By Seth Williams
May 31, 2014
"I just want to stay close to the heart of God. And I hope that relationally and through what I do, that people understand and can see Christ in my life."
I first came across Salomon Ligthelm's filmmaking a while back when I was browsing videos on Vimeo. The first one I ever watched is a film called "Where Is Your Wilderness". It hit me hard. I must have watched it a hundred times over the following week. Ever since that day, I have been deeply moved and inspired by each of his videos. Salomon has a unique ability to powerfully and creatively convey God's truth and love through his work. I reached out to him to see if he'd want to share some of his story with Love School, and I'm honored to now share that with you as our first ever interview. Salomon and I sat down for a Skype video chat one evening in late May (nine a.m. for him...he lives in Sydney, Australia). He was incredibly generous to give up an hour of his Sunday morning. Salomon apologized for having to periodically blow his nose as he was feeling a bit under the weather. I could hear his wife, Lesley, and their little son, Haryn, welcoming the day in the nearby kitchen. What follows is an intimate glimpse into Salomon's life. I hope it speaks to you with the same passion and power that it has inspired me with. Salomon lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife, Lesley, and son, Haryn.
So let's start off with a couple easy questions. What's your favorite album of all time?
Wow (laughs). That's so tough. I really love music but to be honest, I actually think I need to go on my Spotify for a second and just kind of refresh my memory. I mean, I do have favorites, but lately I've been way more into songs. (leans back in his chair and calls into the other room to his wife) Lesley, what would be one of my favorite albums? Max Richter has an album called Memoryhouse that I really really like. And then maybe Bon Iver's debut album, just the self-titled one. I love that one.
By they way, I'm forgetting the name of the song you recently posted on The Music Bed, but man, that is beautiful.
Ah, thank you. That's "When We Left". It's just such a simple track, you know. I was trying to do something that wasn't so moody and dark. Something that was a little bit more in the moment. Kind of true and in the moment, just without much attention to it.
What's your favorite film of all time?
There's this obscure foreign film called The Lives of Others. The more I watch it the more I love it. It's the perfect story. I've never seen character development like that. The protagonist does a one-eighty but you always care for him. So yeah, that's probably my favorite.
Who's the director of that one? Do you know?
No, to be honest. It's quite an obscure film. It won the 2007 Academy Award for best foreign film. It is quite an obscure and German director. Let me just look him up (he searches online). Yeah, it's a pretty incredible film. His name is Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (laughs). I don't think I'd remember that.
Yeah, you definitely pronounced it better than I could. Ok, cool, so let's dive a bit deeper. And I know this is kind of a broad question, but what's the most important part of your life?
I think I live in a revelation of...let me put it this way. I'd say, theoretically and for the most part, my family. And I know that to be true, but I feel like there's always the tension of my work telling me that it's more important than my family. I know my family is the most important thing. My wife is sitting here, and I think she understands that that is the truth, but situationally sometimes it looks priorities-wise a lot different, you know, so I really have to wrestle with myself to really make family the important thing. Because I can say family is the important thing, but actually what it looks like is work is more important. But what in my spirit is the most important thing to me, yes, that is family, and I think I get the most satisfaction and joy out of my family. Especially since my kid's been born, it's just been incredible. I kept saying to my wife, I didn't realize how much I could love my son. I didn't realize I had the capacity for love, to love him like that, because I wasn't a baby person before him. My wife, you know, we'd hang out with other people and she'd say, why don't you hold this other foreign baby, and I'm like, no, I don't want that (laughs). And so, I think, it's just developing a love for my child that I didn't know was possible. I do love being with family the most. But it takes a lot of investment. If you invest into family, it replenishes you, it rejuvenates you. It gives you the most joy, but you really have to invest in it. (he leans back in his chair and calls to his wife) Do you agree with that, love? Sorry, I don't want to offend you (laughs).
Congratulations to you guys by the way. Your little boy's name is Haryn, is that right?
Yeah, Haryn. He's a good kid.
How does your faith in Jesus play into who you are?
I think for me, it happens in a very unintentional, a very unmotivated way, in the sense that for me I just want to stay close to the heart of God, and then let life happen as it does without feeling like I need to intentionally show Him in anything that I do. I just want to stay close to the heart of God. And I hope that relationally and through what I do, that people understand and can see Christ in my life. And for me, that often means when I'm driving to work. I don't drive with music, so when I drive to work I don't listen to the radio. I sometimes carpool with another guy, but if I'm not I just try and spend time in the morning with God. Or go for walks. My wife and I often just go for walks and spend time in those moments with Christ, but I think in what I do and in my relationships I just try to stay close to God and let God speak through these things. I just had this revelation a while back, that God doesn't need our promotion of Him. I guess the tension sometimes is when you work for a church, which I do, and you're a part of a team, of a film team, and a marketing team, and a communications team, that often I feel like I need to realize that God doesn't need a marketing team. He doesn't need a communications team to do the work for Him. God can represent Himself. The Holy Spirit can do His work. He definitely does it through people. But He can speak directly to hearts. He doesn't need us to promote Him. And so sometimes I try and realize that I'm not there to be God's marketing agency or His promotional entity, because God can do that work Himself. But God's actually entrusted me in my relationships with other people to be transparent. And if I'm a vessel that He can use then He can speak through me without me having to necessarily be actively conscious and feeling like I need to promote God. God can actually just use me as a vessel and speak through me by my relationships. And I think, especially in what I do within church, I try and keep that in mind because otherwise I can become very dogmatic. We can, I think as a church, become very preachy, and actually we're supposed to be vessels. We're supposed to be, I guess, elements that God can use to speak through. But that doesn't look like preachy.
I've gotta say you do a great job of powerfully conveying your faith through your filmmaking. It's just beautiful. I don't know if I've come across any other filmmaker online recently that has really spoken to me spiritually the way your films do. So man, I thank you for that. They've spoken to me in huge ways.
Thank you. I appreciate you sharing that. I guess for me I try and create quite instinctively in the sense that I don't sit there thinking, ah ok, so this is my agenda with this piece that I'm working on. I'm just not very intentional about things. I'm a little bit more instinctive and reactionary, kind of more in the moment. I recently heard a quote...I don't think the guy was a Christian. He spoke about inspiration. He said, "what does inspiration mean?". And he said it comes from two words. From "in" and the second word "spiration", which is a derivative of, I think, the Latin word "spirit". So the two words together mean being "in spirit". Inspiration was being attributed to being in the force or being under the influence of the creator of you, the created one. So, the created one being in the spirit of the creator. And so for me, it's just these moments where I feel like, wow, ok, God's doing something in me right now. He's speaking to me right now, and I'm creating. And so it often happens that I'm not super pre-thought about things and I'm just starting to create. Sometimes I honestly think, I don't know what is going to happen with this, whether God's going to do anything, whether it's just going to be for me, or whether it's going to be for other people. So it is inspiring to hear that even things that I don't think of in that moment, that God does use it to speak to someone like you, or whoever.
Yeah, well man, he definitely does use it, so thank you for using your creativity that way. It's awesome. I wanted to ask you why you love music and filmmaking so much, and the recent film, The Great Abyss, man, I have watched that like a million times. I just love that video. It's beautiful. I'm a creative person myself, and I've never really looked at creativity the way you said in that, and I thought, he just nailed it. It really inspired me in the way that I create and kind of looked at it from a different angle. So I wanted to ask you to touch on that a little bit and how does having a son now play into why you create. Has having a little boy inspired you in new ways? Has that helped you look at creativity in a new way?
The guys at The Music Bed were asking about this and I said, to be honest, I don't know just yet whether it's changed the way that I see creativity. I think as a human being it's made me a little bit more sensitive to my own experience, but also sensitive to other people's experiences, and I hope being able to empathize with people a little bit better. And I think, down the road, yes, that makes you a better human first of all, but then it makes you a better artist, and hopefully for me a better filmmaker and writer of music. But even if it didn't, that's fine. I guess it's just so early for me to say because I don't have an immediate kind of product of creativity that I can go, yes, now after having a son this is the first product that I've created and look how much better it is. I can't do that just yet. I can't say for sure. And to be honest, it matters, but it doesn't really matter. I think it's made me a little bit more sensitive to how selfish I am as a human being, which I think it does for every parent. It exposes an element of yourself. When you get married you see a mirror of yourself where you can see how selfish you are and then when you have a kid you see it again and it's a little bit bigger. And you see more of yourself. And I think to see those things and then to learn how to be a little more accommodating towards your family, I think that makes you a better person. And maybe down the line makes you a better filmmaker. It's weird, man. When I met my wife is when I started getting into photography. We were just friends at that point. We weren't even going out. We weren't even engaged. We were just mates. She inspired that part of me. And then just before we got married I bought a 7D and started getting into filmmaking. So really the filmmaking thing for me happened when we were married. And so, I think there's maybe a season of my life when my kids will release a new area of creativity that I'm not even aware of, and it's not like I'm waiting around watching the clock waiting for that kind of jolt of inspiration to come. But I've seen God's faithfulness in being married and then bestowing me and my family with the gift of creativity and a season of creativity that I was never expecting. And I thought, stay single for as long as you can because it's hard being creative when creativity takes so much of your time and so much of your effort. But actually, I met my wife and then all of a sudden the film thing happens and music takes off and all this kind of stuff. I don't know. I think God does bless us. Not only do I now have a wife and a family, but I've got a career that for me is very fulfilling. And so I think that God does bless us with being faithful with the little things, which actually is a big thing...my family, my wife, and kid. That's the big prize, you know. I just have to remind myself that I need friends around me to remind myself of that kind of stuff.
Since you've had your little boy, Haryn, how have you noticed your faith being strengthened? How do you feel like you've grown? And I know that we're both still very new as fathers and it's a road that we're not very far down yet, but have you felt like being a father has grown or challenged you in new ways in your faith?
Yeah, it does. I think what it's made me realize is I can start to understand, and it sounds cheesy, but I can start to understand how God feels towards us. I think that's the biggest thing that I've realized. I can understand a little bit more how God loves us. And even though we're more like illegitimate children, and we are orphans, I can start to see the paradigm of God's love for us. I think that's starting to make a whole lot more sense to me, and in a way I can relate to Him a little bit better. Tell me more about your kid. What's your kid's name? How long have you been a dad?
Yeah man, so my wife, Kelly, and I have almost been married eight years. She's amazing, and we had our little girl in January of last year. She's almost seventeen months. Her name is Story. She melts my heart every day. Gets cuter every day. It's amazing. We have another one on the way, which is just a miracle. It's a really exciting time. I feel like I'm just humbled and so thankful every day. I can't believe that I get to be this little girl's father. It's amazing.
I feel so unequipped a lot of the time but then when you see that this kid looks at you in a way that he doesn't look at other people, or she's looking at you like, you're dad, I know you're dad, and I want you to look after me because I love you, and I don't want anyone else to look after me. That feeling is amazing. When he laughs at me, I'm like, he laughs at me! He can laugh at all the other guys, but he keeps laughing at me. I said to my wife when Haryn was born, I feel like everything else could go wrong. I could lose my job, you know, anything can happen, and I feel like as long as I have you guys, as long as I have Haryn, and as long as I have you, everything will be fine. God will take care of us. It was just the idea that somehow I felt security that this kid will love me and I will love him. It doesn't matter what happens. Situations can crumble around us, and thank God that it hasn't, and it doesn't. Things can shift around us and it'll be ok. We've got each other. It's such an easy way to look at things, but it helps.
It absolutely does. Our little girl is getting to that stage where she's starting to cling to us a little bit more. It plays into what you were saying, that whole feeling of man, this little person feels safe with me, they recognize me, they feel a warmth and a love close to me. It's unbelievable. Absolutely amazing. It's a beautiful feeling that I never knew until I was a father.
Yeah, and I think it's easy to feel alone in the world with social media and everything going on. People are portraying us like this air of confidence and the world's just happening for them the whole time that it's easy to feel like you're insignificant. Like you're not doing anything. You're feeling alone in the world. But when you have a kid, that feeling and that other stuff doesn't matter as much anymore. It starts to crumble away a little bit because you realize, ah, no, actually there is someone that loves me, there is someone that I can love, and that will love me back. It's strangely comforting having a kid. I love it.
I love it too. This is really good for me because it's always cool to talk to other guys who are new fathers and to hear their perspective because it's like you're not alone. Other fathers are feeling this too. I don't know if you've thought through these parts of fatherhood, but what's your greatest fear as a father?
I mean, it's not like I don't have any fears. It might be hard for me to articulate exactly what it is. I think it's twofold. I think my fear as a father has to do with my fear as a human, which is that I never want to become a shell. I never want to become a shell of a person that has no guts. The thing that God spoke to me a few months before Haryn was born was that He wants to speak through me as a person. He doesn't necessarily want to speak through me through my art. So, even though He does, and this is just my revelation, He places more importance on when people meet with me that they see Christ through me in my life. Not necessarily Christ through my work. And so, I think my biggest fear is that I become a shell of a person to my wife, that I become a shell of a person to my kid, that I become a shell of a person to everyone else around me, because I live this existence that places every bit of revelation, every bit of who I am into this front that is online, or that is not here, that is not present. And so, I think a lot of creatives have the challenge to be present. My biggest fear is that the more social media and the more attention and the more stuff goes on around us, the more we start to feed that stuff, and we become less present. We become less present as fathers. We become less present as husbands. We become less present as employees. We become less present as just friends. And so I think that's the thing that I've had to wrestle with is just be present. When I come back from work I'm here at home, and I'm here engaged, because I can slowly but surely start to slip away. And my biggest fear isn't necessarily that I will mess up in some instantaneous event. It's that I slowly but surely disconnect. That's my biggest fear.
And then on the other side, what's your greatest dream as a father?
When I was younger, I kind of wished that I never turned into my dad. I don't know why. Maybe because I saw him as uncool or whatnot, and the more I grow up, the more I realize I am like my dad, and the more I realize I'm so grateful I am like my dad. Because I look at my life now and I honestly think that my dad is my absolute hero. He's the most kindhearted, gentle-hearted man I know, and loves Jesus like no one else. And I guess for me, and I'm not saying that I hope my kid grows up to be just like me, but I hope my kid grows up to be kind of just like my dad. He looks almost like my father. I hope our family life is conducive for him to feel like anything is possible. You know, that as he walks closer with Christ in the way that we raise him, that he realizes that he can dream anything that he wants, anything that God has called him to do. Anything is possible. I hope I can raise my kid in that environment, where he knows that he is loved, and he knows mom and dad love each other, and he knows that it's actually been a safe environment in the sense that there's been a lot of love and care for him and also for each other, mom and dad. So then hopefully there won't be any need to rebel. But also then letting him know that he can do whatever he wants. For his future, he can decide whatever he wants to do. When I look at the way my dad raised me, that's how it was. In my formative years, when I was really bad, I couldn't make decisions for myself because I didn't have an informed intellect. My dad would make a lot of decisions for us and put boundaries in and I saw it as my dad being really strict and everything and actually it wasn't. It was just because I couldn't make the decisions myself. And when I turned thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, my dad just opened his hands and said here you go, this is your life and we're here to support you whatever you want to do. And if I can do that for my kid, and make him feel this love, and that it's been a great environment where anything is possible...if I can see what his dreams are from a young age and try to encourage him in those things, that's what I want to do.
That's so cool to hear how much of an influence your dad has on you, because I feel very fortunate and blessed to be in a similar situation. My dad is just unbelievable. It's always good to hear that because there are a lot of people in the world who don't have that, who don't have an amazing dad. I feel very fortunate. And your boy is very blessed to have you as a father.
We hope (laughs).
What do you feel challenges your faith most in life?
I think there are two things. I think there are practical things that challenge my faith in the sense that I'm just too distracted with waking up in the morning, going for a run, coming back, looking after the kid, so I want to make time where I can just be with God without a specific agenda. So that's in a very practical sense. Being distracted. But also, cynicism. Cynicism in the church. I don't know what the climate is like in the U.S., but there can be a sense of cynicism towards church, towards church structure, church politics, and all that kind of stuff. Which I get. I get being cynical about all this stuff about church that is not good. So sometimes when I hear people talk I try not to get swayed by what people think about the church, these new theologies, and all these kind of things. I mean, I find some of that stuff really interesting to talk about, but sometimes those things can become such an intellectual wrestle and it never comes into a spirit, or it creates the sense of piousness. Sometimes we can look at a pharisaical kind of model, where it's a lot of rich pastors in America that are living in mansions and all these things, and the rich pastor is selling his book from the pulpit again, especially in reformed kind of pentecostal, protestant kind of church movements. You see that a lot. The pastor is selling his book, there's a new worship album, and it becomes very corporate, kind of commercial. And there's a lot of people that kind of rebel against that and go, where is it all going? Where's the real stuff? And sometimes you can shift so much into this camp into being highly critical. I sometimes see articles in Relevant Magazine and it's the same thing. I can see this kind of shift, and I never want to become one of those guys. And you decide on the camp where I can be critical of the way that these people are living, but I'm also finding myself in this camp. I'm just cynical and it's all negative and nothing is ever good. I actually just want to see Christ out for myself. Find Him amongst all the distraction and all the people back and forth, and all these theological wars that are happening online. I actually just want to remove myself from that. I want to love the church. I want to be a part of the church. But I really want to find Christ for myself. And I often find that church is good mostly just for community and not so much for theology and all those kind of things, which it can be for many different people, but I think for me I just appreciate community a lot from church. Sorry, that's a big long-winded answer, but I guess it's just practically not trying to be distracted by all the noise and stuff. And then I think about the theological Twitter wars that are going on and I want to remove myself from that because I think that is detrimental to my faith. I think to our faith in general, but to my faith specifically.
How do find time to spend with God? What does that look like for you?
It's very unformulaic. It's often a car ride to work, or sometimes I just try to sit. We've got a second-level landing at our work that's outside. Especially when, creatively, I feel like nothing's coming, or there's too many ideas that I need to sift through, I'll go sit out there and get a sense of clarity. And my wife and I will often go for walks and talk about a variety of life things, but then also theological things. And so, I guess for me I want to become a little more structured. My dad talks about how he goes to sit on the Holy Spirit's lap. It may sound a little bit super spiritual or new-agey, but it's not like that. That's kind of what I want to get down to. My study of the Word often happens around things that I'm thinking about for projects and things. And I'm trying to get away from all that. I want to let the Word dictate who I am as an individual. I try and not let that kind of frame me but actually who I am as a person, and frame everything else that I want to do. I think sometimes I get the balance of that wrong. The Word defines me as opposed to I define what I do. That's a thing that God talks to me about...don't let a project force you to come spend time with me. Let that happen. And that reality of spending time with God in His Word happens way too infrequently.
And where do you work by the way? Do you work at Hillsong?
Yeah, I do work at Hillsong.
Do you like it?
Yeah, I love it. I mean, it's just like any other workplace. It has its challenges. God has called us there for a season, and especially in the last three years, I think God's taught us a lot in being here and submitting to such a big team and learning how to do things with people that are more skilled than you. So some elements of it are challenging, the elements that are maybe a bit more business-like. But other elements have been really encouraging and working with bigger teams and all that kind of stuff has been awesome.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave your children as a father?
You know, I actually have thought about this. There are two things that I hope happen for them when they grow up. And I think the one will happen as the result of the other. I want them to fall more in love with Jesus, more possibly than I have, or my dad has. I want them to have this great revelation of who God is. And then out of that, I want them to realize that anything is possible. That whatever God has placed on their life, that they can do that. But I never want to make it about the second thing. I always want to make it about the first thing. The second thing is almost like a means to live, a means to create, or to do whatever every day. But the first, that is the ultimate. That is eternal. That has the longest legacy. I hope they can do that and then find their so-to-speak calling, what it is that God has gifted them to do. And that might change seasonally, who knows. Because a lot of people stress, what has God called you to. And I say, well actually, I feel like God has called me to many different things and those things change seasonally. I think longterm God has given me this passion and this desire for films, so as long as that thing is still pulsing within my heart, that is what I'm going to be doing. And seasonally that shifts a little bit and I do music for a season and then I come back and do film, but I'm also trying to learn that there are seasons. Seasons when we're here, and seasons when we're somewhere else. We've been in Dubai, and then who knows what God's seasons are for my son as well. As long as he stays close to the heart of God, He'll make evident what it is that He wants him to do, or what His passions for Him are, what's the passion that He's given for Haryn. I feel like my son is a very soft-hearted, quite gentle natured individual. So I'm sure God will use him in some way. Hopefully in a pastoral, just looking after people sense, but I feel like there's something in him that God's going to release that's going to speak to people in a massive way, because I feel like he just gets people. You can put him in anyone's arms and he doesn't cry. He'll laugh. Whatever skin color, whatever language, he'll just laugh. And so I feel like there's something that God's going to do in him, that's going to speak to people, whether that's filmmaking or skateboarding, serving soup at the soup kitchen, whatever it is. (his wife chimes in from the other room) Ballet dancer my wife says (laughs). That'll be for the girl. Maybe it'll be for our boy kid, but he'll be a strong, manly ballet dancer. So yeah, if they can live with those two things, I think that's my dream for them. And that's the legacy that I want to leave for them.
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