Rebecca and the Blank Canvas

Rebecca and the Blank Canvas (1,193)

June 30th, 2011

Rebecca was confused. Maybe better stated—confounded. Or are those two words really the same?

Peeking out her window, she saw it once again. Sitting on her porch was a blank canvas and a can of black paint. She slowly opened her door, walked out and stood looking at the two items. She realized that confusion was unnecessary because this had been the event her entire life. Every morning she would look on her porch and see a blank canvas and a can of black paint. As she gazed out across the neighborhood, she saw the same two items perched on every doorstep as far as the eye could see. What did it mean?

The canvas was pretty obvious—just a surface available for paint. But why black paint? She hated black (even though she hated to use the word “hate” because she didn’t like it.) Black was so dark, so permanent, so one-dimensional. So she made a practice of never opening the can of paint. Well, wait a second. There was that one time when curiosity overtook her and she cracked open the can, picked up a stick and stirred it, looking at the gooey, dark liquid. Yuck. It was like tar that had lost its will to be sticky. So she never did it again and chose to resume ignoring the can of paint. But that left her with a blank canvas. And always, it remained just that.

Across the street, Bill and Belle made a point of taking their can of black liquid and smearing it all over their canvas every morning and displaying it for all to see. They seemed pleased enough with their results, but Rebecca always thought it was ugly. And certainly the action of creating their painting never made Bill and Belle seem very happy.

No, it was a mixed bag. Many people in the community chose to use their paint on their blank canvas and others left them free of any interference whatsoever. And it seemed that some folks didn’t even recognize that the gift had been deposited in their proximity.

On this particular day, Rebecca was thinking about her life and how just six short years ago she had lost her husband, but had taken the son the two of them had procreated and had turned him into a fine, young man and a friend, and how earlier in the year she had been struck down by a car and left for dead, only to resurrected by the good graces of God and some caring physicians.

She was still thinking about her recent journey when a man came walking by, carrying his canvas and to her great astonishment, it sported some color. Yes, there was blue, green, a bit of pink and what appeared to be a shade of orange. She gasped. He was about to walk on by when she called after him.

“Excuse me, sir!”

He paused, pivoted, and said, “May I help you, ma’am?”

Rebecca said, ‘Yes, you may. I was wondering where you got the color on your canvas? Because quite frankly, the only color ever delivered to my abode is black .”

He stepped towards her and with a chuckle, replied, “Oh, I get that, too. One day I took my canvas and instead of just looking at it, I reached out and touched it. And you know what I discovered?”

Rebecca shook her head, baffled.

“When my hands touched the canvas, color came from my fingertips. It wasn’t very pretty at first. Mostly browns and dark grays. But as I gained confidence that the power of color was within my grasp, I found that some dark blues, reds and even some glorious greens appeared. Look!” He pointed to his canvas. “This morning, from my own touch, came a little bit of purple. Isn’t that amazing?”

Rebecca peered at the canvas and noted the beautiful hue. “Yes,” she said. “It’s gorgeous. But how did you know to put your canvas in your own hands?”

The man shook his head. “I didn’t. It’s just that I realized I had a canvas and it would remain blank if I did nothing with it, and I was certainly unwilling to use the black paint. So what I did one morning is I took my can of black paint and threw it away (being careful to keep it out of the reach of small children or where it might harm helpless animals.)”

“You threw it away?” queried Rebecca.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I didn’t know you could do that,” said Rebecca.

“Oh, that’s the problem,” the man replied. “We all think we’re limited by what we can do so we choose to work with the darkness instead of using what’s within our touch.” With this he turned and walked away, humming a tune that sounded familiar, yet somehow brand new.

Rebecca took a moment to look around her neighborhood. The day was beginning. Folks were discovering their canvases and reluctantly picking up their cans of black paint to construct their daily portraits. She grabbed her own can of paint. How ridiculous to put black paint on a blank canvas, because all it did was make the beauty of the surface disappear. Yes, black always covers whatever it touches.

She ran into her backyard and threw the black paint into the trash. She came back and nervously reached out to touch her canvas. Pouring from her fingertips was a golden hue. She was astonished. She reached out again. There was a beautiful green—the color of the leaves. Her canvas was no longer blank, and the more she reached out to caress her own painting, the more beautiful it became.

She paused for a moment and thought, “I wonder if this is what heaven is like? Could it be a gallery of all of our earthly canvases and what we decided to paint? And tens of thousands of visitors from everywhere come to view the beauty of our paintings? Wouldn’t that be something?”

But on this day heaven seemed far away.

And on this day, heaven was unnecessary—because color was at Rebecca’s fingertips.

Published in: on June 30, 2011 at 12:39 pm  Leave a Comment  


Redeemer (1,192)

June 29th, 2011

It was the name of the church last night—the sanctuary where I found myself sharing my ideas and gifts to a roomful of strangers. Church of the Redeemer—another one of those religious terms: redeemer.

I decided to look it up in the dictionary. Basically, the dictionary definition is “to buy back or to save from distress.” I had to ask myself a question: do I really believe that religion and belief in God provides that for people? For I will be honest with you—questioning is a good thing. A certain amount of agnosticism proffered at the right moment can be the better part of belief. If we walk around all the time reciting verses and doctrines, trying to shout them louder than our fears, it doesn’t really build an understanding of either our emotional reality or our spiritual potential.

Here’s what I came up with: are people who believe in God actually the nicest folks I meet? I wondered if people who have been redeemed by Jesus Christ are truthfully more secure and open to others than those who have not chosen that path. I was curious if being redeemed really does free us from “the distress.” And what is “the distress?” I think distress is always caused when we cling to the three great “nasties” of life:

1. Worry. Worry is always the confluence of fear and arrogance—fear in the sense that we believe the problem before us doesn’t seem to have any solution, and arrogance because we insist that if we don’t know the solution, it must not exist.

2. Self-righteousness. In other words, if we have to live by a code of behavior, in some sort of prison of morality, damned sure everybody else better get in jail with us. It isn’t that this cocoon of rules is making us happy, it’s just that we have convinced ourselves that it’s a “righteous encasement” and therefore should be followed, no matter how painful the procedure.

3. And finally, the third nasty is the contention that we are all different. It seems harmless enough, but the minute we trick ourselves into our uniqueness and the aberrations in others, we cease to pursue a path of understanding and eventually decline interaction. For instance, I don’t know whether white people were actually ever of a belief that black people were inferior, but rather, felt that the obvious color difference made them seem unapproachable, and therefore opted to create all sorts of storylines to explain their reticence. I don’t know if most people actually have a strong moral objection to homosexuals, but instead, a great apprehension that they might be confronted by one and seduced.

These three nasties keep us from really being redeemed, and as long as the church fails to speak against these pieces of depravity, redemption will be a theory, soaked in the blood of Christ, but abandoned of application.

I like the people I met last night. But I told them and will tell you, I do not sense a freedom from distress. And even though I know they were bought by the courage of Jesus on the cross, giving his life to maintain the beauty of free will, I do not perceive that the ransom has created a race of excellent believers.

I am not cynical—I am not without hope. It’s just that I think we need voices crying in the wilderness to truly redeem our generation from its own nastiness and make us free of the burdens of politics, religion and corporate greed.

Someone asked me just yesterday whether I was an ordained theologian.

Hell, no. What could render me less effective to share the heart of God than being a theologian? I am a simple man with a simple message and if you want to know what I am, here it is: God made human beings, He isn’t surprised by our human ways, and our mission is not to merely worship Him, but rather, to find a way to use our humanity to help one another.

Anything less than that fails to redeem.

Published in: on June 29, 2011 at 12:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

It’s All in the Picking

It’s All in the Picking (1,191)

June 28th, 2011

Based on the title, you will be happy to know that this particular jonathot is not a discourse on either the banjo or the nose.

No, the picking I’m speaking of here is a simple choice that needs to be made every day in our lives to assure us of the simplicity that garners productivity. For let me make one thing perfectly clear—without simplicity, there is no productivity. Complicated processes do not bring about successful results, but rather, bog us down in traffic jams of inefficiency.

When I left on January 1st, 2011, to begin touring the US, I knew two things for sure—first, I’m getting older and I need to take advantage of all of my faculties which are still intact, and use them as intelligently as possible. Secondly, to achieve that first goal, I must do everything in my power tode-pretzel” my life and bring everything I do into freewheeling practice. Complication is what makes us believe that we are unable to achieve our purposes. Complication is what little-minded people do to stop big ideas.

So I will tell you a simple process that I believe works across the board and will aid you in making choices about those things that pop up every day in life. It boils down to two words: shrink or expand. You have to decide to do one or the other to progress your situation to better conclusions. Some things need to be shrunk and some things need to be expanded. Knowing when to do this is the essence of human excellence.

We have overrated the attribute called perseverance. Certainly there are times when a bit of tenacity is necessary to see things through. But honestly, what we call faithfulness is often just stubbornness—to follow a path that has proven to be unfruitful. What we need is the ability to decide to shrink or expand our efforts in the moment to further accentuate the power of our thrust.

Some things are easy. If you’re going to lose weight, for instance, you shrink your portions and you expand your movement. Now, let’s look at what happens if you do the opposite. If you expand your portions and shrink your movement, you get exactly the opposite result—weight gain.

I’ll use my jonathots as an example. When I began to write this column, I decided to do it daily. I observed people rolling their eyes, assuming I would fail at such an overwrought effort. I had to make a decision. Should I shrink down to a once-a-week blog, or should I expand my horizons by making every little thing in my life important enough to discover something larger from it? 1,191 essays later, my decision to expand has garnered me this body of work.

You can use the decision in friendships. Relationships with folks do go through seasons of doldrums. Don’t push it. Shrink back for a period of time and let people grow without you. If the emotions are real, you will rediscover each other and the results will be expansive.

It goes on and on. Do I shrink? Do I expand?

And even though we think shrinking is a negative profile, it is important sometimes to shrink back from attitudes that have caused us nothing but grief. For instance, I used to get very angry over being mistreated by others. It was like I had a magic number in my head about what intensity people should have in dealing with me and loving me. This mythical number was not of their making, but of my demand. But I discovered very quickly that these friends didn’t agree—and just by shrinking my “expectation number,” I have become more suitable for human consumption.

But by the same token, I used to think that people needed to work hard to get my approval. I felt it was their responsibility to “sell themselves” in my marketplace. It was foolish. I have now made it easier—expanded my borders to include more people, more ideas and more cultures—which has granted me a new wealth of friends and cohorts.

It is all about deciding whether to shrink or whether to expand. If you fuss with details and try to make things more difficult, you will eventually end up still at the same juncture where you began, which is always: “Should I? Or not?”

Can we simplify this much without appearing to be simpletons? I would much rather be a fool for the sake of peaceful coexistence with my fellow-man than I would to be an ardent disciple of complexity.

Shrink or expand. Try it. You will be astounded at how placing such a gentle demand on yourself relieves the pressure of trying too hard to be adult.

Published in: on June 28, 2011 at 12:43 pm  Comments (1)  

The Book Report

The Book Report (1,190)

June 27th, 2011

The young man was given his assignment. He was to read three books in thirty days and give a detailed report on each one. The three books were The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

On the morning of the thirtieth day, the student obediently turned in his compilation. It was a single page. On the paper was written the following:

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum

It is a story about small people who are usually happy as long as they can stay away from witches.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Getting great financial gain is good, as long as you don’t eat too late at night and have bad dreams.

And finally:

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

All whales are white and want to eat people.

The End

The teacher was greatly disappointed and asked the student to stay after class to discuss his conclusions. The teacher decided to inquire why the student hadn’t picked up the message of, “There’s no place like home” from The Wizard of Oz, and the need for generosity and kindness from A Christmas Carol, and that vengeance is the surest way to destroy one’s life, derived from the tale of Moby Dick.

The young man looked at the teacher quizzically. “Well, I can see how you got that out of the books, but since I don’t agree with any of those things, I just chose to ignore them.”

Likewise, I often wonder what would happen if you asked the average Christian to give a book report on the Bible. What central themes would appear in such an essay? Would they be able to evaluate the lasting message or would they focus on individual chapters they had grown fond of in their reading?

Sitting in a church yesterday morning, three lessons were offered. One was about Jeremiah, the prophet, and one of his arch rivals, who ended up giving a false report and, according to the story, was killed by God for his lack of accuracy. The second was from the Epistles, where Paul told all of us that the wages of sin is death and that our true goal is to be “slaves of righteousness.” The final reading was from the Gospels, relating Jesus’ sharing about the importance of giving a cup of cold water in his name, and how valuable it is.

As I sat there and listened to the very eloquent gentleman read these passages, I wondered what possible link we think they would have. And yet, it is often the duty of the local pastor to provide muscle and sinew—to attach these “bony” verses together. It just makes me smile.

What would be my book report on the Bible? I’m sure I would be tempted to elaborate on the evolution of the volume, from book to book, as human beings discovered the uselessness of being small people, fearing witches, pursuing money for money’s sake and dodging being eaten by whales. But at the end of my document I would have to agree that “there is no place like home”—because “home” is where we come to the conclusion that the entire book is about “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

I would have to decide that the Bible is not about accumulating wealth or finding ways to become prosperous, but instead, multiplying our talents so we can take care of our own needs and bless the people who cross our paths. And the best way to keep from steering your vessel into a whale of trouble is to cease to hold a grudge against others, and realize we’re all humans—and in this together.

You may come up with different conclusions in your book report, but I think if you focus on the storylines that don’t feature the main character—Jesus—and you try to get too lengthy in your explanation, you lose the real beauty of the message of the book.

And the beauty is simple: God loves me—and you look a lot like me.

Published in: on June 27, 2011 at 3:37 pm  Leave a Comment  


Early (1,189)

June 26th, 2011

I awoke early. It often happens to me on Sunday mornings, my brain becoming the alarm clock to alert me to upcoming activities ahead and concepts I might wish to add into my presentation. It’s kind of fun. It also happens on days when a particular jonathot is burning in a corner of my skull, wanting to get out to say its piece.

I think you will find that the more active you become and the more interestingly your path twists and turns, the less you will desire to sleep—especially as a form of recreation. So I was lying in my bed (or was I laying in my bed? I am really never quite sure which one of those tenses is correct, so out of fear of being attacked by a grammar marm, I will say something like, “I was reclining…”)

I was thinking about the church service and the various words and songs I might wish to share with the good folks of Dayton, when suddenly a clap of thunder followed by a flash of lightning came piercing through my window. I had to laugh. Here I was, planning my day, complete with vivid detail, from my position of power, flat on my back on my Posturpedic, and all at once, it is all brought into perspective by Mother Nature proclaiming her supremacy over my great plans.

It was going to rain.

It often does that, you know—and it doesn’t seem to care whether we want it to or not. It certainly is indifferent to our picnic plans, and feels no need to seek our counsel whatsoever. Some people think prayer is a way of passing over Mother Nature, to go directly to God to lodge a formal complaint with the management. But honestly, my friends, you don’t get very far with the father in heaven by complaining about the mother on earth.

Prone on my bed, cuddling into my pillow, I realized that I only have two functions in this entire system—two points of control, if you will. Since I don’t manipulate the weather, nor other people’s handling of such matters, what I do have a righteous road in pursuing is my reaction and my perception. Yes—the RP factor, if you will. So my reaction to that sudden bolt of lightning was, “It’s going to rain.” And my perception was, “And there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Some people seek a third alternative, which usually is given many names, but eventually falls into the family called “complaint.” But complaining is not one of the options humans are given in the great cosmos of possibility, because complaining leaves us destitute of both wits and motivation—wits in the sense that we look a little stupid when objecting to the obvious, and motivation because it’s just so doggone exhausting to continue to lament the inevitable.

I was awakened early by my own brain to discover that Mother Nature had plans of her own, which I needed to react to as positively as I could, gaining the perception that some souls will not make it to this morning’s presentation because they’re afraid of melting like the witch in the Wizard of Oz. It’s just reality. And all I have is my reaction and my perception.

Think of it as the number forty. Do you spend most of your time thinking about what happened forty minutes ago? Forty hours ago? Forty days ago? Forty months ago? Or forty years ago? Since all of them are in the past, rumination over any event is basically futile. But the further you go into the past to try to change what already has happened, the crazier you’ll get.

What do we have? Reaction and perception.

So what is my reaction? “Thank you, Mother Nature, for changing my plans.” What is my perception? “Thank you, Father God, that you will make some sense of it.”

Published in: on June 26, 2011 at 12:18 pm  Leave a Comment  


She (1,188)

June 25th, 2011

She showed up at the Jesus House in Cincinnati. It was a large apartment complex that was owned, I think, by Cincinnati Bible Seminary, and was the lodging for some young male students who decided to start a Friday night coffee house, partially to have fellowship with young humans in the area, but mostly as a ploy to meet cute girls. Snacks were laid out, which consisted of everything with preservatives, sugar and flour that should not be inserted into the human body but still feels pretty good sliding down.

Our group, Soul Purpose, was young, hungry and desperate for gigs, so we were thrilled when we found out about the Jesus House, and scheduled it about once a month, making the 108-mile trek from our home, spending $6.25 of 1975 gas round trip, usually garnering an offering off of the poor students of about fourteen or fifteen dollars—thus doubling our profit.

She was there one Friday night when we performed. I immediately loved her because she was a big fan and thought we were the greatest. It’s really difficult to be critical of people who adore you. We often succeed in doing it with family members and even our lovers and spouses, but it really takes a lot of nerve, effort and gall.

She talked a lot. I didn’t notice so much the first night because we had just met and you figure that nervousness causes people to be overly verbose. But we saw her again a month later and she was still talking as if the conversation had never ended. Maybe, in her world, it hadn’t.

Shortly after that second meeting, one of the young ladies in our group decided to pursue the path of matrimony instead of music, so we had an opening. We didn’t know she could sing, but when we came to the Jesus House that particular Friday night, we audaciously decided to hold auditions after the concert, and she volunteered, sang for us and pretty well knocked us on our asses. We hired her on the spot.

She was a free spirit, so she had absolutely no problem with abandoning her home and moving up I-71 to where we lived, and co-habitating with us as we tried to find ways to make enough money to eat on and maybe give a token representation towards paying our rent.

We started to travel—not because we had gigs—more because we heard that’s what groups do, and it was a great way for us to escape our landlord, who for some reason, did not seem satisfied with our token payments. There is one thing about the road when you don’t have money—innovation is not an action of cleverness, but rather, a means of survival.

So we started to write. We learned how to book gigs so we could actually make enough money to buy a bag of pretzels with our baloney sandwich. In the process of doing these engagements, we got better. For let me tell you—the notion that talent exists as pure and dynamic, without pressure being placed upon it, is utterly ridiculous. We not only thought we were getting better, other people told us we were.

She was with me when the Rambos signed my song. She was with me when we recorded a demo tape for Heartwarming Records. She was with me when we appeared on the PTL Club with Jim and Tammy Baker. She was with me when the airport limousine we were traveling in caught fire in the middle of the night in South Carolina. She was with me when we met Marijohn Wilkin and recorded our album at the House of Cash. She was with me when we stepped on the stage at the Grand Ole’ Opry. She was with me when I wrote my Broadway show based on the Sermon on the Mount—Mountain. She was with me when the songs off our album began to chart on the gospel radio stations.

She stayed with me for about four years before she settled back into Cincinnati and resumed her life as a young woman, looking for some form of domestication. She wasn’t very good at it. It happens, you know. I have discovered over the years that the main weakness I see in the female of our species is normally male-oriented. Women are just not very good at finding men who are as smart, motivated and hard-working as they are. She has found a couple of these lesser fellows that have turned her life into a struggle instead of a festival. She has maintained her belief in God, although honestly, she hasn’t matured it beyond its kindergarten origins, to help her graduate to deeper faith.

I love her dearly and only wish that she loved herself enough to abandon the futility of mothering a fully-grown man into maturity. Women must understand—if one lady was not able to do it, having the power of diapers, water, food and shelter over him, they probably will not be able to achieve much better, with just their cute personalities.

She and I have met up over the years and it has always been a great time of reunion, with an embrace and sadness in my soul as she departed, and I knew that she was not content with her life. You know why I hate poverty? Mainly because it makes people believe that they deserve to be poor. That sucks. She has lived in that kind of poverty most of her life—and it makes me sad.

She and I had great fun, great arguments, great moments, great misunderstandings, great music, great corrections and great opportunities.

I am supposed to see her again tonight. I will be looking deep into her eyes for that young girl who attended the Jesus House so many years ago, believing that everything was possible. What will I see?

Yes. What will I see?

Published in: on June 25, 2011 at 2:15 pm  Leave a Comment  


Click (1,187)

June 24th, 2011

There is just too much talking.

First of all—it’s not debate, it’s arguing. Secondly, Jesus intelligently told us that much speaking does not get us anywhere in the progression of human thought or human character. We are a visually-driven people—and without evidence before our eyes, we have a tendency to peruse possibilities rather than embrace them.

We need to stop incriminating ourselves because faith does not come by hearing. It was a really nice thought by the Apostle Paul, but lasting faith which causes us to transform our lives in a different direction is always produced by seeing. It’s when things click.

It’s a great word—click—because it reminds you of a camera. That’s what we are. We capture a snapshot of something that intrigues us; we process the film in our minds and produce a representation that we tote around as an example of a remembered pleasure. So to make things “click” we need to see them. Nobody can take a picture in the dark nor have we been able to take any visual representation of a sound. Human beings want to see things on their own and then do them, discover their own victory and conquering and then—click!—it suddenly becomes part of their life and they can’t remember ever not doing it.

It reminds me of the early days in the ministry of Jesus, when somebody asked him where he lived. Instead of describing the location or giving the person a map, he replied, “Come and see.”

When John the Baptist expressed doubts about Jesus’ mission, Jesus did not decide to send back an oratory on theology, but instead, had John’s emissaries follow him around for a few days and see the miracles for themselves. Then he told them to go back and tell John what they’d seen.

There is just too much preaching going on in this country, both in the secular world and the religious community. I find myself torn between two countries—one with a conservative thrust, insisting that we go back to traditional values, and a liberal angle, wanting to do anything as long as its progressive.

I’m sorry. Don’t talk to me anymore. Don’t preach at me. Show me something that works. Let me assimilate it. Let me find my way to do it. Let me conquer it—and then it will actually click into place.

We are not willing to wait for people to discover wisdom by rehearsing their own rendition of the action. We want to choose up sides and throw rocks across the chasm. It just doesn’t work.

One of my favorite scriptures from Jesus is when he describes the intelligent seeker of truth who comes into his household and finds the best of the old and the best of the new, blends them together and makes his own. How brilliant.

I don’t see much clicking going on in our society, because there is too much “clique-ing.” Don’t ask me to join your conservative movement. Show me how it makes people happy. Then give me a chance to do it for myself and if I find it works and I conquer it, I will embrace it. Don’t pummel me with your liberal jargon. Show me how it makes people happy and I will develop my own style, try it, and if it’s successful, I will conquer it and incorporate it into my existence.

We do not understand people, therefore we treat one another either like little tin gods or animals. Here’s the formula for people to be successful:

I saw. I did. I conquered. Click.

I will occasionally have people ask me why I’m traveling around the country instead of simply writing my jonathots everyday and promoting it to hundreds of thousands. It is because faith does not come by words—it comes by seeing. And when I stand in front of an audience and give them a visual of my faith, my potential for reaching them triples. Gosh, it may even quadruple. I’m not sure of the number. Because they can see what I’m doing, decide for themselves, develop their own pattern, conquer it and then have the click of revival go off in their souls.

A friend of mine recently lamented that folks don’t always appreciate the quality of art and the power of a message. I just laughed and said, “You have to decide whether you want people to be fans or if you want them to do better.”

Fans admire you. But when people see what you do and quietly walk away and develop their own mind-set on the matter, it is the greatest form of praise. As Jesus said so brilliantly, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

In other words: See what I do, go out and do it, conquer and then … click!

Published in: on June 24, 2011 at 12:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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