An Interview with Shane Harper | MariletteSanchez.com

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Some may recognize Shane Harper as Josh Wheaton, the in-over-his-head college freshman (God’s Not Dead). Others know him as Spencer on Disney Channel’s Good Luck Charlie. His latest role on MTV’s Happyland is quickly shooting him up the ranks of Hollywood’s young heartthrobs. 

I’ve always admired Shane’s multi-faceted talent (see here and here), his candidness about his Christian faith, and his ability to seamlessly navigate between “Christian” and “mainstream” media.

In this exclusive interview with MariletteSanchez.com, Shane opens up about about his ideal role, the reaction of the Christian community to Happyland, and his most important life lesson.

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MS: Let’s pretend the best movies you have seen were never made, and were still in the production stage. What script would you want to get in the mail that would make you say, “I have to play this part?"  

SH: Newsies. It’s a movie musical that was released in 1992. Getting to play Jack Kelly would be the coolest! 

MS: How is it going filming "Happyland” for MTV? Tell us a little bit about your character and why you chose that role. 

SH: Filming “Happyland” has been wonderful. It was a short production for season 1 but it was action-packed… long days and late nights were the norm! My character Ian Chandler is “bad boy prince charming”, but he has a good heart underneath the bravado. When I read the pilot, I immediately gravitated towards Ian. It’s always fun to play a character with many emotional layers to them. 

MS: Can you share a time when your Christian values put you in an awkward situation in your acting career? How did that turn out? 

SH: My values as a Christian hinge on the centricity of grace and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The biggest challenges I face all revolve around the temptation of narcism and self-worship. Christianity is all about loving God well, and loving our neighbors. We’re called to serve the people around us but It’s very easy in this business to be self-serving. 

MS: Share a story about a time when your decision to take a mainstream role conflicted with the opinion of the religious community. Would you have done something differently based on their reaction? 

SH:  think my role in this MTV series brings to mind a good example that relates to your question. There have been some interesting remarks from the Christian community commenting on the content of the show, and how they’re “disappointed” I would take a role like this, insinuating that somehow all of the characters I play and all of the narratives I participate in are supposed to share my faith and beliefs. This kind of thinking is the result of looking through the short-sighted, conservative American evangelical lens. That is not a Christian gospel mentality; it’s an us VS. them mentality. Jon Foreman put it concisely when he said, “There is a schism between the sacred and the secular in all of our modern minds”. Every narrative has the potential to show us something powerful and important about the human condition. Life is messy and so should art be. The Bible, after all, is filled with messy stories. But we find God’s hand of redemption in all of them. My faith in God leads me to understand the inconceivable value of all people, and it breathes passion into every good endeavor. 

MS: What’s the song that you just can’t get out of your head right now? 

SH: “Ink” by Coldplay 

MS: Who are your top three musical influences? 

SH: Coldplay, John Mayer, Jon Foreman 

MS: Give us your cardboard testimony

SH: In need of grace and mercy. / Still in need of grace and mercy. 

MS: What is the most important life lesson you have learned? What struggles did you have to go through to learn it? 

SH: What’s the truest thing about me? That’s the question I’ve learned to ask myself. The truest thing about any one of us is that we are loved by God. When you know who you are, you know what your purpose is. The cross reminds me every day. 

MS: How are three specific ways my readers can pray for you in the next year? 

SH: That would be so wonderful, thank you. I’m always praying for wisdom. Lately, I’ve been focusing on being patient in all things. And please pray for peace. 

WANT MORE SHANE? Check out this interview with Family Christian, in which Shane describes his Christian upbringing and his personal journey to own his faith, and gives us glimpse into being a vocal Christian in Hollywood.

Why Justin Bieber Needs Our Prayers, Not Our Gossip

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When controversial videos of Justin Bieber surfaced recently (with a young teenage Bieber spouting off racial slurs), he once again positioned himself in the glare of the public spotlight.

In a previous post, I wrote: “I’ve always felt a compassion for young celebrities, [who], like all young people, are in the awkward transition into adulthood, no doubt making mistakes in the process. The only difference? Celebrities will make their mistakes in the scrutiny of the public eye.” Unfortunately, we treat celebrities not as mere entertainers, but as entertainment themselves. The public places them under continuous scrutiny, and we “regular people” feel entitled to criticize their every move.

The fame cycle is intriguing: celebrities are worshipped one moment, and then become the object of ridicule the next. They live in a constant Catch-22. Placed on a pedestal, they are unable to do anything wrong. Placed under a microscope, they are unable to do anything right.

A deep prayer of mine is that one day, Christians would come to view celebrities as real people who carry their own share of brokenness. Whenever a fellow Christian makes a critical comment about a celebrity, I flinch. It stings especially coming from the pulpit. Gossip is a sin, whether it’s someone you know personally or not (more about that here). As someone once said: “If you spend time praying for people instead of talking about them, you’ll get better results.”

I first considered working for Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) full-time upon learning about its founding. Co-founders Bill Bright and his wife Vonette began reaching out to college students at the UCLA campus in the 1950s. Their main demographic was student leaders, especially members of fraternities and sororities. Bill Bright believed that while churches had plenty of ministries serving Skid Row and jails, they lacked existing outreach towards college students and executive leaders. These were the influential leaders of today and tomorrow. No doubt, Jesus cares for the orphans, widows, homeless and the poor. But I don’t think He ever meant to exclude the cultural leaders (Don’t believe me? Brush up on the stories of Nicodemus and The Rich Young Ruler: both powerful, privileged individuals whom Jesus did not turn away).

Besides the video controversy, Bieber has had a rocky year thus far with his January DUI arrest, criminal vandalism (“egging”) charge, and his high-profile on-again, off-again relationship with Selena Gomez. But soon after the controversial videos leaked, Bieber posted an excerpt from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling devotional book on his Instagram account. Just a few days ago, Bieber and Selena Gomezattended a bible study together.

Someone once said that the Gospel is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread for free. Unfortunately, we Christians are quick to point out the sins and shortcomings of celebrities, yet rarely do we take the awareness of celebrities’ flaws as a catalyst to pray for them. Eighteenth-Century Scottish Preacher Oswald Chambers said that “God gives us discernment not so we can judge, but so we can be intercessors.”

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not advocating that we excuse the wrong behavior of celebrities. I simply want to challenge fellow Christians to choose to see past the fame to the brokenness, and as a result, to extend compassion.

Bieber reminds me a lot of David in the Bible. Both are public figures who committed giant mistakes in the public eye. But even after committing adultery and murder, God still chose to use David as a King. In the same way, I believe God still plans to use Bieber in a mighty way in pop culture, not because he is perfect, or the most well-behaved Christian, but because he is a broken human being desperate for God’s grace.

In my own personal life, I’ve been learning that I don’t give hope to others by having it all together. I give hope by being transparent about my flaws, yet being secure in the love and forgiveness that Christ Jesus provides. It has been my prayer for the past several months that Bieber would have a “Gethsemane” experience. As Christian Author Ken Gire says, Gethsemane is “where we go when there’s no place to go but God” (Source). In other words, we usually meet God at rock-bottom.

It’s my deepest desire to see young celebrities like Justin Bieber to arrive at their “Gethsemane” to truly see their need for grace. I would love to see every young celebrity have a similar experience to what Anthony Evans describes in his song “The Way That You Love Me.”

My way, destroying me / I couldn’t see I was my worst enemy / So You took away till my soul ached / And I knew that it was no mistake / Anything that meant anything to me was gone

You love me so much that You let me fall knowing that / I would lose it all and hear Your call / You love me so much that You chase me / When I ran away You captured me / By letting me run to the end of myself /…This is the way, the way that You love me

QUESTION: Would you join me in lifting celebrities up in prayer, to nudge them towards their rock-bottom, and ultimately towards Jesus Christ?

Resources:Intense Moments with the Savior by Ken Gire

'Dear Hollywood': An Open Letter from Anthem Lights

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Earlier this month, Christian band Anthem Lights released a lyric video for their song “Dear Hollywood” off their latest album You Have My Heart. The band is more widely known for their acoustic covers of pop songs on YouTube (last year, they won Ryan Seacrest’s contest for best Taylor Swift cover of all time with “We Are Never Getting Back Together”). Still, all of their original songs are clearly faith-based. I always had an inkling that they shared my desire to engage an unbelieving culture for the sake of Christ, and not simply create music that preaches to the choir. I no longer have any doubts.

In the Behind The Song video interview, band member Caleb Grimm says the song is “the conversation that we would want to have…if each of us (band members) could sit down with a celebrity.”

The song points to the spiritual emptiness that plagues many celebrities:

Broken hearted but pretending you’re alright / You’ve lived out every dream / But something missin’ / There’s a bigger picture calling you tonight / You could know your worth if you would only listen

The calling to reach out to these people is urgent, for the Bible says that “the human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 18:14).

In the song, the band also tells Hollywood that “It breaks my heart that you still look away / From the perfect love that’s right there on display.” Jesus Christ is the only one who is able to fill a human being’s insatiable desire to be known, admired, and accepted. Not even the biggest or most loyal fan base can accomplish that.

Besides the celebrities themselves, their fans are spiritually hungry as well. And the artists have the greatest potential to influence those fans for good. Through the song, Anthem Lights also tells Hollywood that “There’s so much good that you could do / With so many eyes watching you /…When all the world is listening.”

Alan Powell, another band member, says that as fellow musicians, the band has an “overwhelming desire to see this medium of entertainment be used in an uplifting way. Tragically,…it’s used to glorify things that are not edifying, that aren’t uplifting to the individual, more specifically, are not glorifying to God.”

To be clear, Alan says, “we don’t mean this in any means like pointing fingers, like ‘Hollywood, you’re stupid.’” Rather, it’s simply to point out the entertainment industry’s potential.

“There’s so much influence that they have,” says Caleb. “In a very real way, entertainers run the world.”

Alan shares his hope for Christians who hear the song. “As a believer, you either feel this way about Hollywood, or you’re like ‘Oh, man I should feel that way,’ or it’s like ‘Yeah, I didn’t know it, but that’s the way I feel.’”

I used to think I was the only person who saw celebrities in this way. But as God once showed Paul, He has “many people in this city” (Acts 18:10). I’m glad to know that I’m not alone.

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How God Redeemed My Broken Dream

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I still remember the day. It was the summer of 2011 in Colorado. Moses and I were two months away from marriage and we sat in a park discussing our future: our pending marriage and my career. The pit in each of our stomachs spoke of the anxiety we were feeling. Unanswered questions flooded our minds. I had no doubt that God was calling us to be married, but knowing that only added to my confusion. God, if You truly wanted us to be together, why would our careers clash like this?

For two years prior to our engagement, Moses had worked at the Christian non-profit organization Cru, developing New York City high school students spiritually via afterschool discussion groups, Bible studies, and one-on-one mentoring. Cru strongly encouraged married couples to become full-time staff members together, because the “job” was not simply a nine-to-five. It required a flexibility to mentor high school students after school, during evenings and weekends. It required swapping a paid salary for a requirement to raise financial support through individual donors. Moses felt an undeniable call to take the plunge. Me? I wasn’t so sure.

I always had a love for helping teenagers develop spiritually, but my deepest desire was to get to the root of the false ideologies force-fed to them via popular music, movies and television. Pop media are the poisoned wells from which teenagers drink their beliefs. Therefore, in college, I made it my life goal to be an entertainment magazine writer.

I’ve also felt a compassion for young Hollywood stars like Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, and the Jonas Brothers. Young celebrities, like all young people, are in the awkward transition into adulthood, no doubt making mistakes in the process. The only difference? Celebrities will make their mistakes in the scrutiny of the public eye.

As a mainstream magazine writer, I hoped to call out the falsehoods of pop media, and eventually befriend celebrities, helping them form personal relationships with Christ. Many teenagers will also emulate celebrities, oblivious to the discontentment and spiritual emptiness lurking beneath the fame, money and glamour–it’s a vicious cycle.

Soon, I landed internships with a Manhattan television production company, an online fashion magazine and the marketing department of a board game company. I had a growing network of media professionals in New York City; God seemed to be opening doors for me to reach all of my goals.

Yet here I was, weeks before my wedding, anxious instead of excited. I applied for the job at Cru, but grudgingly. Frankly, I was mad at God. All those years of praying, of crying out on celebrities’ behalf, would they all go to waste? Would I even get to meet them, to get a chance to be their friends and really invest in their lives? Why would You tease me by allowing me to progress in my media career just to pull the rug from under me?  

My life verse has always been Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” But at that point in my life, I truly doubted whether or not God was out to harm me. Despite how I felt, out of sheer obedience to God, I decided I would take the job at Cru.

I realized that like God testing Abraham with Isaac (Genesis 22), He was asking me to put my career on the altar. Like the Israelites and Baal, I had forged my own idol to replace God (Numbers 25). Making a name for myself as an entertainment journalist, even with the noble intention of using it as a ministry, was nothing short of prostituting my God-given gifts for my benefit–it was not worshipping God. Nineteenth Century Scottish preacher Oswald Chambers put it this way: “Our Lord calls to no special work: He calls to Himself” (My Utmost for His Highest). I became obsessed with my ministry at the expense of my relationship with God, and it took a toll on the health of my spirit.

In retrospect, I can see God’s sovereignty and foresight; He knew that three years later,  I would be a mom of two. The flexible schedule that Cru allows, especially to moms of young children, would no doubt be absent for a full-time journalist. With this blog, God has provided me with the platform to call out the false claims of Hollywood. Not to mention, if I had worked at a mainstream magazine, I would not have the freedom to be as vocal about my faith.

Hebrews 12:2 admonishes us Christians to look to Jesus Christ as “the author and finisher of our faith.” I know God is far from finished with developing my faith. I still haven’t befriended any celebrities. But after that ordeal, I’ve grown to trust God’s character. I can stand firm on the truth that no matter the circumstance, God always has my best in mind.

QUESTION: What dreams have you left behind in pursuit of following God? 

What the Miley Cyrus VMA Scandal Taught Us About Gossip

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As media coverage finally dies down on the Miley Cyrus VMA scandal, I think this is the best time to put in my two cents.

First, I’m confused with the double standards the entertainment media has. Entertainment journalists will not think twice about Lady Gaga baring her body, while Miley is quickly vilified. Granted, Lady Gaga has made her name by being shocking, while Miley’s claim to fame was Disney’s Hannah Montana. Still, I value consistency over hypocrisy. If only the media would pick their convictions and go with it: Should we praise hyper-sexualized pop music or not? It’s unclear. Instead, publications just flip flop and criticize when it’s convenient to sell papers or gain page views.

But that’s all another topic for another day. To me, the deep-rooted issue at hand here is gossip. It’s not just the media at fault here, but you and me: the readers, the viewers, the water-cooler discuss-ers. Christian or not, we somehow feel entitled to talk down on celebrities, as if they weren’t human.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying there’s no room to constructively critique unbiblical and destructive behavior promoted by celebrities or the media in general. My entire blog’s purpose is exactly that. But we must examine our motives when we thoughtlessly tweet, post or otherwise share our opinion on the latest celebrity gossip. Am I speaking out of a genuine concern for this celebrity or with any hint of malicious intent?

As I like to ask myself: Am I building up this celebrity by making this comment? What if, instead of speaking about this celebrity, I lifted him or her up in prayer?

My good friend Fallon Prinzivalli, frequent guest contributor on this blog, tweeted the other day, “Miley cried during her first live performance of ‘Wrecking Ball.’ Can we all stop pretending she isn’t a human being now?”

Too many of us think celebrities “deserve” all the backlash they receive, that “it’s part of their job.” We forget that they are fragile human beings, not unbreakable demi-gods. The sad thing is that if we were on the receiving end of such harsh comments, we would be quick to object, rightly labeling it as cruel.

As with gossip in “everyday life”: celebrity gossip is destructive to the party being gossiped about (celebrity), as well as the party doing the gossip (us). Celebrity gossip is not a victimless crime; it is destructive to our soul.

Christian author Elizabeth George presented a great biblical defense against gossip in her book A Woman’s High Calling.

According to George, the word “slanderer” is used many times in the New Testament. Its original Greek translation, diabolos, means malicious gossip, “slanderer,” “false accuser”–bringing charges against another, usually with hostile intent.

Titus 2:3 and 1 Timothy 3:11 call us Christians to be “not slanderers,” not “scandal mongers,” “not given to intrigue,” “avoiding scandal,” “not given to slandering,” “who will not talk scandal,” “saying no evil of others.” Can we honestly exclude our judgmental comments about Miley or any other celebrity from these categories?

George narrows down the causes of gossip to the following:

1. Evil Heart (Luke 6:45)

2. Hatred (Psalm 109:3)

3. Foolishness (Proverbs 10:18)

4. Idleness (1 Timothy 5:13)

Are any of these heart conditions driving my temptation to participate in celebrity gossip?

George sums it up like this:

Gossip harms us. When you and I gossip, we incur a huge loss. What kind of loss? We suffer the loss of character, respect, and dignity, not to mention the loss of spiritual growth and usefulness. As an old proverb says, 'Let not your tongue cut your throat.’

As Miley’s VMA incident fades from the media spotlight, no doubt, the media is cooking up another celebrity mishap to blow out of proportion this week. How will we react?

I’ll leave you to reflect on one of my all-time favorite verses: Philippians 4:8.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

Not just for Beliebers: Justin's Emotional Acoustic Track "Nothing Like Us"

Listen here to Bieb’s new, emotional track written for his ex Selena Gomez.

According to Ryan Seacrest,  “[Justin] played the song back for [manager] Scooter [Braun] after he recorded it and Scooter said, ‘This is amazingly compelling and authentic and real and what you’re going through, we’ve got to put it on the acoustic album.’”

At first, Justin deemed it “too personal” to be released. A couple days later, he decided “it was so personal it should be on the album.”

Personally, I’m happy to have the soulful, authentic songwriter and performer Justin Bieber back. Don’t get me wrong, I have my own personal jam sessions to ”Boyfriend,“ ”Beauty and a Beat,“ and ”As Long As You Love Me. But I’ll take this boy with a lone instrument and his voice anyday (a la “Where Are You Now” piano version circa 2009). This is what pop music should be.

Nothing Like Us:

Lately I’ve been thinking

Thinking ‘bout what we had

I know it was hard

It was all that we knew

Have you been drinking?

To take all the pain away

I wish that I could give you what you deserve

Cuz nothing can ever, ever replace you

Nothing can make me feel like you do, yeah

You know there’s no one I can relate to

I know we won’t find a love that’s so true

There’s nothing like us

There’s nothing like you and me

Together through the storm

There’s nothing like us

There’s nothing like you and me together

I gave you everything, babe

Everything I had to give

Girl why would you push me away

Lost in confusion like an illusion

You know I’m used to making your day

But that is the past now

We didn’t last now

I guess that this is meant to be

Tell me was it worth it

We were so perfect

But baby I just want you to see

There’s nothing like us

There’s nothing like you and me

Together through the storm

There’s nothing like us

There’s nothing like you and me together

There’s nothing like us

There’s nothing like you and me

Together through the storm

There’s nothing like us

There’s nothing like you and me together

Did you guys know that Elton John wrote “Candle in the Wind” about Marilyn Monroe? She was such a strong soul. 

Candle in the Wind By Elton John

Goodbye Norma Jean
Though I never knew you at all
You had the grace to hold yourself
While those around you crawled
They crawled out of the woodwork
And they whispered into your brain
They set you on the treadmill
And they made you change your name

And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Never knowing who to cling to
When the rain set in
And I would have liked to have known you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did

Loneliness was tough
The toughest role you ever played
Hollywood created a superstar
And pain was the price you paid
Even when you died
Oh the press still hounded you
All the papers had to say
Was that Marilyn was found in the nude

Goodbye Norma Jean
From the young man in the 22nd row
Who sees you as something as more than sexual
More than just our Marilyn Monroe