Monday, December 23, 2013

Author Alcove: Audrey Assad

Hello all. Now that we're on break, we hope to have more posts, or at least regular ones.
This post is the first in a series of Catholic music artists. While we do hope to do a week in the future for each series, since we are approaching Christmas quickly we may not post every day. We will, however, complete seven full days of Catholic Music Artists Series posts. Each "day" will consist of an Author Alcove followed by an Album Review. This is an attempt not only to bring you good (enjoyable) Catholic music, but also to make these incredible artists known to a wider audience. We hope you find this series helpful during this blessed Christmas season and wish you a very blessed Christmas.

Audrey Assad is an amazing Catholic singer. Her music is poetic and reaches deep into the soul. With an angelic voice, she sings songs filled with metaphor, describing the beauty of God and over and over pointing to His hand in the world. Somehow, she manages to make every day life look beautiful and reveals God's hand in everything.
While most, if not all, her music is acceptable for small children, they may not understand the deeper meaning. Still, they will be lulled by her soothing voice and beautiful music.
You can find more on Audrey Assad here, at her website.

Album Review: The House You're Building

Title: The House You're Building
Author: Audrey Assad
Genre: Catholic, Inspirational
My Rating *****
Official Rating: all, a few songs teen
Age Group: 6+, 14+

Audrey Assad is a Catholic singer with a beautiful voice. In this album she addresses some of the challenges people have every day and puts them into the proper context. The quote from St. Augustine, "My heart is restless until it rests in you, Oh Lord" would be a great way to sum up her approach to a solution. And yet, it's not a cheesy solution. It's a very heartfelt solution filled with beautiful metaphors pointing to the only solution that ever succeeds: God.

"For Love of You"
Summary: This is a reflection on God's great power and existance everywhere. It is because of Him that the singer does anything. She goes through various metaphors, describing just how great God is and what He does with her life and how she responds to that. Quite simply, "For love of You, I'm a sky on fire. And because of you, I come alive. It's Your Sacred Heart within me beating, Your voice within me singing out, for love of You."

"The House You're Building"
Summary: The singer is weary of wandering the world and has "been lookin' for a place to lay my head. All this time, like a vagabond, a homeless stranger, I've been wanderin'." And she finds home in God's house. He is her shelter from the struggles she has encountered, holding her up when she is no longer able to stand alone. And yet, she has a hard time turning to Him for help--and God keeps calling. "In You I find my meaning."

"Breaking Through"
Summary: Still wandering the world, the singer is searching but struggling to listen to the call. She notes that everything around her is pointing toward God and if she just takes a moment to observe the little things, she'll see, "Heaven is breaking through. And it's You." Even though she struggles at times to see this, she knows God is there in everything.

"Everything Is Yours"
Summary: We all know the feeling: "When all the world is on fire. When skies are threatening to thunder and rain. And I am overcome by fears that I can't see." The singer takes a step back, comforting herself with a simple fact, "Everything is Yours, and I'm letting it go. It was never mine at all." She the goes on to observe God's great power not only in protection but also in creating beauty, bringing home the notion that God really does have it all under control and she really can let go. Because "It was never mine at all."

Summary: St. Augustine is very well known for that one quote, "My heart is restless until it rests in You, Oh Lord." The singer observes that God dwells in everything we do, good and bad, and we are constantly searching for an answer. "You are the keeper of my heart. And I'm restless, oh I'm restless, til I rest in You, til I rest in You." Just an absolutely beautiful illustration of St. Augustine's words. She longs to surrender her love to God and let Him touch every aspect of her life.

"Carry Me"
Summery: "Pain is a forest, we all get lost in. Between the branches, it can be so hard to see. And in the darkness, we've all got questions. We're all just trying to make sense out of suffering.....As I carry this cross, You carry me." The singer admits fear and pain can be overwhelming and it is hard to see the way out, or the purpose, of suffering. So she turns to God, who has not left her alone in her pain. "I know Your promises are faithful. And God, I've seen, Your purpose in my life. You're mercy is a river. Your love is an ocean wide."

"Ought To Be"
Summary: The singer begins by trying to describe her great love for God through metaphors, then slows and admits that her love isn't as great as it should be. She comforts herself with "love planted deeply becomes what it ought to be" and continues on to describe God's love for her, far greater than her own. She longs to rise up and meet that love but knows full well that it's not what it could be yet but "love given freely becomes what it ought to be."

Summary: The singer meditates on God's great knowledge of her, using various metaphors including one which may be uncomfortable for younger children "as the lover knows his beloved's heart, all the shapes and curves of her even in the dark." There is contentment, a feeling of safety and freedom to be oneself and nothing else, when one is aware God knows all, "Savior You have known me as I am. Healer You have known me as I was, as I will be, in the morning, in the evening, You will know me."

"Come Clean"
Summary: Stunned by the mess of her soul, the singer wonders how she got here. She realizes that things just added on bit by bit and that she needs to come clean, face the facts, and move on. She admits that it's hard and she struggles with figuring out just what to do with the pieces but perseveres, seeking God's help to make progress little by little. This is a song about Confession if there ever was one.

"Run Forward"
Summary: This one is incredibly hard to interpret, but I'll do my best. Hurt by rejection,the singer turns to the Lord, seeking strength where she knows she should have looked for it all along. She confesses she is desperately in love with Him but not deeply. Heart is shutting down thanks to lack of communication, she seeks support from the Lord. She says it simply, "I'll run forward, and you fall back, and grace will come and clear our path." Finally, she thanks the person who rejected her for bringing her closer to the Lord, then begs the person to come back to her once more and offers forgiveness.

"Show Me"
Summary: The singer is content to do whatever the Lord asks of her--in the future. She feels unprepared to fulfill God's plan for her, seeing her own brokenness, and requests He set the plan into motion "but not before you show me how to die." Indeed, she struggles, just as we all do, with following God's will and seeing the beauty in it and needs His help so that she might make her will one with His. She finishes with the humble request, "but for now, just stay with me."

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Movie Review: Overcome

Title: Overcome
Author: N/A
Genre: Romance, Christian, Drama
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: Unrated (probably PG or a light PG-13)
Age Group: 14+

Summary: Ever since Sarah Taylor told the pastor who destroyed the statue of Jesus, Colton really hasn't wanted to have much to do with her. Understandable, given he was humiliated in front of those he knows and was forced to serve community service hours.
Things went downhill from there. Colton became a bit of a jerk. To his parents, his sister, people at his former church (he really doesn't have any interest in returning), people at his school, Sarah Taylor, and just people in general. He's even got some friends who help him out with this.
Then drunk driving results in a freak accident and Colton dies. Just for a few minutes, but enough to completely change him. Suddenly, he's different.
And nobody's going to believe that. He's Colton, after all.

Word of Warning
  • A group of four teen boys draw graffiti on the wall of a church building. When caught, one of them attacks the witness by knocking him over and kicking him a few times (no lasting injuries).
  • A teen steals from his sister and from his job. He does return all the money, but that doesn't undo the fact that he did it.
  • Teens at a party who are drunk put a cell phone in a blender, completely destroying it.
  • Underage drinking and drunkenness. This later results in driving while intoxicated and a crash (more on that later).
  • Complete disrespect for parents (this changes).
  • Three teens are injured in the car crash (a girl and then the two drunk teens who caused the crash). We see them with neck braces and a few bloody scrapes in the back of the ambulance. One of them dies, then miraculously returns.
  • As mentioned in the summary, a teen destroys a statue of Jesus (this is not seen, just mentioned).
  • The girl injured in the crash hurts her knee and needs surgery. This is assumed to destroy her hopes for a tennis competition.
  • Claims are made that Colton has pretended to be Christian while hitting on a girl. The guy continues, saying soon enough the couple is making out, then the next day Colton has forgotten and moved on.
  • A girl is forcefully shoved into a closet and locked in.
  • Some pushing and shoving. Random violence (cutting a volley ball with a knife, throwing a Frisbee out of reach, etc). Teasing, mocking, and just general cruelty to fellow teens. All things considered, none of the stuff mentioned is very serious (compared to what we see in other movies).
  • For those wondering about the romance genre label, yes, there was a bit of tamed down romance. No kisses, just loyalty, three hugs, and a great friendship salvaged from an originally rough relationship.
  • The PG-13 rating would come from the car crash.
My Thoughts
It's preachy, cheesy, and clearly made by amateurs in the film business.
But I still watched the entire thing, and I still enjoyed it. For all its faults, it's refreshing and kind of sweet. Colton does his best to change his life around after he dies but he admits that it's not easy (something often neglected in these "life changed" stories). His friends are angry and reject him and he tries to ignore that but clearly has a hard time doing so. And even Sarah has problems (forgiving Colton, trusting him, and facing her own fears).
So yes, it was preachy, cheesy, and done by amateurs (or someone with a very low film budget). But it was also simple, refreshing, and sweet.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Movie Review: Frozen

Title: Frozen
Author: Disney
Genre: fantasy, princess movies, adventure, family, romance, animals, comedy, animation
My Rating: *****
Brother's Rating: *****
Official Rating: PG
Age Group: 6+

For a royal family in a Disney movie, Elsa and her sister Anna have it pretty good. They're best friends, have two loving (and living) parents, and reside in the beautiful fantasy land of Arendelle.
Of course it falls apart. Elsa suddenly disappears from Anna's life and the younger girl finally has to learn to live without her sister, who has actually shut the door in her face. The death of their parents finds Anna at Elsa's door, begging for company and comfort. No response.
Then the coronation. Anna is outgoing and thrilled to see people again because, just like her sister's bedroom door, the castle doors have been shut for as long as she can remember. She has such a great time at the party she even gets engaged to a prince.
That's when Elsa freezes everything. No, she actually freezes the world of Arendelle.
Terrified at the risk of hurting someone, Elsa flees. Anna sets after her, determined to save her sister.

Word of Warning
  • There are some magical like trolls who seem to have powers from somewhere above. Not a huge problem, but does seem to baffling combined with the clearly Catholic orientation of the spirituality of the rest of the film.
  • Along the lines of magic, Elsa has power over wintery elements (cold, wind, snow, ice, etc). She has trouble controlling them (this is the focus of the entire movie) and often puts people in danger because of this.
  • Anna and Hans accidently fall on top of each other a few times when they first meet. Anna comes right out and says it's awkward, something they both agree on.
  • Anna gets engaged to a prince she met that day. She's clearly silly with infatuation and the style of the duet they sing skillfully shows this.
  • A few animated kisses (nothing passionate).
  • A little girl is hit in the head with ice and seems to be dying. She is rescued by the magical trolls.
  • Anna's heart is frozen and she slowly weakens. She becomes cold and starts to turn frosty in color, eventually freezing solid in an act which sacrifices her life for another's.
  • Elsa is determined to feel no emotions, thinking this is the best way to protect those around her. This results in her seeming cold to others (pun intended).
  • Elsa has a sort of rebellious streak in which she declares that she is free, has no rules to follow, and feels great for the first time in a long time. In a subtle reinforcement of this transformation, her dress changes from traditional and relatively modest to skin tightly with a slit up the skirt that appears to go to her thigh.
  • Olaf, a snowman, is constantly breaking into three or more pieces and being put back together. This serves as comedy, but can be slightly disturbing as he is a character who talks and is basically a person except made of snow.
  • Two men attempt to kill Elsa. She counters their attack, almost killing them with her icy powers.
  • Anna punches a man. A few others are also punched (some accidental, some purposely).
  • Anna and Kristoff are chased by a pack of dangerous wolves. One drags Kristoff from the wagon and we are left with a few moments of "did that really just happen? is he ok?" before the issue is resolved. He is uninjured.
  • People drink at the coronation (no one is drunk).
  • There is a plot to kill the princesses and steal the throne. Several people are involved in this way of thinking.
  • When the castle doors are finally opened, Anna sings about her excitement and also feeling slightly gassy.
  • The trolls reveal that Kristoff doesn't smell good and likes to urinate in the woods.
  • Anna is hit in the face with saliva. Kristoff claims all men pick their noses and then eat it. Characters lie and trick each other (sometimes with good intentions, usually not).
  • In a dramatic betrayal scene, Anna is pretty much doomed to death by the hand of an icy cold which has started to freeze her heart. The betrayal comes from the worst source: someone she trusted deeply.
  • Olaf starts to melt. This is basically death for a snowman.
The Good
  • The love story here is different from the usual Disney movie. Yes, the princess does get the guy, but she also gets her bond with her sister back. This bond is the focus of that tried and true "true love" story.
  • Elsa truly wants to protect those around herself. By shutting herself away, she becomes cold and loses control. When she is faced with tragedy, she discovers that by feeling emotions and connecting with those she loves she is able to thaw not only herself but Arendelle.
  • Elsa's rebellious moment is rebellious, yes, but we also see how unhappy she is with her new life. She's not content and is missing her sister and those she loves. Ultimately, she is able to use her powers responsibly and have those she loves. In this sense, she leaves behind both extremes and finds the more agreeable middle.
  • Kristoff risks everything to help Anna and when things look dire, he does all he can to get her back to her fiancĂ© so she can be unfrozen. He's clearly fallen in love with her but his solution is to hand her over to the one he believes she loves in an attempt to save her life.
  • The entire movie is about sacrificial love. Anna goes after Elsa. She ultimately sacrifices her life for her sister (death doesn't follow). Kristoff risks all he has for Anna. Olaf runs the risk of melting in order to save Anna. It just keeps going.
  • This sacrificial love is the movie's definition of true love. Finally, someone got it right.
  • Love at first sight? Completely debunked here, multiple times.
  • Extremes aren't favored (unlike in our world, where people seem to be addicted to them). Elsa locking up all her emotions is a bad idea, but letting them all flow out is a bad one too. The solution, in the end, is a middle ground, a mature and happy middle ground that Elsa demonstrates well.

My Thoughts
Honestly, don't the good points say it all?
This is possibly one of the best Disney princess movies I've ever seen (though, in Disney's defense, I haven't seen very many). It's got plenty of comedy, action, and finally a good definition for true love.
There really isn't much to say, aside from commenting on the beauty of the Catholicism sprinkled throughout the movie, or on the big metaphor handed to us. Elsa shuts herself away and becomes cold. This cold ultimately consumes her kingdom in a very physical way, much in the same way it would consume a person's life and relationships in a less magical world. When she learns to love, she is able to thaw but still use her powers, this time for good. One might go so far as to imagine this is a nod toward self-control to some degree.
It was a wonderful movie. I plan to see it again. I know my sisters (and brothers) greatly enjoyed it. I think it's something our world desperately needed. Hopefully they take it to heart--before the world freezes over.