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Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

Exclusive interview with John Cooper of Skillet

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Teens for Life is pleased to present this exclusive interview with John Cooper, front man for the band Skillet that is taking the nation by storm with its 2010 Awake tour.

Since Skillet last hit the studio for 2006’s breakthrough project Comatose, certified GOLD by the RIAA, the group’s toured with the likes of mainstream megastars Breaking Benjamin, Three Days Grace, Seether and Flyleaf, and headlined a slew of major Christian festivals, all followed by solo tours that ranked within Pollstar’s Concert Pulse Top 50 Tours for 2008. Along the way, the two-time Grammy®-nominated alternative outfit also scored six consecutive number one Christian radio singles, a 2008 GMA Dove Award for “Rock Song of the Year,” and a 2009 nomination for Artist of the Year. Along with a trio of singles on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock charts, being a pair of BMI Songwriting Awards, and being chosen as Reader’s Poll favorites on several top ccm websites, they released their first ever concert CD/DVD combo pack “Comatose Comes Alive.” Thus, calling the last three years a whirlwind would certainly be an understatement.

As a former perennial favorite at the Pro-Life Music Festival in Warsaw, Indiana, Skillet has been up front about its commitment to life and faith and has earned the strong following of a fan base worldwide.

Here’s what John Cooper had to say:

Your new album is really getting a lot of attention nationwide. Did you find it difficult or intimidating to write the new album in the wake of the success you had with Comatose?

COOPER: I found the writing process for “Awake” incredibly intimidating! Our last record had garnered so many new fans that the pressure was definitely on! Plus, you have so many new voices telling you what kind of song to write; what to sing about; how to sing it, etc. Sometimes it’s hard to find your true voice when so many people are speaking at once. I prayed over and over before deciding on the songs to choose. Finally, it came down to being true to myself and trusting God’s leading in the lyrics and messages he had given me.

Is there a central theme or core message that you wanted to bring across in Awake?

COOPER:. The main theme of this record is based on the fact that every single day we wake up there is a war going on. Not in Iraq, or Afghanistan, but a war for your soul. The world is trying to take you down; tell you that you are nothing; tell you how you should dress; what to say; what to believe; what you have to accomplish to be “cool.” I say that in spite of this war, NOW is the time to stand up for what we believe. We are not ashamed, we are not afraid. We are AWAKE AND ALIVE! God has given us a message of love and it’s time for us to speak it and live it. Other themes on the record include personal struggle. How do I speak and live this message of hope when I can struggle with so many problems? How can I make a difference when sometimes I don’t FEEL hopeful? These are real issues that I think most people deal with.

What prompted you to write the song Monster?

COOPER: “Monster” is a song about something the Bible refers to as “the sinful nature,” or “the old self.” This basically means that now that I have been saved and forgiven, and am a new creation in Christ, why do I sometimes still feel like a monster inside? Sometimes I don’t feel like doing what is right and good. Sometimes it’s easier to get angry with people who treat me wrong instead of loving them with Jesus’ love. I think we can all relate to that. This song is saying that there is a secret side to me that struggles, but I know it’s not the real me. The song says, “Why won’t somebody come and save me from this, make it end!”

Skillet has always been up front about its faith. With the band’s exploding popularity, are you facing pressure to tone down the faith message in your music?

COOPER:. There is definitely pressure to tone down the message. I don’t care about record sales as much as I care about standing up for Jesus. However, a big consideration is that when you sing to a new audience, you may need to change the way you present the message in order for them to relate to it. That is why Skillet does not sing “worship” songs on our records. I LOVE worship songs, but when you are reaching out to a non-Christian world, those listeners have no earthly idea what you are talking about to say “shout to the Lord all the earth…” So Skillet has tried to find ways of giving hope and the peace of Christ through writing songs that ALL people can relate to, not just Christians.

A lot of new fans have never seen Skillet live. What can they expect when they come to a Skillet show?

COOPER: Skillet has been known for putting on a loud, energetic show. This may seem obvious for a rock band. However, we have told for over 10 years that fans never expected us to be so crazy live! I love performing. I love listening to a crowd sing back the lyrics to our songs. Therefore, we put everything we have into the performance as well as the production of the show. We have been known to lose money on a tour because we spent too much on stage effects! I tell my manager, “Hey, you gotta keep people coming back baby!”

What do you want people to take away from a Skillet show?

COOPER: I want people to get their faces rocked off! I don’t want to be the cheesy, watered down “Christian” version of rock and roll…sort of like “The diet coke of rock and roll!” I want Christian listeners to feel good about coming to the show and bringing their friends because the Skillet show is just as good or better than our secular counterparts. Lastly, I want people to leave with hope. Knowing that in a world that is getting darker and more violent; and a world that tells you that you don’t matter unless you are rich and popular, that YOU matter to God. He simply loves you just as you are.

A lot of teens just feel beat down by life. What would you say to a teen who is feeling like their life really doesn’t matter?

COOPER: Most people who think they they are insignificant and believe that they will never matter to anyone have bought the lies of this world. They are losing the war that I mentioned earlier…the war for your soul. They have bought the lie that says that life is about being cool and “fitting in.” It’s about getting “stuff” and buying things that make you feel significant. It’s about having a hot bikini bod and so on. We as Christians need to understand that life is about NONE of those things. Life is about knowing God. Pure and simple. It’s about the fact that the God of the universe knows your name, and cares about you enough to die for you. Everyone on this earth has felt lonely at times. All of us know pain and hurt, and we all feel insignificant at times. But the answer is not in material things, nor is it found in having friends and having a thousand people follow you on twitter. Those things do not make you significant, and they do not give you peace and rest. It can only be found in Jesus. You have to lose your life so you can find it in Him.

What words of advice can you give to those teens out there who have a passion to get involved in the music industry?

COOPER: My strongest advice for people wanting to get involved in music is to know your calling. Many Christians say that they want to do music for God. However, they really just want to play music. Most of the Christians that I have met that say they want to do Christian music in the mainstream world and play with secular bands never really make a difference for God. These bands usually end up acting more like the world themselves rather than changing it. I am not judging anyone’s calling on this, because I myself feel called to play music in the mainstream market! Secondly, some bands have done an incredible job of being a light in the dark world of rock and roll. It can be done! But you must know your calling and be accountable to people for your actions. On the other hand, many Christians want to play music in the Christian market. However, they never really decide what kind of music. I am mainly referring to the huge difference between pop and worship music. I have seen a lot of worship bands that have no idea how to lead people in worship, they are merely performing. If you feel called to play worship music then you simply need to learn to worship God, and subsequently learn how to lead other people in worshipping God! All of these callings are good and right. I have found that unless you seek God and know your calling, you may not be as useful to God as you could be.

What’s up next for Skillet?

COOPER: Skillet will be touring endlessly this year! We have an amazing tour scheduled with TobyMac. We also have an upcoming tour with RED. We will be playing Christian festivals and mainstream radio shows all summer long. Keep checking our website (http://skillet.com) and our MySpace (http://myspace.com/skilletmusic), because with as much touring as Skillet does, we will definitely be coming to a city near you!

Exclusive interview with Rebecca St. James of “Sarah’s Choice”

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

sarahs-choice

A Teens for Life exclusive! Here is our recent interview with Rebecca St. James, star of the new film “Sarah’s Choice”:

TFL: This is obviously a really big change of pace for you stepping into a starring role in a feature film. Tell us a little bit about how you were approached to play the role of Sarah Collins and what made your decision to accept this challenge?

Rebecca: Part of the setup for me being prepared to say yes is that God has really given me a passion for faith and family films, a mounting passion for it over the last four or five years or so. In the last year I moved to California because of doors opening in the film arena and this real sense of calling to be a believer in Hollywood helping to shape content. I think a huge percentage of America want films that have family values. I think there’s a real need for it and films that Christian parents can trust to show to their families. So God has given me a passion for that, and then last year I got involved with a crisis pregnancy center in LA through a couple of friends and saw the need for films and music that encourage the pro-life message. It made me think of Bella, directly talking about the pro-life message. But there’s very, very little that supports what these crisis pregnancy centers are doing. They’re literally saving lives. They’re being Jesus’ hands and feet to these people that are in an incredible crisis feeling tremendous amounts of pain, and fear and pressure. What they’re doing is so wonderful and they need resources that help encourage what they are doing. I remember being at this crisis pregnancy center banquet going “Lord, show me what I can do to help”. And then months later I was asked to audition for the role of Sarah in Sarah’s Choice. When I got the role, I knew exactly who to go to for research material. I went to the pregnancy centers and said ‘load me up’. I really wanted to get into the mind and heart of a girl like Sarah so that I can empathetically play this role. So there was a lot of lead up for this, and I have spoken about saving sex for marriage for really about fifteen years and I’ve done crisis pregnancy center fundraising events before. It’s got that message that true love waits. The purity message goes hand in hand with the pro-life message because if they wait they don’t wind up in that situation so it got to my heart in a lot of different ways.

TFL: Tell us about the preparation you did at the crisis pregnancy centers. Did you actually sit in with counseling with young women? Tell us a little about that process and what you did to absorb yourself into that whole experience.

Rebecca: Right. My preparation on the front end, before I even knew about the movie, was happening because I think God had sent me on that journey. The preparation that I had, months before I knew about the movie, was being involved with this pregnancy center. I went to their fundraising banquet, and I saw what they were doing . I saw the kids’ lives were being saved, heard the testimonies of different girls, one of whom was eight months pregnant. She had had abortions in the past and was carrying that baby to term because of the crisis pregnancy center. It was their support, their love that was allowing her the strength to do that. I also went to the center and had a tour and saw kind of what they do, all facets of it from the counseling rooms and the ultrasound machine to the part where they have resources, diapers, and clothes for that new mother. Then I also went to another in-home event with Patricia Heaton from Everybody Loves Raymond. She is a big pro-life supporter, and so she had a fundraising/awareness event at her house for the Westside Pregnancy Clinic. Those are the kind of events I was involved with months before I knew about the movie. Then, when I knew about it, I went to the pregnancy center and said ‘Please load me up with books’. So I actually read a lot of books! It was like book after book after book. Reading these stories of girls that were in these actual situations really encountering fear and the pressure and the pain they feel and then realizing that even though I haven’t been through that exact same situation, I have felt a lot of pressure and fear and pain in my life and so I brought my real pain from my life to the table in that set of circumstances.

TFL: In the film there is a very strong theme of forgiveness, and we think that’s one of the things that maybe stood out from previous pro-life films that have been produced. There is a real focus on the post-abortion forgiveness aspect of everything as well as forgiveness for wrong decisions people make in their lives. We understand this was a core reason that drove you to the film. What would you say to a seventeen year old girl who has had an abortion, and who may come to you and say ‘I’ve done this, I feel terrible about this, and I know God cannot forgive me for what I’ve done’. How would you respond to her?

Rebecca: Well, I would hug her first off and just let her know that she is loved by God and maybe even share a few things that I remind myself of. My life has looked very different but I have to remind myself of the fact that the Bible says there is no condemnation for all who are in Christ. So if she belongs to Jesus, has given her heart to Jesus, she is not condemned. That little baby is in heaven and one day she’s going to see that child again. She can be forgiven and set free. I have met countless women who have gone through exactly that, including two friends of mine who had abortions and are believers and have received God’s forgiveness. Now the pain of that is still real, the pain of that past decision is still real in their lives. And I’ve seen their tears, but they have received God’s forgiveness and His healing. I would just speak that love and forgiveness and hope because the truth is all of us can beat ourselves up about things we’ve done in the past, but we also know that God doesn’t want us to live in that shame or that guilt. He wants us to live in freedom and hope that He’s given us because of Jesus. That’s what I would share. The focus on forgiveness was something I was extremely happy about. In the script there was a strong focus on that and I think there needs to be.

TFL: Now you’ve taken a very public stance on abstinence and the pro-life message during your entire career, and we’re just wondering – has it ever been difficult? Have you ever had people in the music industry or others that have kind of asked you to tone it down a little bit?

Rebecca: Yeah, I have. Honestly, though, on the whole I really haven’t felt very much persecution for my stand at all. I think young people in high school who are living a pure life probably receive more persecution than I have. Largely because I am speaking to people who are Christians and essentially believe that purity is God’s way and the best way. I’ve actually received a lot of affirmation for it, but I was at a large festival – a Christian festival – in Europe a few years back and they told my management unbeknownst to me before the show that they didn’t want me to speak about purity. Management did not share that with me and I went on with what I needed to do. Even if I had known up front, we probably would have made a decision collectively that this is something God has put on our hearts that’s an incredibly important message and we should follow through with it because it’s a matter of calling. He has called me to speak up about that wherever I am and I think people know when they bring me in that I’m going to speak about purity on some level. But I didn’t know so I went ahead with it and I think afterwards they were fine with the fact that I had and the audience responded very well. It was in a particularly liberal country and I think they were worried about that message but it was received very well.

TFL: We understand from some of your advanced material that we received prior to this interview that you are actually planning on doing a series of different pro-life events throughout the country. Tell us a little bit more about what you will be doing in the months and year ahead.

Rebecca: In the first quarter of next year we are planning on doing quite a few crisis pregnancy center fundraising events, concerts and banquets that support what they are doing. It’s been neat for me to see God ignite my heart to support these pregnancy centers and the pro-life message and then for these opportunities to come because of the movie. So in all of these events I will be speaking about the pro-life message and my journey with this message and the movie, showing clips from the film and doing a little bit of music. So it will be a kind of music and speaking event. You know, I think God has so many ways to reach our hearts. Definitely the spoken word, music and film are all very profound ways that we are moved as humans and I’m excited to see what God’s going to do through those events.

TFL: There are a lot of fans out there that now are wondering, after they have seen Sarah’s Choice, is there another film in the works? Is there a new album in the works? What can your fans expect in the future for Rebecca St. James?

Rebecca: Well, I am actually working on a new album right now. It’s slated for recording the first quarter of next year, so I’m probably about halfway with writing the songs for that. And I’m touring some because of the film. I’m touring less than I used to be but we still are out there. I’m out to Texas next week. Films, yes, I filmed a movie called Rising Star, a family film that will be coming out in 2010. I did that a couple of months ago and then another film called To the Wall that will also be coming out next year. And then so far it looks like there will be two films I will be filming the first quarter of next year as well. I’m also working on a new book, a dating book, so there are quite a few irons in the fire. We would appreciate peoples’ prayers as we move into this new season as a team.

TFL: It certainly sounds like you’re going to be awfully busy. Here is one final question for you. What is the reaction that you are seeing so far with Sarah’s Choice since it hit the market?

Rebecca: You know, it’s been very positive from what I hear. I don’t tend to read my reviews, both music ones or movie ones or book ones, but I have heard that most of them have been very positive. I also heard that it did show up in the top forty or top fifty films, faith and family films, that first week. So we were happy to hear that. I don’t keep posted on numbers and stuff like that. I don’t feel like it’s my department, so I kind of stay out of that, but the response has been very good, and we’ve done screenings of it in Boston at a Christian film festival there and a screening in Baltimore at a conference. That was really encouraging for me because as you talked about, there is a strong focus on forgiveness and a lot of the people that are working at crisis pregnancy centers had an abortion in the past and that’s a big part of why they are passionate about helping girls in that situation. They don’t want other girls to go through what they have gone through. So, we screened the film in Baltimore in front of 800 or 900 crisis pregnancy center leaders from all over the country and there were tears at the end, especially when one of the characters who had an abortion in the past is writing a love note to her unborn child, naming that child, and then sending the letter to heaven on a helium balloon. It was a very, very profound moment . Then they gave a standing ovation, so we were very, very encouraged by that response knowing that these are people that we really want to encourage in their work.

TFL: Is there anything else that you wanted to add or share?

Rebecca: You know, one of my favorite life verses, probably my favorite verse right now, is Ephesians 3:20. It says that God’s power is in us, God can do much, much, much more than anything we can ask or imagine and I think sometimes in life we feel snowed under with so much pressure to compromise. That gives us encouragement to stand strong. And then as a young person, my favorite youth verse was 1 Timothy 4:12. It says ‘Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young but set an example for the believers in speech and life and love and faith and in purity’. I just want to encourage all of the teens that will read this to stay strong for God and don’t back down.