The Dark Side of Art

Dark_side_ChuckLast week I did something I thought I would never do.

I went to a heavy metal concert.

Not just any heavy metal concert, but a sub-genre known as “doom metal.”

Yes, that “Christian actor guy”—that same guy that does a show featuring the famous catch-phrase “What would Jesus do?”—found himself in a dark room with people wearing dark clothes listening to some very dark music… and doing this around midnight… way past my bedtime.

Why, you may ask?

Well, a couple of reasons. One, it bothers me when people condemn art without first experiencing it, be it music, film, theater or visual art. Christians, myself included, are too often guilty of this. I would probably be one of the first to condemn this form of art at first glance. I am trying to change on that score. Two, I have relationships with people who are into this scene. The relationships matter to me, so I felt I needed to get better acquainted with this world for the sake of those relationships. If after experiencing this music I chose to condemn it, at least it would be an informed decision. On this night I promised I would do my best to arrive with an open mind.

A put on dark clothes, and wore a hat to try to hide the gray hair. I wanted to blend in, although I knew that would be almost impossible. I was too old and too devoid of tattoos to be anonymous. Even if I managed to pull off getting past the first glance, my neon orange earplugs would certainly give me away.

I paid my $10 cover charge and crept in as my eyes adjusted to the lack of light. One of the first surprises of the evening was that even though I was out of my element, the people I was introduced to were remarkably kind and even personable. Even though the volume in the place was extreme, they made an attempt to converse and I quickly felt accepted.

This genre of music contains names of bands that evoke the worst imagery for the average Christian. The most famous in this genre is Black Sabbath but it also includes bands like The Skull, Pentagram, Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride. Not names you are likely to find on a lineup with Third Day or The Newsboys.

One of the stereotypes that was quickly dispelled, was that this music is satanic. Now, I know I am a novice, and there may indeed be expressions of this music that could be considered satanic, but on this night that was not the case. And I was relieved!

One of the other stereotypes that I had to discard was that this was just “noise.” I fully expected to dismiss the “so-called music” as anything but music. I was prepared to have my assumptions confirmed. “Just a bunch of kids making a horrible racket” was my preconceived notion. To my surprise, the music was artistic and well rehearsed. It was definitely a “show” and as an actor I could appreciate some of the theatrics in the performance. A single song can last up to 45 minutes and I found the music comparable to a symphonic piece with different movements taking us on a journey. The singing… well there really was no singing… but there was certainly vocal noise. Screaming indecipherable words—that was the “singing”—is what is common in most doom metal songs. This I did not like.

According to Wikipedia —

“Doom metal is an extreme form of heavy metal music that typically uses slower tempos, low-tuned guitars and a much ‘thicker’ or ‘heavier’ sound than other metal genres. Both the music and the lyrics intend to evoke a sense of despair, dread, and impending doom.”

I have to say that is a very accurate description. The fascinating thing is that this draws an audience. The last thing I would want to do is pay for entertainment that would evoke in me a “sense of despair, dread and impending doom.” But that is what was happening. The audience moved as one, nodding their heads, as if in a trance, to the slow dark droning beat, many with their hands raised. I reminded me of a sort of dark worship service, but instead of worship it was as if they were all commiserating their grief together. There was almost of feeling of being tortured and I found it quite disturbing.

I have had the opportunity to talk with some of the artists that make this sort of music and for many of them the music is an expression of some grief or anger they are working through. As an artist I can understand and appreciate this. It is a very appropriate use of art to express what the artist is going through. This was art—no question. The dark side of art to be sure, but definitely art.

My test for the kind of art that I want to experience is that it needs to have something redeeming in it. Often Christians, myself included, make hasty judgments when it comes to art. We won’t go see a movie that has too much bad language, sex and violence. I understand. Yet I am more willing to tolerate the bad stuff if I know that there is something redeeming in it. The good wins, there is light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope in the end.

I left the venue feeling sad. Sad that there was so much pain and suffering in the hearts of those I observed. Sad that they felt a need to celebrate it. I had just experienced a metaphor brought to life—misery loves company. It was the only redeeming thing I found in the art. I left feeling the hopelessness that the artists skillfully expressed.

I’m glad I went. I have a better understanding of the art form and more importantly the people that are drawn to it. I think it will improve my relationship with those in my life that are drawn to this.

I can’t wait to never go again!

The Trouble with Labels

Sign_Theatrical SermonI cringed when I saw the sign in front of the church:
Chuck Neighbors Theatrical Sermon

The image that leaped into my mind was not one I wanted to embrace. First I don’t really think of what I do as a sermon, and second a theatrical sermon conjures up the very worst of what I would expect from a televangelist.

When I walked into the church one lady asked me:
“Are you our entertainer?”

I stuttered…

I realized I had not communicated clearly with this church what it is that I do… but then, when it comes to what I do, it is not easy to articulate in a way that everybody understands. I’m an actor, yes; I’m a storyteller, yes. I do most of my performing in the context of a worship service, but I’m not a preacher. Giving a “sermon” is not what we are accustomed to seeing done by people who bill themselves as actors and storytellers. I’m a minister, yes–but not to be confused with the acting and storytelling done by pastors in the pulpit week after week.

SigncollageAm I an entertainer? Yes… but if I told people I was an entertainer they would be very hesitant to book me, especially in place of a sermon during the worship service.

The trouble with labels.

Sometimes I feel like Rodney Dangerfield when he said, “I get no respect.” In the world of the church one needs to have the title “pastor” or “minister” to be qualified to speak behind the pulpit and give a sermon. In the world of the theater, one can hardly be a “legitimate actor” if their audience is the church. Preaching and theater are often at odds with each other. I have come to detest the dreaded “what do you do for a living?” question. How I would love to have a simple answer like waiter, letter carrier, doctor, sales person. Those are pretty clear-cut. My answers stumble out more like “I’m an actor, but…” or “I’m a minister, but…”

That also spins me around again to the question of defining who I am by what I do, a trap most of us fall into. We mistake what we do for who we are, and not just in the area of our work. Those labels can define parts of us, but not the whole of who we are. I’m also a father, a son, a husband, a writer, a traveler, and a not-very-good occasional golfer. I am a Christian—and there is a label that has become very confusing and divisive lately. I’ve noticed that more and more Christians are becoming uncomfortable with that label—a lot of people are struggling to find a different word or words to use instead of “Christian.” A “Christ follower,” a “believer,” a “disciple of Jesus.” All good labels, but labels can mean different things to different people and they can change over time depending on what attributes we associate with the labels. To some, the word “entertainer” would imply that you work in Las Vegas. Lately, thanks to shifts in our culture, it seems the word “Christian” means you must hate something. We keep adding and modifying our labels to try to be more accurate in describing who we are, what we do, and what we believe. It is making our conversations clumsy.

I’m an actor… but
I’m a minister…but
I’m a Christian… but

The “but” negates what comes before it. Maybe it is time to practice a principle I learned in improvisational acting called “yes, and.” The point is you are not allowed to reject anything when building a scene through improvisation, but rather accept and build to the next thing.

Wouldn’t that make for interesting conversations?

I’m an actor, yes and…
I’m a minister, yes and…
I’m a Christian, yes and…

What would you put after the “and” in your labels?

Faith on Stage — Save the Date!

TheaterAlliance_Group

 

In October some of the most talented theater artists in the country are coming to Seattle for an artists’ retreat. These are professional theater artists who are also people of faith. Many of them will be combining their talents for an evening of Faith on Stage, through unforgettable performances and storytelling. This is a great opportunity to experience some inspired art and to see faith communicated in a dramatic way!

When: 7:00 PM, Friday, October 3

Where: Federal Way Church of the Nazarene

1525 Dash Point Rd. Federal Way, WA 98023

Performers confirmed so far include:
Marquis Laughlin
Screwtape Re-Wired
Rich Swingle
Jason Nightingale
Keith Ferrin
Phil Long
Drawing Water
Chuck Neighbors
Marcia Whitehead
Steve Wilent
Wesley Brainard

and more!

You and your guests are invited to attend. Free to the public.

Host A Performance!

Many of the artists coming to Seattle for the October weekend are available for performances in local churches on Sunday, October 5. This is a fantastic opportunity to bring one of these talented performers to your church for a worship service or special evening performance. These artists are available on a first-come first-served basis. To reserve an artist and discuss booking arrangements give us a call at 503-399-0415 or email: info@mastersimage.com

Pros and Cons to Working at Home

File this under “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”MessyDesk

Being “your own boss” and working at home does have its perks…and it also has its downside. I have seen the looks of envy from those who think working at home would be the best job in the world and I have seen the knowing looks from those who work at home who would beg to differ…including many of my pastor friends. I started this little list on my Facebook page and was quite surprised at the response:

Pro: Easy commute–you can sleep in longer and work in your pajamas.
Con: There is no Starbucks en-route to the office.

Pro: You can have a messy desk and no one else sees it.
Con: You have a messy desk.

Pro: Clients can meet you in your office at your convenience.
Con: You have a messy desk and work in your pajamas.

Pro: You are in charge…you don’t have to worry about someone else screwing things up.
Con: You are in charge…there is no one to blame when you screw things up.

Pro: No time clock. You can make your own hours, take time off whenever you like.
Con: No time clock. You can make your own hours, and work around the clock forgetting to take time off.

Pro: No more being asked to pick things up at the store on your way home from work.
Con: You have to make a special trip just to pick up something from the store.

Pro: You are your own boss.
Con: Sometimes the boss is a jerk.

So what can you add to the list?

Living In The Moment

Living in the Moment!

Living in the Moment! —Watch out for that tree!

Vacation in Hawaii! Lorie and I had planned this trip for a long time and by using our frequent flyer miles and a securing a special deal on a condo we were looking forward to a time of no stress, rest, and recreation. I had worked diligently to make sure all bills were paid and other business matters were attended to, so we could enjoy this vacation without thought of anything else for two weeks. We were going to live “in the moment” on vacation—life at home and at work was on hold.

We stayed at an airport hotel the night before departure to take advantage of the free parking. As we are about to board the shuttle to the airport Lorie said, “Oh no!”. I looked at her as she turned pale and begin to shake and then start to cry.

“I don’t have my ID” she said, as she frantically looked through her purse, her pockets and her backpack. Our vacation dream of living “in the moment” in Hawaii was suddenly in jeopardy by the thought of not being able to board a plane. Panic was the moment we were living in. THINK! What to do? No time to go home and come back.

Then a thought emerges seeming from out of nowhere. “Do you have a copy of your passport?” I ask. We had traveled enough overseas and had learned to always kept a photocopy of our passport in our luggage.

“Yes!” Sure enough there it was tucked in one of the zippered pockets of her suitcase. That along with some prescriptions in her name and a much too personal body search were enough to convince TSA to let her board the plane. Sigh of relief… back to vacation!

Then the email came. A business decision needed to be made and action taken immediately. It wasn’t something that I could postpone until I got home. The decision would have an impact on several people and their livelihood. I needed to consult with my board, make phone calls, and explore the opportunity placed in front of me. For the next several days I was either on the phone or emailing. When I wasn’t doing those things my mind was consumed with the decision I needed to make and the actions I would need to take once the decision was made. I didn’t sleep well. So much for a stress-free vacation.

As an actor, you learn the value of being “in the moment” on stage. It is the key to making each performance feel fresh and new for each audience. You may have performed the play a thousand times but the audience needs to feel like you are saying those words and living that experience as if it were the very first time. Intellectually, you know what happens next, but the character you are portraying can’t know—he has to live it in the moment.

Actors get into trouble when they stop living in the moment. It happens, and often the audience can tell. If an actor lets the outside world in while they are performing they can cease to live in the moment. A forgotten line, a camera flash, or thinking about things unrelated to the scene can take you out of the moment and ruin a scene. To live in the moment is force yourself to live as if the only thing that matters is what is happening right now in the present.

We are often forced to live in a moment not of our choosing, as happened to me on my vacation. Both our past experiences and our vision for the future can impact how we handle those situations. Here are three things that can help us to live more effectively in the moment:

 Listen – We actors often forget our lines because we are thinking ahead instead of staying present in the scene. If we would simply listen to the other actor we would often know exactly what comes next. The same is true in real life. How often are we in conversation but our mind is elsewhere? Learning to truly listen to the person we are talking to or to listen even to the sounds around us with new ears can help us live in the moment. I could have chosen to become angry at my wife, clouding my thinking in frustration. Instead listening and allowing my mind to focus on the situation allowed enough calm to remember the passport copy.

 Respond – Respond to what is in front of you. Answer the question, ask the next question. Take out the garbage, set the table. The old adage “actions speak louder that words” applies. Do things that show you are connected to the moment. Take action in response to an immediate need. Experience what is in front of you. This is often where a past experience might just inform your present situation.

What comes next? – Instead of dwelling on things that will happen tomorrow, or next week, or next month, focus on what happens next! You need to write that speech or prepare that financial report then take the next step and do it. Often I find the things I am dreading are keeping me from living in the moment. While getting caught up thinking about the future can be a distraction from the moment, a little thought about what happens next can be the best way to live in the moment. My while my business decision was a “future” thing I had to think ahead in order to make my decision now, in the moment.

Worry is one of the biggest things that can keep us from living in the moment. We worry about things we have no control over. We let a past mistake or failure keep us from moving forward and enjoying the present. Moments can change, as my story about my vacation illustrates. I had to abandon one moment to deal with another. Sometimes life is like that. I think Jesus gives us the best advice on how to live in the moment:

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:34

Living in the moment will help us all  to live a better story!

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