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 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…

Beware the Offering Plate

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I‘ve have been fortunate to make my living with my art as a ministry for over 40 years. Much of that “living” comes through the generosity of others via the offering plate that is passed after a performance at a church. The offering plate has been my friend, and has greatly blessed me and my ministry over the years.

But not everything I receive in an offering plate is money. I have also received Starbucks gift cards, lottery tickets, drawings from children, candy and gum, and of course pocket lint. Sometimes all poured into in a brown paper bag and handed to me as I walk out the door.

Something else that occasionally shows up in the offering plate is notes of encouragement. People will often write a “thank-you” and other words of appreciation on a scrap of paper and these are treasures to be sure!

And then there are the critiques…not as often as the notes of appreciation, but they show up from time to time. I have one of these tacked to a bulletin board in my office. It serves to remind me that just because they call it a “love offering” doesn’t guarantee that everything in the plate comes with “love.”

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Would love to laugh—you are not that funny—But God loves you.”

This note was after a performance of a piece that is billed as a comedy. If there is one thing I have learned by performing comedy, it’s that it is subjective. What one audience might find hysterical can be totally lost on another audience. There is nothing worse than doing comedy when nobody’s laughing. If I didn’t have a history of this performance being well received by hundreds of other audiences, I might have been offended at the note. Actually, it just made me laugh. But I do look at it from time to time and allow it to serve as a reminder that you can’t please everybody all the time and to not take myself too seriously.

It also makes me wonder just how much of this the average pastor must have to put up with on a regular basis. I can just imagine the pastor coming into the office on a Monday morning to a stack of “reviews” on his desk, all from the offering plate. Maybe it’s time to reassess the purpose of the plate.

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On a side note, as our society becomes more cashless, when people pay with their credit cards and smartphones, we may soon see the offering plate become obsolete. In one church I was in recently there was a kiosk at the back of the church for collecting offerings with credit cards.

So if I was at your church recently and you didn’t have your wallet and you would like to leave me a love offering, you can do so here: cash.me/donatemip. (I bet there a few less “surprises” in the offering plate when done this way!)

And if you want to leave me a note or even a critique, I will accept them in the comments below! (I reserve the right to delete the critiques!)

 

A Trustworthy Tricky Travel Tip

Beating the System on a Rental Car

 

Since I travel a bit more than the average person, I am often asked for my advice or secrets when it comes to booking travel. I have posted a few other blogs on this topic here and here. So here is another trustworthy tricky travel tip.

One area that is a bit hit-and-miss is booking rental cars at airports. Taxes and fees at airport locations can be significantly higher than at other locations near an airport. I have often scored what I thought was a great deal on a car for $9 a day on Priceline or Hotwire, only to discover that taxes and fees more than doubled or even exceeded the rental rates.

I encountered this recently on a trip I booked to Tampa, Florida. Normally I am able to book decent rates on this itinerary but this time I found I was traveling during the peak “Spring Break” season. Rates were much higher than I was used to. Where I am normally able to book a car for about $50-$75 for a weekend, I was now looking at $150-$200 for a compact car. I checked nearby locations with Enterprise and found that, just a couple miles from the airport, I could score a rental for $75. And Enterprise boasts, “we will pick you up.” So I booked a hotel near the airport with shuttle service. I’d have the hotel shuttle provide transportation from the airport to the hotel, and then have Enterprise pick me up and take me to get the car. On the return I would drop off the car and have them return me to the hotel and then use the hotel shuttle back to the airport. I just saved $100.

Only one snag in my plan: my flight home was an early one. The Enterprise location was not open early enough to get me back to the hotel in time to catch my flight. I would need to go directly from the Enterprise location to the airport. Enterprise wouldn’t likely give me that ride because of policies with their on-airport location (which would cost a lot more to use).  Enter Uber! I would have Uber provide the ride from the Enterprise location to the airport for around $10. Problem solved.

This is not the first time I have used this trick. You just have to make sure your travel plans allow for business hours at the off-airport locations—as they are not open 24 hours a day. (Some off-airport locations will allow you drop off the vehicle after hours and settle up your bill via email.)

So there you have it—my trustworthy tricky travel tip!

If you have a tricky travel tip, I’d love to hear it in the comments below!

Looking back at 2015

It’s hard for me to believe that another year has passed. It seems like yesterday that I was saying that about 2014! It has been a wonderful and eventful year for us. Here are just a few of the highlights:

Performances— Over 100 performances by our artists again this year. Lots of travel and performances in churches of all sizes and denominations. Each performance becomes special as we are able to witness lives touched. Sometimes it is evident in silence, sometimes in laughter, sometimes in tears and every once in a while in spectacular ways as evidenced through stories and comments we receive after the event.

Ministry growth— In addition to my performances, we have two other artists that are a part of our team–Steve Wilent and Marcia Whitehead. Both Marcia and Steve have been creative in working to develop new material to add to their repertory. My booking schedule has been robust and I have managed to schedule bookings about 6 months in advance.

DSC07760Child Sponsorship— One of the biggest blessings of this ministry is that we also get to advocate on behalf of the poor through our partnership with Food for the Hungry. This year Marcia and I were able to travel to the Dominican Republic to witness their work and to each meet children that we personally sponsor! As a ministry we were able to help over 400 children find sponsors this year! This is one of the most important aspects of our ministry and a rich blessing indeed!

IMG_4028On a personal note, the biggest highlight of our year was that Lorie and I became grandparents to Lucy Paige Neighbors. This precious child was born with a heart defect and spent the first 2.5 months of her life in the hospital, but as of this writing is home and doing well!

We fully realize that it is the prayer and financial support of people like you that make this work possible.  We so appreciate your partnership in the work that we do.  As you look forward to 2016, we would be so very honored if you would help us keep the story going by giving a gift to Master’s Image Productions.  We would be especially grateful if you could support us on a regular basis with a monthly pledge (if you are already doing that, thank you!). You can also designate your gifts for the benefit of a specific artist if you like.

You can mail tax deductible gifts to:

Master’s Image Productions, P.O. Box 903, Salem, OR 97308

or just click the button to donate online:


May God bless you and yours this Christmas and in 2016!

Chuck Neighbors

10 Random Observations about the Church

A row of Church pewsI travel and perform/speak in a different church almost every weekend and have for the past 40 years—that’s a lot of churches. You do the math. And these are churches of all denominations and sizes and colors. Lunch with the pastor after a morning service is typical. I can almost always count on being asked a question like this:  “Chuck, you are in a lot of churches… what are some observations you’ve made about the church today?”

I know they want an answer with some profundity, but I don’t know if my answers will satisfy. So here are 10 random observations about the church, for what they are worth, and in no specific order.  This is not a scientifically researched treatise… just my observations.

1) The medium-size church is disappearing. I am often in church buildings designed to hold 500-1000 people with less than 100 in the worship service. There seem to be churches of under 100, and the mega church with thousands of people, but not much in between—churches of 200-500 are few. Pastors routinely over-estimate their attendance. They will tell me they have 150 people in worship but when I arrive there are less than 100… this happens a lot!

2) Based on my experience it would seem that the average age in most churches today is over 50. There is plenty of gray hair and there are not very many millennials in the pews.

3) The “Meet and Greet” moment in the worship service needs go. Most churches do it and in most churches it feels forced and awkward. I see plenty of meeting and greeting before the service that seems genuine. If your main goal is to make a visitor feel welcome, I think there is a better way to do it.

4) I have rarely visited a church that matches the negative stereotype portrayed in the media or by Hollywood. (That being the extremes of super fanatical or super boring). I’m not saying they don’t exist… but they are certainly not what I have found under the majority of steeples in the country.

5) People really do “play hooky” from church when the pastor is gone. I often fill in for a pastor who is away at a conference or on vacation. I almost always hear the head deacon say, “I don’t know where everybody is today.”

6) Contrary to what the media would have you believe, the church is filled with people who care about the poor and are involved in ministries that are truly striving to make a difference.

7) At the risk of sounding like my parents… your music is too loud!

8) People still sit in the back (maybe because the music is too loud) or are very spread out in the sanctuary, making those 100 people in a space that hold 500 feel even more empty.

9) There is not much being done to encourage and elevate the arts in most churches. Other than the worship team/band, the opportunities for an artist to be involved in the life of the church are very limited. (I’ve blogged about this one before, but I have to throw it in here.)

10) It can be a challenge today to figure out a church’s denominational affiliation. Oh it still exists, but you won’t find it on church signs and in printed material like you used to. This can be good thing. It can also be embarrassing if, say, you are charismatic and think you are in a Pentecostal church, only to find yourself being stared down after raising your arms and shouting hallelujah in a Baptist church.

Like I said, no science here… just some observations from that “Christian Actor Guy!”

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!

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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