It’s all just an act of faith…

Photo by friend and talented photographer Sean Kapera

Photo by friend and talented photographer Sean Kapera

Let’s get the worst part over with in the beginning – I am a Christian. I am not a Christian actor, but I am a Christian who acts. God is a huge part of my life and I feel, sadly, that most people don’t know that and for a very specific, pathetic reason. It is better to the masses that I do not speak of God at all, rather than speak of God and then post a controversial photo, clip or comment within the same 24 hour period. Most people tend to operate based on a strict standard determined by our society and organized religion, but I don’t. And now is the time for the warriors to rise.

I was raised in a Christian home and grew up in church. Those who know me on a more intimate level know that I was a victim of a cult experience run by a family member during my youth. They successfully robbed me of my identity, influenced me to separate and isolate myself from my parents and friends, and instilled in me an unbreakable sense of unworthiness. This has filtered into every component of my life, but where it has caused the most destruction is in the two areas I love the most – my relationships and my acting.

I never truly believe I am worthy to be loved or wanted. I with every fiber of my being, believe that if my significant other is presented with another opportunity or temptation he would and should choose that option because I am the lesser. Always less. In acting it is the same. I feel flawed or at a disadvantage because of this. A lot of professionals tell me that it is imperative that you believe in your ability and talent when no one else does. That you have to hold true to it in your core or you can be cut down just like little weed in a field, never to grow or blossom again. As I have become more open about my feelings of inadequacy I have also encountered others who tell me I have the tortured spirit of an artist and to embrace it; to use it. It is a gift. I do.

I have made grand improvements over the years, but it is a constant and continuous battle.

When I was forced to exit the cult by my father I had a hatred for him for making me leave. I felt he was trying to keep me away from my home. As time passed I began to understand the hard truth of the events and lost my foundation of trust in God and in people. I also grew resentful towards my father, not for removing me now, but because he took so long to do so. I felt he had failed at protecting me, from shielding me.

It was the first time I had ever seen my father cry. He wept for the sins of his family, for not wanting to forsake his mother and sister but by doing so, hurting his daughter. I forgave him within about a year as I was able to place myself in his position and understand his torment. He is my hero. During this same year I went on spiritual quest yearning to find peace and a new way to experience God. I studied everything from Buddhism and Sufism to Scientology to Catholicism to Judasim to Aethism. While I truly value this time of exploration and learning, I felt hollow inside.

I remember the day perfectly I asked God back into my heart. I shut myself in my room, sat on my little bed and told him that I wanted him back in my life, not because I had been raised or forced to do so, but because it was only in him that I felt that true peace. I asked him to give me discernment and to guide me on this spiritual journey, holding my hand every step of the way. He hasn’t left my side since.

This is where I am now. I pray to God constantly, I talk to him all throughout the day, I read a daily devotional, I take a spiritual healing class, am currently reading a three-part series of books called “Conversations With God” which has restructured a lot of my belief system and believe it or not, I have the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues.

So why do I hide this part of myself? Well let me tell you the whole grisly tale: I recently did a faith-based feature film. It began as a short film with high ambitions. When originally hired I was told that they did not want to hire only Christians, they wanted professional actors and they wanted the film to have mass appeal. Great, I thought, fabulous! This will finally be a platform for people to be introduced to God in a non-threatening way. The short was completed pretty seamlessly, but then it got picked up for distribution and they decided to extend it into a feature. I was going to be spending a lot more time with the director and producer which was a husband and wife pastor team. I was resolved not to get involved with them personally and leave the religion out of it so I tried very hard to show up on set, do my job and leave. It became challenging for me when it was clear that they had other intentions.

My Facebook and social media were being monitored regularly, they made several “conversion” attempts and the icing on the cake was when I received a phone call one day informing me that I was no longer welcome or invited to any press-related events, television interviews, radio shows or national screenings because my image was not “Christian” enough. Totally and completely hypocritical is the fact that they were totally willing to have my costar who is a devout Atheist, represent and work with them on future films, only because her image is more cleanly represented to the public. Makes sense, right? At first I was hurt, and I also felt at a loss because I had hoped that this film would have been my big break, but I quickly recovered and thought, “Who are you to tell me what my relationship with God is?” I told them this much and really haven’t had much interaction with them since. With my ego and spirit wounded I had fears of what would become of the film. They had already highlighted someone else on the poster, snubbed me for top billing in the credits despite the fact that I was the lead and when I had seen the rough cut, I was so tortured, I felt I had let my pain during the journey impact my performance. I kept feeling God saying to me over and over again, even as I wept for 3 solid days before the first public screening “Trust Me.” So I did.

The film was a body of work I was proud of. This was the first film my parents were able to invite the whole family too and share with their circle of friends, and I was able to appreciate it for what it was and then let go…

This whole experience did get me thinking about all of the other people out there who love God, but don’t say or do anything about it for fear of being condemned, judged or persecuted. In this industry especially, being identified as Christian is almost as bad if not worse as being a Republican. It has become associated with narrow-mindedness. Living in God is about living in love, for God is ultimate love and that love supersedes any and all races, sexual preferences, religious boundaries and sin.

I realize that this is a liberal concept and I for one know that I am a liberal, but how incredible would it be if we all operated with intentions of  love and openness? I had a conversation with my dad the other day about this and he proposed a very traditional viewpoint – That with approximately 2,000 Facebook friends and a following on other circuits, I am an example to others, so what does it mean when one day I post a Bible verse and the next day I post a half-naked photo of myself? I answered him quite confidently with a similar response I gave to the religious directors, “I talk to God about every role and project I take. I am at peace with the work that I do and though I do not expect everyone to support or even understand my choices, I do ask that they not judge them, for I will not judge theirs.” Here were my thoughts related to this and other common stigmas tied to religion or God in acting:

1.) God is in everyone and everything. He created it all. There is nothing you can say, do or be that could shock him. If you don’t believe that, you are placing limitations on God, the creator of the universe. God did not create and then expect us to not experience. What sort of cruel God would he be if he placed all of these things in front of you and then punished you when you reached out to try it? It is all about honoring your inner self. It does not matter what the neighbor to right or your neighbor to your left is doing, only take stock in what your heart, your soul man is telling YOU is right or wrong and make decisions based on that. You are responsible for each choice you make. A lot of folks ask about the 10 Commandments and what I am about to say is radical, but I believe God does not have commandments. This would defeat the purpose of having free-will to either live in God or live in love or not. When you are living in love, you simply will not have the desire to lie, the desire to cheat, the desire to steal and so on.

2.) The literal translation of “sin” means “to miss the mark” that is all. In other words, you tried to hit the target, but you didn’t quite make it. It does not mean that you committed some unforgivable act making you worthy of an eternity in Hell and purgatory. Also, a sin is a sin. There is no one sin, greater than another. God can forgive a person for telling a white lie just as easily as he can forgive a serial killer. It is us who have the issues forgiving and accepting.

3.) We give language weight. God did not write Webster’s dictionary nor did he ever say “You cannot say these words” It is our constructions and values we give to words that give them power. So when I accept a role that says “fuck” or “bitch” I have no shame in that. In fact, I actually curse when I pray to God especially in moments of anger or despair. They are just words. Usually I try not to cuss for fear of offending other people, not for the sake of offending my God. I do try to avoid taking the Lord’s name in vain. Rather you are a traditional Christian or modernist, I have found this is a common-held belief because there is power in the name of the creator. When you speak something you are releasing an energy into the shared matrix and when you speak it in the name of the creator it has a power that we cannot fully grasp nor comprehend. I’d rather just leave that one alone, thank you very much.

4.) I have never been ashamed of the naked body. I walk around completely nude all the time and don’t put on clothes until the last second before walking out the door. In some cultures, nudity is absolutely acceptable and even welcome and encouraged amongst family and members of the community. When it comes to film I am not a big advocate of sexualization or gratuitous nudity or sex. In Europeans films for example, if there is scene where the girl is getting undressed to hop into the shower while in mid-conversation she’ll remove her clothes before stepping into the bathroom or a scene where a mother is breast-feeding.  There is nothing sexy about it, just a natural act involving the human body. I have taken a role where I have done partial nudity and I felt personally convicted about it because I could not justify the value, so I will not be taking a role like that again, but through that experience I was able to identify my true feelings regarding this situation. I am thankful for that. As far as modeling goes, I take joy in seeing a beautiful person and hope others take joy in it as well. Science has proven that certain chemicals are released in the human brain when looking at particularly the female form that stimulate pleasure. As long as both parties are consenting, aware and comfortable with the viewing and reception of these images, there is no reason to feel guilt over such things. Taste, class, appropriateness…all a subject to personal opinion. I do not take pleasure in looking at pornographic images or again over-sexualized images, but that is determined by my inner-spirit. I have my comfort-zone, you have yours. Honor it.

5.) Just because I take a role does not mean I advocate the behaviors of that character or the actions in the story. My parents have a difficult time with this one. If I play the role of a drug addict for example, to them I might as well be a walking advertisement for narcotics. This has always been a war at home for me. My ex husband was a rave DJ and I would attend the raves with him almost every weekend. This infuriated them as they felt that I was condoning their choices to partake in drugs or other acts. For me, I would go and look around at all of these young, lost souls so desperately seeking someone to love them and if I could be that one person that showed them love; that accepted them as they were, wouldn’t that be just a huge testament to how great God’s love can be? My ex also was straight-edge, and his fans and followers were aware of that. We never condemned any of them, but we did lead by example. I am fully cognizant of the fact that this industry is inundated with drugs, sex, alcohol and living in excess but I am fully capable of playing a chain-smoking, alcoholic, heroin-addict for 10 hours on a set, walking off it and never, ever having the urge to partake in that lifestyle or making it my reality. My job as an actor is to tell a story, and what’s more, if it can positivity affect and change someone’s reality then that is what it’s all about. I’d gladly play a whore, a drug-addict, a killer, a sinner of any kind if it prevents one soul from actually being one. Plus, I cannot tell a lie, those roles are extremely rewarding and juicy as an actor to sink your teeth into.

6.) You kissed a girl on screen? You’re going to Hell because God says that all homosexuals go straight to Hell. Ummm what? Let’s talk real for a moment, homosexuality has existed since the beginning of time. It has been a part of great empires and worlds, an integral part of militant operations in the times of the Roman and Greek Empires when quite often young soldiers  were not only trained by a mentor but were also lovers with their young prodigies providing them nurturing and intimacy while away from home for long periods of time. The Bible has been re-written, re-organized, re-interpreted and re-invented by people. People. People with political agendas, personal agendas and the ability to misunderstand or misuse information at the very least, time and time again. Do not listen to what the preacher at the pulpit says, do not listen to what your parents say, listen to what your heart says. The very insanity of the idea that God would hate and automatically dispose of homosexuals is astounding to me. It shocks me that people blindly follow and accept such things. God did create male and female anatomy to reproduce and it is our responsibility to do that, but he also created our bodies for pleasure. Who are you to say that just because the body of the same sex doesn’t give you pleasure that it shouldn’t give someone else pleasure? What harm does that cause  you to see two women in love or enjoying one another? What harm does it cause either of them if they both enter into it willingly? None. So where is the sin? The sin is not being in a union to reproduce? Then a man shouldn’t marry an infertile woman if that’s true. The sin is that God created one man for one woman? Nope again – In the Bible in the old testament men had many wives, and often slept with their wive’s servants even. We have used marriage as ways to create alliances between countries, to transfer or merge property, to accelerate political or societal positions but it has very rarely ever taken root in love or spiritual matters.

Michael Alvarez showed me this video of members of the Westboro Baptist Church appearing on Russell Brand‘s show Brand X. I did a little digging and as it turns out, Brand is extremely intelligent, spiritually enlightened and extremely candid in his struggle with various addictions. I read his blog regularly now. Watch the clip and you tell me, who is acting and living in love:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=OBA6qlHW8po

It is on the rare occasion that you will hear an actor thanking God for winning their academy award, but other than that it is radio silence. I am not proposing that we all start a new Hollywood church or start blasting the Facebook newsfeed with daily Bible verses, but I do have a hope that we can move to create a more open environment for people not only to express a love for God, but just to feel free to express and be who they really are.

This is an excerpt from Book II of Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch. It sums up a shift of collective consciousness:

“Seek only Godliness.

Speak only in truthfulness. Act only in love. Live the Law of Love now and forevermore.

Give everything, require nothing.

Avoid the mundane.

Do not accept the unacceptable.

Teach all who seek to learn of Me.

Make very moment of your life an outpouring of love.

Use every moment to think the highest thought, say the highest word, do the highest deed. In this, glorify your Holy Self, and thus, too, glorify Me.

Bring peace to the Earth by bringing peace to all those whose lives you touch. Be peace. Feel and express in every moment your Divine Connection with the All, and with every person, place and thing.

Embrace every circumstance, own every fault, share every joy, contemplate every mystery, walk in every man’s shoes, forgive every offense (including your own), heal every heart, honor every person’s truth, adore every person’s God, protect every person’s dignity, promote every person’s interests, provide every person’s needs, presume every person’s holiness, present every person’s greatest gifts, produce every person’s blessing and pronounce every person’s future secure in the assured love of God.

Be a living, breathing example of the Highest Truth that resides within you.

Speak humbly of yourself, lest someone mistake your Highest  Truth for a boast. Speak softly, lest someone think you are merely calling for attention. Speak gently, that all might know Love. Speak openly, lest someone think you have something to hide. Speak candidly, so you cannot be mistaken. Speak often, so that your word my truly go forth. Speak respectfully, that no one be dishonored. Speak lovingly, that every syllable may heal. Speak of Me with every utterance.

Make of your life a gift. Remember always, you are the gift. Be a gift to everyone who enters your life, and to everyone whose life you enter. Be careful not to enter another’s life if you cannot be a gift. (You can always be a gift, because you always are a gift – yet sometimes you don’t let yourself know that.) When someone enters you life unexpectedly, look for the gift that person has come to receive from you. Why else do you think a person has come to you? I tell you this: every person who has ever come to you has come to receive a gift from you. In so doing, he gives a gift to you – the gift of your experiencing and fulfilling Who You Are. When you see this simple truth, when you understand it, you see the greatest truth of all:

I HAVE SENT YOU NOTHING BUT ANGELS.”

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One thought on “It’s all just an act of faith…

  1. Uncompromisingly honest, fearless to the potential bristling responses, Melissa cares but upholds her Truth with a capital ‘T’. Can you take your clothes off, expose yourself and still have a core of spiritual enthrallment where modesty is encouraged? All religions encourage modesty in action, so it is a tough question of whether you are compromising that commandment and ethos if you show your naked self. I believe the choices you make are spot on: you weigh everything with your dazzling intelligence combined with your vulnerable sensibilities. It is never gratuitous. I was actually relieved when I saw you had done some body art and posted it on FB because in my film in which you play Anne Boleyn, you are to play a scene where she has just finished feeding her baby; it is part and parcel of the mother/ child bonding that is symbolically interrupted by Henry striding in and eventually taking the Mother away. I didn’t know how I was going to ask you to do that scene if it would make you uncomfortable. But I now know that you have the foresight to understand that 1. It’s not gratuitous.
    2. It should bring a lump to one’s throat that this small vital bond is torn away by the machinery of State. Love what you do and your courage TO DO IT!!! It makes it exciting to work with you as an actress!!!!

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