No Regrets, but…

Do you ever wonder what your life would look like if you had made a few different choices at key moments of your life? Those “what ifs” that sneak into your thoughts when you pause to ponder your life and just how you got to where you are at this moment?

I have no regrets in the big picture of how my life unfolded and where I am now. I am happy in my choice of career, spouse, family, ministry and in the overall direction of my life.

But still…

I have these moments when I pause and wonder. Often those moments occur when I happen to watch a concert with a particularly good drummer. I pause and wonder if that could have been me.

You see I had two passions as a kid growing up. Both in the arts. I was a drummer. I started playing in band in elementary school, my first “drum” being one of those practice pads—a piece of rubber glued to a piece of wood. I would build up to a real drum kit later, one piece at a time. I’m sure my parents thought “any instrument EXCEPT the drums,” but they were tolerant and encouraging, despite the noise. In junior high I was in my first rock band, The Phylum Five (there were only four members—go figure).

The other passion, of course, was the stage. I was in church plays, school plays and in general a ham in front of an audience. In high school I found my niche as an actor. I auditioned for almost every play and was cast in leading roles. I loved it!

So here I was in school playing drums in concert and marching bands, and performing in plays and competing in Forensics (humorous interpretative readings). I was able to, in a sense, have my cake and eat it too.

I went to college as a theater major and again had success landing good roles during my time as a college student. I also played drums in the college marching band and in a rock ’n roll band. I was keeping my feet fairly balanced in both worlds for a time.

In 1974 a music group called “The Spurrlows” (Google Thurlow Spurr) came to our college. Well known at the time, this group was like a Christian version of “Up With People.” Big band, contemporary music and a great drummer, a guy by the name of Larnelle Harris (yep, that Larnelle, Grammy and Dove award winning vocalist). The Spurrlows had more than one touring group and invited audience members to audition for their groups after the show. I chickened out but later went home and made a cassette recording of me playing the drums and sent it off to them.

In the summer of 1974 I got my first professional acting job, working as understudy for all the male roles in the Smoky Mountain Passion Play. It was a great experience and for the first time began to open my eyes to the possibility of being an artist that was also in ministry. One of the cast members had toured professionally with a Christian theater company called the Covenant Players. I was enthralled at the possibility!

Upon returning to college the next semester, I began to investigate this theater company. By the end of the semester I was traveling to LA join the company and to become a full-time professional actor.

In the summer of 1975 I was on tour break and with my family back in Michigan when I got a phone call. The voice on the other end of the phone was Larnelle Harris. Thurlow Spurr was launching another group and they had listened to my tape. They wanted to know if I was interested in being the drummer for the group.

Needless to say, I had a sleepless night. Of course I was interested! But I also loved being an actor. Tossing and turning through the night, I played out different scenarios. Actor, drummer, drummer, actor, back and forth all night long. But as much as I wanted to do both, I knew I couldn’t.  I had made a time commitment to the theater company. I really didn’t have a choice. I needed to keep my word. The next day I called Larnelle to tell him no, at least for now.

I chose the stage. It has become my life and I am happy and blessed. Not every person gets to make a living doing something they love. I don’t take it for granted.

A few times I have had the opportunity to play the drums again. Charles Tanner, writer and director of that theater company wrote a play for me. The character was a drummer, a drummer struggling to decide how to use his talents. The climax of the play was a drum solo expressing the character’s conficts, and also served as a prayer as he made his choice to “follow the drumbeat.” It was the only time I was able to be both an actor and a drummer at the same time (talk about having your cake and eating it too)!

Over the years I have played a few gigs at a church jazz night as a drummer, and have passed on my love of the drums to one of my sons, who is a very talented drummer in his own right. I keep a Cajon in my office and my car dashboard takes a beating on my travels. Once a drummer, always a drummer I suppose.

Almost every church has a set of drums on the platform these days. Such was not the case when I was a kid growing up in the church. But every weekend as I sit in a different church preparing to take to the stage as an actor, I look at those drums and I listen to the drummer…no regrets…but sometimes I wonder.

What Does Jesus Want for His Birthday?

It was after a performance of In His Steps at a church in Southern California in August. With the challenge of the drama “what would Jesus do?” fresh on their minds, I shared with congregation about our work with the ministry of Food for the Hungry and left the platform to go wait at the display table, hoping that someone might stop and sponsor a child.

Gino approached with his fiancee, Mary. I began to explain the process: “Select the child you would like to sponsor and—“

Gino cut me off and said: “Just one? I was thinking maybe six.”

And he did… he sponsored six kids! He took the challenge of “what would Jesus do?” and did what Jesus asks of us all to do.

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

It’s Christmas time, and if you are like me you are probably getting swept up in all the activities of the season. One of those in our house is the making and checking of our Christmas lists. It is easy to get so caught up in the festivities that we can forget that it is a celebration of the birth of Jesus. While we “make our list and check it twice” we forget that Jesus has a list as well. Since it is His birthday we celebrate, it might be a good time to see what it is that He has on His list. It starts out: “I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink.” The list ends with:  “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Gino’s response was a powerful reminder of why I do this ministry. Amidst the list of all I have to do—the traveling, performing, scheduling, writing and rehearsing—I need to remember what is on Jesus’ list. When it comes down to it, it is the very reason I started this ministry in the first place. The very name of this ministry “Master’s Image” was created as a reminder to be conformed to His image in the work we do. While at first glance you might think, “it’s just that Christian actor guy that does those plays in churches,” for me it’s about so much more. It’s about lives changed, it’s about people like Gino and the six kids whose lives were helped because Gino saw a play and was moved to do something that Jesus would do.

While I work on my Christmas list this year, I am also adding things that I am thankful for. This ministry turns 34 years old in 2018 and it could’t happen without the prayers and support of people like you. If you are reading this letter, you are one of those who have made this journey possible. That’s hundreds of performances and thousands of lives impacted like Gino and the kids he sponsored. Thank you!

As you look forward to 2018, we would be so very honored if you would remember us by giving a gift to Master’s Image ProductionsWe 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 (Marcia Whitehead and Steve Wilent).

Merry Christmas!

One Time or Monthly Donations:

Your donations make this ministry possible! We welcome your participation. (You will be taken to a PayPal page to complete your contribution.) Master’s Image is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.  Donations are tax-deductible.

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Master’s Image Productions, P.O. Box 903, Salem, OR 97302

P.S: If you would like to sponsor a child with Food for the Hungry you can do that here: www.sponsornow.info. (sponsorships through that link also help Master’s Image!)

 

We’ve Got New Stuff!

As you may know, in addition to the stories I share in my travels, we also represent other artists through Master’s Image Productions. Two of our team have added to their lineup recently and I think they are productions you should consider for your church/organization.

Marcia Whitehead – Broken

If you have experienced Marcia’s presentation You Raise Me Up you know she has a powerful story to tell of her journey to discover life after loss. Her story does what a good story always does—leaves you wanting more.   People had so many questions they wanted to explore that she was compelled to create a sequel to address some of the issues left unresolved in You Raise Me Up.  Her newest presentation, Broken, does just that. It addresses her continued journey to healing and wholeness, a message of hope that will inspire those who listen. To learn more or schedule Marcia for a presentation: www.marciawhiteheadusa.com

Steve Wilent – Unlikely Prospect

Steve has had a varied career, from cleaning windows to working as an actor in Hollywood, and pastoring a rural church as a young seminary graduate. It is from this experience as a young pastor that he shares his story called Unlikely Prospect. I have had the pleasure of looking over Steve’s shoulder as he wrote out this story and I can tell you it is a story for anyone who has ever wondered about the purpose of the church—a fellowship of believers learning how to live life together as the body of Christ. You will laugh, squirm and be moved to tears in this inspiring true life story of faith. Check out Steve’s presentations at www.stevewilent.net.

While I don’t have a new production waiting in the wings at this point, I am still enjoying sharing my stories and especially those that, like Marcia’s and Steve’s, are based on my real life adventures. So be sure to check out Truth be Told…from a Guy Who Makes Stuff Up and Go Ask Your Mother…a Father’s Story.

It it matters, there’s a story!

Can a Story Really “Change” Your Life?

“It changed my life” is an adage that’s often repeated. There are certainly events that are life-changers: birth, graduation, job, marriage, children, death… and so many more.

But can just the simple hearing or reading of a story actually change your life? I’m not talking about making us laugh or cry, or evoking emotions of compassion or anger. Those are a given. I’m talking about tangible change that results in action. Change that makes someone do or live differently.

As a storyteller I have heard “life-changing” applied to my craft. I have often accepted the statement as a compliment, but not taken it too much to heart. I am not sure I really believed that someone was going to live their life differently because they heard a story I told them.

I decided to put it to the test. Could I actually point to life-change in my own life because of stories that I heard or read? Once I seriously considered the question I was surprised at how quickly the answers followed.

• It was through hearing and reading the Gospel story in my youth that I became aware of a need for Christ in my life. It was the added stories (testimonies) of other believers that convinced me to become a follower of Jesus, a change that resulted in me living my life differently.

• It was hearing the stories from a missionary to South America at a youth retreat in Michigan that I became convinced that I wanted to actually serve God as a vocation. One of the few Spanish phrases I can actually remember is the translation to a familiar song that he taught us: “He decidido seguir a Cristo” (I have decided to follow Jesus). I didn’t know the path I would take, but I have never considered a job for more than a brief season of my life that was not also a ministry.

• It was through first seeing plays as a kid and then performing them that I discovered my passion was to be on that stage as a performer. I wanted to tell stories like the ones I was seeing–I wanted to live them. It became the inspiration and motivation for me to find a way to combine my desire to serve God with my desire to be a performing artist. My first job after college was 10 years on the road with a professional touring theater ministry.

• It was reading the book In His Steps by Charles Sheldon that challenged me with the famous question “What would Jesus do?” Little did I realize that years later that same story would keep me awake at night–a still small voice saying “tell that story.” Later adapting that book to the stage has indeed been life changing. It launched my current ministry and set the course of my professional/ministry career from 1984 to this day.

I am still thinking through the question but these thoughts flooded in once I opened the door to the question, “Can a story change your life?”

My answer is without a doubt, yes!

Story really does matter!

 

Is it Live or…

Remember the old commercial with the slogan “Is it Live or is it Memorex?” The conclusion that Memorex wanted you to draw was that quality of the recording would be so good that you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. That you would prefer the recorded music to a live performance.

Technology has come a long way since that commercial (1972). If we are talking about sound quality alone, a professional recording would be hard to match in a live performance these days.

As a professional performer with a focus on ministry these last 40 plus years, I have seen the tides change on the “live vs. recorded” question, especially in the area of drama. I have written about it a few times, most notably here. For the church today, the consensus seems to be that live performance is “out,” video is “in.” And why not? Quality video is easy to obtain and relatively inexpensive. You don’t have to worry about an actor forgetting lines, and you don’t have to move anything on the platform to accommodate a living room setting (sofa, coffee table, and lamp) for a scene that only lasts 5 minutes. It is rare to find a church today that does not use video in some form at their church services every week.

And yet I hear from people in churches all the time that they miss live performance. So I decided to conduct an informal poll on Facebook. I wanted to see if the perception were true that, due to cultural shifts, more people would prefer video to live performance. I asked this question:

Informal poll for my church-going friends:

A pastor has decided he wants to launch his next sermon series with a powerful 5-minute dramatic scene. He has the option of having two professional actors perform the scene live, or those same two actors perform the scene on video. Both options will be professional in every way. Would you prefer the “live” option or the “video” option?

(along with your answer would you give your age group with a simple: teens, 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s?) Additional comments are welcome.”

There was great participation, with over 135 people responding to the question on 3 different FB sites in 24 hours.

Here are the results:

  • Prefer Live: 77%
  • Prefer Video: 17%
  • It Depends or 50/50: 6%
  • 75% of responses were people between the ages of 50-70.
  • 25% of those in the age 60’s category preferred video.
  • Of the 31 responses in the age of 40 or younger, 80% preferred live to video.

I know this not scientific. There is a bias in that most responders were in an age bracket closer to mine (between 50-70). It would be interesting to see how a mostly millennial sampling would have responded. And because of my connections in the arts, there are more responses from people in the performing arts than you might find in a more random poll. One responder questioned if the responses favored “live” over “video” because I, a theater person, was asking the question, rather than a person who does video for a living asking the question. Fair question and I am sure the results were skewed some because of that, but I don’t think that the vast majority were answering the question to satisfy the poller.

Note that there are also several pastors responding to the poll. One of the more interesting responses from a pastor was this:

Live would be more impacting, BUT, as a pastor I would have to consider the actors afterwards. Will the focus be on them and their performance? Would the video allow the people to more easily integrate it into my message?”

The implication being that the live performance might “upstage” the sermon. I have long suspected that a pastor might feel that way, but had never heard someone actually verbalize it.

There were a few other surprises. There were some theater people that I would have suspected would choose “live” who actually preferred “video.”

Many of those who chose video over live cited more practical reasons dealing with “easier for more people so see and hear in a large auditorium” as opposed to the artistic impact on the audience. And there were many who, rightly so, said it would all depend on the actual piece; that some pieces would translate better on video than live.

I am frankly surprised at the results. I would have expected video to come out ahead, given the shift in how often it is used in the church. But maybe the overuse of video has a lot to do with these responses.

My take-away is that the shift away from live performance in so many churches today does not reflect the preference of the people in the audience. Many have suggested that this is a pendulum swing and that live performance will once again come back.  Me, I’m not so sure.

What do you think?

In the meantime, let me know if I can come to you “live.” No Memorex, I promise!

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