Tag Archives: casting crowns

Women of Faith: Finding My Faith with a Weirdo

11 Sep

The Women of Faith “Imagine” weekend in Philadelphia was not what I expected.  At all.  Instead of an authentic women’s conference, Women of Faith felt more like a fabricated “worship experience” that could be plopped down in any city to be enjoyed by the throngs.  In essence, I suppose that is what a Women of Faith weekend is—something that can be easily created and re-created for women all over the country.  Then again, isn’t that also what a concert tour is?  Yes.  But here’s how my Casting Crowns concert experience differed from Women of Faith—with Casting Crowns, I felt like I was having an authentic experience, but with Women of Faith, I felt like I was just another cog in the ol’ money making machine (which strikes me as funny since I received comp tickets for writing about the event).

The event started with a worship team made up of four female singers, who had excellent vocals.  However, there was no worship band, which meant the praise music was piped into the stadium and the ladies led the audience in a big sing-a-long.  In between songs, the singers shared one-to-two sentence insights, and dived into the next song.  These songs were loud, upbeat, and instead of leading worship, I felt like I was watching a Point of Grace concert.  It was just too perfect.  A live band, who could led worship by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, though it would require more set-up/tear down would have improved the worship immensely.

Sheila Walsh

Next, Sheila Walsh spoke about the woman who was bleeding for years before being healed by Jesus. Walsh was flawless in her presentation, using a combination of personal anecdotes, Scripture, and body language that really drove her message home.  I was very impressed with Walsh, but slightly confused when the lights went down at the end of her talk and she belted out “Amazing Grace.”  Apparently, Walsh is not only an author and a speaker, but a singer as well.  Anyway, she received a well-deserved standing ovation.

Then Women of Faith president, Mary Graham, took the stage to introduce well-known author and speaker Dr. Henry Cloud, who somehow snuck into a Women of Faith event, despite his obvious maleness.  Graham asked the audience if they knew what day it was.  One woman yelled out, “Your birthday?”  No, it was not Graham’s birthday, but it was “Wonderful Weirdos Day.”  Graham said that if anyone knew about weirdos, it was certainly Dr. Cloud (she called him “Henry,” but I feel more comfortable calling him Dr. Cloud or just “Cloud”).

Dr. Henry Cloud

While those around me seemed to think this was both a charming and personal introduction, I tried my best to hide the tears streaming down my face.  See, Dr. Henry Cloud is a clinical psychologist, the “weirdos” he works with are mentally ill.  As someone who has been in therapy since 2006, I suppose I could count myself among the “weirdos.”  It was then I wondered if I truly belonged at Women of Faith.  I thought about leaving, but I was in the very first row, so I tried in vain to choke back my tears.

Dr. Cloud mentioned a verse here and there, but mentioned his latest book, The Law of Happiness, a lot more.  I mean, if there was a drinking game for each mention of Boundaries or his latest book, the Women of Faith audience would have been rip roarin’ plastered.  Still, I thought Cloud was OK…until his second talk.  This time Cloud casually mentioned “hoarders.”  Instead of treating hoarding as a serious mental issue, Cloud talked lightly about how hoarders don’t get rid of things because they “might need it someday” or because of the emotional attachment to object.  Then Cloud joked that a hoarder probably wouldn’t get rid of her baby’s first poopy diaper because of its sentimental value.  What could have been a very important spiritual lesson about keeping things we don’t need (I do believe that was supposed to be Cloud’s point), the illustration derailed into a joke about hoarders.  Ha-ha, let’s all laugh at the mentally ill people whose gross houses we see on television.  As if seeing a half-hour program on someone’s life truly illustrates the frustrations of obsessive-compulsive disorder!  I assumed that Dr. Cloud, being a trained clinical psychologist would treat mental illness with a soft touch. He came across as brash and uncaring, especially when interchangeably throwing around the words “wacko” and “crazy.”

Pretty doodads hanging from the center of the "Imagine" WoF stage.

When Mary Graham took the stage again to announce that Sheila Walsh was going to talk about “their little monkeys” at World Vision, I just got up and left.  I didn’t even look back to see if my friend who accompanied me was following me out.  I ran right smack into a crowd of women gathered around the Women of Faith merchandise table.  “How much is this bag?” a well-dressed middle-aged woman asked a volunteer.

“Oh, you can’t buy that bag,” said the volunteer.  “It comes as part of a set.”  Apparently, it was a set-up to generate more income because in order to get a tote bag, a woman had to purchase either a $50 set (bag, mug, and some other stuff) or an $85 set (bag, two books, two albums, and a special treat). I could get a nicer bag at the Fossil outlet for the same amount of cash.  But I guess it wouldn’t have the Women of Faith logo on it!

However, I did leave my mark at Women of Faith, just after eating the subpar lunch provided for attendees, I decided to fill out a card for the Q&A session with Sheila Walsh and Dr. Henry Cloud.  I wrote, “Dr. Cloud, as a mental health professional do you think it’s appropriate to refer to the mentally ill as ‘weirdos’ and ‘wackos’?”

Then I turned the card over and wrote, “I have an M.A. in counseling.  I am mentally ill.  And, yes, my feelings were hurt.”  I doubt my question was chosen for the Q&A.  I guess I will never know.

"Wheat Field in Rain" or simply "Rain" by Vincent Van Gogh

I hoped my Women of Faith weekend in Philadelphia would be a time to reconnect my hardened heart with a living God—and it was.  However, that didn’t happen at the Women of Faith weekend; it occurred at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  There was something magnificent about glimpsing at Vincent Van Gogh’sStill Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers” painting for the first time—the real painting—not a print.  To discover the dimensions in his blobs of paint, to have tangible proof that my favorite painter lived and died, to be reminded that he was a madman (a “weirdo” or a “wacko”) and not recognized as a genius in his time.  I’m not calling myself a genius or believe that my “art,” my writing, will outlive my life.  I suppose I just felt more at home with a fellow weirdo’s priceless painting.

I was most affected by, “Wheat Field in Rain”, his depiction of beauty beyond the window of his asylum. Despite being interned at a mental hospital, Van Gogh still saw value in the world and still painted.  Sixteen dollars to get into the Philadelphia Museum of Art versus 100 bucks for a pre-fabricated “worship” experience at Women of Faith?  Next time, I’m going to skip the conference and head straight for the art museum.

*In exchange for a fair and honest evaluation of the Women of Faith weekend, I was given two complimentary tickets by Thomas Nelson.  Clearly, I was not required to write a positive review, only a fair review, and that is what I feel I did.  Other views may differ, and I truly hope that others did have a good time to connect with God and others at Women of Faith weekends and other events.*

A Sunday Story:: Becoming Real

20 Dec

By Brittney Switala, Special to Backseat Writer I’ll never forget that fatefully night in 3rd grade when I discovered the truth. It was late fall and the chill in the air seemed to make its way through my bedroom window and into my heart. I grabbed one Kleenex after another, stifling my sobs as I tried to make sense of it all. Santa Claus wasn’t real.

Earlier that day a friend told me a convincing story that rocked all that I believed to be true.  I had heard the naysayers before, but never listened. I knew there were some fake Santas at the mall. Santa was busy at his workshop and couldn’t make it to all of his engagements. But the one that comes on Christmas morning, now he was the real deal.

I came home from school and asked my mom about Santa. It was then that the house of cards fell. The letter Santa wrote back to me, an elaborate arrangement my parents had once made to keep me out of the house (including a trip to see Santa at the library) while mom finished putting the presents under the tree, both fakes. I remembered a phone call my dad had made to the Tooth Fairy to explain a situation of a tooth I’d lost that I didn’t have to put under my pillow. One after another I pondered the lies in my mind with anger and distrust. No Santa, so that means no Tooth Fairy and no Easter Bunny. What else shouldn’t I believe in?

“No Santa, so that means no Tooth Fairy and no Easter Bunny. What else shouldn’t I believe in?”

After holding me and attempting to comfort me my mom finally told me that it would help me to think about something else. So I finally came downstairs and watched “Who’s the Boss?” Mom was right, I laughed and ate popcorn. But I couldn’t shake the question, “So, is Jesus for real?”

My parents assured me that there were no more cover-ups. We went to church, read Bible stories and prayed because our faith was something that we valued. I had prayed the “Sinner’s Prayer” as a five-year-old and desired to please Jesus with my life. I learned what behaviors were most frowned upon- cussing, divorce, and disrespecting your parents. The older I got, the longer I realized the list was. I tried as hard as I could to be good enough, to answer the questions correctly in Sunday school. I kept my grades up and I spoke openly against abortion, pre-marital sex and underage drinking during high school.

It wasn’t until I was 30 that I discovered the shocking truth about Christians- we sin just like the world. Just as the truth that Santa was a fake should have been obvious to me as a nine year-old, the “perfect” Christian façade had all but escaped me. The PTL scandal, people who left our church because of divorce, a respected pastor who left the ministry because of alcoholism… I was convinced they were all exceptions to the rule. I had gone to church my whole life and knew how a Christian was supposed to live. In my mind, if they had all just tried harder they wouldn’t have fallen into sin.

I had gone to church my whole life and knew how a Christian was supposed to live. In my mind, if they had all just tried harder they wouldn’t have fallen into sin.

I honestly had never known that sin was an option for me.  We had good conversations at the dinner table as a family and talked about people who fell into affairs or got into drugs. We’d get upset about the country’s moral decline and feel sorry for the broken families. We’d read the Bible story of Joseph and praise him for fleeing a woman who wanted to take advantage of him. Overall I had a sense that if you were a Christian, an active follower of Jesus, then you would always overcome visible sin. In my own mind I was keeping all the rules of a good Christian life, without a whole lot of prayer or time in the Bible. So what was wrong with these pastors and evangelists who did spend all that time studying?

Four years ago my world came crashing down as I learned that someone close to me was being sexually abused and at about the same time I learned my husband was struggling with a pornography addiction.

Four years ago my world came crashing down as I learned that someone close to me was being sexually abused and at about the same time I learned my husband was struggling with a pornography addiction. My world view was rocked once again, strangely in a similar way to when I was nine years old. I yelled, out loud and in my journal, “I have been good, God, I have done all these things for You and I deserve better! You didn’t keep your end of the bargain! I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that there were times when I hated God. He had disappointed me and there was no simple “cause and effect” to explain my family’s upheaval.

My worldview had been very black and white, a worldview parents have ingrained in their children for generations. “Do something good, get a reward. Do something bad and get punished.” There was also no room in my heart for Christians to blatantly sin, and for me to respond with compassion. I had always been taught not to hang out with bad influences, which in a way is very good advice. But that also makes for a very small circle of friends, or at least a circle of people who I thought I could “help” because of their “issues.” And what if that scared sinner is me?

Among other things I struggle with bitterness, anxiety, pride, prayerlessness, and a fear that I’ll never be or look good enough.

Enter “Sinners Anonymous.” Hi, my name is Brittney. Among other things I struggle with bitterness, anxiety, pride, prayerlessness, and a fear that I’ll never be or look good enough. I don’t have an illness, an addiction, mistakes or hang-ups: I have sins, real and raw. I also know that habitual sins are just as prevalent among Christians as they are among non-Christians. Instead of being shocked and pointing fingers I’m more and more convinced that we should help people through their issues because we’ve been there, not because we are better. My husband has been an online mentor for men struggling with sexual sins for several years now. It is not uncommon for these mentors to work with 10-30 men at a time because the need is so great.

I am so glad that I now understand Christians are real people, but I never learned that from going to church or growing up in a Christian home. It happened when I came to grips with my pride about my personal “goodness” being as ugly a sin to God as mass murder. That is not a concept that often comes out in our black and white discipline at home. It is easy to assume that our “good kids” have a good understanding of God, when in fact our good kids may just be striving for positive attention.

Are we happy plastic people
Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness
And smiles to hide our pain
But if the invitation’s open
To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain
On our stained glass masquerade
Casting Crowns “Stained Glass Masquerade” from their CD “Lifesong”

What about at church? The church would be a better place if we’d pray about sin more than we do about our body aches and pains. How many people stay away from our churches because they don’t think they are “good enough?” And how many people inside the church (like I was) assume that they just need to keep working harder to be “good” like the people sitting beside me in the church pew.

“I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13. Becoming a Christian is not a silver bullet that means you won’t sin again. Christians do sin; often, horrifically, blatantly, and at times, unintentionally. They commit the same sins as non-Christians, but they have the power through Christ alone to choose not to sin. Freedom from habitual sin is possible through Jesus, but perfection is not happening on this side of eternity.

Santa brings the world toys in one night. Christians are “mostly” sinless. One by one I find myself chipping through the lies I’ve believed and I’m beginning to discover what it means to be “real.”

Brittney Switala is a Christian radio DJ for His Radio in Raleigh, North Carolina and voice talent for Yours and His Productions. Brittney has her B.A. in English/Communications from Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois.  Brittney has been married for 12 years and has two children, Lindsey and Micah. When not surfing Christian artist websites for the latest scoop, Brittney enjoys a good conversation and a cup of “gas station” cappuccino. Recently, Brittney’s biggest accomplishments have been finishing all the laundry and helping her son get potty trained.  Brittney has a passion for strong marriages. She is currently writing a book called Dare to Go Unnoticed, addressing how flirting and dressing to get noticed are dirty little secrets of the Christian female community.

Music Review:: Glory Revealed II: The Word of God in Worship

13 Jul

Finally!  Glory Revealed II: The Word of God in Worship, the follow-up to the multiple Dove Award-winning 2007 release Glory Revealed, is hitting the shelves today.  The album was written and recorded during a week long artist retreat and features 21 different artists including project leader Mac Powell (Third Day), Brandon Heath, Mark Hall (Casting Crowns), Shane & Shane, and many more!  The music itself is a fusion of grass roots, folk, and rock music blended with the incredible vocal talents of Christian music’s top talent.  Every song on the album is a toe-tapping, sing-along-out-loud blast of soul music.  My favorites include, “Wake Up Oh Sleeper” and “Cup O’ Salvation.”  Reminiscent of the City on a Hill series, Glory Revealed is not only getting artists to work on collaborative projects, but raising the bar on worship music.

Amy’s Score: 4.5 (out of 5)

Review:: Peace on Earth – Casting Crowns

2 Dec

By Clay W. Ginn From the haunting piano opening of “I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day” to the stirring string arrangement which closes “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”, Casting Crowns has created a beautiful Christmas album well worth a listen.

Creativity:: 7 – There is not a single original song on Peace on Earth. All are either traditional Christmas songs, covers of another artist’s music (Amy Grant’s “God Is With Us” and Paul Baloche’s “Christmas Offering”), or a rearrangement of their own music (“While You Were Sleeping” from Casting Crown’s 2005 album Lifesong). That being said, the arrangements are classic Casting Crowns. Lush piano blends with layered string arrangements, all held together by steady acoustic guitar.

Original Songs:: 4 – The only song that could be considered to be original could be “While You Were Sleeping” but it was previously released. The second verse is changed from the lyric that was on Lifesong, reflecting more of the Christmas story. It’s a deeply moving song to me, but for the purpose of originality, it’s been heard before.

Classic Covers:: 8 – The arrangements created by Casting Crowns on this album are solid, giving a unique take on them. The soft rock sound favored by the band makes these songs memorable, yet quiet enough to be played as background at you Christmas get-togethers.

Musical Score:: 9 – As stated before, the blending of the various musical elements is beautifully done.

Overall Holly Jolliness: 10 – After I listened to this disc the first time, I wanted my wife to listen to it. It’s a great addition to our Christmas collection (which we listen to more than just during the holiday season) and we’ll be listening to it often this year.

Total = 38 – Fans of Casting Crowns and fans of soft rock Christmas music can expect to find this album under their trees this year. It’s available now, so go out and get it!

Print copy of review.

To read our review guide lines, go here.

You can find Peace on Earth and the rest of our great “12 Days of Christmas Music” reviewed albums in Backseat Writer’s online store, Drive-By Shopping, under the “12 Days of Christmas Music” category!

Clay W Ginn is a software developer for a small company in North Texas. I’ve been married for nearly 12 years and am the father of three. I’m an avid reader, weather nut, and love playing my guitar and singing. My wife and I are huge fans of Walt Disney World, trying to get there once every couple of years. I grew up on a farm in rural Kansas, and attended seven different colleges before completing a Bachelor’s degree in Business Information Technology and a Master’s degree in Information Systems. In the past I’ve been a youth leader, worship leader, police dispatcher, accounting clerk, customer service representative, and a gumball machine builder. I love writing anything, from movie and music reviews to political screeds to comparisons of culture and faith. I’m even working on a novel as well.

Alive 2008 Recap

22 Jun

My dear friend, Jeff Greathouse, his beautiful wife, and their kids attended Alive 2008, a Christian music festivals taking place in Ohio. To read all about Jeff’s take on the fest, go to his blog (Alive:Wednesday, Alive: Thursday, Festival Photos, Concert Photos). He graciously allowed me to post some of his stellar concert pics on BSW.


David Crowder with a funny looking instrument.


David Crowder and his adoring public in black and white.

hawk nelson

…and Hawk Nelson! (Read BSW’s interview with Hawk Nelson’s front man, Jason Dunn here).

casting crowns

Casting Crowns

You can see the rest of Jeff’s concert pics on his blog. If you are attending a festival this summer, please shoot me an e-mail (amy@backseatwriter.com) and tell me all about it! I definitely want to get as many pics and recaps up as possible.

Slow Fade

23 May

Casting Crowns just released a music video for “Slow Fade” one of their songs off their latest album The Altar and the Door.  I previously blogged about this song, but I’m gonna repost part of that entry after the video.  Below is the dramatic “Slow Fade” video…

From Jan. 8, 2008’s entry, “It’s a Slow Fade When You Give Yourself Away“…

At the beginning of November, I had the pleasure of attending Casting Crowns current tour, The Altar and the Door (based on their latest album by the same title). The tour also includes Leeland and John Waller. I had listened to the new album a few times before I saw the concert, but not enough to have truly melded into the music. It’s when lead singer Mark Hall began to sing “Slow Fade” that tears started to well up in my eyes. As the song continued, the lyrics rang so true to my life, that I was a sloppy mess by the end of the song.

Ever since I first experienced the song that night, I’ve realized how sin in our lives can take us on that slow fade into unbelief. How each and every little compromise we make in our faith is one step closer to collapse. Fortunately, we have a merciful and loving God who is always faithful to welcome us back into the arms of grace. However, what about those who suffer along the way due to our actions, and what if we fade so far we never choose to come back?

In relationships with both of my parents, I can see their slow fade into something else and how that’s truly damaged the family unit we once had. Of course, now my parents are divorced and with other partners, which leads into complicated family dynamics. Yet it’s a slow fade when a daddy uses the internet to chat, ends up chatting with women, bears his soul to someone other than his wife, talks to that woman on the phone, meets her in person, has a romantic relationship with her, leaves his family, and gets a divorce. Each and every step along the way adds to the slow fade.

I love that Mark Hall has his daughter sing the last stanza of this song on the album (which by the way, if you don’t have it, you should pick it up). It serves as a reminder to Daddies (and Mommies) everywhere that a compromise is not just about you, but it’s about your kids, too. Children don’t choose to be “children of divorce”–it’s just thrust upon them. Kids don’t have a say when a new step dad comes into the family; they have to accept it. There is so much hurt, pain, abandonment before the divorce, during the divorce, and after the divorce that children (not just minors–any children, even adult children) must carry around. The little girl’s singing has a haunting effect serving as a reminder how choices affect others, especially the ones we love. Yet the song rips out the very heart of someone who can see the anguishing slow fade of a parent, friend, mentor, and a loved one.

2008 Dove Award Winners

24 Apr

The 2008 GMA Dove Awards winners were announced last night during an awards ceremony at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville marking the end of this year’s GMA Week. Was I there? No. Did I want to be there? Sort of. Will I be there next year? God only knows. But I would definitely want to be someone’s date to the Dove Awards so I could wear a cool dress and, uh, have a date. Alas, my dating life is not the topic of this post, so without further ado (and foolish asides), I bring you the winners of the 2008 Dove Awards (of course you could just as easily read about them here you would miss my amusing banter)…

Song of the Year went to “East to West” a song off Casting Crowns‘ latest album, The Altar and the Door. Casting Crowns also picked up an award for Group of the Year. The only female nominated for Songwriter of the Year, Cindy Morgan, took that award home while one of the only other ladies to win an award, Natalie Grant, won for Female Vocalist of the Year. Chris Tomlin the reigning king of Vocalist of the Year won again, but TobyMac was pronounced Aritst of the Year.

While all these artists should be congratulated for their hard work and recognition, there were two wins that really touched my heart–Producer of the Year Ian Eskelin and New Artist of the Year Brandon Heath. Having interviewed both Eskelin (read “Creative Output” and “Making Love”) and Heath (read “Missional Musician”), I found both men to be kind, godly, and dedicated artists. Ian Eskelin is truly one of my favorite producers (and musicians) and I enjoy Brandon Heath’s singer/songwriter style. Congrats, guys!

Although I still think that All Star United’s cheeky “Song of the Year” should have been nominated–I mean, how funny would that be?


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