He’s Putting Up the Flag

It’s Flag Day. It’s not a day I usually think too much about. It sort of gets lost between Memorial Day, our Wedding Anniversary (just hit the 40 year mark!) and Father’s Day. It isn’t officially a holiday. It’s one of those days that just sort of sits there on my calendar and sometimes I happen to notice it when I check my daily agenda.

Such was the case today, as I sat at my desk and opened up my computer. I did a quick glance at Facebook and there I saw this guy looking back at me, my friend and fellow theater artist, Curt Cloninger. I’d seen Curt’s video about the flag a few times over the years. I scrolled past it, then paused… scrolled back and decided to watch it again.

It made me pause and reflect, as his character does, about the flag. But it also made me pause and reflect about a lot of other things. I thought about the important things in my life; faith, family, country and traditions.  I thought about my friend Curt, a masterful storyteller, who suffered a tragic loss recently. I marveled at his skill as I watched the video and then marveled again knowing his personal story and how that story is touching so many other lives. I marveled that watching a video about our flag could trigger so many thoughts and memories.

That’s what a good story does. It makes you think, reflect and sometimes it even inspires!

Excuse me, but I need to step away for a moment. I’m putting up the flag.

My First Communion

I often tell people I grew up in the church. It’s kind of a foreign concept in today’s culture…especially church culture. A church like the church of my youth is not as common today.

To “grow up in the church” meant you were either a PK (preacher’s kid) or one of the very committed that were at the church every time the doors were open. My family was committed. For me that usually meant at least 3 or more times a week: Sunday morning and evening services, Wednesday prayer meeting, and often a youth group function somewhere every other weekend. If you are reading this and thinking, “that sounds kinda Baptist” you would be correct.

Growing up in the church, like growing up anywhere, means you get used to routines that rarely change. Routines you take for granted. Routines that get so familiar you do them without really thinking too much about the meaning behind them. For me, one of those routines was Communion, or as we called it in our church, The Lord’s Supper (this was confusing to me as a kid because supper was an evening meal and we rarely did The Lord’s Supper at night).

In our church, as it is in many churches today, The Lord’s Supper consisted of crumbled up saltine crackers served on a metal tray and a half ounce of grape juice served in clear plastic serving cups.  The pastor would recite the story of the first Lord’s Supper from the Bible and we would eat the cracker crumb and drink the juice at the appropriate times. It was a somber service in which we were to make sure we were “right with God” before partaking.

In movies I would see scenes of more liturgical churches taking Communion in various different ways, but they were obviously not the same ilk as the church of my youth, so I didn’t give it too much consideration.

Fast forward my life.

I joined a theater company that toured the country and did much of their work performing faith-based plays in churches of all denominations. It was a religious culture-shocking experience for me. I was on tour with people who professed to be Christian and many of them not the slightest bit like the Christians I had come to know in the church of my youth. I was now expected to perform plays about my faith in all kinds of churches, many of them also not the slightest bit like the church of my youth. It was in this environment that I experienced what I have come to call “My First Communion.”

It was in a church in Northern California. The service was much more liturgical than what I had experienced in the past. The pastor wore a robe. Kids called acolytes processed and lit candles. There were a lot of responsive readings with the congregation…all very unlike the church of my youth.

Then came time for Communion. I watched and quickly adapted to what the others were doing. We lined up and walked the aisle to the front of the church, knelt at the altar and waited with our hands cupped in front of us, my eyes frantically scanning right and left to make sure I was doing this right.

The pastor stopped in front of each person, spoke softly to them, and gave them what looked like a white round plastic disc, which the person ate. He the offered the cup, (actually a chalice) so each person could drink from it. (My first reaction to this way of serving the cup was “yuck.” I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to put my mouth were all these other people had just placed theirs.)

Finally it was my turn. The pastor handed me the plastic thing. Looked me right in the eye and said, “The body or Christ, Chuck, broken for you.”

Uh…wow…I was taken aback. He just said my name, I don’t remember his. I ate the plastic thing.

Then he held forward the cup and again, looking me in the eye, said, “The blood of Christ, Chuck, shed for you.”

In that moment, I was overwhelmed with emotion (and it had nothing to do with the fact that what was in the cup didn’t taste at all like grape juice). Suddenly this Communion just became transformative. No one had ever said my name during The Lord’s Supper. Oh I had heard that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, that he shed his blood for me…heard that many times. I knew it in my head. But for some reason hearing it like this, spoken directly to me in the context of this Communion service…well, it all became very real…very personal…it hit me in the heart. For the first time it really sunk in that He did it for ME!

Sometimes we need to hear things differently for the message to sink in, to penetrate our hearts. For me, this was one of those times.

The Body of Christ, The Blood of Christ…for ME!

On another note, this week I learned that a church board decided not to invite me to their church. I share about Jesus through storytelling and acting. This board didn’t think that I what I did would be appropriate for a church worship service.

It was something different, that they had never done before.

Sometimes I Need to be Reminded

Sometimes I need to be reminded why I do what I do.

Sometimes I get busy in the business of my art, in the business of my ministry. 

Sometimes I lose sight of the vision. My passion becomes just a job.

That’s when I need reminders…like this one.

I had just finished a performance of my one-man drama In His Steps, the classic novel that asks the famous question “what would Jesus do?” I had done all the normal after show routines: stood in the church foyer and shook a few hands, sold a few books and videos. I am usually the last to leave the church after a performance, and this was typical of that routine. Most of the people had left the building when I gathered up my props, packed them in my suitcase and headed out the door. 

As I popped open the trunk of my car I noticed a young girl, probably about 15 or 16 years old lingering in the parking lot, then she slowly drifting toward me as I placed my suitcase in the trunk. 

“Can I talk to you?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said…a bit puzzled. 

“You talked tonight about ‘what would Jesus do?’ And…well…I am trying to figure that out for myself.”

“Ah,” I said. “Yes, that can be a challenge for all of us.” 

“I have not told anybody this…I’m still in high school…and I’m pregnant.” 

“Uh…oh…I’m sorry,” I think I said…I was pretty much speechless. Of all the conversations I have had after a performance, this was a new one. 

“I don’t know what to do…or what Jesus would do. I was hoping you could tell me.”

My mind was reeling. I had never met this girl before. And here she was asking me, a perfect stranger to tell her, not only what to do, but what to do in light of the question ‘what would Jesus do?’ 

Searching for words I asked, ”Does the father know?”

“Yes…and he is the youth leader here at the church.” 

“Oh…wow…I…uh…I am so sorry.”

Suddenly the question she was struggling with became my question. “What would Jesus do?” And I was struck with the realization that this poor girl wasn’t talking to me; she didn’t know me. She was talking to the character I had just portrayed on stage. She was talking to The Reverend Henry Maxwell, a fictional character who, from the stage, projected wisdom and conviction to do powerful things driven by that central question “what would Jesus do?” She was talking to Henry Maxwell, someone she felt she could trust. Someone who could help her. 

We talked for some time. I tried to give her the best advice that Henry Maxwell could offer. There were some tears, there was a prayer. With her permission I later called the pastor of the church and told him of our encounter. While I don’t know the complete ending to this story, the pastor later assured me that the situation was dealt with and the girl was being loved and cared for in the best way possible.  

Sometimes I need to be reminded. 

Reminded of the things that brought me to the place I now stand. 

Reminded that there is power in the arts that can change a life.

Reminded of the vision and the passion that propelled me on this journey.

Reminded of my calling. 

I am reminded, and in the process renewed. 

Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Galations 6:9

The Greatest Story Of All

I recently had the pleasure to meet Grant Norsworthy at a gathering of artists in Nashville. Grant is a musician, speaker and music/worship mentor (see info box below). We chatted over lunch about work and ministry and I was impressed with what Grant had to say about story and the bigger picture when it comes to worship. I invited him to write this Guest Blog. (Note: Grant is Australian so read this with the proper accent for the best effect!)


J.R.R. Tolkien is best known as the author of two GREAT stories: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Both stories are incredibly powerful and wildly popular. I wish I could say that I’ve read both numerous times, but I can’t. Like most people (I guess), I had to settle for the Peter Jackson directed screen adaptations.

I’m a fan of both stories, but I do find The Lord of the Rings to be far more engaging. What about you? If you’re like me and prefer The Lord of the Rings, we are not alone! The Hobbit has sold about 100 million copies, while The Lord of the Rings has sold in excess of 150 million. The Lord of the Rings movies grossed over $10 billion at the box office, while The Hobbit trilogy gathered less than $3 billion. All impressive numbers, but the difference is huge.

Both of these incredible stories – like any good story – describe a conflict and its resolution: An obstacle that must be, and is overcome. But while The Hobbit is about some greedy dwarves and how they get their treasure back from a dragon, The Lord of the Rings depicts the incarnation of absolute evil in Dark Lord Sauron and the war fought by the good beings whom he would seek to destroy and rule over. It’s the supreme struggle between good and evil! What could be more compelling than that?

Generally speaking with stories, the bigger and more overwhelming the obstacle, the sweeter triumph over that obstacle tastes. The more difficult the conflict, the more satisfying the resolution. Stories with BIG conflict and a correspondingly BIG resolution will make a BIG impact. They engage us like nothing else can.

The story of a person from an uneducated, deprived background earning a Ph.D. is more compelling than a 5th grader moving from a B to an A in mathematics. The story of escape from a Nazi concentration camp is more compelling than escape from a large, wet, brown paper bag.

The conflict that is resolved is bigger in The Lord of the Rings than in The Hobbit. That’s why it connects more deeply and more widely. But, to me, there’s a story far more important and powerful than even The Lord of the Rings!

I believe the greatest and most important story of all is of God and his created human beings – you and me – all of us. It’s the story described in The Bible. It’s the ultimate struggle of God’s goodness versus the evil of Satan – the devil. And it’s not just some made up story! You and I are characters  in this epic, real-life, unfinished story.

In perhaps its simplest “elevator pitch” version, this great story’s central theme is worship. The plot? Having been rejected by His own creation in the Garden, God summons his beloved people to return to Him – to worship Him above anything else. He knows this is the only way that people will be able to truly live as we were created to live.

As God spoke through the first of His Ten Commandments:

“You shall have no other gods before me.”
Exodus 20:3

But forces of evil stand in defiance against God and use all manner of sinister deception, power and influence to entice people to worship anything but God.

The story has always been about worship: The worship of God or the worship of something – anything – else. From the dawn of time to this very moment, there has always been a monumental conflict for humankind between the worship of God or Satan’s counterfeit, idol-gods.

But where’s the conflict and resolution in the Christian “worship” of today? Where’s the irrepressible attraction of the greatest story if “worship” becomes something that happens only once a week inside a church building designated by very specific, semi-passive activities?

With the imperative attraction of conflict and resolution removed from what we call “worship”, is it any wonder that many people turn away – leave The Church –  or perhaps sit inactive and passive in a pew – unengaged, unmoved and uninspired?

And so, let’s expand our view of worship. Let’s move more deeply into the overwhelming, monumental conflict that is raging over our worship.

As we should have learned in school, the elements of story are:

• Setting

• Characters

• Plot

• Conflict

• Resolution

The setting of worship is not just inside a church building. The war rages anywhere and everywhere we find ourselves.

We are all characters in this great story – not just the people with microphones on the platform, or in the stories we hear from The Bible.

The plot of worship is so much more than what happens during that hour or two on a Sunday  morning. The plot is deep and wide and rich and woven through every facet of our lives.

And there is conflict. And there will be resolution to this epic, life and death – eternal life and eternal death – struggle of worship.

Therefore brothers, in view of God’s great mercy, offer yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, and let that be your spiritual act of worship.
Romans 12:1

Grant Norsworthy has spoken and sung in 5 continents & most US States at church services, conferences, colleges, youth events and more. He’s a Grammy® nominated & Dove Award winning musician. and a former member of Sonicflood & Paul Colman Trio. With More Than Music Mentor, Grant offers instruction to church leaders, musicians & techies via online resources and on-site workshops. You can connect with Grant at: grantnorsworthy.com

 

My Mind Boggles

My mind boggles at my own mind. I am amazed at my memory. I mean, I am getting older—this stuff is supposed to get harder as you get older, right?

I just finished putting my costume and props for my Christmas play, Merry Christmas, Mr. Jones, into storage for another year. Every year around Thanksgiving I take them out and plan for a rehearsal before my next season of performances of this beloved piece. I have been doing the play every December for over 25 years. Each year I am anxious as I go into rehearsal. I am sure I will have forgotten my lines in the 11 months since I last spoke these words. I set the script nearby, just in case I need it as I walk through the show, recalling lines and motivation and movement. Except for a couple momentary pauses, mostly on lines that are similar to another line in the play, I make it through without even opening the script. I do a quick scan of the script just to be sure..

“Yep I said that… and that…yep remembered that too.”

Mind boggling, right? I have addressed memorizing a few other times in this blog here and here. But one of the principles I learned early in my acting career was the importance of owning my lines—knowing them so well that I don’t have to stop and think, “what comes next?”

Stop for a moment and just think about all the stuff in your brain that fits that definition. Everything from the alphabet and numbers to addresses, phone numbers, nursery rhymes, The Lord’s Prayer, The Pledge of Allegience and certain scriptures. We have intentionally crammed a lot of stuff in to those brain cells. And that doesn’t even address the stuff we recall that we didn’t intentionally memorize. Think of song lyrics, movie lines, bits of conversations…our brains are amazing.

A few years ago I was on tour in New Zealand. I was performing at a ministers’ retreat and one of the speakers was talking about the importance of continuing to repeat certain creeds, prayers and scriptures in the church service as a part of liturgy. The concern was that in becoming more contemporary as a church, we are neglecting these elements that the speaker felt were essential. They went on to share that often people on their death beds and even at the scene of life threating accidents will default to quoting these often repeated–memorized lines.

Interesting that in our final moments, these things in our memory can be called up to give us comfort. Of course that assumes that we have placed them there to be called up in the first place.

That gives me pause…the old theories of “what goes in must come out” or “garbage in, garbage out” come to mind.

I haven’t intentionally memorized anything new in a while.

I’m going to ponder that as I put Mr. Jones on the shelf for another year.

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