Here to Be Together

Conversations @ Neighborhood Film Co

What Passes Away, What Lasts Forever

“It is wonderful if we are used for God’s cause, but it would exist even if we were not there…” 

***

Today is the first day of Spring. Cloudy at the moment, but the forecast has it clearing. Temperature in the low 50‘s. Winter, in the legal sense, is over. With zeal and endurance, it has fulfilled its contract. Now, however, are days of Spring. Trees are to bloom, and birds are to sing.

There’s also free water ice at Rita’s today, for all weary and heavy-laden. “Come and see,” she says. “Shake off all doldrums, lift your eyes and have a cup of Strawberry on the house.” 

Ice, Water, Happiness. And also with you.

***

There’s an abandoned brewery across the street from the office, a castle of  red brick. At some point in the past, people filled its halls; a linked chain of lungs pressed out and round with life. One imagines the building as a jewel of constant motion, a tower of mud and might, always producing, always giving, receiving and loud with life. 

Today, the castle’s windows are blown out, and graffiti covers the exterior. Large parts of the building have crumbled, and the extent of the decay casts doubt on the notion that the skeleton of the building could be saved.

And that’s the last will and testament for jewels of constant motion. Once settled, all life, spirit, mud and might seeps into the earth like rainwater, and all that’s left are bones. 

***

We are not guaranteed tomorrow. We are not promised birds or water ice or the marking of another Spring. We shake ourselves from dust, covet the heavens, build the tower, claw-scratch-kick and scream, blood-curdling and naked-emperor-clothed, until we collapse in folly and beg and plead for mercy. In the evening light, we burst with Love. Then we sleep in grace. 

One after the other, rise and fall. What we produce is tethered to flesh, and it, like flesh, vanishes.

Meanwhile, from our window, I spy a tree ripping through the second story of the abandoned brewery. Branches spread outward, the tree resembles an open palm, all deepening lines and stories in tow.

***

This week is the first week of new apprentice training at Working Film. Three people have committed to a work of time and focus, and a family has committed to them. As they devote their hearts and minds, they state belief not merely in accomplishment, but in excellence. In transformation.

We chase after the heart because we’ve seen the impermanence, and the impotence, frankly, of every other institution. Governments and kingdoms, glad hands and good tidings, all fossilize like pterodactyls and dodo birds. Given our impermanence, however, we are free now to embrace that which will not waste away; to believe in abiding and a Merciful Spirit.    

We chase after the heart because we have been pursued and caught up in the Love of God. We have been Redeemed, Reclaimed, and Renewed. And it happens day after day, hour after hour. We are ill-tempered and amnesiac, and so we must continually be called back to our dust. 

Convicted, forgiven and comforted. Here to sing, stumble and cut a rug for Love.

Beneath the dust is the current from which we rose. Deeper and deeper, wider and wider, higher and higher is the Love that calls us home. 

Now, keep us close to the warmth of soil.

Now and forever, keep us close to the heat of Grace.

“…There is no question that you are gifted, that you are strong, that you are smart, and that you can get a lot done, but that is not the issue. We do not live together on account of these gifts. They are all mortal and will pass away. What lasts forever is humility and love — love, the incorruptible ‘treasure in heaven’ of which Jesus speaks in the Sermon on the Mount.”

- J. Heinrich Arnold

***

…Sun’s out.

Amen.

Communion

Back in Los Angeles for the first time in a long time. What feels like a long time, at least. 

A quarter mile of flat sand separates boardwalk and tide. Vendors, cars and morning hustle surround us. We take off our shoes and march toward the water. As we approach, fog blossoms and eclipses the sun. It puts to rest all sight and sound behind us, pulling us toward the waves.

At last, the great ocean. At last, silence in my soul. The High Priest Pacific is all I see and hear. Abrasive pastels and cackles left behind, all things are now laid low at the altar of water.

Roots press and reach into cool sand. Salt water swirls and gathers up my heart. I am pulled out of both time and place, and guided into Presence.

For me, I aim to speak love into existence through metal and fire. I aim to beat my chest and call down a miracle like Baal’s prophets, to make love and keep love as if it were an object most at home behind a fence or on a mantle. 

These are my natural ways and rhythms. 

But His ways and rhythms are different. Rhythms of sand and water, of power and wonder. 

His love is a foreign language, I think to myself. 

And, thinking further, He might say the same of me.

***

Reminded of the words of another, who said that people used to build ziggurats, or towers, in an effort to bring themselves closer to God. Closer to the stars, closer to God.

And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be closer to God. There’s nothing illogical with believing we’re beyond His reach, cast far and away from the Divine, and we have to build that bridge, jump that chasm and bring ourselves back into right relationship. This is our hero’s journey.

But the work has been done already. The ultimate work of reconciliation has been accomplished. The only journey we have is the journey of saying ‘yes’ to a love which we had no part in building. The journey is to abide in such Love and to share with others, to say ‘yes’ again and again. 

Such Love gives way to Grace; a Grace that places you in fellowship with people who highlight your weaknesses. 

That’s a nice way of saying I’m acutely aware, now more than ever, of my own bullshit; more aware of my heart’s forgeries and counterfeiting ways. 

In my vanity, I seek to make monuments. I seek to build a ladder and carve my name into the ceiling. In my vanity, I twist and maladapt the works of my hands into crooked means of ascension. 

Wax wings. Cash-money-bling wings. Blood-sweat-and-tears wings. 

But the work, praise the Lord, won’t ever be a ladder. It won’t ever be a pair of wings. Yes, it can be forgery. Yes, it can be counterfeit. But it can also be a song. It can be an expression of love. 

If we pursue work and nothing else, we give it permission to grind us down to dust, and out of such posture we speak dust and hold dust in higher esteem than we do His Grace and Love.

I have never been traveling back to the Lord. Truth is, He’s always been knocking, and I’m the one who hasn’t yet slowed to His rhythm, the person who hasn’t bowed low and paid heed to His whisper.

An astronaut and a coal miner are the same distance from God. Deep sea divers are just as close to His Love as mountain climbers. Run, and He is there. Fall, and there God is also. 

Milky ways, tidal waves and mine shafts are all wondrous places. And they all make for great confession booths. 

***

So thank you, Lord. Thank you for reconciliation. Thank you for your closeness.

Forgive me when I pass myself off as something more than I am. Something other. Something I feel I need to be or ought to be, rather than something you’ve made me to be. 

Over and over again, Lord, forgive me when I seek to build a tower. Forgive me when I believe it’s my right and necessity to ascend and build a road to heaven.

Forgive me Father, and lead me beside quiet waters. Beside those who fear and tremble. Lead me beside rushing streams. Beside the proud and ruthless. Lead me beside crashing waves. Beside the joyful and the heartbroken. Amid milky ways, tidal waves and mine shafts. In sunlight and shadow, in chaos and calm.

Call us all, wave by wave, across the beach and to Presence at the water’s edge.

***

My heels are filthy with sand. And my cup runneth over.

Deconstruction Worker

We dream and we have visions. We have nights where we don’t sleep well and we have moments where we’re arrested by an idea that shakes us, baby, shakes us like a willow tree; from the tops of our heads to the soles of our feet. 

Some people brush off the vision without much effort. Others devote all strength to deny those dreams, clinging to the devil they know. Still others, in reckless and trembling steps, pursue the vision. 

And what about that moment? What does your heart look like at that turning point when you make the decision to seek the dream?

Imagine a snapshot of the blood-pumping-four-artery wonder at the exact time you decide to cease devotion to “is” and “was”, and instead offer all future blood, sweat and tears to the “could be/should be/may be/might be/will be/hope-ful-ly.”

Imagine shaking out that polaroid and waiting for the image to develop. Yeesh.

If we believe in the dream given us, and if we believe the dream is not our own but rather a calling of faith and of Kingdom, what do we believe about ourselves? What’s going to happen if we step out and careen down the hill? What manner of broken crowns come tumbling after? 

Optimistically, we hope to be made more than we are. We acknowledge ourselves as incomplete, and we pray that as we pursue this calling, however amorphous and timber-shivering-scary, that Christ strengthen us and build us up to who we are supposed to be.

Build us, O Lord. Make us. Craft us. Strengthen us. 

These are our words, because that’s our currency of craft. To craft something is to make something of substance, to build something and construct something.

This is, after all, the signature of humanity. 

Pyramids. Hummers. Skyscrapers. Four-tiered wedding cakes. The Sears Tower, the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Piza, and the Tower of Babel. The bigger the better. 

Or perhaps the bigger the bigger. Not necessarily better.

The more we pursue the dream, the more the Good Lord demands of our heart. The more the Good Lord demands of our heart, the more we believe in a flexible definition of the word ‘Good.’ The more we believe in a flexible ‘Good’, the more we see ‘strength’ and ‘build’ not as addition, but subtraction.

How is the act of subtraction an act of love? How is disassembly and removal still considered craft?

Ask carpenters. Ask sculptors and dudes who carve surfboards. Imagine David hide-and-go-seeking amid the marble. Imagine a diamond pulling the coal over its head and refusing to leave its bed. Imagine a product of time and tenderness in the palm of your hand.

And it’s more impressive than any tower humanity will ever make.

But the Lord wants to move beyond distilling and reducing. We are not made less so that He is made more, so that God’s love is made known through our words. Our weaknesses are not made strong in accordance with our strengths being made stronger.

Our weaknesses are made strong and we are, in the process, removed altogether. As we give we are ground to dust and scattered to the four winds. In the pursuit, the Lord pulls us from the desires to establish or build or consecrate or secure or keep or have. 

The Lord works so that Love be made known to others. The ‘who’ of it all, too often our greatest concern, is irrelevant. 

God gives so that it might be given away, so that the hands which receive always remain open. The Lord gives more so that we continue to give and give again; to give and give and give and give so much that we never have time to close our palms and hold onto anything. 

For all our pyramids and proclamations and towers and tiers, it feels like the Lord’s after open hands.

In His love we are disassembled and deconstructed. We have a great fall and no matter what kind of Kickstarter the king’s horses and men start, we’re not getting put back together. Not in this life at least.

All things made new in a Love Supreme. All things re-collected and held in tender mercy. Amen. 

First Snow

"Suppose we did our work like the snow, quietly, quietly, leaving nothing out.”  - Wendell Berry

***

First snowfall makes for a quiet city. There’s much talk beforehand, and a fair amount of hurry; grocery shopping, errand-running, all pickups must be made before the snow. 

Once it falls, however, the snow stills all hustle and hurry. Twenty-Ninth Street, one of the busier streets in our neighborhood, quiets. Sometimes, it’ll snow so much even the buses have to stop.

If you’re lucky, you make tea and watch the snow fall from the window. Over time, seconds rolling to minutes, growing into hours, the landscape disappears from view. Sound lessens to almost nothing.

And on those days, it’s great to go for a walk. Head up high, hands outstretched, embraced by the falling snow. Maybe you step out into the wide berth of the street and listen to the soft crunch of new powder.

The snowfall levels out the cracks in the sidewalk. It hides trash and fills in potholes. For a day, and perhaps more if the temp stays low enough, we all stand on even ground.

In that levelness, there is peace. There is calm. Days of snow and chill are days to pray for and anticipate that which is yet to be. We are hopeful, thankful and expectant. We work and love and prepare.

Keep the peace, Lord. Keep us calm and steady, like falling snow. And as we work, as we love, may you continue to craft our hearts. 

Amen, amen and Happy New Year.

The Table

Every Monday morning, we sit at the table. It’s a giant slab of wood fastened to a trunk by four giant bolts. We grab chairs and gather round. If anyone had a particularly great or terrible weekend, we talk about it. If anyone has something to share, we talk about that as well. We go over the week’s work, and then we pray. 

***

The work we do is given us by God’s grace. The work we do is what brings us alongside each other and places us at the table. Filmmaking is heated and strenuous and beyond stressful. You piss each other off and you get into a lot of arguments. It’s an environment where self-interest reigns supreme and love, to no one’s amazement or lament, falls by the wayside. 

But Christ seeks to make such a battleground into a home where people forgive one another; where, through relationship, we experience kindness and reconciliation. Christ, in loving tides, guides us toward mercy and puts us in a space where conversations extend beyond the ‘how-are-you-how-was-your-day’ nonsense. We anger each other and we apologize to each other and we frustrate the hell out of each other and we care for each other. We hug and we laugh and we shed tears together and we love together because all of us have had our hearts broken, and all of us have been left for dead. 

At that moment, we bowed our heads low and prayed for a new way, and in the holy-holy-holy grace of God, He brought us to the table, and by His mercy he keeps us there. 

During our time at the table, the Lord’s brought a whole host of people into the mix; people from ad agencies, cast and crew who’ve been a part of multi-million dollar productions and have borne witness to the world’s riches. But the more work placed before us, the more we see its edges and limits. All the work does it put us at the table, one across from the other. The work emphasizes how important it is that we care for each other, remain at the table and abide in love.

Even when there is darkness, we persevere in the hope of being reconciled through Love. We remain at the table because it’s where Christ has called us to, the table he’s prepared for us in presence of our friends and family, enemies and loved ones alike. And the table’s never where you think it is; in a board room, at a funeral home, at a police station, at the front door of someone’s house, in your car, in the middle of a film shoot, in the middle of the night; wherever you’re at, you’re always at the table. 

“Here to be together.” 

Because we’ve all been hurt. Because we’re all in need of healing. Because woven throughout all of our stories is the single story of a broken heart made whole.  

That’s us; the merry band of the broken-hearted, steadfast in our hope of healing. 

What we do is not cool. What we do is not hip or hot or popular or smooth or wild or rebellious. What we do is dust. What we do is no match for rust and rot and wilt. It will be gone. Our stuff will grow holes and be replaced. What cannot be shaken is love redeemed by Christ. Knowing that Christ loves us, accepting and believing we are loved by Him, we love others and believe in the light of other people. We commit to each other because we believe that Christ has made them as much as He has made us. 

And now once more, we find ourselves at the table, surrounded. Haunted. Loved. 

The Summer So Far.

Summer’s been a fun ride for Vince and Bravette, our apprentices, no question about it.

In July, they helped build a set in our warehouse for a project with Love146, an amazing organization that works to end the worldwide crisis of child trafficking and exploitation: (Love146)

Later in the month, they were part of the production for a trio of commercials highlighting Lankenau Main Line Health, all of which will be airing locally in the next few weeks. Lots of awesome locations with classic cars, campfires and butterflies. You know, the usual.

In August, they spent a day training in Powerpoint with the awesome folks at Vynamic, supporters of WF/NFCo. (Vynamic)

Finally, the apprentices were privileged enough to crew up and partner on a project for the new Philadelphia Eagles fan site, Fly Eagles Fly. That’s right everyone; the NFL’s starting soon. Get excited. (FlyEaglesFly)

Throughout all this time, they’ve been in-office at NFCo, working and learning alongside the various production teams/personnel coming through for the various shoots.

We’re in the final stage of Apprentice Training, and we’re focusing on how our apprentices transition from their time here at WF/NFCo to the time after training. We know this is a defining moment for the entire operation. How we conduct ourselves in these last months will demonstrate how much we believe in the training, family ratios, and the apprentices themselves.

Know that we believe in the value of the work here, and more importantly, in the value of the one doing the work. As we believe and work, we stop and express gratitude for your continued support, and to encourage you with all the change and transformation we’ve seen in the lives of the apprentices.

Nothing’s come without its share of struggle, but Vince and Bravette’s lives are changing every day because of these opportunities.

Sincerely, with all love and humility, we thank all of you, near and far, who have joined with us on this journey.

- From everyone at Working Film & NFCo.

Opening of Gone Baby Gone. Watch. Then repeat. Then watch again. So so good.

Photographer Gives Kids Candy, Takes It Away Then Photographs Their Reactions | FullyM.com by Snapsort

These are the best baby photos we’ve ever seen. Thanks for sending over Claire!

1 year ago

Take a few minutes and enjoy this story of a great musician. And an incredible video by Gnarly Bay Productions. So awesome…

Chills on top of chills. This video is aces.