Ever wonder what artists talk about when they get together? Fishermen talk about “the one that got away.” Truck drivers talk about bad wrecks and near misses. Food service people talk about rude customers. But what do artists, especially those musicians and actors who serve the church… what do they talk about?
The name of this blog is Backstage Blog… so today I thought I would give you some real backstage chatter. I recently received this true story from a fellow artist. I have my own similar stories but rarely have I seen so many bad cliches come together in one narrative. So read and enjoy… or cringe… as the case may be!
When I was touring my one-man material back in the 90s (I know, so long ago, right?), I would send churches a checklist of things I needed. Top of the list: I need a place where I could change and please please have the platform area be cleared of furniture before I got there. In my heyday of 2 or 3 performances a week, it got very tiring to move furniture, get changed, do the play, then move it all back. But over the years, my guess is about 70% of the churches didn’t do this for me. I’d walk into the sanctuary and the front of the church still looked like Sunday morning. Although a janitor was usually there to “help me” clear it off.
This became the beginning of true back pain.
One place, I remember it was in a little town in CA, I didn’t have anyone there to help at all. I wandered in Sunday afternoon, calling for help. Finally, an older gentleman came out and said he couldn’t help me, his back was bad and besides, I was a young whipper-snapper and couldn’t I just move those 6 heavy solid cherry-wood pews off the platform, along with the five huge potted plants, and the pulpit the size of a ship prow. I had just driven 6 hours, in the middle of summer, without stopping to go to the bathroom. So I made a stand: “I really need someone to come down and help me.” This made the older gentleman furious. He called the youth pastor/choir director down to help me. He showed up with Chuck E. Cheese on his breath, fit to be tied that I would make such a ruckus. I told him he signed a pledge the stage would be cleared and I can’t do it myself. So, he helped me, but I got the youth pastor silent treatment the whole time. But this wasn’t the only insult to my injury.
Next I asked where I could get changed. He pointed to a storage room off the stage. I could barely get inside with all the boxes and music stands. One box I noticed right away. Actually, several boxes—all containing photocopies of my plays. Dozens of them. There were probably 3 of my books with all the plays copied over and over. The youth pastor/choir director came in and saw me looking at the plays. He said: “Yeah, the youth pastor up the street got ahold of these plays from someone else and he let me copy them all. They’re hysterical. Really good skits.” I just kept staring at him, trying to figure out how to tell him I was the author and how uncool this was. Then the lightbulb went off in his head.
He said, “Oh man, you wrote those skits, didn’t you? We use ’em all the time.”
I was still looking at him for any sign of guilt or remorse for blatantly breaking copyright laws. Nothing. So, I prompted him: “Yeah, um, this is my work.”
“Your work? I thought it was the work of the Lord.”
“No, ” I said, “I mean, it’s my work. My job. This is how I make a living.”
“So, it’s not a ministry to you?”
I’d heard this line a thousand times and I had my response: “Yeah, and isn’t what you do your ministry?”
“And don’t you get paid for it?”
He shook his head. He was disgusted. “It’s not the same thing.”
Of course, I’d also heard this a thousand times too. This was just spiritual snobbery. “How come it’s not the same? I commit myself to God, the same as you. I’m preaching the word, the same as you. I went to school to study how to do this, the same as you.”
Man, this really cooked him up. Finally, his coup de grace: “Writing skits and doing plays is not the same as clergy ministry, okay? And if you were really serving Jesus, you’d be happy your work is being used.”
To which I replied: “Please don’t use Jesus to excuse your bad manners.”
Two weeks later, I got a note from the youth pastor. I, of course, expected a note of apology or understanding. He told me I wouldn’t be asked back. That I didn’t have a spirit of humility. And that he was going to write my publisher to tell them that I wasn’t representing their company well by demanding they buy copies. Oh sweet irony. Anyway, not many people I can share this story with now. Back in the old days when we were fighting the good fight to legitimize the use of theater in churches (it did get legitimized—then marginalized!)”
I can thankfully say that experiences like this one are rare. The church… at least most…has come a long way in its understanding of art as it pertains to ministry… but some of those attitudes are still out there… He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Posted by Chuck Neighbors