Agents of Vocation

In my PhD research about Christian variety performers, I am coming across a theme known as “agents of vocation.” That term comes from scholar Kathleen Cahalan, who found in her own research that “many people first experience a sense of ‘calling’ through another person.” Someone spoke into their lives in a way that led them to take up a calling. She calls those affirming voices “agents of vocation.” But the opposite can happen as well. There can also be people who “discourage or deny a calling that a person may hear” (Cahalan and Miller-McLemore 2017, Calling All Years Good, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, p. 19). I found the same theme in my research – people who speak into (or against) the callings upon Christian variety performers. And I found that those people are extremely influential and formative for the individuals who feel called (for better or for worse). I also found in one of my participants a story of an agent who served up both sides of the coin: he discouraged the performer early in life from chasing the calling of a juggler (the person thought he was crazy and wasteful with his master’s degree). But then twenty years later this same person apologized and said, “I’m glad I was wrong.”

You’re an agent in someone’s life. Consider how you can speak into that person and encourage them in their callings. You may see something about their gifts or calling that they have but haven’t yet named. And you could be the person to name it and nudge them in the direction of their God-given callings in life.

Stained glass piece by Atelier Miller, 2018. Juggling the Middle Ages, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C. October 19, 2018 // Photo: Courtney Randolph

The above piece is based on the story of the Juggler of Notre Dame, a medieval tale about a juggler who discovers divine approval in his vocation as a performer despite antagonism from religious onlookers. The virgin Mary acts in the role of the “agent of vocation.”

The long dark tunnel still has a light at the end

My family recently visited the Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel near Shenandoah National Park. Originally constructed as a train tunnel in the 1850s, the tunnel went defunct near the end of WWII (1944) when a newer tunnel was built close by to take it’s place. The old tunnel was left unused for some time, until just last year, when a 20-year construction project was completed to convert the tunnel into a hiking/biking path.Why did it take so long? Well, one unique feature about the tunnel is it’s length. At almost a mile long, the tunnel was the longest train tunnel in the United States when it was built. To restore such a long tunnel certainly takes a lot of time.
But another neat feature arises from that same detail: when you have such a long tunnel (which is still unlit, by the way), the effect of the “light at the end of the tunnel” is extremely captivating. Because it was left unlit, hikers and bikers must bring their own flashlights/headlamps. The tunnel is a straight line. So when you enter the long, dark tunnel, you can still see the light at the end – and it is a tiny dot of light.
This tiny dot of light serves as a sort of North Star for you as you march through the tunnel. Flashlights help, of course, but your mind and soul is drawn to that little dot at the end. It is the natural reminder that the tunnel and the darkness is not forever. If you press on in that direction, no matter how dark it feels in the moment, the light is there. And it slowly gets bigger and bigger.
See where I’m going with this? The past 12 months have been a long dark tunnel for our collective human existence. But the light at the end is there. We can see glimmers of it. And it is getting bigger and bigger each day. I believe the Lord is our light and our hope as we go through this darkness. May his light continually shine over you and through you today and everyday.

The Power of Affirmations

Can you think of a time when someone spoke life into you through an affirming word? Did anyone ever tell you, “You’re really good at that” or “You should consider doing such-and-such with your life, it would really help/serve others”?

I’m studying the topic of calling for my research and I am learning that we as humans act as participants in the calling process for one another. And it is a powerful force that can change the trajectory of someone’s life.

Someone might believe they are called by God to something and then God uses other humans to whisper affirmations in that person’s ear to confirm that calling. Or maybe someone doesn’t even know that God is calling them, but others around them can see a calling upon them that is as clear as day.

Think back to the times that people have affirmed you in your gifts, talents, and vocations. Then think about how you can pay it forward and speak an affirmation into someone else’s life around you. Pay attention to the gifts, talents, passions, and callings that you see in others. And prayerfully consider affirming that person through simple words of, “I have noticed that you’re really good at [fill-in-the-blank] and how much it means to others.”

The ABCs of Thankfulness

We continue our Eternity Kids Club series with two episodes for Thanksgiving! This is a ministry of our church in Richmond, VA (Eternity Church). Join Mr. Mike as he wanders around our house looking for things he’s thankful for….

The Masked Juggler

On Monday night, I experienced a first in my life: I performed an entire show while wearing a face mask. Here’s the story: a retirement home had originally booked my show for March 28th, but that date got postposed for obvious reasons. Skip ahead to September 2020 and now the retirement home is letting people onto their property (with safety protocols in place). They took my temperature at the gate and I proceeded to set up in the clubhouse for my show. Masks were required of course. And though I was informed I was free to unmask for my show (my audience was socially distanced with masks), I chose to keep the mask on due to this being a high-risk age group. I performed the show, which they all seemed to really love and appreciate, and I packed up my things and went home.

This experience caused me to ask myself a question: Why in the world is this retirement home full of people at a high-risk of getting sick asking me, a juggler, to come entertain them?

I believe it is because we humans, no matter our age or risk of sickness, need good live entertainment for the healing of our souls. Yes, I am arguing that comedians, entertainers, musicians, and variety performers are essential. Don’t believe me? Look at World War II. It was one of the most devastating times on earth in recent history, but you know who was traveling from base to base? Entertainers. It was the USO show* and comedians, musicians, and other entertainers would come and perform for the troops to boost morale. If even a world war couldn’t shut down the need for entertainers, what could?

You see, even in the worst of times (in fact, especially in the worst of times), entertainers are called upon to share their gifts with those who are suffering. Even the Bible says “a joyful heart is good medicine” (Prov 17:22). I am proud to be a live entertainer, and I will continue to share my gifts as safely as I can for whomever will watch and listen.

*For more about the USO shows in WW2, see this article here.

Emerging Cicada

My family and I were at a local playground a few evenings ago. I saw something curious on the side of a little playhouse. It looked like some sort of toy sticking out horizontally from the outer wall. I looked closer and it was moving!

It was a cicada. And we caught it during it’s moment of emerging from it’s exoskeleton (also known as the exuviae). I couldn’t help but think about how the new comes out of the old…..

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV

The Circus is Still Alive

This pandemic crisis is causing a lot of industries and sectors of work to reevaluate the core of who they are and what they do.

I once read about the difference between form and function. The example the author gave was about the railroad companies of the 19th century. If their focus would have been on function over form, then they would rule the skies in the 21st century. But we don’t have B&O Airlines, do we? You see, the railroad companies of yesteryear were focused on form, which is a long train on a track. Their function was transportation.

Remember Netflix in its early years? It was a DVD-by-mail service. You would pick what DVD you wanted to watch and they would mail it to you. Then you would return it and pick your next DVD. But when online streaming became more viable, they changed their entire model over to streaming and ditched the form of the DVD model. That’s because Netflix chose to prioritize function (entertainment) over form (DVDs or streaming).

For circus entertainers, we need to remember that our function is more important than the form in which it takes (though both are important and to a certain extent, inextricably linked, I believe). This means that a pandemic shutdown may force us to alter our form, but it does not shutdown our functionality.

Personally, I lament this shift in that I would much prefer to entertain crowds in person. But I am confident that this is only for a season and that it is contributing to helping keep vulnerable people safe.

Vaudeville (live variety shows) was the form of entertainment in early 20th century America. But then came the moving picture (“movies”), which drastically reduced the demand for vaudeville. Some of the most talented actors and actresses of early Hollywood came straight out of the vaudeville circuit (Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, etc). So the function of entertainment lived on, just in a different form.

Now think about the circus – Ringling may have shut down a few years ago. But the spirit (the function) of the circus lives on and is taking on new forms in the 21st century (such as Cirque du Soleil). And even in the pandemic crisis, circus performers are doing creative things to keep entertaining audiences.

What does form and function look like in your work? Are you seeing a more clear delineation between the two during this pandemic? I am seeing it clearly in the circus and live entertainment industry. We are all still artists. Our function remains the same (providing entertainment, joy, laughter, suspense, welcoming and bringing people together, etc). But the forms we take on during this time look a little different. We deliver our function via video, live streaming, and even in person on streets, driveways, and small backyard gatherings.

If you want me to entertain in a creative way for you and your group during this season or beyond, visit this link to get a quote for my work. Thanks for reading!

Eternity Kids Club – Children of the Bible

Hello! In today’s episode, we are finishing up our series called “Children of the Bible.” Over the past few weeks, we learned about different kids in the Bible and how God used them for big and important things.

Click on this link to find all the Eternity Kids Club episodes. Simply click on the one you want to watch: https://www.facebook.com/eternitychurch.org/live/

Eternity Kids Club – Live and online twice a week!

Join Larry the Lizard and some of my other friends as we learn about the Bible and have fun at the same time. Warning: there will be flannel graphs! Every Wednesday and Friday at 11:30am EST at the Eternity Church Facebook page.

What the artists are doing in isolation and how you can support them.

From online concerts to midday doodling workshops, artists around the world are getting creative with ways to continue offering their gifts to society in a time when the curtains are forced to close. When I say “artists,” I’m speaking broadly. I mean everything from the visual arts to the performing arts to the comedians, jugglers, and magicians. Artists, are, of course labeled “non-essential” in a time like this. After all, drawing or singing or juggling won’t heal coronavirus. So we (I happen to be a juggler) support and applaud all the “essential” vocations out there. This is an important time where the rest of us need to go into hiding while the medical staff, first responders, and other essentials do their good work to help those who need them most.

The rest of us in our hiding holes, though, have found ourselves in a unique time in history where many of us around the world have the technology to continue connecting with one another. And it has been remarkable to see how the artists are coping so far.

First of all, artists are stewarding their talents for benefits and the raising of funds for a whole variety of worthy causes that help fight the fight against Covid-19. Secondly, the artists are rising to the occasion by providing healing for the souls and sanity of the people of the world. Just a few nights ago, a small band of musicians socially distanced themselves from one another on a front yard in my neighborhood and serenaded the small units of passing humans out for their evening exercise walk. Thirdly, and I think most importantly, many artists are simply doing whatever they can right now to keep doing their art. Why? Because it is in us.

For many of us, serving the good of society through our varied forms of art is a calling that we feel has been placed upon us. You cannot make us stop loving our art and loving the world through it. If the government shuts down our ability to perform at live events, we will juggle or play the piano or walk on a tightrope in our homes all alone with a small device in front of us that says “recording” and then post it for you to see. In fact, we still do it even when none of you are watching. But we want you to see because it is our gift to you. And we hope it brings joy, laughter, distraction, sanity, and healing to your soul.

So here is the part where I ask for your help on behalf of the artists of the world. I have had a number of friends approach me and ask how they can help, knowing that the starving artists and jugglers like me are getting a “time out” from our usual live shows and hence, streams of income. I’d like to list some answers to that question for you, and some of them don’t even involve money, because it’s really not about the money. But first, a word about the priorities here….

There are others with much greater needs, like the people and their families who are dying and suffering from this pandemic. We all need to help them first. Then there are the first responders who need all the support they can get right now, part of which comes in the form of the rest of us just cooping up for a while. But while we support these people first, I humbly ask for the ears of those who have the extra means right now (which is not everybody): Let us not forget about the artists and the other “non-essentials.” We have families to feed and water bills to pay. For many of us, our flow of income has either dropped significantly or vanished altogether. And we want to keep doing what we do in service to the world both now and when things get back to some normalcy.

Here are five ways you can help your local artists during the coronavirus crisis:

  1. Words of encouragement. I can attest that the greatest gift my friends have given me during this time is just reaching out and saying, “Thinking of you…how are you doing?” Artists are humans too. And we need that same touch that everyone needs – to know that we are loved and that our work still matters in this world.
  2. Sign up for our online classes. Many of us are teaching our art online, or otherwise putting our art out there in the virtual universe for the love of art. We want to share what we do and teach others the joy of our art. This is a special time where many people want to take up that hobby they’ve always put aside learning. We’re ready for you. Sign up for our classes, whether free or paid.
  3. Watch our art and tell us what it means to you and why. We don’t get to have art shows or live in-person audiences right now. Those are the times we hear from you and interact with you about what we made for you. Watch our online programs and send us messages and comments about your experience with the art. If you really liked what you saw, throw some money in the hats known as PayPal and Venmo. We’d be happy to give you our email address.
  4. Purchase vouchers for future shows. This makes you a “patron saint.” We will personally call the Pope and ask him to add you to the list. We don’t really want a hand-out of cash (though I’ve never met an artist that would turn that down, myself included). We will be able to do our show for you someday, so please give us the gift of your support and your trust by buying full show vouchers or gift certificates towards the partial cost of a show for a far-off future date. We pretty much lost our shows for half of March, all of April, all of May, and who knows how much longer. Call us and we can talk about the details. This is more than a gift of money. You are giving us the gift of the dignity to serve you when the time for it comes.
  5. Buy our merchandise. Many of us sell merch (or the very art we make) whether it be music albums, postcards, or juggling props. The supply chains are still open, folks. Support your local artist by scooping up some swag and early Christmas gifts. Most of us can sell over the internet with ease.

“A jester unemployed is nobody’s fool.”

-Danny Kaye in the The Court Jester (1955)

Your help is a gift to artists. If you patronize the arts now, you will be rewarded when the time comes for us all to gather in large groups once again. Because you know who you’re going to call to help entertain those celebratory crowds? The artists. We’re waiting in the wings. And we can’t wait to see you in person again.