The balance of death and life, will always be one of great exploration for me as a human, as an artist, and as a follower of Christ. We serve a God who choose death, to give us life, and the human world has never been the same. I heard the hymn, “Where You There” on Good Friday this past year and immediately fell in love. Little did I know that it was most likely written by African American slaves in the 19th century. This gives the song so much more weight to my heart than was already there. So, was I there when they crucified my Lord? Perhaps not, but my sin was and that makes it all the same. I was there, and this fact makes me tremble.
I journal. Every year at the end of my journal (1 for every year), I write the good of the year, the bad of the year, what I learned in the year and Goals for the next year. 2018 was no different. While there was a half page of bad, I almost ran out of space to write about the good. Goals are all set for 2019, and so now came the cringe-worthy part: reading my journal entries from January 2018 to present and drawing up what I learned. I usually find myself annoying in past tense and this year was no exception. Regardless I found 2018 to be a year of great learning, but also a year with lots of reminders. I pray going into 2019 that I can grow from these lessons and not repeat 2018 all over again. Without any further ado, straight from journal, here is the list of what I’ve learned.
What I’ve Learned in 2018 (featuring all the reminders too)
(in no particular order)
I have the most capacity to create when I am overflowing from the Creator.
To be known by God is everything.
Social Media is mainly a lie.
Outrage rarely wins people over.
I must not confuse God’s silence with anger.
For the believe, the worst is not the last.
Surrender breeds humility.
There will never be a moment in time where obedience to God becomes easy. It’s always a step of faith to obey, and that is hard.
People will think whatever they want to think. I answer only to God (and my wife).
Obeying God out of fear and obeying God out of trust are two very different things. One has to do with work I do and the other has to do with the work God has done.
God loves me completely and extravagantly. There is nothing I can do (or not do) to have more (or less) of God’s love. Receiving God’s love has nothing to do with what I do, and everything to do with what God has done.
My love, adoration, worship and interest does not keep God close. God’s closeness is in God’s character. It is not about what I do, it is about what God has done.
I could probably count on two hands the number of films that have had a significant impact on me. These films leave me pondering for days after the initial watch. Eighth Grade is one of those films. Bo Burnham's work here is raw, emotional, genuine and entirely relatable that I was speechless by the end of the journey. I intentionally use the word "journey" because watching Eighth Grade truly felt like one. Each scene was delicately crafted vignettes of Middle School life in 2018. Burnham permitted enough comedic moments to remind us of the simplicity that is adolescence, whether we felt it at that age or not, but also did not hold back on the cold realities of adolescence as well. Active shooter drills, premarital sex, social media addiction, and sexual harassment all find themselves as a piece of the story in the main character, Kaya's, eighth-grade life.
The film quickly sent me back to my years as an insecure middle schooler. Although it was hard to relate with Kayla on many things (an introverted female with no mother, who is a middle schooler in 2018), there are certain qualities of adolence and middle school years that everyone can relate to. The fear of high school or the nervousness of making friends was all too accurately portrayed. Elsie Fisher brings a superb awareness and emotional depth to her performance as Kayla. There were moments that felt so real, I had to remind myself this was a scripted film. That's good acting.
I work with many Generation Z students and teens, and this is the most accurate portrayal of that generation I have ever seen. The emotional escapism that plagues Generation Z as they hide behind their screens was so poignant and nuanced, yet not preachy in any sense. While many teen angst/coming of age stories rely heavily on contrived plots and stereotyped characters, Burnham breaks through with an authenticity that is rarely seen. Burnham says, “I wanted to capture what they (Eighth graders) were. Hopefully, maybe, they would like it. That’s my problem with stuff about teens, it’s clearly made for teens, which is not the same as making something truthful necessarily.”
I have to say, my expectations for this film were relatively high as it holds a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, and has been a critical darling riding into awards season. Not to mention my adoration for the production house A24 that picked it up at Sundance this year. So I was pleasantly surprised as my expectations were met (a rarity for me during awards season). Eighth Grade is now at Redbox and is certainly worth your time, it slipped quickly to the top of my "Best Films of 2018" list.
When I first felt the push to write a book, I truly scoffed a the idea. I wouldn’t consider myself a writer, and I certainly didn’t feel qualified enough on any one topic to write a whole book on it. It was then that the idea of publishing my personal journals was brought to mind. This brought a new wave of insecurities, doubt, and denials. My personal journals? What if people think I’m crazy? What if people think I’m a heretic? What if, what if, what if?
Asking, “what if?” never gets anything done.
I read through 10 years of journals (if the idea of publishing my journals wasn’t cringe-worthy enough, reading through them certainly was). Picked out the most timeless entries, that is, the ones that I felt still related to me in 2017 and On Mercy was born. I’m so grateful to my editing team, Sydney, Carmelle, Brittany and Cathryn. They helped me be a bit more inclusive theologically and made sure I was making sense grammatically. Selecting Ashley’s photographs to complete the project was probably the most fun. I found it a true joy searching through her photographic history to find pieces that complimented my words so well.
On November 1st, 2017, On Mercy was released. One year from today. On Mercy allowed others to partake in the work God had been doing in my life up until that point. Our lives are not our own, and when I surrendered mine to the Lord, I knew he would use it to bring others to Himself. If you haven’t gotten a copy, I encourage you to! From what I’ve been told, it is a great read ha.
For a limited On Mercy is ON sale :), you can find it here.