Jeepers, Creepers, Where’d Ya Get Those Peepers?

(Finally, after months of not being on stage in front of an audience, Steve Wilent has been able to perform a couple of times recently. He discovered things are a little different than  what he was used to before the pandemic.)

Guest blog by Steve Wilent

I was standing on stage about to start my one-man show According to John. I have performed this 45-minute version of the Gospel of John for over 30 years but this would be, thanks to COVID-19, the very first time that I have performed it to a congregation of masked people.

It was a bit jarring at first.  I was used to seeing full faces out there.  Faces that had mouths that would grin if I said something funny or would fully open if I said something really funny or perhaps droop in sadness to a character’s failure or lips that stretched thin during a stressful scene.  So many ways to know that the folks out there were connecting with me and in turn I with them.

But that was all gone now.  Now, due to the masks, all I had to go on, apart from a bit of body language and the muffled noises they made, was their eyes.  The biggest problem with having a sea of eyes to look at is that, regardless of the emotion, everything looks like a squint!  Happiness, sadness, stressfulness, nervousness, passion, hatred . . . it all comes across as a squint.

I remember an advanced acting class when I was in college.  I was in a short scene with a female classmate. We were portraying two young lovers experiencing their first argument.  I don’t remember the script. I don’t even remember my acting partner’s name, but what I do remember is that right at the height of the argument Jim Kirkman, the class instructor, suddenly yelled, “Stop!”

I remember freezing right there on stage and thinking, “What the heck?! We haven’t even got to the good part yet!” Kirkman then hopped up onto the stage and walked briskly past my acting partner and over to me. “Close your eyes,” he commanded. Ever the compliant, affable actor, I did so.  Mind you, I didn’t simply allow my eyelids to softly come together; no, I shut them with such force that you might have been able to audibly hear them slam together. There was a sprinkling of suppressed laughter coming from the other students, who in this moment were quite happy not to be the target of Kirkman’s coaching.

I heard him say, “Steve, relax.”  Again complying, I relaxed and for some reason decided that to fully relax I must also open my eyes.  Kirkman grabbed my shoulders and quickly spun me around so that my back was now to What’sherface. Kirkman gently squeezed my shoulders and said, “What color are her eyes?” Understandably nervous I said, “What color are whose eyes?” I heard titters of laughter coming from the cheap seats. Before Kirkman could say, “What’sherface’s eyes,” What’sherface, sounding annoyed said, “My eyes, you moron.” Calling me a moron, I thought, was just her way of letting me know how attracted to me she was. I thought.

Kirkman, gesturing with his thumb over his shoulder said, “Yes, Steve, what color are her eyes?”  Being put on the spot tends to do funny things to people.  My usual way of handling this kind of pressure was to try to say something funny.  So taking a cue from a popular Elton John song I said, “So . . . excuse me forgetting, but these things I do. You see I’ve forgotten if they’re green or they’re blue . . .” Truthfully, I just wanted to say that, what I actually did say, in a moment of surprising self-awareness was, “I don’t know.”

Kirkman suddenly spun around to face the class and pointing back at me with a bony finger yelled, “Exactly!  You don’t know the color of her eyes because you were acting at her and not with her! When you act with a fellow human being you focus on their soul.  The eyes are the windows to the soul, people!  Use your eyes to see into their eyes!”

Back on stage in front of the masked and socially-distanced congregation, remembering Kirkman’s words helped me to link to a much wiser man’s words, “The eye is the lamp of the body . . .” Jesus said.  Suddenly the sea of squints out there became a sea of souls to me.  Precious souls, who now more than ever needed the hope and the courage to be able to thrive in this time of pandemic.

I have now made the decision that when things “get back to normal,” I will continue to focus on and minister to people’s souls, through their eyes.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, mine are blue!

The Backstory to “I Am Lucy”

Some have asked why I wrote this book…so here is a little backstory: 

Lucy is the first child in my life to be in the “special needs” category. Oh sure, I had met other kids with special needs, but until Lucy, never really spent time getting to know them. The more I learned about Lucy and Kabuki Syndrome the more it became clear to me that she would be a child that would “stand-out” for her differences. The idea that her future would include being teased and treated cruelly by other kids began to sink in and frightened me. 

One day my wife, Lorie, took Lucy to the park. While swinging on the swings another little girl, (at the park with her father) was staring intently at Lucy. Finally, she said to her father “that girl looks funny.”

Thankfully that father said, “Oh honey, I don’t think she looks funny, I think she looks beautiful.”

The little girl shrugged accepting that answer and went on with her playtime. 

While this father handled the situation wonderfully, the fact is that there would not always be someone nearby to intervene at those teachable moments. I knew that this was just a glimpse of what would be a reality in Lucy’s future. 

Then last year Mallory, Lucy’s mother, posted on social media: 

“I have a rare syndrome,

I have a feeding tube,

I have a heart defect,

I have special needs,

But who I am is Lucy.”

And that was the inspiration. 

As an actor, I am accustomed to playing a role—getting inside another person’s head. I imagined what Lucy would want to say to those people that looked at her, and all they saw was her differences. They didn’t see her, they saw the scars and what they perceived as defects. I believe she would say, “Those things aren’t me—Who I am is Lucy!” 

While many people may consider this a good book for a child with special needs—and it is—the real target audience for the book is people like the little girl in the park and her father. And to be honest, people like me.

Available on Amazon: I AM LUCY

“I’m writing a book…I’ve got the page numbers done.”

– quote by Steven Wright

It’s been a while since I gave you an update on what I have been up to lately. As some of you know, I have purposely taken a break from my touring and performing life, and have been venturing more into writing. I published a book of faith-based limericks – Get Me to the Church in Rhyme: Limericks about God, Faith, and the Church – and revised and re-released my book called Drama Workshop: Teaching Drama to Beginning Actors. I am currently writing a book about being a Christian artist, tentatively titled “Church Pews, Potlucks, and a Tank of Gas: A Survival Guide for the Independent Christian Artist”

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But one of the projects I am most excited to announce is that I have written a children’s book! The book is called “I Am Lucy,” and yes, it is about our beloved granddaughter, Lucy. The book will address her special needs as a child with Kabuki Syndrome.

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I am excited to be working with Canadian artist Chris Kielesinski as my illustrator. He just sent me a few early drafts of some of the artwork. He is really capturing her personality and essence. 


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In the meantime, while I am not currently touring and performing, Steve Wilent and Marcia Whitehead are still trodding the boards and would be happy to bring one of their inspirational stories to you!

 

 

Pastor Appreciation, Indeed!

Pastor Kyle was lamenting his job

As his head was starting to throb.

He was squeezing a sponge,

Had a toilet to plunge.

“I was hired to preach, not to swab!”

from Get Me To The Church In Rhyme
by Chuck Neighbors

 

October is pastor appreciation month.

The punchline to numerous jokes I have heard over the years is “the pastor only works one hour a week.”

Having worked in the world of the church for over 45 years, I can tell you that nothing is further from the truth. If the average pew-sitter could job-shadow a pastor they would quickly realize that the one hour a week is easily multiplied by 60 or 80 for most of the pastors I know.

As with my job as an actor, there is so much more that goes with the job beyond what the audience/congregation sees. A typical pastor, in addition to being a preacher, is also a: teacher, lesson planner, sermon writer, counselor, hospital chaplain, event planner, and board member with too many meetings.

Those are duties that one might anticipate as a part of the job and could account for the typical hours on the job for most vocations. But for so many pastors, their job also overlaps into other areas, forcing them to be an: administrator, secretary, bookkeeper, musician, deliveryman, cook, janitor, groundskeeper, handyman and plumber.

They probably didn’t sign up for those jobs.

Add to that the people skills need to deal with the various personalities in the church. Pastors are often caught in the middle of church politics, and shoulder the blame for anything that a church member might not like. Many pastors are lonely and feel isolated, often having no one to talk to about their problems. Having close friends within the congregation can be difficult causing more problems by sparking jealousy and envy among the members.

And don’t forget that pastors are often spouses with kids, and have a life beyond the four walls of the church building.  Like a doctor on call, congregation members call at all hours with real emergencies as well as a petty complaint. Way too many pastors are bi-vocational, unable to make a living on the salary paid to them by the church and forced to have a second job to pay the bills.

It’s a hard and often thankless job.

So take a moment to appreciate your pastor. Notice all the work they do beyond what you hear from the pulpit. Send a card, buy them a gift, take the broom out of their hands.

Pray for them.

Thank God for them.

Get Me To The Church In Rhyme

I have recently developed an obsession for writing limericks. In addition to being a fun bit of wordplay, I discovered that they are a great model for telling a short story. (I have shared on this blog in the past several tips about writing stories and one post specifically about writing really short stories.) Consider this one:

Mark tried the new church down the street,

Sat in back, wanting to be discreet,

But they liked to hug.

He came down with a bug

And vowed never again “Meet and Greet.”

Notice how the first line establishes a person and a place. The second line adds a plot point and rising action. The third and fourth lines establish a conflict and climax to the story. The fifth line contains the resolution. Voila’—a short story in five lines.

I started writing limericks on the subjects of God, faith, and the church and began posting a “Limerick a Day” on social media. People found them not only clever and humorous, but some of them actually started great conversations about the subject matter…something a good story is wont to do!

Then I began to get this comment over and over again — “Chuck, you should publish these!”

Hmmm?

So I wrote a few more, until I had over 50 and decided to explore options of publishing through Amazon…

And suddenly this is happening:

Get Me To The Church in Rhyme

Limericks about God, Faith,
and the Church
by Chuck Neighbors

“…so engaging and warm-hearted and downright funny. They’re close to being addictive—like those potato chips, there’s no way to read just one!” 
Chris Fabry—Author and host of Chris Fabry Live

They say “write what you know” and I guess I know a thing or two about churches. I have been in literally thousands of them in my 45-year career as a touring actor and storyteller. These are humorous, clean, and thought-provoking limericks on the Christian life. They are fun to read, quote, and share with others. This is a perfect gift for pastors and church leaders, and really anyone who as ever sat in a pew.

Get Me to the Church in Rhyme.
Limericks to read and pass time.
On God, faith, and church,
With a smidge of research,
And if you should laugh, that’d be fine!

Available as an ebook or paperback at amazon.com

Strength and Weakness

When Jason Gray photobombs your selfie!

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.”

Counting Blessings

As 2018 draws to a close, I find I am reminded of that old hymn “Count Your Blessings.” Sing with me if you know it:

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

Count your blessings, see what God has done!

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord has done!”

So here are just a few of the blessings I am counting from the past year. 

– 85 Performances were given in 9 states

– Over 180 kids in poverty were sponsored through our partnership with Food for the Hungry

– God’s provision through some challenging times for our team, both financial and on the health front

– Lives impacted through the ministry as reflected in this quote from a recent performance:

“Our church had actor and storyteller Chuck Neighbors come and share his “In His Steps” drama recently and it was fantastic. His acting is second to none and he made us feel like we were transported to a bygone era. The adults and the kids alike were all captivated by his presentation. I would highly recommend any church, large or small, to invite Chuck to come and present this powerful drama and challenge to walk in the steps of Jesus!”

This ministry is now 35 years old and it couldn’t have happened 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 with the Gospel! 

As you look forward to 2019, we would be so very honored if you would remember us by giving a gift to Master’s Image Productions.  We would be especially grateful if you could support us on a regular basis with a monthly pledge. You can make a donation online or set up a month gift plan with a credit card here: www.mastersimage.com/donate. Gifts are tax-deductible.

We Wish you a Merry Christmas! 

And God’s blessings in the New Year!

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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Donate by mail:

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!

Merry Christmas 2016!

As I sit here writing this I am keeping one eye on the window, watching for the anticipated snowfall that is threatening to shutdown Salem later today. I am a little anxious because I am scheduled to perform tonight in Silverton, OR. There is a very good chance the performance will cancel.

As I reflect on that thought, I am realizing that there have not been many cancelations in my 42 years of ministry. A few caused by weather, a few caused by family/medical emergences. But all in all, it is a rare event. In fact I think I could probably count the cancelations on two hands. (I estimate that we have given about 5,000 performances during that time—that is about .2%!) I count that is one of God’s blessings on this ministry. And we’re still going strong and busy as ever!

  • Performances— Over 100 performances by our artists again this year.
  • Ministry growth— In addition to my performances, my associates, Steve Wilent and Marcia Whitehead have been keeping busy.  Just this month we are adding a new artist to our roster. Wes Whatley lives on the East Coast and will be great addition to our team.
  • Child Sponsorship— One of the biggest blessings of this ministry is that we also get to advocate on behalf of the poor through our partnership with Food for the Hungry. This year about 400 more sponsors were added and over the life of our ministry over 6,000 sponsors have been joined us in tacking poverty around the world.

We fully realize that it is the prayer and financial support of people like you that make this work possible.  We so appreciate your partnership in the work that we do.  As you look forward to 2017, we would be so very honored if you would help us keep the story going by giving a gift to Master’s Image Productions.  We 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 if you like.

May God bless you and yours this Christmas and in 2017!

Chuck Neighbors

Donate online (one-time or monthly):

(You will be taken to a PayPal page to complete your contribution. To make your donation an automatic monthly donation be sure to check the “Recurring” payment box.)

Donate by mail:

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

Master’s Image is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Donations are tax-deductible.

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