Teenagers in the Pews

Teenagers in the Pew (1,179)

June 16th, 2011

I raised six boys. Most of you already know that. My relationship with those young men went through three distinct stages during their growing-up years. When they were seven years old, I loved them dearly. When they turned twelve, I liked them well enough. But by the time they hit sixteen? Well, honest to God, I tolerated them. Anyone who has raised teenagers has learned the meaning of the Jesus exclamation from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

I think this is why most people like babies, because they are fully aware that a little time-clock is ticking off—pleasant years until those infants gain the raging hormones of ferocious adolescence.

For when a child is about seven years of age, he walks around believing that you are the best. You gain the status of God with a side of Superman. Oh, occasionally they will pout if they don’t get a candy bar in the grocery store check-out line, but that is dispelled by coming home and tossing a football in the back yard. There is a dispensation of mutual admiration and an unrealistic anticipation that this particular child will escape all the rigors of rebellion. It’s the “You’re the best, Dad” phase.

Along about twelve years of age, they wake up one morning, and it’s like someone has given them a narcotic of nonsense. You are no longer the best. Instead, you have become something they permit in their lives, and you begin to hear that annoying response, “Yeah. I guess.” You seek any sign of passion or desire, only to be greeted with an emotional yawn, often accompanied by a physical nodding off while you speak.

You resist the temptation to be angry with their indifference, but sometimes it gets to you and you challenge their torpor, only to be greeted with a confused expression because they have no idea whatsoever what you are talking about.

“I did it, Dad. Didn’t I? What do you want?”

Some ideas immediately pop to your mind. How about excitement? A smile? Some enthusiasm? Or even breath in your lungs?

But you’re still convinced that you can overcome the horrors of other parents’ encounters with adolescence. That is, until they turn sixteen. This is where even the more liberal parents begin to believe in demon possession. A creature has moved into your house, stalked your child and inserted itself inside his soul, turning him into a fire-breathing dragon of misery and misconception. I refer to it as the “Whatever” phase. It is so annoying. Not only are you NOT “the best,” or barely pleasantly tolerated. No, you have become an enemy to attack simply because your temples have grayed and your skin dared to wrinkle.

I bring this up to you today because I see the same thing happening in the spiritual life of our country. I certainly understand why God is delighted with the fruits of evangelism—going out to preach the gospel to every living creature—because after all, new babes in Christ are so sweet, so excited. They can’t praise God too much for their salvation and new birth. They believe He’s “the best.” They will nearly tear up over being given a Bible.

And then they get in the church for a while, survive some committee meetings, experience a scandal or two, and they become the twelve-year-old version of, “Yeah. I guess.”

· “Yeah, I guess I need to go to church.”

· “Yeah, I guess we should read the Bible.”

· “Yeah, I guess we should pray for the sick and care for the homeless.”

· “Yeah, I guess we should repeat the liturgy.”

· “Yeah, I guess … “

I meet these people all the time. Matter of fact, they think my faith is a little childish because I’m still enthralled. They look at me like, “Eh, give him a little while. He’ll soon lose his joy…just like me.”

But as I travel the country, what is truly frightening is the presence of adolescents in the pews—people who have hardened their hearts so strongly to the fatherhood of God that they accidentally find themselves rebelling against renewal, revival and the restoration of enjoyment and new life. They have a “whatever” attitude. If you suggest praise, they offer assent. If you request they clap their hands, they reluctantly tap their foot. If you promote humor and a smile, they generate only a leer or a smirk. They feel that maturity grants them the privilege of refusing to be overly involved. They are the “Whatever” movement of religion that has a form of Godliness but has begun to rebel and deny the power of Daddy.

You still love ’em. You still include them as family—but you’re vexed by how miserable they are at the genealogy of being a part of you. We have teenagers in the pews who have developed a brusque approach to interaction with their heavenly Father. It makes you want to go out and make new converts, just so you can get the bad taste of the sour pusses out of your mouth. You want to be around some people who really believe that God is “the best.” You want to play on the playground of spirituality with some individuals who giggle instead of gag. No wonder Jesus says that he likes hot OR cold. But lukewarm he spews out of his mouth.

Can you be a seasoned veteran of the church wars and still have the heart of a seven-year-old child? I believe it’s possible—but not without acknowledging that religion has taken its toll on your soul and caused you to become more cynical than willing. I don’t think you can be a good Christian without truly hating religion, because religion turns us into rebellious teenagers who do not believe there’s anything new under the sun or good below the heavens.

When you consider this, it gives you great pause—even concern—especially when you ruminate over the words of Jesus:

“Except you become as little children, you will not enter the kingdom of God.”

Published in: on June 16, 2011 at 12:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Royal Center

The RoyalCenter (1,178)

June 15th, 2011

Last night I put on my show in Royal Center, Indiana. Honestly, when I arrived, no one was particularly thrilled that I had come to share with them, because as people often do, they were caught up in their own activities and pursuits. I hope you realize I am not being critical—I understand this. People don’t owe me anything—and that even includes their attention.

This is why I am so exhausted with all the campaigns by conservatives and liberals as they promote the right and left. Extremes are what cause us to believe that we are owed something that was never meant to be guaranteed.

I loved the name of the town—Royal Center—because that’s what I feel that I’ve found in my life: the royal center. I have discovered a comfortable chair in my soul where I have eliminated some of the foolish sense of need that used to cause me to be extremely obnoxious. The royal center:

1. No need to argue. I know there are people who enjoy it—but unless you are sure you’re with someone equally thrilled with arguing, I would suggest that you temper your desire to pursue the practice. No need to argue. Why? Because I have been wrong enough times in my life that I don’t need to fuss with you; and candidly, I know that you are wrong frequently enough that all I have to do is just wait for things to play out. For after all, I’ve never argued my way into changing someone’s mind. I have shared with folks and seen compromise and I have set an example and watched them quietly imitate it (usually without giving me any credit). The royal center is when we have no need to argue with anyone.

2. No need to fear. Fear is the absence of love. Love is the presence of God. God is when we finally grow weary of fear. I just don’t think there’s a need to be afraid. If what we believe is true and God does care for us and there is a heaven, is there not provision in both worlds? I grow absolutely exasperated with those who feel the need to motivate me by trying to scare the crap out of me. The royal center is when we have no need to fear.

3. No need to judge. When we come to the conclusion that our life is important enough that it should be lived out loud and proud, with great gusto, we will suddenly discover that we have very little time and energy left to interfere in the affairs of others. True maturity is when we discover that we judge other people because we are secretly frightened that they might be having more fun that we are. I will guarantee you—no one is having more fun than me. I am independent, free-thinking, spirited, humorous and downright unpredictable. Why would I feel the need to judge anyone else? The royal center is when we decide that there is no need to judge our fellow-travelers.

4. No need to worry. I have discovered that worry is what I do when I stop doing what I know to do and start wondering why God isn’t doing more. When I consider what my involvement is in a project, I take the precaution of not budgeting in God’s portion, but rather, letting Him input as He deems necessary. So if my car payment is $313.55, I don’t merely bring $221 of it and then wait for God to pitch in. I set out to get the whole amount, and then if God decides to chip in with a little extra blessing, well … so much the better. Worry is the absence of doing and the presence of presumptuous, nervous waiting. The royal center is when we no longer need to worry.

5. And finally—there is no need to be needy. Would you agree with me that no one EVER got what they wanted by insisting they need it? I never met a satisfied person who pursued a complaining path. And I never discovered anyone who overcame poverty by groaning about their bank account. Right or wrong, people give to other people based upon how giving they feel those other folks are. Some would say that’s not righteous. Of course, they would be wrong—because I don’t give to anyone who is not a giver, and the first thing needy people do is stop giving. It is the greatest piece of foolishness that a person in desperate straits can ever select. No—if you keep giving a portion of what you’ve got, someone else will notice when you run out, so you don’t have to blow a trumpet or fall over dead to prove your lack. The royal center in life is no need to be needy.

So my dear, sweet friends whom I met last night—may you join me in the royal center? Because I feel those people going right and left are actually just looking for an exit. I, personally, am in no hurry to leave. And because of that, I feel no need to argue, no need to fear, no need to judge, no need to worry and no need to be needy.

It is truly the royal center. And the beautiful part about it is that you can do it anywhere—not just in Indiana.

Published in: on June 15, 2011 at 12:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

The World, Me and Jesus

The World, Me and Jesus (1,177)

June 14th, 2011

Complexity is not the presence of intelligence, but rather, the confounding of it.

I love it when people turn to me and say, “It’s just not that simple, Jonathan.” I always know I’m on the right track. Bluntly, if it’s any more complicated than what I’ve managed to conjure in my mind, it will never become a reality to me, but instead, something I am impersonating, not embodying.

This is the main reason I am a follower of Jesus. Surrounded by theologians who continued to pile of scrolls of personal insight on what truly was the mind of God, Jesus succeeded in boiling down the heart of his heavenly Father into delightful sound bytes. One of my favorites is the scripture: “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”

This is a snapshot of how things work, how I should react to them, and the source of ultimate resolution. (Or else it’s just a verse of scripture that someone quotes en route to establishing point two of a three-point sermon.)

I guess we should begin with the world, which is rather large, by the way. The world is tribulation. What does that mean? Some people interpret “tribulation” as pain and conflict. That would be a dark representation of a system which was constructed to have enough difficulty to weed out the losers and enough possibility to encourage the winners. That’s the world.

· Seed time and harvest.

· Summer and winter.

· Day and night.

· Cold and heat.

It is a “stirred pot” of experiences which, to the naked eye, looks like an emotional gruel rather than a tasty meal. The only way we even know that life is edible is that we happened to be there when the ingredients were put into the pot, and even though it may not look terribly tasty, we know it is stock full of nutrients.

The world’s unpredictability creates an even playing field for us all, so that if we are willing to learn the ways of the natural order, we can succeed. If we become overly positive, our little slogans will be dashed by a new onslaught of reality. If we’re overly negative, we will only see the darker areas of life which confirm our suspicions. And if we are overly practical, we may miss a subtle nuance which could give us the germination of a new seed of notion. It’s not about being positive, negative or practical. Once we understand that the world is a whirling windstorm of tribulation and diversity of experiences, we have only one function: “Be of good cheer.”

“But Jonathan, how can we be of good cheer when there’s so much pain and anguish on the earth?”

Chill out. You aren’t going to solve the pain and anguish—but what you can do is find a way in every circumstance to enjoy yourself as much as you possibly can. Because without that joy you will not have the strength to endure. And it is “he who endures to the end” that is saved.

What IS good cheer? Good cheer is ignoring present circumstances in favor of finding our own sense of well being in every situation, while tapping the talents we have to improve our lives.

That’s it. That’s all I have to do. Better yet, it is honestly all I CAN do.

People are hungry in Africa? Since I’m not going to be traveling there soon, I might want to give a loaf of bread to a hungry person down the street and hope that it trickles down.

I see some evil in the world that’s against the Bible? All I can do is work on my own flavor, salt and light—and be the best example I can possibly achieve. Because life is a visual medium, not a verbal one. That’s why the Bible says “the light of the body is the eye.” If people can’t see it they won’t believe it just because you say it.

The world is full of tribulation—explosions of abstract occurrences which often don’t jive with our desires. Our only defense? “Be of good cheer.”

Because I will tell you bluntly: the loss of a sense of humor is the absence of God.

And the reason we can so readily take this position is because Jesus, a dear friend of ours, has overcome the world. This is not a theory. Jesus took on the most ardent religious system of his day; the most ruthless dictatorship in Rome; a permeating ignorance of the true nature of God; the constant presence of vicious poverty and disease, and oblivion as a way of life amongst the masses—and he brought about a revolution of love manifested through the ultimate defeat of death through resurrection.

It’s a pretty healthy résumé. I think he’s qualified for the job of “overcomer.”

And how did he overcome the world? By laughing at tribulation and waiting for God to sort it out. How brilliant!

So it comes down to the world, me and Jesus. And the reason “I” am placed before Jesus is that his ways and words won’t get any attention without an intelligent follower demonstrating them—living them out through a successful life. It works.

I’m not afraid of tribulation because without a constant upheaval in life, change becomes a concept instead of our chosen living space. And without me “being of good cheer,” fretting and worrying become viable options, when actually they are truly our enemies. And without the evidence of Jesus overcoming the world, we are a people who talk about hope but end up miserably defeated.

So if I will stop complaining about the world and its ups and downs, I may get a giggle in my spirit that opens the door and gives God the time to let Jesus overcome the world. I like that.

The world, me and Jesus.

Pretty simple, huh? Of course, if it were any more complicated, we’d have to have a committee meeting about it, and then we KNOW nothing would get done.

Published in: on June 14, 2011 at 12:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Splitsville

Splitsville (1,176)

June 13th, 2011

It was my joy and honor to share this weekend at a church which is presently experiencing the aftermath of a split. I have decided not to share the name or location of this congregation, so as to grant them the solitude they require and deserve during this juncture. Instead, I have selected to take a moment to relate to you my own experience in relationship to a church splitting apart.

I was part of such a severing. Matter of fact, there are those who would insist that I was the cause. I would not argue with them because I did bring in an infusion of creativity, newness and joy which many found to be beneficial and others of a more traditional bent deemed an intrusion.

Mine was a short stay.

After several disagreements over procedure and the value of liberty in worship, the leadership decided it was best for me to take my gifts and talents elsewhere. I should have just left quietly, but because I was a thirty-one-year-old, still shedding many of the insecurities and fantasies of my youth, I raised enough objections that a goodly clump of the faithful decided to go with me and start a new congregation. That in itself, dear friends, was not catastrophic—except for the fact that it is flawed from the onset.

If human beings truly had a divine nature, we would possibly never disagree—and if such schisms did occur, we would grant the other party permission to be different without insisting that they were inferior. You see, the problem with a church split is that even when it’s amicable, there’s just too much to prove on both sides for it to initially produce spiritual maturity.

It was subtle at first. Our little clump prayed for their little clump. Our little vestige insisted that we forgave them for their indiscretions. Our tiny conclave rejoiced that we were finally in an atmosphere of freedom instead of being bound up in legalism and fussiness. I’m sure it was much the same on their side.

But then, pride slipped in. This is similar to what happens in a divorce. If people could just walk away from declare, “We actually do have irreconcilable differences” and move on to new relationships without feeling the need to quietly hope for the failure of the ex-partner, then our courts would not be jammed with rampaging custody battles, often making our children mere bargaining chips. But human beings find it difficult to experience rejection without silently plotting the demise of their rejecter.

As I said, it was subtle at first. My sermons and messages were laced with a bit of venom against the doctrines of intimidation that my escapees had undergone with the previous administration. There was a giddy sense of superiority when we triumphed and we heard through the grapevine that their numbers were dwindling. We were pompous over our successes rather than humbled by the granting of such gifts. And even though I was very young and still intoxicated with my own sense of self, the Holy Spirit was eventually able to penetrate my thick skin, which was disguising the true contents of my soul—and convince me by convicting me that my ministry was becoming malicious rather than fruitful.

It hurt. I still wanted to blame those who had dared to challenge my calling. I wanted to see them suffer. It wasn’t what I prayed and it isn’t what I spoke aloud to the faithful. But deep in my heart I was a rejected lover who wanted to make sure that my former partner was deemed ugly.

It is amazing to me when we all choose to insist that we’re children and therefore allowed to be childish—and when we climb a little higher and proclaim ourselves fully grown and adult. I was a leader of humans, although our numbers were small at the time—and my leadership was grounded in pain rather than the pleasure of spiritual discovery.

I repented. More importantly, I stopped being a jerk. I called the former pastor who had crossed swords with me and asked his forgiveness. Honestly, he was not very gracious. I didn’t care. The forgiveness was not contingent on how he reacted to my overture. The call was necessary in order to free me from my wounded condition and it set me on a road towards recovery.

Churches will split because they never should have been together in the first place. One group has accidentally landed with another group, usually by either proximity or tradition, and rarely by principle or practice. We should have the maturity to pursue our own spiritual path without condemning the roadway of another. We just aren’t very good at that.

So let me offer a tender admonition to the dear hearts I met this weekend: Get to the business of your own lives as quickly as possible and find NEW people to join you in your mission. If God wants to restore people together, let Him be the repairer of the breech.

It was a tough lesson. I even found the need to explain my inadequacy to those who had followed me from the previous church. Many of them were perplexed because they were deeply enjoying attacking their former captors. I understood.

For some, pain is better endured by inflicting it on others. But eventually we have to bind up the wounds and acknowledge that unity can be expressed in two ways: (1) it can be the agreement of brothers and sisters in a common cause, or (2) it can be permission to be different as we pursue a common cause.

I gave my former friends in that church permission to be who they were. I received freedom. I received the benefit of knowing that my labors would now be based upon the fruit of the spirit instead of the vegetation of frustration.

Splitsville—sometimes things just don’t work out. And often we do more damage by insisting that they should instead of releasing one another to pursue Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Published in: on June 13, 2011 at 2:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Stuck in the Back of My Throat

Stuck in the Back of My Throat (1,175)

June 12th, 2011

He swore he’d told her. He was positive that time and time again he had spoken the words. She just didn’t remember them—or worse yet, she had maliciously decided to malign his name and make him seem uncaring.

The two of them sat in front of me, sharing about problems in their relationship. She made the observation that he never said thank you for anything. He, on the other hand, vehemently denied the assertion. It was one of those typical marital back-and-forths which see-saw into a meaningless up-and-down conversation—the kind that never evens out, never offering anything resembling common ground.

It probably was my responsibility, as the set of ears, in the room to get to the bottom of the matter. But I realized that was impossible—because she would continue to insist that he never spoke any words of gratitude and he would become increasingly adamant that he was not only grateful, but also quite verbose about it.

The truth? They were both right. She was correct in the sense that no actual words resembling “thank you” or “I appreciate you” ever fell from his lips. He was accurate in that he was truly thankful, but somewhere along the line, the words just got stuck in the back of his throat.

It happens to all of us. And especially as we have insisted on becoming more isolated from our emotions, our mouths have become even less willing to speak the sentiments of our hearts, although we are quite positive we have communicated it in some way to those around us. “Thank you” and “you’re welcome” have been displaced by a nod and a smile. “I love you” has been bumped out of the way in favor of abstract actions which are supposed to communicate the concept.

It’s hard sometimes. I suppose it started with the extreme pain often associated with mouthing the words, “I’m sorry.” It’s not that we fail to see our error. It’s not that we don’t care. It’s just that we think the circumstances are so obvious that there shouldn’t be a need to pronounce the words out loud.

It reminds me of the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. The young man, who had taken all of his inheritance and squandered it in a Las Vegas lifestyle, found himself down and out, living in “Hog Hell.” He rehearses a speech which he decides to share with his father upon returning home, hat in hand, to ask forgiveness. But when he arrives home, the father sees him coming and runs out to greet him, showering him with gifts of acceptance and immediately incorporating him back into the household. Now, I’m sure the boy was tempted to think, “Everything’s cool. Dad’s on board with me coming home. He knows I’m sorry. Let’s just get on about the business of being family again.” If he had done that, the story would have been incomplete. Because as the tale continues, even though the father has already accepted him, the son still delivers the speech he had rehearsed in the pig pen.

Words are necessary. They are the only confirmation we have that our hearts have aligned correctly. Jesus said it is “out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

Yes. I need to say it: “Thank you.” And you need to say, “You’re welcome.” Yes. It is required of me that I actually say, “I love you” instead of just holding the door open. I need to produce words that can be heard to confirm that I was wrong. I need to hear you say the same.

When words get stuck in the back of our throats, they collect and end up choking us to death. They drain the life from our relationships, stealing moments that would define the tenderness and depth of our commitment. This is why we ask people to stand in front of witnesses and speak their love for one another to confirm marriage.

The notion that I am supposed to know what you feel without hearing you say it is the beginning of all misunderstanding.

· Hymns are to be sung, not mumbled.

· Liturgy should be articulated instead of being reluctantly recited.

· Testimony should be offered instead of an “amen” spoken in unison by a congregation at the end of a pre-fabricated prayer.

What are words for? They are the only way we know for sure that someone is still alive. But they do tend to get stuck in the back of our throats, and our only way of contradicting our generation’s sense of mum and pride is to crack through our own reticence—and tell somebody what we really feel.

The first few times you do it, it’ll hurt like hell. You’ll feel stupid and awkward. That is, until you see the face of your friend and loved one light up, and you realize how long they’ve been waiting to hear you say it.

Published in: on June 12, 2011 at 12:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Here It Is

Here It Is (1,174)

June 11th, 2011

Honesty is the recourse that human beings finally select when they once-and-for-all decide that they really suck at lying. Until then, faulted as we are, we will pursue telling untruths, with the notion that we can pull the wool over people’s eyes and even those of the Great Shepherd of the Universe (though He has no wool).

Being human myself, I am plagued by this particular ill-conceived iniquity. What I have tried to do on my journey is free myself of the need to be right, allowing myself the courtesy of being wrong and discovering it before other folks point it out gleefully.

So here it is: last night I was scheduled into Lawrence, Michigan. About a week and a half ago, Janet did an interview with a local newspaper and discovered through that conversation that the reporter, although a member of the church where we were going to be presenting our program, was completely unaware about the event. This produced some concerns. Usually a certain amount of awareness is necessary for us to proclaim a publicized concert. So Janet completed the interview faithfully and our agent also encouraged the sponsor, so we headed off to Lawrence last night, feeling that we had done everything we could possibly do to prepare for the evening.

We met our benefactor—a lovely, gentle man—and we tried to maintain an optimistic heart beating within our breast. We were blessed to be assisted in our set-up with four of the most endearing, well-behaved and intelligent young children you would ever want to meet. But when seven o’clock rolled around and we walked out, ready to perform, our entire audience consisted of that delightful sponsor, those four children and their sweet, kind mother.

I was disappointed. Please understand that I work very hard on NOT being disappointed—I take into consideration that people have lives and that I am not particularly famous, even though I have quite a respectable résumé. I often consciously think, “If anybody went into a strange town, set up a PA system and invited the community out, what would be the chance that there would be any takers and arrivers for them either?”

Although this is a noble exercise to prepare oneself for possible rejection, when that monster actually does show up (or in my case, DOESN’T show up), no matter how much you have prepared for it, it still stinks.

I was trying to figure out what I was going to be able to share from the show that I had planned, when a couple of other people came in the back door. Although the situation improved with the addition of a few warm bodies, it did little to alleviate the sting of isolation. All the old insecurities of being human came to the forefront: “What am I doing? I am fifty-nine years old, performing to an empty room. Who cares?”

I will agree with you that these are useless emotions, but as long as we keep them in the garage, we occasionally will have to deal with them when we’re looking for a new can of paint. I was grumpy. Then, much to my chagrin, the sponsor and his wife began to hold a private conversation while I was doing my show, and he got up and left the room for a good five or ten minutes, greatly depleting the crowd.

My grumpiness was threatening to become anger. I hate that in myself—but not enough to do away with it. Fussiness is a roommate that should be evicted—but because it always pays its share of the bills and makes up feel better occasionally, we let it remain. I was tempted to allow my nastiness to come out in my interaction with the audience. I was ashamed, but nonetheless, still discouraged.

And then . . . I looked into the faces of those dear young humans. Their eyes were wide with wonder over the wind machine that Janet was playing, and they were quiet—willing to sit and listen to me expound—without any prejudice in their hearts. I shut my trap. I sealed off the cracks in my soul and I refused to allow my disappointed ego to win the day.

It turned out to be an enriching evening with a handful of people. I later found out that the sponsor had departed the room because one of the members of his congregation had been thrown from a horse and was severely injured. I was so glad that my pettiness had not caused me to draw too many conclusions—because there’s always a story that we don’t know about that certainly is bigger than our own emotional needs.

That same delightful sponsor walked up and added a generous personal offering to the collection that truly was a second-mile effort on his part. Ministry went forth, fellowship was achieved and those same wonderful children that helped us carry our equipment in were just as overjoyed to help us carry out.

I left the town feeling a combination of jubilance and shame—shame that I got so angry over being snubbed by the local citizenry and jubilance because I had come to the conclusion that any chance we have to rub up against another human being is a miracle that cannot be denied.

On the way home I wondered if I would be able to share this story candidly in today’s jonathots. Would those fine folks in Lawrence know that I wasn’t blaming them, but rather, was in the midst of a great self-discovery? Would my jonathots readers comprehend the essence of what I was saying and realize the futility of unrealistic expectation? Would the sponsor recognize my appreciation as I related my feelings openly?

About the time that I reached the exit to go to my motel home, I finally comprehended that there was only one requirement for me: to speak the truth with love.

So my dear friends, this is the truth—and I send all my love out to those brothers and sisters in Lawrence. I normally have really great attendance at my concerts, so I shouldn’t be surprised when life balances me out with an occasional lacking.

I can recommend honesty to you—because I have learned over the years that the truth is much easier to recall than a lie. And because lies tend to flitter out of our memories, we end up having to create other fibs on the spot . . .fibs that make us look even more ridiculous.

Published in: on June 11, 2011 at 2:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

To Be Ordained

To Be Ordained (1,173)

June 10th, 2011

I was twenty years old, my mind exploding with ideas, many of which were more stupid than useable. That’s just the way life is. When you’re young, winners and losers look very much the same—because ability has not yet caught up with intelligence, which is itself dragging far behind common sense.

I heard that Marty, a friend of mine, was going to be ordained. Marty was very helpful to me except when he disagreed or somebody in his church thought I was being obtuse. And then Marty, being a good politician, would tend to side with the congregational member and leave me hanging out to dry. But it didn’t happen often enough to affect our friendship. And to his credit, he gave our group, Soul Purpose, several opportunities to perform, even though we were in our fledgling days.

At that point, I had written two songs which our group had recorded onto a 45 rpm record. It went nowhere. (Once again, I was young and thought that merely recording a record was enough to grant you some blip on the radar screen, and recognition amongst the masses. Not so.) People become excited for about forty-eight hours, but when we failed to become an overnight success, they assumed the record must not have been very good instead of understanding that we lacked the connections to plug into the market.

So because our little record did not do very well, people had assumed that we were done—and that we should all go get jobs and become normal, everyday laborers. The fact that we disagreed with this assessment put us on the outs with a good number of people.

So when Marty was planning his ordination, I asked him if Soul Purpose could sing a song in his honor. A bit reluctantly, he agreed. (I think his reticence was based upon our present level of popularity with his flock, rather that upon our talent.) As soon as Marty’s mother found out that we were going to sing at the ordination, she contacted me and suggested that we share the hymn “Haven of Rest,” which she explained was one of her son’s favorites.

I agreed to learn it, and we did. But I wanted to do something different. I wanted to write an original song in honor of Marty’s ordination. You must understand that when I spoke this idea out loud in front of other people, there was an immediate uproar. First of all, such ideas were never done by anyone in Central Ohio. Who would have the audacity to think they could write a song for an ordination that would be better than “Haven of Rest?” Also, they doubted my ability to compose such a piece since my previous efforts had not produced a hit. Even those in our musical group were nervous about sharing an original tune instead of following the advice of those who were elder.

But I wrote the song. I liked it. I more than liked it—it made me cry and touched my heart. So our group learned both “The Haven of Rest” and our new song, which I entitled “To Be Ordained.”

The day arrived. I had no idea what I was going to do. Matter of fact, up until the time of our introduction, I was still conflicted. And then I made a decision. It was a decision that changed my thinking for the rest of my life. Would I rather regret doing my own thing? Or regret that I didn’t do my own thing?

Suddenly the choice was crystal clear to me. If I sang MY song that I had written for this friend of mine for his ordination and it ended up being a real bomb and turkey, then I would survive two or three days of ridicule and never be asked to do anything like that ever again. But if I sang my song and it DID touch the folks as it had me in writing it, then I would have a memory that would last a lifetime.

There was no indecision on my part.

I started the introduction of “To Be Ordained,” and I could see the sweat burst on the brow of my fellow-band-members. But to their credit, they sang it loudly and proudly. We finished the song and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I presented the words and the music to Marty, and he embraced me. It was the talk of the next week—all through the church house. No one remembered “Haven of Rest.” No one wondered why I had decided not to do it.

Over the years I have made such choices many times. Sometimes they have ended up in my favor, and on occasion, they have blown up in my face. But I always chose to move towards progress, innovation, creativity and genuine purity. I don’t regret the selections—even when they had an unfavorable conclusion. Nor am I overwrought about the victories.

This is just something you have to do if you’re going to live an original life. But when you’re young, winners and losers look pretty much the same—until time gives you the chance to prove your worth.

This is something we should keep in mind as we try to come up with solutions in our country, our churches and our families.

All ideas seem stupid until someone insists that we try them. Don’t forget it—and pray for those who are fearless enough to actually put them into practice.

Published in: on June 10, 2011 at 12:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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