Monday, August 29, 2011

In the Dark

By Lauren Yarger
Hurricane Irene paid a visit to the East Coast this weekend causing unprecedented disruptions in mass transit, major flooding and other destruction as well as claiming lives from Virginia up into New England. The storm has left, but here in Connecticut, we still are experiencing her aftermath, which has led me to reflect on some things while sitting in our dark house waiting for restoration of power (after all, there isn't a lot else you can do in a dark house but think).

Observations during this time seem to fall into two categories: what is is easy to do and what it is hard to do when you don't have electricity.

What it is hard to do:
  • Flush the toilet, take a shower, do laundry, brush your teeth, wash. We have a well operated by an electric pump, hence, when the power goes out, so does the water. We can do all of the "fill-the-bathtub, put-baggies-with-water-in-your-freezer precautions, and they help, but bottom line is that when you don't have running water, all of these tasks either have to be modified or eliminated. (In Vermont, we had a gravity-fed spring, which, in times like these, seems like the only logical way to set up a water system.) Things we are modifying: bathing, flushing the toilet. Things we are eliminating: laundry, dishes (paper plates and plastic utensils for the duration).
  • Cook. We are luckier than some because we have a gas stove. The burners still can be operated when the electricity is out. This isn't the case for our neighbors with electric ranges. We also stocked up on charcoal and can grill food quickly defrosting in the freezer.
  • Clean. There is a lot of extra down time to notice just how dirty the house is, but no water to clean it thoroughly. The electric-run vacuum also sits quietly in a dust pile.
  • Communicate. No TV, no internet (unless you are lucky enough to have a smart phone). Radio still is the main way to find out what is happening, though it seems harder to find clear stations than it used to be (high definition and subscription-based radio have taken over the tune-in-with-an-antenna method. Our land line, which is operated y cable, goes out with the electricity, so cell phones are the only way to call, and at least here in Connecticut, officials were discouraging their use during the storm because the circuits were clogged. What does work very well, however, is texting. I didn't have this capability until a couple of months ago and now I am SO grateful I took the plunge with my new Droid smart phone.
  • Run a business. It really is difficult to run a business these days without a phone, internet and a computer.
  • Keep cool or hot. Without fans, air conditioners or heat, we're at the mercy of the weather. Thankfully, it was muggy, but not too hot for Irene. One storm that took our power out for almost a week in Vermont hit in freezing weather. Not fun.
  • Not be reminded of God's provision and power. All of the things we miss while they are out are amazing gifts that God has provided for our comfort and well being. Also, a raging river and winds whipping trees out by their roots are small forces compared to the love and wrath of God.
What it is easy to do:
  • Slow down. Normal routine is disrupted. There isn't anything we can do about it. Evenings in the dark are particularly slow. No TV, no putting in a DVD, no reading once the sun sets, no catching up on some work. It is during these times I fully understand the old agricultural lifestyle with people getting up with the sun, working hard during daylight and going to bed early.
  • Appreciate the pioneers. What a hardy bunch. I think it's a hardship to have to have to walk down to the creek to haul water to flush the toilet. These folks rode and walked for days and miles in between water holes, dodging hostile natives to arrive at a spot where they had to cut down trees and plow land to homestead a place where they probably thought it was high luxury to walk down to the creek.
  • Get frustrated. Part of our town has power. Part doesn't. How many times will I flip that bathroom light switch or the garage door opener before I remember that it is pointless?
  • Become covetous of our neighbors' possessions -- some have generators.
  • Clean out the refrigerator. Perishables you can't consume don't last long.
  • Be grateful. This inconvenience is temporary. I think of folks around the world where running water and electricity are nonexistent and where women going to bed in the dark are not safe.
So while my unbathed flesh grumbles, my cleansed spirit rejoices in the blessings I have and in outreach ministries that allow me to share them with those not as fortunate. A little time in the dark reminds me that the light of Christ is always visible.

And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

On Vacation

We're on break. Posts will resume first week in September. Have a blessed rest of the summer!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Does Anyone Care About Art in the Church?

“No Art,” by June Godwit/Group Scud, New York City
Guest Blog Post
By Chuck Neighbors
“Chuck, I’m sorry but I just have no vision for this.”

I looked across the table in the coffee shop into the eyes of the church worship leader, trying to understand. Trying but failing. He was the worship leader of a good sized church (over 700 people on an average weekend). I had been asked by the senior pastor to assist the church in starting a drama ministry. The pastor had the vision. I had met with the group interested in doing drama at the church—over 20 adults—a great start! Yet the one person who should have been the champion of the cause, the go-to person for artistic endeavors in this congregation, was telling me he had no vision for it.

And really, that is almost the end of this story… the ministry never really got off the ground. Oh, the team met, developed material specifically targeted to the pastor’s sermon, and the few times they performed it was well received—the pastor and the congregation wanted more. But the worship leader had no vision for it and pretty much single-handedly killed it. When a drama was scheduled, he would roll his eyes and complain about the hassle it would be to make room on the platform for the scene to be performed, or the extra chorus that would have to be cut in order to allow for the drama. Being the gatekeeper of the arts in this church, he was able to foil the attempts to grow the ministry. Opportunities became less and less frequent. Performers became, understandably, discouraged when not allowed to perform. The drama ministry died.

And it wasn’t only drama, for a church this size the number of musical artists allowed to share their gifts was extremely limited. Only a hand-picked few were given opportunity to perform and use their gifts in the church.

I wish I could say this was an exception, not the rule, but sadly I have seen this scenario repeated at a number of churches. By and large I fear that most churches are not a very welcoming place for the artists in the congregation. Why is this the case?

In my example above I think it was a combination of ego, insecurity, and control for the worship leader in question—a pitfall for any person who is the single gatekeeper for everything artistic in a church. He knew one area of the arts well—contemporary Christian music—and anything other than that was outside the box, and possibly considered a threat.
The other side of the coin is the church that really has no one to turn to. Often smaller churches have a perceived void when it comes to things artistic. They may not have a paid worship leader and are at the mercy of whatever volunteers they can find to lead music during a worship service. A gifted artist may be hiding in the congregation and not willing to be discovered either for fear of being over-used or for not wanting to be associated with what they consider sub-standard performance.

So OK, I have laid out the problem… but some may be saying “why should we care” and “does all this arts stuff really matter”? Why should we even care about arts in the church? Is it really that important?


The church has changed. Anyone who has experienced the cathedrals of Europe, and compared that aesthetic to the average function-over-style of the majority of churches built in this country in the last 50 years, would have to conclude that they don’t build them like they used to!

A couple of weekends ago I walked into a church and I could tell almost instantly that this was a church that cared about art. It was not a huge church; they averaged about 250 in their worship service. The foyer had a feel that was more like what I have seen in certain museums or fine hotel lobbies. The furnishings were elegant. There was art on the walls—meaningful art. One piece especially captivated me. It was a wood engraving of the hymn “How Great Thou Art” that was engraved to look like a page out of hymnal, with incredible detail.

The platform of the church was tidy, not the usual clutter of mic and music stands I am accustomed to seeing in most churches I frequent. As the worship service started, we were treated to a string ensemble that played their music impeccably. Somebody cared about the aesthetics of this church. Yet is wasn’t an atmosphere of artistic snobbery you might have expected by my description.

If you are still wondering “does all this really matter?” Let me give you a few reasons why I think it does:

  • It is an indication of giving our best to the Creator. By caring about art, about things of beauty, I think we are acknowledging that we are creative beings and affirming that to both to God and to each other.
  • It is obvious that our culture cares about art. I would argue that we live in an entertainment culture. That doesn’t mean that all art is good art or appropriate for church, but we need to recognize that it is a huge part of the culture we are trying to speak to. 
  • By caring about art we are given a voice worthy of paying attention too. We are speaking the language of the culture we are a part of. You may not like the fact that we live in an entertainment culture, but it doesn’t change the fact that it exists. Art is one valuable way we to let our voice be heard. 
  • It is Biblical after all. It goes all the way back to the Old Testament, from the building of the tabernacle (Exodus 35 and 36) and the Psalms of David, to the New Testament with the parables of Jesus.
So how can you make your church a welcoming place for the arts? A big church can hire artists, and many do. But art in the church is not only for the big, the moneyed, or the ultra sophisticated. Little things can go a long way. Consider the following:

  • Look for ways to include the arts in your worship—not just music, but drama, painting, sculpture, and dance, etc… there are exceptional artists in all these areas and more (probably some hiding in your very pews).
  • Care more about the aesthetics in your place of worship. From the moment you enter the church, what can you do artistically to draw attention to the things of God? Think paintings, furniture, music etc. (Some churches have turned their foyers into galleries that showcase artists in the church.)
  • Plan social events that create opportunities for artists to be discovered. A talent show at a church retreat might just be the venue to discover talents you never new existed.
  • While we want to encourage art, we also want to encourage quality. Have some sort of screening process in place so that what you create is truly inspiring to those that experience it… (I know that art is in the eye of the beholder… so tread carefully).
  • Don’t do this alone. Consult with others in your church who are artists or at least good appreciators of art. Use them for everything from the design of the worship service to the design of your print materials; from the table displays in the foyer to the paintings in the bathroom. An arts committee in your church might be a great investment of time, talent and service.
  • At the risk of sounding self-serving, invite guest artists into your church. Experiencing art well done inspires art well done!
For some pastors reading this, I can hear you saying, “great—just one more thing for me to do!” I know leading a church is not easy and there is a lot on the proverbial plate. I don’t think every pastor needs to make this their personal responsibility… but I do think that by delegating and encouraging those already in the congregation who have an artistic bent, we can do much to enhance our message. Artists are uniquely gifted to speak to the culture. Artists who are Christians need opportunities to use their God given gifts to the benefit of the Body of Christ and the world.

What ideas can you share for discovering and encouraging the arts in your church?

This post originally appeared on Chuck Neighbors blog (used with permission). You can read it and other information about Chuck's ministry, Master's Image productions at

Hunter Parrish Will Play Jesus in Broadway's Godspell

HHunter Parrish, star of the acclaimed Showtime series "Weeds" and the Tony Award-winning hit Spring Awakening, is set to star as Jesus in the upcoming Broadway revival of the legendary rock musical Godspell

"I am elated to be joining the Godspell family, and honored to be a part of bringing this thrilling classic back to Broadway," he said . "I knew after meeting with the creative team that I was going to be a part of something really exciting. I can't wait to get started."
On television, Parrish is currently reprising his role as Silas Botwin on the seventh season of "Weeds" opposite Mary-Louise Parker, Justin Kirk and Kevin Nealon. The series was nominated in 2006 and 2007 for a Golden Globe for Best Television Series - Music or Comedy, a SAG Award in 2007 and an Emmy Award in 2009 for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series.
Parrish made his Broadway debut to critical acclaim as Melchior in the Tony Award-winning hit musical Spring Awakening.
On the big screen, he starred in director Nancy Meyers' 2009 hit "It's Complicated" opposite Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin; in Burr Steers' "17 Again" opposite Zac Efron, Matthew Perry and Leslie Mann; and in Kieran Mulroney and Michele Mulroney's "Paper Man" opposite Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Daniels and Lisa Kudrow.
Other film credits include "Freedom Writers," and "RV."  His other television appearance include guest starring roles on "Law & Order: SVU," "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and the CBS drama "Close to Home."
Directed   by Daniel Goldstein and choreographed by Tony Award nominee Christopher Gattelli (South Pacific), Godspell begins preview performances at Circle in the Square Theatre (1633 Broadway at 50th St., NYC) on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011. Opening Night is Monday, November 7 at 7 pm.
Godspell reunites Goldstein, making his Broadway directorial debut, and members of the design team from his critically-acclaimed 2006 Paper Mill Playhouse conception in a new production that has been completely re-imagined for the Circle in the Square.
Conceived and originally directed by John-Michael Tebelak with music and new lyrics by Academy and Grammy Award winner Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin), Godspell has been performed  throughout the US since its original New York premiere in May 1971.
Godspell 's Tony-nominated score includes "Day by Day," "Turn Back, O Man," "Learn Your Lessons Well, "Prepare Ye the Way," "Light of the World" and many more.
The new Broadway revival of Godspell is produced by Ken Davenport, Edgar Lansbury and The People of Godspell. Additional casting will be announced soon.
Godspell features scenic design by David Korins (Passing Strange), costume design by Miranda Hoffman (Well), lighting design by David Weiner (The Normal Heart), sound design by Andrew Keister (Company), orchestrations by Michael Holland (Hurricane) and musical direction by Charlie Alterman (Next to Normal).
Visit Godspell online at

Monday, August 8, 2011

Set Your Calendar for Annual Broadway Blessing Sept. 12.

Producer, director and lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. will deliver a theatre reflection at the 15th anniversary celebration of Broadway Blessing, 7 pm Sept. 12 at the Cathedral Church of St. the Divine, Amsterdam Avenue at 112th St., NYC.

Maltby holds the distinction of having conceived and directed the only two musical revues to ever win the Tony Award for Best Musical: Ain't Misbehavin' (1978, also Tony Award for Best Director) and Fosse (1999:). He was director/co-lyricist for the American version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song and Dance, starring Bernadette Peters, and was co-lyricist for Miss Saigon.

In a partnership that began when they were students at Yale, Maltby and composer David Shire have collaborated many times over the years. Their first Broadway credit was in 1968, when their song "The Girl of the Minute" was used in the revue New Faces of 1968. In 1977 the Manhattan Theatre Club produced a review of their earlier songs, written for other works, titled Starting Here, Starting Now.

With Shire as composer, Maltby directed and was lyricist for Baby and the lyricist for Big. Also with Shire, he conceived and wrote the lyrics for Take Flight, which had its world premiere in July 2007 at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London.

He also conceived and directed Ring Of Fire, The Johnny Cash Musical Show and was co-bookwriter/lyricist for The Pirate Queen. He was most recently represented on Broadway as the director of the new, original musical The Story of My Life by composer/lyricist Neil Bartram. That musical had a brief run at the Booth Theatre in February 2009 and received a 2009 Drama Desk Award nomination for outstanding production of a musical.

Maltby will be joined by Broadway singer/actress Natalie Toro who will sing the Michel Legrand/Alan and Marilyn Bergman song “Where Is It Written,” backed by the Broadway Blessing Choir, and Tony Haris will perform a new song by composer/playwright Phil Hall written in honor of the anniversary.

Following a tradition established at the 10th anniversary celebration, Project Dance will perform and Rabbi Jill Hausman of The Actors’ Temple and the Rev. Canon Tom Miller, the Cathedral’s canon for liturgy and the arts, will lead the annual candle lighting ceremony.

As with all announced guests, Maltby’s availability is subject to change. Broadway Blessing is the free interfaith service of song, dance and story that has been bringing the theatre community together every September since 1997 to ask God’s blessing on the new season. Reservations are not necessary.

Broadway Blessing was founded and is produced by journalist and author Retta Blaney, who will receive a 2011 "Lights Are Bright on Broadway Award" presented by Masterwork Productions, Inc. as part of the service.

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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