On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines. Isaiah 25:26 (NIV)
I love a great dinner party. We have become such a fast food, quick serve, grab-a-snack culture that it’s rare to really enjoy a feast any more. I had a friend tell me that she and her family finished Thanksgiving dinner in 10 minutes. There’s something wrong with this picture.
A great dinner party starts early with a drink and an appetizer. People mingle. There’s light conversation. Guests begin to unwind. It moves on to a table that’s prepared. Things are laid out. Everything you need for the evening is set before you. The plates, knives, forks, spoons, and glassware are a road map to the feast. There is salad and/or soup before the main course. The main course follows after and is perfectly proportioned with complementary dishes. There is an aperitif to cleanse the palate before moving on to dessert. And, there are wines served to compliment each course. By the time dessert is served you have been on a journey. A feast is to be savored, en-joy-ed along with the company and conversation around the table.
I love that God’s word picture of what’s-to-come is a feast. It’s the word picture He gave Abraham when first introducing Himself in Genesis 18. It’s the word picture Jesus gives in Revelation of the relationship He desires with every one. A dinner party. A leisurely meal with good food and good fellowship around the table.
I am struck this morning that Isaiah’s prophetic feast is for all people. So often the image of God we project to the world is that of a miserly monarch condemning the many to save the exclusive few. But Isaiah’s prophetic image is a feast of salvation for all people and all nations. When Jesus picked up and riffed on this word picture in his parable of the wedding feast he speaks of inviting those who you’d least expect to have a seat at the table, the master’s servants grabbing anyone and everyone off the street and ushering them to the table.
This morning I’m thinking about dinner parties, feasts, and a God who desires the communal oneness that is experienced with good food, good wine, and good relationship around a table well prepared.
For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled. Revelation 17:17 (NIV)
Yesterday I was having coffee with my friend just as we have done every week or two for the past several years. He and I have a relationship that goes deep. We know the most intimate details of one another’s lives, and we have shared the journey with one another for a good stretch through some low valleys as well as a few mountain tops.
Over a hot cup of coffee I was sharing some things that are happening in life for Wendy and me. My friend recognized in my sharing the same thing that I have sensed in the past several months. There is a shift happening in life for Wendy and me at this point in our journey that is beyond our conscious thought or human ability to facilitate. Some of the paths we have intended to take were inexplicably closed to us, and in some cases their closure has been the source of confusion, grief, and intense sadness. Now, all of a sudden, other paths have opened up and, out of the confusion, we both have an incomprehensible peace in our hearts about this course adjustment. We can’t explain it, we didn’t see it coming, but we both recognize that it’s happening.
Wise King Solomon said, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Wendy and I have long recognized that there is a divine plan at work in our lives. We have plotted our course and headed out on paths we believed would lead us where we wanted to go and where were supposed to go, but our steps have ultimately been directed to different paths on a different course. We know that our stories and our paths are part of a larger story and purpose. We don’t always see it with our eyes, but when we experience the life shift as we have over the past several months, we both know it in our hearts.
I believe that there is a larger story being told and a greater purpose at work in this life for which our lives are but a bit part (Actually, I have come to love bit parts – but that’s a different blog post). As I read through John’s account of his vision I am struck by the parallel we’re experiencing in our lives. I read the chapters and follow along as John is led through some strange visions. I catch little pieces I recognize but I largely struggle to see clearly what they mean in the whole. Underneath it all, however, I have an incomprehensible peace in knowing that there is a story being told whose chapters were written outside of time, and there is a divine purpose unfolding in today’s headlines which lead towards a conclusion that has long been foreshadowed. For Wendy and me, our job is to walk the steps established, to press on in the course, and to play out our bit parts to the best of our gifts and abilities.
But they soon forgot what [God] had done
and did not wait for his plan to unfold. Psalm 106:13 (NIV)
Years ago I enjoyed the adventure of sailing across Lake Superior at night in a storm. By the time my partner and I took our shift at the helm we were far from the sight of land. With the storm pouring rain and wind over us, even the stars and moon were cloaked from view. I could not see the direction of the next wave that would buffet our boat. I could see nothing but the light of compass that sat just in front of the wheel as I held the ship’s course. Having been given the correct compass heading by our captain, I constantly fought to keep the ship headed in the right direction. We sailed through the blackness and I had to trust that if I maintained the proper course we would reach our destination safely.
Over time I have come to learn that there is an unveiling of the path as you progress in life’s journey. God’s message is spoken of as a foot lamp. It give us enough light for the next step on our current path, but we cannot see where the path is leading nor what is coming on the horizon. Like the compass on our night crossing of Superior, we often find ourselves making our way through darkness with nothing more than a compass heading.
There is no comprehensive map for life, though we may try to divine what will happen tomorrow or next year in all sorts of ways that range from the silly, to the spiritually unhealthy and delusional. Those who follow Jesus are on a faith journey and the point is not knowing but believing. The captain has given us a compass heading and our job is to hold course through the dark of night and through the wind and waves which constantly threaten to push us off course.
Sometimes we, like the people of Israel referenced in today’s psalm, get impatient for the plan to unfold and start setting our own course. My experience is that when we do this we tend to find ourselves lost at sea. Today, I’m acknowledging the reality that I have no idea what lies ahead. I can’t see beyond the bow of the boat most days let alone what’s coming up on the horizon. God’s message is my compass heading, and my Captain has assured me that if I hold course I will ultimately find myself safely in harbor.
I have a confession to make. I was a theatre major in college (yes, complete with the snooty but appropriate “re” spelling). I’ll wait for you to stop snickering. Judson University (it was Judson College when I attended), the small liberal arts college outside of Chicago labeled the major course of studies as “Communication Arts” which is what I tend to put on resumes and bios because I realize that “theatre major” tends to elicit thoughts such as “Do you want fries with that?”
When I chose my major, I had no pipe dreams about becoming a professional actor. I did it because more than one wise adult had advised me that my actual major in college would have less impact on my eventual job search than having the actual degree. “Study what you love” I was told, “not what you think will get you a job.” I listened for once and chose theatre because I’d done it all through my secondary education, I had relative success doing it, and because I simply loved being a part of it. Fortunately, my parents gave me absolutely no grief about my choice (unlike most of my fellow majors. Thanks mom & dad!)
Fast forward 25 years and, like many people, I am no where near the waypoint on life’s road I envisioned I’d be back in college. Almost 20 years as a business consultant and now a business owner with a modestly successful track record in my business and blogging, I realize how much being a theatre major set me on the road towards success.
Here are 10 ways being a theatre major helped me succeed:
Improvisation. The great thing about the stage is that when it’s live and you’re up in front of that audience anything can, and does, happen. Dropped lines, missed entrances, or malfunctioning props require you to improvise while maintaining your cool. Theatre taught me how to focus, think quickly and make do while giving the impression that you’ve got it all under control. It’s served me well when clients, airlines, coworkers, or technology wreak unexpected havoc at the worst possible moment.
Project Management. A stage production is basically a business project. You have teams of people making up one team working to successfully accomplish a task on time, on budget in such a way that you earn the applause and an occasional standing ovation. Being taught to stand at the helm of a theatrical production was a project management practicum.
Working with a Limited Budget. Everybody who has worked on stage knows that it’s not the road to fortune. Most plays (especially small college shows) are produced on a shoestring budget. This forces you to be imaginative, do more with less and find creative ways to get the results you want without spending money. Ask any corporate manager and they’ll tell you that this pretty much describes their job. Mine too.
Dealing with Very Different Human Beings. The theatrical community is a mash-up of interesting characters. It always has been. From fringe to freakish to frappucino sipping socialites and everything in between, you’re going to encounter the most amazing and stimulating cross-section of humanity when you work in theatre. In my business career I have the unique and challenging task of walking in the CEO’s office in the morning to present our findings in an executive summary presentation and to receive a high level grilling. I will then spend the afternoon presenting the same data to overworked, underpaid, cynical front-line employees and get a very different grilling. Theatre taught me how to appreciate, understand and effectively communicate with a widely diverse group of human beings.
Understanding the Human Condition. Most people have the mistaken impression that acting is all about pretending and being “fake” in front of others. What I learned as a theatre major was that good actors learn the human condition intimately through observation and painfully detailed introspection. The better you understand that human being you are portraying from the inside out, the better and more authentic your performance is going to be. In my business I am constantly using the same general methods to understand my clients, their customers as well as myself and my co-workers. I believe that having a better understanding of myself and others has ultimately made me a better (though far from perfect) employee, consultant, employer, and ultimately friend. I didn’t learn methods of observing and understanding others in Macro Econ, I learned it in Acting I & Acting II.
Doing Whatever Needs to Be Done. When you’re a theatre major at a small liberal arts college there is little room for specializing within your field. You have to learn to do it all. Light design, sound engineering, acting, directing, producing, marketing, PR, set design, set construction, ticket sales, budgeting, customer service, ushering, make-up, and costuming are all things I had to do as part of my college career. Within our merry band of theatre majors we all had to learn every piece of a production because at some point we would be required to do what needed to be done. I learned that I can capably do just about anything that I need to do. I may not love it and I may not be gifted or excellent at it, but give me a task and I’ll figure it out. I now work for a small consulting firm that requires me to do a wide range of tasks. The experience, can-do attitude and indomitable spirit I learned in the theatre have been essential to success.
Hard work. I remember creating a tree for one of our college shows. We had no idea how we were going to do it, but we made an amazing life-like tree that emerged from the stage and looked as if it disappeared into the ceiling above the theatre. My team mates and I cut out each and every leaf and individually hot-glued them to the branches of the tree. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of them glued on while standing precariously on a rickety ladder high enough above the stage that it would make an OSHA inspector soil his boxers. Sleepless nights, burnt fingers and a few brushes with tragedy were needed to get that tree done. But, we got it done. It was fabulous. And a few days later we tore it down, threw it out, and got ready for the next production. C’est la vie. In business I have periods of time with unbelievable workloads in which there are sleepless nights, seemingly endless days and tireless work on projects that will be presented and then will be over. The report will be archived and I’m onto the next project. C’est la vie. I learned all about that as a theatre major.
Making Difficult Choices. You’ve got four parts and twenty four schoolmates who auditioned. Some of them are your best friends and fellow theatre majors. Do you choose the unexperienced jock because he’s best for the part or the friend and fellow theatre major who you fear will never talk to you again if you don’t cast him? My senior project was supposed to be performed outside in the amphitheater but the weather was cold, windy and miserable. Do I choose to stick with the plan because it’s what my actors are comfortable with and it’s what we’ve rehearsed and it will only stress out the cast and crew to change the venue at the last-minute? Or, do I choose to think about the audience who will be more comfortable and might actually pay attention and appreciate the performance if they are inside away from the cold, the wind and possible rain? [I changed the venue]. Any business person will tell you that difficult decisions must sometimes be made. The higher the position the harder the decisions and the more people those decisions affect. Being a theatre major gave me a taste of what I would have to digest in my business career.
Presentation Skills. Okay, it’s a no brainer but any corporate employee can tell you horror stories of having to endure long training sessions or corporate presentations by boring, unprepared, incompetent or just plain awful presenters. From what I’ve experienced, individuals who can stand up confidently in front of a group of people and capably, effectively communicate their message while even being motivating and a little entertaining are among the rarest individuals in the business world. Being a theatre major helped me be one of them.
Doing the Best You Can With What You’ve Got. Over the years I’ve told countless front line service reps that this is rule #1 of customer service. You do the best you can with what you’ve got to work with. I remember an Acting I class in college in which a pair of students got up to present a scene they’d prepared. They presented the scene on a bare stage with no lighting, make-up, costumes, props or set pieces. It was just two students acting out the script. It was one of those magic moments that happen with live theatre. The rest of the class was transfixed and pulled into the moment, reacting with surprising emotion to what they witnessed. You don’t need Broadway theatrics to create a magical theatrical moment on stage. You don’t even need a stage. The same is true of customer service. You don’t always need the latest technology, the best system, or the greatest whiz-bang doo-dads. A capable CSR doing the best they can and serving a customer with courtesy, empathy, friendliness and a commitment to resolve can and does win customer satisfaction and loyalty.
I’m proud to be an alumnus of Judson University. I’m really saddened that the school’s theatre program waned for a while and am encouraged that it shows signs of life once more. What I have learned I’ve tried to pass on to my own children. Study what you love. Follow your passion. It will serve you well wherever life’s road takes you.
Tom Vander Well graduated from Judson University earning a B.A. degree in Communications Arts with an emphasis in Speech/Theatre in 1988. He is currently President and CEO of Intelligentics, a market research and QA firm specializing in customer satisfaction research and call quality assessment (e.g. “your call may be monitored to ensure quality service”) where Tom has worked for 25 years. Tom found himself “waiting for Guffman” for over ten years and he served as President of Union Street Players, the award-winning community theatre in Pella, Iowa from 2005-2017. During that tenure he served as producer, director, actor and writer. He has also performed for Central College, the Pella Opera House, and the Pella Shakespeare Company. His play Ham Buns and Potato Saladwas presented at the Missouri Playwrights Workshop at the University of Missouri and an April 2014 premiere in Pella has been followed with subsequent area productions. His play Letters from Pella was presented at an international academic conference honoring Hendrik P. Scholte in 2018 and will be published in a subsequent academic journal with content from the conference.
Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures. Proverbs 2:4 (NLT)
It is just after the New Year as I write this. The television news programs are running their annual stories about getting organized and setting goals. The commercials are all about weight loss. The newspapers (those that are left) are running articles once again about setting resolutions and how to keep them.
What are you going to do this year? What positive changes are you going to make? How are you going to achieve your goals?
I’ve never been big on new year’s resolutions, but as I read the chapter today I’m reminded that even God’s Message calls us to make choices, to look to the horizon and set the way-point of where we’re headed, and to determine what we will seek after. Jesus told us that whatever we seek after we will find.
So what am I seeking after? What is it I’m driving towards? Proverbs urges me this morning to seek after wisdom, insight, and understanding as if it was buried treasure. Is that what I’ve been searching out? Does that describe my heart’s desire?
Today is a good day to do a little soul searching. This is a good time to adjust the GPS and recalibrate my position. Set the waypoint for wisdom. Chart a course for understanding. Search for insight on the horizon. Hoist the sails.
Naaman lost his temper. He turned on his heel saying, "I thought he'd personally come out and meet me, call on the name of God, wave his hand over the diseased spot, and get rid of the disease."2 Kings 5:11 (MSG)
My wife and I sat in the living room last night talking about the way you picture your life turning out, and the way it actually ends up looking. From the time we're little children we are asked "What are you going to be when you grow up?" Without being aware that we're doing it, we begin to plot, plan and prescribe the path we want our lives to take. Somewhere along the growth curve we become aware of God's presence on the journey. Instead of relinquishing the Google map we printed in on our heart and brain of the path we're taking, we ascribe authorship of the map it to God. We mentally stamp God's approval on it. Sometimes we even get so bold as to proclaim it: "God called me to…," "God wants me to…," "God is leading me to…,"
Like Naaman, we want God to work the way we've imagined and prescribed He will. We want Him to lead us where we want to go. Then we kick and scream at every detour, or like Namaan we simply opt out and head off on our own (then find out He planned for that, too, dangit).
God cannot be confined except within boundary lines that He, Himself, has set. He certainly cannot be confined by an individual human's thoughts and desires. His plans and designs for us are infinitely more intricate and complex than we can possibly fathom. We can chart a course, but we shouldn't be surprised when the journey takes us on a much different path than the one we imagined.
"In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)