I wrote new children’s book. This one is about and for my grandson, Jude. Hope you enjoy my reading of the book.
You can order a copy on Amazon here: Hey JudePosted by Chuck Neighbors | 0 comments
Had the pleasure of being interviewed by Tracie Arboneaux-Gorham from the FB Group “Therefore, I create!”
We talked about my career as an actor and the recent books I have authored. It was a fun conversation.Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 0 comments
I was teaching a break-out session at a Worship Conference. My topic was about making a living as a Christian artist.
I asked the group: “Name for me some famous Christian bands, go ahead and just call them out”
“Jars of Clay”
“Gaither Vocal Band”
All of these and many more were called out.
Then I asked: “How about some famous Christian singers?”
“Michael W. Smith”
Again just a sampling of some of the many names that were mentioned. (Note: this discussion happened before Kanye West and Lauren Daigle would have made the list)
I try another category: “How about Christian Comedians?” It takes a few seconds but then I hear:
“That lady that sings that thing about what Mom’s say to the tune of the William Tell Overture.” (Anita Renfroe)
“I think Stephen Colbert is a Catholic.”
There were a few other names tossed out but the list was definitely shorter.
“Okay let’s try one more… how about famous Christian actors?”
The silence is deafening. Then someone says.
“Oh that actor who played Doogie Howser… what’s his name?”
“Neil Patrick Harris?”
“No, you’re thinking of the actor from Growing Pains…uh…Kirk Cameron.”
“Oh yeah… he’s in those Christian movies, Left Behind and stuff.”
“That’s it?” I asked. “One actor?”
“Oh wait there is that guy that tour’s around doing C.S Lewis and Screwtape Letters… uh… Don McLean.”
I correct him. “That would Max McLean. Don McLean is the singer who wrote Bye Bye Miss American Pie. Anyone else?
“Denzel Washington? I saw this YouTube video where he talked about praying…”
From the back of the room I hear, “Chuck Neighbors”
I smile… “I said famous actors… and you only said that because the name on the handout for this class says: Chuck Neighbors, Actor”
(It is interesting to note that some of the names—U2 (Bono), Johnny Cash, Stephen Colbert, and Denzel Washington—are celebrities that have identified themselves as Christian, but their art is not typically what most people think of when we think of Christian artists.)
So there you have it, in a nutshell. While there is plenty of name recognition for Christian musicians, there is not much when it comes to being a “Christian actor.” I have often referred to myself as “that Christian actor guy” because for most people, even those who have seen me perform, “that Christian actor guy” is a close as they will get to remembering my name. (Although I have lost count of the number of times I have been introduced as Jim Nabors…aka Gomer Pyle).Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 0 comments
I almost walked out. This was not what I expected, not what I signed up for, and I was perturbed.
It was the annual conference of Christians in Theater Arts, a networking conference for, as the name suggests, Christians involved in the theater arts. Most of the people in attendance were involved to some degree with theater in churches, schools, and universities or were performers in theater ranging from local church ministries all the way to Broadway. The one key distinctive we all took for granted was that we would see LIVE theater presented at our annual conferences.
So as I took my seat in the auditorium for the first evening of performances, I was taken aback to hear that we would be watching a film instead of a live performance. A film!?! We are inundated with film in our culture. I wanted live theater! This was a theater conference, for crying out loud! Then the subject… the film was about an opera singer. An OPERA SINGER—are you kidding me? Okay, I understand that opera is theater…but come on! This is not exactly an opera audience. I mean, really?
But there was no tactful way for me to get up and leave. People in the audience knew who I was, and my departure would be noticed. So I sat, arms crossed, and prepared to endure what I was certain would be the most boring and irrelevant evening of theater I had ever experienced.
I. Was. Wrong.
The film was fascinating. It was about a woman who had poured her life into becoming one of the best opera singers in her field—world class. It portrayed her struggle to make it in the very challenging and competitive world of opera. And it showed her rejection and disappointment at the end of a long, hard journey. I dare say that every person in the audience, myself included, could relate to that. Her story was common to all theater artists and, really, all people who have wanted something with all their soul only to see their dream evaporate in disappointment.
The film ended—very unsatisfactorily. There was no happy ending.
Then the most remarkable thing occurred. The filmmaker took the stage, shared about the making of the film and then introduced the subject of the film—Marcia Whitehead. What followed was profound and amazing. Marcia sang. The kind of singing that gives you goose bumps and makes your hair stand on end. The audience could not contain themselves, and a standing ovation followed every song she sang. And the story? The story in the film needed an ending, and Marcia gave it to us. It was a story that showed how God can take our disappointment and rejection and redeem it for His purpose. It was a great story and was truly an evening of wonderful LIVE theater!
On the night that I attended this performance, I didn’t know Marcia Whitehead. After returning home to Salem, I was sharing about the performance with my pastor. He was intrigued to know more about her, and asked me to locate her in hopes of perhaps inviting her to Salem. So I did. I found out she lived in—are you ready for this—Salem, Oregon. Not only that, she had been attending our church! (hey it’s a big church!)
And that, friends, is the backstory on how Marcia Whitehead became a part of Master’s Image Productions.
It is a real joy to be able to follow Marcia’s ministry and hear the incredible stories that come out of her sharing her story. But I will also admit that booking Marcia has not been as easy as I had hoped. You see, many of the pastors and leaders of the churches we contact are too much like me. They have the same attitude I had when I walked into the auditorium that night. They hear the world “opera” and they cover their ears and slam the door. If they would only take a moment to listen, they would see that Marcia’s story just might be their story. And I am willing to wager they, like myself, would not be able to stop the goose bumps.Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 1 comments
The email from the pastor made me chuckle.
“We have a mostly older congregation, no children, but we do have one millennial couple!”
“One millennial couple” and it was almost as if it was a badge of honor.
But I understood. The church has changed drastically in the years that I have been involved in ministry. My friend, Pastor Jon, likes to remind me that “no one has been in more churches than Chuck Neighbors.” I don’t know if that is exactly true, but I have been in a different church almost every weekend for the last 45 years. I have seen a lot of change over the years.
My generation of Baby Boomers, who once strived so hard to be “relevant” and “contemporary” in church now find themselves on the outside of church culture. To the younger church culture we are now, it seems, irrelevant and too traditional by their standards.
Indeed it is rare to find a church that appeals to all ages. Churches that promote a “contemporary” worship style seem locked into a new tradition they have created that is no longer contemporary. In striving to be relevant, contemporary has become tradition.
I recently did a series of performances for a church in Sun City, Arizona. Sun City is well known as a retirement community. There was a good turnout every night. People enjoyed the performances. I have a statement that is read when I am introduced, that “if babies get too noisy to please take them out of the room so as not to distract from the performance.”
The pastor read this and received a big laugh.
Babies? There was not even one millennial couple in the audience.Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 0 comments
On Palm Sunday it was a privilege to perform to over 5,000 people in three services at a church in the Los Angeles area. It has been a while since I shared with an audience this large and I have to say it was both exhilarating and exhausting. Three in a row of Encounters, with a lot of emotional characters, takes a toll on the body.
After each performance I was happy to hear some great comments from people that sought me out to compliment my performance. One comment came up more than once:
“I have never seen anything like that before.”
It gave me pause and made me ponder what exactly they were referring to. Did they mean they had never seen an actor do a one-man show? Perhaps. Or did they mean they had never seen a dramatic performance in the place of a sermon on a Sunday morning. That seems more likely to me.
Their comments were a blessing and a reminder to me of the great gift the arts can be to the church. These listeners heard familiar stories from the life of Jesus told in new and different ways and it impacted them deeply.
The church continues to struggle—or maybe doesn’t struggle enough would be more accurate—when it comes to making room for the arts in the church. The response this last weekend gives me hope that progress is being made in this struggle.
After such a great weekend I was stopped in my tracks when I returned home. A very different response from another church awaited me. A pastor was hoping to schedule a performance this summer; we had the date penciled on the calendar and I was awaiting the formality of an approval from the church board. Then I received this email:
“It is with deep regret and personal disappointment that the Board decided to decline the opportunity.”
I pushed back. Often these things don’t pass the Board because of budgetary reasons. I asked if it was about the money. His response:
“It had nothing to do with money. There was just an expressed apathy. I showed them the clip you sent which I felt was incredibly powerful but apparently they did not share my perspective. I am both puzzled and frustrated. I am sad and disappointed and believe we have missed a wonderful opportunity.”
I am especially bothered by the word “apathy” as the reason. I would be more understanding if it were about the money, or “not appropriate for worship” or even what is even more typical, “we have never done anything like that before.”
Notice how close the phrases are:
“I have never seen anything like that before”
“We have never done anything like that before”
The first was an open door that brought new insight and spirtual impact to the listener.
The second is a closed door that resists change and settles for the status quo.
One step forward, one step back I suppose. (Uh-oh, was that a subliminal message about dancing in the church?)Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 2 comments
I had the pleasure of bumping into my friend, singer-songwriter Jason Gray, last week. It was quite a fun coincidence. I knew he was coming to my town of Salem, OR for a concert on Sunday and we were actually hosting him in our home on Sunday night. Lorie and I were flying back from Dallas, TX on Friday and guess who was seated behind us?
I got to know Jason, before he became “famous.” We were both partners in a child sponsorship ministry several years ago and traveled together to Africa on a mission trip.
If you are a fan of his music, you know that one of the themes that Jason writes and sings about so eloquently is “weakness.” He makes the case better than anyone I know that God’s strength is experienced in our weakness. He uses his own handicap as an example. Jason is a stutterer. You don’t have to be around him very long to discover this. Yet, Jason is one of the best communicators that I know. Kind of ironic, isn’t it? He doesn’t try to hide it. He even makes jokes about it from the stage.
In addition to being an amazing musician, Jason is also a terrific storyteller. His stories reinforce his theme of weakness, as he shares openly and transparently about his own life. He makes the point that when we share our weaknesses and our failings with others, we are able to truly get to know each other better, like each other more and relate to each other honestly. He even quips from the stage about his stuttering, “now that you know that about me… I bet you like me just a little bit more.”
Oh how I need to be reminded of that. It is okay to have weakness, it is alright to share our weakness. In this age of social media, we spend way too much time trying to make ourselves “look good.” Through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we put our lives under a microscope, yet work furiously to make sure people only see our best side.
I am inspired by people like Jason. I want to be more like him when it comes to being honest and transparent about my life. It is one of the reasons my newer presentations have been personal stories from my life. It has been freeing to tell my stories and to hear people afterwards thank me for being transparent and talking openly about my struggles and failures. Through that process they see that they we are not alone. (Check out Truth be Told…from a Guy Who Makes Stuff Up and Go Ask Your Mother…a Father’s Story)
Take a listen to one of my favorites of Jason’s. I think it is one of his strongest pieces and it is called “Weak.”Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 0 comments
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.Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 0 comments
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.Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 0 comments