My Mind Boggles

My mind boggles at my own mind. I am amazed at my memory. I mean, I am getting older—this stuff is supposed to get harder as you get older, right?

I just finished putting my costume and props for my Christmas play, Merry Christmas, Mr. Jones, into storage for another year. Every year around Thanksgiving I take them out and plan for a rehearsal before my next season of performances of this beloved piece. I have been doing the play every December for over 25 years. Each year I am anxious as I go into rehearsal. I am sure I will have forgotten my lines in the 11 months since I last spoke these words. I set the script nearby, just in case I need it as I walk through the show, recalling lines and motivation and movement. Except for a couple momentary pauses, mostly on lines that are similar to another line in the play, I make it through without even opening the script. I do a quick scan of the script just to be sure..

“Yep I said that… and that…yep remembered that too.”

Mind boggling, right? I have addressed memorizing a few other times in this blog here and here. But one of the principles I learned early in my acting career was the importance of owning my lines—knowing them so well that I don’t have to stop and think, “what comes next?”

Stop for a moment and just think about all the stuff in your brain that fits that definition. Everything from the alphabet and numbers to addresses, phone numbers, nursery rhymes, The Lord’s Prayer, The Pledge of Allegience and certain scriptures. We have intentionally crammed a lot of stuff in to those brain cells. And that doesn’t even address the stuff we recall that we didn’t intentionally memorize. Think of song lyrics, movie lines, bits of conversations…our brains are amazing.

A few years ago I was on tour in New Zealand. I was performing at a ministers’ retreat and one of the speakers was talking about the importance of continuing to repeat certain creeds, prayers and scriptures in the church service as a part of liturgy. The concern was that in becoming more contemporary as a church, we are neglecting these elements that the speaker felt were essential. They went on to share that often people on their death beds and even at the scene of life threating accidents will default to quoting these often repeated–memorized lines.

Interesting that in our final moments, these things in our memory can be called up to give us comfort. Of course that assumes that we have placed them there to be called up in the first place.

That gives me pause…the old theories of “what goes in must come out” or “garbage in, garbage out” come to mind.

I haven’t intentionally memorized anything new in a while.

I’m going to ponder that as I put Mr. Jones on the shelf for another year.

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

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

Honesty in Church?

young man wearing a mask of himself

“You know, I find that one of the hardest places to be honest, as an artist, is in the church.”

Whoa! Say what? The statement took me aback a bit.

Then another voice chimed in, “Oh, I totally agree. There are a lot of audiences much more accepting of honesty in our culture. The church is one of the hardest places to speak the truth.”

Wham again! I mean of all places for honesty and truth, shouldn’t the church be at the top of the list?

The conversation was at an intimate gathering of Christian artists in a retreat setting—oddly enough, in a church. Most of the people in attendance were professional performers with a focus on ministry. For most, their audience was the church.

Among the attributes of an artist, speaking the truth is at the top of the list. And yet…

“Oh, you can be honest about some things—the ‘approved topics’ that the tribe accepts. Of course, you can talk about ‘Gospel’ truth. You can even talk about certain failings, certain areas of brokenness; the ‘acceptable sins.’ But there are lots of areas that you can’t touch.”

As the conversation continued I began to understand. There was much brokenness and hurt gathered in this room; divorce, betrayal, addictions, and other issues that are not easily dismissed. Stuff that real people deal with on a daily basis.

And they were saying that both personally and as artists they found it difficult and even impossible to speak about these things in the one place where issues of brokenness should be welcome.

I recalled a conversation with a friend who is a well-known Christian recording artist. He had echoed some of the same sentiment. His passion was to write songs about brokenness but was hitting a wall of resistance. He was told the songs he wanted to write would not be “marketable” to the church audience he was playing to. Only positive and uplifting music was desired and would be commercially acceptable.

In recent years I have been sharing personal stories from my life in my performances. One of the things I have found encouraging is that people are overwhelmingly affirming about the “honesty” and “transparency” I share in my stories… but to be even more honest and transparent, I filtered those stories to stay away from the taboo topics, that I knew deep down inside I couldn’t share. I knew my audiences wouldn’t accept those stories in the context of a church setting. I have to admit it would be very easy to be “more honest” about some of the issues if I were not playing to the church.

I am in a lot of churches… virtually a different one or two every weekend. A lot of churches advertise “come as you are” and try really hard to project an image of being a place where the broken are welcome. But are they being honest?

I don’t have an answer.

I do know that, for the most part, the group of artists gathered in this room are exceptionally qualified to speak honesty and truth, but are not feeling the freedom to do that for the audience they feel called to serve.

Thoughts?

Your Stories are the Best Stories.

Group of people watching boring movie in cinema

I was excited to hear a well-known author and speaker address a conference I was attending. I’d read this man’s books and had always been impressed with his stories and his ability to craft words in ways that move and inspire people.

As he got up to speak, my expectations fell like a rock. He opened his talk with a joke. A joke I had heard numerous times before. The audience laughed…but it was a “polite” laugh, giving me the impression that I was not the only one who had heard that joke before. He went on with his talk, and it was a good talk, but couldn’t get past the fact that this renowned speaker and master wordsmith would open with a joke.

A few weeks ago I was privileged to share a meal with another author and speaker. In the course of our conversation we were both laughing almost constantly with funny stories about our lives, travels, and families. At one point in the conversation he said, “I got rid of all my sermon illustration books. I discovered that I had more illustrations from my own life that were infinitely better than the ones in those books.”

It is not that those other illustrations were bad, and perhaps some were more dramatic or funny than his own stories, but they were not “his” stories. He discovered that his personal stories had more impact, humor and relevance than another person’s stories. When he told his stories there was a ring of authenticity that made the listener connect and want to hear more.

As I have watched the really good comedians over the years, my favorites are always the ones that focus on telling their own stories or observations, not telling jokes.

It is not that I don’t enjoy a good joke; in fact telling jokes was one of the ways I discovered my talent and ability as a performer. But I have learned, like my author/speaker friend has learned, that there is great power in telling your own stories.

So the next time you are preparing a speech, sermon, or emcee, don’t go digging through illustration books. Just spend a bit of time looking at a diary, photo album, old Facebook posts or even looking in a mirror. Trust me, there is some great material there!

(I’d love to share some of my stories with your church or organization. Check out Truth Be Told…from a Guy Who Makes Stuff Up or Go Ask Your Mother…a Father’s Story!)

The Parable of the Lost iPhone

IMG_1304The other day I was driving home from Costco. I had placed my iPhone on the console between the seats and as I made a turn a little too abruptly my phone slid into the little cavern between the seat and the console. It’s that area where you just can’t fit your hand. You try a few attempts while driving, making faces and contorting your body in ways that make other drivers passing you shake their head and wonder how a person with your condition ever got a driver’s license.

The only solution it seems is to pull over and get out of the car to do a proper search and rescue.

As I resumed my trek I was struck at just how panicked I felt for even those few moments when my iPhone was lost. Getting it back where I could see it and touch it suddenly became of the utmost importance. Before the iPhone went missing I was running lines in my head for my upcoming performance of Not The Way I Heard It. Since this presentation is a modern-day retelling of some of the parables, I suddenly felt the inspiration to retell this familiar parable of the The Lost Sheep. Think about it…Jesus used sheep in his parable—they were something of value that the culture understood and readily related to. I don’t think many of us would relate to sheep and place the value on a lost lamb in the same way we might other things today. If Jesus were telling that parable today it might sound more like this:

The Parable of the Lost iPhone

Suppose one of you had 100 tech gadgets
and then lost your iPhone.
Wouldn’t you leave the 99 other gadgets at home
and go looking for your iPhone?
And once found you can be sure
you would put it in your palm rejoicing!
And when you got home you would text all your friends and contacts saying:
“Celebrate! Like and share my Facebook status! I have found my lost iPhone!”

Count on it, there is more joy in the Cloud over one rescued user profile
than for 99 other user profiles in no need of rescue!

 

All I Did Was Tell My Story

Guest blog by Marcia Whitehead. Marcia is one of our artists that is making a huge impact on her audiences with her presentation “You Raise Me Up.” Be sure to watch the video preview at the end of this post!

Marcia_Promo_stillDuring the past three years as I have moved farther into what I describe as testimonial ministry, I’ve had wonderful experiences travelling and sharing my faith-journey all the way from British Columbia to Florida. But secretly, I’ve always wondered why God would close the door on my professional career in music and call me into something that seemed way outside my scope of experience and to something for which I didn’t feel remotely equipped? I’ve also wondered what possible difference it could make in anyone else’s life whether or not they heard my story.

Recently, I was sharing with a friend about my ministry presentations and the type of comments I frequently hear afterward. As I became aware of the recurring theme in congregation members’ comments, it really surprised me.

During a presentation last month, a particular lady in the congregation just couldn’t stop weeping. I don’t usually do this, but I was so moved by her pain that I remember coming completely off script and told her from the platform that I believe God was intimately aware of her situation, held every detail of her life in the palm of His hand, that God would help her get through whatever she was coping with and I promised her that she wouldn’t always be in as much pain as she was experiencing that morning. She told me after the service that her husband had died unexpectedly that week, but she wasn’t able to cry until she heard me sing Give Me Jesus and share with the congregation that I had finally experienced a light at the end of the tunnel of my own pain. To say I was humbled would be an understatement.

At another church, the pastor noted in his announcements at the top of the service that their church had experienced a rough week that culminated in a funeral on Saturday. After the service, a young woman came to me with thanks for my presentation and shared that my message had given her a great deal of hope. She told me that the funeral was for her daughter. She told me that she had given birth earlier that week, but the doctors told her there was no hope that the child would live. That mother told me she felt privileged to hold her newborn as she awaited the baby’s death 90 minutes later. She thanked me again and again for the hope I had offered her by being vulnerable and honestly sharing my own journey through disbelief and sorrow. I was so shaken that God would use me in such a powerful and profound way, that after I left the church parking lot, I had to pull the car over and cry for 20 minutes.

We all have a story to tell. Every single one of us. Our stories are powerful. And we never know how our stories are going to impact those around us. I believe that a willingness to take down the walls behind which we hide our own pain, the willingness to become vulnerable in the eyes of others and the willingness to allow others to hear and see the truth of our lives, will draw us to each other and offer assurance to each other that we are not alone. Those two ladies I mentioned above were willing to share their pain with me after I had shared mine with them during the presentation. That seemed to create a deep sense of communion with each other. And though it is now weeks later, I still carry those ladies and their stories with me.

The truth is that as much as I deeply loved my life in classical music and all the potential that life might have offered, no one was ever going to wait for me backstage and tell me that their life had been changed because I had done a good job entertaining them. God has shown me, repeatedly, that His plan to use my voice and to tell my story has offered me a life of deep meaning and purpose for which I am becoming more and more grateful.

Here is a preview of Marcia’s presentation:

To have Marcia come and share at your church or event contact us at info@mastersimage.com or call 503-399-0415. Visit Marcia’s website at: www.marciawhiteheadusa.com

I Really Like Your Whatchamacallit

Silhouette of actors in the spotlight“I really enjoyed your… uh… sho–uh… your… uh”

I’m thinking, “Please don’t say it. Don’t say that other word that starts with an ’s’.”

“I mean, I liked your skit?… is that what you call it?”

Ah, she said it. There it is–the dreaded 4 letter “S” word that is like foul language to us theater types. Yet I understand. I mean, this is church and I think the word “skit” was invented at church youth camp. It is hardly the right word to use for those of us in the world of professional theater, but it’s okay. The church, for the most part, doesn’t quite know what to do with performers the likes of myself.

The next person I encounter struggles for a better whatchamacallit…

“That was a great… uh perfor… uh… presentation.  Is that what you call it?”

Ah, yes! “Presentation” that’s the safe word. I don’t like it, but it is better than “skit,” although I think presentation works better in the corporate training world. However, I find that even I use it when describing what I do. “Presentation” is one word that can mean many different things; it’s generic. A sermon, a concert, a testimony, a drama… all can fall under the banner of “presentation” and be suitable to use in the context of a church service.

The truth is, what I have just done is a performance, usually a drama or storytelling. The common descriptor in the culture would be a one-man-show. Ah… but that creates a problem in the world of the church. The church is not the place for “shows.” And for many this is especially true when it comes to the worship service–the place I do most of my performing. The problem is not with what I do. Once experienced, most agree it is totally appropriate for worship. I describe it to many as a “creative sermon.” The problem is what to call it. The church, especially today has placed a premium on authenticity and anything too polished or too professional that feels like a “performance” is suspect.

I get it. It’s sort of a backlash against the idea that worship is just a “show” a–“performance”–and not authentic on the part of those on the platform. But worship is also a place for those with gifts in the arts to use them, and use them effectively. For us it is our offering. 

So I will continue to struggle to find the right word. I’ll grin and bear it when you refer to my performance as a skit.

And then there are the other related issues:

“That was so moving… I wanted to applaud… but I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate!”

And this favorite from a friend:

“That was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. It was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud.”

Performing in the church: a conundrum.

 

Full of Beans and $20

Full of Beans

“That guy is full of beans!”

I noticed the man as I took the stage for my presentation of Truth be Told…from a Guy Who Makes Stuff Up. He sat in a pew all to himself three rows from the front.

Being in theater and in the field of communication, I’ve learned to home in on body language and this man was demonstrating the classic closed position. Body angled away—if he could have found a way to sit sideways in the pew he would have. The few stolen glances I had from him were what I would classify as scowls.

For the most part, church audiences have been pretty safe for me. The audiences are generally polite and welcoming. Nothing like what I experienced years ago when doing the school assembly circuit and performing for a gymnasium full of hostile junior high schoolers. Those audiences you had to win over, and if you didn’t, they could eat you alive. I have often said performing in school assemblies was like being fed to the lions. This gentleman, though a senior citizen, was displaying the same “prove it to me” attitude that I experienced in those junior high schools. I registered it in my brain and moved on. I had an audience to play to and I wasn’t going to let one man’s negativity keep me from doing my job. I would ignore him. The show must go on!

Ignore him I did, and aside from this man, felt I had a good connection with the rest of my audience.

After the service I ventured into the fellowship hall for refreshments. As I headed for the table the man approached me with his hand outstretched.

“I have to tell you that when you started your presentation I didn’t know what to expect. I certainly didn’t think you were going to be doing the entire service. I decided shortly after you started that ‘That guy is full of beans!’ I almost walked out. But then the more I listened I got pulled in to your story. Then I realized I was being an #$%^&*~!” That was really good what you did.”

Rarely do I get such honest feedback from an audience member. I don’t think an audience member has ever said I was “full of beans” to my face before (and I am pretty sure he only said “beans” because he didn’t want to say another more common word associated with that phrase).   And yet he didn’t hold back on his language when describing himself with an expletive. I am sure he is voicing what many others have thought over the years but never would have expressed to my face.

And yet, in talking to him he affirmed that it was in connecting with my story that his defenses went down. Whether it was some of the humor that he identified with or an episode from my life that mirrored his, I don’t know. But somewhere in the course of hearing my story he connected—he began to listen and engage and in the end he felt a bond with me, because of my story.

Many places receive a freewill offering for my ministry after the performance. As my visit with the gentleman came to a close he said: “I’m not a rich man, don’t have much, but I want you to have this.” He pressed a $20 bill into my hand.

What a great reminder of the power of story. Each of us has a story to tell. May we learn to share it knowing that in the sharing there is great power to connect, challenge and encourage others.

As one of my friends said to me: “Full of beans and $20, not bad!”

So what’s your story?

New Promo Video!

I just finished this new promo video that gives an overview of all my productions. Please view, like, comment and share!

When Transparency and Authenticity become TMI! –

I Wish You Hadn’t Told Me That!

“I really liked your transparency in the sharing of your story.”

I appreciated the compliment. I had just finished sharing my presentation of “Go Ask Your Mother… A Father’s Story.”  In the presentation I share some of my personal struggles as a father in raising my three boys, as well as some reflections on my own father.

The compliment affirmed my goal and belief that telling honest stories based on real life experience would connect and communicate with my audience. Yes, I had been transparent… up to a point… but I didn’t really tell the whole story. There were parts that I purposely didn’t share. Parts that I held back because I didn’t want the whole truth about me to be revealed. Parts that I felt would have been TMI–too much information!

When sharing about my Dad, I didn’t share the details of the angry thoughts I had when I felt he was being too hard on me.

When sharing about my sons, I didn’t share about the times my temper got the best of me and I said some things I regret and came close to striking them in anger.

There were thoughts and actions in some of those stories that I left out because to reveal them could have caused my audience to turn against me… to not like me. I am all for honesty and transparency until it goes to a place that is too dark and makes me look bad. Especially if the story doesn’t redeem those thoughts and actions.

Is it possible to be too honest? Too transparent? Where does one draw the line?

Have you ever been watching a good movie and then have to turn your head away in disgust because the images on the screen were too disturbing? It’s a good story but why did the have to show that?! Sometimes the details of our stories can have that same effect on our audience.

I remember a sermon where the pastor shared some of his personal story. It was great up until he shared some of his thoughts that went a little too far. As we left the church my wife said “I wish I hadn’t heard that part.” The part he shared was a little too dark and now her feelings about that pastor will be forever changed because he shared too much information. It would have been fine if he had alluded to his dark thoughts, but in sharing them in detail, he crossed a boundary. He created a distraction that caused some in the audience to miss the point of the story.

Who among us hasn’t had those dark thoughts? Who among us hasn’t done things we regret? It’s part of being human. We get angry, we get greedy, we get tempted, we lust, we sin.  When it comes to casting the first stone, I would be one of the first to walk away.

It is good to share some of these stories with others. Some of my favorite stories are stories where the teller reveals their humanity, their weakness, their faults. It is what makes it relatable. I identify and it feels good to know that I am not alone. It helps me to realize that I’m not the only one who struggles, who fails, and who gets back up again after being knocked down.

But sometimes in the public telling we can go too far.

Authenticity is a cherished virtue in our culture today. Look at reality TV, the Internet and social media. We have a constant stream of “reality” hitting us from every angle. Sometimes this can be a good thing. But it can also distract us from the main point. Like watching that gory scene in the movie it’s TMI! Too much information!

Some stories are best served with some details left out. They are better for confessing to a close friend, a doctor… or to God. You don’t want your audience to walk away with things they can’t un-see or un-hear!

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