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.

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!

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!)

 

Play it Again, Chuck

Do you have a favorite play, movie, or TV show that you don’t mind watching over and over again? I have a few that fall into that category; not many, but a few.

As a kid, before the VCR, DVR, and Streaming, there would be those movies on TV we would watch again and again. The Ten Commandments at Easter, It’s a Wonderful Life at Christmas, and of course The Wizard of Oz. All of these would air once a year on network TV and it was an event you actually made plans to watch.

Times have changed, and with the overwhelming amount of content generated on TV, we often find ourselves struggling to keep up with the latest episodes of our favorite shows.  Who has time for a rerun?

With this mentality in mind, I am always a bit taken aback when a pastor asks me to perform something that I have already performed at that same church just a few years earlier. I have a handful of churches that I perform for every year and they are often the ones that motivate me to write a new show. I think to myself, “If I don’t come up with something new I won’t be invited back!” (I wonder how many of my pastor friends have that same thought when it comes to writing their sermons?  “Will they remember if I preach that same sermon I preached two Easters ago?”)

My friend, Jon Karn, is a pastor in Southern California. I have followed Jon around from church to church beginning in the Pacific Northwest back in the 1980’s and at several churches he has served in California. Jon has probably seen my adaptation of Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps more than any other pastor. I can say this because not only have I performed In His Steps at every church Jon has served (at least 4 churches), but Jon has requested that I perform it multiple times for at least two of those churches. Jon really likes In His Steps!

I was back at Jon’s church a few weeks ago. I was slated to do one of my newer shows, Truth Be Told…from a Guy Who Makes Stuff Up. A couple of weeks before my scheduled performance, I get a message from Jon: “Chuck, we have decided we want you to do In His Steps again!”

Somehow I was not surprised. I mean it is Jon, and he really likes In His Steps. I asked Jon why he wanted me to do that instead of a piece that he hadn’t seen before. He replied:

“People always need to see what following Jesus looks like. I doubt the congregation will read Sheldon’s classic but they will happily watch the drama. I guess I’d say In His Steps sounds like something I’d preach. Personally, I probably need to see it for my own spiritual health, at least once every year or two.”

If I’m being totally honest, I get a bit tired of the rerun. I mean, I have performed that piece well over 1,000 times since 1984. But I need that reminder that it is not about me – that art can speak to people in powerful ways and a good story bears repeating, which is one reason we call Sheldon’s book a classic.

Anybody up for a rerun? I’m booking dates for 2018!

Sometimes I Need to be Reminded

Sometimes I need to be reminded why I do what I do.

Sometimes I get busy in the business of my art, in the business of my ministry. 

Sometimes I lose sight of the vision. My passion becomes just a job.

That’s when I need reminders…like this one.

I had just finished a performance of my one-man drama In His Steps, the classic novel that asks the famous question “what would Jesus do?” I had done all the normal after show routines: stood in the church foyer and shook a few hands, sold a few books and videos. I am usually the last to leave the church after a performance, and this was typical of that routine. Most of the people had left the building when I gathered up my props, packed them in my suitcase and headed out the door. 

As I popped open the trunk of my car I noticed a young girl, probably about 15 or 16 years old lingering in the parking lot, then she slowly drifting toward me as I placed my suitcase in the trunk. 

“Can I talk to you?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said…a bit puzzled. 

“You talked tonight about ‘what would Jesus do?’ And…well…I am trying to figure that out for myself.”

“Ah,” I said. “Yes, that can be a challenge for all of us.” 

“I have not told anybody this…I’m still in high school…and I’m pregnant.” 

“Uh…oh…I’m sorry,” I think I said…I was pretty much speechless. Of all the conversations I have had after a performance, this was a new one. 

“I don’t know what to do…or what Jesus would do. I was hoping you could tell me.”

My mind was reeling. I had never met this girl before. And here she was asking me, a perfect stranger to tell her, not only what to do, but what to do in light of the question ‘what would Jesus do?’ 

Searching for words I asked, ”Does the father know?”

“Yes…and he is the youth leader here at the church.” 

“Oh…wow…I…uh…I am so sorry.”

Suddenly the question she was struggling with became my question. “What would Jesus do?” And I was struck with the realization that this poor girl wasn’t talking to me; she didn’t know me. She was talking to the character I had just portrayed on stage. She was talking to The Reverend Henry Maxwell, a fictional character who, from the stage, projected wisdom and conviction to do powerful things driven by that central question “what would Jesus do?” She was talking to Henry Maxwell, someone she felt she could trust. Someone who could help her. 

We talked for some time. I tried to give her the best advice that Henry Maxwell could offer. There were some tears, there was a prayer. With her permission I later called the pastor of the church and told him of our encounter. While I don’t know the complete ending to this story, the pastor later assured me that the situation was dealt with and the girl was being loved and cared for in the best way possible.  

Sometimes I need to be reminded. 

Reminded of the things that brought me to the place I now stand. 

Reminded that there is power in the arts that can change a life.

Reminded of the vision and the passion that propelled me on this journey.

Reminded of my calling. 

I am reminded, and in the process renewed. 

Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Galations 6:9

The Man in Seat 11A


Man in 11AHe was a large man, the man in seat 11A. Large enough to to require that the armrest between the seats be raised in order for him to fit comfortably in his seat on the Southwest Airlines flight.

I am an actor…part of my job is to observe people. It’s something we do as a part of our craft. Observing people is one of the tools we use in creating new characters. Sometimes I do this intentionally and other times…like this one, the opportunity just falls into your lap…so to speak.

My lap tends to feel rather cramped on airlines so I like to take advantage of my A-List status on Southwest Airlines – which allows me to board in the first group. (No assigned seats on Southwest, so getting on early is essential if you hope to have an aisle or a window seat.) I head to the middle of the plane to hopefully snag the aisle seat in the exit row, which has extra leg room. In this case seat 11C is my destination.

I’m in luck as I arrive at row 11 and 11C is available. The man in 11A – the window seat – is already occupied and settled in. The flight attendant announces that this will be a full flight and every seat will be taken. This flight will have a number of “larger people” on board as a college football team has booked about half of the seats. However, the man in 11A is clearly not one of the team, being older and, let’s just say he didn’t have the physique to match the rest of the team.

The first occupant of the middle seat, 11B, is a middle-aged man, and has a look of all business. At first he seems happy to have scored a seat with extra legroom. Then he sits and the look on his face changes as he realizes that the armrest is missing between the seats, forcing body contact between him and the man in 11A. He almost immediately pops up and looks to the back of the plane. Without a word he grabs his bag and squeezes out to move to another seat.

The man in seat 11A seems oblivious to this as he is focused on his iPad. In fact he has not engaged anyone since I have arrived in row 11, looking at the screen the whole time.

The second occupant of seat 11B is a younger man. He also has the look of a business man, although less traditional than the first occupant and thankfully he is skinny, not built like one of the football players, and should be a better fit in the space between me and the man in 11A. However, it doesn’t take long for him to also realize that this seat is going to be less comfortable than he imagined; he fidgets and squirms and he too begins to look back, a bit frantic even, to see if there is another seat. But it appears he is out of luck. All the seats are taken and the flight attendants are starting their routine announcements in preparation for departure.

The flight attendant is required to ask all the occupants of an exit row if they are willing to help and if necessary open the exit door in case of an emergency. I am surprised and amused when 11B says no, he is not willing and will need to be reseated. I see the slightest bit of an incredulous smirk on the face of the man in 11A.

Now what has been an interesting observation taking place in row 11, suddenly becomes public as the flight attendant has to make announcements over the PA looking for a volunteer to replace the man in 11B.

It takes several announcements with no takers before finally a hand shoots up from the front of the plane. The man in 11B quickly gathers his stuff as if he can’t get out of there fast enough. A few seconds later an attractive woman makes her way down the aisle to replace him. I hear the first words from the man in the seat 11A, “Alright!–that’s much better” as the woman finds her way to the seat between us…it was almost as if he had planned it…and I got the feeling that this is not the first time he has experienced this dilemma.

The woman in seat 11B is outgoing. As she gets into her seat she says, “Oh, I get to sit next to “Ralph Lauren,” referring to me. Well that certainly made my day. She immediately engages 11A in conversation. And we are off.

It doesn’t take long for 11B to raise the question, “So what was the deal with the other guy who was sitting here?”

11A replies, “I guess he didn’t want to sit next to me. You’re the third person to have that seat.”

“That’s ridiculous!” says the woman in 11B.

11A and 11B hit it off well and converse while I turn to my iPad and headphones to watch a video. A short time later I unplug and the question is asked by 11B, “What football team is this anyway?”

I happened to have observed their logos and tell them the name of the college.

11A is connected to wifi on his iPad. A few seconds later they have the football team’s webpage up on the screen. Guess who the first occupant of 11B was? The coach of the football team.

The woman in 11B says, “Let’s see if we can find out who that other guy was that I replaced in this seat.”

Anonymous no more.

Observations

So as for my acting lessons:

  • From the first two occupants in seat 11B I observed different ways to “squeeze” out of an uncomfortable situation.
  • From the third occupant of 11B I observed how to make the best of an awkward situation and how being just a little outgoing can put people at ease.
  • From the man in 11A I observed ways to appear oblivious when in reality you are very much aware. I also observed self-control when those around you are being insensitive, while trying to appear that they are not.
  • From the man in 11C I observed that you don’t have to worry about getting stuck in the middle seat if you are A-List. And that being told you look life Ralph Lauren, can go to your head if you let it.

Interesting observations to say the least. I am left to ponder what I would have done, if I had happened to be one of the first occupants of 11B. Of course I could have offered to take 11B right from the start and solved the problem…but…but I was A-List.

Somebody ought to write a script…

Beware the Offering Plate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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