A Masterful Invitation

A Masterful Invitation(1,217)

July 24th, 2011

Dear Jesus:

We just wanted to drop you a note to invite you to the upcoming nuptials of our daughter and son-in-law. They have requested that we extend this invitation to you and we must apologize for the late notice, but we have taken some time to deliberate their request, balancing it with the nature of the festivities and quite honestly, in regards to your reputation. Please don’t be offended, but we have been concerned in relationship to several matters.

As you probably realize, there will be people at the ceremony from all walks of life, including Pharisees and members of local town councils. So if we could be so presumptuous, we would like you to refrain from talking about religion and politics during the time you are here with us. We feel that if you referred to the visiting clergy as “a brood of vipers” and the politicians as “whited sepulchers, stealing from widows”—well, there could be a bit of misunderstanding.

Also, if you wouldn’t mind and considering the nature of a marriage ceremony, we would request that you wouldn’t make your normal reference to “committing adultery in your heart.” Although I’m sure the meaning of that phrase might be beneficial to some, or even understandable, considering the general tone of the day, it’s possible it could be misconstrued.

Bluntly, we also would like you to not bring any prostitutes to the event. I hope this directness is not offensive to you, but we heard about the incident at the dignitary’s house—where a woman of ill-repute washed your feet with her tears as she kissed you. We find this a bit inappropriate for this occasion, especially since I’m a lawyer who prosecutes vice and prostitution, and the groom’s father sells footwear.

Moving along, we want you to understand that we are not prejudiced people in the least. Matter of fact, some of our best friends would be classified by others as “those people.” We have heard through the grapevine that you refer to Samaritans as “good.” I’m sure there is validity to that chain of thought. But we don’t think it would be wise for you to bring Samaritans to the marriage ceremony and reception because … well, I don’t think they would be comfortable. They have their own way of doing things, their own culture, their own style of music, their own taste in food and I think they would find our particular rendition a bit bland. We’re just normal.

Moving along, we would also like to encourage you—yes, that’s the word—encourage you to keep your friends who are lepers and demon-possessed away from the celebration. The rumor is, I understand, that these people are former lepers and formerly demon-possessed, but one never knows when they might relapse.

Matter of fact, while we’re on the subject, would you please be so kind as to consider this invitation for yourself and a date? I’ve heard you have a collection of about twelve companions who come from a myriad of backgrounds, and they may not find this particular environment to their liking. Now, there is nothing wrong with having odd friends—I personally have an acquaintance who wears different shades of robes every week. Imagine that. But I understand that some of your disciples are fishermen, and the fragrance of the sea in the room might be a bit of a put-off.

And finally, I understand that you have spoken a parable about a wedding feast, where the size of the crowd is portrayed as insufficient and that in this story, you demanded that more people be called in from the streets until the house was filled. Perhaps we should explain to you that ours is a selected guest list—by choice. Having a “full house” is not our aim, but rather, having close friends and family joined in a spiritual unison of sweet fellowship is much more desirable to us.

So with those very few things in mind, we would like to joyously invite you to this festive day where we celebrate the union of our children. Thanks for understanding.

Yours in God’s love,

Nick and Paula O’Demus

P.S. As you can probably tell by our last name, we have a little Irish in our blood. So concerning that phrase of yours—“the least of these, my brethren”—we do welcome you to invite the “little people.” We can always use the luck of a leprechaun.

Published in: on July 24, 2011 at 10:11 am  Leave a Comment  

Primary

Primary(1,216)

July 23rd, 2011

I am constantly getting directions. It’s the nature of my business as a traveling persona to need to find out how to get to places so that I can arrive on time without being exasperated by the action of getting lost. In the early days of my travels, I was at the mercy of the locals, who tried to explain how to get to their location, beginning with the presumption that it was easy (since they already knew where they were). Often little details were left out, which would have made it easier to arrive at the destination intact, without pounding the steering wheel too many times or speaking nastiness aloud about the direction-giver.

Nowadays, we have Google maps, Mapquest and, of course, GPS. They all work remarkably well—except when they don’t. And usually what happens when they fail that the first or last turns are incorrect and you head off into errant oblivion.

For after all, when the primary piece of instruction is incorrect, everything else fails to move you towards your goal.

I see this problem in my country. Our primary concept of social interaction is flawed. In the pursuit of accepting diversity, we fail to acknowledge that most things about us as people are similar. It sends us off into the wild blue yonder of confusion.

Case in point: when we believed that black people were different than white people, it didn’t lead to mutual understanding, but rather, segregation, prejudice and bigotry. The same thing is true with folks who came from Ireland, Italy and more recently, Central America. As long as we focused on our cultures and the uniqueness of them, we had grounds to place one another at a distance rather than embracing our vast spectrum of commonalities.

It’s actually sinister.

And it begins with this ongoing, ridiculous notion that men and women are different. For the vast majority of us, the primary relationship we have in our lives will always be with someone of the opposite sex. When we believe that our traits and ideas are worlds apart, we manufacture bigotry. It masks itself as humorous, but actually, it lends itself to a back-biting antagonism.

I have traveled and worked with women my whole life, and I will tell you that women are just like men in the sense that they become better earth inhabitants when they believe themselves to be people instead of feminine objects of reverence. The men I have worked with in my life are more complete and Godly when they allowed themselves to emote and be equal with the women around them, rather than testosterone-driven sexual predators.

It is a wrong turn that is accepted equally by society and religion, and it keeps women in a weakened position—where they simulate power by appearing to be assertive and smart, while actually relinquishing their true equality by giving men authority over them.

I do not see Jesus treat women and men any differently in his ministry. In John the 3rd chapter, the dialogue Jesus had with Nicodemus is just as confrontational as the conversation he has in John the 4th chapter, with the woman in Samaria. Two chapters, back to back. Two discourses. One with a male, one with a female—both equal in intensity, intelligence and the anticipation that change would occur and be identical.

We are destroying ourselves by believing that touting our differences will turn us into tolerant people, inclusive and expansive in our thinking. It is ludicrous.

I love people because I find myself in them. When I don’t find myself in them, I don’t love them. Bluntly, what part of “love thy neighbor as thyself” do you not understand?

If I believe my relationship with women is purely sexual, with a climate of confrontation always in the air, I will not learn to appreciate their diversity, but rather, despise their difference and end up calling it weakness.

Culture may be an interesting inclusion in our pursuit of finding preferences in our daily choices, but when it is placed in predominance—as the main ingredient of our personality—it causes a warring in our species that is not only foolish, but completely unnecessary.

The Chinese may like a few different things from me, but I am one of them. The Arabs and Jews have made a living by insisting that they are massively separated in ideology. The end result is not understanding, but war.

And creating a war between men and women in this country is one of the most stupid actions I have seen in my lifetime. If differences do exist, they need to be played down instead of up. Otherwise, we will destroy ourselves and make the joining of a man and a woman a joke instead of a masterful, ingenious notion of our heavenly Creator.

When the first or last turns in a set of directions is wrong, everything else is just frustrating drivel. And when we believe that men and women are so separated that peaceful interaction is literally impossible, we are taking the primary joining of Eden and making a mockery of it.

Published in: on July 23, 2011 at 2:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dumpy

Dumpy(1,215)

July 22nd, 2011

It happens.

In the process of traversing from town to town across this great country, you eventually will experience almost everything—good, bad, ugly and pretty. (I added “pretty” on to balance with “bad” and “ugly.”)

Leaving Ohio and arriving in New York, we found that our centrally-located place for occupancy ended up being in Niagara Falls. Just for the record, it is always a bad idea to stay at a tourist spot when you’re not actually there to be a tourist and spend lots of money. Our normal budget for lodging is always more than adequate—unless we happen to be staying in Niagara Falls. So our budget did not allow us to stay at our usually-excellent facility. Rather, we ended up in a dumpy place.

There were two fortunate things about the experience:

(1) Dumpy places are NOT infested with bugs, insects or rodents. Most of that, as it turns out, is just mythology. Rather, dumpy places are over-crowded by furniture purchased during the Eisenhower administration, and they’re laid out in such a way that you have to organize a path to wiggle your way to the bathroom. They are destitute, dilapidated and dingy. General score: D.

(2) Second fortunate aspect was that we only had to stay there for three days. But three days can be a long time (as Jesus found out, lying in the grave waiting for his resurrection). So along the line, I devised a plan to get us out of the dumpy place as early as possible by departing in the wee hours of the morning on Thursday instead of waiting for check-out time later in the day. It seemed crazy, as I am sure any escape from Alcatraz would during the planning phase.

But I cannot describe how overjoyed I was to load my stuff into the car at 4:30 A.M. and drive away from “DumpyTown.” We had a beautiful voyage through the greenery of Upper StateNew York, arriving in Warren, Pennsylvania, before the heat hit, just after dawn—to our new, less-dumpy quarters. Now, I am not a picky fellow. I have found in my life that contentment is not based on surroundings, but rather, our perception of those circumstances.

But sometimes, a dump is a dump. And the power we are given by God and our own free will is to survive the experience by making a plan to get away from it. It is amazing what we as human beings can endure when we know that we have outsmarted the situation and will soon exit, stage right.

I was rewarded by spending a lovely evening with some very hot folks in Warren, Pennsylvania, who endured the summer sweltering to come out to a non-air-conditioned church auditorium to listen to an hour-long presentation. I arrived back at my new headquarters—exhausted, refreshed, renewed and empowered.

In closing, we waste too much time complaining when planning requires no more effort at all.

Published in: on July 22, 2011 at 1:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

Fullness 24:1

Fullness 24:1(1,214)

July 21st, 2011

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

This is the closing verse of the famous twenty-third Psalm. Perhaps you realize that the Bible, when it was written, was not constructed in chapters and verses. That came along later, with adept scribes and translators. So the next verse—or the 24th Psalm, as we know it, is really somewhat of a continuation of the previous thought and it reads simply: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, all the world and those who dwell therein.”

So this house of the Lord that the twenty-third Psalm was talking about is not so much a temple in Jerusalem or a church building, but rather, the whole creation of God that surrounds us, and the Bible says, all of its fullness. So I find it a bit confusing why we think that sciences, history, chemistry, philosophy, geology and any of the other studies, are contrary to spirituality. And the people who thought the world was flat must have failed to read the Bible, where it refers to “the circle of the earth.” And those who insist that evolution is an evil or erroneous theory hatched by some atheistic Darwin obviously never read the Genesis account of creation, which offers its own rudimentary form of evolution, with the first life forms coming from the water.

I don’t know why religious people are so frightened of knowledge and people who pursue greater understanding think that their best profile is to be non-believers. As I drive through the countryside of New York today on my way to Pennsylvania, where I will perform in Warren tonight, I am astounded at the beauty, expansiveness and intricacy of the glorious panorama of creative excellence spread before me.

Why do we have to make God so small to make knowledge appear to be big? And why does knowledge have to shrink in order for us to establish our faith in God?

Forgive me for saying so, but I just happen to believe in fullness—and that Psalm 24:1 certainly leads me to contend that nature and God, knowledge and spirituality, have absolutely no conflict with one another unless someone has an ax to grind or is bound and determined to create an unnecessary warring among God’s many children and gifts.

There really is a very simple formula about determining whether something is a discovery which progresses mankind—therefore giving a salute to the heavenly Father—or whether we’re trying to stunt the growth of human beings by keeping them ignorant or if we’re bound and determined to disprove the existence of a Creator by making everything haphazard.

The formula: Does the new information (a) confirm what we already know, or (b) open a door to make human beings more aware and creative, or (c) push us towards a greater comprehension on how to honor both God and nature through either conservation or concentration?

If those three things are achieved, there is no difference between saying the word “knowledge” and saying the word “God.” Because as it says in the book of James, the one prayer that is always answered immediately is the request for wisdom. God is overjoyed at our enlightenment. So I would characterize God as a Being who is open to full disclosure, and has produced an atmosphere that requires asking, seeking and knocking to achieve understanding.

It is ignorant of both science and the Bible to dispel a respect for evolution—natural selection. (I personally do not believe in the entire thesis of The Origin of the Species. I think a creative force which was able to generate evolution through the appearance of the chimpanzee is certainly capable of producing a second evolution through the human race. Those who are purists in Darwinism would find this distasteful, I’m sure. And those who are very religious would object because I accept any form of evolution whatsoever. And no evidence has been given to me that man was able to evolve from the ape. But time marches on.)

It is irresponsible to fail to study the earth’s habits and changes in climate to better enhance our style of occupancy. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” So everything we discover about this earth is not going to be contrary to a belief in God unless we dig our heels in and insist that our present limited knowledge is the end-all of human understanding.

The reason I hope that I someday get a chance to meet God is because I know that in my brief lifetime, all the wonder of this planet will not be understood by me, and He will be able to make sense of His own chemical and spiritual mixture that causes the great fullness that we call earth.

All the world is His and all those who dwell within it. That’s really good news. Because if we’re going to dwell in the house of the Lord forever, the goodness and mercy that will come our way is in accepting the revelations that are achieved by those inquisitive minds that want to find God through a test tube instead of a prayer.

Published in: on July 21, 2011 at 11:31 am  Leave a Comment  

The Hole

The Hole(1,213)

July 20th, 2011

There’s a hole in everything.

I certainly don’t mean to be cynical. I am not a dark-spirited individual, nor would I call myself an optimist. I am just a pragmatist who believes that the work that needs to be done might just bear fruit. But we don’t achieve anything by ignoring reality—even when we insist that we’re generating faith.

There’s a hole in everything. For instance, family is great—but there’s a hole in it. It’s called children—because as delightful as they may be when they’re little, they do develop their own opinions and often select a different path that takes them away from a fulfilling potential to languish in mediocrity or even suffer disastrous conclusions.

There’s a hole in marriage. It’s called man and woman. As pleasurable as the combo may be, it also has tremendous openings for devastation.

There’s a hole in politics. The idealism of representative government does demand that we elect people, which requires a popular vote and means that the people who desire the positions need to be popular in order to get that vote—and popularity breeds compromise and deception.

There’s a hole in religion. All endeavors toward God normally insert too many rules and too many man-made inclinations to be able to gain Divine approval.

There’s a hole in everything. To deny this is to fail to understand the nature of life and even the will of God. God did not create a universe without flaw. He created a cosmos that is meant to be discovered, studied, understood—and meant for us to find a way to adapt to the accommodations. Thus the words of Jesus: “He that endures to the end will be saved.” A certain amount of endurance is necessary to achieve salvation. The main part of that endurance is understanding that there’s a hole in everything.

If you disagree with that, the rest of my essay may seem useless—because you will pursue the path you feel is necessary for your own sense of well-being. But if you have an ear to hear and you’re not intimidated by the notion that there’s a hole in everything, please read on. (Because quite honestly, I do not find my writings to be an end-all, but rather, a beginning of understanding—a commencement of common sense in the midst of the din of rhetoric.)

Once you realize there’s a hole in everything, you have three choices:

(1) There is a group of people who warn and complain about the hole. They preach about it. They try to frighten us into believing that if something isn’t done about the hole we are all doomed. My discovery about preaching is that although its initial intention may be to provide comfort and counsel, the platitudes of purity tend to make those who preach revel in self-righteousness. So the warners and complainers are both conservative and liberal—and the doomsday philosophy they promote is always more intense than any solutions they offer. They make a lot of money scaring a lot of folks into believing that life is difficult, so why try to make it any better? They promote the universal axiom of “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.”

(2) The second group which is aware of the hole in everything has the deep conviction that we can fix it. Yes—plug up the hole and everything will be fine. Get all of your supplies out and do repairs and in no time at all, the world will be a better place and we shall live as one. A noble thought. Of course, the only problem with nobility is that it leaves the serfs living in poverty outside the castle walls. The actual problem is in the material that everything is made of—how flimsy it is. So if you plug up one hole, the materialism of our lives gives way in another place, bringing in a fresh new leak. So people who are part of the “fix it” philosophy normally end up frustrated and angry, with their fingers pointed in all directions, blaming those around them for the ongoing fiasco.

There is a hole in everything. Jesus said, “In the world you have tribulation.” He didn’t say to complain about it or warn people. He didn’t tell us we would be able to fix it and cease tribulation from being a problem. He told us to be of good cheer.

So that leaves us with a third possibility. How do we do this? Well, the best way is to stop trying to fix the hole or warn everybody about it and just keep filling it.

That’s right, this is the third choice. God gave you a cup. Bring it to life everyday full and dump it in. Then go to bed at night confident that you’ve done your part. Just keep filling.

So you might think: “Isn’t it all going to leak out anyway? What’s the point?”

Well, there are those brief moments when our filling exceeds the leakage—and for a delightful few minutes, everything seems full. It is well worth it. Because the true sense of happiness in life is not always about being joyful, but rather, about knowing what to do to keep joy involved. And that is: keep filling.

People often ask me why I continue to travel on the road, doing my program. Here it is: if I stop I might have to sit around and believe that I’m supposed to complain about the hole, or even fix it. What foolishness! The hole was here when I arrived and it will be here when I leave.

I have two goals: Don’t make the hole bigger. And keep filling.

It may not be the ideal world of communal understanding and mutual wisdom that we envisioned as children, reading our Highlights magazines, or as teenagers, listening to the Beatles sing “All you need is love …”

But he who brings water to a fire is a hero. And he who fills up a bucket that is slowly draining is helping to keep the world from becoming completely dried out.

Published in: on July 20, 2011 at 12:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hell on Wheels

Hell on Wheels(1,212)

July 19th, 2011

It happened every day about five o’clock—after summer football practice. My family lived across the road from the local high school and all the young football players would drove out of the practice, screeching their tires and roaring their engines as they careened down the street past our home, frightening the neighborhood. My mother would always remark sarcastically, “There go the conquering heroes! Hell on wheels!”

Well, I was only seven years old at the time and the only two words that stuck in my mind were “conquering” and “hell.” So whenever I saw these young men on the street, with their duck-tail hair-dos, white tee-shirts ala James Dean, and seemingly permanent sneers, I was scared to death of them because I thought they were going to jump out, grab me and take me down to the depths of perdition.

That is how powerful a parent’s words are to a child. So that is why, as a grown man, I still have to be careful about what I think—to make sure it’s my own perception and not merely a memory from my childhood.

Life basically breaks down into three compartments: (1) memories, which are part of my upbringing—principles and attitudes I was taught as truths (which, unless I have challenged or replaced them, still live within me as if they were spoken yesterday); and (2) impressions—because as the Bible says, “man looks on the outward appearance,” so I have a human tendency to pre-judge a situation based on those appearances before they have a chance to play out before me. And then (3) I have my own experience, consisting of personal encounters with people and situations which have given me my rendition of truth.

Once again: a memory, an impression and an experience.

Let me tell you—it was a long time before I realized that those high school boys were not the sons of Satan. They were just a bunch of immature kids, fueled by the energy of brand-new rock-and-roll, and frustrated because they just got yelled at by a bunch of coaches who were blowing off steam. I’m sure my mother even knew that, but her words were much more critical, and landed on fertile ears that were prepared to cause that critical seed to grow disproportionately.

This is why I suggest that you make a list. Here’s a quick example: I will guarantee you that most of the people in our country have never spent three days living with people of another race. So since we don’t have an experience of understanding them on a day-to-day basis in a natural habitat, how do we garner our opinions on what they like and what they don’t like? It comes from our memory—and what your parents taught you about black people, white people or Mexicans still exists within you unless you have replaced it with your own living experience. When you add an impression into the mix—what we think an individual looks like—you get the seeds of prejudice, which grows a whole crop of bigotry.

Make the list.

What do you really think about politics?

What do you think about God? Have you had an experience with Him or just a memory during upbringing and an impression of what a good American should feel?

· How about money?

· How about love?

· How about sex?

· How about young people?

· How about old people?

If you do not have personal first-hand, experience that can be shared as an anecdote—as evidence—then you’re living off a memory or an impression. It is what causes intolerance, births intolerance and nurtures intolerance through a childhood of submission to an adulthood of replication.

I made my list about fifteen years ago. I was shocked—because I saw that many of the things I believed, and even things I was pursuing, were applications of my parents’ ideas or else rebellion against them.

So I started with what was my own experience and have tried to expand that vista to as many circumstances as possible. Gradually I have been able to construct life according to Jonathan Richard Cring instead of a Xerox of my mother and father or a clouded impression of a human being who only views the exterior.

“Hell on wheels?” No. Not really.

Now, let me warn you of one thing—making your own list does complicate life a bit. You have to buy more containers to hold ideas than the four or five big boxes you were given by your upbringing. But it is well worth the journey—to separate off our moments as special instead of collecting them like fireflies in a jar.

Make the list. Ask yourself, “Does what I feel about this subject come from a memory from my childhood? Merely an impression of being human without having any divine guidance, or is it the by-product of my own experience?”

It’s well worth the time. Doggone it, any occasion we have to make our lives our own is an amazing day.

Published in: on July 19, 2011 at 12:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Hope Dope

The Hope Dope(1,211)

July 18th, 2011

What an absolutely delightful morning we spent with Ash and Peg and all the fine folks in Boardman, Ohio. I think they were a little uncertain on how to receive us at first. The human tendency is to think that anything beyond the circumference of one’s own nose is quite different, and therefore worthy of scrutiny—but they got over it quickly and embraced us as friends and listened to the message. You can’t ask for more than that.

At my book table, I met a particularly nice young lady who told me of some of the troubles she’d had in her life and shared a plan she had formulated during the program—how she might be able to address some of the difficulties. I was excited with her resolve. Suddenly, turning on an emotional dime, she began to recite the reasons she thought her idea might not work. Trying to steer her toward her original energy, I said, “Remember, you came in without anything to believe in—and you’re leaving with something.”

Her response was, “I hope so.”

Her body language was defeated.

I don’t like hope. I won’t lie to you. I think it is one of the most insipid of the spiritual virtues offered in the library of heavenly possibilities. I feel this way because hope cannot stand alone—and hope, when it is not reinforced by other realities, is quickly deferred, making the human heart and will quite sick.

I deplore both religionists and politicians who extol hope singularly without also offering faith and love. For after all, “faith is the substance of things hoped for.” Faith is not only a hope but also a recollection of substantial memory of when our hope has worked in the past. Evidence is not needed at that point because we have a history that touts the success.

Love is helpful because it introduces passion, affection and commitment to the goal of pursuing our hope. So when hope begins to wane, we can fall back on that deep well of emotional devotion and sustain ourselves until better days arrive. But when people tout hope to me without telling me the history of how their philosophy has proven to be earth-, human- and God-friendly, or they proclaim the virtues of hope without giving me the genesis of passion and commitment to back it up, I look on hope as a mere emotional narcotic—a temporary jolt in the soul, making us believe we’re high—when really, we’re just medicated.

I felt so sad for that girl when she walked away yesterday because God had given her such energy through her own idea, but doubt had stolen her faith and fear had swallowed her love. Her tiny “I hope so” was not going to last through the parking lot to her car.

We must be careful when we offer hope—to be sure that we also give faith, letting people know that such miracles have happened before. We need to offer the commitment of our love and the thrust of our involvement to under-gird their efforts with real emotion instead of a false sense of well-being.

Hope is dope. If faith and love are present, then hope can act like a vitamin—to give us our nutrients.

But without faith and love, hope becomes an addictive drug that leaves us dependent instead of strong.

Published in: on July 18, 2011 at 1:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
%d bloggers like this: