The Pursuit of Happiness

Ah, the pursuit of happiness…what does that mean to you? I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit lately.  It’s one of those things I think all of us are prone to ponder, especially as we get older.

The recent historic events of this November have brought this question again to the forefront of my thinking. I mean, the Cubs win the World Series and then this election…what an emotional rollercoaster! Some people are happy on rollercoasters…me, not so much.

I tend to be one of those people who works with a mindset of, “when this job/event/goal is accomplished then I’ll truly be happy.” And to some degree that is certainly true. But often the feeling I am pursuing seems to elude me. Don’t get me wrong, I am not an unhappy person, but I have been trying to honestly answer the question of what makes me happy.

I spend a lot of time isolated… something common for a lot of artists. I perform alone, work out of an office in my home alone, and travel most of the time alone. Ah, travel, something many people hold claim to as something that makes them happy, and I do like travel, but traveling alone is not as much fun as traveling with a companion.

I know the “spiritually correct” answer to this question is to “delight ourselves in the Lord.” And I do; like I said, I am not an unhappy person. But while I “delight” in the Lord and all He as done for me, there is still this desire, that need to pursue happiness. Happiness is not, at least for me, a 24/7 thing.

In September my wife, Lorie celebrated one of her “milestone” birthdays (one of those that ends in a “0”). I wanted it to be extra special and I went out of my way to plan a surprise birthday weekend that she would never forget. It came off extremely well. The whole family, including our new granddaughter was with us. Lorie’s sister and brother-in-law traveled from Canada, which added to her happiness. We all shared a great weekend at the Oregon coast. She was very surprised and that made me happy.

And that made me happy.

There is the key, at least for me. I’m at my happiest when I am with other people, people I love. I am at my happiest when I can bring joy to the people that I love. I am happiest in my work—and make no mistake, setting up this surprise weekend was a lot of work—when I know that work will make others happy. I’m rediscovering, what I should have known all along—my personal happiness is found in getting the focus off myself and onto others.

Something to remember as we approach Thanksgiving.

I have included a little video that I made to reveal this birthday surprise weekend. Watching Lorie watch the video, and seeing her surprised reaction, made me very happy. I share it in hopes that it will bring a smile to your face and maybe make you happy for a moment or two.

(Disclaimer: the tune is one I borrowed from a little boy who has made a lot of people happy with his video that has gone viral. So a tip of the hat to Obadiah Gamble. Check out his original video here: Hey Teddy

The Tale of Mr. Music Director


Mr. Music DirectorI could tell something was amiss with Mr. Music Director at this church. He didn’t greet me when I arrived early, unlike other members of his team. He was agitated with the sound issues the church was having. And it was clear that his agenda was the only one that mattered, even though I arrived early to do a sound check and rehearse my tech cues. I soon discovered he was not about to relinquish the stage to me before the service.

He first upstaged one of the team members who was speaking to the congregation by going up to each worship team member, checking their microphone and pointing wildly at the sound booth to confirm that each mic was working properly.

He upstaged again when he moved back to the keyboard and refused to start the next song until he was convinced everyone’s mic was working. The pastor prompted verbally from the front pew, “let’s go.” He then said, “I’m sorry but our music is sensitive and I don’t want to play unless it is right. I’m sure you understand.”

Finally it was time for me to take the platform. Things were going along fine until the final moments of my performance, when Mr. Music Director decided to take the stage while I was still speaking. This is a sensitive moment in my performance and Mr. Music Director was upstaging me by moving onto the platform and flipping switches getting ready for his closing song. I could sense my audience moving their focus from me to Mr. Music Director. I wanted to say something to him; to tell him to please go sit down until I was finished. But to do so would have only caused me to totally lose my audience, and possibly turn them against me. I’m sure if you were to ask him, he would tell you he was being professional and preparing for a smooth transition to the closing.

I wish I could say that this was a rare occurrence, but sadly it is not. I share this story with you not as rant but rather to encourage you to understand one of the basic rules of the stage, and that applies to any situation in front of an audience. What Mr. Music Director was doing is called “upstaging.” In theatrical terms it means to draw attention away from where it is supposed to be. Upstaging in the theater is when an actor moves upstage of another actor forcing the other actor to turn their back to the audience in order to interact with them. In theater we tend to think of it as intentional bad behavior, but in truth it can be unintentional and often accidental. Or in the case of Mr. Music Director, it can be due to being oblivious to what you are actually doing.

(I have written about this topic as it relates to church before here: Baby Talk. If you check it out also read the comments that follow—some interesting stuff.)

Here are some examples of upstaging that I observe in churches almost every weekend.

• late arrivals
• people who get up and leave in the middle of the service
• people who return to the service after leaving in the middle of the service
• babies crying or cooing
• cellphones ringing
• texting or using a mobile device during the service—yes other people notice.
• tech issues with microphones not working properly
• team members on the platform who are talking to each other, or moving things around while someone is speaking
• outside interruptions, a clap of thunder or police sirens.

As you can see, some of these things we can’t control but some can be controlled with proper instruction and planning.

So take this challenge. Next time you are in church, make a mental note of anything that causes you to take your focus away from the person you should be giving your attention to. And at all costs, don’t be the one doing the upstaging.

The Man in Seat 11A


Man in 11AHe was a large man, the man in seat 11A. Large enough to to require that the armrest between the seats be raised in order for him to fit comfortably in his seat on the Southwest Airlines flight.

I am an actor…part of my job is to observe people. It’s something we do as a part of our craft. Observing people is one of the tools we use in creating new characters. Sometimes I do this intentionally and other times…like this one, the opportunity just falls into your lap…so to speak.

My lap tends to feel rather cramped on airlines so I like to take advantage of my A-List status on Southwest Airlines – which allows me to board in the first group. (No assigned seats on Southwest, so getting on early is essential if you hope to have an aisle or a window seat.) I head to the middle of the plane to hopefully snag the aisle seat in the exit row, which has extra leg room. In this case seat 11C is my destination.

I’m in luck as I arrive at row 11 and 11C is available. The man in 11A – the window seat – is already occupied and settled in. The flight attendant announces that this will be a full flight and every seat will be taken. This flight will have a number of “larger people” on board as a college football team has booked about half of the seats. However, the man in 11A is clearly not one of the team, being older and, let’s just say he didn’t have the physique to match the rest of the team.

The first occupant of the middle seat, 11B, is a middle-aged man, and has a look of all business. At first he seems happy to have scored a seat with extra legroom. Then he sits and the look on his face changes as he realizes that the armrest is missing between the seats, forcing body contact between him and the man in 11A. He almost immediately pops up and looks to the back of the plane. Without a word he grabs his bag and squeezes out to move to another seat.

The man in seat 11A seems oblivious to this as he is focused on his iPad. In fact he has not engaged anyone since I have arrived in row 11, looking at the screen the whole time.

The second occupant of seat 11B is a younger man. He also has the look of a business man, although less traditional than the first occupant and thankfully he is skinny, not built like one of the football players, and should be a better fit in the space between me and the man in 11A. However, it doesn’t take long for him to also realize that this seat is going to be less comfortable than he imagined; he fidgets and squirms and he too begins to look back, a bit frantic even, to see if there is another seat. But it appears he is out of luck. All the seats are taken and the flight attendants are starting their routine announcements in preparation for departure.

The flight attendant is required to ask all the occupants of an exit row if they are willing to help and if necessary open the exit door in case of an emergency. I am surprised and amused when 11B says no, he is not willing and will need to be reseated. I see the slightest bit of an incredulous smirk on the face of the man in 11A.

Now what has been an interesting observation taking place in row 11, suddenly becomes public as the flight attendant has to make announcements over the PA looking for a volunteer to replace the man in 11B.

It takes several announcements with no takers before finally a hand shoots up from the front of the plane. The man in 11B quickly gathers his stuff as if he can’t get out of there fast enough. A few seconds later an attractive woman makes her way down the aisle to replace him. I hear the first words from the man in the seat 11A, “Alright!–that’s much better” as the woman finds her way to the seat between us…it was almost as if he had planned it…and I got the feeling that this is not the first time he has experienced this dilemma.

The woman in seat 11B is outgoing. As she gets into her seat she says, “Oh, I get to sit next to “Ralph Lauren,” referring to me. Well that certainly made my day. She immediately engages 11A in conversation. And we are off.

It doesn’t take long for 11B to raise the question, “So what was the deal with the other guy who was sitting here?”

11A replies, “I guess he didn’t want to sit next to me. You’re the third person to have that seat.”

“That’s ridiculous!” says the woman in 11B.

11A and 11B hit it off well and converse while I turn to my iPad and headphones to watch a video. A short time later I unplug and the question is asked by 11B, “What football team is this anyway?”

I happened to have observed their logos and tell them the name of the college.

11A is connected to wifi on his iPad. A few seconds later they have the football team’s webpage up on the screen. Guess who the first occupant of 11B was? The coach of the football team.

The woman in 11B says, “Let’s see if we can find out who that other guy was that I replaced in this seat.”

Anonymous no more.

Observations

So as for my acting lessons:

  • From the first two occupants in seat 11B I observed different ways to “squeeze” out of an uncomfortable situation.
  • From the third occupant of 11B I observed how to make the best of an awkward situation and how being just a little outgoing can put people at ease.
  • From the man in 11A I observed ways to appear oblivious when in reality you are very much aware. I also observed self-control when those around you are being insensitive, while trying to appear that they are not.
  • From the man in 11C I observed that you don’t have to worry about getting stuck in the middle seat if you are A-List. And that being told you look life Ralph Lauren, can go to your head if you let it.

Interesting observations to say the least. I am left to ponder what I would have done, if I had happened to be one of the first occupants of 11B. Of course I could have offered to take 11B right from the start and solved the problem…but…but I was A-List.

Somebody ought to write a script…

Honesty in Church?

young man wearing a mask of himself

“You know, I find that one of the hardest places to be honest, as an artist, is in the church.”

Whoa! Say what? The statement took me aback a bit.

Then another voice chimed in, “Oh, I totally agree. There are a lot of audiences much more accepting of honesty in our culture. The church is one of the hardest places to speak the truth.”

Wham again! I mean of all places for honesty and truth, shouldn’t the church be at the top of the list?

The conversation was at an intimate gathering of Christian artists in a retreat setting—oddly enough, in a church. Most of the people in attendance were professional performers with a focus on ministry. For most, their audience was the church.

Among the attributes of an artist, speaking the truth is at the top of the list. And yet…

“Oh, you can be honest about some things—the ‘approved topics’ that the tribe accepts. Of course, you can talk about ‘Gospel’ truth. You can even talk about certain failings, certain areas of brokenness; the ‘acceptable sins.’ But there are lots of areas that you can’t touch.”

As the conversation continued I began to understand. There was much brokenness and hurt gathered in this room; divorce, betrayal, addictions, and other issues that are not easily dismissed. Stuff that real people deal with on a daily basis.

And they were saying that both personally and as artists they found it difficult and even impossible to speak about these things in the one place where issues of brokenness should be welcome.

I recalled a conversation with a friend who is a well-known Christian recording artist. He had echoed some of the same sentiment. His passion was to write songs about brokenness but was hitting a wall of resistance. He was told the songs he wanted to write would not be “marketable” to the church audience he was playing to. Only positive and uplifting music was desired and would be commercially acceptable.

In recent years I have been sharing personal stories from my life in my performances. One of the things I have found encouraging is that people are overwhelmingly affirming about the “honesty” and “transparency” I share in my stories… but to be even more honest and transparent, I filtered those stories to stay away from the taboo topics, that I knew deep down inside I couldn’t share. I knew my audiences wouldn’t accept those stories in the context of a church setting. I have to admit it would be very easy to be “more honest” about some of the issues if I were not playing to the church.

I am in a lot of churches… virtually a different one or two every weekend. A lot of churches advertise “come as you are” and try really hard to project an image of being a place where the broken are welcome. But are they being honest?

I don’t have an answer.

I do know that, for the most part, the group of artists gathered in this room are exceptionally qualified to speak honesty and truth, but are not feeling the freedom to do that for the audience they feel called to serve.

Thoughts?

Then vs. Now

ihscropped-COLLAGEFor many years I was used to hearing comments like, “You look younger in person than in your publicity photos.”

Then there was a time when I heard, “You look just like your publicity photos.”

Recently someone said, “You look older in person than in your publicity photos.”

Okay… I guess it is time for some new photos.

I believe in truth in advertising! I enlisted a good photographer, who happens to be my son, Jon, and spent a bit of time this month updating the website with new photos that I hope will give a more accurate depiction of what this actor guy really looks like. (If you like the photos and need a photographer, please consider Jon. Check out his work here:  Jon Neighbors Photography.)

chuck08-COLLAGEBut this whole issue of my not looking like I used to look got me to thinking about all the things we once took for granted that are no more. When it comes to my profession as a performer working in churches, I came up with these observations:

I used to hear, “We might book you for a potluck dinner.”
Then I heard, “We would like to book you for our worship service.”
Now I hear, “We don’t book outside artists or speakers.”

I used to hear, “Drama, that would be great for the kids.”
Then I heard, “We have our own drama ministry that performs in our worship services.”
Now I hear, “Drama, that would be great for the kids.”

I used to hear, “We can’t move the pulpit; it is bolted to the floor.”
Then I heard, “We bring out the pulpit after the band finishes their set.”
Now I hear, “What’s a pulpit?”

I used to hear, “No food or beverage allowed in the auditorium!”chuck11-COLLAGE
Then I heard, “Only water is allowed in the auditorium.”
Now I hear, “Grab your latte and find a seat.”

I used to hear, “Turn in your Bibles to Acts Chapter….”
Then I heard, “The scripture from Acts is on the overhead screen.”
Now I hear, “Click on your Bible app and scroll over to Acts…”

I used to hear, “We meet twice on Sunday and once in the middle of the week.”
Then I heard, “We only meet on Sunday mornings.”
Now I hear, “We watch our church service in our pajamas at home via livestream.”

I know, this all smacks a bit of the ol’ “Why, when I was a kid…” stories we heard from our grandparents. But maybe that’s not so bad. Times do change…some for better and some for worse.

For now I hope to hear once again, “You look younger than in your publicity photos…” Hey, a guy can dream!

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