Midnight Kickoff to 24/7 Prayer

Prayer is a word that can conjure a variety of images, from the kneeling bar and the backs of wooden pews for the more traditional, to the arms raised no-holds-barred praying of more charismatic believers. Prayer looks different in every culture, family or group, and every person puts their own personal spin on prayer. So what is prayer exactly, and why is it so important?

Prayer is often defined as communicating to God, and so our culture has assigned the value of spoken word to prayer. Prayer is often viewed practically as “a person speaking to God.” But in reality prayer is so much more. Prayer is not only communication with God, it is also communion with God. This does not mean that prayer is only the Eucharistic expression of taking communion with bread and wine; prayer is unity with God. Prayer can definitely include the aspect of talking to God, but it is much broader than that in its full expression. Prayer can incorporate music, meditation or even just living our lives in such a way as to live aware of the presence of God. This is why the Bible commands us to pray without ceasing. It does not mean that we are to constantly talk to God, although talking to God is definitely a good thing. In fact, we would probably all benefit from talking to God more. But what would be of even greater benefit would be to broaden our perspective of prayer, quiet ourselves, and learn to listen for the voice of God.

There is an organization that believes that this sort of unending prayer is crucial to what the Lord is doing in this era of time. It is called 24/7 prayer, and according to its website, the organization is “an international, interdenominational movement of prayer, mission and justice that began with a single, student-led prayer vigil in Chichester, England in 1999 and has spread, by word-of-mouth, into 100+ nations.” 24/7 Prayer is a decentralized organization, meaning that there are a lot of other organizations which are under the Spiritual covering of 24/7 Prayer, but establish their own distinct form of the ministry. Basically the goal of 24/7 Prayer is to do just that: create missional communities of believers who are mobilized into prayer, justice and mission.

One such organization is Campus America, which is specifically geared toward developing these types of communities on college campuses. Lula McAmis is the leader of this prayer ministry on our campus, and her heart is to foster this culture of prayer on our campus. McAmis has been transformed by her time involved in this intentionally prayerful lifestyle, and she has said that “this Jesus, this beautiful Jesus, was completely different than I had ever been taught. Those weeks in the prayer room taught me what christian community was all about. First, we love Jesus well. Then we can love each other well. Who wants to be a part of a family that doesn’t love?”

We host weeks of 24/7 Prayer every semester, and McAmis says it is “the week that we invite our campus to come and be with the Lord, all day every day.” Students can sign up for hour long slots of prayer, and the goal is to have every hour of the day covered in prayer by at least one person. This is where the idea of prayer being more than words becomes of utmost importance, because it can be really difficult for the person who is not practiced in that kind of prayer to pray consistently for an hour. Prayer is a discipline, and no one is disciplined unless the discipline is practiced. “The important thing is not that you’re always thinking words to Jesus. the important thing is that you know who you’re talking to and you spend time sitting with him.” Prayer goes beyond this week of prayer, and the goal of the organization is not just to create “events,” but to create the desire for people to dive into a lifestyle of intentional prayer and communion with the Lord. The prayer team meets in the prayer room (the little room across from the student center,) M-Th nights from 8-10 on a weekly basis.

This semester’s 24/7 prayer week is going to be held the week of April 1st-7th. There will be sign ups online and in the Student Center, as well as further information spots during chapel. Finally, McAmis encourages anyone who has not been to “not be intimidated by the prayer room. We are normal people.” In a very real way prayer brings us closer to God, and closer together as a community on mission with God. We can only impact our world with the love of God if we have it living in us. So be a part of the movement; join us in prayer.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Review

I don’t frequent midnight premiers; in fact the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was only my second time ever attending one. Of course, it is impossible to go into a movie based on a source text with which you are familiar in a completely objective manner, especially when someone who has already ventured into the cinematographic realm of Middle Earth directs the movie. I went in expecting greatness; the possibility that this movie could be anything other than epic did not for an instant cross my mind. I was a tad bit under-whelmed by the crowd outside the theater. I went in expecting droves of Istari-bearded individuals toting staffs and long stem pipes. To be sure there were a few, but for the most part I thought the crowd was dismal for a midnight premier, especially of the movie adaption of such a beloved and iconic book.

I hadn’t read the book the Hobbit since I was nine, and so a few of the details were a bit fuzzy in my mind. The opening sequences were beautifully rendered, the Dwarf realm under the mountain was jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and felt very reminiscent of the halls of Moria from the first Lord of the Rings film, had the darkened halls been shown in their full glory. The first forty-five minutes of the film, although it differed in some regards to the book, felt very Tolkien-esque, conveyed a distinctly Middle Earthian feel to it, and were spectacular. The unexpected party sequence at Bag End was delightful, and excited substantial amounts of anticipation for the rest of the movie.

However, this is where problems began to enter into the movie for me. The first problem, Radaghast the Brown. This character is mentioned in the book, but only in passing. I had no problem with the initial inclusion of the character, until he began to play out his role on screen. The nods to naturism were nice, but the sleigh drawn by rabbits? First of all, no rabbits can draw sleighs, and I don’t think there were any people in the theater who would have missed the unabashed allusion to Father Christmas. I was not amused; it wasn’t Tolkien. Not only was it not Tolkien, it was also so fantastic and outside the realm of plausibility that it was laughable, and not in a good way.

This continued to be a theme throughout the movie, and I began to understand the film as a Jekyll and Hyde type operation. When Jackson stuck to Tolkien, it was brilliant, but when it deviated into purely Jackson narrative, laced with over the top special effects, and skull numbing frame rates, the film plunged into a Hyde-like menace. I found myself holding my breath through these sequences, not from any sense of suspense or some kind of emotional attachment to what was taking place on screen, but merely holding out for the movie to get back to Tolkien. Jackson had no doubt attempted to distinguish this film from his previous trilogy as a standalone work, but in many ways, his digital rendering of the characters and locales made this film feel more like watching a restaging of the movie 300 in a Harry Potter world. Frankly, it felt wrong.

The special effects were stunning; I had never seen a movie with that level of effects. I had no problem with the use of effects, what I had a problem with was instead of relying on well crafted worlds and human-acting talent, this movie relied heavily on CGI crafted locales, characters, and ultimately, created a very video game feel, versus something believable, something in which the viewer would be invested. At first, I was slightly angered at what I felt was the cardinal sin in moviemaking: the overreliance on technology in the place of real, on screen talent. No doubt the people who worked on effects for this movie are highly talented people, but CGI characters, particularly villains, with no soul in them, end up feeling boring. An anecdote of this is the pale orc.

First off, he looked nothing like any orc we had seen before, which in a world with the scope of Middle Earth, is unforgiveable. One thing that made the Lord of the Rings such a triumph to watch is that each character had a sense that he had a life beyond the screen, and we were invited along to see only a small part of it. This new villain had no sense of that. He felt inserted into the already established narrative, as indeed he was. There was nothing in my mind while he was on screen except hoping he would go away, and not bother me any more.

I tried to root for this movie throughout my time watching it, and I really did try as much as I could to give it as much objectivity as was possible to lend. Overall, I would say that the movie was not un-enjoyable and by no means insufferable. It just wasn’t the film I was expecting. Perhaps An Unexpected Journey was a fitting moniker

Ethan Mullenax: A Muse For Every Stage

Music is a powerful medium; able to capture the spectrum of human emotion like nothing else that exists. Music is as old as man himself, and it exists in some form in every culture that inhabits the earth. There is much speculation as to what makes music so powerful. Some would say that it is the mind behind the music, referring to the creator of the music itself, and some would say that the power is, in contrast, inherent in the music itself. The question boils down to whether music has intrinsic value.

Ethan Mullenax, a piano major, has been on a journey of musical discovery, to the end of discovering whether he believes that music has objective value beyond the scope of just the music itself. According to Mullenax, he has some certainty that music must have intrinsic value, even though it can be difficult to measure at times, since listening to music can be quite a subjective endeavor.

Music is a passion of Mullenax’s that has been seeded within him from an early age of learning to play the violin, when “staying at home playing violin wasn’t the cool thing to do.” Thankfully for those who are familiar with Mullenax’s music, he stuck with it despite it not being the cool thing to do, and despite the frustration of those around him when he banged on his first electric guitar as a kid.

Those power chords and “loud obnoxious open chords,” which “should never be played on an electric guitar,” have come a long way from those days to the release of Mullenax’s first solo project album, “The Primary Stages.” The album has a lot of raw emotional power, dealing with the ebb and flow of love, admittedly in a somewhat childish fashion. Mullenax makes it clear that he is not championing this album as the ideal picture of love, but rather the album “tells a story,” of love through it’s various stages of anger, pain, giddy happiness, and all of the other emotions in between. In short, it is a muse for the stage of life that Mullenax was in when he wrote these songs.

They tell a story that is an emotional roller coaster, fun in places, in your face in others, and still in others sad and melancholy. Despite its 6 song length, the album plays like a much longer story, even though each song is crafted in such a way to be a story in and of itself. While the songs could very well stand on their own, it should definitely be listened to from start to finish. The songs are not in chronological order in terms of when they were written, but it is a logical progression.

Mullenax invites you along to explore the stages of love, in this case the primary stages. His album is available for free download on Noisetrade. You can find a link to this on Mullenax’s blog at http://ethanmullenax.blogspot.com/ Don’t merely listen to the music, because listening can be a passive experience, and there is so much behind the music. It is a muse for every stage of life; be it wisdom or folly, it is a journey, as life is a journey.

Movie Spotlight: Les Miserables

Les Miserables opens with a rousing musical number and stunning visuals which not only intrigue and immerse the audience immediately into the world of early 1800’s France, but also completely and unequivocally arrests the attention. Seeing the film was my introduction to the franchise, and so I must judge the movie as a standalone piece of art, and not in light of the stage production upon which it was based.

This film espouses a purposefully grittily realistic voice, which serves to create a world that is both real, and also emotionally devastating. It is in your face from the opening sequence to the final moments, with hardly any lulls. It is an emotionally exhausting ballad, haunting you before the movie is even concluded. If you have the stomach to fight till the end, your spirits will soar with the banners of the revolutionaries on their barricade, as the vivid scarlet cuts through the sky.

The filmmakers took a bold risk in capturing their actors singing their pieces while acting. Director Tom Hooper’s vision called for this realism and “minimalism,” as he called it. The result is a film that is colossal in scope, yet feels realistic and approachable. This is a cry that the people could voice. We want to cry Vive le France! with the best of them in the film, and then remember we’re holding popcorn instead of a flintlock. The locations feel real, because there is consistency and continuity with set pieces and locales, and this kept the viewer’s mind from wandering the vast streets of Paris in search of the story; the characters forced you from beginning to end to care about them; they gave an ultimatum in the very first scene; you cannot help but feel the plight of the miserable ones.

Instead of the live set capture being the debacle they feared, it was in short, genius. The gratuitous close ups of Jean Valjean, (portrayed by Hugh Jackman,) in the church as he contemplates his own identity, allows the audience a chance to ascertain just that, without necessarily providing a didactic answer, but instead in some cases, begging the question: who indeed?

The nuances and inflections captured by allowing the actors to project their own voices lent a gripping view into their innermost soul which without this device would have felt little more than contrived, and poorly at that. From a purely audiophile standpoint, the score might have been ”prettier” had it been studio recorded and then dubbed over, with some of the notes being noticeably off key, but in other film projects that have followed this protocol, especially in film adaptations of stage productions, this use of “canned” singing has done little for the story, if not stolen the very soul of the actors away from them. The gritty realism lent to the performance from these deliveries can be seen no better than in Fantine’s character (Anne Hathaway.) Spontaneous tears fell from many an eye as she collapsed in shame and sang, chokingly, that she had a dream, but it died. Fantine’s whole part is heart-rending and gut-wrenching to witness, but at the same time is so strangely beautiful.

The biggest strength of this approach was that it retained the elements of a dramatic musical. It was not a Broadway show on film, and it was not a movie that happened to include singing. The marriage of the two often felt natural and believable, and didn’t rely too heavily on either medium. It avoided the temptation to rely on gratuitous special effects, but didn’t completely eliminate them, using them to advantage of the story, rather than hoping for the effects to carry the movie.
My only real irk with this movie was the character of Javert. Russell Crowe is a brilliant actor, for whom I have a great deal of respect. In some scenes, I thought he was brilliant. Overall, however, his character, sadly, just seemed to be lacking, something. Oftentimes the thought crossing my mind as he appeared onscreen was “there’s Russell Crowe,” not “here comes Javert.” He was the least believable character for me. Sometimes he would shine through, for instance in the scene where he nearly catches Valjean outside the notorious Thernadier’s “Inn,” who serve as somewhat comedic, albeit revolting, sub-plot villains. This moment left me on the edge of my seat, wondering if Javert would indeed at last capture his elusive quarry. (SPOILER ALERT).  Javert’s most believable moment is, unfortunately, his death. He jumps from a height into swirly water, and with a teeth- shattering crack hits a concrete wall at the bottom. There was a collective shudder and gasp from the audience, but I thought it added a nice nod to the reality of just how terrible suicide truly is. Sometimes this gets brushed over in film, making suicide feel neat and clean, but Hooper unflinchingly forced us to face the grisly reality of death.

Nothing about this movie feels neat and clean, from the faces of the poor, to the purposefully repulsive depiction of the lives of “working girls” and other gutter “low life” types, to the gritty realism with which the actors sing. But this is where Les Miserables triumphs: it is a song for the miserable ones, and Tom Hooper avoided the temptation to cover their wounds with a lot of pretty bandages, but instead, let them sing for themselves. It is intense without being over the top and contrived, and the result is a rousing and triumphant ballad that soars well beyond the scope of it’s roughly two and a half hours. It is an undertaking; it is not the kind of movie you can sit down and watch without investing in it. You will be absorbed, for better or worse, into a suffering world, which cries out for absolution and vindication. In the final moments, Fantine urges us to dream, and by dreaming to love another person. Even though our dreams be crushed, she affirms that we will be better for the journey, because “to love another is to see the face of God.”

The Wrath of Khan?

The word wrath conjures images of mass destruction, anger and rage. In conjunction with the name Khan, it can also summon images of a well known movie. However, I am not referring to Star Trek, and there was very little rage or destruction following in the wake of Khan. Who, you may be wondering, is Khan? It is more a what, rather than who, as Khan was the name of a winter storm that came through the area on the 25th of January, making for a very short first week of classes.

Wait, hold the presses. Since when have winter storms been named? Either I have been living blissfully unaware of this trend, being entrenched in the deep south where winter storms aren’t really that common of an occurrence, other than just a little cold rain, or this is something new. At any rate, school was pushed back by two hours, which I discovered by walking to class. Surprised to find no one there, I went to McDonalds with my roommate. I was expecting dangerous roads, tons of black ice, skidding cars; general apocalyptic mayhem. Campus was deserted; the outlook must be bleak. Surely an entire campus could not be overreacting.

Instead, driving to McDonalds seemed like it would have on any other day. No one was skidding, no one was swerving, and it was sleeting slightly, but it didn’t seem that extreme. Still, I was hopeful that there was mayhem to come. I watched my temperature gauge, waiting for it to plunge. There must be some clouds of snow coming. After all, sleet means it’s going to snow right? If classes are going to be postponed, the people deserve some fluffy whiteness, or at least inordinate amounts of black ice. The more dangerous the better, because that ensures that no one (meaning professors) will be able to reach campus, and the students will be left to explore the newly created winter wonderland.

Two years ago a winter snowstorm dropped 6-8 inches of snow on the Toccoa Falls campus, and two years later, those snow days are still a conversation piece. Some snowboarded down Paradise mountain, some built effigies of other students on Earl Field, and it was a marvelous time of not having class. Since it was during winterim, it was a much-welcomed respite from the class which has been humorously nicknamed “wasted thought and torture.”

Upon arrival at McDonalds, we discovered that they were also preparing for the apocalypse, even cancelling free student breakfast. Surely this was a sign of the wrath to come. This must just be the calm before the storm.

Following the foray to the bleak “beyond,” there was an announcement that classes were cancelled for the entire day. You can imagine the elation and jubilant spirit that overtook the campus at that point. Word quickly spread that there would be no school. There was talk of productivity and homework, but very few people that I talked to actually planned to do homework. Most were just thankful for the day off, and looked forward with anticipation to the possibility that it might snow.

The prayers for snow continued to reach towards the heavens, but evidently were intercepted by sleet gremlins. Instead of snow, we had an entire day of cold and wet, decidedly devoid of any kind of fluffy whiteness. It is really baffling why Georgians freak out about cold weather, even if it’s not really that cold. At the slightest sign of ice, even if there isn’t really  eggs bread and milk vanish from the shelves, and everyone sequesters themselves away. The answer to the “snowpocalypse” is clearly to hide in our houses and make French toast. If there is no snow, at least we’ve all got French toast. Sounds like a good snow day to me!

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