Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Giving Thanks and Meaning It

This week we take a break from our regular routines to gather with those whom we love to celebrate Thanksgiving. It's a wonderful time full of fond memories, but not always full of thanks, if we're honest. Times are tough and it's when things aren't going as we planned or how we would like them to that it is most difficult to give thanks to God and mean it.

How do we thank Him for the loss of a loved one, for a lay off notice, for a child who keeps making poor choices or for a spouse who has been unfaithful? How do we thank him for illness, unkind remarks supposed friends have made about us or for lost opportunities?

The answer is: by faith. Being able to thank Him for His goodness, for His faithfulness, for His love, for His promise to walk with us through it all, can be the shelter in a storm.

First Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to give thanks in all circumstances because this is God's will for us. He doesn't expect us to be happy about all of our circumstances, or even to understand why they happen all the time, but He does want us to rely on the hope and joy we have in Jesus to get us through them. Sometimes we just have to say, "Thank you for being God. I don't get it, but you're in control" and let that be sufficient. It's when we need to reason, or demand an explanation, or justify our acts that we find it most difficult to say thanks.

These thoughts aren't trite and come from years of struggling with trying to give thanks through the tough times. When we moved to Connecticut eight and a half years ago, we were excited about the new chapter starting in our lives. Things didn't go as we planned, however, and instead we began what I now think of as the desert period in my life. The losses and heartbreak over the past few years have been numerous and weighty and are too complicated to try to list here. Suffice it to say that I haven't always been the most thankful person. When I was at my lowest, God specifically showed me that verse in Thessalonians and it made all the difference.

So this Thanksgiving, I'm giving thanks for the hard times, simply because He's God and He's asked me to. Those times have helped shape me into who I am: a person giving thanks this year for my health; a home; two healthy, really nice, bright kids; a supportive husband who has a job; enough food to eat; best friends Ron, Donna, Bern, Torry, Muriel and Carolyn who've been such an important part of my life for so many years and who bless me in so many ways; countless other close friends and ministry partners; mentor and friend Retta Blaney who continues to amaze me with her generosity and the thrill of working in and writing about theater, which has brought me a fabulous new friend and editor, Andy Propst.

May your Thanksgiving be truly blessed and full of thanks.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Understudies Needed; Be Prepared to Go On

Saw a great show last night called "At This Performance," where standbys and understudies for Broadway roles are given a chance to star. They get to sing personal favorites, classics from their shows and tell anecdotes about life on the stage.

Understudies and standbys learn the role someone else is playing and only perform it if the lead is sick or unable to go on for some reason. They may have an opportunity to play a role many times, or never. They just have to wait nearby (literally -- if they don't play another role in the show they are required to be within short walking distance of the theater from call time until curtain each night) and be ready to perform.

When these folks do get the call, sometimes it's in the middle of a show, with just a few minutes for costumes and makeup. Some times they're called before they've even had chance to rehearse on stage with the rest of the cast. Talk about a step of faith!

That got me to thinking how in many ways, we're all in either lead or standby roles when it comes to sharing our faith. Some of us have "starring" roles. We're up in the pulpit preaching on Sunday morning, or leading worship or speaking to groups in ministry. Many of us are standbys, however, who may be called upon at a moment's notice, at our workplace, in the doctor's office, at school, at the family gathering this Thanksgiving, etc., when we weren't thinking we'd have to "go on."

Suddenly in the middle of a conversation, a door opens for being able to share our faith and we get "the call." Personally, I've had this happen in one-on-one conversations as well as with whole rooms full of people, and it can feel like a cue has been given and the spotlight has swung over to illuminate you. Hopefully we know the "lines" and can share with someone how we came to know Jesus. A standby isn't much help, if when called, he or she can't perform.

There's a joke a friend once told me about an actor getting his big break: a role on Broadway, with just one line. The only problem was that he had to go on immediately. There was no time for rehearsal, for the play had already started and he'd have to go on mid-performance. The stage manager would cue him to go on stage at the appropriate time and he was to say, "Lo! The cannons roar!"

All the way to the theater the actor repeated the line, delighted that he had to memorize only one and reveling in the excitement of being able to say it from the boards of a Broadway stage. This was his big chance. He'd been waiting for this moment all of his life.

"Lo! The cannons roar!" he practiced. "Lo! The cannons roar! Lo! The cannons roar!"

He got to the theater where he was whisked into costume and led to the stage manager who said, "You're on" and the actor walked on stage. Just then a tremendous explosion ripped through the theater and as the actor hit his mark he said, "What the heck was that?"

Make no mistake about it. If you're an understudy, you'd better be prepared to go on and have some idea of what to say. It will happen when you least expect it, probably in a way you've never fully rehearsed, but also never while the lead performer is on stage.

Just as being prepared to go on when needed is important, so is knowing when not to say the lines. It wouldn't work for the standby to run on to the stage, push the lead out of the way and say the lines instead. That would interrupt the flow of the play and cause some terrible moments of awkwardness and embarrassment (not to mention the firing of the understudy).

Have you ever been around someone who seems to manipulate the conversation to be able to bring God into it (more often so they feel like a star than because they care about the person with whom they're sharing) or a person who feels they're "called" to be some sort of voice of God to people they've just barely met?

It's uncomfortable, not only for the people targeted, but for other Christians who might have been developing a relationship that would have given them the right cue for knowing when it would be appropriate to discuss God. Be prepared to go on when you're called by the Master. There's no question that he wants you to share Him with others, but make sure the cue to speak is coming from Him and not your ego. And don't upstage anyone.

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1Peter 3:15 NIV)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It's Crunch Time

Most church worship and drama teams have entered one of their busiest seasons as rehearsals for the annual Christmas pageant, Christmas outreach, children's Christmas musical, Christmas Eve service or other Christmas event are under way.
It's a fun and frenzied time and sometimes it's easy to get lost in the details of what we're doing and forget why we're doing it.
What's the focus of your effort this Christmas? Is it to honor and thank God for the birth of His Son? Is it about telling those in your church and community about that Son and how knowing Him can change their lives?
Or could your Christmas event be about something else, like not being able to drop a tradition you've done for years, getting large numbers of people in the seats so you look successful, offering the biggest and best Christmas event in your community so people will think your church is "cool", having a chance to show off your talent and have people praise you or taking advantage of a chance to take in extra donations and ease that end-of-year deficit?
Most of us would hope our motivation would be found in the first scenarios, but if the truth were told, many churches would find themselves falling into the second.
Stop right now to offer your Christmas event to the Lord for His glory. Ask for the Spirit to guide you in all of the details. A word of advice: your event is not perfect and it's never too late for divine intervention. Don't be afraid to step out in faith. Don't settle for anything less than what you can do for Him and His Kingdom.
"It is written: 'I believed; therefore I have spoken.' With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God." (2Cor. 4:13-15 NIV)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Learning From Chicago's Goodman Theatre

By Guest Blogger Nancy Beach
I went to see the first play of the season at Chicago's Goodman Theatre Wednesday night with a group of friends. Turn of the Century is a brand new musical crafted by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, the team who created the wildly successful hit, Jersey Boys. Tommy Tune was the director, and the cast features film and stage actor Jeff Daniels. So this sounds like a theatrical dream team, especially when combined with the outstanding design work which always makes a visit to the Goodman worth the price of a ticket.
And yet...with all that talent and money, the show still needs a lot of work. It was a highly creative storyline, woven with outstanding music from the past century. But our group was not raving about how captivated we were. In fact, what we talked about most was the performance of the lead actress, Rachel York, who truly knocked our socks off as a singer. But if this show is intended to go next to Broadway, I would guess some rewrites will be required.

Here is my point for those of us who create Sunday morning experiences using the arts. No matter how much time, talent, and prayer we invest in our work, we don't get to hit the grand slam every time. It seems to be the nature of artistic endeavors - some works astound us with how powerful and beautiful and moving they turn out to be. Other times, with the same amount of effort, we come up feeling a little flat and disappointed. When I see this phenomenon in professional theatre and film, I do take an odd sort of comfort in the comparison to the highs and lows of weekly ministry. Some Sundays or Christmases or Easters I am overly optimistic about how transcendent a service could be...and then surprised by the apparent lack of enthusiasm I see in the congregation. Other times, my surprise goes the other way and I am delighted by a glorious moment I did not predict or plan for.

So we just keep showing up, giving it the best we have, praying for the anointing of the Spirit, and never knowing for sure what the results will be. We can either be frustrated by the apparent randomness of it all, or choose to be faithful and thankful no matter what the outcome. I hope to keep making the second choice...creating, praying, trusting, and leaving the outcome to God.

Nancy Beach is executive vice president for the Arts at the Willow Creek Association. Read her arts blog at http://www.towardwonder.com/bloghome.asp

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Few Days of Rest

I'm taking a few days off this week prior to the staged reading of our new dinner theater "Getaway to Chipaway" which will be presented in Hinesburg, VT next Saturday, Nov. 8.
What a great bunch of people! It's so nice to come together with talented folks who enjoy using their gifts for the Lord. If you're interested in attending, please call 802-879-7182 to check on seating availability.

More next week!

Daily Inspiration

The Blind Side

Read about the real life mom from "The Blind Side."

Lifeway: http://www.lifeway.com/article/?id=169816

Guideposts: http://www.guideposts.com/story/sandra-bullock-blind-side-football?page=0,1

Read Matt Mungle's review of the movie at http://www.buddyhollywood.com/.

Lauren Yarger, Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

In 2008 she was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater with a Christian perspective for Reflections in the Light (http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/) and is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection. She also is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com

She also reviews books for Publisher's Weekly and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. She formerly was Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp, a national theater web site bsed in New York and a reviewer for American Theater Web.

She also served as Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. and worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford and the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

She is a freelance writer and member of the Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and The CT Critics Circle.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger lives with her husband in West Granby, CT and has two adult children.

Copyright Notice

All contents copyright © Lauren Yarger 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, contact masterworkproductions@yahoo.com.

Scripture from THE MESSAGE Copyright 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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