Story of Recovery: Richard Rossi

I attended Jerry Falwell?s Liberty University where I earned a Bachelor?s and Master?s degree in pastoral and biblical studies. On Facebook, I've reconnected with old friends from Falwell's fundamentalist college. Some are still the same, Religious Right and Moral Majority to their core. The believe Obama's the Antichrist or at the very least the precursor of 666 and satanic socialism. In my journey away from rigid religion, I realized my fundamentalis friends suffer from what I call the ?white hat and black hat approach,? like an old B Western with the good guys in white hats and the bad guys in black hats. The Christians are seen as perfect people ready to be raptured and the non-Christians are evil, self-centered people and God is ready to judge them in fiery wrath. If we?re honest, we know the world isn?t like that. The dualistic framework of dividing humanity into a binary of two camps: the born again believers who are shining and shimmering being conformed to Christ, exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit, and on the other side, the wicked liberal unbelievers who are nasty, immoral fleshly wicked people does not correspond to the reality of how things really are, that unbelievers are often nicer people. Whether their niceness stems from nature, nurture, or the light from Jesus that lights everyone who comes into the world created in God?s image, I don?t know. I value as a core principle everyone is made in the image of God and looking for the light and shadows in my characters I create as a write and filmmaker rather than discounting and dividing people anymore. I don?t believe in the simplistic dualism of guys in the white hats and in the black hats, and this is why I reject other tenets of fundamentalism, like their conspiratorial view of the world.

I've been recovering my creativity one day at a time. My concept of God and the world has changed quite a bit from the Falwellian fundamentalist indoctrination. I call it a fall to grace rather than a fall from grace because I landed in a safer place. I turned the fall into a dive into the waters of creativity and wholeness.

For many years, I suppressed my creative instincts and interests in filmmaking and acting and worked solely as a pastor and evangelist. The years I spent in the anti-art wilderness of Falwellian fundamentalism isolated me from a lot of the wonderful moviemaking out there. On the positive side, they did show some classic films on campus (edited though for conservative Christian consumption). Movie theatres were forbidden by Falwell?s ?Liberty Way? a legalistic law-book we were commanded to obey. After I made my spiritual journey from fundamentalism to freedom, from guilt to grace, I played catch-up and educated myself on the history of film by borrowing movies from the public library and taking a film history class at Los Angeles Valley College. My second film school was the New Beverly Cinema, a revival theatre in Hollywood owned by Quentin Tarantino that shows two independent or classic films every night. European filmmakers inspired me, like Bergman and Fellini. Bergman?s Persona impacted me in its style of close-ups of the actor?s hands and faces. It influenced me and gave me the idea to shoot a lot of close-ups when I made my movie Sister Aimee: The Aimee Semple McPherson Story. This enabled me to me to create a sense of Sister Aimee?s claustrophobia and also make a 1920?s period piece on a low budget without the pressure to create an epic with thousands of extras and period cars and sets. Sister Aimee was the fabled female evangelist who built a temple of Hollywood proportions in the Roaring Twenties here in Los Angeles. Sister Aimee was front-page news, the most famous female faith-healer of her time, especially when she disappeared in 1927 at Venice Beach. She claimed to be kidnapped. Our film traces her story from her teen years through her life of preaching the gospel and praying for the sick, until her controversial death by overdose in 1944. I chose her story because I identified with her and used her story as an allegory for my life and some of the things I?ve gone through in my years as a healing evangelist who tried to heal the world without healing myself. For those interested in her life, my film Sister Aimee: The Aimee Semple McPherson Story is available through Amazon, Netflix, and Blockbuster.
One of the highlights of my moviemaking career was when the New Beverly showed Sister Aimee and the owner told me it set a theatrical attendance record for the best-attended digital film shown there.

I?ve always been drawn to expressing my faith in an edgy and creative way, so my moviemaking follows that same theme of recognizing the Creator is the Master Artist, and our creativity is a small part of God?s creativity, an expression of the image of God in us. Art is a ministry and ministry is an art. I believe our imaginations can soar when we choose to be innovators rather than imitators. I encourage people of faith to follow their interests and intuition, even if their religious circles try to discourage them. Our talents are a gift from God. What we do with our talents is our gift back.

My wife and I started Eternal Grace, a church community for those recovering from religion.
Anyone is welcome whether they consider themselves a Christian or not. We seek to grow by attraction, rather than promotion, so we do not seek to convert anyone by debate or manipulation. The only requirement for membership is a desire to receive grace, and to give grace to ourselves and to others. We believe God is the Creator, the Master Artist. The Holy Spirit is highly creative. Therefore, we support the creativity in each other.Our spiritual journeys have taken us through different groups, cross-pollinating various teachings, ideas, and experiences. Through it all, we?ve come to understand that the goal is love, that they will know we are His disciples by our love. Love fulfills the law. Love covers a multitude of sins and love never fails.

Many of us have moved here to Hollywood from somewhere else, and many of us came here for a creative career, a calling to express ourselves. We highly value and encourage artistic gifts and expression. We?re pioneers. The same leap of faith that enabled us to venture to L.A. enables us to pioneer spiritually and creatively.

We?re believers in God, the One the bible describes as unconditional love, and we have a passionate hunger for a true spiritual connection beyond religion and the established church. Eternal Grace is a church that welcomes artists, supporting their creative journey without judgment. As the Spirit hovered over the waters in God?s creation in the beginning, His Spirit hovers over us as we create today. There?s a symbiotic relationship between the Creator and creativity. Growing in relationship to one can open us to more of the other.

We come from diverse backgrounds, and sometimes we may disagree agreeably. What unifies us is our desire to do the works healing, restoring, and loving our neighbor, as we love ourselves.

Eternal Grace heals the hurting hearts of artists and actors, minstrels and mavericks, bohemians and burned out believers, with the embrace of radical grace.

I want a life of no regrets. I want to continue to grow and learn. I?m always reading books and taking classes. I want to keep getting better as a writer, actor, director, and musician. I want to keep growing spiritually and bring healing and recovery to others that have been through a lot in their lives as I have, particularly people like me from imperfect families with imperfect pasts. Eternal Grace is a Christian community where imperfect people are perfectly welcome. I want to be a good father, husband, friend, mentor and teacher. I want to stay at peace with God, myself and others.

My first novel, a coming-of-age story entitled Stick Man is slated to come out in 2010. It's a coming of age story about a young man's deconversion from fundamentalism. I have four films in various stages of development I want to make soon. My baseball bio-pic about Roberto Clemente, a film about the Azusa Street revival, a remeake of Elmer Gantry, and the film version of my novel Stick Man. I will continue to be a working actor in mainstream and independent film, television, and theatre. I have a second novel in the works, a historical novel about Sister Aimee. My wife and I also want to do some more cross-country trips. We like seeing America by land, all the different and diverse states, it?s such a beautiful country filled with great people.

I want to start a foundation that helps artists and does real compassionate work among the disadvantaged children, to do our part to make up for the travesty that here in America millions of children have no health insurance and are hungry. Sadly, the policies that support these injustices are too often supported by those who claim the name of Christ. Our foundation will meet the real needs of people with compassion, grace, and understanding.

I believe Jesus has been given bad P.R. by rigid, religious fundamentalists. I see contrasts between the Real Jesus and the Religious Jesus. II Corinthians 3:6 says, ?The letter of the law kills, but the Spirit gives life.? These contrasts are a litany of deep spiritual understandings of the letter of the law versus the Jesus of love. I will elaborate on these truths in detail in a book I?m writing tentatively titled ?Getting to Know the Real Jesus,? but I will share a few of them succinctly:

The Religious Jesus is Law. The Real Jesus is Love.
The Religious Jesus brings guilt. The Real Jesus brings grace.
The Religious Jesus brings condemnation. The Real Jesus brings compassion.
The Religious Jesus hurts people. The Real Jesus heals people.
The Religious Jesus uses people to build the church,
The Real Jesus uses the church to build people.

As a church planter, I?ve learned firsthand the differences between churches started on the foundation of the Religious Jesus versus churches started on the foundation of the Real Jesus. Eternal Grace, located here in Hollywood, has been the healthiest church community my wife and I have birthed, because we?ve become healthier in our understanding of grace.

I think it is essential to understand the creative potential in human beings is the image of God. Whether or not we think of ourselves as artists, we are. To be artistic is to create, an instinct we were all given. Within each of us is creativity, because we were made in God?s image. Letting go of rigid religious thinking enables our artistic spontaneous side to emerge. Find an outlet for creativity, whether its filmmaking, music, writing, refinishing furniture, cooking, puppetry, acting, dance, drawing, embroidering, gardening, the possibilities are endless.

Anything that lets us create something outside ourselves is good. The reward is a sense of self-expression, the joy that we made something and can see ourselves in it. Sometimes what we create reaches others as well. The more I let go of the legalistic ways of thinking from the toxic teachings of fundamentalism, the more I see my creativity soar. My creativity is more important to me than rigid ways of thinking from my past indoctrination under Jerry Falwell and other preachers of the letter of the law. Like I quoted before from the bible, ?The letter of the law killeth, but the Spirit gives life.? I welcome the Spirit to bring life and creativity. One more thing, I wrote a prayer for artists I want to share in closing that other artists have told me they appreciate and some incorporate into their own prayer and meditation: ?Thank you God for the talents You?ve entrusted to me and that my creativity is a small part of Your creativity. I glorify You with my art as an act of worship. Release me from the bondage of the extremes of grandiosity and inferiority, that I may affect others with my work and carry Your message forward. I surrender my talents to You, knowing You will flow through them in just the right way. I open myself to Your direction and abundance that I may know joy and peace in my work. Amen.?