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! 

The Seven Last Words of the Church

In the 70’s and 80’s I toured with a theater ministry based in Southern California. The director often quipped that the seven last words of the church were, “we never tried it that way before.”

(At the time I thought it was his original thought but have since learned that it is actually the title of a book published in 1973: The Seven Last Words of the Church or “We never tried it that way before” by Ralph Neighbour (no relation) published 1973.)

The director would bring this up when we would lament about churches that were reluctant to schedule us because it was something new, different, or foreign to the way they normally did things. This seemed to be especially true of churches that had a more liturgical format.

A lot has changed in church culture since 1973. For a time it seemed the way to go was to intentionally do things differently. Indeed, if I use the church I attended as a youth as an example, I am sure many of the “saints” would be rolling in their graves at what constitutes a worship service in today’s culture. The changes in dress, music, and a more casual attitude would, I’m sure, rock their world.

Having been in the middle of it, I experienced the gradual embrace of the dramatic arts as a part of worship, as more and more churches tried “new things.” The rise of such churches as Willow Creek spawned a movement of churches from all denominations embracing dramatic arts as an integral part of worship.

And then things changed again. Current trends reject anything that smacks of “performance” and demands that what comes from the platform be “real and authentic” (as if they can’t co-exist it seems). I am hearing again “we never tried it that way before” or a similar phrase which I think means the same thing, “what you do wouldn’t fit in here.”

Once you do something new that works a couple of times it can easily become the tradition. Being a non-traditional church establishes new traditions that can be just as entrenched and inflexible as the old traditions.

This week I heard from a pastor who said “we aren’t scheduling any productions at this time.”

I wanted to explain that it is not a “production” in the sense of sets, lights, and sound. It is simply me telling a story in place of a sermon. But I don’t think he would have listened.

Bottom line for him and so many others, “we never tried it that way before.”

Then the other day we had contact from a young pastor who was thrilled about bringing our ministry to his church. He had never heard of doing drama as a sermon before.

Everything old is new again.

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!

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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!)

 

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