Saturday, June 06, 2009

Down To Earth

Out of the Grey - Down To Earth By April Hefner CCM August 95 When Christine Denté walks into a room, it's natural to stop and stare. It's not just her beauty which catches the eye--there's something else, something deeper, that's readily apparent. With Christine comes a sincerity and a discernment that is evident on first glance, yet on stage she translates it into magnetism and passion, excitement and grace. She is charming without being slick, articulate without being polished. Yet, in the midst of all that she is, there's still very much of that little tomboy that lovesto wrinkle her nose at the thought of a high school kiss or roll her eyes at her wisecracking husband. And Scott? It's easy to imagine him as the king instigator of practical jokes and back-row laughter in grammar school, the one who never quite got caught for his crimes. With a glance from those sparkling blue eyes and easy grin, teachers became victim to the prankster's oldest trick in the book. Now, all grown up, he uses the same formula to gently tease his wife and scold the children which suddenly show some of daddy's tendencies. But beneath the surface of jokes and quick wit which pervade his exterior lies the heart of a seeker--a man who searched blindly for answers until the finger of friendship pointed to the one light he was afraid to see. Even as he doodles and sketches to keep his ever-moving hands busy during our interview, it's apparent that his is a mind that never stops working, whether focused on career or matters of the heart. The story of how these two became one reads in some respect as a parable of the power and mercy of God's hand. It's a story told time and again, but few know how these two paths converged. So in our conversation, we meandered back a bit further to two precocious middle children growing up in not-so-different families on the East Coast.... Chris-Tal Clear Memory For Christine, those first memories come slowly and wistfully, but involve an adventurous blond girl testing the limits of nature and her family's small trailer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. "[I was] barefoot as early as I could be in the spring..." "Oh geesh," Scott interrupts. "Let me write this down. That's beautiful..." Christine, laughing, continues: "I was a tomboy. As early as I can remember, my brother and I played in the mud puddles together." "Street urchins..." Scott playfully mutters. "We saved all the lost little animals that we found at the trailer park and tried to keep them alive. When my mom was at work, we lured wild ducks into the bathroom of the trailer. My father was into all kinds of music, and he played it very loudly, everything from country to rock 'n' roll. And I did all the music things in high school--I was Liesel in 'Sound of Music.' I was 16 going on 17, except I had to kiss that guy," she comments with a slight look of disgust at the memory. "I just really enjoyed being the tomboy and playing in the mud, bringing home the stray cats." It was a nice world, a pleasant childhood, filled with wonder, imagination and the inevitable strays of all shapes and sizes. It was that sense of caring for the lost and lonely pets wandering through her young life that carried over to her college years where she met another lost and lonely creature, searching for a haven of truth rather than just a shelter from the weather. But it was these early years that planted seeds of faith in Christine, and those seeds slowly but surely bloomed throughout her adolescence. "[My family] didn't go to church except occasionally with grandma. I think vacation Bible school had a real impact - our neighbors took us two or three times a year. And the Good News Club - after school, kids could go to somebody's house and they'd stick those felt figures up on a board and tell us about Jesus. From early as I can remember, I knew who Jesus was. But I never really knew what to do with it. Not going to church and not being schooled in Christianity, it took until high school before I started pursuing Him as He pursued me." Christine describes that period by pointing out the emptiness in the good life she already led. "I recall being in my senior year of high school and feeling like I had everything. Unfortunately, everything at that point was Homecoming Queen, cheerleader, the popularity - I look back on them now and see them as useless and detrimental pursuits. At that time, I was thankful, and I knew I had someone to thank. That's when I started turning toward my Creator, turning toward my Bible, turning toward my Saviour. At that point I started growing as a Christian. I can't put my finger on a date when I became a Christian, [but] I know that the Lord had His hand on me from day one." Just a Scott, hip and a jump For Scott, the memories aren't that different though they certainly involved a bit more globe-trotting. "One of my first memories is making a snowman on the back porch in Edison, New Jersey and using Fruit Loops for the eyes, nose and mouth and eating them and the snow. After that, I don't remember anything until we moved to California. My father was, and still is, in defense contracting. He used to tell [my brother and sister and I] that he was in the Mafia and that's why we had to move around a lot. We believed it for a little while, too. We moved back to New Jersey when I was in sixth grade and that's basically where I grew up. "I was a suburban kid, grew up playing stick ball and street hockey. We had the typical loud dinners where everyone wanted to talk at the same time, except my dad who was the strong silent type. My mom is an absolute nut case, in a good way. She's a very funny lady. My mom got serious about her faith when I was in about seventh grade. She would try to get all of us excited about God... [but] I was one of those exploring types." Once his elementary school passion for a career as a professional skateboarder died down, music captured young Scott's fancy. However, that desire soon degenerated into a poor academic performance by the end of his high school years. "[After graduation] I went to a local college for a year and majored in video games - did very badly. I just wasn't doing anything. This was when, in retrospect, my father did about the smartest thing for me that he's ever done. He got me a job loading trucks in New York City." Two years later and now in New Jersey, Scott was still loading trucks, but with an ever increasing despondency. "I slowly saw my life slipping away. My dreams were to be this serious musician, and I was just a tired factory worker. I was starting to feel pretty lonely. My spirit was just dying - I was hating it. I applied to the Berklee College of Music, and my parents said that if I got in, then I could go. I remember the day the phone call came. There was a voice over the loudspeaker [at the warehouse] that said 'Scott you've got a phone call on line one.' My mother never called me at work, [but] I knew it was my mom, and I knew it was yea or nay. And it was yea. I immediately walked into the office and gave my two weeks notice. It was a really big moment for me. It still didn't straighten me out too much - I wasted the first two years at Berklee too. I would like to say that I went on to a great college career, but that isn't true. Until I met Christine." Nails in the coffin It was during this time that Scott's search for answers to life's questions had reached its peak, and with the answers not being found in philosophy courses or meditation or any of the vast array of religions he investigated, Scott simply quit looking. "My mom was a Christian. She was very spiritual, and I was interested in things of that nature, but wasn't necessarily interested in the way she had gone, maybe just to be different. But [I was] also sincerely looking for something somewhere else and not wanting to discount anything. I learned a lot about Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Zen... but none of those things afforded me any peace or anything that was real, nothing that I could grab onto that was life changing or moved me in any way. I was tired of it. I burned out on it, and I just stopped. I was kind of dead inside. Then I met this girl, she was a Christian." Knowing the "lingo" from his mother, Scott felt safe in his new friendship with Christine as long as her beliefs stayed "in a little box." However, as the relationship grew, Scott's open-minded nature led him to further explore Christianity. "I respected [Christine] a lot, but I also condescended some, too like 'You haven't seen the bigger picture, there's a picture bigger than Christianity.' We traded books. I gave her Illusions by Richard Bach, and she gave me Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (which is still one of my favorite books of all time). Then on Valentine's Day I gave her jellybeans, and she gave me a Bible. Eventually, I started reading it, thinking I knew what was in there but truly reading it for the first time. The Gospels just killed me. I went to the Gospels because there was all that red letter stuff so I figured that must be important. I pretty much concentrated on the teachings of Jesus, and it just started hitting me over the head, left and right. It was like the light was coming on. It was one of the most incredible times in my life." In His divine and mysterious manner, God used another language to communicate to Scott the Good News, a language Scott could easily understand - music. "Chris had lent me her copy of Amy Grant's Unguarded which was the perfect thing to give me because there's some great guitar on that record. So I asked her for more, and she gave me Age to Age and Straight Ahead. Before I knew it I was walking down the street singing 'Jehovah' and didn't even know what 'Jehovah' was. But I was singing 'Jehovah I love you so and Jesus I want you to know.' There were some serious seeds being planted. Then we went to the Unguarded concert in Massachusetts, and that was another nail in my coffin so to speak. That's a horrible way of putting it, but God was just hitting me over the head saying, 'Lay down, lay down, lay down.' And I did. I laid down." Best of Both Worlds It took time before that self-described stubborn young man did, in fact, lay down his life at the feet of the Saviour, but now nearly eight years later the marks of change are clear. And though it certainly didn't start off on solid footing, Scott and Christine's friendship-turned-romance has enjoyed seven years of marriage and two children, Julian, 3, and Carina, 1. As a metaphor for the relationship between Christ and the church, marriage by default teaches a great deal about extending grace day by day. But the Dentés are discovering children as a rule tend to teach them even more about their own selfishness. "It's the constant throwing off of self which is what God causes us to do anyway," explains Christine. "With children, you walk in the door, and you want to maybe go to the bathroom or clean up or something, but no. You have to deal with the children first. You have to take care of their needs constantly. It's a wonderful way to learn how to be more Christ-like." "We also feel the responsibility," adds Scott. "Julian's three, and he's asking why, he's asking how, he's asking what. So you start going through your own mind, 'How, why, what? What do I believe and what am I going to tell him? Why can't he do that? Why can't he watch that? Should I be watching that?' Questions you don't want to ask yourself. They teach us as much as we teach them." So what is this dynamic duo learning about right now? A lot it seems as Out of the Grey's new album reflects even more contemplation than the last with songs that point directly to truth. And as they head out on tour with Chris Eaton this fall, Scott and Christine pray others may see their heart for God alone. "We don't really have any agendas with our music," says Christine. "Scott and I are very dedicated to pursuing the Lord and His word in a very God-centered sense rather than a self-centered sense. This faith in Jesus is based on the facts, the fact that Jesus came and He died and He rose again, not that He makes me feel good or that He's healed me from hard life. Those are all fringe benefits. The fact is He is God and He is to be worshipped, and we need a Saviour because we are all sinners. The songs [on our new album Gravity] reflect on the fact that the human condition is a grave situation. There's going to be a time of reckoning whether [you] admit it or not. The weight of the words of God's reconciliation and God's judgement is something that can crush you, or it can lead you to the throne of grace." God's reconciliation and His judgement represent both the good news and the bad news of the Gospel for us all. For the Dentés, the Good News has embraced them and held them - it broke Scott of a stubborn refusal to see the light and brought Christine out of the emptiness of where her life was headed. By grace rather than grave, these two have profoundly felt the gravity of the compelling mystery of God, a mystery they hope to share. CCM Communications c 1995. For information on subscribing to CCM, call 800/333-9643