P.A. L. Two

P.A.L. Two (1,186)

June 23rd, 2011

The trouble with trying to be pretty is that there’s always somebody prettier who by comparison makes you feel ugly. The quandary with acceptance is that nasty people like to withhold it, making you do what they want. And when you’re waiting to be loved, you will consistently find yourself attempting to transform in order to acquire the favor of someone’s pre-determined qualifications.

It is fussy business and certainly not worthy of your gentle and sweet heart.

Please understand, I am not trying to be critical of the choices we make because we’re surrounded by misinformation. That would be like condemning a man for selecting something from a menu that only has two available items. America has locked all of us into erroneous choices that don’t necessarily produce soul satisfaction or happiness, but merely provide uniformity.

So let me introduce you to P.A.L.Two. Of course, it begins with P, which stands for Polish. I think we only have one responsibility in life—or maybe I should say two: first, truthfully assess who we are. Secondly, polish it up.

For me, it’s a case of starting at the head and ending somewhere down at the toes. For instance, I am bald. I thought about getting a toupee, but considering that I spend a lot of time talking about candor, it seems contradictory to my approach. (Also, the more I shopped for hair, the sillier I felt.) My eyes? I need glasses, but truthfully, I don’t like to wear them on stage, so I don’t. I opt for a bit of blindness to maintain my personal piece of vanity. My weight. I am fat. You can substitute words for “fat,” but at the end of the sentence, you will still end up plumper than others. It is my job to polish up my clothes selection, hygiene, gait and demeanor to become as inconspicuous in the mainstream as humanly possible. I am like an old pair of shoes that still have a good “sole,” with a tongue that doesn’t protrude too far—a little scuffed, but amazingly acceptable for dress if given a nice coat of polish.

When people do not feel they’re pretty, they despair and stop polishing. That is why they sense rejection and alienation. I don’t feel confident unless I polish, and I don’t polish if I insist that I’m already pretty.

Which leads me to A. I have found that acceptance makes me want to comply with the demands of others and often leads me to tell those little white lies which seem to blacken by the moment. I dropped that foolishness. I think the sexiest, most intelligent and truly spiritual thing we can do in life is to be accurate. It doesn’t mean you need to be self-effacing or critical, just have the ability to give a factual representation of what is going on.

I think it’s wonderful when somebody walks into a room and says, “By the way, before we begin this meeting, let me inform you that I have a headache.” Isn’t that better than yelling at them later for being off-point or talking behind their back because we assumed they were disagreeable? Accurate is truthful reporting of our present status to give people a chance to understand where we’re coming from in any given situation. It is truly magnificent.

For instance, I was raised Presbyterian, did a stint in the Church of Christ, joined the charismatic movement for a season, mellowed out and decided not to become quite as evangelical in my intensity towards others, still honor the Bible—but cut myself and others slack for being human, while simultaneously contending that this particular condition is completely understood by God. So I find that I am comfortable with all of my brothers and sisters because I share their beliefs, even though I do not pursue all of their pet peeves.

Well, enough of that. Let’s conclude with L—loving. I neither have the time nor energy to wait around for you to decide to love me. It is exhausting, debilitating and frustrating. If I am going to wait for your approval to receive my being into your sphere of friendliness, I will end up not wanting that love once it’s finally offered.

So I always lead with a loving attitude and in so doing, give a physical representation of what I need in return. When I arrive at a church, I don’t try to warm up to people. I come in loving—and they can either choose to receive it or reject it, but there isn’t a soul there who doesn’t understand what I consider to be the status quo of behavior. I do not have the inclination to wait for you to love me. I will act out a loving attitude in all situations—mainly because I seriously doubt that even serial killers have a predilection to attack the gregarious.

This profile is a decision to become a thespian, acting out my own desire by presenting a sketch of realistic warmth to those around me by initiating it myself, thus giving a great visual of what I require.

I am saddened by those who feel the need to be pretty. It just never ends. If you really want to have a facelift, just try smiling. And for those who are desperate for acceptance, I ache for the compromises they are destined to slide into simply to gain a nod of approval. And when love is pursued, it often becomes a weapon used against us instead of a tender embrace of receptivity.

· Polish it up. You’ll be surprised at what a difference a “nice coat of care” can put on your package.

· Be accurate. The truth will make you free, but only if you speak it without fear.

· And choose to lead with loving—giving a realistic representation of what you believe should be the general interaction of human beings.

If you do this, you don’t have to worry about being pretty, because you’ve polished it. You don’t have chase down acceptance, because your accuracy will draw those who find your persona beautiful. And you don’t have to wait for love if you’re already loving.

Be the first one in your neighborhood to love your neighbor.

That’s the way I see it. What do you think?

Of course, it doesn’t really make any difference in the long run, because I took the time to polish this and be accurate—and kept it loving.

Published in: on June 23, 2011 at 12:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

P.A.L. One

P.A.L. One (1,185)

June 22nd, 2011

Thousands of people buy my books, music and movies every year. Thousands of people don’t.

Thousands of people read this jonathots every day. Thousands of people don’t. Some of the members of my own family choose not to read my daily column. Some do.

Last night I was at my book table and well within my earshot, a husband and wife were debating whether to purchase my package of materials. The man whispered to the woman, “Do you want Jonathan’s stuff?” She, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, yet realizing she was being viewed by others, quickly shook her head, no. I had to laugh. I think she thought I might have been offended, so she was a little embarrassed. So I apologized and said, “Really—it’s okay. It’s not a salvation issue. You probably will make it into heaven without reading any of my work.” (She later came over and purchased the package because her husband insisted.)

I thoroughly believe that a good portion of the problems we experience in life happen because we do not rectify within our spirit the balance necessary between people loving us and disliking us. The reason? We are all raised with the American-culture P.A.L. system, making us all slaves to the opinions and feelings of others.

P.A. L. is an acronym, standing for Pretty, Acceptance and Loved.

The need for each one of us to look in the mirror and believe in our P—that we’re Pretty—is such an infection to the human mind and heart that it can render us incapacitated if someone even dare hint we lack comeliness. “Pretty” is so important to the male and female of our species that we preen and even do iniquitous actions to try to prove our youth and virility. It makes us look stupid.

I personally don’t spend a lot of time in front of the mirror. Been there, done that. I’m pretty sure what I will see. Long ago I decided what I was going to do about it and what I think is pure vanity. I know that “pretty” is not my best option, so I have moved on to acquire additional reinforcements to my personal package. But the need to be pretty (or handsome, if you will) completely disembowels us of the confidence necessary to not only use our talents, but to have the tenacity and will to multiply them.

This is followed, in our acronym, by A.—Acceptance. Most people are so desperate to be normal and accepted that they will perpetually adopt the majority opinion, even though that outlook on life has historically been proven wrong. I will go so far as to say that if you are in the majority opinion of the nation at any given moment, you will spend much of your life being judged incorrect, with everybody wondering why you didn’t think it through. After all, at one time the majority of this country was in favor of slavery, witchcraft, the use of opium as a common source of entertainment, and that each nationality landing on our shores needed to be subjugated in order to earn their stripes as part of the red, white and blue. Almost consistently the majority is wrong—because it seeks acceptance instead of truth.

And finally, what eventually puts us in an emotional coma leading to spiritual death is L.—the demand to be Loved. It is not so much a passion as an aching need which betrays itself by turning quickly into animosity when the person we want to love us chooses to be less-than-amorous. This is why people who have ravaged each other sexually in marriage can plot one another’s death in nearly the next breath. Because when someone who is supposed to love us dares to suggest we make improvements, we can place them at the top of the list of our bitterest enemies.

I do not know how this P.A.L. philosophy survives, considering how often it has proven to be ineffective, and even devastating. Pretty people, after all, are not usually happy. Those who seek acceptance often find themselves in the outer darkness of rejection—either because they still don’t quite fit in, or because the majority has demonstrated its sinister nature. And the desire to be loved is not love, but rather, a festering itch, which leaves us scratching at our lives instead of soothed with the ointment of tenderness.

I giggled when the husband and wife had their conversation last night, because the beauty of this journey on earth is having the freedom to be yourself by first giving others the benefit of the same. Contrary to normal Christian theology, there ARE sins that are worse than others. And I will tell you this: when you get to the Great White Throne, judging your follow human beings will be viewed more harshly than adultery.

So be careful. Wanting to be Pretty, seeking Acceptance and requiring to be Loved is the slippery path to destruction—first the destruction of your confidence, followed by the devastation of your emotional well-being, and culminating with a confused mind which just doesn’t know which way to turn.

But the good news is this—there is a P.A.L. Two, which I believe does work. Aren’t you glad? It would be really mean to tell you something ridiculous without giving you a solution. But I’ve run out of time today, and for the thousands of you that read this, I will be back tomorrow. And for the thousands of you who don’t, well… you needn’t worry about it.

Published in: on June 22, 2011 at 12:36 pm  Leave a Comment  


Ohio (1,184)

June 21st, 2011

Yesterday I cruised into the great state of Ohio—our fifteenth state visited since the first of January. It has the additional distinction of being the place of my birth and upbringing. I grew up in Central Ohio, north of Columbus, in a small village called Sunbury.

There were two unique things about my little burg: first, its main source of commerce was a large Nestle’s plant, which made freeze-dried coffee, causing the whole town to smell like a restroom at Starbucks.

The second uniqueness of Sunbury was … well, I seem to have forgotten. Wait a second. Maybe I was going to share that the local school district was dubbed Big Walnut. It was named after a creek that meandered through the town. Of course, when you grow up in an area, everything sounds normal to you; you have no point of reference to its being odd. And as bizarre as “Big Walnut” may be, it is better than the alternative, which would be to name the school district after the other creek that inhabited the confines: Little Walnut. Yes, of the choices—Big and Little Walnut—I think our founding fathers selected the better.

I grew up in a time when the Cleveland Browns actually had a good football team, OhioState had a coach named Woody (which no one actually giggled about) and fried chicken was served every Sunday for lunch, and passed off as a healthy source of nutrition for building strong bodies, at least twelve ways.

I think I still have some relatives around there, although at this point in my life, they are relatively uncommon to me. Coming out of a graduating class of ninety-eight people, there might be some friends left over from previous eras, although no recent contact would mean little to talk about.

As a kid I went to the Presbyterian Church. I only saw my dad in church twice, and to his credit, both times he sang the hymns with an off-tone basal hum, and with as much vigor as I ever saw him do anything else.

I ended up attending a Church of Christ, which afforded me a great deal of technical expertise in the Bible, but with interpretations which were much too narrow and strict to be able to function in a world outside of Big Walnut. I actually have spent much of my life dispelling many of the myths and false perceptions of that experience—much as one gets rid of dandruff by getting one’s head above one’s shoulders.

Today I am in Dayton, Ohio, which is the home of the Wright Brothers, who became weary of repairing bicycles and decided they would build an airplane. One would assume there was a step or two in between, but I’m not so sure that history bears that out.

The state of Ohio is divided into three distinct parts, each one autonomous of the other. Everything south of Scioto Downs, near Columbus, is laced with a bit of Dixie and country. Lovely folks—just more familiar with the Grand Ole’ Opry than Puccini. Everything north of Mansfield, Ohio, is more like the eastern seaboard—or a little piece of upper state New York. The people are absolutely delightful, but do tend to fancy themselves a bit more intelligent and “Cleveland” instead of “Cincinnati.” The middle, where I grew up, is the state of Ohio’s homage to the Midwest, complete with flavors of Iowa and Nebraska, with a bit of Amish plainly added to the mix. It is literally tugged upon by the southern Ohio folks and the northern Ohio dudes, with its main claim to fame being The Ohio State University, which you may know, has recently tattooed its impression on our country.

I pulled out my calendar and realized that I will be spending twenty-eight days in my home state before moving on to New York. It made me smile, because twenty-eight days is the same length of time they demand you stay in rehab to recover from addiction. Is there a corollary there? We shall see.

But no matter where I go and no matter where I’ve been, I am determined to enjoy my stay on the planet earth. Because I see people who insist on preparing for heaven by making it clear to God and everybody else that they are miserable on earth. I just don’t know what makes us think that God, who made this planet, would suddenly have become a better builder just because He was working in the sky.

So you might consider doing what I do, having arrived in my home state. Wake up in the morning, stop making excuses about being tired, draft a plan that you know will be changed by circumstances and enjoy the day. After all, it could be worse.

You could be a graduate of BigWalnutHigh School.

Published in: on June 21, 2011 at 12:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

There Is No “I” …

There Is No “I”… (1,183)

June 20th, 2011

You know the saying: “There is no “I” in team.”

I’m sure the first time it was spoken it was very clever, and then gradually became a common colloquialism—and now, like most adages, because of its familiarity, it has gained some comedic poking and criticism.

It is factual—there is no “I” in team. But there is a “me”—because the word “team” has “me” in it. And even though teamwork needs the absence of egocentric individuals promoting their own agendas, it simultaneously requires the awareness of all the participants being completely cognizant of their “me” potential.

There is nothing worse than trying to drag somebody along, attempting to build his confidence, and ending up damaging the project because too much time was spent initiating motivation instead of doing the work.

I suppose the question might arise—what is the difference between “I” and “me?” Here it is: “Me” is an “I” who has spent some time peering into the mirror for clarification. Ego is when we decide that the way we are is supreme and needs no improvement. "Me" is an accurate assessment of abilities—and lack thereof—while drafting a plan on how to make the existing attributes work to a good conclusion.

There is a “me” in “team”it is when highly-focused, totally aware participants possess a sense of good cheer about themselves.

When most projects fail, the organizers will be found trying to make excuses or even create deception to cover up the inadequacy. Here’s what it means to be a “me:”

1. I am human and sometimes flawed, and it’s okay. Any organization or religion that denies us the honor and privilege of human error is creating an environment for deceivers—because there are only two ways we can go: we can fail and be honest or we can fail and make an excuse.

2. I can fail and survive it unless I lie about it. I do not know of any particular iniquity that would cause people to be permanently judgmental of us unless we devise an elaborate plan for cover-up which causes people to believe in our innocence , leaving them feeling destitute, holding the bag, when our sins find us out. Oh, I am sure there are perversions that are still eternally distasteful, but not the garden-variety bloopers that normally crop up. Lying is what causes us to come across both foolish and unforgiving.

3. The key to successful “me” living is to proffer much less talking and institute more demonstration. One of the clues in my mind that something is NOT going to happen is when people hold too many meeting to discuss the project. For after all, the best way to render a righteous decision is to give something a chance and see how it pans out. If we human beings would spend more time coming up with experiments to try out our notions instead of talking ourselves into stupidity, or yakking ourselves away from greatness, we would soon understand that most of our fellow-travelers are drawn to visual evidence much more than verbal.

The best way to be a good “me” member of the team is to admit you’re human and flawed and it’s okay, refuse to lie about things that are human and therefore have some degree of plausibility, and finally, spend less time talking and more time demonstrating what you really think will work.

Even though there’s no “I” in team, there is a “me.” And the greatest way to contribute to the common good is to not be afraid of who I am: taking what I want and living it out so it is easily understood instead of overly explained.

Published in: on June 20, 2011 at 1:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Father, Farther, Further

Father, Farther, Further (1,182)

June 19th, 2011

May I present an open message to my children on this Father’s Day? Perhaps you would like to share it with yours. First and foremost, may you always understand—you are wanted. Even though none of your conceptions were planned, utilizing a Mayan fertility calendar, your arrival brought joy, your growth engaged anticipation and your presence was always enlightening. I was, and am, happy to be your father.

To me, being a father is speaking to your offspring and telling them clearly, “You are the salt of the earth.” And because of that (1) you have a responsibility to yourself; (2) you require a relationship with God; and (3) you have a talent to give to earth.

Please don’t forget this. The only way to fail as a father is to have your children think that they are just part of a meaningless herd.

As a good father, there comes a time when you must propel your lineage to go farther. Yes, there is no glory, nor even appreciation, in the first 5,280 feet. It is expected. To set yourself apart, you must go the second mile. To go farther is a delicate process.

As a father, you have a tendency to want to soften the concepts of the world to make things easier. But teaching “easiness” is the best way to cause your children to experience disappointment and poverty. So a good father teaches “farther” by telling those of his household:

1. Pull yourself up without feeling pushed. Make sure the motivation is your idea and not the demand of a taxing employer.

2. Always do more than what you see. Eight is better than seven, and eleven is better than ten. If you develop a pattern of doing at least one more than required, you may never have to suffer the slings and arrows of the overly-critical.

3. Improve. Yes—set a goal in your mind to do everything just a little bit differently and hopefully better, each and every time. It not only keeps things fresh, it also keeps things evolving in the direction that life always goes.

And finally, as a good father who has challenged you to go farther, there comes a time when you must relinquish the household and allow those who live within it to have their own dreams and grant them the space to go further. Yes, tell your children that “greater things will you do than me.” This message is clear:

1. Learn from me. Hopefully, my life has been transparent enough that you can see all the way to my backbone.

2. Do me better. Study my strengths and keep a good sense of humor about my weaknesses. Which lends itself to:

3. In the process, find yourself. Even as a father who has challenged you to go farther and prays that you go further, I do want to see myself inside you, but hope that you will intelligently pick those units of me that have proven to be earth-friendly and God-worthy.

I am your father. Even though you were occasionally offended, my message was clear that I wanted you to go farther. And now that you’re on your own, I rejoice in the notion that you will end up further along. You are the salt of the earth, go the second mile and greater things will you do than me.

So Happy Father’s Day to my children—and to all children everywhere who have the singular mission of saving our planet. Do well and make it better if you can.

Published in: on June 19, 2011 at 10:41 am  Leave a Comment  

Still Simpler

Still Simpler (1,181)

June 18th, 2011

I used to have a whole bunch of stuff I believed. Worse, I voiced a ton of opinions. Now truthfully, I did work on avoiding being obnoxious about it, but every belief and opinion we have protrudes from us, turning us into porcupines. Therefore, my contention is: if you believe less and teach yourself to manufacture fewer opinions, you seriously decrease the number of times you have to poke somebody with one of your personal quills. (You don’t have to agree with that—but understand, it is your opinion, and therefore … pointed.)

I used to join into arguments with people over issues like gun control, abortion, marriage and so forth and so on. These are barometer topics that cause us to distinguish one another as either conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, evangelical or mainline. I find it despairing.

So in response to building boxes for holding people, I have become even simpler. To me it’s just an issue of life or death, and yes or no. In other words, my correct response is yes to life and no to death.

For instance, I used to believe that capital punishment was essential and a deterrent to crime. Then one day I noticed in the book of Genesis that God, who had investigated the first murder—of Cain by his brother, Abel—selected NOT to kill Cain for his crime, but instead, exiled him to his own discovery, punishment and devices. It was eye-opening. If God chose to exile the first murderer, why would I think His jurisprudence had changed?

On the other hand, I was frequently confused on the issue of abortion. I certainly didn’t want to take away a woman’s human rights, but I found the practice to be very distasteful and one that I had selected to avoid myself in my youthful years. Then I realized that with good sex education, birth control, a little self-control and counseling, abortion really should cease to be nearly as much a problem as we make it. The difficulty appears when those ultra-conservative people, who really hate sex in the first place, insist on chiming in on the subject, and when the ultra-liberals want to allow personal choice without responsibility. No doubt about it—abortion is a form of death, and therefore must be a “no” from me.

People always argue about gun control. I have shot a gun. It is fun. But if a gun becomes available for common use, or even common carrying, it implies the potential for threatening human beings, which I have no stomach for. I think we should have ammunition available for those who would like to go to gun ranges—ammunition which gives the same kick, but provides no danger. And I believe if you’re going to hunt for animals (which, by the way, are God’s creatures—otherwise he would not have saved them in the ark), you should do so to get meat for your family. If it is just for sport, make sure that meat ends up in the hands of the hungry or the homeless.

How about marijuana? Some people try to isolate it off as a singular drug of preference. This is not my experience. I have not known many people who just smoked marijuana without experimenting with stronger chemicals, which ultimately lead to the destruction of human life, either socially or physically. So for me, it’s a big “no.”

You see what I’m saying? The issues are not about conservative and liberal, but rather, death and life.

What do I think about hymns in the church? I think when they were written, they were composed by excited believers, and now, more often than not, performed by drones. If they can be sung with the vigor of their original energy, I think that’s life. If not, they should be immediately replaced with something that does enliven.

What do I think about communion in the church? If it’s a commemoration of the death of Christ, I think it’s an abomination. But if it is done the way Jesus said to do it—in remembrance of his being and life—then it can be quite beautiful. As you know, Jesus said, “I have come to give you life, and it more abundantly.”

What do I think about politics? If it is used to govern the people in a righteous way, to bring better life to all its citizens, it is ordained from the mind of God. If it is a power trip, used to kill off the opponent to gain authority which normally is ill-used, then I think it is an institution of death, and if you don’t mind, I’ll pass.

I do understand my little formula has its flaws and may not apply to every circumstance. But it does work much better than either the platform of the Republican or Democratic parties. I can recommend it.

I don’t believe in war. War kills. Yet, people would say that Hitler could not have been stopped without a world-wide effort from the military. I disagree. Hitler could have been terminated from power in the early stages and left to be a paper-hanger who failed as a soldier if the German people would have merely read his book, Mein Kampf, and realized that this was an individual who was more interested in death than life.

So I have just gotten simpler. I look for the life in something, and if I find it, I say “yes” and put my shoulder behind the work. If I discover death, I walk away before the stench stings my nostrils. I can recommend it.

· Yes to life.

· No to death.

Published in: on June 18, 2011 at 1:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Missing Conversation

A Missing Conversation (1,180)

June 17th, 2011

I spent an enriching evening of human warmth and discovery in Fairmount, Indiana. It is the hometown of James Dean, who was a brief vapor of youthful tension that left a lasting impression of dreams in transition.

I thought I was going to have a conversation with a budding, young filmmaker who lived in the community, but it never came to fruition. I do have missing conversations in life—and the vacancy they create often leaves me curious, wondering what could have been achieved if just a few moments of interaction had occurred. How perfect it would have been to talk to an up-and-coming artisan, especially one growing up in a town where another up-and-coming actor like Dean formed his roots, grit and gravel. So being absent of that experience with the gentleman, I’ve decided to tell you what I would have shared in our interchange.

First I would tell him, “Don’t study cameras and designs and try to keep up with all the technology. You decide what you want the camera to do and then go out and find out if it will actually do it. You are more important than all the lenses and angles that can be conjured. The truth of the matter is, any shot in a movie that does not simulate the human eye is more photography than cinema. If you want to go into photography and do landscapes, then you should. But if you want to make movies, be sensitive to how people view things through their own retina.”

Then I would tell him, “Don’t fuss about lighting. What you need to do is see it in your own mind and then find ways to make the bulb and lights better illuminate your vision. What you should do is, number one, set out to make a movie that captures a moment of human heart. Great movies are great storytelling. And great storytelling is bringing to the forefront an emotion familiar to us all.”

“Secondly, gently transition human angst into hope. I despise movies that leave me believing that reality is the existence of futility or desperation. Art should exhort, not exhaust.”

“Third, keep it raw and simple. Don’t take your camera in and shoot the whole room when what you want people to focus on are the keys lying on a small table in the corner. Shrink your scenes. I suppose if you want to make blockbusters, you should do wide angle shots or pictures from a helicopter. But I will guarantee you, the more raw and simple you keep your material the more easily it will be absorbed, appreciated and even retained by your audience.”

“And finally, I think it is a responsibility of those who make film to develop projects that make people want to do better. Futuristic scripts that talk about the doom and end of the world, and vampires and werewolves inflicting pain to express love is not only out of proportion to our daily lives, it is also counterproductive to the realization that we have a divine nature that needs to be exalted instead of entombed.”

That’s what I would have told this fine fellow. Of course, he didn’t show up for the conversation. Some people would wonder why. Not me. “Why” only matters to parents and close friends. The universe doesn’t care—just maintains an attendance record.

But it did make me realize that Jesus was God’s James Dean. Jesus was forever young, capturing a moment of humanity, taking the worry away and replacing it with desire, staying simple and people-sensitive, while making folks want to be better. Like James Dean, Jesus angered the old folks, inspired the young, created a new way of expression and was taken away while still youthful—much too soon.

Published in: on June 17, 2011 at 1:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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