A Visit to the Dominican Republic

As you may have read in my earlier post, Meeting Cristal, I had the privilege of traveling to the Dominican Republic with Food for the Hungry. It was an amazing trip. I came away very impressed with the work they are doing. I also got to meet a precious child that my wife and I are sponsoring. This video give a little overview of the trip.

If you would like to sponsor a child like Cristal, you can easily do that by clicking here: Sponsor a Child!

Full of Beans and $20

Full of Beans

“That guy is full of beans!”

I noticed the man as I took the stage for my presentation of Truth be Told…from a Guy Who Makes Stuff Up. He sat in a pew all to himself three rows from the front.

Being in theater and in the field of communication, I’ve learned to home in on body language and this man was demonstrating the classic closed position. Body angled away—if he could have found a way to sit sideways in the pew he would have. The few stolen glances I had from him were what I would classify as scowls.

For the most part, church audiences have been pretty safe for me. The audiences are generally polite and welcoming. Nothing like what I experienced years ago when doing the school assembly circuit and performing for a gymnasium full of hostile junior high schoolers. Those audiences you had to win over, and if you didn’t, they could eat you alive. I have often said performing in school assemblies was like being fed to the lions. This gentleman, though a senior citizen, was displaying the same “prove it to me” attitude that I experienced in those junior high schools. I registered it in my brain and moved on. I had an audience to play to and I wasn’t going to let one man’s negativity keep me from doing my job. I would ignore him. The show must go on!

Ignore him I did, and aside from this man, felt I had a good connection with the rest of my audience.

After the service I ventured into the fellowship hall for refreshments. As I headed for the table the man approached me with his hand outstretched.

“I have to tell you that when you started your presentation I didn’t know what to expect. I certainly didn’t think you were going to be doing the entire service. I decided shortly after you started that ‘That guy is full of beans!’ I almost walked out. But then the more I listened I got pulled in to your story. Then I realized I was being an #$%^&*~!” That was really good what you did.”

Rarely do I get such honest feedback from an audience member. I don’t think an audience member has ever said I was “full of beans” to my face before (and I am pretty sure he only said “beans” because he didn’t want to say another more common word associated with that phrase).   And yet he didn’t hold back on his language when describing himself with an expletive. I am sure he is voicing what many others have thought over the years but never would have expressed to my face.

And yet, in talking to him he affirmed that it was in connecting with my story that his defenses went down. Whether it was some of the humor that he identified with or an episode from my life that mirrored his, I don’t know. But somewhere in the course of hearing my story he connected—he began to listen and engage and in the end he felt a bond with me, because of my story.

Many places receive a freewill offering for my ministry after the performance. As my visit with the gentleman came to a close he said: “I’m not a rich man, don’t have much, but I want you to have this.” He pressed a $20 bill into my hand.

What a great reminder of the power of story. Each of us has a story to tell. May we learn to share it knowing that in the sharing there is great power to connect, challenge and encourage others.

As one of my friends said to me: “Full of beans and $20, not bad!”

So what’s your story?

Meeting Cristal!

Meeting Cristal Mariel, our sponsored child in the Dominican Republic. Her Grandmother looks on.

Meeting Cristal Mariel, our sponsored child in the Dominican Republic. Her Grandmother looks on.

I am just back from visiting the Dominican Republic with my ministry partner, Food for the Hungry. As a partner with this ministry I take a few moments of my stage time at my performances to invite people to consider sponsoring a child. Food for the Hungry does an excellent of job of reaching some of the most vulnerable communities of the poor, and through child sponsorship, works to transform those communities to become self-supporting within a window of about 10 years. They help with such things as clean water, food, health care and education. They work with the church to  address the spiritual needs of the communities as well. It is a excellent program and I was privileged to see it first hand on my visit.

My wife and I sponsor a little 7 year old girl named Cristal in one of these poor communities and it was a thrill to actually meet her on this trip. I think the visit was a bit overwhelming for her, and who can blame her. I’m sure I would be intimidated too, if a group of people I had never met showed up at my door all excited to see me, and me barely having a clue who they were or why they were there! I brought some gifts for her and was able to see her home and meet some of her family. I will be looking forward to being a part of her life for many years and look forward to the day when her situation is improved enough to no longer need our sponsorship.

Here is a little video of me presenting gifts to Cristal:

If you would like to sponsor a child and begin a life changing relationship with one of the “least of these” you can do that be clicking this link! Sponsor a Child Today!

Sacred Cymbals

Drums in fireWhen I was a kid I played drums.

Well, actually, a drum would be more accurate.

I signed up for band in school and, much to my parents’ chagrin, chose the drum as my instrument. So I got one of those practice pads—a piece of rubber glued to a piece of wood—and some sticks. It would be a few years before I would get a real drum and then a few more before I would get my first drum set.  I loved my drum. My parents loved my practice pad.

When I was a kid I also went to church…a lot. I was involved in youth group and youth choir, and I was in the church for every service—which back then was a minimum of three times a week—Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday night prayer meetings.  I loved my church.

Back in the 1960s music in church was pretty traditional: we had a choir, and a piano and organ accompaniment. On very rare occasions a talented adult or student who played a trumpet, clarinet or flute might be invited to play for “special music,” usually during the offering. Oddly, this invitation was never extended to a drummer. (Although I could play bongo drums at a youth retreat to accompany “Kumbaya My Lord.”)

It was stated unapologetically that drums were not a suitable instrument for church music, and certainly not appropriate for the platform. The platform—that was what non-liturgical churches like mine called the chancel area. While not liturgical, the platform was still considered a “sacred space” and the items on the platform had symbolic significance. There was a communion table, which contained the Welch’s grape juice and saltine crackers on Communion Sunday and a large super-sized Bible on the Sundays when communion was not served. There was a pulpit, where the Word of God would be proclaimed each week, and behind the pulpit was a cross on the center wall. Under that cross was the baptismal (for you non-Baptists, that is a large tub filled with water, big enough for two people.)

There were usually no musical instruments on the platform. The piano and organ flanked each side of the platform and in our church were actually on the floor, not the platform.

I’ll never forget the Sunday night that things changed. I was invited to bring my drum and a cymbal and set it up beside the piano and to play, yes play my drum, to one song. Oh, the thrill I felt. I was going to play my drum in church. It was nothing too jazzy and certainly not rock-n-roll. The song was Onward Christian Soldiers and I would tap out a march to match the military cadence of the song. I felt like the little drummer boy in the Christmas carol: pa rum pum pum pum.

My how times have changed…

Today it is rare to go in to a church and not see a drum set. Even in more liturgical churches. The church has changed, music styles have changed and the platform has changed.

Today the drums in many churches are right in the center of the platform. My theater background has taught me that center stage is the strongest area of the stage. Often the most important moments in a play will take place center stage. Yep, right about where that drum set is located. Of all instruments, drums can be the most difficult to move and reset, so it is not surprising that the drums stay put from week to week. Where it used to be a drummer would cart his drums to church, today the church may actually own the drum set…I am pretty sure this would be considered blasphemy in the church of my youth.

Because drums and drummers can be loud, many churches place the drums in a “drummer’s cage” —it consists of clear Plexiglas walls complete with a roof to muffle the sound of the drums. It is a sort of prison cell for drummers. Drummers have heard it all their lives: “you’re too loud!” The phrase “it is meant to be seen and not heard” was invented for drummers. The drummer’s cage now reinforces that.

Thinking back to the symbolism of the traditional items found on the platform, I can’t help but think there may be symbolism for many in putting the drums in a cage. You have the communion table and the sacraments, the Bible, the pulpit, the baptismal and the cross on the wall.

And under the cross is a cage containing a drum set. With so many symbols of the Christian faith on the platform it is time to complete the picture, to add another cymbal symbol and show the consequence of our sin.

A caged man, a man in bondage surrounded by drums…obviously for many this must symbolize hell.

Praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Psalm 150: 5

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1

Do Not Avoid Eye Contact!

airliner-cramped-0809I‘m a pretty seasoned traveler, and for domestic airline travel I am a big fan of Southwest Airlines…most of the time. Lately it is pretty rare to get on a SWA flight that does not have every seat booked. And like most airlines, they are moving the rows closer together and making the seats smaller. Air travel is a truly uncomfortable experience. For the uninitiated, SWA does not assign seats so it’s first-come first-served when you get on board. There is no “First Class,” however you can earn or pay your way to “A-List” status which allows you to be among the first 60 on the plane and have first choice of the seats. I am one of the “elite” as I fly enough to have earned A-List status and my preference of an aisle seat is always waiting for me. The exit rows (more leg room) and aisle and window seats go first. The last to board get the dreaded middle seat. You always know that the flight will be a full one long before the plane is full because the flight attendants will begin urging the people to fill the middle seats. One of their favorite lines is “do not avoid eye contact.”

Eye contact! It’s not something most of us consciously think about. The boarding process is a great lesson in non-verbal communication—like putting it under a microscope. We are sitting there looking at our books or hand-held devices, or eating our sandwiches. We are sending out all kinds of non-verbal signals that scream, “do NOT sit in this empty seat next to me!” We sprawl over into the middle seat; place our coats on it to make it look like it is already taken. Put in those earphones so we can’t hear the unavoidable question, “is this seat taken?” A few people (not me, of course) have been known to cough and blow their noses loudly to dissuade others from considering the seat. Then the announcement comes, “do not avoid eye contact.”

That’s the game-changer. Now we know someone WILL be sitting in that middle seat. We might have a bit of power however,  because we just might be able to control WHO will sit in that middle seat and occupy our space for the next 2 hours. The implication is that if we make eye contact, the person contacted will assume we want them to sit beside us!

You begin to scan the bodies in the aisle—you want somebody pleasant to sit next to you. It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You don’t want someone too big, too loud, or too perfumed. You want somebody “just right!” You scan bodies avoiding the face until you spy just the right size person then you risk a look up to the face and the chance for eye contact. I typically want a female in that center seat, not for any salacious reasons, but simply put, they tend to not hog the armrest like a man does. I make eye contact, if I like what I see I will add a smile and hope for the best. Sometimes it works. But often I get the big guy whose one leg equals the two of mine. What you have to remember is that this game goes both ways, the person in the aisle is looking for just the right people to be wedged between for the next 2 hours. “Oh that guy has skinny legs, I’ll sit there.”

I pleasantly stand to let him in as I cough and blow my nose loudly.  (You did remember that I am an actor right?)

It is an interesting lesson in human nature. Something we actors are supposed to know something about. We observe people as a way to make ourselves more believable on stage. It occurs to me that something similar to “Do not avoid eye contact” should be happening in our churches every week as well. In some churches I see people giving off similar signals to the people in the pews each week. Many of us have our favorite places to sit, favorite people to talk to and routines that are comfortable. We often don’t stop to think that some of the people who are coming to the church are just like the last to board a SWA flight. They are looking for a place to fit in. We don’t usually want to admit it but we are saying all kinds of things to them without saying a word.

We need to come to church, and indeed to life in general, with our eyes wide open!

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