Which Is the Better Story @Image Journal’s Good Letters blog

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox Studios.

“There’s a scene early in Ang Lee’s majestic Life of Pi film in which the main character watches everything he loves die. Pi is floating in a vast, murky sea as the ship carrying his family and their zoo animals recedes into the distance and sinks. His arms are stretched out wide and his whole body seems to reach for them as they slip away.

This is the moment when I forgot I was wearing 3-D glasses and felt as if I was in the water with Pi, losing everything I love. I’m not sure I would have reacted as viscerally as I did to the scene if it had not been produced in 3-D. As it was, I sat in my seat and wept.”

Read my whole [spoiler alert!] review at Good Letters. It’s my first appearance at the Image blog and I’m honored to see my byline there.

Recapturing Innocence With Ang Lee @TheHighCalling

NYC Life of Pi Press Junket

Director Ang Lee in New York City, courtesy Explorations Media, L.L.C.

The sound of a baby’s laughter. A six year old’s wide-eyed wonder on Christmas morning. The moment you first believed. Who doesn’t want to relive innocence like that?
For Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee, recapturing innocence in life, in filmmaking, in the cinematic experience is at the heart of his film adaptation of Yann Martel’s best-selling novel, Life of Pi. Speaking to a group of journalists in New York City last month, Lee said the film is about what happens to a young boy’s innocence after the ship carrying his zoo-keeping family sinks and he’s set adrift on a lifeboat with a dangerous tiger.

The ocean becomes like a desert, Lee said. “It’s a test of his faith, his strength.” …

Read the whole thing at The High Calling.

An Ode to the Jersey Shore @NJShorePatch

confluence in point pleasant beachThe most beautiful place I’ve ever been is the top of a mountain in the Austrian Alps. It was Easter Sunday 2001 after a rain storm. A group of us were in Austria for 18 days doing construction work on a church in the valley below and took a windy drive up, up, and up into the sky to have lunch at a country inn that rightfully belonged in a fairytale.

We were literally enveloped by clouds. I felt as if I could reach out and touch heaven with my hand. The physical and metaphysical worlds merged to a degree that I’ve never experienced before or since. Perhaps it was the altitude.

Men were dressed in lederhosen and women in colorful dirndls. There was homemade cheese, speck, and plenty of beer. Way too much beer for the Austrians. One man fell off his bar stool, hit the stone floor with a frightening thud, and was up drinking again before we fully comprehended what had happened. Our group was teetotaling, so we simply drank in the moist, clean air and the breathtaking sights. Those were intoxicating enough. It was the kind of place about which tourists say, “I could live here.”

I’m not sure I said that, but I did inhabit the moment, as I have many others like it when I’ve immersed myself in the particular beauty of a place. Whether I’ve been in Paris, or on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, or in the hill countries north of San Diego or San Antonio, I’ve given myself over to the charms inherent in every bit of earth I’ve traversed.

And each time I’ve come home to the Jersey Shore knowing more deeply than before that I am of this place. …

Read the rest at Manasquan Patch.

Photojournalism from Whitney Houston’s Home-going Service

Whitney Houston funeral guest showing program to journalists

Whitney Houston funeral guest showing program to journalists (photo by Christine A. Scheller)

For more photos from Whitney Houston’s Homegoing Service, click here.

Reporting on Whitney Houston funeral

Trying to Get the Money Shot at Whitney Houston's funeral (photo by Christine A. Scheller).

Trying to Get the Money Shot at Whitney Houston’s funeral (photo by Christine A. Scheller).

More from Reporting on Whitney Houston’s funeral here.

Thoughts on Getting Through Thanksgiving After Suicide @NJShorePatch @HuffPost

How gratitude, a change of scenery and sharing stories have helped me face the Thanksgiving holiday after my son’s suicide.

Memorial Tree from 2010 New York City Survivor Day event.

My son Gabriel was a Thanksgiving baby. His birthday didn’t fall on the actual holiday until his second birthday, but it does every four years, including the year he died by suicide, 2008. The association between his birthday and our most heartwarming holiday presents both challenges and opportunities for getting through what has become, for me, an emotionally-fraught month.

When the leaves begin to change color and the air begins to bite, I start wrestling with memories of baking Turkey-shaped shortbread cookies for his school celebrations and his favorite apple pie for our family one. The pain of creating new memories that don’t include my son is one I don’t think will ever subside entirely.

But, in my family, Thanksgiving isn’t about football, movies or family fights, though the day may include all of those. It’s about gathering around an over-stuffed table to give thanks to God for his sustenance and his faithfulness, no matter what the circumstances of our lives have been. …

For tips and information about International Survivors of Suicide Day November 19, read the whole thing at Manasquan Patch or at The Huffington Post.

Photojournalism by Explorations Media, L.L.C.

I’ve recently created what I think are some compelling photo sets on Flickr. As a journalist, I prefer realism to photo-shopped images, though artistic renderings can sometimes reveal truth better than fact. I recommend viewing these sets as slideshows, as I’ve arranged each one to tell a story.

Seaside Heights Italian Festival & Columbus Day Parade

Laity Lodge 2011 Writers Retreat

Blue Hole Laity Lodge

Movement Day

Movement Day at Fifth Ave. Presbyterian Church, NYC

New York City Premiere of Machine Gun Preacher

Michelle Monaghan-and-Gerard-Butler

9/11 Tenth Anniversary Memorials


Jesus, Bombs, & Ice Cream by M.W. Scheller


Hurricane Irene

Telumundo reporter and others at Pt.-Pleasant-Bch-Boardwalk, 8/27/11

Cross-Country Bike Ride to End in Toms River Brings Light to Brain Injury @NJShorePatch

Doug Markgraf’s cross country fundraising and awareness bike ride will end in Toms River August 21.

The finish line is in sight for Doug Markgraf, a traumatic brain injury (TBI) survivor who is due arrive in Toms River August 21 after cycling across the country alone to raise money and awareness for TBI. Markgraf chose the location to highlight the work of Health South Rehabilitation Hospital of Toms River.

“Ocean County is very lucky to have an acute rehabilitation hospital,” said Denice Gaffney, director of Marketing Operations at Health South. “Not everyone has that level of care available to them locally.”

“We’re hoping to connect Doug with our brain injury survivors and our therapy team,” she said.

Markgraf, of Philadelphia, has been meeting with TBI survivors throughout the trip and was five miles outside Smyrna, Ohio when Patch talked to him Thursday afternoon.

“It’s blown me away that people who need that extra boost are getting it by me riding and meeting them,” said Markgraf.

Read the whole inspirational story at Toms River Patch.

Only a Number Takes Top Prize at Jersey Shore Film Festival @NJ Shore Patch

Steven Besserman shares his ailing mother’s Holocaust memories in award winning documentary.

“A17855: This became my only identity. This was Auschwitz,” Aranka Besserman says in the film tribute to her memories Resa, Steve, & Eleanor Besserman at Only a Number Screening, Deal, NJof the Holocaust that her son Steven Besserman directed.

Only a Number premiered at the Garden State Film Festival in March and won the Best Feature Documentary prize in a field of about 100 documentaries at the Jersey Shore Film Festival last week.

“This is where my mother lost her mother. This is where she lost all human dignity. This is where she became only a number,” Steven says as he narrates her story from the fairytale-like places where it unfolded.

Hers is an unlikely story of finding lasting love amidst unspeakable evil. …

Read the whole thing at Manasquan Patch.

Hugs & Hospitality at Wright Memorial Church @BarnegatPatch

Congregation that meets in former opera house welcomes visitors with music and warmth.

“Life is desperate; we need all the hugs we can get,” said Rev. Bob Lewis after Sunday morning worship at Wright Memorial Presbyterian Church, Barnegat, NJWright Memorial Presbyterian Church.

He was standing at the foot of the church’s front steps greeting people after the service. There were hugs for the men and kisses on the cheek for the women. He inquired warmly about each person’s concerns and sent them on their way.

This kind of affection permeated the morning.

At 9 a.m., people gathered for coffee and conversation, Lewis said.

“Sometimes it’s religious. Sometimes it’s just funny and jokes,” he said.

At 10 a.m., Lewis began strumming his guitar and singing modern worship songs while congregants arrived and chatted. Music has always been important to the congregation, in keeping with its history as a former opera house that was foreclosed upon and purchased by the Presbytery of Monmouth in 1877, a church brochure said. …

Read the rest at Barnegat Patch.

Globetrotting toward a Spiritual Center and a Sense of Shared Humanity @NJShorePatch

 Dean Fengya’s accidental adventure evolved into a business with a spiritual core.

Dean Fengya, owner of Globetrotters, Pt. Pleasant Beach, NJIf you’ve driven the stretch of Route 88 where Point Pleasant Beach meets Bay Head, you’ve probably noticed Dean Fengya’s colorful collection of ceramic pots at Globetrotter, the import store he’s been running for 17 years.

What you may not have noticed is the religious statuary that grounds the carefully arranged field of blue, green, and beige. Fengya doesn’t import it for its religious significance, but that hasn’t stopped customers from turning some of the artifacts into shrines.

“My criteria is beauty. I see something that’s beautiful or I meet people that I know can make something that’s beautiful, perhaps with a little bit of my guidance and direction… and we work together,” said Fengya.

The pursuit of beauty has led Fengya to over 100 countries and he has integrated goods from close to 30 nations into Globetrotter and a second location that is set to open on Route 35 in July, he said.

Take those brightly colored ceramic pots that surround the flagship store, for example.  …

To read all about this delightful man and to see more photos of his beautiful wares, go to Manasquan Patch.

Thousands Attend Jersey Shore Will Graham Celebration @NJShorePatch

Jersey Shore WIll Graham Celebration

13,821 listen to evangelist Billy Graham’s grandson preach at Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove.

When Billy Graham preached at Ocean Grove’s Great Auditorium in 1955, he was 36 years old. Last weekend, his grandson Will Graham preached three messages in the same venue at what the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) called the Jersey Shore Will Graham Celebration.

At 36 years old, the younger Graham’s vocal tone, delivery, and message reverberate with his grandfather’s influence.

Graham made the most of media hype overFamily Radio founder Harold Camping’s failed prediction that the Christian rapture would take place Saturday evening at 6 p.m., mentioning it in all three messages, but saving his strongest statements on the topic for Sunday afternoon.

There is increasing interest in the “end of days” theme, Graham told 4135 people Sunday. He’s heard Muslims and Hindus talk about it, he said, and the topic permeates pop culture and movies.

“There is nothing left to be fulfilled for the rapture to take place,” said Graham. …

Go to Manasquan Patch out what else he said and what else happened at the three day event.

Christian Music, Divorce, & Triathlons: An Interview with Big Tent Revival’s Spence Smith @TheHuffingtonPost

When I talked to Spence Smith, a founding member of the five-time Grammy-nominated band Big Tent Revival, he had just come back from a run, which was appropriate given that Smith is a triathlete who took up the sport after a divorce left him feeling like a failure.

These days, if Smith picks up his drum sticks, it’s usually to play with one of the bands he collaborates with as an artist relations professional with the international aide agency Compassion International. He’s also a social media and marketing consultant.

On a trip to Ecuador earlier this year, Smith asked a Compassion coworker to marry him. She said yes.

Scheller: How do you maintain your faith and spiritual life both in the Christian music industry and traveling so much?

Smith: I grew up in the Church of Christ, which is notorious for no instruments in worship. … So when our band formed, I was not listening to Christian music. I did not know there was a Christian music industry. I just knew that there was this guy named Michael W. Smith and this girl named Amy Grant out there. …

When we started the band, we started because we really loved music and we really loved Jesus. That was about it. Walking out of the Church of Christ and into that environment was pretty eye-opening because I literally had grown up thinking — because that’s what we were taught — that we were the only ones going to heaven.

When you get outside of that and realize there’s tons of people in the world that love Jesus just as much, if not more, it really questioned my faith. What I realized after a few years of being in the band was that I wasn’t in this band because this band needed me or that God needed me to be in this band to help lead people into relationship with Christ. I really felt like I was in this band because it’s where God needed me to be to keep me in check and help me to grow.

So it was a growing experience for your faith rather than a destroying one?

Right. But because of that, you start walking through all these different denominations, playing for everything from Southern Baptists to the most Charismatic church out there. So you see everything in between. None of us spoke in tongues, so we played shows where promoters spoke in tongues and if they found out we didn’t speak in tongues, it’s like they were trying to get us saved again and that just wasn’t us. …

We ended up seeking out different people to walk alongside of us as road pastors or advisors or mentors. A guy that we had for a really long time who still does this for a bunch of mainstream artists is a guy named Michael Guido, and he was pivotal in our growth and in how we handled things relationally within the band. …

People always thought that we had tons of groupies and girls hanging around our band. For whatever reason, we just weren’t that band. … We took steps to make sure we were being accountable to each other and to the people we were working with. And so, I think that set us up for some pretty big success when it came to relationship and family and how we lived out our lives.

I will say this: there are lots of things that I experienced in Christian music that makes me very leery of Christians in general. Me, being a Christian, I walk very gingerly into situations where I know it’s going to be a heated discussion or a controversial issue, because most of the time I think they’re uncalled for.

What do you mean by that?

It could be anything. It could be walking into a church that you’re going to play at and all of a sudden you find out that the pastor is pretty egotistical. You basically want to kind of separate yourself from having to play to the whims of the senior pastor. If you walk into a situation where the senior pastor or the youth pastor is the big man on campus, and all of a sudden you’re 10 times bigger in popularity than he is, then it becomes an interesting situation.

We stayed away from issues that people fought about denominationally. For instance, our lead singer was very adamant about presenting the Gospel at as many shows as possible and giving people the opportunity to come to Christ at the show, and we were fine with that. That’s just part of who Big Tent was. In the process, we would go hang out during the day in this town, and we would ask questions like, “What’s it like for the church here in town?” Nine times out of 10, people would say, “We’re having a real problem getting the churches to come together to help this town out. These denominations just will not work together.”

Our lead singer would get up and he would present the Gospel and all these people would come forward and pray to receive Christ and it was all good. … Then he’d go through the whole line of denominations and he’d say, “We talked to people in this town and you guys have a real problem about churches coming together. Why does it take a show coming to town to get you guys all in the same room?” He would just encourage them to get in a room together more and to do things together. We really wanted to try to bring people together.

Coming out of working in Big Tent and working for Compassion has been an even more incredible experience because I got all that experience dealing with different denominations and people, and now I work for an organization that is very adamant about staying non-political and non-denominational. … When you walk up into the office in Colorado Springs or hang out with any of the staff, the denominational lines aren’t there at all. It’s that way politically too. … We have one goal and that is to help release children from poverty in Jesus name no matter where we go to church.

Tell me about Big Tent Revival. Did the band break up or go on hiatus?

We basically started forming in 1990. By the time we got on the road and started playing shows, it was around 1993. Our first record came out in 1994 and then we came off the road at the end of 2000. When we officially came off the road, we told people we broke up. There was all this record company politics of saying, “No, tell people you’re taking a break.” We said, “Wait, man, we gotta go get jobs. We can’t just tell people we’re taking a break. No one’s going to believe us.” We worked that all out and, about a month after we got off the road, I got this job with Compassion.

Since then, we get together and play shows every once in a while. … We left as friends and we’ve become better friends since. I think for us it’s just a matter of wanting to play together because we miss hanging out with each other.

How did you come to work for Compassion International?

Big Tent represented Compassion International and I really fell in love with the organization the first time I went on a trip. … I told the guy who was our artist guy, “If anything ever happens to this band, I’m coming to work for Compassion.” I didn’t realize that years later that would actually happen. …

When I got the job, it was a big risk for them because they’d never hired a musician. It’s been one of the greatest experiences of my life. … My job specifically is to work with artists and creative people. Part of my passion is to bring people into a bigger worldview than just what they’re dealing with locally.

Your other passion, I know, is triathlons. When did you start doing that and why?

I was coming out of a divorce about six years ago and I really needed to get my head together. I felt like a complete failure. I had failed in one of the greatest gifts we are given in life and I (we) just couldn’t make it work the way it was supposed to. The YMCA had this sign on the board that said “Running Group: Tuesdays and Thursdays 9:00, Brentwood Y.” I thought, “I work from home. I can do that.” I went the first time, I walked in this room and there’s like 20 ladies standing in this room. … I was the only guy that ran with them and they just totally took me under their wing. … It was cool and I did it for a year and I loved it.

I noticed at that time that I wanted to get stronger as a runner. I used to be a swimmer and I heard about this swimming group that was in town and I went to check them out and lo and behold, they were a swimming group that trained for triathlons. … I started swimming with them. … I did one triathlon at the end of the summer, and I fell in love with the sport. The next summer, I trained for triathlons for the whole summer. I did eight triathlons that next summer, sprint distance and Olympic distance. At the end of that summer, because of all the community and friends that I’ve made through that process, a bunch of us decided to do Ironman Louiseville for 2009. … I’ve been doing it ever since.

How do running and triathlons nourish the rest of your life?

There are good days and there are bad days when you run. There are some days when your legs are sluggish. I think life is like that. There are some days you wake up and you feel like you can tackle the world and things are going to be good, and there are some days when you get up and you’re like, I don’t even want to get out of bed. I can’t do this. But you have to make a choice. Part of this comes from going through my divorce. I chose to say, “I’m not going to be one of those guys who’s going to wallow in this and let this get the best of me. So, I’m going to choose to get up and make the best of it.” …

What I learned through training for Ironman is that there are a lot of Type A personalities that do triathlons. They’re very competitive. They’re very high energy. But doing something that’s an endurance sport separates those who are driven from those who are determined. Driven people usually quit. What happens is they drive, drive, drive and they go for it; and then they decide when they hit a roadblock, they’re not going to do that anymore because the path isn’t that easy, so they go a different direction.

Determined people will see the end result and when they hit a roadblock, they go, “All right, here’s a road block. How do I get around it? Does that mean I have to back up a few steps, take a break? If I get injured, do I have to call it off for a little bit? But I still have this goal ahead of me and even on the days that completely suck, I’ve still got to recognize that these are sucky days and I’m OK with that. There’s going to be a better day coming. So, let’s just get through.”

That helped me get through Ironman. It’s helped me get through difficult times in my life. It helps me walk with my relationship with the Lord in a way that’s much more honest and real than it ever has been because I have days where I have to recognize that my relationship with Christ is truly a relationship and he is perfect. I in no way can expect to be perfect. So I treat my relationship like I would with anyone else that I dearly love. And that is, some days I’m going to have bad days and some days I’m going to have good days. That if a friend is truly a friend, they’re going to be there for you no matter what.

Because you’ve talked about your divorce, I want to get some context for it. Was being on the road so much a contributing factor?

I was off the road by the time we divorced. I was traveling still, about half as much. No, it was definitely a relational thing.

How did you navigate that within the Christian world that you move and work in?

It was difficult, to say the least. Part of it was because she and I together in town were kind of high profile in the circles that we move in. She does publicity and we both work in the Christian music industry. So we definitely had to deal with a lot more than probably the average person would have to deal with in a divorce when it comes to stuff like that.

What I basically did was I just laid low. I set some ground rules in my personal life and I just made sure to not cross those lines so that I could be very accountable and know that I walked through things the best way that I could. There’s nothing easy about divorce. When we went our separate ways, even though it was rocky, when it comes to the friends and people that we deal with, we didn’t lose that. In fact, I think it kind of enhanced some friendships.

We only see each other two or three times a year at an event, but I would say over the past year, we’ve had some pretty good reconciliation on the level of friendship and respect. When it comes to dealing with each other in work-related matters, we’re both right on top of it. It’s been a real blessing for me and I’m really proud of her. She’s remarried and she’s doing a lot of cool things in her life, so it’s just been good.

I think the interesting thing is that it’s taken something like that to bring me into really discovering the person that I am now. I think walking into this next marriage, had I not gone through the divorce and learned what I’ve learned about myself, I don’t think I could walk into this marriage as well as I feel like I’m going to.

Congratulations to you both!

This interview has also been published at The Huffington Post.