I did not have to prepare an audition for my first role on the stage. I just had to be the right age (five), work for free, and the son of the producer, my father. It was a production of the Greek tragedy, “Medea,” and I played the younger son of Jason and Medea.
The play came in last in the competition at the Dionysia Festival when it premiered in 431 B.C. A mother’s fillicide as revenge against her husband’s infidelity was not acceptable behavior even to the Greeks back in the day. But it is a tragedy, and someone has to die. So I became the sacrificial lamb.
The death scene (thankfully carried out off stage), did not require a lot acting talent on my part. I just had to play dead on command. Just before the big “reveal,” my stage brother and I took our positions on the floor behind a closed door, and the stage manager poured ketchup all over our white togas. I remember vividly the door flying open, the stage lights flooding into the room where we lay, and the blood-curdling scream from the actor who played Jason when he beheld his dead sons. Trying to remain “dead” in that moment was my first big challenge as an actor. I wanted to jump up and run away.
Jason and Medea would not be put on the cover of today’s “Parents” magazine, but my parents did not seem concerned that this theatrical experience might scar me for life. While I might have suffered some nightmares from time to time, there was no permanent damage. I did not know it at age five, but the art of storytelling became firmly established in my psyche, and my artistic life had been determined.
It is one of my earliest memories. I was four years old when I witnessed my father drinking, gambling, attempting a robbery, and then dying by his own hand from a knife thrust into his heart. I watched him die right before my eyes, and I had no ability to distinguish the degrees of the semblances of truth.
When Hamlet says, “…the play’s the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king,” he means that he will use a dramatic performance to test whether his uncle, Claudius, is guilty of murdering his father. And when Claudius sees the reenactment by the players, he flees the scene. When I saw the performance of my father’s death, I too fled the scene, whisked away in my mother’s arms, screaming.
Dad was playing the role of Billy Bigelow in the musical “Carousel.” Backstage after the show, I hurled myself into his arms sobbing in relief. That night Dad lay the instrument of his death on our dining room table; a rubber knife no longer than six or seven inches from blade tip to butt end. He even demonstrated how he used it.
This moment was a marvelous reality, one not fully explained or understood, nonetheless, irrefutably before me. I was an eyewitness to it all, and afterwards, I was tucked into bed by the one who had performed the feat. This was the mystery of storytelling, the story of my father, all-powerful, who could create such a wondrous illusion. My impressionable heart was frightened and awed by the experience of life, death, and resurrection. I did not know that these powerful themes would become foundational beliefs for life.
I am very slow to commit to technology that might improve my daily life. Living in a high-speed, full-scale digital cosmos does not appeal to me. I still use a flip-phone, and it has not been that long since I began to use the texting feature, though with reluctance. My reading material comes in hard copy form, not electronic. I shoot pool, play poker, and pinball (all poorly), not video games. I have an antennae on the roof that gets about a dozen free channels, four of which I watch. When people tried to get me to open a Facebook account so I could gain a couple of billion friends, my eyes glazed over.
I live like an animal, you say, but no more. This old dog decided he could learn a new trick or two. I not only had a website designed for my professional work, I also joined the world of Facebook. Now to all of you who know of my snarky attitude regarding social media forums (much like the snarky naysayers in the early days of television who considered the box of tubes a “vast wasteland”), I deserve all the slings and arrows of snide comments you care to throw at me. Be brutal. Be brutal. I accept the barbs.
But hold on. I have taken one more technological step in my journey from cave-dweller to enlightenment…the newsletter, delivered electronically courtesy of Mail Chimp. This will be the first of many to follow. One may rightfully consider that I have lost my mind, but since I love to write stories and explore ideas, perhaps this new forum may be a pleasant experience for us all.
So the slippery slope begins. And who knows? Sometime in the not too distant future, I may upgrade to an iPhone allowing me to do live feeds on Facebook. But don’t panic. My navigational skills in this wide, wide world of social media are still quite limited. And the beauty of Mr. Mail Chimp is that should you ever cry “uncle” from an over-consumption on my musing, you can always click that “Opt-Out” button.
Most of you know I love being outdoors and hiking on trails both foreign and domestic. Beside the joy of walking through the beauty of nature, I look forward to encounters with fellow hikers. I remember teasing my father once when we were headed out for a day of hiking that I thought he looked “too dapper” for the trail. His reply, “You never know who you might meet on the trail, Son.” Words to live by.
We are all smiles in this picture, but I met five of these ladies under a difficult circumstance. On this particular day, I had led a group of men on a nine-mile hike. As we were walking out we met up with two of these ladies who had gotten separated from the other three. They expressed some concern about their friends, but felt the stragglers were not far behind.
These ladies had read about the great waterfalls on this trail, but had no idea of the length or difficulty of the strenuous hike. When we got to the parking lot, I sent the guys in my group on home. The sun had set and the fading twilight was barely getting through the thick summer foliage of the forest. I told the two ladies that had walked out with us that I would go back for the other three. If I had not returned by dark, they were to call the rescue squad.
Fortunately, I only had to walk a mile when I found the three of them resting on the trail. They spoke little English, but enough to realize that I had been sent by their friends, and those friends were waiting for them in the parking lot. I was able to explain that I was familiar with this trail, and that even in the fading light, I would be able to escort them back to their friends.
It was completely dark when we made it to the parking lot. It was a happy reunion for everyone even in our exhausted state. Before I could slip away, they ladies insisted that I give them my phone number. “We cook for you. We cook for you and your wife.”
I was not sure this would happen, but within a few weeks, I got the call with the invitation. And so, Kay and I spent an afternoon with our five new friends along with some bonus friends. We feasted on a meal of Asian cuisine fit for royalty.
The blessing of a “chance” encounter led to the pleasure of new friendships. Dad’s words took on new meaning, a deeper almost prophetic meaning. “You never know who you might meet on the trail, Son.” Yes, words to live by.
There is a well-worn path in the back field behind our house. When Covid shut down the world, including our local gym, I took to doing laps around the perimeter of our acreage. The gym has since reopened, but I have enjoyed cutting large repetitive circles on terra firma and not jogging on machines with conveyor belts or on Nordic tracks so much that I have yet to re-up at the gym. May not for a while…may not at all.
I have traded in the sounds of heavy-metal cranked up to motivate faster fat-burning, or multiple screens of cable commentators or infomercials, or the audio spillage from the personal earbuds used by those on either side of me, not to mention the huffing and puffing from their accelerated heart-rates, for the early-morning sounds of the outdoors. I hear the wind in the trees, the chirping birds, lowing cattle, the scolding honks of Canadian Geese as I pass by the pond—it must not register in their little goose brains that they are the trespassers—my own footsteps crunching along the worn path. Funny how my soul wakes up a little brighter with sounds of nature. From this clarity has come a plethora of ideas, and voila, a newsletter is born. What? Another newsletter you didn’t know you wanted and can’t live without? Too much oxygen to the head, you say. Well not so fast.
The title “Conversations at the Crossroads” comes from the prophet Jeremiah in chapter six, verse sixteen: “This is what the LORD says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’” Who of us does not face daily crossroads, desire good and wise council, and need peaceful rest for our souls?
My world-view is seen through the lens of an artist. It’s the way God cut me out of the miry clay, and I was offered two skills on my way out the door: acting and writing. I’ve tried to use those skills well, keeping in mind the physicians’ oath to “first do no harm.” These talents were not given to me solely for trade-craft as I slogged through life making a living. Through these gifts, I believe the Almighty was offering a wider, more inclusive vision for my future, if I chose to walk that path.
Beginning soon, you can receive my bi-monthly newsletter. Click onto my website: www.henryoarnold.com or sign up directly here http://henryoarnold.com/subscribe/ The first and fifteenth of every month “Conversations…,” will arrive in your in-box. The content will be wide-ranging: art, literature, insights into biblical themes and narratives, theatre, film travels, and family dynamics, each one written through the lens of my personal stories and life struggles. The newsletter will offer updates of my literary and acting projects, and first-look scoops of content from my books. For videos promoting my books and performances, I will use my Facebooks pages and my YouTube channel.
But remember, thoughtful brevity goes a long way should you choose to comment. With an open mind and heart toward others, I take the responsibility to be kind, genuine, vulnerable, and forgiving, practicing the “treat others as you would like to be treated” principal. “Conversations at the Crossroads” will be an honest window into my life as human being. You will read about many stumbles and struggles in my life, but my hope is that we might affirm one another as we trek those “ancient paths” together. I love a good conversation while walking, so I hope you will join me.
Thank you for subscribing to the “Conversations at the Crossroads” bi-monthly newsletter.
The content will be wide-ranging: art, literature, insightful narratives on biblical themes, theatre, film, travels, each one written through the lens of my personal stories and struggles. The newsletter will also offer updates of my literary and acting projects, and first-look scoops of content from my books.
Below you will find all archived “Conversations…” just in case you miss any newsletters that did not reach your inbox at the time you subscribed.
I have written often in the past of my hiking adventures. Taking journeys on my own two legs is a preferred choice of travel. Themes from “Song of the Open Road” by Walt Whitman has always fueled the wanderlust in my bloodstream.
I love the company of other trekkers, but also enjoy the solitary walk. There are those trails that are favorites that I go back to time and again just to be among the familiar: the landscape, the water falls, the rock formations, the twists and turns of the path through thick forests, but mainly I return to remember. To remember and process the circumstances, thoughts, and feelings that might have driven me to this trail. To remember the companions who walked with me, our conversations, our laughter, a shared meal.
A cherished memory of hiking my favorite trail is with my two brothers and our father. It was a few years before he died, and he was struggling to make the final ascent at the end of the trail. We had to stop more often than usual for Dad to catch his breath. In one of those restful moments, Dad said, “Boys, this may be the last time I can do this trail.” It was, and since then every time I make that final ascent on that trail, I think of my Dad and my brothers.
There is always an extra thrill of finding a trail that is new to me, every step taken into the unknown, every view is new, every smell and sound is fresh and different to my senses. I am able to imagine myself (or trick myself), into thinking that I am the first to trod this path, to see these wonders of nature. There is a heightened expectation and a marveling. There is also a level of trepidation with each new trail taken: come upon some scenic wonder that would take my breath away by its splendor or come upon something that might do me harm. To be awed by the sight of an avalanche tumbling down the snow-capped mountains or to freeze in fear at the rattlesnake stretched across the path. I am blessed with wonderful collected memories of trekking adventures. Still there is so much I have not experienced in the creation of God.
There are many words I love to speak and hear spoken, but there is one simple phrase that elicits a special thrill when I hear it or speak it: “Walk with me.” It makes me feel like a kid again when my friends would come to the house and shout, “Come out and play.” With each invitation, I bolted out the door knowing anything could happen that might bring pleasure or danger, and for me, growing up, there was plenty of both.
Such an invitation was given to Abraham, through whom the nation of Israel would come into existence. In essence, Yahweh said to Abraham, “Come out. Walk with me.” It was an invitation to leave behind everything and everyone he knew and take a new trail with new landscape, new skies, and new companions. All that was familiar and comfortable would be abandoned, yet for Abraham the invitation was irresistible.
Some two thousand years later Jesus made a similar invitation to a couple of guys walking a familiar road after the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. The two men were discussing the recent events of what they had assumed and hoped might be a big change in the fortunes of Israel. These two had put their hopes on a “prophet, powerful in word and deed…,” who they believed would set Israel free from oppression. Instead, the prophet was crucified. “Walk with me,” Jesus offered, and they did. The two men had no idea as to the identity of their companion. They accepted the invitation of a stranger. Turned out this unknown person was a Master Teacher who put into context all the biblical writings “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets,” why this “powerful prophet” they were lamenting had been crucified. The peripatetic lecture given by a mysterious stranger along a hot, dusty trail proved life changing for these two men. And it began with a simple invitation to walk.
In the Old Testament Bible, between Abraham and Jesus, Yahweh extended many invitations to the prophets to “walk with me.” These prophets were not just mouthpieces giving forth oracles. They were the equivalent of artists in our modern day. Certainly they were artists in their use of language, of having visions and explaining them, of giving performances that revealed the truth of the times, and of affecting culture. Those who witnessed these artistic performances by the prophet/artists had various reactions to what they saw and heard like any audience at any time in history when witnessing a creative work of art. What all these prophet/artist had in common was full-scale devotion to the truth. The words they spoke and wrote, the visions they described, the performances they gave were saturated in the truth. All artists are devoted to the truthful expressions of their observations of the world that come in a variety of art forms. So, in a way, all of us who live artistic lives could be considered prophets.
Forty-five years ago now I heard in my heart what I believed at the time, and still do, to be an invitation from God to “walk with me.” I chose to accept (I’m no special case, the invitation is inclusive), not really knowing the One who was offering me this invitation and certainly not knowing where this long trek would take me, or who my closest companions might be along this journey. Many of these companions have been and still are my fellow artists, and we have created some beautiful and always truthful works together. Many of them have been companions in faith, and what wonderful and enriching activities we have done together to extend grace, mercy, kindness, and compassion to the world.
For forty-one of those forty-five years my closest companion has been Kay. I could not have created all the works of performance and literary art without the infusion of her love and devotion. It is impossible to overstate the value of her companionship. The best thing to come out of accepting the “walk with me” offer from God, aside from the personal invitation of rescue and redemption, was the gift of Kay. She was a total surprise. Kay had heard her own “walk with me” invitation, and I had the great good fortune to be included in the deal. We were given the opportunity for our separate paths to become intertwined, at once still separate and yet interwoven; a work of art in itself. All the other works of art I have created pale by comparison.
So the journey continues. At times the traveling has tried my soul. I have felt abandoned and battered. I have been bewildered to the point of anger. I have grieved from loss and cried out from my wounded heart, but I have not once regretted accepting the invitation to “walk with me.” From such experiences true character, deeper faith, and steadfast belief are chiseled into the soul and frees the prophet/artist to shape his and her creations. Future prophetic/artistic creations are ahead for me. Future volumes of “The Song of Prophets and Kings” are in the making as well as other books. Future performances with my fellow artisans will be witnessed. And I leave you with the last lines from “Song of the Open Road” as my own invitation to “walk with me.”
“Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? Will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?”
Cover Art by Lewis C. Daniel
Comments Off on Ancient Voices; Part Trois: Walk With Me
When we returned home to Nashville from our one-year sojourn to Washington State in search of holograms and lazar-lights for our biblical epic, I heard about the British actor, Alec McCown, doing a one-man production of “St. Mark’s Gospel.” He had memorized all of Mark’s gospel, KJV no less, and given performances in London and New York to packed houses. I knew no one was going to hire me for such a venture (my name had no marquee value, nor did I have a British theatrical resume), but I began to test the waters of the church world to see if any might be open to having someone dressed in Levi jeans and a J. Crew shirt tell stories from the Bible in their sanctuary.
After our second daughter, Lauren, was born, I took the hologram/lazar-lights show of the famous apostle and transformed it into a simple one-man show with two wooden benches for a set. And, inspired by Mr. McCown’s success with his “St. Mark’s Gospel,” I created a second one-man show on the life of Jesus. Instead of using one Gospel as my source, I cherry-picked stories of Jesus from all four Gospels and compiled them into a dramatic sequence. I asked a few area churches to allow me to showcase my one-man shows of Paul or Jesus, and because of their kindness, I was able to get a few more churches to open their doors.
When it came to setting a fixed cost for those performances, I did not have the business savvy or plain old chutzpah to demand a set fee, so I accepted what was referred to as a “love offering.” After a performance the collection plates would be passed, and whatever came in, I took home. At times those love offerings did favor me with love, but many times what arrived in those receptacles was little more than a “like” offering, or a “This guy wasted an hour of my time that I will never get back” offering. And there were those times when my fingers and toes outnumbered the audience. Often discouraged but not defeated, I created a third one-man show on the life of David, which made up my “The Word Made Flesh” trilogy, and I pursued my quest to give live performances of these great biblical stories whenever possible.
An actor’s life is never predictable so I was pleasantly surprised when I was hired to produce a dramatized version of the New Testament using multiple actors. The text would be the King James Version chosen by the executive producer, i.e. “The Money,” because it was public domain and royalty free. Because of my theatrical experience and classical training, “The Money” wanted me to read the role of Jesus. The King James Version is similar in style and language to that of Shakespeare, so I was thrilled to have this opportunity. I embraced this project, heart and soul, but with no practical sense of what it meant to produce such a mammoth project. When I rode in “The Money’s” Silver Cloud Rolls Royce to the lawyer’s office to draw up the contract, I regretted not taking that business class in college. The contract favored “The Money.” I was given a fixed budget, which meant, by the time I turned in the finished recording, I was paid the equivalent of a convict’s wages. But I did get to hire several actor friends, including my sister and my father, which was a supreme blessing.
When the project was complete, “The Money” began a direct-mail sales campaign. His hope was to get a big-time televangelist to endorse the product and pick our dramatized New Testament as a give-away for their fundraising appeals. When “The Money” got word from the leading televangelist of the day that he liked the product but could not stand the guy who played Jesus, “The Money” made an executive decision: re-record the Gospels with a new Jesus. I was replaced by the silky-smooth voice of a small-time radio host. I only found out about the switcheroo because the radio host called me to apologize. The televangelist had not liked the way I spoke the King’s English with such passion or dramatic intent. I guess Jesus used his silky-smooth voice when kicking the merchants out of the Temple, or sweating blood in Gethsemane as he prayed, or crying out to God while dying on the cross. So silky-smooth beat out the classically-trained actor. But it was not long before the big-time televangelist got his show canceled because of inappropriate behavior outside of the marriage bed. It was hard not to gloat when witnessing the proverbial “pride goeth before the fall” on full display.
It was my father who picked me up and dusted me off after that experience. My father was always a rescuer. As head of the theatre department at Lipscomb University, Dad produced and directed two full-length plays I had written on biblical subjects. One was entitled “The Mighty Have Fallen,” about the rise and fall of King Saul, the first king of Israel. This beautiful production spurred my imagination to dream of writing a series of novels on the first three monarchal dynasties of ancient Israel. But at that moment in my life I had to make a living and writing biblical/historical fiction was not paying the bills.
During those years I was experiencing an intense soul-crushing. God was not cooperating with my transactional, quid pro quo plan I had so carefully laid out for Him to endorse. My theology was misguided. My ego was being broken and it hurt like hell. Kay and many other dear people held onto to me as I went through that emotional, white-knuckled period in my life. I was deep inside a spiritual crucible and there was a lot of dross to be burned out.
Then in the mid-nineties, Michael W. Smith asked me to open for him on his “The Acoustic Tour.” We had performed together off and on for several years. He would play his songs and I would do an abridged version of my show on Jesus. But on this tour MW had a full band, and we played twenty cities, in mega-churches or arenas, with a combined audience count of over ninety-thousand people (Far beyond the count of my fingers and toes). And it began to dawn on me that all those years of performing for those small houses and small love offerings, that not only was I improving my craft as an actor, but my soul was beginning to experience an imperceptible transformation.
The next year I was in Africa shooting “Acts of the Apostles,” a film based on the book of Acts that was word-for-word New International Version. I played the role of the apostle Paul, and had to memorize long passages of scripture. Because it was an exact translation, there was no wiggle room when it came to the wording. It was hard work, and the discipline was good for me. This was all a part of a “slow drip” process allowing those sacred words to flow through my system with a power and a truth that I had not expected.
Once I complete a play or a film, the effects of the skin and bones of my character and their words of dialogue begins to evaporate in a short amount of time. But not the role of the apostle Paul, or any of the roles in my “The Word Made Flesh” trilogy. The words I memorized and spoke are true, and most important, the words reveal the One who was and is the true source of power and life, and I am not the same man.
From these collective professional experiences, I began to feel a deeper sense of calling and purpose, a deeper sense that what I would write in the future might bear more of an eternal weight. By “eternal” I don’t mean a “stand the test of time” longevity like great literature that survives for centuries. My literary skill is modest at best. Rather it is the source from which I draw inspiration that has already stood the test of time. The Scriptures bear the eternal weight of its truth, and I am only borrowing from it to write my stories. I take very little credit for originality. All these experiences played their part in sharpening my focus to become a writer. In the next installment of my story/blog I will write of how all of these events came to a head, and I finally sat down to begin writing “The Song of Prophets and Kings.”
What do all these factors have in common: engagement, marriage, unemployment for one spouse, pregnancy, eviction, multiple living quarters including an unfinished attic, the kickoff of a writing career, the arrival of a first child, unemployment for the other spouse, all followed by a cross-country move with their four-month old daughter leaving behind kith and kin in search of fame and fortune? You guess it…Kay and Chip. Oh yeah, and cram all these events into just over a year’s time.
I can think back on some of the decisions and choices I’ve made in life and wonder, “What was I thinking,” but marrying Kay was not one of them. The hardest job I’ve ever had was to convince her to be my wife. It wasn’t easy, but we signed, sealed, and transacted the ceremony on May 12, 1979, and headed off to Green Turtle Cay for our honeymoon. Green Turtle is a three-mile long, one half mile wide island accessible only by boat. There were a few bungalows scattered about on both ends of the island, and on the central part there is the yacht club and a small gated community of luxury homes owned by the gentry from other countries. We were the only ones to have rented a bungalow for that week, so the whole southern end of the island was ours. To see other humans required a walk into the village. We made the trek a couple of times.
Once we returned from Green Turtle, life rapidly descended into chaos: lost jobs, lost housing; and within two months of our “I do’s,” lost autonomy of our couple-hood. My mother fondly called our honeymoon spot, “Fertile Green Turtle.” Nine months and four days after the wedding (Yes, Mother was counting the days), we were blessed with our first daughter, Kristin Alisabeth. Now when faced with the heavy realities of life, I should step up and take responsibility, get that “real job,” I was told by one relative, and “The Lord helps those who help themselves,” I was informed by another relative. Well-meaning advice, I’m sure, but I did not have “ears to hear.” In the midst of our topsy-turvy world, I had the brilliant idea that it was the perfect time not to look for that “real” job, but to write a play, a biblical play on the apostle Paul that would turn the world upside down just as the original Paul had done in his day (He had a “real” job until he took that road to Damascus). What had Kay gotten herself into, you ask, and was it too late to get out? The simple answer is no, she did not know what she had gotten herself into, and yes, it was too late to get out.
My parents gave me my first Bible on my eleventh birthday in 1961 with the inscription written in my mother’s hand: “To our son with the hope that this book will serve as your guide all the days of your life. Our love and prayers will always be with you. Mother and Daddy.” It was the standard KJV translation. “If this translation was good enough for the Apostle Paul, it is good enough for us,” was the occasional argument heard among the brethren back then. It sits on my desk: dog-eared, held together with a rubber band and petrified masking tape, with the pages inside marked and worn.
Now do not be deceived. As sweet as this sentiment might be, I tested the inscribed words of my parents. Their “love” was tried and their “prayers” were many when I took a prodigal turn and remained “in the wilderness” for what, I’m sure, seemed like ages to them. At one point Mother said that she stopped praying for me to make good choices and have good friends. Instead, she began praying for the Lord to just keep me alive. I am very grateful to the faithfulness of my parents, and like the prodigal son, when I “came to my senses,” a discovery of an active, loving relationship with God and an intense thirst for Scripture came with it. A devotion to tell or retell stories from the Bible would soon follow.
By the end of our first year of marriage I had written several drafts of “The Voice of the Lion” on the life of Saint Paul and had sent the latest one to a director friend in Washington State who I had worked with for a couple of years in several professional productions before getting married. He loved the play and agreed to help me develop it with the hope that we could mount a production that could tour theatres and churches up and down the west coast. When we announced that we were taking the first grandchild in the family and heading west, the fat hit the fan. Mount St. Helens had just blown her stack and the atmosphere was thick with volcanic dust. Some family members were sure we were dooming our child to a lifetime of lung diseases. Forty years later, the child is fine, thank you very much. And so are we, by the way.
The first “Star Wars” movie had come out, and the director and I thought this play deserved laser lights and holograms. Surely every potential investor we approached would catch our vision and write those checks. To keep body and soul together, I worked all sorts of jobs from a well-digger’s assistant to production stage manager for an orchestra. After a year of energy and money spent on the “pitch,” we were exhausted and down to a few hundred dollars in the account. We moved to Washington with four hundred dollars and returned to Nashville one year later with that same amount.
Before we returned home, the small country church we attended honored me by devoting a Sunday night service to a public reading of the play. My cast consisted of a farmer, a postman, a teacher, a well-digger (former employer), the pastor, and an ex-witch and warlock from a local coven who had been born again. I’ve always believed in equal opportunity. And I read the role of the great apostle. Our dream of laser lighting was reduced to the on/off switches of the ceiling lights (no dimmers in this house of worship). But the house and the stage lights were separate, so we were able to darken the house and keep the stage lights on to create some level of theatricality. And there were no holograms, though the suggestion was made by the ex-warlock that we could hold flashlights under our chins during a couple of the more dramatic moments. Perhaps being born again had not taken its full effect, and he still had one foot in the coven. Ours was a flesh and blood production, warmly received, and shortly afterwards, we returned home with our second daughter, Lauren Blair, in utero.
The experience of forty years ago has brought me to this point in my writing life with the coming publication in December, 2020, of “A Voice Within the Flame,” the first volume in my biblical fiction series “A Song of Prophets and Kings.” Inspired by Old Testament stories, thisseriestakes a 3,000 year leap back in human history. In tenth century B.C., three great kings ruled the nation of Israel and three great prophets asserted their divine authority to hold them accountable. These ancient stories show the inevitable tension between the human and the divine, replete with murder, rebellion, romance, and betrayal. No matter how much time we are given or how hard we might try, Homo sapiens have changed little; nothing new under the sun, as the ecclesiastical saying goes.
Between that first public performance in the small country church forty years ago to the coming release of “A Voice Within the Flame” this December, there were many adventures for Kay and me. In my next story-blog, I will recount a few more, some disastrous and humorous, some poignant and tender, on our journey to this moment. And not once in my artistic and literary odyssey did I ever encounter a hologram.
Barry Scott and I loved telling stories to each other about our childhoods, our families, our work, our faith. Between us we had well over one hundred years of stories. I recently walked the grounds of St. John’s AME Church where, two years before, we had done a performance of Jim Reyland’s play “Stand” and saw the ghosts rising from the concrete pad and grassy plot. It was all that was left of the church property after the tornado went through North Nashville in March of 2020. Before the show, Barry and I sat in the Sunday school turned make-shift dressing room. By then, we had performed in so many schools, theatres, and churches, and gotten into costume in so many dressing rooms from the luxurious to the storage closet. We loved performing in churches. In all the places we performed “Stand,” church was where this show was meant to be.
A large fruit basket sat on the center of the table filled to overflowing like a cornucopia basket of wonderful edibles. Barry and I ignored it. Neither of us liked to eat anything before a show. After the show, after the talk-back, after the sweet reception and the joy of fellow-shipping with the congregants, Barry and I went back to our dressing room to get out of costume. Barry asked if I wanted the fruit basket or anything in the fruit basket, and I told him no, for him to take it. He said he and Schuronda would take it, that as they drive around town they would hand out its contents along with a bottle of water and a couple of bucks to those who stood on the Nashville street corners selling The Contributor or those with cardboard signs asking for help. Inspired by his action, the next week I went to Sams, bought a case of water, a large box of granola bars, and then to the bank and got a stack of ones. Barry Scott made me a better man.
On one of our many tours of “Stand,” we were in Asheville, NC. It was our last show in our last city for that year. After several days of being on the road performing in churches at night and in schools during the day, that morning was to be the last show. A school group was coming to the church where we had performed the night before for the general public. Barry and I were in our dressing room, another make-shift Sunday school room waiting for Jim Reyland to come tell us to get into places. About ten minutes before the show, Jim told us the school had canceled at the last minute and that the handful of people in the audience were a few of the church staff and Asheville locals. The pastor of the church said that we did not have to do the show since the school was not coming, and Jim offered us the option to pack up and go.
Now I’m like a horse to the barn when I know it’s time to go home, and the thought of getting on the road two hours early appealed to me. Jim looked at me, and I said I was open to loading up right then and heading out. When Jim said he could do the same, I started smelling the hay. But since we live in a democracy everyone got a vote and we both looked at Barry. And in his beautiful, stentorian, Mustafa, Darth Vader voice said, “This is what we came here to do.” For Barry, the size of the audience did not matter, it was the commitment to the performance. Jim called “places,” and the show went on. Barry Scott made me a better man.
Last year my computer got hacked and notices went out to hundreds of folks saying I needed money. Many people reached out and asked if I was okay, and I so appreciated their concern. But Barry Scott went straight to the hackers and gave money on my behalf. And then he called me later to see if I had gotten the money he had sent. You might say Barry was duped, conned by the hackers, but I say no. Barry loved me, and believed I was in need, and he came to my rescue, he gave of himself, and he gave sacrificially. Barry Scott made me a better man.
At the end of Jim’s play “Stand,” Barry’s character dies. In his last monologue he addresses the audience from his place in heaven and in essence asks us to see other people as we would like to be seen and to forgive and love others as we would wish to be forgiven and loved. After his speech, we would walk upstage as the lights fade and a beautiful starry sky appears around us; we would turn to each other and throw our arms around one another in a big manly embrace, and Barry would whisper, “I love you Chip Arnold.” And I would respond, “I love you Barry Scott.” Barry Scott made me a better man.
In these last few years when we were together, all we talked about was our faith and what in meant to be broken men of God. How the shared stories of our lives were different but the same. How our faith informed our art. How our faith informed how we treat people. How, when we were together, just being together, just being in one another’s presence, we were better versions of ourselves. In these last weeks I would call Barry, and if he didn’t answer, I would leave him a voice mail of a prayer or read a passage from the Bible. He would call back just to say, “I love you Chip Arnold” and give me the chance to say “I love you Barry Scott.”
But the last time we spoke just days before his passing he said, “I got a story for you.” He was energized. His voice was a mere rasp of its former power, but the joy he was feeling at the moment gave him strength. “You ever heard of the Kings of Junk?” I told him no. “They came to my house today. I had a bunch of stuff in my garage and they came to clean it out. A few minutes before they were to arrive, I went out to the garage to open it up. I had to climb about three steps to get to the door to unlock it. I got to the bottom step and I couldn’t lift my leg to start to climb up. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t climb. I didn’t have the strength and my brain wasn’t communicating to my leg. So I sat down and used my arms and climbed up the steps backward on my butt. But when I got to the door, I couldn’t stand up. So I sat there and waited for the Kings of Junk to arrive. When they arrived the man in charge came around to the side entrance and I told him the situation. He asked what he could do for me. I told him I need to be carried into the house. So the King of the Kings of Junk wrapped his arms around me and lifted me up and he helped me back into my house. Once in the kitchen, the King held me against his chest. He just held me, until he gently sat me down in a chair. Then he knelt in front of me and looked into my face, really looked at me. He saw me, saw inside of me, saw the broken me, and he said, ‘Can I do anything else for you, Mr. Scott?’ I swear, Chip, it was like I looked into the face of Jesus.”
I told Barry this story would be added to his collection of great stories. He needed to tell that story. He said I needed to come to church and we would tell our stories together. I said, who would listen to two old men telling stories? He said, “Men need to hear our stories together. Men need to tell their own stories to one another. Men need to hear and know that they are loved by God and that they are loved by us. Men need to look other men in their eyes and ask is there anything else I can do for you? Men need to know that in weakness they have strength, in pain they have power, in sorrow they have joy, and in God they have love everlasting.”
Barry Scott made me a better man. Barry Scott made the world a better planet. Barry Scott has now made heaven a little brighter. Flights of angels have welcomed him home, and I can hear God saying to him, “I love you Barry Scott. Well done.”