Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Two Towers

Just got back from setting things up for Good Friday's performance of Walt Wangerin's Ragman.

Cruising up the Hudson

I'm heading north today to prep for our performance of Ragman, an approved adaptation of the short story by Walt Wangerin, Jr.


The performance will be a part of our Good Friday service:

April 10, 7pm
http://WestchesterChapel.org

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Happiest Day of the Year

I got to help lead a Graceworks ( http://GraceworksInc.com ) workshop at Princeton University this morning. I believe this was my fourth time, and our host said the staff in offices outside our classroom call our annual visit the happiest day of the year!

Friday, March 27, 2009

REFLECTIONS on Dr. James Hudson Taylor III

I received the following from the youth pastor at the church where I first met Dr. Taylor. He gave me permission to post it here.

I've attached some of my thoughts I wrote down about Dr. Taylor. I wrote this exactly 1 week before his passing. I was thinking about him a lot once the news of his decline in health hit home, and was inspired to write my thoughts down. I'm sure my brief descriptions are echoed by those who have encountered him and know him much more closely than me. And, I do hope reading the reflections is a blessing and reminder of the goodness of God's grace. Of course my point was not to exalt Dr. Taylor as the Bible clearly teaches that we are equal as brothers/sisters in Christ. But the Bible also teaches that we are to give honor when it is due (Romans 13:7). And, we should never take for granted the special people God places in our lives.

REFLECTIONS on Dr. James Hudson Taylor III
By Dan Tupps (March 13, 2009)

As many of you know, Dr. Taylor, the great-grandson of Hudson Taylor, is suffering from the late stages of liver cancer. We’ve been praying diligently for him and his family during this difficult time. Lately I have been reflecting on my brief experiences and encounters I have had with Dr. Taylor over the past few years. Here are my reflections below…

There are few people I have known in life who I can say with pure enthusiasm that he/she is a man/woman of God. There are many, many people I know who are strong Christians; who love God with all their heart and seek to do his will, and have influenced my life and spiritual journey. But few possess a unique quality that radiates something extraordinarily different; someone you know is so close with God that He is seen in and through that person. There are few people who, after being in his/her presence, you know you have been blessed because he/she radiates the glory of the Lord (just like Moses in Exodus 34:29). Dr. Taylor is one of those people.

Dr. Taylor is one of the most unassuming men you’ll ever meet. He is not a man of great stature or size. He’s not loud, super outgoing, and doesn’t have much charisma. In a crowd he is not the life of the party and certainly would not want to be the center of attention. He is quiet (as in not loud or boisterous), gentle, and always has a smile. From a worldly perspective there’s not much about him that would strike you as possessing a tremendous leadership skill or trait. However, 2 Corinthians 6:6 describes Dr. Taylor perfectly. He is a man full of “purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love.” He is such a pure man that just being in his presence inspires you to want to be a better person, a holy person, a righteous person, someone who always seeks to do good. He is also full of understanding. He is never critical even when there may be something legitimate to criticize. He is so patient and kind. I’m sure he’s been angry, but if those who know him the most were to tell me that they honestly have never seen him angry, I would believe them! He is also a man who is clearly full of the Holy Spirit, not in a particularly extroverted way, but in a subtle and gentle way with a quiet and loving spirit and with godly wisdom. And to sum it all up, he is a man full of sincere love; he is a man who just loves people, faults and all. This is the defining characteristic that sets him above the rest: a genuine ability to love fallen, sinful, deceiving, disobedient, rebellious, obnoxious, ungodly, stubborn, impatient, ignorant, arrogant, you name it people. He truly loves others in the way God loves us.

I guess another trait to describe Dr. Taylor and why he is a man of God is that he is extraordinarily humble. He is the definition of what it means to be a humble servant. His humbleness was evident to me in a few different ways. First, he was present on a few occasions when I preached in the adult/Chinese congregation at our church. And, to hear him reinforce the points of my sermon and thank God for a message I gave was so humbling for me, to say the least. It should be ME who should be saying, “Praise God for Dr. Taylor’s message today!” He’s spent so many years in ministry and has wisdom beyond what I may ever grasp. But for him to say that for me is a type of humility I will possibly never know.

Secondly, when I first moved to Hong Kong I met with Dr. Taylor’s son, Pastor Jamie, about once every other month for mentoring. After Jamie moved to Taiwan, Dr. Taylor agreed to meet with me. However, we only had the opportunity to meet on a few occasions. I was always full of questions and wanted to learn from this godly man and soak in some of his wisdom. But it turned out he was the one asking ME questions! Asking me my thoughts on ministry and how to reach the younger generation for Christ. At the time I felt I should be learning from him, not the other way around! But looking back, I learned something from those few brief meetings that means so much to me today: what it means to be a humble servant; someone who is always learning, growing, and encouraging others and coming alongside them and gently guiding them along.

Finally, whenever I would email Dr. Taylor I would of course address him as such. However, he would always end his replies simply with “Jim.” Now, to some of you that may not mean anything. But for me, it speaks volumes. Knowing that he grew up in a culture where status, name, and rank as elder requires respect, the natural way to address him would be “Dr. Taylor” or “Pastor Taylor” or at the very LEAST “Uncle James”. These are titles that he not only deserved, but were certainly earned through years of study, hard work, and experience in life. And, in my culture for someone who has such a position or title of respect to say, “Please, call me ___ …” means that person respects you back and is a sign of humility. It would have been one thing for him to reply with “James”, but “Jim” is even more informal; it’s a nickname! So, piecing all this together, for him to end his emails with his nickname, Jim, is in a way saying, “I’m not requiring you to address me by my rightfully respectful title. Instead, I respect YOU enough to say that we are on an equal level as two brothers in Christ.” I can’t explain enough how a simple phrase at the end of an email like “Your brother in His service, Jim” speaks volumes of this man’s humbleness.

On a final note, I’ll never forget two things in my encounters with Dr. Taylor. First, my wife, Geeta, and I had the privilege to have Dr. Taylor pray a blessing for us when we first started serving at HKMBC. To have such a man of God pray for us as we were initiated into ministry in Hong Kong is such a blessing and moment both Geeta and I will never forget. Secondly, I found out this past year that Dr. Taylor and I share the same birthday – August 12. From here on out as I celebrate my birthdays, I hope to always remember that exactly 50 years before I was born a man of God, who I had the privilege and honor to meet, was born and served God faithfully “in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love.”

Thursday, March 26, 2009

King David the Musical


KING DAVID THE MUSICAL
"A heart warming musical celebration of faith for the entire family!"
Host: Eastern Gate Entertainment, Inc.
Thursday, April 9 through June 27
Where: THE PROMISE THEATER

If you're on FaceBook, click here for a discount. Otherwise, go straight to their website: KingDavidMusical.com

I first met Felicia Lopes, the gal who's producing this, at a Christians in Theatre Arts Conference in LA. She got her start as an intern on Broadway's The Lion King.

David Sanborn, co-creator & performer, also helped create and starred in Judah ben Hur, a musical in which I performed about five roles in Singapore.

I introduced Felicia to David's mom, Ellen, who put Felicia on the team to bring Judah ben Hur to Broadway next year. For now, she's producing David's show.

This will be my first time to see it, but I'm certain it will be great!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A great loss


Jim Hudson Taylor, III, died on March 20.

I knew his health was poor in recent days, but I had no idea how hard I'd cry when I read the news of his passing.

He's the great grandson of Hudson Taylor, and he's seen my play Beyond the Chariots all three times that I've performed it in Hong Kong, and he spoke after it twice. He was in the internment camp with Eric Liddell, which is the setting for the last third of the play. The first time he saw it--before we'd been introduced--he said, "It was softball. We didn't have enough room to play baseball." He and his wonderful wife, Leone, sat with us for two hours talking about how to make the play more accurate and get it into China during the Olympics.

In fact he opened up doors for all of our performances in China in '07 (RichSwingle.blogspot.com archives for January '07), during the Beijing Olympics (RichDrama.com/NewsBlog archives for August '08), and he urged Good News Communications International to hire me to write our documentary on Eric Liddell (RichDrama.com/OlympicHeroinChina).

Here are posts from this blog that tell how he has impacted my life:

Laughter from the 27th Floor
Great Grandson of Hudson Taylor
Jim Hudson Taylor Follow-up
Happy Birthday, Uncle Eric
A Profound Evening

Jim served for 11 years as general director of OMF, which was founded by Jim's great grandfather in 1865 as China Inland Mssion. OMF published a more complete obituary.

On Amazon

My friend, Retta Blaney, included Liam Neeson, in her book Working on the Inside: The Spiritual Life Through the Eyes of Actors. So it seems he knows to Whom he should turn as he grieves the loss of his wife, Natasha. Pray that he and his family would indeed turn to the Lord in this devastating time.

While I was finding Retta's book on Amazon, I stumbled across an article she wrote about me: Rich Swingle acts out his ministry: An article from National Catholic Reporter.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A real miracle!

I drafted this in early February, but it got lost in the shuffle of many to-dos. The news of Natasha Richardson's death prompted me to post it now, since it makes the miraculous nature of this story all the more clear...

We just had a great department head meeting for this summer's MasterWorks Festival. A lot of great things came from it, but the highlight for me was when Michael Wilder (left) pointed out that we should have buried Walter Ringleb (right).

Walt had a severe aneurysm about a month ago. When it happened, he wanted to go to sleep. In fact his eyes closed, and he dialed 911 by touch. Had he fallen asleep he would have been dead before his wife, Bonnie, got home from her work as a flight attendant in another state.

Once Bonnie reached the hospital someone came out and told her that if she was a praying person, she'd better start. His chances of survival were less than 45%.

Walt was so sure he would die that he told Bonnie everything she'd need to take care of when he was gone.

He was put into an induced coma for three days. During that time he had a vision in which he saw people through a double mirror. Then the mirror spun around and he saw himself. The revelation came to him that he had nothing whatsoever to recommend him to God but what Christ had done for him.

When he came out of the coma the doctor did a number of motor skill tests, which he passed perfectly. Bonnie got the sense that they were concerned about brain damage, so she asked Walt if he knew her. He said no, but when he realized she wasn't joking and was actually quite disturbed he told her, "Of course I know you. We've been married 28 years."

The doctor said that there was nothing to account for his complete and instant post-coma recovery but Divine intervention.

The other night, as I hung out with Walt and Bonnie, he was laughing and joking and using every bit of his body and mind. There was no sign that anything was different but the tiny little scar on his shaved head.

Thank You, Lord!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Know1ng

One of the deeper meanings of the title to this Nicolas Cage thriller is set up when Cage's character, John Koestler, tells his son, Caleb, that there's no way of knowing what happened to Caleb's mother after she died. We get a clue later that she knew where she was going, since she urged John to reunite with his father, a pastor.

Because of a paper filled with numbers, retrieved from a time capsule buried in 1959, Koestler, an astrophysics prof at MIT, finds himself knowing that major disasters of the past 50 years were predicted, and that three more are yet to come.

What follows is a bit of a spoiler, but not more than the poster of the world burning up, and don't worry: There are plenty of twists, turns and biblical allusions that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

When Koestler warns his father that the last disaster "prophesied" should send him to shelter, the pastor tells his son, "I'm ready," adding, "Are you?"

As society panics, looting and fires take over the cities. One graffiti artist readies those who have eyes to read: "Jesus is the way, the truth and the life."

Director Alex Proyas, who also worked on the screenplay, made the $50M budget go a long way by today's standards. Every performance was strong, the music (advertised here) was used well, the screenplay was tight, the pacing brought Joyce to check her pulse (don't worry: her heart's fine), and the only strong language is a single word Koestler uses to express how he feels before knowing. There is plenty of violence, but it all results from natural disasters.

This is a parable that I hope will stir many to make sure they're ready.

If you're not sure, I hope you'll read about my passion.

Friday, March 20, 2009

My Passion


I am glad to have been caught in the reckless raging fury that they call the love of God.
--Rich Mullens
Salvation is all about letting yourself get wrapped up in the love of God.

God created us so He could be in relationship with us (Genesis 1:26 and 27).

Unfortunately we blew it (Genesis 3).

To bring us back into releationship God sent his Son Jesus (or Yeshua in Hebrew): John 3:16.

Jesus lived a perfect life, so when he was crucified he became the perfect and final sacrificial Lamb. He took on our sin so that it would no longer keep us from God (II Corinthians 5:21).

All you have to do is trust Jesus (Yeshua) to do this for you (Romans 10:9-13).

You can do this right now! Have the kind of LIFE that's been bouncing me around the stage and around the world. Pray this prayer:

Dear Jesus (Yeshua),
Thank you for loving me. Forgive me of all my sins, everything I've ever done to let you down. [Take a moment and ask the Lord to convict you of specifics.] Cover them for me. Become Lord of my life and help me to live for you.
Amen.

If you prayed that prayer sincerely you can have assurance that you will have life more abundant while living on the earth and life eternal in Heaven. There's no magic to the prayer that's here. It's about trusting Jesus (Yeshua) as lord of your life: trusting that He knows what's best for you because he created you. It's about trusting Him to cover you when you mess up.

Now I encourage you to get plugged into a local Christ-centered, Bible-believing church, where you can grow in your relationship. If you're in the New York City area I keep a list at www.RichDrama.com/NYC. If not, feel free to contact me through the form at the bottom of the page. I've performed at some great churches around the world. There's a good chance I know a good one near you.

I'd love to know if you prayed to give your life to the Lord. Please let me know through the form at the bottom of this page.

If you're not ready to pray that kind of prayer and really mean it, consider my bride, Joyce's testimony. Also, here are some more things to consider: Who Is Jesus and Knowing God.

Here's a video that puts things into perspective:



Here's another that explains our need for a Savior in order to approach a Holy God:



I've also posted other resources below. Feel free to add to the list.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Harambee!

I'm making Samusa with Wali Wa Mnazi and Saladi Ya Matunda for Thirst tonight. The recipes come from Harambee! Stories and Recipes from the African Family Circle by Grace Kuto, who I met at a retreat in Oregon where I was performing. Grace was a delight, as I think these recipes will be as well. The single word "Harambee" is Swahili for "let's pull together for the good of global community." Grace helped found the Harambee Centre in Portland, OR.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Out popped a baby and a man!


The church that hosted this amazing worship conference created their own version of the Wailing Wall, which I've visited twice in Jerusalem. Just like the real version, this one has spaces where people can put their written prayers.

On our visits to Israel, our host, Micha Ashkenazi, said, "Pray boldly. It's a local call."

Two of our pastors, Jim and Linda Warren (WestchesterChapel.org) had a couple of miscarriages, and they placed a prayer in the Wall for a baby. Their healthy, 12-year old daughter Rebekah was able to place prayers in the Wall herself on our last visit.

On the same trip that Rebekah was requested, Joyce "put in an order" for a husband who loves God.

Out I popped!

Oh what a beautiful morning!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

We took the day off to celebrate something in addition: our 11th anniversary which will be on Saturday, when I may be in Houston.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Windows on our Journey

For the Sunday morning service we were a part of a program called "Windows on our Journey". The sanctuary holds a number of stained glass windows, and as artists we expressed the stories of many of those windows through song, dance and drama.

The dancers choreographed a piece on Creation in which I got to play water and Adam. During the rehearsal we had to pull a number of elements together in a short amount of time, continuing on our theme. In the moment of performance it all flowed seamlessly, and as the children came to the stage as flowers and trees and frogs I don't think I was the only one moved at a deep level. It set everything up for the rest of the service to be as powerful as it was.

I led a bibliodrama for the window "By faith Abraham offered Isaac". Everyone did a marvelous job. The people who volunteered each had a good sense of humor, so it started out as a comedy. When the tone shifted, the more somber emotions of the story came through that much more powerfully.

For the window "And they were filled with the Holy Ghost" I shared an excerpt from my play The Acts in which a character describes the Spirit falling on believers at Pentecost.

A mix of dance, song and spoken word told the stories of the other windows, and by the end of the service I know that a powerful work went on at deep levels.


Photos, which were a part of a beautiful printed program, are by Diane Lea. The service was imagined and designed by Tom Trenney, Director of Music Ministries, who graciously and beautifully portrayed Abraham in the bibliodrama.

Worship and the Arts

Dancing in the distance are Jane Wellford and Betsy Reeves. I also got to work with Susan Gingrasso and Kathryn Sparks (click here for their bios). All four taught various aspects of sacred dance, and then during the worship services they collaborated with each other and even let me in on some of the fun.

We had some of our classes perform in the Saturday night service at First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham, MI. I directed a readers theatre piece which had two separate classes and three of the dancers choreographed movement to go with it. We never were able to rehearse together in the space. One of the themes of the weekend was doing much in little time. I was quite proud of everyone, especially the youth that were involved.

Also during that service I got to lead an enacted prayer for someone who needs a job, and we prayed it for all who are in need of employment in these days. Again, it was the youth that stepped up to the plate.

Psalms Project

A dozen years or so ago I overheard Nate Macy explaining how he had once felt "embraced by God." That line made its way into my play on Jonah, Big Fish Little Worm.

Then, in 2000, I was performing in England, and the producer of the tour showed me a hymnal in which each song was based on a Psalm. Most of the Psalms were written as songs, though we have no idea what they sounded like. I loved the concept so much, that in my personal devotions I sing the Psalms whenever I come to them, just making up rhythms and melodies as I go.

Early this year I performed at a retreat for Tigard Friends Church, where I bumped into Nate Macy again, this time leading worship. He loved God's hug so much he got his masters in spiritual formation. As a part of that degree, he produced an album in which he's created songs based on various genres of the Psalms. He's done a masterful job of finding rhythms and styles (Macy uses several, from Jewish to jazz and a few in between) to bring the ancient lines to vibrant life. Music helps accentuate the depths of despair and the heights of praise.

Psalms Project is available here.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sensitized

This whole weekend has been an extraordinary experience! It started in the Detroit airport, with this sound and light tunnel, which sensitized me for everything that was to come.


If memory serves, this is the airport tunnel using lighting designed by David Lander ( http://LanderLighting.com ), who was the lighting designer for Fire Off-Broadway, the NYC run of Beyond the Chariots ( http://RichDrama.com/BeyondtheChariots ) paired with Roger Nelson's The Man from Aldersgate ( http://A1ManPlay.com ).

Monday, March 09, 2009

Do What Jesus Did!

Yesterday, my bride preached a marvelous sermon at Westchester Chapel. You can hear it online: Do What Jesus Did!

You'll hear her tell how I injured my toe by kicking a wall. Just for the record, she left out the part about my laptop being stolen while I was on the phone (pre-mobile days) in the next room. Also, when the woman prayed for my toe to be healed the pain was gone instantly. That performance of A Clear Leading opened up the opportunity to perform the play in 16 cities in England the following year.

God is SO good!

Friday, March 06, 2009

A most inspirational lunch!


A few days ago I saw on FaceBook that a friend from Vancouver, with whom I performed in Toronto and is now serving in Melbourne (did you follow that?) was stuck in LA. Little did I know she was en route to NYC to present at a commission on women for the UN. Her name is Danielle Strickland (left of me), and her newest book is Just Imagine the World for God, soon to be distributed in the UK as Just Imagine: The Social Justice Agenda. She and her friend Nikki Capp (left of Danielle) represented The Salvation Army as they addressed the UN on Biblical Justice. Pray the seeds go deep!

Her husband Steven Court, co-author of Be a Hero, joined at the camp in Toronto all three summers that I performed there, and they were a lightening rod for the Holy Spirit. It was awesome! The youth of that camp were barely touching the ground as they worshiped the Lord with all of their might! They just pushed the chairs out of the way and had at it! At one point they were singing and praying so loudly that they (this was an answer to a specific prayer) drew some youth from the next town over. They thought it was a party, and it WAS!

Also via FaceBook, I saw that Danielle was getting together for lunch with Billy and Analeise Francis, who are corps officers (pastors) of the Times Square Corp, where I did a run of A Clear Leading in '06. I met Billy years ago at an Army event, and we discovered that we both went to Hunter College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. They're doing great work on the Square, and are hoping to get theatre going there again before too long. Lift them up as they're reaching many people throughout the week in a variety of creative ways.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Devoted to God

Joyce and I just enjoyed the film Bella. It deserved all the awards it won. It's quite life affirming on many levels.

The back-story on the DVD of how they used creative methods to get an audience is quite inspirational, especially since they stayed in theatres and amazing four months.

I always thought of Bella as being an Italian name, but our sleuthing uncovered the fact that it is also given by Spanish speaking parents, as in this film. It's a diminutive of Isabel, which means Devoted to God.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Something of worth

There is latent desire in every human being to do something of worth that will have lasting significance. There is a longing in most people to do something that will make life better for others.
--Tony Campolo
Sociologist and author

Monday, March 02, 2009