where would it be found?

I imagine those roads are not easy to navigate. They're probably overgrown. Full of wild things. In hard to reach locations. Where only the brave and courageous can find them.

And even then, I bet they are hidden to the naked eye.

Ah. But don't you know? It is the glory of God to conceal things, and the glory of man to seek them out!

To search something out is not going to be easy. But, He's told us not to fear, because He's redeemed us. Called us by name, and said that we are His.

If that isn't enough. He's also given us a promise.

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you." Is. 43:2

"I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord." Is. 45:3

I don't know about you, but I want to find those ancient paths. I want to seek out the things God has hidden. To walk forward - through the struggles - and know there will come a day when the struggle will have it's work in me.

And I'll come out the other end a stronger person.

Both in faith and relationship to the One who walked me through it.