TJ, JT, VL, Gurgle, Gurgle, Gobble, Gobble, Z-Z-Z … November 23, 2011

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In Washington, D.C.

I had the audacity to presumptuously plan to take four days off for a Thanksgiving vacation to spend with my family in the Nashville, Tennessee, area, renting a home so that we might all gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing.

I don’t know what I was thinking.

I learned a long time ago that days planned off or vacation possibilities are one of Mother Nature’s favorite targets.  She seems to have a personal giggle-fest over our notions of rest and relaxation or any form of escapism and saves us little pieces of tedium to interrupt our purported bliss. Maybe it’s because I still plan to do things while taking the time off that causes the difficulty.

I had to get a piece of our equipment fixed, so I placed an ad on Craig’s list, and promptly received a phone call from TJ. He seemed like a really nice fellow, knew his stuff, and was in need enough of the employment that I felt good about engaging him, if you know what I mean. So I handed my very important instrument over to him for repair.

He brought it back to me yesterday. Broken.

Understand, he had worked on it but had failed to achieve the task–making it even worse than it was before. Some form of remuneration was in order–just to be polite and to cover his expenses. So I ended up paying sixty dollars for someone to break my equipment. (I think I could have given it to a three-year-old with a candy cane and come out on the better end.)

Then an old friend of mine came over–JT–a veteran of a thirty-year acquaintance, and we had a delightful time talking about family, dreams, the past and hopes for the future.  He is a wonderful soul with a lot of talent, whose works may never be heard by the masses because America is not really in search of talent, but rather, in admiring and uplifting the greatest yield on ego. So as he left, I was invigorated but also a bit saddened that some of the things he may desire to do will lie in the planning stages on a table in a corner room.

Back to my piece of equipment that needed to be repaired (which is called a VL70-m box). Once we discovered that it had been sabotaged by the minions of inefficiency, Jan immediately got on the phone to track down other possibilities, revealing a myriad of potential, none of which were particularly attractive to either my vacation plans OR my wallet.

Thinking I had acquired enough activity for one day, the house we had rented for the four days suddenly sprouted a demonic presence in the form of a gurgling toilet.  Now normally, I don’t like my appliances to have personality–call it my quirk–and when I place toilet tissue into a receptacle, I do not expect it to be gurgled back up to me. This toilet seems to be offended by the mere suggestion of doing its job–so anything deposited within its porcelain sanctuary may eventually come back to you later on. For the time being, I have decided to leave it alone in its solitude, shutting the door to the bathroom, gagging the gurgle.

On a brighter note, I did begin cooking my turkeys for the Thanksgiving festivities.  If I must say so myself, I do a pretty good job preparing my bird. Most people over-cook their turkeys or cook them much too hot in an attempt to get that famous browned-skin look on the outside, which means the innards has surrendered and dried up.

Here’s what I do: I thaw the bird to a point that I can remove all the inner workings and leftover parts that are basically unidentifiable by even a poultry forensics expert. Then I take a couple of apples, a couple of oranges, a couple of onions and a few stalks of celery and stuff them inside. I take one bottle of zesty fat-free Italian dressing and pour it over the top of the bird and I cover the creature with aluminum foil and put it into the oven at 250 degrees for about eight hours. In the last hour I remove the aluminum foil from the top and turn the oven up to 300 degrees, basting every twenty minutes. This is for about a twenty-pound fowl package. If it’s smaller, of course, you can cook less. I then take it from the oven–and I choose to de-bone it for ease of serving. I cover it with some of its juices and put it in the refrigerator, and upon re-heating the next day, it is moist, tender and sweet beyond words. The turkey was the last event of my day–and a successful one it was, to counteract the attack of the repair man, the visit from a friend with unrequited talent and the grumblings of a spotty potty.

I was tired. Z-Z-Z.

I realized I had two more days of this alleged vacation–and honest to God, I began to think about how anxious I was to get back to work so I could really rest up. I admire all of you who pursue a life of domestication. It has never been particularly kind to me because houses always need repair, families always need counsel (or money), friends are looking for hope when what is available is reality and repairmen … well, they often don’t.

So believe you me, I will enjoy the rest of my time with my kind kin. But when the hour of departure does come, I will provide adequate tears for the appearance of separation, but inwardly I will smile, knowing that I’m escaping the gurgle-gurgle … and even the gobble-gobble.

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Here comes Christmas! For your listening pleasure, below is Manger Medley, Jonathan’s arrangement of Away in the Manger, which closes with him singing his gorgeous song, Messiah.  Looking forward to the holidays with you!

It’s the Whole List Thing … November 22, 2011

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In Washington, D.C.

Nearing Christmas again, here come the songs–and some composer decided to write a lyric about Santa having a list which he checks twice to find out who’s naughty and nice.   What’s with all these lists? Here’s a list over here that says you can’t borrow money. Here’s a list that says you’re not qualified to join some club. Still another list we make — of things to do today —  ends up frustrating us because the one thing we forget to add mars the whole experience. Politics has come down to composing lists of candidates who fall into the category of acceptability. And I guess it began with that list of the Ten Commandments. 

First of all, may I state that most of the things on that particular compilation are pretty obvious?  “Thou shall not kill.”  Gotcha.  But I just wonder if that counts the number of times I wished somebody was dead, though I didn’t have the energy to perform the murder myself…
 
“Thou shall not steal.”  Stuff is stuff.  Mine over here, yours over there.  Got it.
 
And of course, the list begins with the one that always baffles me.  “There is only one God.” But it turns out, He’s jealous.  So if He knows there’s only one God, who’s He jealous of?  I don’t get it.  Or is it that He’s trying to promote the idea that He’s the only God, and privately He fears competition?
 
“Honor your father and mother.” I understand that. Must have been exhausting for them to conceive me. But this is a tough one for many folks out there who have been abandoned by mothers and molested by fathers.  Exactly how are they supposed to honor these creatures of intrusion?
 
“Thou shall not commit adultery.” A big plus for this particular step of moral excellence is being granted the grace of unattractiveness. Does that mean that ugly people are more spiritual because they find it easier to put a cork in it?
 
“Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Wow. Forbidding lying and gossip? Could you field a choir in a church? Or have a congregation gathered to hear them, let alone a preacher to lead the singing?
 
Seems like every religion has a list. Most religions even believe there’s a final list–some sort of Book of Life where our name has to be written or we end up with what would resemble a forty-five minute wait at Red Lobster, or discover that the heavenly destination has been closed down by the health department. At least for us.
 
What is it with lists? Do I really feel closer to God, knowing that other people are going to be unceremoniously thrown out the back door? Do I really sense the presence of an eternal love by waving Ten Commandments in front of the faces of bewildered fellow-travelers? If serving God and being moral is really such a good thing, why don’t we enjoy it so much that we don’t have to talk about lists that exclude other members?
 
I’m having so much fun in my life that I’d like to go around and invite people to the party instead of thinking up reasons why they shouldn’t come because they’re boring, smelly or lack the intelligence to carry on decent dinner conversation. What’s the reason for all these lists? And where does Santa get off–deciding who’s naughty and nice? Listen, North Pole Boy, from what I hear, gluttony is a sin and wearing red with fur on it … well, talk about gender abiguity… So get off your high horse–or is it reindeer? 
 
 Here’s what I think. If you’ve found something that makes you happy, be happy and don’t make other people miserable because they don’t share your happiness.  If you’re not happy and feel the need to make other people miserable because they don’t share in your complication, you might want to go out and find something to make you happy so you don’t end up being the grumpiest guy on the block.
 
You go ahead and make your lists. You go ahead and exclude people because they don’t qualify and you go ahead and believe that God is going to boil everything down to some tight-knit group of compliant and bored adherents.  Not me. I’m looking for reasons to include you in my life and hope that you do the same.
 
What’s with all the lists? What’s with all the restrictions on membership? Does it really make any difference how we’re baptized, or is baptism really about coming to the conclusion that it might be nice to symbolically wash away the past? Do these things really matter? And if they do to you, I hope you will enjoy compiling your list, following your list and checking off those who do not give homage to your list. As for me, I think I will just take it as it comes, laugh about what I don’t understand, weep a bit about what I can’t change, and enjoy all the rest. 
 
What is it with all these lists? Maybe it’s because we think there’s limited parking in heaven–so it’s a good idea to discourage shoppers.

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Here comes Christmas! For your listening pleasure, below is Manger Medley, Jonathan’s arrangement of Away in the Manger, which closes with him singing his gorgeous song, Messiah.  Looking forward to the holidays with you!

After 333 Days, 26 States, 191 Cities and 181 Programs … November 21, 2011

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"He who has an ear to hear ..."

An educated man can promptly and precisely pronounce to you the lectures of all of his professors of higher learning.

An experienced man will share — often with dazzling detail —  that which his journey has afforded him in seeing and hearing.

A religious man can faithfully and accurately recite his particular interpretation of that which is deemed to be the will and word of God.

A worldly man can amuse you and direct you to the best locations to eat, drink and be merry.

But a wise man sees and hears it all–and then quietly walks away and discovers the best manner in which to keep it simple.

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Here comes Christmas! For your listening pleasure, below is Manger Medley, Jonathan’s arrangement of Away in the Manger, which closes with him singing his gorgeous song, Messiah.  Looking forward to the holidays with you!

Opening Lines … November 20, 2011

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Live, outdoors in Ambler, PA

Sitting in my motel room last night in Knoxville, Tennessee, I began to think about what I wanted to share in the three programs I’m going to be conducting at the Colonial Heights United Methodist Church. Unfortunately, every new experience in front of an audience demands an opening line. I say “unfortunately,” because there’s nothing more awkward than introducing oneself to many selves who are not always in the mood for an introduction.

 
Having done this for about forty years, I have learned certain phrases and ideas which I do NOT like. For instance, I despise, “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen…I can’t HEAR you.” (You see, the reason they are not responding to you is that they haven’t decided if they like you or not yet, and asking them to repeat something is not the best way to endear them to you.)
 
I also hate it when entertainers ask the audience to clap their hands and play some hokey, fast song to get them excited.  I mean, where do you go from there? It’s like having the honeymoon and then leaving the hotel to go on your first date. No–I really don’t like any attempt to force myself on a group of people who are reluctant at best and who at worst could very easily turn into a lynch mob.
 
I noticed when I set up at the church that there was a table in front of me with all sorts of Thanksgiving and autumn paraphenalia–like corn stalks and pumpkins.  I thought it might be funny if I began with, “Hey, do you agree with me here? It’s not a good idea for a fat guy to sit behind a pumpkin.” But you see–that’s HUMOR.  Humor is dangerous. It demands the intertwining of two conclusions: (a) that the people listening are intelligent enough to UNDERSTAND a clever comment; and (b) that they will actually laugh loudly enough that crickets will not be summoned to the scene.  It’s a big gamble.
 
My more ornery side considered that since the church is named Colonial Heights, I might begin with: “I see you call the church Colonial Heights? Speaking of colonies and being high…did you ever hear that the forefathers had opium in their snuff?” (You see, that’s what you call a joke to TASTE–and if people don’t have humorous taste buds, they might actually find it tasteLESS.)
 
But I do like good opening lines. There have been some famous ones.
  • Moses: “Let my people go.”
  • Pharoah: “No.” (Of course, that response ended up plaguing him … )
  • You can’t beat God’s opening line: “Let there be light!” (Of course, he probably was a little surprised when the sun blazed in his face, when all He was looking for was some subtly placed track lighting…)
  •  Then in the 1970’s, folks had opening lines for picking up girls in bars. Since I never picked up girls and really never went to bars, I was not accustomed to using the lines.  What was the common one? Oh, yes: “What is your sign?”–referring to astrology and the zodiac. I was always afraid if I said that to a girl she’d hold up a stop sign. 
  • I like funny ones, too. Abraham Lincoln: “Mary Todd, I need to see a play like I need another hole in the head.”  (Once again, that would be a particular presentation flavored to taste.)  But if you like that one, how about this one?
  •  Judas Iscarios to a local priest: “How much will you give me for a wandering Jew in a garden?”  Too dark?  Too soon?
  • And of course, the infamous one with Julius Caesar to his friend: “Brutus, you’re just a real pain in the chest.”
  • Then there is the simple approach.  “Hi. My name is Johnny Cash.” Just a little piece of trivia here for you who enjoy such matters–most people don’t know that before he became famous and started making lots of money, his original name was Johnny Credit.
  • One of the favorite opening lines that I’ve used is when arriving at the scene of a fire at a motel where I had been staying. The fire had been extinguished by local fire-fighters, but was still smoldering a bit. I strolled up to one of the brave fellows and said, “Excuse me. I’m here to install the smoke alarm.” (That one did not get much laughter, although I thought it was rich with possibility…)
So I ended my evening not really certain how I would launch my ship of conversation with the congregation–because the most effective way to initiate an encounter is to land somewhere between surprise and shock, but still within the realm of understanding. Over the years, I have found that the best for me is something like this: “Well, listen up. Here’s how I see it …”

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Here comes Christmas! For your listening pleasure, below is Manger Medley, Jonathan’s arrangement of Away in the Manger, which closes with him singing his gorgeous song, Messiah.  Looking forward to the holidays with you!

Thinks-giving … November 19, 2011

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Live, outdoors in Ambler, PA

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No, it’s not a typo. The title of today’s essay is Thinksgiving. Because once again we have come to the time of year when we are supposed to be celebrating the gratitude of our journey and the great hope of the birth of the Prince of Peace, but instead, we’re surrounded by organizations and individuals who want to bring us down by reminding us how tough it is for some people during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I have never met or seen a generation in my entire life that spends so much time thinking without ever becoming thoughtful. Let me ask you a simple question. What makes this particular holiday more depressing than others? Wouldn’t you think that Easter would be equally as challenging to folks who are under a cloud of despair? I mean, think about it—one man raising from the dead when our graveyards are full? How about July 4th? Firecrackers and marching bands in full blaze and array, when I’m stuck here with my fizzled activities, unable to toot my own horn? Even Arbor Day would make you mad if you were depressed—because the trees dare to keep blooming while you are drooping.

But these great thinkers of our generation don’t spend any time attacking any other holidays. Just Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is during these two occasions that we are to reflect upon the plight of humanity and be sensitive not to flaunt our thankfulness lest we “offend one of these little ones.”

Now, I am not a great conspiracy buff, but I find it a bit suspicious that these two celebrations in particular are targeted by these ever-so-concerned souls. We certainly do not suggest that Labor Day be kept under the hat because the unemployment rate is at 9%.

No, I think there is a nasty streak in all of us—we actually resents the hell out of being thankful and are equally frightened of becoming so giddy with joy that we regain our childlike faith. We’re just grumpy—and the idea of escaping our grumpiness for about thirty-one days during the year is so galling that we decide to use the excuse of other people’s depression as a reason for why the turkey plucking and tree trimming should calm down, if not cease altogether.

But it is because we, as a people, are depressed, frustrated, hurt, damaged and faithless that Thanksgiving and Christmas need to be taken out of the realm of just thinking—and pressed mightily into the action of participation.

Therefore, when you hear people complaining about the holidays, do yourself and them a favor. Quietly walk away. This season is a treasure-chest of blessing cast down from the heavens for us, if we’re just willing to unlock the secret and find the gift.

I am not thinkful. I am thankful—unabashedly, unapologetically and undeterred. I am NOT sensitive to other people’s beliefs during Christmas because my belief in the birth of brotherhood, peace on earth and good will toward men MUST be celebrated—or truly we are requiring that the elves come and rebuke us for our lack and put us on the naughty list.

Here’s a suggestion. You have about five or six days until Thanksgiving. Every day before you begin your journey into the human soup of life, sit down and write five quick emails to friends. Those emails should consist of this: “You make me …” Then tell the person what his or her presence, friendship and humanity means to you.

  • “You make me better.”
  • “You make me loving.”
  • “You make me think.”
  • “You make me believe in God.”
  • “You make me richer.”

Tell them what they do that makes your “thanks” bell ring.  Then close it with thanks and sign your name. It won’t take you even a minute-and-a-half to do it—and at the end of the six-day period, thirty people who are being inundated with an overly zealous reminder of despair and destitution will be uplifted to be thankful instead of thinkful.

I will tell each and every one of you during this blessed time that you make me … valuable.  Thanks. 

Jonathan

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Here comes Christmas! For your listening pleasure, below is Manger Medley, Jonathan’s arrangement of Away in the Manger, which closes with him singing his gorgeous song, Messiah.  Looking forward to the holidays with you!

Transitions … November 18, 2011

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Live, outdoors in Ambler, PA

 
I met a young woman.

When I was a kid, that phrase conjured images of the first day of school, discovering I had a new teacher to deal with who didn’t seem young at all to me, but rather, old and stern, reeking of musty books, with a diabolical stare. I remember praying, “I hope my new young-woman-teacher is pretty … or even nice.” Unfortunately, the normal was just … pretty nice.

I met a young woman.

Time progresses and I’m twelve years old. Why is it that God has us discover the greater potentials of our body below the waist before we uncover the mysteries and intricacies of what lies above the neck? I would assume, for His amusement. Anyway, I’m only twelve years old, but those girls of sixteen and seventeen sure look good. But all I can get them to do is ruffle my hair, pat me on the back and treat me like a little brother. Still, the touch of their fingertips registers in areas that I shan’t share. But none of them notice me. I’m too young.

I met a young woman.

Time marches on. I am no longer theorizing, but am in the midst of full evolution and those wonderfully gorgeous young girls are now my age, but because I have a bit of the look of the predator, they’re afraid of me and I must find ways to flirt with them without being overtly obvious about my intentions. Dating. Oh, how I wish it were as easy as shimmying up a palm tree to acquire fruit. There’s nothing easy about it–and the payoff is often not worth the effort. But that doesn’t stop me from pursuing it.

I met a young woman.

Actually, I ended up marrying her. I was engorged with passion, overwhelmed with anticipation and greedy for the pleasures of what relationship could bring. Even sometimes, conversation. I am a young, married man who suddenly notices that all the women around me are all at once attracted my way because I am “taken” and seemingly, no longer a threat. They are all my age, all of them beautiful, it seems, and of course … all of them forbidden. My turmoiled consciousness presses on, desperately trying to keep myself out of situations where I might slip and “fall on purpose” and have to come up with a reason why it was accidental.

I met a young woman.

Older now, settled. Lost some of my hair, but not my vigor, if you know what I mean. All those luscious women are now about ten years younger than me and they think I’m an old man, but I know differently. I want to wink and flirt, but such overtures are met with uncomfortable silences or giddy laughs from the lasses, saying things like, “Oh, sir … you’re so silly.”  Yes, I am silly. I am an aging, silly young man who has not yet discovered that I’m getting gradually decrepit. It is depressing but still well worth living–and viewing. All of these young women have become temptresses. (Gee whiz. I didn’t even know there was a plural for temptress.) But there sure is in my consciouness. I have become too old to be considered, too young to retire, too vibrant to give up and too many birthdays to still keep my candle lit.

I met a young woman. 

Just yesterday. I am so glad that age has afforded me the benefit of looking at this human being before me as a person–really, a daughter. I don’t even notice her physical virtues because I’ve grown old enough now that I actually see through her eyes, down into her soul that is so confused because she is looking for a knight in shining armor, riding a Harley Davidson, chewing tobacco, stopping every fifteen or twenty minutes to read a poem by Shelley or Keats underneath a juniper tree. (My God, he also might be a vampire.) Obviously, such a creature does not exist, but in her innocence, she still dreams.  I am glad to be free of such foolishness.  I am glad I am still viable, but not under the spell of the variable of lustfulness. We talked. I was her father and she was my daughter.  So much more pleasant. So much easier.

I met a young woman.

It will not be long before all the fair maidens of the land will be my granddaughters, running up to assist me to rise from my chair, to come as quickly as I can to see their new cars or their new boyfriends, or to give my wise and seasoned opinion on the materials for a wedding dress. I will be the sage who survived all age to turn a new page to be the oracle for all wisdom.  Will it even cross their minds that I was once as young as they are, filled with the vim, vigor and vitality of pure insanity?

I met a young woman.

Yes, she is coming this morning to anoint my body with spices and ointments for burial. It is over.

Wait! … perhaps I have one bit of magic still left in me.  Maybe I can surprise her … and resurrect.

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Here comes Christmas! For your listening pleasure, below is Manger Medley, Jonathan’s arrangement of Away in the Manger, which closes with him singing his gorgeous song, Messiah.  Looking forward to the holidays with you!

Take Two To Sango — November 17, 2011

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One hundred and seventy-nine times this year I have stood up (or actually sat down) in front of audiences all over this country, from Houston, Texas, to Albany, New York, to King, North Carolina, to Deerwood, Minnesota, to Prosperity, South Carolina, to Dover, Delaware, to Willard, Ohio–culminating last evening at Sango United Methodist Church in Clarksville, Tennessee.

The scenario is always the same. Despite all the advertising, qualifications, recommendations and hype, people basically sit quietly and wait for me to establish enough relationship with them so they can trust what I say.I am not offended.  Actually, it shouldn’t be surprising that Americans have become gun-shy toward personal interaction, considering all the politics, scandals, religious fanaticism and just downright bizarre newscasting that happen right before their eyes each and every week.

What does it take to relate to human beings? An abandonment of ego, a focus on message and a tender understanding of the damaged soul of the American spirit.

I always begin with humor. Humor has two great powers–it lets people know that you don’t take things too seriously and also that you’re willing to poke fun at yourself. Sober-minded people are seriously erred. They fail to understand that connecting with one another is the only way to build bridges and without humor you lose one of the greatest spanners of the gap.

Humor. Don’t leave home without it.

I follow a sense of cheer with intelligence. Even if I believed–like the media does–that people are stupid, I would never treat them that way because playing to the lowest common denominator always gives you a fraction of the results you desire. I don’t try to talk over people’s heads or use big words, but I ask them to access their brain and request that it do something more than fill their cranium or pump out safe answers from their childhood culture. Intelligence is not trying to be smart. It is realizing that “smart” is happening all around us and still remains the only doorway to understanding.

And finally, my belief is that every human being I come into contact with is in need of a great, big dose of mercy. There is a common belief among the leadership in this country that the populace is either ignorant or lazy, but when people are bruised it can sometimes resemble those symptoms. I want people to know three things: First, that I love them. Second, that Jesus wants to make them look good. And third, that everything we want to accomplish will probably require that we change something. Mercy is what human beings bring when they believe in God enough to actually act it out in the lives of others.

So that’s what I tried to do at Sango last night. Such a delightful group of people, although they were not identical to any gathering I had ever been in! Similarities exist, but differences persist. Someone has to evolve. I don’t mind being the first one.

So humor, intelligence and mercy are the keys to the one hundred and seventy-nine times I have been blessed to impart my little dab of talent to folks across the country this year.

H (humor) I (intelligence) and M (mercy), which stands for Him–is the best way, I believe,  to convey to others how generous and loving our God truly is. Because if God isn’t humorous, intelligent and merciful–well, pardon the redundancy … God help us all.

Of course, it may actually end up being about sharing humor, enlightenment (which is like intelligence) and respect (close to mercy).  That would be HER. You know … in case the King of Heaven is really the Queen.  Just covering all my bases.

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Here comes Christmas! For your listening pleasure, below is Manger Medley, Jonathan’s arrangement of Away in the Manger, which closes with him singing his gorgeous song, Messiah.  Looking forward to the holidays with you!

 

Jonathan sings “Let”

 

Jonathan Sings “Spent This Time”

 

Jonathan and his partner, Janet Clazzy, play “The Call”

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