Thursday, December 31, 2009

'In the Company of Strangers' Gets NY Screening

Our friend Dave Tippett passed along this opportunity:
"In the Company of Strangers", an award-winning independent feature film, will screen in New York City as part of the NewFilmmakers series Winter Fest 2010.

The feature film debut from writer/producer/director Thomas Hofbauer will be shown at the Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Ave. at 2nd Street in NYC Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2010 at 8:15 pm. Tickets are $6. The film contains mature language and some violence, Tom warns.

It tells the story of a young man who reaches a critical juncture in his life. Does he follow the mob - his friends since childhood - and join blindly in the persecution of a group of people based solely on their sexual orientation or does he move to a more enlightened life? When Brian Nowicki (Ben Perry) is arrested for his participation in a gay-bashing crime, he is sentenced to 600 hours of community service at an AIDS hospice. The hospice director (Timothy Wayne) gently nudges Brian toward an understanding of tolerance and compassion. While there, Brian attempts to reconcile a dying man (Scott Hopkins) with his estranged son (Val Tasso).

"In the Company of Strangers" has won the top award at five film festivals. For more information, visit

Ring in the New Year on Wall Street

Ring in the new year -- literally with a ringing of the bells at midnight, celebrating 2010 at Trinity Wall Street Church.

The bells will ring from midnight to 1 pm on Friday, Jan. 1 at the church at Broadway and Wall Street in New York City. There will be another special ringing on Jan. 6 from 7 to 7:30 pm as well. For more information contact Anne Damassa at 212.602.0706 or

More about the Trinity Ringers and the change-ringing bells is available at Read my reflections about hearing these beautiful bells last fall near the anniversary of Sept. 11 here.

You Can Attend Chonda Pierce Taping

For those of you in or near Murfreesboro, TN, check out this opportunity to be in the audience for the taping of Christian Comedian Chonda Pierce's new DVD.

Pierce is taping a live show for her new DVD, "Did I Say That Out Loud?" on Monday, Jan. 18 at 7 pm in All Nations Sanctuary, World Outreach Church, 1921 New Salem Road
Highway 99, Murfreesboro.

Tickets for this taping are $5 and may be purchased at:
WOC weekend worship services, WOC church office or online at

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Savior Has Been Born to You; He is Christ the Lord

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2 NIV)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2009 Annual Letter

(To receive a copy of our 2009 Highlights Newsletter, email us at

December, 2009

Dear Friend of Masterworks,
If the $20 in your pocket could be the price for introducing someone to Jesus and making an eternal difference in his or her life, would you give it away?

You probably just answered, “of course.” I thought that was my answer too, until I recently had the opportunity. I was out Christmas shopping, getting a few last items for my kids. Christmas for us will be pretty lean this year. In the Yarger household, we have been hit with a decrease in income while taxes, medical bills and insurance premiums and deductibles have soared. We’re scraping to get by every month, like so many of you.

So the $20 in my pocket had not come there easily, and suddenly I was presented with an opportunity to donate $20 to help a family in need. Isn’t it funny for those of us who walk each day with the Lord to find that his plan isn’t always the one we had in mind? I knew the Lord wanted me to donate that $20, yet, I confess, my reaction was selfish. Without that $20, I wouldn’t be able to provide two more small packages for my kids and I wanted to hold on to it.

Fortunately, God understands my humanity. He was quick to remind me of a wonderful book I read this year by Bruce Wilkinson in which he describes how God presents us with opportunities to be involved in miracles every day, but how we often don’t see them, or pass on them. Convicted, and knowing my kids well enough to know that both would choose to help a needy family over going to the movies (the $20 would have provided gift certificates to the theater), I made the donation. I apologized to the Lord for thinking any part of what he had provided was mine to control and I was really glad that some day I wouldn’t have to try to explain to him why it was more important for my kids to go to a movie than to help others in need.

When you receive this letter, you too are being asked to part with a little of what God has given you to continue his work reaching out to people through the arts. The ministry of Masterworks continues to amaze me. In an economy which has seen other organizations shut their doors and which threatens others, especially those dependent on grants and government funding, God continues to open doors for us and has expanded our field of harvest. Check out the 2009 Highlights newsletter included with this letter to see some of what God has done.

Have you enjoyed music and drama during services or special programs at your church this year? Chances are good that those leading and involved in the ministry or hired for special performances have benefited from a ministry like Masterworks (perhaps Masterworks itself) through workshops to help them learn how to use their gifts and lead for the Lord.

Wish your church had an exciting music or drama program that you’d feel comfortable inviting friends to? Masterworks helps with that too, with day-long workshops by professionals in the field, with teaching tailored to meet each team exactly where it’s at.

Wishing your church could reach out to your community with professional programs with a message that leaves attendees wanting to know more and coming to your church to find it? Bring in one of our excellent performers for services or a special event.

In addition, Masterworks provides the nation’s only reviewing service for Broadway and NY theater with an added Christian perspective. Thousands of Christians read the reviews to decide which shows to see, which are appropriate for kids, and which might spark conversations with unchurched friends, whether the shows are in New York or running at your local theater.

Masterworks also supports two funds providing for actors in need and has adopted Compassionart as a partner for our events, whereby a portion of our proceeds will go directly helping impoverished children worldwide.

So you really can make a difference with your tax deductible donation. The only question is will you part with some of the money God has given you to make it happen? We’re dedicated to equipping and supporting Christians in the arts and to being the face, hands and feet of Jesus to those who don’t know him in the theater community. Please seize this opportunity to join God in his work.

We wish you a blessed and joyous Christmas. May you enjoy and share the gift of God’s son in 2010.

In His Service,

Lauren Yarger
Executive Director/Producer
And the Board of Directors at Masterwork Productions, Inc.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Vote for the Christian Singer You'd Like to See in a Movie

We're working on a project and are collecting opinions on which top Christian singers would be big box office draw if they starred in a regular Hollywood movie.

Who would get you to buy a ticket? Are there other singers, who aren't on the Christian charts, but who are Christians who would make you want to see the movie?

Take our poll at right, or email us with your thoughts at

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

EAG Invites You to Carols & Lessons Christmas Service

Join the Episcopal Actors' Guild Monday for what has become a beloved holiday tradition, the annual Lessons & Carols Service, which features beautiful readings, a sing-a-long of holiday tunes, and fellowship.
The service, held at 7 pm at Church of the Transfiguration, 1 E. 29th St., NYC, will include music by The Transfiguration Camerata, led by Claudia Dumschat.

For more information, contact EAG at 212-685-2927 or

If you would like to help make this season bright for actors in need, the EAG's Annual Giving Campaign is under way. The organization helps members of the acting community who are in need.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays – Are People Really Offended?

By Lauren Yarger
When I made a purchase at a local store yesterday, the clerk wished me happy holidays. I thanked him and wished him the same, but according to news articles and to opponents of political correctness, I suppose I should have been offended.

Store clerks are being instructed to wish "happy holidays" instead of “Merry Christmas” to avoid offending those who might not celebrate that holiday. Some stores have eliminated Christmas music and banned bell-ringing representatives of the Salvation Army from entrances because these reminders that most of us celebrate Christmas apparently can’t be tolerated by those who don’t.

I’m really curious to know how many of these highly offended people really exist. Most Jewish folks I know respond with an unoffended “and Happy Chanukah” when greeted with a “Merry Christmas.” I doubt the numbers of offended atheists are very high, because I used to be a pretty committed and vocal atheist and I can tell you, someone wishing me a merry Christmas wasn’t a threat to my beliefs, nor an infringement upon them.

My atheist family celebrated Christmas, though the religious part about the birth of a savoir didn’t enter in to our festivities. When we were little, we decorated a tree, waited for Santa and –horror of horrors—sang Christmas songs in the school concert. My mother, one of the most committed atheists I ever knew and who would have closed the school down over something like mandatory prayer, came to the concerts and proudly watched as I sang “Winds Through the Olive Trees” and other songs mentioning Jesus and never felt the need to insist the school ban them, because singing them didn’t mean I had to believe them. They simply were tradition. Now schools refuse to include them, and in a way, force Christian children to participate in a celebration of secular holidays. Is this really so different?

When we were older, the holiday was an opportunity to give and receive gifts, enjoy good food and spend time with people we loved. We got the holiday off from school and work (and in one of my school districts with a large Jewish population, we got those holidays off too). I didn’t feel the need to protest and insist that everyone go to school or work on those days just because I didn’t believe in their religious significance.

Sometimes on Christmas, I even attended midnight mass services with friends because it was something they traditionally did (and I suspect attending had more to do with tradition and obligation than with any real desire to worship the Savior). Going to church didn’t threaten my belief system. I didn’t participate in what I considered “brainwashed” rituals of kneeling, crossing one’s self or taking of the bread and cup and actually used the experiences to fuel ammunition for the religious debates I often found myself winning with people who considered themselves Christians.

So if someone wished me a “merry Christmas” back in those days, I would have said “thank you; same to you.” My reaction would not have been one of offense, or one which assumed that by wishing me a merry Christmas what you actually were saying was, “I am wishing you a merry Christmas instead of a happy holiday because I am a jerk and want to try to force my religion on you.”

It’s the “forced” part that would have and did result in protest from this devout atheist. When saying “The Pledge of Allegiance” in school, I always stopped and refused to recite “one nation under God,” because I didn’t believe it was. If I had been called to give testimony in a court of law, I would have refused to place my hand on a bible and to swear to tell the truth “so help me God.” My high school offered a bible course as an English class and I did an independent study rather than take it. Later, a labor union agreement required me to attest to a belief in God. Having these religious things thrust upon me as a matter of normal course offended me as they infringed on my right not to follow Christianity and I took action to avoid them and spoke in favor of changing them.

Someone’s wishing me the happiness of a holiday that I didn’t celebrate for the same reasons they did, however just didn’t get the activist in me riled. Singing Christmas songs or hearing them played in stores during the shopping season didn’t offend me. If the town government decided to play Christmas carols at government meetings, I would have protested, but stores, where the majority of people are Christmas shopping? No. The stores are privately owned and they should be able to decorate and play music as they wish. If some aspect of the shopping experience really offends, you always have the option of not shopping at that store and letting the store owner know why.

So again, I have to wonder just how many people, even if they are die-hard atheists, are so offended by a merry Christmas wish. I can tell you I feel the same amount of offense now, as a Christian, being wished a happy holiday as I did as an atheist being wished a merry Christmas -- none. I assume the person is wishing me the happiness of the season, not that they are actually saying, “I am wishing you a happy holiday instead of a merry Christmas because I don’t believe in Christ and feel my rights will be violated if I say or hear the word Christmas.”

I’ll give the benefit of the doubt, but if that’s really what you mean by “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” then I feel sorry for you. The most important thing to you is not promoting the separation of church and state or your atheist or other-God beliefs. You obviously think our constitution protects you and your beliefs while keeping others from expressing theirs. This attitude of thinking you are right and that you need to protect yourself and others from exposure to contrary beliefs probably is the same argument you use to describe Christians and why you don’t like them. The same tolerance you demand from us is something you should offer yourself when we express our beliefs, and a little Christmas spirit might be just what you need to help you do this.

So to those of you who celebrate Dec. 25 as the birth of our Lord and Savior, Merry Christmas. To My Jewish friends, I wish you happy Chanukah and to those who follow atheism or other religions, I wish you love, happiness and peace this holiday season. And I promise not to be offended when you wish me the same.

Daily Inspiration

The Blind Side

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



Read Matt Mungle's review of the movie at

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 ( and is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection. She also is a contributing editor for

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

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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