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Growing up in Los Angeles, Brian Ivie dreamed of becoming a famous filmmaker. While enrolled in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, he studied some of the most critically acclaimed Hollywood directors in pursuit of that goal. But a newspaper article about a pastor in one of the poorest districts in Seoul, South Korea, who built a Drop Box in his home for people to deposit unwanted babies with disabilities took him abroad to document that story. He came back to the U.S. realizing that he, like those babies, also needed to be saved.
Do you think your purpose as a filmmaker is to tell more nuanced stories of Christianity?
Well I think when I first became a Christian I figured you had to go to Africa and live in a tent and serve as a missionary, and then God called me back to Hollywood. I think that was something I really struggled with because I didn’t understand how that could be reconciled with my faith and what I wanted to do, which was to just tell people about God.
And, of course, as I know now, this is really the greatest way to do that because the houses of worship of our culture are really not churches, or temples or mosques, they’re YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. So my purpose, I would say changed way beyond movies, meaning that my heart now is to build God’s kingdom instead of building my own empire. That would be the truth even if I was a chef, or anything else, but I think when it comes to movies, it’s always something I knew wanted to do. I just didn’t know why. I didn’t know what stories I was going to tell. So now I think I’ve just committed to myself that whatever story I tell it’s going to be about Him. It’s going to be what he’s like. My heart is to make Christian films for non-Christians, basically, films that preach beyond the choir and invite people in.
Video Courtesy of Howard University: EMANUEL panel discussion with Steph Curry, Jeron Smith, Brian Ivie, L. Charlton at Howard University in Washington, DC.
The canon of faith-based films generally features storylines where there are fewer blurred lines about the impact of faith in someone’s life. It also hasn’t included documentary. Do you think you’re breaking into any new ground in how you chose to tell this story?
My films have these themes and these ideas because of who I am, less because its something I’m trying to engineer. The more I spend time with God, the more the films have those kinds of ideas and the themes are present. I think that’s true of any filmmaker no matter what. Filmmaking is a very spiritual endeavor, no matter what you believe. I don’t know if I’m breaking new ground, but I think what I am trying to do within the context of faith-based films is try to make films that speak to the reality of God to an audience that may or may not believe and that is disinterested and disillusioned. I think most faith-based films are just part of the “holy huddle,” and they’re just preaching to the choir and don’t really make sense to anybody outside of church culture.
I didn’t grow up in the culture of Christianity. I grew up watching Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee and Paul Thomas Anderson. So I hope that I can reach kind of a different audience, definitely a younger one, but also one that is much more cynical and skeptical and hopefully reaches them where they are. Usually, they’re not watching “God’s Not Dead.” They’re watching “Stranger Things” or “The People vs. O.J. [Simpson],” so, that’s kind of what I’m hoping to live.
The documentary form was really just chosen because of a lack of resources, because it’s cheaper, initially, but I also think it lends itself well to talking about faith because that’s what people expect from documentaries—is to be educated or to be confronted with something. Whereas usually, it can feel like a bait and switch, in a documentary you’re able to have a real conversation with someone, that’s why I like that form.
What have you observed from audiences who have screened EMANUEL?
I think what I’m really thankful for is that audiences have, no matter what they come into that room with, they’ve come out, I think, more free. There are a lot of people who have a lot of anger. I think that anger is very justified and very righteous in many respects—especially in the African American community.
African Americans come out of the film really honored. I think that was really cool for me to see because as a White American my fear was that I would, in some way, even unintentionally, just whitewash the movie. But thankfully in every screening, I’ve had an African American come up to me and say, ‘thank you for not doing that’ and “thank you for honoring my people, thank you for giving us a voice.’ Honestly, I just see my role as handing the microphone to people who really have something to say. So, that’s been amazing.
For White Americans that come in to see the film, I’ve seen them be very humbled and quiet. That’s been really cool to see, too, because it shows that we’re now listening a little bit more to the wounded people of our country and in our community that really need healing. That’s not just going to be through conversation. It’s going to be hard work, but it’s a start. Then, I’ve also seen people come out of the film who are feeling like maybe God is real, even if they didn’t walk in with that belief, and that is my greatest goal. So that’s been really encouraging.
Speaking of race were there any challenges that you felt that you had to overcome to show the family members they could trust you with their story?
At first, I was very scared that this would be disrespectful or weird or at the very least it this would be something like you say, a huge obstacle because there’s certainly something I can never understand about being Black.
There’s a wound that’s just too deep. A lot of times I don’t say anything at all and I just listen and let them share. Which is why I think a lot of the interviews are so like you said, uncut because I tried to stay out of the way as much as possible. But I will say that I didn’t conduct the interviews with the families. That was a choice that I made so that they could look at somebody who understood them and understood their experience at a deeper level. So my producing partner Dimas conducted those interviews and also really pastored them and cared for them through that process because he is a Reverend.
But I think honestly the families really embraced me. That was a super surprising thing, but I think it was less because, even just White/Black and all that, it was because beneath all of that or before all of that my identity to Christ. I shared that with them. As I said to them at the first meeting I wanted the world to know where God was in all of this. They had never heard a media person, whether Black or White, say that before. So I think that’s why they came to trust me.
How did the project come together?
I tried to stay away from the story for a year because I didn’t want to be an opportunist but then ended up meeting my producing partner Dimas Salaberrios on a totally separate project. He asked me what was really on my heart and I told him the story in Charleston. He ended up having been there and marched over the bridge and prayed over the families and had relationships and so we really just started to work together and joined hands to see if we could tell God’s story through this.
So we met with the families. Viola was a friend. Stephen was not. But they both ended up seeing the film. I think of Viola as an activist and Stephen as a Christian — both of them really as Christians. Stephen was a man of faith who was trying to build a new company that stood for Christ in Hollywood. They both felt like this was a story that they didn’t want the world to forget. Mariska, in a similar way, was really moved by the story and in her own life had had a lot of loss and trauma and felt that this film presented a way of healing and the rest is history.
What are you working on next?
Right now I am working on the Kirk Franklin movie. My first interaction with faith was in a gospel party in college and so it’s really exciting to see the confluence of all that Kirk has made and also my own experience in this project. We’re hoping to get that done at the end of the year.
Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24
Like me, you’ve probably quoted these verses many times. But have you ever practiced them? The prayer of examen is a pattern of prayer that invites us to actually do what these verses say.
Crafted by St. Ignatius of Loyola, this form of prayer has been used for centuries by those who want to become more aware of God’s presence in their everyday lives and notice ways in which they can better align their lives to God’s Word. In as little as ten minutes, you can pray this prayer, or you can spend any amount of time you’d like with it. Allow yourself some flexibility with its structure. For example, some days, you might spend more time with one section of the prayer or skip a section entirely. That’s okay. Give yourself permission to enjoy this way of being with God while trying, on most days, to spend time with each section of the prayer.
An important practice that often accompanies the prayer of examen is writing in a journal. As you keep a written record of your actions, thoughts, attitudes, and feelings, you might notice some patterns in your life that you weren’t aware of. These patterns might become the content for additional prayer, invitations to change, or causes for celebration. Talking with a pastor, spiritual director, or wise friend can help you discern what, if any, actions you should take based on this prayer.
Over the years, the prayer of examen has undergone many adaptions and variations. Here’s a pattern that has been helpful to me.
- Review your knowledge of God. Sometimes before we pray, we need to remind ourselves about the Person to whom we pray. Is the God we pray to all-powerful? All knowing? Loving? Merciful? What do you know to be true about God? Do you know God as a healer, deliverer, comforter, teacher, creator, protector, friend, way-maker? Open your prayer by inviting God into this time of holy and loving guidance. Honor God by naming some of the attributes of God that you experienced today. Write them in your journal.
- Recognize where God has been present to you. Our days can be so busy that we often miss noticing the many ways that God is walking with us. What were the gifts of your day? Some days it’s as simple as the smile of a child, coffee with a friend, or work you enjoy. On other days, it’s as significant as the birth of a child. Where did you see God’s goodness today? Take nothing for granted. Rejoice and be thankful. Jot down a couple of examples of God’s loving presence and guidance to you today.
- Reflect on any feelings that emerge. During the past 24 hours, what feelings surfaced? Frustration? Shame? Joy? Excitement? Fear? Confidence? Disappointment? Love? Anger? Peace? Choose one positive and one negative emotion and talk to God about your feelings. Pay attention to instances where you cooperated with God’s action in your life. Notice where you resisted God. Reflect honestly and patiently on these feelings. Don’t condemn yourself, and don’t be complacent either. This is intended to be a gentle way of reviewing your emotions under an umbrella of God’s love and grace. Capture your thoughts in your journal.
- Repent for the moments you missed God’s invitations to serve, to love, to give, to hope. Did you miss an opportunity to be kind, helpful, encouraging, generous? Be attentive to the Holy Spirit who lives within you. Record in your journal some of these missed opportunities. Write down that one missed opportunity that you don’t really want to write down.
- Recommit to walking in a greater knowledge of God and self. Acknowledge your continued desire to live according to God’s ways. Ask for God’s strength. Listen for God’s words of consolation, love, and affirmation. Write down any insights, thoughts, invitations from God, words of guidance, or possible next steps. Thank God for speaking to you through your own life experiences. Ask for God’s graceful guidance as you move into a new day.
An Invitation—for the next 30 days, take 10 to 20 minutes to practice the prayer of examen, including recording your prayers in a journal. At the end of 30 days, review your prayers. Do you notice any habits and patterns in your life? Do you hear whispers of love from God to you? Are there any invitations for change, movement, growth, transformation? There might be, or there might not. In either case, you are building a relationship with a God who fully knows and loves you. As you come to God in this or any prayer, you can become more aware of God’s desire for your continual growth in compassionate love and grace for yourself and others.
Maisie Sparks is a spiritual director and the author of Holy Shakespeare and other titles.
In a human interest story spotlighting Students Rising Above, an organization invested in improving the lives of low-income youth through education, CBS Oakland interviewed Elexis Webster, one of SRA’s brightest stars.
Elexis says she struggled with devastating circumstances as a young child. “I grew up on the streets with an abusive drug addict for a mother, along with an older brother who molested me countless times, plus constant sickness.
Dear Dr. Minnie
My name is Mona. I am a 36-year-old married woman. My husband and I attend a large church so we don’t see the same people every Sunday. He does appliance repair and one of the members of our women’s group is a client of his. I feel offended by her. Whenever she sees my husband, she waves wildly, makes a beeline to speak to him and pointedly ignores me. If he and I are together, she might nod in my direction. When she sees me and I am not with him, she appears to deliberately avoid speaking to me. From past experiences, I have found that behavior usually indicates the person wants a relationship with the male and resents his mate. I sincerely don’t think that my husband is interested in her that way, but I think she might have a crush on him and sees me as “the other woman.” When I mentioned it to my husband, he just laughed. I want to let her know that her behavior offends me and ask her why she does this. I don’t intend to confront her in a harsh manner, but I do want to confront her. Should I talk to her, Dr. Minnie?
Married and Confused
This is an awkward and apparently troubling situation for you. It is understandable that you interpret the woman’s behavior as a sign that she looks at you as someone standing between her and your husband. However, there could be other reasons for her behavior. I like the approach that you proposed: asking her why she avoids you rather than making an accusation.
Let’s examine why you want to confront her and the outcome you want. If you want to point out that her behavior offends you, Scripture certainly makes provision for that. Matthew 18:15 (KJV) says: “Moreover, if thy brother [or sister] shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.”
So here’s the caveat: That verse says that if the offender hears you, you have gained a brother or sister. I assume that this is your desired outcome; however what are the consequences if she will not hear you or respond responsibly to you? The opposite side of that coin is if she does not hear, you may have made an enemy and you might become more frustrated. Remember, you can only control your behavior, not hers.
When it comes to such matters, it is also a good idea to examine our hearts in the presence of the Holy Spirit. David, the author of Psalm 139:23-24, implores the Lord to search his heart in order to be sure that there were no wicked motives within him, and if so, to remove them. Your concern sounds legitimate and needs to be resolved. The wisdom of God is needed in order for that to happen successfully. If you have a trusted, mature Christian confidant, perhaps you can, without disclosing the woman’s name, ask her to join you in prayer for the will of God to be done in the situation. Often women will too quickly shake such things off as their own insecurities. Your feelings are valid and you should not ignore them.. If you pray, God will perfect everything that concerns you.
Although this situation happens only occasionally, it produces anxiety in you. The Word of God cautions us to “be anxious for nothing,” but pray about everything. (Philippians 4:6-8, KJV)
See if you can resolve the matter in sincere prayer to God. Expect Him to guide and direct you in this matter. He knows how to resolve it and give you perfect peace. If you choose to confront her, you might have to follow the guidance in Matthew 18:16-17.
Yours in Christ,
Anthony “BreevEazie” Lowery is no stranger to the world of Christian hip-hop. In addition to being a member of a rap group, he is also an advocate for youth and a soldier for Christ. Find out what the husband, father, youth minister and veteran lyricist has to say about some of his past and current projects and even a new style of poetry he’s been working on lately below:
How did you get into spoken word?
I’ve always been into hip-hop, but the thing that made me want to do spoken word specifically was when Deaf Poetry Jam came out on HBO. I was a big fan of that show and that’s when I really ventured off into poetry. Spoken word kind of met hip-hop right there in the middle. I was also a battle rapper, and that’s where I got my roots. A lot of rap battles are done acapella, so [spoken word] rhymes like poetry but you get to slow it down a bit. Once I gave my life to Christ, I sort of got away from battle rap. I saw it as a form of tearing people down, so I kind of got away from it.
Do you have other projects that you’ve worked on in the past?
I do other material, but it’s never anything that would go against my Christianity. I’m in a group called Verbal Kwest. We put out an album awhile ago called Batman and Batman. It did pretty well. But my first album was called Baby Food, and it’s a classic as far as Christian hip-hop now. For a lot of people, it was considered one of the first good gospel rap albums. I was the first one from Chicago with nationwide distribution.
Tell us a bit more about your creative process.
Right now, I’m working with a new style of poetry, and I’m actually happy because I got to flex it on these new videos. I get to put some sort of music track behind the lyrics. The music isn’t complicated. It’s something you can flow to but not have to stay on beat where you’re married to the beat like hip hop. The music allows me to get a better feeling for everything, then I create a track that matches that feel. The less instruments, the better, which allows you to travel around the track. Then I stop and think about what it is that God wants me to say, what needs to be said, and what I’m trying to convey. Then, I just get there with the words and write until I get the product I’m looking for.
What inspired the lyrics for the videos you created for the Back to Church campaign?
I’m actually a “people studier.” I’m kind of the person that everyone talks to, because I know how to shut up. (laughs) I’m a youth minister and I work with a lot of people in social services, so I take the ministry to the streets. Social services has always been my thing. I’ve seen and heard a lot of things, so I wanted to get that out there when it was time for me to talk. For me, it was about “What do the people need to hear?” or “What have I not heard out there?”
Tell us a little more about your life as an advocate for youth.
In the past I was the youth director at my church in Chicago. But I’ve also worked with companies and organizations that are specific to youth ministry, including youth events and youth revivals. I’ve also run mentoring programs and was the director of a recreation center. I’m all for anything involving youth!
What advice do you have for future Christian artists who have something to say but no idea where to start?
I would definitely tell them to listen to God more than you listen to other people. As an artist, you have to be able to tap into God directly. People will push their visions on you and say what they think you should say [in your lyrics]. Let God confirm your words. And also, I would say to just be you. Be yourself, and you’ll be different.
Check out one of BreevEazie’s videos on getting the community back to church below: