Album Review – EXHALE

DISCLAIMER: I am not a professional reviewer and am receiving no compensation for sharing these opinions! The views expressed herein are entirely my own. 
A belated Happy New year everyone! Okay, so I know it’s been a while since I posted on this blog, but I  had to come back to do a review (better late than never) for an album that’s been on my playlist for a while now and I’ve been listening to a lot.

Anyone who’s met me knows that a few years ago while in college I took a serious interest in rock music recorded by bands whose members share my Christian beliefs. Some of my personal favorites include RED, Skillet and Thousand Foot Krutch.  Thousand Foot Krutch has been a particular favorite. As an emcee I found myself drawn to their combination of headbangers, rock/rap fusion and slower, more meaningful songs. I’ve had the opportunity to see them perform live once,  at WinterJam in 2014, and even got tweeted by lead singer Trevor McNevan’s account both prior to and during the show.   (I remember flipping out when I tweeted him that we would see him in Greensboro NC, only to get the message “See you sooooon!” from his account . I have proof below, hehe
wj-14-tweet

Ok, so now that my fangirling is over… (sorry about that) let’s get down to the nitty gritty and go track by track through Exhale.

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  1. Running With Giants – The album comes out swinging on this high-octane title track. There’s no hesitation in Trevor’s vocals.  The song constantly reminds you that the way God loves us allows us to never be alone. “I can be empty but I’m not nameless/ It’s the way that You love me, the way that you love me”, he sings.  Even the prechorus carries the reminder “I am not alone here/I’m not on my own here/I am not alone/I’m not on my own” Nonetheless, the song doesn’t go soft.  It’s easily a favorite. As of the writing of this review, I’ve listened to the song twelve times.
  2. Incomplete – Incomplete straddles the line between rock anthem and ballad.  The strong analogies continue with this track as well. Incomplete seems to place a focus on our humanity, but there’s also some unapologetic hardcore analogies in the lyrics that made me have to stop and think.(“There’s a lotta sharks that swim in these waters/ That came for your sons/ That came for your daughters/ You got a lot of heat/Just makes it hotter/ The blood in this water’s/Makin’ us stronger”  and “No one ever said/ There wouldn’t be waves/ Sometimes shovels have to dig graves/ Burn a lotta matches tryin’ to create flames/Lips can sink ships/ but friends create change”)
  3. Give up the Ghost- Another song that really makes you think, but you have to listen closely to the lyrics. This song seems to take aim at a popular world lifestyle: “Flaunt it if you got it.” It also deals with the fact that God can take any issue from you if you let Him.
  4. A Different Kind of Dynamite- This whole song is a challenge. Unlike most of the tracks, this one is straight, raw, unapologetic Rock/Rap. It seems to focus on the explosive power of God. “Like shots fired in the middle of Vegas/ Roll Tide in the middle of the streets/Like a dogfight in a clear blue sky/ We fight with a  different kind of dynamite”
    Trevor also seems to evoke a little bit of David with the lines “Don’t underestimate me/ I run with Giants and no safety/ You can call me crazy/ But keep hatin’ it don’t faze me” and “Bring it on/Your whole empire/Versus my Messiah/ Facin’ different types of Goliaths/Takin’ it higher”
  5. The River – In a major departure for the album, this track features a slightly more country-twinged sound.  Clearly focusing on baptism by water, this song evokes an analogy you probably might have expected from a group like Decyfer Down, not TFK.I  (Until, of course, you remember that Trevor McNevan got saved as an eight-year-old when he responded to an altar call at a country singer’s concert at a church .) Edit: This song took on a whole new meaning for me after I received my own baptism by water. There’s a LOT of symbolism in this track that I never noticed before.
    It’s not necessarily one of my favorites, but I do like it.  I’m sure it will grow on me.
  6. Push – Another rock/rap combo, but more easygoing than “A Different Kind of Dynamite.” This track is very Linkin Park-esque [though I hate making that analogy because TFK is much better, in my honest opinion.] but it also has its own, unique sound. Mellow in melody, but still lyrically hard-hitting, Push is  a call to keep going even when you’re losing faith.
  7. Off the Rails – Admittedly, when I saw this song title, I was scratching my head. But then I thought about it and it makes a lot of sense. It’s about trusting God completely and going “off the rails” in the sense of following Him when the world expects you to conform.
  8. Adrenaline – Clearly Exhale’s “party track”. It’s one of those tracks you have to hear to understand, and may have been a bit of a throwback to the band’s early days. It’s fun, and it rocks out and lives up to its name.
  9. Lifeline – Lifeline is a great song because it deals with how easy it is to get swept up in anger and how sometimes we can give in easily and fall prey to the consequences of our actions. It makes reference to the need to be rescued from those patterns (“How did I get here/Everything’s unclear/ I never meant to cause you pain/so give me a reason/I can believe in/I needed all this time/ Send me a lifeline”)
  10. Born Again- Trevor seems to be pointing out a lot of flaws on this track, but it’s to make a point. The song is written from the point of view of someone who knows he was a sinner, but has been changed.   The last line of the chorus speaks to all of us as Christians “I’m just a man/That by grace/Was given a second chance/Feel like I’ve been born again”. I also absolutely love the bridge of this song, where Trevor addresses people who may have doubts.
  11. Honest- The final track of the album, a ballad, seems to be a fusion between Trevor’s own personal experiences, and things he’s seen others go through.  It sounds like it was written at a point of struggle, and is easily the most raw, emotional track.  Honest makes a perfect closure to the album and will definitely leave you thinkingSo what’s my final take?

Exhale is definitely a balanced album, much more so than Oxygen: Inhale was.  If you’re a hardcore Krutch fan like me, it’s worth picking up. If I had to give a rating it would be 4 1/2 stars of 5. Have you listened to the album? What did you think? Leave me a comment and let’s discuss.God bless and see you next post!

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God’s Not Dead 2 Movie Review

gods_not_dead_2_poster Disclaimer: I am an independent reviewer. These are my honest, unbiased thoughts on the film God’s Not Dead 2. I have not been asked to do this review, nor am I being compensated in any way for it. 

Warning: This review will contain spoilers for the film!

God’s Not Dead 2, the much hyped sequel to  2011’s God’s Not Dead released yesterday. My mom and I, having seen the original film, were very excited to see this as well. I was a little thrown by the casting for this film, particularly the film’s main character, Grace Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch)
Wesley finds herself fighting for her job and her faith after a student records a portion of Ms. Wesley’s answer to a question regarding Jesus Christ posed by fellow student Brooke Thawley (Haley Orrantia, The Goldbergs). Brooke’s outraged atheistic parents are then pushed to sue, and the resulting court case takes up a good portion of the movie.  The film attempts to establish connections to it’s predecessor by including characters from the first film. Rev. Dave (David A.R. White)  and Rev. Jude (Benjamin A. Onyango, Tears of the Sun) return. The film also features the return of other characters from the first film. Journalist Amy Ryan (Trisha LaFache, Garden State) also makes an appearance.  Perhaps the most notable cameos from the first film,  however, are Martin Yip (Paul Kwo, Thor: The Dark World) and Martin’s father (Jesse Wang, Hard Money)

One of the things that shocked me about this film was how things were presented. One of the first scenes includes the school’s head, Principal Kinney (Robin Givens, Head of the Class) in a phone conversation in which she discusses the elimination of prayer on the school grounds and faith based clubs such as the FCA.  While I’m aware that these are realities we face in this day and age, I cannot imagine these clubs being eliminated from any school. Also surprising, but told in a way I could relate to, was Amys own struggle with faith–even though the cancer she was diagnosed with in the first film was in remission. It almost seems to imply that Amy’s faith at that point–and for most of the first film–hinged not on true belief, but the fact that she was ill and  needed God in that moment to be her healer, then moved on. However, Amy does later realize God is still on her side, and reports Ms. Wesley’s story, even going so far as to call her friends The Newsboys (who appear in a cameo at a concert) to pray for and ask their concert goers to pray for Grace and the case’s outcome.  I was also particularly saddened that the film neglected to follow up with any of the other students from the first film, particularly Ayisha (Hadeel Situ, God’s Not Dead) whose story line did not seem to receive a proper conclusion despite her seeking refuge at the church in the first film after being tossed out and disowned by her Muslim family for secretly following Christianity.  I can only hope that if there is a God’s Not Dead 3, her tale will be further explored as Martin’s was, since it both resonated with and angered me.  Much like Ayisha, however, Martin’s father does throw his son out for continuing to profess Jesus as Lord, leading Martin to Rev. Dave’s church. Throughout the movie, he has bombarded the pastor with questions about God, and what he learns pays off when Brooke–raised atheist and struggling with the death of her brother, who was secretly a Christian– shows up needing counsel. Brooke and her friends,  including Marlene (Sadie Roberson, Duck Dynasty)  later go to the courthouse in support of Ms Wesley, and Brooke ends up taking the stand to expose the truth of the conversation.

While God’s Not Dead 2 lacked the comedy of the original, it did provide some provoking and at times comic moments from the film’s two pastors. In one scene, Rev. Jude and Rev.  Dave are at a meal meeting with several other pastors concerned with their religious freedom.  In the midst of the conversation, the waiter is revealed to be the man who rented them the source of one of the first film’s comic relief–an unreliable car or two that gave them plenty of issues. Dave also winds up serving as a juror on Ms. Wesley’s case, before sudden illness removes him from the situation.

Overall, I give God’s Not Dead 2 a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars. I took off that half star for the unrealistic moments in the film. Nonetheless, I highly encourage Christians to support the film.

The Passion: Live Review

Disclaimer: I am an independant reviewer. These are my honest, unbiased thoughts on The Passion Live. I have not been asked to do this review, nor am I being compensated in any way for it. 

The Passion is set in modern day New Orleans. I found this an appropriate setting for a modern day telling, especially since the city has gone through so much in the last decade.  Tyler Perry’s narration leads us into a trolley where Jesus (Giancarlos Janela) and the disciples disembark while singing “Love Can Move Mountains”. Okay, good song choice.  I’m actually happy about this one since it’s been featured in Christian programming. At this point I’m singing along as I type. After a solo from Mary (Trisha Yearwood), the mother of Jesus, we find Jesus and the disciples sitting at a bar in a restaurant as he questions who they say he is. Peter (Prince Royce) answers correctly, but thena  leaves, clearly needing time to think. Jesus follows. After a song, Jesus warns a crowd not to tell anyone about him, and warns of his death.I should pause here to note that there were a lot of interruptions to the story to interview people who were carrying the illuminated–yes you read that correctly– cross. Jesus and his disciples stop at a food truck for five loves and two fish. Rather than showing that miracle, the story skips to what appears to be the Last Supper. Now is where things start to get murky for me, as the musical chooses to use Creed’s With Arms Wide Open.  There are so many other songs that could convey  this moment in a much better way. As Jesus warns that he’ll be betrayed, they quickly flash back to Mary for another solo. I have to question why there’s so much focus on a woman who is barely mentioned in the scriptural account of the last hours and death of Jesus? The commercials appear to do more for witnessing to those watching who may not believe than the musical. As the musical returns, the focus is placed on Judas (Chris Daughtry), who Tyler says sells out his teacher and friend for just a few thousand dollars. This is where I begin to have issues with the musical choices made. Chris Daughtry’s cover of”Bring Me To Life” is haunting , but this song was recorded by a band who deserted Christian music and instead became big in emo and goth circles. It’s an interesting choice but not what I would have gone for. Next, we return to Jesus, who prays to his Father while singing Train’s “Calling All Angels”.  I don’t think this was a great choice, considering Jesus was supposed to be praying to the Father. Also, how and why was Jesus able to be in a park without being caught? And this is  supposed to be the garden? Again, we go to yet another Mary solo. This time they choose to use a clear love song, “I Won’t Give Up.” O… K… Now Judas returns to the others with the police, who are all dressed in riot gear. Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss and then they sing “Demons” by Imagine Dragons together. I have clear issues with this song because of the way it’s written. As the police take Jesus, Peter flees. As Peter wanders through the city trying to avoid the police, he denies being a follower of Christ. This time, the song is Hoobastank’s “The Reason”. I begin to have some real questions about the songs, since most of these appear to be songs sung to a person you are in love with.  Rather than meeting the two thieves on the cross, Jesus speaks to them in the back of the police van. I begin to feel that too much focus is placed on Mary when they go back to her for yet another solo, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
As Jesus stands before Pilate (Seal), he’s seen in an orange jumpsuit. None of the adversity that he appears to have faced in other films, including the beatings given to him by the Roman soldiers, which were in line with Scripture according Isaiah 53:5. I was particularly upset by this and the cross, since they’re such a vital part of the story. In confusion at the decision, Pilate sings the classic “Mad World”. After the song, the cross finally arrives.
Tyler takes the time to explain what Jesus went through at the actual crucifixion. Again, we go to Mary who sings Duncan Sheik’s “Barely Breathing”.   Jesus’ death is not witnessed. Instead, Tyler tells the death and resurrection. Then Jesus appears on the roof of another building in all white, singing Katy Perry’s Unconditionally. The performance closes with “When The Saints Go Marching In.”

If I had to rate this, I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars. I’ve seen and been in better productions than this. I won’t tell you not to support it, but use your discretion.

My Opinions on the Superbowl Halftime Show

I love football, so anyone who knows me knows that I was super excited to see the Super Bowl this year. Especially since my favorite team, the Carolina Panthers, was slated to play for the first time in many years.

When I found out that artist Beyoncé Knowles-Carter was slated to perform during the Superbowl Halftime show, I debated not watching the halftime at all.  I used  to be an enormous  fan. I loved her for songs like “Run The World (Girls)” and “Crazy in Love”. She was all about love, and peace and girl power. She was ladylike and rarely cursed in her music, even when collaborating with then boyfriend and now husband Shawn Jay-Z Carter.  Then, she changed. Her 2008 album, I AM…Sasha Fierce, changed her sound when she chose to highlight the alternate personality that she claimed at the time appeared whenever she performed. I was immediately concerned. She began to dress more immodestly in her videos, cursed in her music, everything I hated about other artists and had loved her for not doing. Following the album, Beyoncé claimed she no longer needed the persona and that she had “killed” Sasha Fierce. Her following album, 4, had a much more classy vibe, though there were songs which overtly discussed her sex life with her husband in the ultimate form of overshare. . . She followed it in 2013 with another album, this time self titled. Beyoncé, while still sexy, came across with a classy, more mature vibe.

Then, I found out that she was going to perform again in the Super Bowl Halftime Show, and I was intrigued. I was still put off by the quality of her previous music. But, because I had been invited to watch with a close friend, I thought it would be interesting to see. I was also more interested in Coldplay.

I have to admit, all three artists featured did a great job, but Beyoncé appeared to be back to her Sasha Fierce tricks.  While I get the point of the song she performed, called Formation, I was still disgusted. . . she came out in a leotard and tights as well as a leather jacket. The song highlights the fact that she can treat her husband to meals (if he gives her good sex). Beyoncé and other women of color are doing their best, despite prejudice. . . she repeats the line “I slay” a multitude of times throughout the chorus and the other lyrics. On the flipside, however, she also appears to take shots at others with the line “Prove to me you got some coordination/Slay trick, or you get eliminated.” In addition to using the derogatory term “trick”, Beyoncé and her collaborators  Big Freedia and Messy Mya, drop the term “bitch” 3 times in one song, with Beyoncé  stroking her own ego on the lyric, “You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation.”

I’ve had friends tell me I am looking too deeply into things, but I felt her performance attire was not appropriate. I didn’t even know about the lyrics of Formation, which I could barely hear, until I looked them up following the performance.  I think, it would have been relatively easy for her to make her statement in a slightly more classy way than how it was done, and at least make it so she could be understood.  I’ve been told by friends who rush to Beyoncé’s defense that I “don’t get it”. But as a Christian woman, I think she’s approaching her message the wrong way. But then, what should I expect. I just hope people wake up in time.

 

A New Year, A New Journey

It’s the second day of 2015, and it has been a while since I wrote in this blog. 2014 was a great big web of difficulties and change for me, but I always knew god had my back.  I guess it’s time to take a new journey into what God has for me in 2015. Today I opened up a new planner that was gifted to me by my parents for Christmas to help keep me on track for this year that I absolutely love because it bears my favorite scripture on the front: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” I also bought a tumbler for my coffee from the same store shortly before Christmas, bearing the same scripture.

We bought these items from our locat Christian Bookstore, and when I opened up my planner to think about the things I needed to write down,  the first page of the month caught my eye. This planner is filled, not only with scripture, but with inspirational quotes from Christian leaders before the start of each month.  On the January 2015 page was this quote:

However many blessings we expect from God, his infinite liberality will always exceed all our wishes and all our thoughts.
-John Calvin

Beside  this page is a space to write your monthly goals, with a scripture and a place to view the month of January in advance. The Scripture?

Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in Him.
Jer 17:7

As I sit here at my computer, struggling not to cry (and failing) while I type, I am in awe of the never ending wisdom and mercy of God. I have confidence beyond measure that my life will be different in 2015.  He is, as Calvin recognized, infinitely liberal in His mercy, His Grace, and his faithfulness to us. All we have to do is trust that in this new year, on this New Journey, He is with us.  That’s the hope we cling to. He is our hope, our source, our guide, our peace. And so this year my only two resolutions are to do my best in everything I set out to do, and to draw closer to the one who can exceed even my wildest dreams.  Trust in the Lord, and let Him see you through. Happy New Year, friends. May God bless you in this very special year!

Movie Review: God’s Not Dead

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Disclaimer: I am NOT a professional reviewer. The thoughts herein are my own (slightly biased) opinions on this film. I have not been paid by anyone to write this review. It does contain a full synopsis with spoilers.

 

What would you do if you had to deny your Christian faith to pass a college course, because your professor insisted there was no God? That’s exactly the question that freshman Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper) has to ask himself. Wheaton, a freshman, enrolls in a psychology course, which several people tell him to avoid. Nonetheless, Josh takes a somewhat carefree attitude and enrolls in the course anyway. He gets a shock on the first day of class, as his professor, Jeffery Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) is a no nonsense professor, and a very dogmatic atheist who insists that before they can dive into psychology, they must dispense with one foolish notion: The idea that God exists.

To that end, he challenges every student to write and sign a simple three word declaration and then sign it. The paper must read: GOD IS DEAD. As the rest of his classmates write and sign their declarations, Josh’s conviction won’t allow him to do so, and when pressed, he tells Radisson that he is a Christian and he cannot deny his faith. Radisson belittles him, asking how a college freshman could possibly dare to challenge his professor. He suggests that they put God on trial, with Wheaton as the defense, Radisson as the prosecution and the rest of the class as judge and jury.

Through his decision, Josh encounters some sage and often unwanted advice from his fellow students, and even his parents who tell him to drop the class. One of the most persistent voices is Josh’s girlfriend Kara, a fellow student who claims to be a Christian but seems intent on looking out for herself and bossing Josh around. She tells him that if he goes against Radisson their relationship is over. She says this because she is afraid to lose her scholarship.

There are also many side stories present in the film, which make it a bit convoluted and hard to follow. Among them is the story of Amy Ryan (Trisha LaFache), a businesswoman, animal rights activist and blogger who interviews Christian celebs such as Willie and Kore Robertson from Duck Dynasty, who appear in cameo roles. When Amy is told she is dying of cancer, she loses her boyfriend, Mark (Dean Cain), who seems to care more about his work than her. Also polarizing the film is the story of Mark’s sister Mina, a former student at the college now dating Jeffrey Radisson, even though she is a Christian, and her struggle to get Mark to go to see their mother, who is in an assisted living facility suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Mina eventually becomes tired of Raddison, who frequently belittles her in front of his colleagues and tells him their relationship is over.

Perhaps one of the most profound storylines for me was that of Aiysha (Hadeel Situ), a student at the college raised in a devout Muslim family. Aiysha is a Christian who must hide her faith, especially from her father Misrab (Marco Khan), even going so far as to wear a hijab to school only to remove it once her father is gone, and put it back on before he picks her up. When her brother enters Aiysha’s room while she has fallen asleep listening to a sermon by Franklin Graham on her mp3 player, he steals it and shows it to Misrab, who storms into her room and beats her, demanding that she renounce her faith. Aiysha refuses, and Misrab throws her out of their home. Broken hearted, Aiysha goes to the office of Pastor Dave, who is able to get her the help she needs.

Fear not though, as the film isn’t all doom and gloom; quite a significant amount of humor is injected in the side story of a couple of pastors known only as Pastor Dave (David A.R. White) and Reverend Jude (Benjamin Ocheing). Reverend Jude looks forward to spending a weekend at Disney with Pastor Dave, but each time they attempt to get a rental car to drive for the journey, something goes wrong, and the car won’t start. In class, Josh’s argument stirs the hearts of many of his peers, including Martin Yip (Paul Kwo), who converts as a result of the class debate despite pressure from his atheist father. He overwhelmingly wins the debate as the class, led by Martin, stand to declare “God’s Not Dead.” Professor Radisson leaves in defeat, but later explains to Josh that he used to believe until his mother died of illness when he was a boy despite his prayers. Meanwhile, pastors Dave and Jude have finally decided not to try to go to Disney, realizing God must want them in town. However, when they finally do get going, the car stalls in front of a coliseum where the Newsboys happen to be performing. In a twist of divine intervention, the stall also puts them at just the right place at the right time to help Professor Radisson, who has realized his atheist beliefs will not help him get over the pain of losing his mother to terminal illness as a child, after finding a letter she wrote him before dying. He sees a text from Mina reading “God’s Not Dead”, something concert goers were asked to do. (We also see Martin texting the words to his father.) Now knowing she’s right, Radisson races to the concert, hoping he can apologize. On the way, he gets hit by a car and dies, but not before Pastors Dave and Jude pray with him, and he accepts Christ. Amy, who is also at the concert, accepts an offer from the Newsboys to pray the prayer of salvation with her. During the concert the group dedicates “God’s Not Dead (Like a Lion)” to Josh after hearing about his defense of the faith in class.

If I had to rate this movie I would give it 3.5 stars out of 5. While the message of faith is amazing, I felt as though they were trying to jam so much into one film that at times it lost connection. I also felt that much more could have been done with the story of Aiysha and her struggle with her faith. The performances were strong, however, at times it felt as though the story was rushed, and it may not seem convincing that such a confident atheist as Raddison could so easily be swayed into believing in the existence of a god, much less the God of Christianity. Nonetheless, it is a film I would be happy to see again, and I encourage believers to support it. I’d love to see a sequel focused on Aiysha and her family, and what happened after her father threw her out, as the events in her storyline were a severely watered down account of the persecution that Muslims who choose to leave Islam and convert to Christianity go through.

 

Have you been to or plan to see the film? Let’s discuss in the comments!!!