Everyone Loves Raymond but Producer Hates Business

Phil Rosenthal is the creator, writer and producer of the hit show based on the down-to-earth Ray Romano. The show is epic in its popularity, so much so, that Phil was asked to export it to Russia, using local actors to recreate the series. In the painful process that ensued he discovered that Russians like their comedy over the top and in locking horns with the powers that be, he maintained that the secret to “Everyone Loves Raymond” was that it was a “down to earth – kitchen sink” type of comedy. In this article, he says

”There’s lovely people wherever you go – and then there’s executives. They seem to be the same no matter where you go. I love every aspect of the business except the business. The money part of it, I don’t enjoy. I love writing, acting, directing, producing. I just don’t like the business part of it.”

His words jumped off the touchscreen at me in bed this morning. He could have been me three years ago! My “executives” were super spiritual flaky fundamentalist mafiosa seizing on every word that was out of place that I uttered from the pulpit. One of them criticised me for using the word “fantastic” because the root of the word was fantasy, and there was no fantasy in Christianity. You get the idea.

Over time, I distanced myself from the flakes. I put minders in the way and barriers everywhere to stop them getting through. I opened no mail – my PA did all that. Anything unsigned hit the bin without me knowing. Emails went to her before proceeding to me. Lower level pastors would “vet” people who wanted to see me in an effort to stop the crazies from getting into my head.

But the business, I couldn’t stop.

The business of running church was overwhelming. Managing staff, job descriptions, preparing and running meetings, budget review meetings, board meetings, finance meetings, restructuring, weekly offerings, monthly averages, loan repayments, cost cutting, property valuations, blowouts, and wondering how to make ends meet were simply all consuming. These were the things I lay in bed agonising over.

Just as Rosenthal loved the writing, creating and producing , I actually loved leading – the visionary, creative part. I love to dream. I love to galvanise people toward a cause that is greater than their singular life. I love to build and work in teams. I love thinking outside the box. I love to motivate and encourage. I love to communicate and inspire. I love to experiment and try new things. I love being a catalyst.

But the business killed me. It got me in the end. As interesting as making a sitcom in Russia would be, Rosenthal is not eager to repeat it, claiming ”Poland has called and I’m not going!” Similarly, I can safely say, I’ll never lead in the church again as it currently operates. It’s an insatiable beast that eats pastors alive.

My thoughts on Hillsong

I was asked late last year by a former attender of the church I led what I thought of Hillsong. I’ll try and keep it short! I have friends that are on staff at Hillsong, I’ve met Brian personally and I’ve attended three or four Hillsong conferences so you can decide if I’m biased or just better able to make some comments!

Hillsong is THE flagship Australian church in terms of profile and impact. It’s broken all the mindsets about church size and dynamics. It’s really reinvented the landscape of Christianity in Australia and shown us what’s possible. I’m fairly certain Shout to the Lord is probably THE most popular christian worship song in the world – which, coming from Australia says something. There aren’t many churches in our country that you can attend that won’t be singing one or two Hillsong choruses (even if they don’t like Hillsong – ah the irony of it).

Hillsong really pushed the envelope in making Christianity contemporary – i.e. music, language, services, buildings, programs etc. that speak to ordinary people. It’s been a wake-up call to churches that are a victim of stodgy, boring traditionalism. Much of the resentment toward Hillsong comes from churches who hate to see their “success”. Hillsong is one of the very few Australian churches that are actually growing with a good proportion of new commitments.

I have loved Hillsong conference. It’s really exciting and can be life changing. I’d certainly recommend everyone goes at least once!

Every church has its downside though. Hillsong is huge and that has it’s own disadvantages. It runs very much like a corporate machine. The stress on staff is massive. They have huge vision so the budgets are enormous which always attracts attention from outside. It’s a fairly controlled environment – they do that by establishing a “Hillsong” culture (again this is a corporate/business idea) so there are certain ways to talk, certain language, dress and behavior that’s subliminally peer reinforced, which suits some people I guess, but can be a bit restricting for others. I for one, would never work there under any circumstance. Staff are required to attend a minimum of three weekend services and I simply wouldn’t ever want to do that.

As far as any “scandals” go, there aren’t really any (sadly for the media) – well, no more than any other church with flawed people in it. As with any organisation, there are always people who do stupid things but aren’t necessarily the fault or responsibility of the organisation itself. Brian Houston had to deal with his dads moral failing before he passed away. No fault of Hillsongs’ there. They did get some grant money for certain projects and had to return it because a third party organisation they partnered with folded. Now it looks like Gloria Jeans might be facing insolvency, but the only connection with Hillsong is that they share a board member (very common in big business to share board members with other companies). Mercy ministries folded last year and the directors have been ordered to pay every consumer that was in the program, but again, Mercy is a US organisation that Hillsong partnered with. They got burned there, but it wasn’t necessarily their responsibility.

One prominent homosexual has been trying to paint Hillsong as homophobic, but I don’t think he’s gained too much traction in mainstream church circles, perhaps only in the gay community and the media. He obviously had a pretty bad experience, but homophobia is not actually the position of Hillsong. Never has been, and never will be. No doubt there will be homophobic believers there (church attenders are fairly representative of the population), and believers who embrace homosexuals, just like any other church.

I think Hillsong spends around $1.5m on meeting practical needs in their area (my figures are probably rusty, but that’s the order of things), so it would be nice if the media also covered the good things they’re doing.

The issues that make the media are usually about money. You need to know that no church prints money, and no church is “for-profit”. That means money in = money out. They spend whatever they get on growing the church and meeting needs. It’s not accumulating anywhere. Sure Brian and Bobby, and Darlene etc. are quite wealthy compared to the average Australian but that’s from royalties from songs – good luck to them. The reality is that the top echelon of Hillsong are extremely talented entrepreneurial individuals. If they weren’t working in the church arena, they’d probably be wealthier working in big business. They certainly have that X factor that organisations pay big bucks for. They give plenty of their blood, sweat and tears, so they do earn every dollar.

Personally I wouldn’t be part of Hillsong if I lived next door to it. It is a certain model of doing church that is very “successful”, but is fairly unique to Brian Houston and a small handful of others. I respect him for that – he’s built a church fairly and squarely on his gifts and talents. He’s been his own man and refused to listen to the naysayers and done what he’s felt God has called him to do…. that’s the lesson that other pastors should be learning – not trying to copy Hillsong (which usually results in fairly lame churches). I don’t think the Hillsong model is very reproducible because it’s built around Brian. Trying to replicate it is just that! Very trying. So many pastors out there are awkwardly staggering about like David wearing Saul’s armor. I don’t think even Brian’s top guys pull it off that well. Imitating Brian is quite painful to watch and it will be interesting to see what happens when he retires.

The model is too corporate for me, built on leadership principles transferred from the business world. I’m looking for something more organic, less directive, less top-down, more “ground up”, less pretentious, less structure, less like hard work. More freedom, less about buildings and appearances (Hillsong are notorious for their fashion). It’s quite an institutional model which I think has been taken to the limit and is a bit maxed out. It’s pretty hierarchical. There are important people there, and no so important ones. The important ones are very hard to even get to and seem to have a fairly privileged life (although they pay for it ultimately). I’m not sure that numbers or prominence or great music equals success, I guess everyone differs on how to define success in the church setting.

The ones to watch (if you want to watch at all) are Hillsong United (Joel Houston and his scruffy looking pals). I think Brian realises he’s taken the Hillsong paradigm to its limit (I secretly think he’s over it actually), and if the church in Australia is going to continue to engage grass-roots (non-sydney) Aussies in a more real, authentic “Australian” post-modern way, then the next generation are going to have to figure that out – just like he did 30 years ago. Hillsong United have been given a huge amount of freedom to basically reinvent church again. These guys seem to be respectful, non-conformists focused on music, media, social justice, and more into tapping into the psyche of Gen Y than Hillsong ever has. They’re becoming more a “movement” than a “church” – which is probably what church was always intended to be…. Watch this space!

Mark Tindall takes a dimmer view in his blog post after attending a morning service, and to be honest, I totally get where he’s coming from and can more than empathise with his perspective. I think his thoughts are fairly representative of those who aren’t fans of Hillsong. But then again, there are loads of stories of people who feel Hillsong has been great for them.

Thirteen sex games that don’t involve sex (for girls only)

My 40-year-old mate Dave and father of four once said of wife jokingly “she’s got her kids now and the kitchen is closed”. I hope he was joking anyway. 1950’s woman would have always been prepared to keep her man happy in the bedroom, but todays modern woman is sexually liberated. This is good news for all the single ladies (put your hands up). But I suspect for those over 30 with small children it means their new-found freedom means choosing to abstain more often than getting their rocks off.

The modern woman who is having it all is feeling the squeeze. Careers, relationships, travel, exercise, diet, hobbies, health and kids means the after-hours bedroom romp has now morphed into a game of “how can I get out of it?” Add in mental illness and medication and the kitchen isn’t just closed, it’s most likely vacated the country!

If you’re new at this game, here are some tips on how to play (some I’ve experienced, others I know would definitely work on me).

1. Wait ’til he falls asleep. An oldie but still a goodie. I fall for this all the time. I go to bed hopeful, but can’t keep my eyes open and off I nod to the land of all things platonic.

2. Go to bed early and fall asleep. This involves sneaking off to bed unnoticed or hubby will think “great we’re heading off early – I’m in luck tonight!”

3. If he catches onto the sneaking off trick just do your regular routine before bed then grab a book and start reading in your comfy chair. Flick on the sports. When he’s engrossed then sneak off.

4. If you’ve gone for (2) and you’re not asleep – pretend. Lie very still. Do not itch that scratch. Try and breathe deeply. Every now and then hold your breath give a little throaty snort and start breathing again. He won’t dare check, in case you really are asleep.

5. When he pops the question explain you’ve had a terrible day. Go into detail. Lengthy detail. Start to repeat yourself until his eyes glaze over.  This will well and truly put to rest any amorous ideas.

6. Tell him your period is coming/here/going and you’re feeling bloated/tender/irritable. This should cover you for at least half the month. Use different combinations of those excuses so he doesn’t realize you’re making them up.

7. Following on from (6) hide the glow-in-the-dark lube and explain this is your “dry” time of the month and it just won’t be possible. Speculate that the kids have been playing in the room and probably mistook it for invisible paint.

8. Tell him the kids aren’t asleep yet (you can hear them and your hearing is better than his). How is that relevant? Because a) you can’t enjoy it if your listening out for them and b) they will come in any minute and ask for a drink.

9. Tell him you just had a shower and you don’t want to get up and wash again and you don’t want to feel sticky all night. Alternatively tell him you haven’t showered and don’t feel clean. If he assures you he really doesn’t mind tell him you’ll get UTI and that he might get it too. Explain UTI. In detail.

10. When he drops the hint tell him sex starts in the morning and he should have romanced you all day to get you in the mood. Explain that women are just wired that way and he should understand that by now.

11. Explain that you have candida or thrush. This will sound like you are now an avian enthusiast to him but mutter something about yeast infection. If he confuses this with some kind of baking activity (the term “bun in the oven” doesn’t help) and he still isn’t registering mention that he could catch it too and it will be like peeing razor blades. Since men think with their penises, this should start to make his temples tingle on the spot.

12. Naturally the closer you get to 50 and menopause you get to play the “my body is changing” card. Things are hot/dry/sensitive/uncomfortable/painful. Early menopause has been known to afflict a number of women so you could probably start this one, oh say 40?

13. The A-Bomb of avoidance that trumps them all is to say that you don’t feel loved and sex is about love not just some physical act of “wham bam thank you ma’am”. Have a lengthy discourse about how this sets us apart from animals, again, until the eyes glaze over. He has no comeback for this one and arguing would simply dash his chances anyway.

Obviously you’ll need to open the kitchen occasionally (or at least set up a camp oven) so he isn’t tempted to eat out. This is tricky. Too frequent and he gets used to it and this actually increases libido but on the other hand, too infrequent and it will drive him nuts and you’ll find him conversing with your boobs or butt depending on which way you’re facing at the time. Obviously this isn’t great either. But if you mix ‘n match the above I think you could probably get away with opening the kitchen oh maybe once a month? Good luck.