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January 19, 2012

The Freedom Climb is now in the history books.  We watched and listened from a distance as forty-eight women, inspired their leader and our good friend Cathey Anderson, took on the challenge – the highest point on the continent of Africa: Mount Kilimanjaro.  They climbed to raise awareness and money to combat human trafficking – for the women and children victimized by the cruel imposition of slavery on a global scale.

If you have ever set out to climb a mountain or ride bike a hundred miles or run a marathon or swim the channel, you know what it’s like to train.  You know that setting the goal and doing the work are two entirely different things.  It’s one thing to share the dream of accomplishment; to imagine the joyous celebration at the finish line.   It’s quite another to start the training – and to push yourself to new levels, new distances, new disciplines.  You set the routines.  You feel the pain.  Not long into it, you wonder what on earth you were thinking to imagine that you could reach that crazy goal.  You didn’t really understand the cost.  You hit the wall.  You feel the pain.  And after awhile, there is a break through.  A new surge of strength carries you past that first milestone.  But you know there will be more work ahead.  You begin to feel the benefits of the hard work – but you know that’s exactly what it is – hard work.

LeaderFOCUS is predictably my own original work.  But this time, I’m going to let JoAnn Hummel speak.  I’ve never met her, but I was moved by her words.  She is now a Kili Climber.  She now has seen the sunrise from 19,000 feet.  Here’s what she learned on the trail as she trained –

Dear Kili-climbing sisters!

With less than a week to go until we depart for Africa, the Lord said to me today, “It is time to move your eyes from yourself (your packing, shopping, and stressy self) and refocus them on Me and why I called you to make this Freedom Climb.”

When I know God is speaking, it is time to pay attention! Here’s the rest of what the Lord was speaking to me…

This Kilimanjaro trek is a powerful prophetic symbol. You – the climbers – are meant to symbolize the victims; Kilimanjaro symbolizes the towering “mountain” of pain, evil, injustice and woundedness that dehumanizes millions of trafficked and enslaved victims daily.

Every hardship you will face step-by-step and breath-by-breath on Kilimanjaro is meant to mirror the life-threatening extremities of the trafficked and enslaved for whom you climb.  They are deprived; you, too, will face deprivation. They persevere through extreme conditions; so will you. They receive no comfort; you will sacrifice your comforts for their sake. Their unclean bodies ache and sweat and hurt and shiver; yours will, too. They are forced to live one moment at a time and you will only make this climb one step at a time. And the same God who gives the millions of victims breath and life, sees their pain, holds their hands, and whispers His hope into their darkness will likewise be present with you.

This trek is meant to break your heart for what breaks Mine. I will do this in you by taking you beyond the limits of your own human strength, wits, and abilities. When you summit Kilimanjaro, you will not be able to credit yourself, but only give glory to Me. You will make it because I will carry you. That heady joy of freedom as you stand on the roof of Africa will serve as a symbol of the joyous release and victory I have in store for those who are now in bondage!

I will call many of you into active engagement to overcome and destroy these evils as you return home. Be ready for a life change.

I love you and that is why I invited you to make this climb. I didn’t ask everyone; I asked you and you said YES. I am so proud of your willingness to follow Me up this mountain that I made with My own hands. This will be a radical journey of faith and risk, but I knew what I was doing when I called you. I never make a mistake. You were meant to be on this Freedom Climb and I will be with you every step of your way. Now surrender your “me” stuff.  Lay all of it down at the Cross.  Ask Me to give you My heart, My perspective, and My strength and I will do it.

Refocus the eyes of your heart on Me.  It is time.

JoAnn Hummel

As you and I face our own Kili, let’s remember JoAnn’s challenge.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2012

More on FREEDOM CLIMB |  Read Susan Kasper’s Thoughts

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Monday, January 9, 2012

It was a relatively brief news short.  YouTube videos that go viral will often make it to the national feed of the evening news these days.  When a YouTube strikes a million hits or more, it makes us wonder – what is the draw?  What is the hook?  YouTube gives new meaning to the phrase “word of mouth” marketing.  Now, instead of sharing your enthusiasm – for the movie you just saw, or the book you just read, or the speech you just heard – over the fence, or over the cup of coffee or over the water cooler, you just click on “send.”  Or “share.” Or “tweet.”  Or “like.”

Ben Breedlove breathed his last on Christmas day.  I was in Florida celebrating my role as a grandpa when, in Austin, Texas, Ben, an eighteen year old student at Westlake High School, slipped into eternity.  His parents and siblings will forever link Christmas day with his passing.  The cardiac arrest did not come as a surprise.  The timing, however, will bring a sense of loss and heartache, but also wonder and awe.

We like to think that a life well lived becomes a legacy.  When we encourage retirees to prepare for the inevitable transfer of assets, we suggest they also consider the transfer of values.  What is it that we really leave behind?  Wealth?  Memories?  Stuff?  Or is there something more?

Generally, we expect that it will require a minimum of three-score and ten to make the kind of mark that rises to the level of “legacy.”  But sometimes, these assumptions are shattered.   That would be the case with young Ben Breedlove.

The first clarion call, the first shocking episode came when Ben was only four.  That’s when they diagnosed an untreatable heart condition (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy).  The physician predicted that Ben might survive until his early teenage years, probably no more, likely less.

Ben looked like a healthy, strong, energetic child and then teenager.  While he lived with some limits, he traveled, wake boarded and over-all determined to live his life with passion.  He emerged as a leader in Young Life.  As he described it, he “cheated death” several times.  When he came close to dying, he experienced a powerful peace, a stunning “glimpse of eternity,” that gave him confidence and took away his fears.  His faith became strong.  The clear threat of a life-ending heart episode made him acutely conscious of the gift of the present.  He discovered YouTube.

He launched a (brief) career as a self-directed teenage talk show host.  There are thirty-eight episodes online in which Ben and a couple of friends talk about dating and friendship and growing up.  They call their channel OurAdvice4You.  They attracted a modest but loyal following.  Ben’s winsome, Justin-Bieber-like presence made the program a favorite among his peers.

But then, this year, almost as though he had a premonition of things to come, he created a solo seven-minute long video he called This Is My Story.  With an easy listening sound track playing in the background, contemplative and soothing, Ben holds up a succession of handwritten cards in sequence.  He remains silent.  There is something about his countenance that captures you, all the while wondering where the story will take you.  Unlike the giddy, scattered, frivolous ambience we generally associate with teenagedom, Ben appears calm.  He’s filled with an unusual, palpable peace.  He’s comfortable with himself.  He follows his own story as it unfolds phrase by phrase on the series of cards.  And as you smile at the next, he smiles with you.  He keeps his gaze in place, right with you as you read.

And then you learn that he knows his life will end way too soon.  You feel grief.  And then admiration.  Then you begin to reflect on the uncertainty of your own life.

On Christmas day, just a few weeks ago, after the paramedics did all they could to bring him back and cheat death just one more time, Ben slipped away as his family wept by his side.

This Is My Story went viral.  To date, the total count is over eleven million hits.  Clips of his video made all the major news outlets.  Word of his memorial service went around the globe.  1,400 people showed up at Gateway Church for his memorial in Austin that day.  Eleven thousand more tuned into the simulcast all over the world.   Thousands of comments were posted.  Hundreds created YouTube videos of their own, relaying their thoughts, emulating Ben’s approach to story telling.  Many told of revived faith, renewed purpose and heart-felt commitments.

Young Ben left a legacy.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2012

Watch it for yourself: This Is My Story

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2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,800 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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December 28, 2011

In many respects, the year 2011 has been, well, in the words of Queen Elizabeth now almost twenty years ago, an annus horribilis. In her 1992 speech to Parliament, she had good reason to call upon the Latin phrase which everyone knew how to translate. It had been a “horrible year”, what with all too public family troubles among her children and their unsettled, rocky marriages, and the all time low in the people’s view of the Monarchy which included calls for severe cutbacks in the royal expense account and even the elimination of the Monarchy altogether, and then those fires at Windsor. Generally, the Queen is expected to be the gold standard for stiff upper lip. But in 1992, in her annual State of the State report, she yielded to full disclosure: it had been an awful, forgettable, disposable twelve months.

And so for 2011. Maybe not so much for the Queen. But maybe for you. The financial pressures, the lack of employment, the fears triggered by vanishing security, global instability, the proliferation of terror, political gridlock, crushing debt, institutions that were once the bedrock of the common good crumbling into irrelevance. It’s quite enough to turn us all into a society of Ebenezer Scrooges.

Maybe it’s good to remember the Queen’s lament back in 1992. Her fortunes have certainly changed, as we all will witness in 2012. In June, the United Kingdom will celebrate her sixtieth year as HRH – the Diamond Jubilee. Her popularity has soared around the world. Her persistence, her commitment to duty, her steadiness through the storms of her life and the nation’s will inspire great celebration. And then, don’t forget Kate. What a find. The case will be made that Kate Middleton single handedly rescued, of all things, the Monarchy itself. It will be a credible argument.

So this weekend, as we turn the page on another year, there is hope.

The basis for that hope goes well beyond the fortunes of Britain’s Buckingham Palace. Look around you. You’ll see little green shoots popping up all around. They will need attention and nurture and care, but be sure – there’s a harvest coming. And it will be bountiful.

One of those evidences of life emerging from the ashes involves another extraordinary woman, who, along with more than forty equally determined colleagues, are training for an unprecedented challenge. Someday, I would like to write her story in full. When it is published, you will call it an inspiring page-turner.

Cathey’s determination was born out of considerable hardship, too. But now, looking back, something beautiful came out of the ashes. We first knew her when her four children were just finding their way, becoming independent of their mother’s attentive care. (They have each one become extraordinary adults.) Cathey set out to win her teaching credential and a position in the local school district. Her college major set her in the direction of her life long passion, with values that came right out of the history books. Let’s call it American agrarian family values straight from the heartland. When she landed that teaching spot, she turned an abandoned property into a productive,working farm and hundreds, maybe thousands of children learned to work hard, plant, water, feed, tend, prune, dig, sweep, shovel, and then, harvest. She transformed a whole town. She won recognition – not only the gratitude of parents and community leaders, but the State of California honored her achievements.

Now, Cathey travels to remote places around the world teaching farming techniques that are transforming little plots of ground all over Africa. The results are stunning. A new standard of living emerges, nutrition improves, hope springs alive. But in her travels, another troubling discovery broke her heart. It’s the plight of exploited women and children, sold on the open market like chattel, all over the world. As barriers drop, and the globe becomes more and more connected, we become more and more aware. Traditions and cultural, even religious ideologies have marginalized women for hundreds, no thousands of years. Poverty turns children into assets, sold on the open market by desperate unsuspecting parents for whatever profits they might generate – industrial labor, begging in the crowded city streets, dismembered for body parts, sex for sale. Authorities turn a blind eye. And the children suffer. Women give up. The cycle of poverty proliferates.

Climbing a mountain attracts curiosity, wonder and admiration. Cathey’s husband is one of my best friends. When he and a few of his pals climbed Africa’s highest peak, Kilimanjaro, a couple of years back, something clicked in Cathey’s mind and heart. She asked a life altering question. What if a pack of women made the climb, and told the whole world that their purpose in taking on this impossible challenge was to raise both awareness and money to combat human trafficking around the world? By now, she knew personally the people who rescue, retrain and care for the victims. She understood how scarce are the resources required to take on the enormous, overwhelming task. “Let’s do something!” became her mantra.

Next month, January 12, 2012, Cathey Anderson leads forty-seven women to conquer Mount Kilimanjaro. Why? Here’s her answer: “The highest mountain in Africa, its summit is known as Uhuru Peak. Uhuru is the Swahili word for freedom. Climbing Kilimanjaro is symbolic of the huge climb to freedom faced daily by millions of enslaved women and children worldwide.”

I’ll be watching the blog site for daily reports. Not only because I know this is dangerous, demanding, risky business; but because it signals the dawning of a new day. Freedom for many.

Hope for us all.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011

More on the Freedom Climb

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Monday, November 28, 2011

The New York Times review called it a movie one might expect from the celebrated director. Well, it’s not what I expected.

When my friend Dave Darrow recommends a film, I generally take notice. Hugo jumped to the top of my list. He also included a spoiler alert. “The less you know about this one, the more you’ll enjoy it,” he said.

So, in that spirit, I will suggest here that you stop reading until you’ve seen it – except to add that you ought to buy a 3D ticket. It’s worth the extra couple of bucks. OK. Stop here.

Unless, like me, the more you know, the more you see. These days, serious movies pack significance into every frame. A casual run-through means you probably missed a lot. Another friend, Brandon Cesmat, professor of cinema at the State University in San Marcos, advises his students that any film worth watching at all is worth watching twice. He recommends that the first time you include sub-titles, then watch it again without. (Sadly, this can’t be done in the theater.)

The first surprise, that Martin Scorsese would make a film suitable for children (PG) is followed by the second – that it would have a happy ending (there’s the first spoiler – more to come). For me, great films are not about the surprises, the twists or the sudden shocks that trigger an adrenaline burst. Great films are not predictable either – but are, instead, soul food. They speak to human longing. They capture emotion. They articulate our questions. Our fears. Our hopes and dreams. Our tragedies. Our triumphs. They teach. They lead to discoveries; reveal secrets; bring insight. That silver screen transports us to worlds we would otherwise never know. Some imagined. Some real. Great movies are a process; from beginning to end. Keats said it in poetry: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Some films are just plain beautiful.

Hugo is Scorsese’s tribute to the birth of cinema. Both adults and kids will get it. As the director’s career has matured, he has devoted considerable time and resource to the restoration of otherwise lost film. No surprise, then, that he took special note of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a 2007 book by Brian Selznick (cousin to David O., who directed Gone with the Wind in 1939). It is a sort of historical novel that traces the evolution of film making all the way back to one of the most notable cinematic pioneers, Georges Méliès. A Parisian magician, Méliès, fascinated by one of the first projectors invented in 1895, employed his own silent movie creations in his magic act. He developed some of the first “special effects.” You may recall the grainy, jerky, quirky space flight sequence. A missile (that resembles a man-sized bullet) containing a half dozen science wizards is launched from a giant cannon aimed directly at a full moon. As a stunned audience watches from earth, the spacecraft strikes the smiling man in the moon in the eye – a direct hit. It is a lunar landing imagined over a hundred years ago. Some call it the first sci-fi flick. That was Georges Méliès, 1902.

The Great War (WWI) decimated a good portion of Europe, but also Méliès’ entertainment business. Weary of the bloodshed and the devastating ruins, Parisian crowds had little interest in magicians or comedy, much less the shadowy, farcical images projected on a screen in a darkened room. George went bust. His back lot, which once was the scene of wild imagination and intrigue, costuming and outrageous adventure, demons and dragons, mermaids and Greek mythology all went the way of the rubble still smoldering in the battlefield. Demoralized and broke, Méliès set the place ablaze, all the props and costumes and sets lit the night sky in a bonfire that sent his life’s work up in smoke. In the searing heat of the flames, in a tragic moment of deep despair, with the dramatic flair he had once captured on film, he tossed in those old celluloid reels, too.

With what remaining resources he had left, he purchased a little toyshop at the fabled train station at Montparnasse in the heart of Paris. There, he repaired and sold little mechanical toys until, one fateful day, he encountered young Hugo Cabret, whom he recognized immediately as a no-good little thief – a street urchin who, if in London, would have been a main character in a Dickens novel. Hugo, a boy orphaned by his father’s accidental death, worked all the mechanical clocks in the huge turn-of-the-century station, where steam engines transported Parisians all over France and beyond.

Accusing him of theft, and at the same time recognizing his mechanical gift, he forces the boy to work in his shop in exchange for the value of the stolen goods. There, he meets George’s adopted daughter, young Isabelle. She is smart, too. Hugo, street wise, loves to fix things, complicated things. He has an eye for gears and wheels and springs and pulleys and weights and chains, large and small. He finds adventure in the tunnels and on catwalks and the secret hideaways of the train station, watching the world through slots in the clock faces. Isabelle, a couple of years older, is book smart. She finds her adventures in the library and the piled up books that line the shelves – Charles Dickens and John Burrows (The Adventures of Robin Hood). She employs unlikely words like “reprobate” and “clandestine” and “your covert lair.” Too charming.

Their adventure becomes ours. There are chases and train wrecks and nightmares and an ever-foreboding gendarme (the Inspector) who, in spite of his knee brace, must be avoided at every turn. But the centerpiece of the story is an automaton, a mechanical human with a metal face whose innards are a complex combination of music box and clockworks. The steel manikin plays a role, too. He writes with a fountain pen.

The heart-shaped key will be all the explanation you need.

Scorsese may well identify with Méliès who arrives at his latter years – when one reflects on a lifetime of work and wonders, what did it all mean? Who cares? What is really important, after all?

The answer is in Hugo’s eyes. And the brass key in the shape of a heart.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011

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Monday, November 7, 2011

I was twenty-eight years of age when I first explored Francis Ford Coppola’s magnum opus, Apocalypse Now.  Intrigued by the filmmaker’s attempt to elucidate the dark nuances emanating from the nightmare many of my contemporaries knew from personal experience, the Vietnam War, I studied the writer/director’s retelling of Joseph Conrad’s classic Heart of Darkness.  Martin Sheen was thirty-six then, only eight years my senior.  Great actors morph themselves into their characters, Sheen so effectively that when the cameras rolled, he became the deeply disturbed Captain Benjamin L. Willard.  The complete emotional, psychological breakdown written into the script took down the actor, too, in real life, complete with cardiac arrest.  It nearly killed him, right there on the set in Southeast Asia back in the late seventies.  That celebrated performance set a standard for actors to come.  But mainly, it underscored the terror, no, the horror of a war that leaves its imprint to this very day.

Sheen remains eight years my senior.  But Apocalypse Now was a long time ago.  This weekend, I was introduced to a very different version of Martin Sheen.  We have all changed since those turbulent pre-Reagan days.

There have been lots of roles for Sheen since.  Many of us think of him as President Josiah Bartlett, of The West Wing.  Most recently, Sheen appears as Dr. Tom Avery, a California ophthalmologist in a film written and directed by the other son, Emilio Estevez (who did not take his father’s screen name, as did Charlie).  Charlie had no role in this project.  He’s been busy.

If Martin Sheen is the Prodigal Father who had two sons, one would be Charlie, the other Emilio.  While Charlie may readily seem the younger profligate brother in the biblical parable, Emilio doesn’t really fit as the indignant older brother, mainly because of the complete absence of resentment.  On the contrary, Emilio is the good son who has presented his dad with a priceless gift: a role consistent with the father Martin Sheen has been in real life.  (Martin Sheen’s birth name is Ramón Antonio Gerard Estévez.)  When Henry Fonda took his final bow as an actor in On Golden Pond, he and Jane reconciled as father and daughter on the big screen for us all to see.  Here, Emilio handed a script and a storyline to his dad, one that would cement his legacy in our minds.   Perhaps it would put that bedroom scene from Apocalypse Now (in which he breaks a Freudian mirror and collapses in a heap of existential angst) in some sort of distant, thespian context.  Here, he might emerge as the curmudgeonly but likeable, distant dad who, after all, really does care about his family.

At age fourteen, back in Vietnam, Emilio was there on location along with the Sheen family.  The boy battled his alcohol and drug drenched father, as his mother and three siblings watched.  Not long afterwards, Martin, terrified by his capacity to self-destruct, sought out treatment, and cleaned up his life.  He and Janet not only stayed together (they were married in 1961).  They built a life.  This year, they celebrate their fiftieth anniversary.

Now a seasoned actor and director himself, Emilio produced a film that stars his father in the leading role.  He calls it The Way.  For a thousand years, pilgrims have trekked the five hundred mile route from France through northern Spain to the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela near the rocky Atlantic seacoast – the Camino de Santiago.  In the new film, Dr. Tom Avery (Martin Sheen) drives his son Daniel to the airport.  As they drive, Daniel describes his plan to trace the ancient pilgrimage.  Tom clearly considers the exercise a waste of time and money.  Daniel pleads with his overworked, distracted father to join him.  Tom turns down the offer.  The son grows impatient.  He lectures his father, berating him for his truncated, predictable, comfortable ways.

“That’s life,” says Tom with a shrug.

Daniel replies, “There’s the life we live, and then there is the life we choose.”  It’s a line that will come to haunt the good doctor.

On the golf course, Tom gets an unexpected call from France.  “It’s your son, Daniel. He was caught in a terrible storm in the Pyrenees on the most treacherous stretch of the Camino de Santiago.  He was found dead, too late,” a voice reports with a heavy French accent.

Tom, a recent widower, flies to France to identify and recover his son’s body.  As an uncharacteristically impulsive move to honor his dead son, he determines to complete the impossible trek on his own.  And thus, he proceeds on The Way, toting his boy’s backpack and a silver box containing Daniel’s ashes.

Engulfed by his grief and regret, he has no interest in the others who crowd the ancient pathway.  But something like the Wizard of Oz, three others eventually join him and form an unlikely pack.  It is said that everyone who chooses to leave home and country to pursue pilgrimage has a reason – each unique.  So it is with Tom’s three improbable companions.  One, a gregarious Dutchman named Joost, who just wants to loose weight.  An emotionally wounded Canadian woman, Sarah, joins them, too, claiming that the pilgrimage is her way to quit smoking.  A philosopher, historian, novelist, and Irishman named Jack hopes this journey will cure writer’s block and provide grist for a new book.

We watched a screening of the film on a college campus that overlooks the Getty Museum in Brentwood and then listened in as Martin Sheen, his son Emilio Estevez and several others, including my friend Scott Young, discussed the filming and the script that took us all on that Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.  Scott sees this as a coming of age for the man who came undone in the making of Apocalypse Now and now emerges with some semblance of wholeness in The Way.  We learn that this transcendent journey means much more than losing weight, quitting bad habits like smoking, curing writers block or, for that matter, bringing a lost loved one back.

It is about something else.  Something much more profound.

Don’t take my word for it.  Check it out.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011

CBS Interview | Trailer

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Monday, October 17, 2011

When Walid Amani showed up for the casting call, he had no idea what was just over the horizon for the aspiring actor who was in possession of the prized SAG card.  He had roles in a couple of independent movies, episodes of NCIS and Lie to Me.  But this one would be very different.  Here in Hollywood, he is a long way from the University of Minnesota where he earned a degree in computer science.  He’s a trained classical pianist.  But when the film’s director and producer agreed with the casting agent saw the test outtakes, Walid would be on his way to India.  He was perfect for the part.

In his former life, he was a natural at the computer.  He can figure things out.  His piano concerts were inspiring.  But acting trumped those other career tracks.  He attacked the craft with the same intensity and focus he brought to those two familiar keyboards.  This role would demand more than he imagined.  He’s conversant in several languages, including Hindi.  He consulted dialect and linguistic coaches, here in California and there in India.  He would play the role of a Dalit man committed to provide and care for an eight-year-old daughter.  His native tongue would be Telegu, and he would speak limited English with a heavy Indian accent.  He would familiarize himself with life in the outcast slum.

So he did his homework.  He practiced until he found a character voice.  And then they introduced him to an eight-year old girl with jet-black hair, big bright eyes and an engaging smile.  Persis Karen, a Dalit, was picked from a large collection of uniformed students who had been snatched from sure hopelessness in neighboring slums.  These girls were engaged in a formal, intense education, which included English, in the heart of India.  They were eager cadidates.  When the director of the movie first met young Persis, he knew he had found Annika.   She would be Walid’s daughter.  He would take the name Kiran.  They would spend the next six weeks together, inseparable.

As I sat in the theater in Nashville after the focus group screening of the film in which Walid and Persis play a major role as Kiran and Annika, I listened in as folks who had little background in the world of India’s Dalit population shared their response to the film.  They expressed wonder and amazement at the performances, which touched them deeply.  Kiran, hopeless, lost, with no means of providing for the daughter he loves, accepts a modest sum of money (rupees) in exchange for the promise of a better life for his little girl.  His new American friend, Caden (Cody Longo), is outraged.  The ugly American becomes a man with possessed by a cause.  The two of them emerge as unlikely partners in a search and rescue mission that takes us into some of India’s darker shadows.

Last night, we met four of the actors who played major roles in the new film, Not Today.  Brent Martz (Producer) and Jon Van Dyke (Director) interviewed them, as they played finished extended scenes.  They reminisced over six weeks of filming on location in India, where their lives were forever changed.  All of them.

The focus group in Nashville raved over the performance of Cody Longo, who plays a privileged Orange County millennial, Caden Welles, who on a sort of dare, goes to India for no other reason than to party with his college pals.  They are the quintessential ugly Americans.  He leaves behind a girlfriend, Audrey (Cassie Scerbo), who loves him but fears what he is becoming.  She’s in turmoil.  Caden’s mother, Sarah (Shari Widmann), divorced from Caden’s father and remarried to Luke (Jon Schneider), knows Caden’s inner strife, and wants desperately for him to find wholeness.  The unexpected quest to find Annika changes everything.  They all delivered.  Their performances rock.  Brent and Jon captured it on film – a stunning achievement.

I’ve always liked DVDs because they include “The Making Of,” which takes us into the background of the story, the on location shooting, a discussion of the film’s purpose and meaning.  Last night, we enjoyed the Making Of Not Today live and in person.

We now have a growing sense of confidence and anticipation that this film is going to reach a large audience, bring awareness and motivation, which, we trust, will mobilize an army.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011

 

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Monday October 10, 2011

When the announcement hit the headlines several weeks ago, that Steve Jobs could no longer carry the load as CEO of Apple, I remember the sadness. I also recall thinking that I would write about him. Even then, people in the tech business were on the search for words big enough to capture something of the legacy of the man who got a cancer that not even the best of the best, not even unlimited funds could cure. I thought about it, too, because Steve Jobs’ legacy touched me, as well.

Hoopla around Apple product announcements is what we expect anymore. Most recently, my anticipation revved up more over IOS 5 than a new “iPhone 5”. The new operating system, and the promise of iCloud had me waiting with that old Mac eagerness that I share with millions. A new iPhone can wait, I thought, but that new operating system. Wow. So when the new CEO (Tim Cook, Jobs’ handpicked successor) took to the stage somehow to fill the Jobian blue jeans, black turtle neck and shoes, the world was watching. Within minutes, we all took note of the subdued presentation and muted applause. For the most part, the whole ninety minutes, while packed with whiz-bang enhancements and new capabilities and processing speed felt off the mark. The whole thing was typified by the near groan you could hear around the world when Cook introduced the iPhone 4S? (Not the 5.) You could a most hear the line from Princess Bride… Inconceivable!

For the next day or so, the question was asked, “What is UP with Apple?”. Are they losing their edge, already?

Then came the news alert, which arrived in my world just the President indicated. He commented that it was a remarkable tribute to a remarkable man that that news of his untimely death (age 56) came to most of us on a device he gave to us. For me, the iPhone. “Steve Jobs has died, according to a report from Apple, Inc.” was all the text message said. I felt the air go out of my lungs for a moment as I processed the thought. Too soon, came to mind. Too soon. Sadnesses rolled over me again.

Immediately, I realized why the product presentation came off as something less than spectacular. Certainly, the new CEO knew. Many of the insiders both in the audience and on stage knew, too. Steve Jobs was close. Very close. His demise, eminent. It would be only a matter of hours. It is a tribute to the secrecy Jobs insisted on throughout his career that kept any of the rest of us from knowing how very serious his condition had become. As much as I thought I knew about the man, I was unaware that he was married; much less about the four children, all of whom stood around the bed as the man who would be soon compared to Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison and Henry Ford breathed his last. He would leave behind the most valuable company in the world, with more cash in the bank than the Federal government. But the children and the extended family and his wife of nineteen years, Lauren, mother to three of his children, would grieve the untimely loss of a husband and a father too soon, just as the rest of us would. Money, power, influence, fame – all secondary.

While I never met the man, his work did impact my life. Significantly. Substantially. And will continue to do so. Not just because four years ago I gave away my last PC and traded windows machines in for Macs and iPhones and iPods and now an iPad (I’m writing this on the iPad at somewhere around thirty five thousand feet somewhere above Arizona), but because these tools happily occupy a good portion of my day, every day. My PC friends will be quick to remind me that Jobs didn’t really INVENT any of that stuff (you’ll hear the disgust in their voice, annoyed by the hyperbole and overuse of the word “icon”). While they have a point, the devices and integration and innovation and accessibility that is now a regular part of my day came from the company that Steve built. No, Jobs did not invent the Internet, but the World Wide Web was built on one of Jobs’ most outrageously powerful machines, the NeXT. He didn’t invent MP3s either. Or GPS. Or the digital camera. Or flash memory. Or eBooks.

But he put them all in my pocket.

As I have reflected on how my life has changed in the last few years, I realize how much control I have over the content I digest. I am way less dependent on the public airwaves, where I was once stuck with network drivel and endless advertising. I choose my podcast. My music. I’ve read way more books an ever. I’ve written a couple of books of my own on machines made by Steve, and I have instant access to research and fact checking and dictionary and encyclopedias at my fingertips. I can access my documents, keep connected to my family and friends, edit my photos and videos, speak to and see my grandkids who are thousands of miles away. I record my thoughts while barreling down the freeway and then send the recording to myself via email. I send Carolyn a text, she taps the screen and sees my location on a map, including my speed and my estimated time of arrival home. She can even see the traffic conditions. I text her again from the tarmac and tell her I love her. And I’m only getting started. It’s all in my pocket.

Oh yes. That iPhone 4S. It’s “for Steve.”

If Steven Jobs had lived his three score and ten and then some, we may not be reflecting as we are today over the contribution he has made to so many. When he recruited John Scully, the CEO of Pepsi, to come and run Apple way back in 1983, he asked, “What would you rather do? Sell sugared water or come with me and change the world?”

That got him. It got me, too.

I’d rather change the world.

copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011

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Grandparenting

This week, we do something out of the box.  My good friend, Annie Moffatt, has created a remarkable web site.  A veteran teacher and mom to two great girls, Audrey and Sophie, she has created a web presence which makes her creative materials available to educators, parents and grandparents to get involved in the learning process.  She calls her site The Moffatt Girls.  You’ll want to take a look at her materials.

Annie inaugurates a weekly podcast today.  I am her first guest.  So instead of reading text this week, listen in to the twelve minute interview.  She asks me about my role as a grandfather.  I hope you enjoy it.

When you get to the site – read Annie;s introduction, then look scroll down and for the “blogtalkradio” widget in the right column.  Click on the play button. Let us know what you think.  Forward the link!

THE MOFFATT GIRLS

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Monday, September 26, 2011

The summer before last, we made our third visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem just outside the Temple Mount and off limits from the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.  It is the center of the religious universe for what many like to call the Three Great Monotheisms.  You can’t help but get a sense of that lofty description as you stand there in the shadow of the ancient stone wall, chiseled with an uncanny precision, massive blocks somehow lifted and placed in perfect symmetry by some unimaginable technology long lost to the still undiscovered records books.  Every day, folks dressed for the occasion in traditional garb, often black, many of the men bearded, most all with heads covered, come to pray.  Some men are orthodox and arrive under broad brimmed back hats.   The rest are under a yarmulke, a round cap, often embroidered.  Women’s heads are delicately covered with a properly folded scarf, or sometimes a stylish hat.  If you have no head covering, one is made available to every visitor, no matter what your ethnicity, religious preference or nationality.  All are welcome.  But best to cover your head.

This is a place of tradition.  Though the years, it has been known as the “Wailing Wall.”  Jewish visitors from all over the world come to pray for the restoration of the biblical Temple.  For Peace in Jerusalem.  They leave their prayers in the cracks of the wall; little notes rolled up small enough to squeeze in between the massive stones.  The guardians of The Wall clear the paper from time to time, but keep all of the written prayers in a permanent archive in perpetuity.  They are considered sacred.

It is not uncommon to witness a joyous Bar Mitzvah at The Wall.  According to a tradition thousands of years old, men and women are separated at The Wall by a distinct border.  When a Jewish son reaches thirteen and has completed his course in basic Hebrew and a study of the Torah, a great celebration is planned.  It includes dancing and laughter and singing and the obligatory recitation in Hebrew by the youngster.  A properly attired Rabbi superintends the ceremony.  The highpoint of the celebration is a declaration by the boy, in Hebrew, “Today, I am a man.”  The crowd cheers, from both sides of the barrier.

I captured an image that day which later moved me with deep emotion.  It has almost a Norman Rockwell quality about it, though this is an exceptionally Jewish moment, rarely American.  A beautifully dressed mother reaches over the barrier to hold her son as tears stream down her cheeks.  The boy is wearing his yarmulke, the Rabbi holds the scroll, and two lovely sisters, smiling broadly, join the mother in reaching over the fence to touch their brother, whose father watches over the scene with obvious pride. All join in together in a long anticipated moment of joy and accomplishment.  The son/grandson/brother officially transitions from boyhood to manhood.  Here, in the shadow of the Great Wall.

It is a rite of passage.

As we left the scene, and as I have studied my photograph, I have wondered – “Why is there no such rite of passage in my own tradition?  For my own son?  For my daughters?  For me?”

Jim McBride wonders, too.

So he wrote a book: Rite of Passage – A Father’s Blessing.  Jim is executive pastor at Sherwood Baptist Church.  It’s the church that gave us Facing the Giants, Fireproof and now Courageous.  He served in the Marine Corps.  He’s a tough guy.  It wasn’t until he had children of his own that he got serious about God.

And he’s concerned about the myriad of lost kids everywhere – who live their lives without a father’s blessing.  It’s an epidemic.  He documents the stats.  It will only confirm what you see all around you.  His book is a call to do something about it.  He shares his own experiences with his own kids, Buddy, Tommy and Sarah.

Jim points out that there are rites of passage in our lives and our children’s, but we miss the opportunity if we fail to be intentional in capturing those moments and affirming our kids as proud, loving, affirming parents.  We can create some of our own custom rites, too.  He shows us how.  We also ought to involve our community – to bring in those who are close to us and share our values to celebrate these meaningful moments of transition with praise and joyful celebration.

That Bar Mitzvah moment remains one of my favorites, maybe because it calls up those memories of our own three and their passages into adulthood.

And perhaps that is the most meaningful part of our lives at this stage – to be there with affirmation, affecion and pride.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011

BLOG  TOUR for Jim’s new book |  Rite of Passage on Amazon

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