Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 02/25/22

“Recording this album was a songwriter’s dream.” So says hearing-impaired Christian music artist Thomas Muglia whose new release I Have A Father drops today. The Arizona native and American Idol alumni has an extensive catalog of over 300 worship songs that has industry executives taking, well, note, of his talent and musical range.

Muglia grew up in a musical family and quickly learned how to feel, play, and read music at a young age. With encouragement from his earthly father, he began playing and singing for his Catholic Church congregation. During his teen years, he also spent much of his spare time playing his favorite pop songs in school talent shows and coffee shops. He began to see music in general – and worship music, in particular – as something of a ministry during his college years when he developed a passion for heartfelt songwriting. In 2019 he recorded his first independent album The Return. It was  not long after that that he was sought out by Oregon Catholic Press (OCP) to publish some of his songs, a deal which quickly expanded to include recording I Have A Father. Our conversation follows the video.

JWK: You were diagnosed with moderate to severe hearing loss pretty much at birth. Given that, what drew you to music?

Thomas Muglia: If theres any sense I value most in life, Its probably hearing; but because Ive always had hearing loss, I dont really think of myself as hearing impaired. Its just my normal.

There are certainly challenges that come with hearing loss, but theyve never prevented me from enjoying music. I cant remember a time in my life before music was a part of it. My mom is a music teacher and my dad, a church music director; music was just always the thing to do. When I was in 3rd grade, my Dad got me a guitar and taught me to play. Within a few years, I was playing and singing songs at church.

JWK: How extensive was your hearing loss and how did it affect your personal experience of music?

TM: If I take out my hearing aids Im almost completely unable to communicate unless someone is shouting at me and I can read their lips. With hearing aids in, Im able to communicate one on one or in a small group with no issues, but if Im in a crowded room with background noise it becomes more difficult. I struggle to separate out multiple voices and background noises from each other and it can be hard to understand others without asking them to repeat themselves.

There have been a number of times when one hearing aid will break or Im unable to wear them for some reason. That always makes me realize how grateful I am for the technology Ive relied on every single day for 24 years. It really is amazing to think about how radically different my life would be if hearing aids didnt exist.

I probably wouldnt play music as well with my hearing aids out, but I can get by pretty well on muscle memory. I do have perfect pitch which allows me to hear notes in my head and create them without hearing them. This definitely helps and I think my exposure to music from a young age has a lot to do with it. To play in a band or harmonize with others, good hearing is absolutely essential. Because of the limitations of the hearing aids, I cant hear below or above a certain frequency; though the technology is improving rapidly, hearing aids are designed primarily for speech – not music, but as I always tell people, it’s my normal – I dont know life without them.

JWK: You once auditioned for American Idol. What was that experience like and what did you learn from it?

TM: I submitted a video audition when I was a senior in high school and ended up getting a call back to audition for the celebrity judges (Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick Jr.). I made it on the show, went through Hollywood week, and got sent home when they narrowed the cast down to 51 people.

I learned so much from that experience. Mostly, it taught me how to perform for an audience as opposed to just playing and singing. I remember right before I got cut, saying a prayer Lord, if this is your will, let it be, and if not, take it away.” My answer was clear, but Im thankful. While in the moment, I couldn’t quite understand why God didnt have me continue. A few years later, I see now.  He had another path for me and one that led me to make music about Him.

JWK: Your new album is called I Have a Father. How did that come about?

TM: I grew up in the faith. Ive always been Catholic and I still am. And, while I always believed in God, I didnt always have a friendship with Him. I spent most of my life just trying to stay out of trouble without really understanding why. As a freshman in college I got involved in a great Catholic community and campus ministry at Arizona State University. It was there that I started to pray, read scripture, and ask God to show me who He really is. It was that during year that my entire worldview shifted from I have a religion” to I have a Father”. I began to know God as a Father who wants a life full of joy and purpose for each of us – even though sometimes that means going through difficulty. After this, I started to pour my musical inspiration into my relationship with God. These songs are landmarks on the journey and prayers that I keep coming back to. When I put these 11 together, it felt right. Like a full narrative of the past few years of prayer, community, and campus ministry.

JWK: What do you hope people take from it?

TM: I want listeners to hear their own stories in these songs and say me too”. Id love for these songs to be a companion to someone on their walk with Christ. Or if they dont relate to these experiences on a personal level, I hope the songs will spark up a conversation with God and draw their attention to His loving presence in their lives.

JWK: How has your faith sustained you through your journey? Do you see your story as possibly providing some inspiration for others who face physical handicaps?

TM: My faith has sustained me through much more than just my hearing loss. Its been everything to me.

I dont think Ive ever thought of my hearing loss as something to be overcome. There are difficult days or even months for sure – I dont want to understate that; but ultimately its just a part of my story that I dont try to hide or wish was different. I think Ive fully embraced it by now. My older sister, who’s also a professional musician, has a very similar hearing loss to mine. Weve always had each other to relate to –  in grade school we used to get to leave class to give each other spare hearing aid batteries. I think she’s provided me much more support than Ive ever really stopped to think about or appreciate. Im really grateful that Ive always been so close with MaryAnne.

Perhaps if hearing aids didnt exist I would have a different take on things. Im grateful for the technology thats constantly evolving. I do think I can inspire others who have handicaps to embrace their story and live from a place of gratitude and purpose.

JWK: What is the state of your hearing now?

TM: My hearing now is normal to me. I dont have a reference point from which I can evaluate it, but the brain is amazing at adapting to situations and Im learning how to leverage different hearing aid settings and methods of communicating for my needs. The technology is advancing at an amazing pace and every new pair of hearing aids I get is infinitely better than the previous. When I put on my older pairs after adapting to new ones I wonder how I was ever able to function with them. My current pair has Bluetooth built in so Im basically wearing a pair of AirPods at all times – which is pretty cool. Im excited to see how things continue to evolve in audiology.

JWK: The movie CODA – which is up for three Oscars this year, including Best Picture – is about a young hearing woman who grew up in a deaf family and pursues a career in music. I’m wondering if you’ve seen it and, if so, thoughts on it.

TM: I havent seen it but will definitely have to watch this!

JWK:  It strikes me that your story would make a pretty good movie. Any thoughts along those lines?

TM: I suppose the right parts of my story would make a nice movie. But I think thats probably true for most people. Ive never felt like my life was particularly dramatic. Its just what I know. Ive been incredibly blessed and I really owe everything to God and to my family.

JWK: What’s next for you?

TM: Writing more songs and sharing more music! I don’t have all the specifics but I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon. I absolutely love what I do. Theres nothing quite like connecting with others and with God through music.

When the ideal of human perfection is the enemy of the good. On NewsNation’s Banfield, host Ashleigh Banfield conducted a compelling interview with Dancing with the Stars’ Cheryl Burke about her struggle with body dysmorphia, a condition in which an individual can become emotionally crippled by an exaggerated focus on perceived physical flaws. A religious or moral version of that might be scrupulosity, something I have struggled with, which is an obsession on one’s perceived moral weaknesses. Both conditions, in their extremes, can be debilitating and an obstacle to achieving one’s positive goals and purposes. I applaud Ms. Banfield and Ms. Burke for an important conversation that I’m sure many people can relate to and benefit from.

On a larger scale, particularly given current headlines, I found the discussion to be disturbingly applicable to what I think is afflicting our country  right now. At a time when our sense of moral purpose and confidence is most needed, we are behaving like a nation consumed with self-flagellation at precisely the moment when the world needs confident leadership against the evil of truly authoritarian regimes. No human being and no nation is perfect. Mistakes and failings should not be denied but the way forward is not a path of excessive self-doubt and the denial of progress. We have at least as many heroes as villains in our national history. America – like the world in general – is flawed but, on balance, we’re a force for good and definitely not the epitome of evil. Beyond that, we are blessed with a system that is pretty much built on the wise idea that no individuals or political parties can be trusted with absolute power. That’s not something to brag about. It’s something to be grateful for. For a nation that currently doesn’t enjoy that blessing, consider Russia – or China. Take it, Bill Maher.

Mark Wahlberg’s passion project. The A-list Catholic actor introduces the new trailer for his upcoming biopic Father Stu below.  The R-Rated film pulls no punches in telling the hard-hitting, surprisingly funny and ultimately uplifting real-life story of boxer-turned-priest Stuart Long, a lost soul who unexpectedly finds his purpose after an injury ends his amateur boxing career.

The film follows Long (Wahlberg) as he moves to L.A. dreaming of stardom. While scraping by as a supermarket clerk, he meets Carmen (Teresa Ruiz), a Catholic Sunday school teacher who seems immune to his bad-boy charm. Determined to win her over, the longtime agnostic starts going to church to impress her. When a horrific motorcycle accident nearly kills him, he finds himself wondering if he can use his second chance to help others find their way, leading to his surprising decision to become a priest – despite the skepticism of Church officials and his estranged parents (Mel Gibson and Jacki Weaver).

Long went on to pursue his vocation with a courage and compassion that inspired many, including Bishop George Thomas who ordained Father Stu to the priesthood and Bishop Austin Vetter, the current Bishop of the Diocese of Helena in Montana which has issued a statement in support of the filmFr. Stu opens exclusively in theaters on April 15th.

On a lighter note, it’s a jungle out there. Based Aaron Blabey‘s best-selling Scholastic book series, here’s the trailer the DreamWorks Animation action comedy about a crackerjack criminal crew of animal outlaws. The Bad Guys of the title include dashing pickpocket Mr. Wolf (voiced by Sam Rockwell), seen-it-all safecracker Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), master-of-disguise Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson), short-fused “muscle” Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos) and sharp-tongued expert hacker Ms. Tarantula, aka Webs (Awkwafina). After years of countless heists, the world’s most-wanted villains are finally caught – causing Mr. Wolf  to broker a deal that involves turning his motley band of beastly miscreants into good guys –  a deal he has no intention of keeping. I’m told an entertaining tale (or tails) with an uplifting message ensues. The Bad Guys is due exclusively in theaters on April 22. Rated PG.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
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