Sunday, February 26, 2012
I had been surprisingly uninterested in this year's Academy of Arts and Sciences Oscar Award race often times turning the channel as they interview nominees or talk about the contentious race for the award. This is especially uncharacteristic of me as I love movies and I love the Oscars.
Plus, this year has 2 black women nominated for best acting and best supporting actress (Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer respectively of the movie, The Help), which should have put me in Oscar viewership heaven. But I was still all ho-hum about it. I didn't even go to the Animated Feature Film Symposium at the Sam Goldwyn Oscar Building as I always do and it was being hosted by Pat Oswald(my fav)!
I didn't understand the wave of this ambiguous malaise feeling until the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit as I rode past the Oscars red carpet set up at night on my way to church on Ash Wednesday. I resisted the feeling for the rest of the week but the feeling increased as I woke up this morning and got ready for church. Then it hit HARD! Give up all things Oscars for Lent and fast from certain entertainment and TV...
I asked myself, "was my love for this industry, which at its zenith is primarily represented by the Oscars, getting in the way of God? My immediate answer was a resounding "no!" but I thought of my past Oscars and red carpet exploits and considered the Holy Spirit's nudge. I prayed on this for a while and He confirmed it... *big inhale* So now I am doing a total Oscar and Media block-out which is tough in H-wood but I'm doing it. Whew! *big exhale*
2/26/12 I started out on this former Oscar Sunday to my church on Hollywood Blvd. past throngs of people heading through police blockades to wait at the Oscar red carpet-lol. God has an amazing sense of humor!
I kept on track and had a wonderful day at church where our Messianic Jewish pastor-in-residence, Scott Nassau, talked about the woman with the issue of blood, about how unclean she was in the Jewish tradition and how Jesus imparts His divine purity to clean us.
I thanked Scott for infusing the message with many translations and references to the Hebrew text and traditions. We talked about fibroids, a common cause of prolonged bleeding which I myself overcame through God's grace, prayer, good doctors and a few medical procedures. Then I told Scott my hilarious anecdotes about hospital work, lice and other unclean things. Thank you, God for cleansing us!
I talked with friends after church then we all drifted out at about 1:30 pm to go about our respective day. Funny, not one of this congregation of Ecclesians, from the pastors, deacons, prayer team to the members (many actors, writers and producers themselves), I repeat, not one mentioned the Oscars which was just about 3 blocks and 3 hours away. So I walked from church confident that my Oscar fast was correct and with a love abounding for Ecclesia.
So I smiled and praise the Lord as I walked by many tourists and little girls in toy tiaras plus 20-somethings fashionistas hoping for their big Hollywood moment. I also walked past a 6'4" guy in a mini skirt and tank top and high stacked Lucite heels and his friend, a black male version of the infamous cat woman of plastic surgery due to an over aggressive check implant and tight eye job and a long blond weave.
Despite those obvious distractions and the steady flow of people heading towards the Oscars' red carpet, I was all smiles and my mind serene as I prayed and marshaled my thoughts in the opposite direction of the Oscars and walked away in the opposite direction, too.
It's 1 week later and I only have flashes of info about the Oscar results. I saw a headline on AOL while checking my e-mail indicating Meryl Streep may have won again after umpteen nominations and 1 or 2 previous wins. Meryl is a fav so I'm happy for her and Viola Davis is bound to win soon with all that acting talent she possesses.
A recent Google search for a new documentary premiering at the Berlin Film Festival revealed a funny story about Octavia Spencer and that she'd won her category, which was a no-brainer.
I think The Artist may have won for best movie and that suave, dapper and dancing French actor may have beaten out favs like Clooney and Pitt for best actor, too because I think I would have heard about those "hot" and "in" celebrity dudes and any of their Oscar wins by now. Or would I?
I have been hearing a lot about the split in Angelina Jolie's dress though (whatever that means). And I caught a brief glimpse of a magazine's cover at a convenience store check-out with photos of their Oscars 2012 fashion spread with "full figured nominees" Melissa McCarthy(forever known as Suki)and Octavia Spencer. I thought both made great choices but that Spencer's gown looked especially lovely.
Stay tuned to see how long I can make it through this Lenten Season without knowing the final Oscar results.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Lent Season- 40 Days And Counting...
Another Serving Of Breakfast:
I began the day listening to a talk about the Cub Scouts followed by more Broadway show tunes with Don Snyder and a guest vocalist at The L.A. Breakfast Club (for more on LABC see previous post). I strolled for a bit at the park afterwards as it was a bright and beautiful morning but yet still cool and crisp (almost like an East coast Fall but with lots more sun).
Ash Wednesday Noon Observance:
The temp heated up to 80 by noon as I headed to Ecclesia church for a noon day observance of Ash Wednesday and the giving of ashes. The church would be offering ashes and prayer for anyone who wanted to receive them along Hollywood Blvd.
Years ago, I never thought the day would come that I would actually see such an open acknowledgement of faith on H-wood Blvd like how Ecclesia lives it, so I was going to be there to support the cause of Jesus. It's really such a blessing to see God at work in such a spiritually dark and weird place that at times the experience can be over-whelming. So I obviously needed to be at church at noon to focus myself on Jesus and my own lenten devotions.
I dressed in my black t-shirt with Hollywood emblazoned in hot pink across it and I grabbed my pink scarf with the rabbit fur trim. I had no car for the day so I would first have to survive the crazy bus ride there. Things began badly when the normally red rapid bus which makes fewer stops was orange today which is the color of the regular line.
As you can expect, people got on the bus innocently only to found out that they had to walk 3 blocks back to their true stop. As we passed stop after stop, more people were arguing loudly with the bus driver, sometimes in 2-3 different languages at a time (one Russian lady looked ballistic). The constant clammer was ruining my Lent prep buzz but as most of those complaining were old people with joint complaints, I could really sympathize.
Then an older flushed-faced man, snuck in the back door without paying. He had a grocery bag with liquor bottles in it and he pulls out one bottle and starts chugging large gulps of 100 proof hooch openly from the bottle. Man, he looked like his very life depended on each swig. Everyone tried to ignore him and I tried to think sympathetic about him because he was obviously deep in an alcohol addiction. I know that the man needed prayer so I tried to be mindful of that and pray accordingly.
Not surprisingly, the man's bottle was near empty within 2 stops but then he starts spitting on the floor of the bus. I let it pass and tried to pray for him even harder. I tried to avert my eyes, too but the man was directly in front of me. He let another large lugey one out and I stopped praying because I was just so plainly grossed out. I tried to turn my entire body 180 degrees away but I was cramped in between a metal chair rail and a beefy guy(talk about being caught between the proverbial "rock and a hard place").
The inebriated man lets a 3rd very large lugey fly and my stomach just rolls. I just had to say something! So I very politely say “Sir, You can't keep spitting in the bus like that”. The man sassed me back with a lot of lip and drunk-ittude but he did stop. I was tempted to give him some attitude back after he said he didn't need "no momma" to tell him what to do but I controlled myself. I did tell him, "No, you need Jesus". Now that I think of it though, I didn't say it in the nicest or most Christian of ways... God, please forgive me.
When I finally exited the bus a few people told me that I was right to have spoken up on the bus but my spirit felt so antsy. You can imagine the 2 or so blocks up the street to church seemed endless. It was already 12:45pm and my mind was racing with worry. “I can't miss the ashes today”, I thought, "cause I so need prayer and repentance after that bus ride".
Well good Christian faith and counsel came to the rescue, both of which I got in good measure as I arrived to the capable ministering of the pastor, deacons and prayer team of Ecclesia church.
Prayer team member, M.S. was especially helpful as she joked about her horrifying experience of riding the NYC subway and buses with riders like the Riker island prison guards. Her anecdotes made my L.A. bus experiences pale in comparison and made me laugh. She prayed with me again about pouring God's love into people and not letting them pour their negative into me (a must have faith skill to keep you resilient here in LA) and after a few minutes of prayer and reflection, I was back to my old happy self.
Pastor Joseph came over and prayed for me and gave me my ashes. His solemnly spoken words especially "and from ashes you shall return" nearly made me cry. Then he discussed Psalm 103 with me and encouraged me to read it especially verses 8-18 which I did. Of course I was struck by God's great love and compassion for us even though we are filthy in sin.
I did some more self-reflection then I stood with the team for a while as they offered coffee, tea, water and of course prayer and the ashes to any and all passer-bys who walked by. Some normal looking people looked at us as if we were freaks, Some freaky looking people looked at us as if we were freaks.
One lady asked if we were Catholic, when she was told that we were evangelical Christian she made a sick face. She walked away quickly (fearfully?) and as an after thought I thought that I should have probably referred her to the Catholic church on Sunset with the beautiful blue candle-lit interiors and large organ. I had visited there by my lonesome self on my first Christmas in L.A. and they had had the most beautiful Nativity program with a real 10 pound baby Jesus who the little girl Mary could baerly lift. They also had a live choir and a brass band that fine night and they played all my favorite Christmas hymns and praised the Lord 'til way past midnight. (I had literally crawled in this church another time when my back completely gave out but that's a whole other story).
Anyway, others passer-bys knew about Ash Wednesday, too and they asked for prayer and the ashes and were thankful to receive them. Sadly, countless others had never heard about it but they seemed interested and asked for more info. The team told them about Lent and provided them a card with more info about Lent and invited them to the 7:30 pm services. Other team members talked deeper about Psalm 103 to those interested.
Many first timers thought it amazing that 20-30 somethings Christians (some with piercings etc.) were on H-Blvd reflecting on such godly things. We discusses our lives with Christ a little and also discussed what we may give up for Lent. Some said TV of Facebook which was big at church last year. One passer-by mid-20s or so and goth-looking with multiple tattoos said that he think that he should gave up alcohol. One team member told the guy gently, "God will let you know” then I told him of my epic 40 Day Fasting Battle of 2011 where I resisted potato chips and Cheetos last year. Everyone laughed and a few others admitted they were giving up chocolate or sweets this Lent, too.
After church, I was off to my doctor's at Cedars so I got on another bus. And surprise, surprise! With all my Lent preparation and soul searching I had forgotten that The Oscars/Academy Awards are this weekend so all the Oscar craziness was up the street at Hollywood and Highland at the former Kodak Theater.
By crazy I meant to include road blocks, diverted traffic, traffic snarls, tons more tourists, sight-seers and fans and tons more people who are in obvious need of attention or mental help. For example, one goofy-smiling youngish shirtless dude standing on the corner with a hand-written cardboard sign with vulgar references to a woman and her body parts. The guy looked so sad and awkward when no one even blinked at his sign("Hey, this is Hollywood, dude! We've seen it all!").
I finally made it to the doctor's office and the staff and I had a long conversation about Lent. Eventually we got to what we would give up. One guy said Lent was new to him so he had done online search and he's considering it. We told him it's not just food and others were giving up swearing, TV shows, shopping etc.
I told him that from my experience whatever you give up, big or small, that thing that seemed so important won't feel so at the end of the fast and how I always feel more focused on God after. For example, thanks to my potato chips fast last year (which actually lasted about 55 days), I can now take or leave chips at the grocery and they're not a must have for me every week. So as I constantly "chip" away some of my earthly and fleshly yearnings during Lent I build a new and deeper relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Ash Wednesday 7:30 PM Service:
I rode the bus again and an older man came on in a mini skirt, halter top with his back out and a fur coat slung over his broad football shoulders. The man wore a blond weave/wig that was askew and his lip stick was badly smeared. He clutched his purse and seemed to be talking to himself a lot so I think he may have mental issues or he could have just been complaining about his sore feet in his stacked heel(seriously). The bus was filled so the man had to stand in the packed aisle as many in the bus looked away from him in disgust or to hide their laughter. I tried to keep prayerful again so I prayed for the man and I prayed for a good dependable car for myself.
I arrived back at church at 7:15 pm and my back was acting badly. I had had a full day up and about but I just had to be back to church. The church was full but more drifted in as people came after work. We started praise and reflection in the lobby with just John playing on the guitar. Then Psalm 103 was read to us followed by more singing and reflection as ashes were given out by Pastor Scott and other deacons to those who wanted. We filed slowly inside and had more praise and worship with the full praise band on stage. We sang one of my favorite songs called Hungry" by Kathryn Scott as well as many other praise songs.
Then we did corporal confession lead by Pastor Joseph. He told us he took the words from an atonement confession for Yom Kippur that he got from our messianic Jewish pastor, Pastor Scott. Pastor Joseph said the Hebrew name for the confession but I can't recall it. It has really been a blessing to have Pastor Scott in residence because he helps bring so much of the Old Testament scriptures to life and he helps us understand how the Jewish traditions relate to us as Christians. Hearing a full congregation of people confessing sin as one to God is so mind blowing! The confessions were very deep. Here's a list of those that were especially deep for me:
I sinned against you with a glance...
I sinned against you unknowingly...
I sinned against you in wrong confessions...
Then Pastor Joseph invited us all to come forward for prayer. I was in so much pain but I resisted. I had been offered prayer for my back by a church elder at the noon Ash Wednesday but I had refused because I didn't feel I should keep going to get prayer for my back every week. I thought, "I have faith and I believe God can heal me but I may have to just wait for my healing".
Then Bang! The pain increased as I stood in church and I was conflicted about getting prayed for, until I remembered the scripture, "God's word does not come back void" so I know the prayers for my healing are not wasted even if I have to wait. And it does not show lack of faith instead it shows more faith as the Book of James says, "if there are any sick among you have the elders pray for you". So I went and got prayed for and felt immediately better. I also got a ride home so I missed all that bus drama. Thank you, Jesus!
After an amazing session on learning "How To Hear From God" at the Artists' Listening Group and a strong prayer from Melissa Smith and the group, my right hip and leg were miraculously healed today! It has been nearly 16 years of difficulty and pain for this leg related to herniated discs and spinal stenosis so bad that it was causing paralysis in the leg. I had had surgery in 2000 but many symptoms including painful leg cramps and tight hip flexors, foot numbness, leg weakness and poor gait) had still remained in the 12 years prior to this healing. Thank you, God! Now just 3 other quadrants to go!
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
All heads were bowed in the house as rapper-turned actor, LL Cool J said a strong prayer and Jeniffer Hudson sang a tearful rendition of "I Will Always Love You" to Whitney. Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys and many other stars expressed how much Whitney Houston meant to them and how much she will be missed. The Grammys had special remembrance for passing of the great, Etta James and Don Cornelius, too.
The Grammys' Big Winners:
Full-figured, 50s coiffed British soulful singer, Adele was the biggest winner, garnering 6 awards and matching Whitney Houston's total Grammy wins in one swoop. Also, the high notes Adele hit during her singing performance of her hit “Rolling In The Deep” showed her vocal cord surgery was a success. Other winners were the The Foo Fighters who garned 4 and there was also redemption for Chris Brown who won 1 award and had a great performance.
Grammys Oldies But Goodies:
The "old guard" was honored as Adam Levine of Maroon 5 teamed up with the Beach Boys to sing their greatest hits. Blake Sheldon and other country singers partnered with Glen Campbell for a sing-along of his greatest hists. And Tony Bennett, who is as smooth as ever in his 80s, won 2 Grammys for his Duets CD which featured Amy Winehouse, ironically. Bennet's near 5 decades of success prove that age is no barrier to making great music.
The red carpet interviews were somber and Grammy fashions were very subdued, rightfully so under the circumstances. I liked what Jeniffer Hudson wore but I couldn't figure out Lady Gaga's netting outfit (as usual) Otherwise, there were no major hits or misses.
An island product, Niki Minaj can't sing that well and she tries way too hard to be controversial. Shoot, she's even making some of Madonna's unholy performances look good in comparison. Minaj needs Jesus in a big way and I'm about to suggest her for the Hollywood Prayer Network prayer list. HPN is a group that prays for Hollywood stars and entertainers such as Brittany Spears and Justin Bieber.
Rihanna, another islander, can sing, dance and perform but she needs to leave some of "that" for the bedroom. Katy Perry's performance was interesting but it seemed very cold and angry (post-divorce gripes?). Perry needs to remember that she knows Jesus and to show it and I know her parents are praying very hard for her on that front.
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Whitney Houston, one of the greatest singers ever, has died at age 48. Being in LA, I heard the news almost immediately and I was devastated like so many of her fans. Reports are coming in saying that friends and family are especially grieved as I can well imagine. Such shocking news but sadly not totally unexpected.
Whitney Houston died Saturday Feb 11th at 3:55 pm PST at the Beverly Hilton the day that her mentor and music producer, Clive Owen, usually throws his customary Pre-Grammys party and the day before the 54th Annual Grammy Awards Show. Producers are said to be scrambling to get a fitting tribute together for tonight's show.
Her Music Career:
Whitney came from a long line of great singers as her mother is gospel great Cissy Houston her cousin is the legendary 50s singer with that smooth controlled voice, Dionne Warwick, ("Say A Little Prayer For Me)" and her god-mother is the electrifying Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin . Whitney grew up singing gospel music in her church in New Jersey and from a teenager you could tell that she had "it"! Yes, Whitney had the singing chops, good-girl image, wide engaging smile and the cross-over looks and beauty to make it big in the music industry and she did.
Whitney was called America's "Pop Princess" but some people complained that Whitney watered down her soul and R&B voice to cross over to the pop charts. Personally, I never felt that. Actually it's just the contrary because Whitney brought so much soul and emotion to her songs that I was swept away with her each time. In fact, I'm a child of the 80s and Whitney Houston literally sang the soundtrack to most of my then young adult life. From hit songs from Whitney's first album like "I want to Dance With Somebody" to her later hits like "How Will I Know" and "Saving All My Love For You" , I sang and dance my way through my own joy and heartbreak in the '80s. And her rendition of "the Star Spangled Banner" at the 1991 Super Bowl was amazing!
And, of course, my all time favorite song, "I Will Always Love You" ( written by and sang originally by Dolly Parton) is burned forever in my heart. Just seeing TV singing talent show competitors attempt the high registers and full force of this song shows how accomplished Ms. Houston's voice was. And that music video with cuts from the movie, how stirringly romantic and iconic!
Like "the King Of Pop", Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston broke down many racial barriers in the music industry and even on MTV to become the highest grossing female artist of all time and she won 6 Grammys and numerous Billboard and American Music awards. Unfortunately, despite a life of such heights, her demise seems to be playing like Michael's, too.
Like many other singers, Whitney got lured to the big screen but she was no ordinary singer turned-actress but was a rare find, a singer-turned-actress who could play the dramatic lead very well and act against established and even Oscar nominated and award winning actors like Denzel Washington in The Preacher's Wife, Kevin Costner in "The Bodyguard" and even Angela Basset in Waiting to Exhale.
Fashion and Beauty:
Whitney also modeled as a teen and graced the cover of many teen and popular adult magazines like Cosmopolitan. She went on to became a fashion trail blazer and role model of success and beauty for young black women. Her talent, and beauty crossed-over to other races and nations also and she has fans of every description around the world.
Whitney appeared on many TV variety and award shows during her career and she also won 2 Emmys, 1 for the made-for-TV movie, Cinderella with the young singer-actress, Brandy. Whitney was lured back to the small screen for the plague of the entertainment media business, a TV reality show. The show was about her and her ex-husband, Bobby Brown, the R-B singer originally from the 90s R&B boy band, New Edition . Brown had a credible solo career with hits like "My Perogative" and "Every Little Step" and he won a Grammy in 1987. Discord between band members caused Brown to leave New Edition but Brown has recently returned to singing and touring with the group. Brown also had many run-ins with the law for drugs, domestic abuse and child support issues.
Whitney and Bobby Brown's TV reality show was aptly titled "Being Bobby Brown" and it was the worst reality show ever! Both Whitney and Bobby were so "under the influence" and the cameras were everywhere but not in a good way. It was so bad that I felt sorry for their daughter who was just a teen at that time. I could not watch the show for more than 5 minutes and you could never imagine how happy I was when it finally went off the air. God answers prayers!
Speaking of prayers, I've been telling friends to "pray for Whitney" for her near 2 decades of problems with drug addiction and a very destructive marriage. These calls for prayer increased after the Diane Sawyer "crack is whack" interview and how scary thin she was looking and how crazy she was acting. According to reports, Whitney did a total of 3 stints in rehab for reported cocaine and marijuana abuse.
Whitney looked real good after her last intervention and rehab in 2009, though. I remember her talking on the Oprah show and I was greatly encouraged. Whitney spoke about her struggles and how God and faith sustained her and I could hear that the Lord was active in her life again. I was somewhat hopeful for an industry comeback for her then, too but I know the music industry like the Hollywood film industry is shallow and wrought with pitfalls for a recovering addict.
I instead wanted a "spiritual revival" for Whitney where she dedicated her voice and talents to the Lord through signing gospel music and faith outreach. Whitney was loved by many and she had great influence and access to do great works as she often met with with heads of states like U.S Presidents, former South African President Nelson Mandela and many dignitaries and, of course, the rich and famous. Whitney also had a children's charity and lent her voice to other fundraising events for humanitarian causes.
Whitney had already returned to her gospel roots years ago with the soundtrack album for the movie, "The Preacher's Wife" (ex. the song, "I Love You Lord!") which broke gospel music chart and sale records. In fact, some of the songs from Houston's last CD "I Look To You" had the same message of faith and triumph after struggle and the tone was very inspirational. Sadly, after years of this destructive living, Whitney's voice was indeed changed. Personally, I liked the maturity, soulfulness and raspy quality of her voice but others didn't take to it as well. Whitney toured on and off from 2009-2011 but industry news agencies reported poor ticket sales and many cancellations due to some of Whitney Houston's health problems.
I would still pray for Whitney regularly especially if I heard or saw something of concern. I saw Whitney Houston recently in interviews along with American Idol winner, Jordon Sparks, as they did promo interviews for the upcoming re-make of the movie, Sparkle. Whitney looked great and I hoped she was over the worst of it. I also thought she would be good at coaching and mentoring young upcoming female singers and maybe even judge on a singing competition ala American Idol.
I started praying for Whitney again this week when her CD crashed to the floor from a very safe spot on my CD tower all on its own volition. Then I heard reports of her having financial problems so I started praying harder. I couldn't think of any scriptures so I just prayed "God help Whitney".
Then about 4 days ago, I saw video of Whitney leaving a club with the very "wrong crowd"like Brandy's brother, Ray J.. Whitney looked kind of out of it and I felt she was high or about to be. I used to worked with lots of women and mothers with cocaine and heroine addictions for years and I saw the same signs in Whitney again. Drug addiction is a terrible evil and something that the addict has to battle their entire life to overcome. You have to lose a lot of your old "friends" and enablers to kick a drug habit but Hollywood has the most tenacious enablers and fame users (in fact, some you practically have to burn them off like a tick).
So sadly, it seemed that Whitney Houston was being pulled back into that quagmire and it was only a matter of time. I prayed again for God to "save Whitney" from herself and, most importantly, to save her soul. I couldn't think of any scriptures except Psalm 119 which I pray over myself almost daily:
"No pit or snare of the devil can prevail against us" in Jesus' Name.
Well, God has Whitney held close now and I think to myself "what a beautiful sound that heavenly choir has with Whitney and Etta James"...
Rest in peace, Whitney Houston, and may God bless you!
*Reports say that Whitney's last performance was of an impromptu "Jesus Loves Me" at a club performance of singer, Kelly Price.
**Please, pray for Whitney's daughter as it was reported that she has been hospitalized due to grief.
*** Fans showing their love for Whitney on-line and at a growing memorial outside the Beverly Hilton as Whitney Houston never got her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Yesterday there were photos and video of former Beattle and Wings front man, Paul McCarthy and his new wife leaving flowers at the site.
It's Valentine's Day today and I'm loving on the memory of Whitney with "I Will Alwyas Love You" on youtube.