Trust the Gut

Went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends
A chance to share old memories and play our songs again
When I got to the garden party, they all knew my name
No one recognized me, I didn’t look the same

But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well
You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself

-From Garden Party by Ricky Nelson-

Well, okay, it wasn’t a garden party. It was my high school’s 45th reunion. My first high school reunion. It was a fun evening…a little surreal. So many unfamiliar faces. Thankfully name tags were provided with our high school yearbook picture attached. But even then…there were so many names and faces I didn’t remember. Our class was a big one, over 450 graduates, so there were a lot a classmates I didn’t even know then, let alone 45 years later.

A few in our class have gone on to make a living in the arts. Several good musicians from our class would be providing a steady stream of 70’s rock ’n’ roll through out the evening. I was asked in advance to share a monologue, since I am a professional actor/storyteller. I declined, feeling that the venue would not have been conducive for what I do. Live music can work in a party atmosphere; a dramatic or even comedic monologue, not so much. A second request was made for me to share a story. I stewed about it a bit, tried to imagine it going well…I finally agreed. I should have trusted my first instinct and stuck to the “no thank you.”

I picked a short story from my life that I thought might connect. I spent some time reworking it and even including a few references to classmates and events from 45 years ago. As a performer you try to envision the best possible scenario but also prepare yourself for the worst.

As I visited around the room that night, several acknowledged that they heard I was an actor and would love to see me perform sometime. I let them know that I would be doing a short monologue later in the evening.

There are several bits of advice and wisdom that run through your mind that apply to this kind of situation.

– Trust your gut

– Read the room and adjust

– Remember that the home crowd is always the toughest audience

I should have paid more attention to that last one. I know from performing at my childhood church over the years that the response is never what you expect or hope for. You want to impress, to show them what you can do and what you have become. They, on the other hand, can’t see past the kid they knew way back when. You know the feeling if you have ever gone back to your childhood home as an adult and suddenly feel like the kid you once were.

The reunion was in a fellowship hall of a church. About 70 alumni showed up. For the first couple of hours there was no program to speak of. People visited, ate food and there was a constant din of noise, laughter and good vibes in the room. I was asked if I wanted to go on early and thought, sure why not. The emcee made a few announcements and it was at the moment I realized my mistake in accepting this “gig.”  Few people were listening. Most people were still standing. The noise level in the room did not change in spite of the fact that someone with a microphone was asking for their attention. Nothing changed as I was introduced to tell my story.

I am sure it was not as bad as the experience Ricky Nelson talks about in “Garden Party.” His was a performance in Madison Square Garden where he was actually booed by the audience. I wasn’t booed. But one of the most difficult things to do as an artist is to plow through a performance when you perceive no one is listening. This was “Show ’n’ Tell” gone bad.

In my early years as a touring performer we would occasionally be asked to do guerrilla theater—street theater. We would set up a makeshift performing area in the street or on a college campus. The goal was to command attention and capture an audience. Often that audience didn’t want to be “captured,” especially in a college cafeteria. I hated doing it, but did it anyway, it was part of the job. This reminded me of that.

There were a few who listened, or tried to listen. I found the eyes of those who were focused on me and played to them. If they were going to listen then I would tell them my story and try to shut out the noise and distraction filling the rest of the room. I’m quite sure many of them were thinking “who is that guy with the microphone…I wish he would shut up.”

I plowed through and couldn’t wait to get back to my seat. I’m guessing that about 75% of the room didn’t even realize they had missed it.

But a few people did listen. Because my work as an artist is faith-based, a few classmates sought me out to let me know that they too were people of faith. Nice to know.

I’m not angry. Not hurt. A little disappointed perhaps. It was what it was. I don’t blame people for not listening… hey, if the shoe were on the other foot, I am not sure I would have been one of those listening either. It was just not the right place and time for what I do. But next time… if there is a next time… I will be sure to ‘trust my gut!”

When the Story Really Hits Home

In my world as a itinerant artist, you often wonder if what you are doing really makes a difference. You get a lot of “good job,” “how do you remember all those lines?” and “thanks for sharing” comments. But rarely do you get to hear a real story of a life truly impacted or changed through the ministry/art that you present. But every once in a while you get a glimpse, a story comes back to let you know that something tangible happened.  Such was the case at a performance of In His Steps in Arizona earlier this year. Writer, Tarina Lovegrove wrote about a performance she attended that was featured in Hometown Christian Magazine. I have included a portion of the article as a guest blog. Thanks Tarina!

Are we at church or at a grand theater?  It was truly hard to tell.  I was so blessed the day Chuck Neighbors visited my church and performed a one-man show entitled In His Steps for our small congregation.

Chuck Neighbors as Henry MaxwellFor so many of you who were not at the service that day, you really should visit www.mastersimage.com and try to catch the amazing performance that was showcased that fine Sunday morn.  If you’re like me, you’ll be blessed beyond measure with his example of the impact of having Jesus in your heart and what it can do for your life, your community and our world.

The first scene opens with Mr. Neighbors singing “I Can Hear My Savior Calling” as he begins his narrative in a role as Pastor Henry Maxwell.  Neighbors establishes a solid foundation that sets the scene for the spectacular presentation that followed.

Shortly thereafter, he remarkably remains in character, not missing a beat, adds a wooly red scarf, scruffy jacket and old worn out hat to his wardrobe and literally transforms personas to now represent the second character on set, a homeless man named Jack Manning.

Now, Jack Manning appeared on stage and inherently in front of what was personified as the front of a church, which really hit home for me, as it ironically was exactly where I was seated at the time.

Jack Manning who was poor and quite ill, asked Pastor Maxwell in front of the entire congregation, exactly what did he mean when he said it was important to follow in the steps of Jesus.

The moment was quite fascinating because unbeknownst to me, my attendance at church that day literally transported me to another place and time.  I was not only attending church, I actually became part of the cast of the play without even knowing it.  It was brilliant!

And then it happened… Jack Manning began speaking to the congregation too.  See, his character was a printer by trade who lost his job several months ago and had been brutally struggling ever since.  His wife had died, his little girl was living in someone else’s home for survival and very few people cared enough to provide compassion, kindness or understanding toward the matter.  Life for them it seemed carried on… business as usual.

The insightful Mr. Manning repeated that he was “just stating facts” when he asks his question about what Christians mean by following Jesus.  Through his monologue, Jack Manning revealed there were nearly “500 men, many with families,” in this city in the same situation.

In his heart of hearts, he wasn’t begging for money or support, he was merely trying to understand how Christian people with homes, incomes, money, resources and security could fathom praising the Lord, singing mighty hymns of worship, living lives of luxury and then choosing to turn their heads and hearts when faced with the homelessness and needy population in their very own backyards.

The light bulb illuminated itself even brighter for me when Mr. Manning referenced there might not be as much trouble in our world today if the people who sang these songs also took action to proactively make efforts to eliminate the devastation.

There I sat… dumbfounded, with my heart in my stomach.  Guilty as charged.

There are so many great lessons to learn from this astoundingly heartbreaking yet truthful showcase.   I just don’t know where to begin.

In retrospect, I look at my life and I see the could-ah, should-ah, would-ahs… but that’s not going to get any of us anywhere.  Each of us has the same opportunity, in this very moment, to make a difference.  What will you do?  Make a change or business as usual?

I know what Pastor Henry Maxwell chose to do in the play.  I won’t ruin it for you, I promise.  Watch the play… it’s incredible!  It’s a drama just exploding with a tremendous message that could lead to fantastic impact across our great country, if truly taken to heart.

I know I was completely touched and will not soon forget Mr. Jack Manning, Mr. Henry Maxwell or the real man who brought them and several other great characters to life that day… Mr. Chuck Neighbors.

For details on upcoming events or how you can book Chuck Neighbors for your church or community event, please visit his website at mastersimage.com.  He’s a phenomenal actor, director, storyteller and writer who has traveled across North America as well as 17 other countries around the world, providing thought-provoking material that shares the gospel, touches the heart and with your help, will create a ripple effect of kindness throughout neighboring communities around the world.

Thank you, Chuck Neighbors… for sharing the Word of Jesus Christ!  God bless you, your journey and ministry.

You can read the rest of the feature article here: Hometown Christian Magazine

I’ll Take “Christianese” for $500, Alex

I am in a different church almost every weekend. Being in itinerant ministry for nearly 45 years I figure I have been in no less than 2500 different churches, participating in their worship services. I like to observe these services and imagine what a visitor, an outsider not familiar with church culture, might be experiencing. I like to try to view the service through their eyes.

On this Sunday, as I sat in the front pew waiting to take to the platform for my performance, I was treated to the litany of announcements coming from the pastor. There was the need for volunteers to help with the Children’s Ministry. The Hospitality Ministry was looking for someone to bring donuts to the service next Sunday. And the Parking Lot Ministry wanted to let us all know about the resurfacing of the parking lot happening next week, advising anyone coming to the Women’s Ministry luncheon on Saturday to park in the street.

So many ministries! When I was a kid growing up in the church, the word “ministry” was not thrown around so casually. If someone was in ministry, the assumption was that they were the pastor of a church or a missionary. The word “calling” was frequently used in connection to “ministry.” As in being called into the ministry. If you look up ministry in the dictionary you see this definition: “the office, duties, or work of a religious minister.” Clearly the word is used more in line with a vocation than with a simple act of service.

Today the word is used for almost any activity, service, group or project in the church. I am a little conflicted about the use of the word. I use it too, of course. I tell people I am in full-time ministry as a professional actor/storyteller. For me it is tied to the vocation and the calling that I have on my life. The main purpose of my work is to spread the Gospel.

The current use of the word seems to imply that anything you do as related to church life is a ministry. There is great emphasis in a number of churches on “finding your gift” and using that gift in service to the church. Acts of service can certainly be a ministry. Whatever your gift, talent, or ability, you can now have a ministry. I have no problem with that. But I wonder if using the word “ministry,” for many, is a way of letting ourselves off the hook. Does matching my abilities, talents and passions automatically make it a ministry?  If I like to play the drums and play in the worship band, is that a ministry?  If I like sports and play in the church softball league is that a ministry? If I pass the donut shop on my way to church and pick up a couple dozen donuts to take to the church coffee hour, is that my ministry? Perhaps the answers to these questions are more a matter of the heart of the individual doing the service.

On the other side of the coin, if we volunteer at a local school, bake a cake for a non-church related-fundraiser, or help the senior citizen next door with their yard work, is that a ministry? Because a lot of people do those things that don’t claim to be Christian or a part of a church.

I wonder what the church visitor is thinking. What does he or she think ministry means in the context of this worship service? Something to ponder as I take the stage to share my ministry. I look forward to being served by the donut ministry in the lobby after the service.

Donuts

So, I was at this church and they were having what they called a “Ministry Fair.” All the different ministries of the church set up tables in the lobby. The idea was for you, the church member, to see all the possibilities and then sign up to be a part of a ministry of the church. There were all the usual suspects: women’s ministry, men’s ministry, youth and children and nursery, and various mission outreaches. But I knew which ministry I would want. It was the first thing that caught my eye when I walked into the church. Donuts. If I attended this church, I would want to be a part of the donut ministry.

If God called me to this church and gave me a ministry here I am pretty sure it would be someplace near this little stand in the corner where they were brewing fresh coffee and serving up donuts. Now here is a church that is practicing for heaven!

Has it ever bothered you that for all the stances the church takes on living the Christian life, the one area that many seem to overlook is healthy living when it comes to diet? I mean the church may have a Celebrate Recovery ministry, and even a health and fitness ministry, I was at a church recently that had a Pastor of Sports. Yet on Sunday morning they serve up donuts, alongside a healthy dose of caffeine. I grew up in the era of the church potluck. Fried chicken and casseroles, and lots of cake and pie! As one church lady righteously defended, “but there are no calories, I followed the recipe exactly, calories were not on the list of ingredients.” The church potluck, how I miss it. It doesn’t seem to be a thing, like it was when I was younger. Maybe that is a good thing. With so many states now making cannabis legal, the potluck might need to be redefined.

But hey, I am not here to judge…I think I read somewhere that that is a sin.

But donuts! I walked by the donut booth and took a peek at the signup list. Looks like this ministry might be overbooked. I grabbed a maple bar and chatted with Scott who was overseeing the signups. Scott heads up this ministry and it turns out is in law enforcement. Why am I not surprised?

Man, this maple bar is especially good; suddenly I know why, it’s the bacon. Yes, this is no ordinary donut (I should have noticed the pink box when I approached the table). This is a Bacon Maple Bar. I am in Portland, Oregon after all and the donut I am eating is a Voodoo Donut. Voodoo Donuts is one of the things that put Portland on the map. I fly a lot and it seems on every flight someone is carrying that signature “pink box” full of donuts home with them.

I am pleased that I selected this maple bar. At least I can now say that I had a healthy breakfast. I have grains, I have protein. Maybe there is more to this ministry than I previously thought.

I wonder if anyone is bothered by a church knowingly serving up something named Voodoo. I mean I am all for various elements of the faith community learning to get along with each other, but embracing Voodoo is stretching it a bit. I wonder if there is an aspect to this I am not seeing. I suddenly envision people with little dolls representing the pastor, hiding in their pockets and purses. If the sermon gets too long and people are craving their donuts, the pins come out.

There may be more to the donut ministry than I ever realized before.

The Tooth be Told

The truth is I didn’t like the guy.

He was a bully with a big mouth. The kind of guy that hung out with the jocks and the cool kids—wanting to be one, but wasn’t. Looking back, I can see that he was insecure and like everyone else in junior high, trying to find a way to fit in. His way to was to put down those he perceived as lesser than himself. His name was Miller, I don’t recall his first name. In junior high everyone was called by their last name.

I was Neighbors, and for some I was also called “Farmer.” It wasn’t a compliment. I acquired the name because of my shoes. My parents didn’t care about fashion or the latest styles in 1968. My clothes were practical, not stylish and were bought at K-mart. We lived on a farm and the shoes they bought me also doubled as work boots. Perfect for the farm, not so perfect for school. One day one of the cool kids noticed my shoes and called me Farmer. It stuck.

I was quiet, definitely not a jock, didn’t have many friends—I was not one of the “cool kids.” If Miller was looking for a way to prove himself a tough guy, then I was perfect prey.

The lunch routine in junior high was to gather in the gym and then, at regular intervals, we would line up single file to go to the cafeteria when it was our turn to eat. I took my place in line on this day, as I had on so many other days. Miller would often “take cuts” as we called it—jumping into line in front of others to go first and/or to be near the other “cool kids.” He had taken cuts in front of me before and it angered me, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I knew that simply tattling would not accomplish anything and only make things worse.

I hated being bullied. I played by the rules. Growing up with two older brothers, I quickly learned my place when it came to getting along with others. I was not the assertive one. We were taught that fighting was wrong. My brothers would tell you that I was quick to yell for mom and dad to come to my rescue when we had scraps at home. But I also recall some fatherly advice my dad had given me about fighting. “Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself. If people know you you’ll stand up for yourself, they won’t bother you anymore.” My dad was a short man, and somehow I got the feeling he had personally applied that wisdom somewhere in his history.

So Miller cut in front of me. I don’t know what made this day different from all the other times he had taken cuts, but I snapped. I wasn’t having it today. I yelled “No cuts!” and shoved him hard out of line. Miller was momentarily stunned; he wasn’t expecting this. He spun around and  charged at me.

Now, one thing you need to understand is that while I was not a jock, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t have physical ability. I had never had a real fight before. But I had had countless “fights” in my make believe world. I was a fan of old action movies. I had pretend fights galore, emulating fights I had seen in countless movies. And I don’t know where they came from, but we had old boxing gloves in our house. While I had never taken a lesson, I had watched Mohammad Ali on TV.  I had had numerous boxing matches with my brothers and cousins in the basement of our house (we almost always pulled our punches—almost always). I had the physique of a toothpick, which meant I was not very strong, but I could move pretty fast and was a small target.

When Miller charged me I immediately adopted a boxer stance and began to dance around just like the boxers I had seen on TV. All of the sudden I was Muhammad Ali. I was “floating like a butterfly.” I quickly dodged his charge and then went on the attack, jabbing with my fists. The word “fight” was chanted from my fellow students as they backed up forming a ring and giving us space. I recall a few snickers at my fighting style. This was not what was typical of a school fight, which usually resembled more a wrestling match than a boxing match.

I peppered Miller with several blows. Mostly to the head. I was pumped on pure adrenaline. He was hardly fighting back and mostly trying to cover his head to protect himself. Then from out of nowhere he mustered a wild punch. It connected. Right square in my mouth. Okay a point for Miller. I backed away stunned for a moment and then started another advance.

“He’s bleeding!” “Look at his tooth!” “Hey Neighbors, you lost your tooth!”

What? I hadn’t realized it.

One of my front teeth was knocked clean out of my mouth and was lying on the floor at my feet.

Suddenly the fight stopped.  A missing tooth and the blood dripping from my mouth brought everything to a momentary halt. Then adults were on the scene. Somebody picked up my tooth off the floor and Miller and I were being whisked down to the principal’s office.

As we walked down the hall Miller was in a panic and said to me. “I can’t be in trouble for a fight. I’m already in enough trouble. I’ll get kicked out of school. Tell them you accidentally tripped and fell into the bleachers, okay?”

I tried to respond, “I uhhh woon oooh ahh”

I couldn’t talk, I had a hanky in my mouth and I was bleeding profusely.

When we got to the office. Miller told his side of the story, while I sucked on a handkerchief and waited for my dad to come and pick me up. Miller’s story was the official story of the incident. I tripped and fell into the bleachers and knocked out a tooth.

I was taken immediately to the dentist, whole tooth in hand. They attempted to implant the tooth back into my mouth. I took a few weeks before we realized the tooth didn’t survive. I would live most of the rest of my life with a “flipper,” a false tooth on a partial denture in the roof of my mouth. A false tooth as a permanent reminder of this infamous day.

I’d like to say that I won the fight. I hit Miller numerous times and gave him a slight black eye. He only hit me once…but what a hit. Miller and I would see each other again from time to time, but we kept our distance from each other. He did the most damage in the fight. I’m sure he thinks he won.

My Dad was right, however. Throughout the rest of my junior high and high school years the bullies never bothered me again.

Miller’s lie stuck. If there is one thing that bothers me most about this story, it is that I never corrected the lie. Oh, the students that witnessed the fight know what really happened. But for some reason I kept my mouth shut. I had to when the lie was being told. I couldn’t talk and was just a little in shock. By the time I could tell my version of the story, my parents and the principal had all accepted the other version. I tripped, fell into the bleachers and knocked out my tooth. I perpetrated the lie to those who knew my parents because it was easier than telling the truth, or so I thought. My parents went to their graves not knowing the truth of what happened, and I regret that.

And the ironic thing is that I actually prefer the true version of the story. Me standing up for myself. And I did offer up a great defense…except for that one lucky punch. I think my dad would have been proud.

A little late perhaps, but the truth must be told, and I feel better for telling, even if a bit late!

Distracted

This summer I have intentionally slowed down my touring schedule. One reason is I wanted to devote more time to writing.

[phone rings]

Wait, I need to take this call.

“Hello? No, I don’t need your credit card service. I have asked you about 100 times to take my number off your call list. Please don’t call again.”

Grrr…there ought to be a law! So, where was I?…ah, writing…

The Oregon weather is finally wonderful. So I am sitting out on my patio, looking up at the sky…oh, you have got to be kidding me. I just swept the cobwebs off the eaves yesterday and now they are back! Ugh… where is that broom?

[long pause, we hear some grumbling about spiders]

Okay, I’m back…

Now for some inspiration. Maybe I’ll address the writing process for the creative. Controlling your environment is very important-

“What? Yes, Lorie I know I said I would unload the dishwasher and – Now? But I was gonna… okay…now.”

[another long pause, with dishes clanking in the background]

All right, uh, controlling environment…

I have discovered that I do my best writing when I can find a space to work that is devoid of distractions-

[phone chime alert]

Oh, wow! This is great! A booking just came in. I need to respond to this right away. Let me look at the calendar…

[clacking of keyboard on the computer]

So…yeah…devoid of distractions. In fact I think my best writing was-

[Lawn maintenance guy rounds the corner of the house with a leaf blower. A few wood chips fly up onto the keyboard]

My best writing…my best writing was NOT done at home.

As strange is it may sound, I think I have more control over my environment at almost any place but home…

[long pause in the writing process]

I’m writing this last part at a coffee shop. Not too far from my home. Now I can write without distractions.

[Inner thoughts]

“Whoa…is that guy gonna drink all that by himself? That’s one huge drink. I wonder if it comes with a catheter?”

To be continued… or maybe not.

[Note: I really did set out to write about the importance of controlling your environment when writing. Most of the distractions that I mention, really did happen during the writing of this article]

This Old Hat

This old hat sits in display on a bookshelf in my office. What comes to mind when you look at it? It is pretty beaten up and worn. If a hat could talk I am thinking this hat might have a terrific story to tell. Which is one reason I chose it. I was looking for a hat with a story to tell.

At one time it was actually a pretty good hat. The label on the inside says it’s a Dobbs hat. Dobbs hats date back to the 1930s and the company is still in business today. I was actually looking for something that went back even farther—the 1910s would have been ideal. But for the story, this one would work fine. I found it at a thrift store in the 1980s. When I found it, it was a little too nice. I needed it to look like a hat that had been to there and back. A hat that had experienced all kinds of weather. A hat that had slept in the streets and maybe been kicked and punched a few times.

So I worked it over a bit. I wadded it up and stomped it in the dirt until it had the look I needed—a hat that had once been distinguished, now beaten, faded and tired. A hat with a story.

At that time, in the 1980s, it didn’t have any holes in it. Those came later. The holes appeared after telling the story hundreds of times. I would tell the story while holding the hat in my hands and fidgeting with it. That, combined with being thrown in a suitcase until the next time I told the story, eventually wore holes in the hat. Small at first, but becoming more pronounced over time.

Soon it reached a point where it was too worn and too fragile to withstand the rigors of the storyteller. I feared it might disintegrate in my hands if I were to keep demanding it to perform. I needed to replace it, to recast the role of the hat with a different old hat.

So I did. I went to another thrift store and found another old hat. This one was a different style but still appropriate to the time for the story. It would work, and has been my companion for telling the story for many years. But it is not the same.

I miss this old hat.

We shared so much time together. This old hat became not only part of the story I told, but part of my story too. This old hat is linked to a lot of memories. Cherished memories that I don’t want to forget.

So I keep it around, letting it occupy a place of prominence on my bookshelf, where I can see it often. It still serves a purpose. It reminds me of the journey we have had together. Of the stories we have told. It has become a part of me.

I’m just not ready to give up this old hat.

Living the Actor’s Dream…or Nightmare

Ah, yes the actor’s dream. “The smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd.” I’m sure every actor has that dream. Standing ovations, the crowds going wild, and great reviews (although I must admit, I really don’t care much for the smell of greasepaint).

But engage an actor in conversation about their real dreams—the kind they have when their head hits the pillow at night—and it’s more likely they will tell you about their nightmares. Common ones include forgetting lines, missing an entrance, or the most common of terrors—finding yourself on stage in a production you know nothing about and trying to bluff your way through the show. I have had those nightmares, and had a few of them actually come true.

Last weekend I had another of my nightmares come true. I have literally had dreams about traveling to a performance to discover, at the last minute, that I left all my costumes and props at home. Well, it happened for real last weekend. I think I am so accustomed to flying to performances that I become a little too relaxed in preparation for travel when I have to drive to show. This time I was so relaxed about my travel that I completely forgot to pack my suitcase that has all my performance stuff in it—all my props, costume pieces, display items, and media for sound cues—packed and ready to go, sitting in my office at home. I was about 3 hours into my 5-hour drive to Marysville, WA when I realized my blunder.

(While I say I simply forgot these things…my wife had a different take on it. She called it a “senior moment.”  I have no clue what she means by this…I haven’t been called a senior since I graduated High School.)

What to do! I did have the time to turn around and go back to Salem and pick up the suitcase…the time, but I wasn’t sure I had the energy. I pulled over at the next exit on I-5 and got out of my car to go double check the trunk—yep, no suitcase. Breathe, Chuck, breathe!

I started making a list of the essential things I needed for this performance. Fortunately, I am doing one of my personal storytelling pieces, Go Ask Your Mother…a Father’s Story. After taking a moment to think through the show, I realized that most of the props, while great to have, were not essential. I could do this without the props, if necessary. At least I knew my lines.

At least I knew my lines.

The text. That’s what was essential! The actor, the director, the speaker all know your job is to serve the text. You know exactly what I am talking about if you have ever watched what is supposed to be a blockbuster movie and are totally underwelmed by a weak storyline and poor writing or conversely if you have ever watched a low budget film and been blow away by the great story that was told.

I would focus on the text! I ran them during the drive—alas no “senior moments!” All the lines were there!

Modern technology can be a wonderful thing. Some of the missing items from my suitcase could simply be printed at the local Kinkos. A quick call to my wife and the wonder of “the cloud,” and those things are easily duplicated. A stop at a local store and a call to the pastor to see if they can locate a couple of items for me to use, and by showtime on Sunday morning I had almost everything replaced. Nightmare averted.

I recalled the text of the motto from my days as a Boy Scout: “Be Prepared.”

Senior moments… pftttt!

How to Sleep in a Bed

…and other things we take for granted

In the previous blog I talked about our new venture as hosts for an AirBnB apartment in our home. Although I am a well traveled person, I have rarely been the host to other travelers and am learning a few things as we go. I’m learning that things I take for granted are not neccesarily true for the people we are hosting…especially when it comes to people from other lands and cultures. 

We recently hosted some guests from another country and upon cleaning up after their week long stay we made some interesting observations. Wet towels were neatly folded and left on a chair in the bedroom, the trash cans were empty as they took their garbage with them.  None of the food items we left for them were touched, including fresh baked muffins. A spare toothbrush we left in a drawer was used and then put back in the package for the next guest, I presume. But the most interesting observation to us was that they apparently slept on top of the blanket instead of between the sheets, and used the duvet for their cover. 

Ah, the things we take for granted. Doesn’t everybody sleep in a bed the same way I do? Between the sheets not on top of them, right?

I often stop and think about the things we take for granted in other aspects of our lives, especially when it comes to how we do church. I’m a “guest” in a different church almost every week, and often in churches with many differing styles of worship. I like to ponder what is going on in the minds of people who might be visiting and are unaccustomed to attending church. We in the church, I think, take so many things for granted. Consider these as if you had never visited a church before:

  • The worship leader starts a song, and without being prompted, people stand with arms raised and sing along. 
  • The offering is received with little or no explanation.
  • People come to the altar to pray during a worship song.
  • The “turn and greet the people next to you” moment.
  • The spontaneous “Amen” or “Hallelujah” from members of the congregation.
  • Communion is received—in so many different ways. Passed in the pew or walking down the aisle and kneeling at the altar. Again, often without explanation.
  • Announcements about activities that carry the assumption that people will know what it is with no explanation (Shepherding Group, Celebrate Recovery, MOPs, etc). 

You get the idea. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with any of those things. But I do think there is a lot taken for granted in the average church service. For a time the church was extra sensitive to this with the introduction of the “seeker sensitive” worship service. While criticized by many, I do think it is worth applying that filter to the everyday life of the average church, especially when it comes to worship and the inculusion of guests. 

A few years ago I created a video series called “There Goes Bob.” The series was inspired by the thought that more people would attend church if invited by a friend. In the 4th and final episode the invitee shares some of his observations about the church service he attends. I think it applies to this topic. Watch and see: 


Check out the entire There Goes Bob Series in our store.

I changed a few things in my checkin procedure for our next AirBnB guests, also from another country. While showing them how to operate the control for a Sleep Number Bed, I casually mention “Oh, and in our western culture we sleep between the sheets” as I show them where the covers get pulled back.

I don’t want to take anything for granted. 

If you are traveling to Salem, we would be delighted to have you consider our Sunnyslope Retreat apartment! Check it out!

Audit!

The Kingdom of Heaven is like…

The letter came by certified mail. It required a signature as proof that I had received it. The subject line contained the word “Audit.”

There is just something about that word—audit—especially in the context of a certified letter addressed to you, that makes you feel like a criminal. It gave me that goosebumpy, shortness of breath feeling as though I had been caught doing something wrong. I know the feeling well— it’s called guilt. And in the context of the word “audit” I think the assumption is guilty until proven innocent.

After reading the rest of the letter, I took a couple of deep breaths to calm myself and then tried to figure out the nature of my crime. At least it was from the City of Salem and not the IRS.  Last year we began offering a part of our home as a short-term rental through AirBnB. There were hoops to jump through with the City of Salem, one of which is collecting a Transient Occupancy Tax that we would report and pay monthly. While this task is a nuisance, I complied and was certain that I had not intentionally done anything wrong.

I had to schedule a time with the City for the audit. The soonest date I could get was about three weeks out. Three weeks of having this cloud of suspicion hanging over my head. Three weeks of wondering what I had done wrong.

I am pretty meticulous when it comes to keeping records. The City’s paperwork for collecting this tax is cumbersome, with too many boxes to fill in. I automatically assumed I had messed up on one of the forms. Then all the doubt set in…what if I made a really big, stupid blunder? Maybe I am slipping up. Recently I made the mistake of depositing personal money into the business account. Then there was my credit card payment that I accidently paid to my cell phone provider. Did I somehow miss a payment? Did I send the payment to the wrong account? Did I put the wrong amount on the check?  So many possibilities.

Over the next three weeks I fretted and fussed and double and triple checked the records. I couldn’t find any mistakes.

The Day of the Audit 

I arrived, records in hand. I was shown into a room with two auditors, a man and a woman, at a table. Smiles and handshakes all around. Very gracious, offering me water, coffee, and even a lollipop…your tax dollars at work!

Then the man spoke. “This is just a routine audit. We are auditing all the AirBnB’s since this is brand new to the city. We mainly just want to make sure you don’t have any questions.”

“Well…uh…” this puzzled me. I thought I was there to answer their questions. “Well there is one of the forms that I have a question about…”

I asked my question and he made light of it, no worries. “Do you have a summary statement from AirBnB on your earnings? We will just do a quick check to see that our numbers match. We don’t need to see any of your ledgers or bank statements.”

I handed the summary over to the woman, who punched in the numbers.

“It’s all good,” she said, “everything matches.”

Then the guy said, “Well, just keep doing what you are doing! Thanks for coming in!”

What!? That’s it? I was actually disappointed. I spent all this time preparing, going over records, crunching numbers and had proof in hand. They didn’t even want to see my meticulous records.  Add to that all the stress of the last few weeks in anticipation of this meeting. I couldn’t believe it! All they really wanted was a meet and greet? Why the certified letter? Why even use that scary word “audit?” Why tell me to bring in all my records, bank statements, etc.? Why all of that when there wasn’t anything to justify. Nothing at all at issue?

And then I was relieved.  I am doing things right. Not guilty after all…and I didn’t even have to prove it.

As I walked back to my car, enjoying my cherry lolipop, one word kept popping into my head.

Grace.

Amazing, isn’t it?

If you are traveling to Salem, we would be delighted to have you consider our Sunnyslope Retreat apartment! Check it out! 

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