Tag Archives: Development

That Which I am Gifted and Meant to Do

So Moses, Aaron and the leaders of Israel counted all the Levites by their clans and families. All the men from thirty to fifty years of age who came to do the work of serving and carrying the tent of meeting numbered 8,580.
Numbers 4:46-48 (NIV)

Along life’s journey I’ve come to understand that the organization of human beings to accomplish a particular task (or tasks) is an art form in and of itself. Anyone who has had to lead any kind of large scale endeavor understands this. There are numerous models and theories for doing so.

In this morning’s chapter we find the Hebrew clan of Levites were dedicated to the care, maintenance and moving of their nation’s mobile temple and all its furnishings. They alone of all the Hebrew clans set it up, took it down, carried it on the march, and did the work of the Temple while encamped. If you were born into the Levite clan you would not be a warrior, you would work be assigned religious duties the rest of your life.

Throughout history this paradigm has also been followed by many societies. A father is apprenticed into a trade by his father, and teaches the trade to his son. You were born into your occupation just as sure as you might be given the surname of that occupation: Miller, Thatcher, Farmer, and Doctor.

Had things still been done this way, I might be a carpenter today, just as my great-grandfather was apprenticed to be before he came to America as a young man. Anyone who has experienced my carpentry skills knows that this would be a tragedy. While I am capable to do some basic projects, you definitely don’t want me building your house!

In today’s paradigm, we are taught as young people that we “can be anything we want” and this is somewhat true. In our culture we are free to pursue any trade or occupation. I have noticed, however, that just because you desire to pursue an occupation doesn’t mean that you are gifted at that occupation. I have witnessed for years those who desired to pursue certain ministry tasks or roles within the local church only to frustrate the entire congregation by their lack of skill or giftedness. I’ve known preachers who can’t preach their way out of a paper bag, singers who can’t carry a tune with a handle on it, and directors of worship who are consistently lost and unable to capably give direction to anyone.

Just as the generational paradigm had its weaknesses, so also does the “you can do whatever you want” paradigm. Desiring an area of giftedness does not necessarily make you good at it.

This morning I’m thinking about my experiences in leadership with business, church, community organizations, and even the project management required of producing or directing a show. I’ve come to believe that one of a leader’s critical tasks is helping people find their areas of giftedness and helping them both embrace and develop those areas. Sometimes there is a journey of acceptance required to bring us to a waypoint of understanding that I ultimately find joy when I am doing what I am gifted and meant to do.

The Critical Discernment of Criticism

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord.
2 Kings 19:14 (NIV)

When we left the story yesterday, the commander of the invading Assyrian army was talking smack at the gates of Jerusalem. The intent was the same then as it is today with smack talking on the athletic field, the playground, corporate offices, or elsewhere. The goal is to get inside the other person’s head, create doubt, instill fear, and win the psychological battle.

Over the past couple of years I’ve had the opportunity of working with a wonderful group of people in my local gathering of Jesus followers. These individuals are actively working to develop their gifts and abilities at communicating God’s Message in front of a large group of people. I have enjoyed the privilege of helping mentor them in their development.

Every communicator who regularly stands in front of a group of listeners must at some point confront unwarranted criticism. I encounter the occasional denier who shuns all criticism. I had someone who once told me, “the root word of ‘criticism’ is ‘critical’ which is inherently negative.” I chose not to respond, knowing that I was speaking to a person whose heart and ears were closed to the fact that “critical” is also defined as “skillful judgment” and “decisive importance.” Most individuals understand that fair, knowledgable, and objective criticism is a crucial ingredient to improvement.

I’ve come to understand, however, that some unwarranted criticism you receive is a lot like smack talking. Smack talking critics can be identified by their intent, and that’s where discernment is required. Their criticism is not an honest and loving response intended to help the recipient (as much as they will claim that it is). Their criticism is an emotional gut reaction intended to defend something that has been stirred or threatened within themselves.

In this morning’s chapter, I found King Hezekiah’s response to the Assyrian threats fascinating. He immediately took the text of the threats to the temple, to the prophet Isaiah, and “spread it out before the Lord.” What a great word picture. Hezekiah didn’t eat the words and let them sicken his thoughts. He didn’t completely and foolishly dismiss the words and the threat. His actions were a measured and calculated response. He “spread them out” with a desire to get a good, objective look, wise counsel, and divine wisdom. What is true? What is not true? What is the intent of the message? What should I take from this? What should I ignore?

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the amazing story that plays out in the rest of the chapter. The “word of the Lord” through Isaiah was that God was going to deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrians. Over night the Assyrian army was miraculously decimated and forced to withdraw. This was a historical event about which speculation and theories still abound.

This morning I’m reminded of my need of criticism, and the equal need to learn discernment with the unsolicited feedback I receive from others. I need to recognize and dismiss the misguided smack talk of people unconsciously reacting out of their own stuff. I also need to seek out and embrace the wise, honest and helpful reflections from those who love me and desire my continued, healthy development. It’s not just a good thing, it’s critical to the process of my maturity.

Practice Required

But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
2 Corinthians 8:7 (NIV)

I received a text from one of our daughters the other day. She was doing an exercise for work and each person was asked to quiz a few people who knew them well and ask , “What is it that I do better than anyone else?” In other words, what was the thing or things at which she excelled. It was an interesting question to ponder and fun to be allowed to share my thoughts with her.

I have always had certain things at which I excelled and many things at which I did not. I was never very good at sports. The only sport at which I exhibited some excellence was swimming, and this was only because of years of constant and disciplined practice. I was always a pretty good student, however. And, I displayed a modicum of excel-lence in the arts, especially on stage.

In today’s chapter, Paul answers our daughter’s question to the followers of Jesus in Corinth. Paul reports that they excel in faith, in good conversation, in being knowledgable and in their earnestness. Then, Paul then urges them to add one more thing to the list. He wants them to excel in giving.

The interesting thing about the encouragement given here is that generosity must have been an area that the believers in Corinth had not already displayed excellence. It was something that was going to require exercise and practice, and this was the entire point behind today’s chapter. Paul was urging them to stretch their generosity muscles and practice giving.

One of the passages of God’s Message around which I’ve chosen to try and model my life is Psalm 112, which has ceaselessly admonished me in the same way Paul encourages the believers in Corinth. The lyrics of the psalm describe the person who is “generous and lends freely” and who “scatters abroad their gifts to the poor.”

I must confess this morning that when it comes to generosity and giving I am an honorary Corinthian. I have known people who excel at giving, for whom it is a spiritual gift. For me, it is a lot like swimming. If I want to excel I’ve got to endlessly practice. Generosity stretches and builds spiritual muscles that are not naturally strong for me, but the effort and development is good for me in a myriad of ways.

This morning I’m pondering the areas of life in which I easily and naturally excel, and the areas like generosity that require repetitive practice. I don’t ever want to stop working on improving. I’m encouraged this morning to keep working, keep practicing, keep driving towards excellence in these important areas of Life and Spirit.

Every Leader Wears a Target

The burden bearers carried their loads in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and with the other held a weapon.
Nehemiah 4:17 (NRSV)

Along life’s journey I’ve learned that when set yourself up to lead almost any effort, no matter how noble your intent, you will always encounter opposition. Parents trying to lead their family well will experience opposition from children, so-called experts, other parents telling them they’re doing it wrong, or the grandparents telling them they’re screwing up the kids. Teachers leading a classroom have to wear emotional body armor against the slings and arrows they get from all sides. Every preacher on Sunday morning, no matter how true his or her message, has at least a few congregation members who will serve up roast pastor for their Sunday dinner. The greater the task being led, the more virulent the opposition will be.

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In this life, God has not led me on roads where I have been called upon to take on monumental leadership roles. I have never been Patton called on to lead armies in saving the free world from Hitler’s minions. I have always been George Bailey fighting the relatively silly skirmishes of Bedford Falls. Still, I am always amazed at how universally this paradigm holds true. People are people. Stand in a position of leadership and you wear a target on your chest.

So it was that Nehemiah and the people building the walls of Jerusalem encountered opposition from their neighbors and enemies in today’s chapter. Their enemies did not want the wall rebuilt. They did not want Judah to rebuild its regional power. They wanted the walls and gates to remain in heaps of rubble. And so, with the threat of their work being attacked, the laborers had to build the wall with one hand, and had to be prepared to defend their work with the other.

I love that word picture as I wear my relatively minor mantels of leadership. I have to be prepared for opposition as I lead any kind of task. Of course, I’ve also learned that not all opposition or criticism is malicious or divisive. Quite often it is criticism that makes me aware of my blind spots and helps me shore up areas of need. Wise King Solomon said, “The wounds of a friend are better than the kisses of an enemy.” Word. I’ve discovered that wisdom is often required to discern the difference between constructive criticism and opposition of ill intent. I’m still learning.

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Developing Parts for the Good of the Whole

But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
1 Corinthians 12:18 (NIV)

One of the things I love about creation is the way that God layers what He makes with all sorts of parallels to who He is and how He has ordered other things. In today’s chapter, Paul uses the physical body as a metaphor for how a local gathering of Jesus’ followers spiritually functions.

A body is made up of many parts, Paul explains, but it’s one body functioning together for the common good. He goes on to explain that God’s Spirit instills in each follower a spiritual “gift” (e.g. teaching, service, hospitality, intercession, and etc.) which makes that person a unique “part” of the body. Each person, Paul continues, should perform their unique “part” to provide their essential function in the health of the entire “body.”

Over the past couple of years, our local “body” has been doing something that is functionally unique in my experience. For a long time now, most churches have established a fairly rigid paradigm for vetting those authorized to teach in a weekly gathering for worship:

  1. Go to college and get an undergraduate degree
  2. Go to seminary and get a graduate degree
  3. Become ordained by your particular denomination

Of course, just going through this process does not necessarily mean that you are actually gifted by God’s spirit as a teacher. It is equally true that many who are spiritually gifted teachers never jump through the established institutional hoops to in order to become institutionally approved, and therefore they may never use fully perform their part for the good of the whole.

Over the last couple of years, the spiritual leaders of our local gathering identified a number of members of our “body” who they believe may be gifted teachers. These individuals were offered an opportunity to receive some training and to actually teach our local gathering on a rotating basis on Sunday mornings. A process of oversight, encouragement, and feedback is growing. Some individuals have tried it and determined that teaching is not their gift. Others are continuing to grow and develop. Perhaps some will decide to go on for more formal, institutional training. Nevertheless, it’s been amazing to see individuals growing and developing in their gift. Despite those who expected the experiment to result in people choosing not to come to worship, our local gathering hasn’t diminished through the experiment. Rather, we are discovering that each teacher appeals to different parts of the body and that each teacher complements the whole of the team. It’s been fascinating to observe and participate.

Today, I am thinking about the diverse jumble of “parts” in my local gathering of Jesus’ followers, and the myriad of ways that these people are gifted in the healthy functioning of the whole body. Some are teachers. Others provide very different, but necessary functions. The proper functioning of every part doing its job ensures the health of the whole. I am continuing to grow in my understanding and appreciation for the fact that each part, no matter the gift and ability, is essential in its role for the common good.

 

The “Sui Generis” Moment on Stage

It happened last night at rehearsal for Almost, Maine. It surprised me. It’s early in the rehearsal process and, while it’s not unheard of at this point in that process, it’s relatively rare in my experience.

The Latin term “sui generis” means “one of a kind,” and there is an experience that occasionally, mysteriously happens on stage that I find to be sui generis in life. It is an experience I have found unique to the art of acting, and actors who experience it once usually long to experience it ever after. It is a moment on stage that is other worldly, when actors cross over into another dimension, into the reality of the scene they are playing. It doesn’t happen all the time. You can’t predict it and there is no formula for conjuring it. But, when it happens you never forget it.

When this moment happens, when you cross over, you feel the emotions your character feels and think the thoughts that are flying through your character’s brain. You are at once in both dimensions: being two actors on the community center stage in Pella Iowa, and being two characters in a living room at 9:00 p.m. on a dark winter’s night in northern Maine.

It is an indescribable experience. It is sui generis.

Wendy and I were rehearsing our scene Getting it Back last night. We haven’t rehearsed it many times. Our lines are not memorized, we don’t have all our props, and we’re still struggling to remember our blocking. Yet, as our characters began to argue and things escalated between Gayle and Lendall, it happened. We crossed over. It was incredible. When it happens, I can sometimes also feel those watching being ushered into the moment with us. That happened last night, too.

Wendy and I often comment that we love the rehearsal process almost more than performances. Last night was an example of why. It is in the rehearsal process that you do the work of excavation and exploration. It is in rehearsal that you seek out the doorway to that sui generis moment. Like the portals into Narnia the portals to those moments can mysteriously appear and disappear. The same entrance can sometimes usher you to that moment multiple times. Then, suddenly, the way is shut and you pick up the quest once more.

The quest for that sui generis moment is part of the mystery and magic of acting. It is what draws me back again and again. And when the moment surprises you, like it did at rehearsal last night, it is a one of a kind experience of Life.

I can’t wait for rehearsal on Thursday.

Power of the Art of Acting

I have observed along my life journey that acting is largely misunderstood and under appreciated as an art. To many who have asked me about my experiences on stage, acting is perceived to be nothing more than adults engaged in a child’s game of make believe. That notion certainly contains a nugget of truth, as good actors tap into a child-like sense of play and imagination. It does, however, fall short of the whole truth. One might equally say that a painter is simply “coloring” or a composer is simply “making up songs.” In every one of these examples the notion falls far short of understanding both the art form and the work of the artist.

Acting, to steal a term used by Tolkien and Lewis with regard to their writing, is a form of sub-creation. It is the art of creating an individual being, from the inside out, in all of his or her (or its) infinite complexities. Think how intricately layered each one of us are in our unique experiences, gifts, talents, intentions, thoughts, feelings, desires, quirks, flaws, handicaps,  strengths, and idiosyncrasies. What a Herculean task to start with nothing more than words in a script and attempt the creation of a living, breathing, believably real human being on stage. Even more challenging is the fact that the actor must fulfill this task utilizing his or her own existing body and voice. Imagine a composer being asked to take exactly the same notes, key, and time signature that exist in one piece of music and rearrange them to make a uniquely different work.

An actor’s task is made even more difficult when his or her creation must interact with others on stage whom they do not control.  Your creation, in all his or her uniqueness, must react and respond to others in the moment without the assurance of knowing exactly what will happen or be said (or not said) in that moment. Like all other artists actors put their creation out there for all the world to see. It is a courageous act fraught with the risk. Unlike artists in other mediums, actors are, themselves, the canvas, the composition, the sculpture, the sonnet. When actors step on stage they present their own flesh and blood as part and parcel of the art itself. The risk is more personal and more public than almost any other art form.

In the process of creating this living, breathing creation on stage, the actor becomes psychologist, historian, private investigator, sociologist, theologian, and priest. Actors become among the world’s most accepting and empathetic inhabitants because they are required to find understanding and empathy for some of literature and history’s most heinous villains. In this pursuit of the embodiment of a real person on stage, an actor comes to embody love and grace that believes, hopes, and endures even for the most tragic of characters.

As with all art mediums, there exists in this wide world of actors a diverse panacea of education, talent, experience and ability. You may not find Olivier, Hoffman, Streep, or Theron at your local high school, college, or community center. You may, however, be pleasantly surprised if you take the risk of venturing out and buying a ticket. You will find courageous actor-artists stepping into a real world created on the other side of the fourth wall. They will transport you to another time in another place. You may just find yourself swept up in a story that not only entertains, but also causes you to think, laugh, weep, and feel. Your disbelief may be suspended just long enough for you to care, truly care, about these characters, these persons, these living, breathing, real creations and their stories. That is the power of the art of acting.

Related Posts

10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success
Preparing for a Role: Digging into the Past
Preparing for a Role: Digging into the Script
Preparing for a Role: The First Rehearsal
Preparing for a Role: Digging into the Character
Preparing for a Role: The Rehearsal Process
Preparing for a Role: How Do You Memorize All Those Lines?
Preparing for a Role: Bits and Moments in the Grind
Preparing for a Role: Production Week
Preparing for a Role: Keeping Focus When Siri Joins You on Stage
Preparing for a Role: Ready for Performance
Theatre is Ultimate Fitness for Your Brain!

 

Photo: Arvin Van Zante, Wendy Vander Well, and Karl Deakyne rehearse a scene from Ham Buns and Potato Salad. Pella, Iowa.