WHAT DO I ? (Four Questions and the Life Wisdom of an Acting Exercise)

As actors, we use certain tools to flesh out a character and, hopefully, to make the character and the scene authentic.

One of those tools is to ask four questions of the character:  
1. What do they need?
2. What do they want?
3. What do they fear?
4. What do they love?   

The answers inform so much of how actors develop characters into “real” human beings, with thoughts, emotions, intent, desire and yes, fear.

I have found this to be an interesting and helpful tool in pastoral ministry and counseling, as well. When counseling (or just casually conversing) with someone, when I am hoping to be intentional and (Ideally) helpful… these questions can help me hear the hopes and cries of the heart more accurately.

Ultimately, it can help to ask myself these same questions when faced with opportunity or risk or key decisions or hard feelings or confusing relationships or mixed emotions or inspiration or … you get the picture…

1. What do I need?
2. What do I want?
3. What do I fear?
4. What do I love?

It is an incredibly helpful tool that I admittedly came to later in life than I wish.
Especially the fear question.
It has only been in the last few years that I have started to more intentionally ask this question in the midst of difficult conversations with Jana, or a co-worker or even conversations with God, in prayer, as I try to sort things out in life. It can be incredibly helpful to identify what I fear.

When I do that, it takes away the power, to some degree, of whatever is haunting or holding me up from a goal, a relationship or a project. If I am strong and wise enough to identify my fears… and especially… if I can, in a non-emotional way … or in a way that does not point fingers or blame.. but just rationally (easier said than done, I admit), “name” the fear… well, then I can start to do something tangible and intentional about it. And in conversations with another person, it takes it off of “YOU” statements and makes it more about addressing those hurdles to good communication, rebuilding trust or analyzing my own wants, needs and motivations.

Try it. It is in incredibly helpful.

What do you have anxiety or anger about right now?
Or what key decision are you needing to make but are quite worried about?

Ask yourself what you fear.
(And what you need, want and love.)

The answers will absolutely guide the next steps in coming to resolution. They will help you in communicating and building trust and finding answers with others. And they will also inform your prayers, as you bring those concerns and fears to God and continue to ask for clarity and help.

Not bad for an old acting exercise, eh?

And they say a theater degree is impractical for life.

“They” speaketh incorrectly.

Love you, friends.

And more importantly, Jesus loves you.


+ Jonathan


A Moment of Crisis

A 7 year old boy is the first to greet me yesterday morning, shortly after I finish performing the Witnesses drama at the host church.

He looks a little worked up.  Jonathen Swenson Circle

I am thinking maybe one of the more intense scenes in the drama scared him a little. Or maybe he has a new question about God that he wants to ask me. Drama Ministry can make you think new thoughts and ask new faith-related questions. Happens all the time.

So the service is getting out now and people are coming towards my info table to say hello. I can tell this little guy is having a hard time working up the nerve to ask his question to the guest actor and pastor.   

I lean in a bit closer to help him out, and to let him have a little privacy. You know, so he can ask his question quietly.

He looks right into my eyes now, and I can see his forehead is scrunched up. Tears are forming in HIS eyes. This little guy is REALLY out of sorts about whatever it is he is going to discuss with me.

Finally his courage breaks through, he catches an extra breath and asks the big question…

“Do you know where the cookies and Kool-aid are?”

Apparently my display table was located where the coffee and cookies are usually served. A tragic miscalculation in hospitality.

I smile, give him a fist-pump and say, “A man after my own heart”… then point the way to the relocated post-service refreshments.

And once again, I am grateful to be a servant of the Gospel.

Additional Christian Speakers, Musicians and Entertainers for your Consideration

Friends, I am beginning to promote some other Christian speakers and artists, assisting in helping them find bookings where they can share their message and use their God-given talents to share Jesus. Along the lines of what I do with Paraphrase, but in their own way. If you are looking for a good speaker or artist for a church event, retreat, conference, etc… I encourage you to check out these gifted people. I will list them here, and then post links to their websites below, in the individual comments section. I will soon be adding them to my Paraphrase website and will list additional information there as well.

JANA SWENSON2015-08-02 19.46.39Yep.. my wife. I am kind of partial to this one. We are beginning to share the story of Jana’s battle with cancer and our journey as two pastors.. and two people of faith… as we took that journey, twice now. We share openly and candidly about the fears, joys, struggles, doubts and how God has carried us through.

DEBBIE GRIFFITH –   Debbie Events Photo                 Maybe you have heard her on the radio, with her ministry, “Everyday Matters”. Debbie is a spunky, creative and down-to-earth truth-speaker who blends dramatic characters into her talks. She would love to come to your event! Debbie was recently the keynote speaker for our fall women’s retreat here at Mount Carmel, and people loved her. Her positive, fun-loving message of the Gospel will grab your heart and refresh your spirit. www.debbiegriffith.com

CURT CLONINGER – This is the amazing artist who has been the backbone behind my ability to launch Paraphrase Theatre. The playwright of Witnesses and Celebrate the Child, Curt is nationally and internationally know. He has several other pieces he performs beyond the two you may know through what I do. Curt is a legend in the Christian Drama Ministry world. Why would you not bring him to your church or event? www.curtcloninger.com

THEATER OFF THE CUFF12226879_10153330396923160_1470790187_nThese guys are hilarious. They are a dynamic duo of Christian entertainment. They travel throughout the country appearing at churches and cooperate events alike faith-based… get this… musical theater improv. Check out their website. If you are looking for some fun for your event that has depth to it as well, this might be who you want to bring in. Good, clean fun served up by two men who love the Lord.  www.theateroffthecuff.com

JESSY VERA  – Jessy is a gifted Christian artists and worship leader. I hired him at the church I was serving several years ago, and he is rock solid both in his hard work and integrity and with his worship leading giftedness. He is most often committed to his work at the church, but now and then may be able to join you for a special retreat, event or conference where you need a guest worship leader and/or speaker. www.jessyvera.com

The Lord is using these folks for good things. I know they would be a blessing to you. Send me a message at jonathan@paraphrasetheatre.com if you are interested in connecting with them.

And, by the way, I am still available to come to your event too. I trust God will get us all to the right places and events to serve His purposes at the right time!

+ Jonathan

Dreams … and God Calling Us To Them

One of favorite frequent Facebook-posting friends is a friend named Lindsay Prince. She consistently writes insightful, entertaining and true-to-life words of wisdom, wit and reflection. (I keep telling her she needs to start an official blog and to be writing books. I hope she will.) Yesterday she posted the following…

“Your dreams aren’t that crazy. Your life is that short. Your instincts already know where your talent lies. You have a gift to share. We can be inspired by those that go after those dreams, and trust those instincts and acknowledge those gifts and unabashedly share with the world. We can also be inspired by those who dream, but sit on their hands, allow their talents to shrivel up and die on the vine, never to be acknowledged, fulfilled, or shared. There are too many words I want to write today. I keep deleting them. Just… you’re dreams aren’t that crazy. Your life is that short. Give power and energy to the people that love you.”

I love those words. And I’m resonating with them today. witnesses-photo-montage

In the Spring of 2011 I stepped out in faith to go full-time with a little adventure called Paraphrase Theatre. I had been dabbling around with it for a year or so… but for a number of reasons I felt it was the time to go for it. I recognized a version of what Lindsay writes here… a combination of my “instincts already knowing where my talents lie” mixed with a sense of the Holy Spirit’s prompting, guiding, nudging me to dive in with both feet … responding to what both my heart AND my head were telling me was God’s next steps for my life.

It was a risk, no doubt, to take that leap of faith. And, make no mistake… it has been a labor of love… paying the price in many ways… with a great deal of time on the road, time away from family, hours spent daily in developing new contacts and building a supportive network, taking a step BACK financially to make the dream happen, letting go of one of my great joys in life… performing regularly here in the local community theatre scene… in order to free up my schedule to be on the road as needed.

It has not been easy. And some other dreams have had to die to make it happen. But I am so grateful. So grateful to my wife and daughters for going on the journey with me. Grateful to be partnering with Curt Cloninger… the genius actor and playwright behind the two shows I perform most often. Grateful to my other “employer” Mount Carmel Ministries.. for their partnership and support. Grateful to my main “assistant producer” Tammy Whitlow for her unfailing friendship, gifts and commitment to this dream.. and grateful to dear friends who have helped to make the dream take flight – attending performances, praying, supporting the ministry financially, cheering it all on. And so very thankful to God for giving me the means by which I can be so foolish as to trust that He would catch me when I took that leap of faith four years ago.

I don’t always perform as well as I would wish. The hours on the road can get long. I miss some aspects of parish ministry and the people there… and I miss performing with my theater friends on the local scene.  paraphrase-theatre-logo

But I can say in complete honesty, that I have not regretted this decision even once. I DO feel God’s hand in it all… and I wish that ALL my friends who long to follow their dreams and to respond to that inner calling of the Spirit to jump in to their heart’s desire as God leads…. I wish that all of them could do so.

It is a joy. It is hard. It is wonderfully fulfilling and it is exhausting. At the end of the day, though, I go to bed knowing that this adventure is what God created me to do…and there is satisfaction and peace in that. And there is a great sense of purpose… especially when people’s comments, after performances — even and perhaps especially….when I feel I did not do my best — when these comments gently remind me that this is God’s thing ultimately, not mine.. and he will do with it what He will.

CtC Poster Baby 2014 150Tonight we take another leap of faith, filming the Christmas show, “Celebrate the Child.” The DVD we create will be sold and shared around the country and, perhaps in places abroad as well. Please keep this project in your prayers today and tonight.. and we will see what God does with it.

Thanks to those of you who can attend tonight.. and to those who are not able, but who will be keeping us in your thoughts and prayers throughout the day. You are valued and loved… more than you know.

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

Thanks for dreams, Lord… and for calling us to them.

A Packer Fan

I was humbled by an 8-yr old Packer fan this past Sunday.

I am a die-hard “purple-people-eaters” Vikings fan.  But there she was…. standing by the Paraphrase Theatre merchandise and info table… and she asked her mom if the small box at the table was for the offering to support the actor who was at church that morning.

Packers MemeHer mom said yes… and then, I watched this cute little Blondie.. in her Packer-jacket-glory… take two one-dollar bills out her pocket, carefully unfold them.. and place them in the box. I told her, “Oh, sweetheart.. you don’t need to do that! You can keep your money!” And she said, “I want to. I want other people to see you do your plays.”

Wow. Humbling… so sweet.. and a reminder that God is very much present… often in unexpected places and moments. And yes, most certainly… in the heart of a certain little Packer fan this past Sunday.


Singing in the Rain

Singing in the RaidSinging in the Rain has always been one of my favorite movies.

I have a very distinct childhood memory of staying up late into the wee hours of the morning, with my Mother, watching Gene Kelly, Donal O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds sing and dance their hearts out in this movie during a PBS special broadcast. I was quite young at the time, but it made a permanent impression.. and helped shape my life-long love of musical theater.

Like everyone else who loves this movie, my favorite scene is the actual “Singin’ in the Rain” song and dance by Gene Kelly.  It’s a celebration of life that seems to be universally beloved.

Last night, as I sometimes do, I made a “spontaneous chat” video and posted it on my Facebook wall. Thought I would share it with you here as well.  If you watch it, you’ll see why my appreciation of this iconic scene runs deep. It means a great deal to me.

Hope you are doing some singin’ and dancin’ today yourself… whether in the rain OR the sun. It’s all good. And it’s all a gift.  Enjoy!

Here’s the video clip…

Singin’ in the Rain

Call Renewed…

Note: I wrote this on my personal Facebook page the other day, and it seemed to resonate with some folks. So… sharing it here as well.  A blessed 2014 to each of you, my friends. May you be renewed in YOUR callings as well.  

Call given. Call answered. Call questioned. Call followed.

Perspiration. Doubt. Hard Work. Bills mounting. Future uncertain.

Monotony of rehearsal turning to terror then elation at a performance somehow delivered, and yet still thinking “what IS this, so small an offering to those who will listen, those who watch.” Peter Character

And yet, a response is given that seems to be .. .no.. is clearly.. beyond anything I had planned or expected… reminding me this is not about me… which is relief…. I hear of thoughts provoked, a burden lightened, perceptions challenged, eyes opened, joy given, prejudice beginning to be removed, tears long-stuck breaking through the dam, now shed, laughter evoked, hope for reconciliation.. with self or others or … walls built long-ago now eroding …

If even for the moment, but hopefully for some, a flicker that will grow to life-long, life-giving flame.

Story-telling wrapped in Performance. Word Given. Truth, I think.. I hope.. Told. Perspective Enlarged. Hopefully. Ideally. Not always but — even if sometimes – worth the effort.

One questions the merit. The legitimacy. Demons rush to cause doubt or depression. Laughing. Distracting. Desiring one to hang up the call and return to lesser than what can be.

Then… A comment given: “This changes everything. Thank-you.”

This comment, even if the ONLY comment, THIS comment is enough to strengthen to do this again. And to create more. And to continue to follow the call, crazy thought it may seem.

So, moving forward… another year. Here we go.