From the Ground Up … May 24, 2012

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I don’t pride myself on being intelligent. I have found that true intelligence lies in possessing the ability to identify your ignorance. Unfortunately, lots of folks I meet need to let the “smart” move away from their ass to their brain, with a pit stop at the soul. Yet I don’t think most people’s arrogance is a malicious act, to hurt anyone. I believe it’s because we’re all defensive over our weakness and it troubles us rather than alerting us to what our task truly needs to be.

I have told you many times in the jonathots that human beings consist of the heart (our emotions), the soul (our more spiritual side, a mind (our brain and the control center to our bodily functions) and a strength (which is the human form with all of its components and hardware).

About a week ago I had a tremendous revelation–like most such epiphanies, other people probably thought of it years ago and I just stumbled upon it on my way to the barn. May I present my thought? Each of us has one weakness. I don’t know whether it’s genetic, spiritual or part of the natural order–but it is our “cross to bear.” The question that remains is whether we’re going to climb up on that cross to crucify ourselves, or instead, whether we will create an awareness of our weakness and gear our lives in a direction to play that Achilles heel to our advantage.

My weakness is my body. I was dealt a hand of genetic mumbo-jumbo. I have heart disease and diabetes in my family. I have genetic predisposition to obesity. Apparently, it’s essential for me to be bald. Now, I knew this early on. Truthfully, realizing our weakness does not constitute victory over the situation–because the fact of the matter is, if you’re like me and have a weakness in your body, you can start feeling sorry for yourself very strongly, which drags your emotions into the pit as well. Once your emotions are swallowed up, you find very little of a spiritual dynamic for improvement, so your faith wanes. When your faith wanes, your brain takes over with doomsday proclamations, causing you to be less sharp mentally and to come across dull and uncaring. So as you can see, one weakness–in my case, a physical one–if it is not isolated, can quickly own your entire body.

It’s the difference between carrying your cross and dying on one.

Fortunately for my soul, heart and mind, I did not become defensive over having a weak body. Early on I realized that what I ate was not nearly as important for making me slender and beautiful as it was to keep me from killing myself and infiltrating the other parts of my being, which did not need to suffer from my innate weakness. With the body I have been given, I shouldn’t still be alive at sixty years of age. I applied two very simple principles to the situation:

1. Don’t fight the weakness. When you try to turn your weakness into a strength or an excuse, you miss the point. You already have three other strengths, so what you want to do is to keep your weakness from overwhelming your other parts. I have been fat all my life–but I’ve never become emotionally fat, spiritually fat or mentally a fathead. Once you stop resisting the notion that you have a weakness and resenting the hell out of it, you can actually find the power to use that weakness to your advantage.

2. Once you calm yourself down and realize that weakness is common to all of us and is what makes us part of the human family, you can start working from the ground up. For me that was easy. Since my particular cross to bear is physical, I went back to what makes the human body more profitable to its own cause–food, exercise and nutrition. It’s about eating what comes out of the ground. Everything that flowers from the earth is high in vitamins and minerals and low in fat and calories. Everything that doesn’t come out of the ground normally is high in fats and sugars and lower in nutrients. Once I understood this, I worked on my taste buds instead of developing arguments against the reality of the earth system. And because of that, I am still here today.Even though I have had occasions to overeat animal fats, sugars, salts and starches, I have certainly, over my lifetime, eaten more fruits and vegetables and things from the ground up rather than the other choices.

You have to decide where you’re coming from. If your weakness is emotions, then from the ground up you need to live a life of great humor and transparency. If you have a weakness in the spiritual realm, where the things of faith seem illogical and meaningless, then you should address that weakness by finding the most practical application in the everyday life to discover the presence of God. If your brain is your problem, then you should find the chemical imbalances or address the learning disorders, and using reasonableness and patience, attempt to “tune up” that great, fleshy computer.

If we didn’t have a weakness, we would continue to try to dominate each other, and human existence would be a stand-off instead of a fellowship. And let’s be honest–the most obnoxious people in our lives are those who believe they are strong in everything when everybody else knows their true limitation.

From birth, my body has been my adversary. It will be with me until the day I die, when it more or less becomes “dusted off.” So I spend my time using my emotions, spirit and mind to counteract the weakness in my body, providing my strength what it needs from the ground up–fruits, vegetables and everything that sprouts from the earth. (A golden nugget–if it grows in the earth, eat a lot of it. If it walks on the earth, well … more often than not, walk away from it.)

Can it really be this simple? Well, it had better be. Otherwise, none of us will ever be intelligent enough to figure it out.

 

  

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Kiss Off … May 23, 2012

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I’ve mulled it over and I’ve decided it is NOT because I’m getting old. It could be that I have an unnecessary preoccupation with evaluating things instead of just accepting them at face value. And speaking of face, what I’m talking about here is kissing.

Kissing should always be considered a positive experience–and perhaps this is why I’m so confused with the reputation that the word “kiss” seems to have acquired over its journey from Eden until now.

French Kiss

French Kiss (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After all, we have the “kiss of death,” which is a way of marking someone for extinction while expressing possibly a bit of remorse over their demise.

“Kiss and tell”–for those people who enjoy showing slides of their vacation much more than actually traveling.

The title of this essay–“kiss off”–which is more or less the personification of a “Dear John” letter.

Most dastardly of them all may be “kiss my *****” … where some distasteful body part not normally associated with smooching is inserted for an angry effect.

Oh–and I almost forgot to mention KISS–a rock and roll band that religious people told us worshipped Satan (which only confirmed to us that the devil had all the good rock).

How did the word get such bad publicity?? I have some theories. Although kissing has many pleasant overtones, there are certainly some minefields in the experience which we normally don’t speak of because we nervously hope they will go away. But we at jonathots are not afraid of such minor peccadilloes. So let me name the six things about kissing that plague our minds:

  1. Bad breath. When I watch a movie and see people roll over in the morning and kiss, I have to wonder if someone had the intelligence to slip a mint into the mouth. Nothing can ruin a good kiss more quickly than bad breath. Perhaps you can rile up your passions enough to overlook it, but still–in the back of your mind, you are constantly trying to retrieve the flavor of mint.
  2. French kissing. There’s nothing wrong with it–but somewhere along the line, we have convinced a whole generation or two that real, romantic “interfacing” does not occur unless the tongue joins the party. Even Republicans, who normally don’t like anything from the French, prescribe to this particular approach as being superior. Here’s my thought. Sometimes a tongue is just a tongue, but a lip is ALWAYS a lip. (He who has an ear, let him hear.)
  3. Speaking of lips–then there’s lip size. I remember when I was thirteen years old, I was frightened to death that my lips were too big. I had no basis for this terror inciting my soul to near seclusion, and if I had possessed any understanding about the art of kissing, I would have comprehended–the bigger the lips the better the landing strip. Because thin lips can leave you placing your greatest affection on teeth–and although the sentiment remains, the stimulus, at that point, departs.
  4. Then there’s the length of the kiss (which is very similar to Number 5–who pulls away first?–so let me put them together.) Perhaps that’s why the beauty of the first kiss is always extolled by the poets. It is so terrifying that no one is concerned about longevity or has a stopwatch to confirm the barometer of passion. But after a while, when you’ve been with someone, this does become an issue. Matter of fact, it can even be a competition. I’ve even seen kisses which have lost their oom-pah continued, simply out of stubbornness over the individual parties refusing to be the first one to leave the premises. You would think a kiss would have a certain life of its own and there would be a common awareness of when to just let the thing go–but no. Matter of fact, there are many couples who have had long discussions about how “they know the other person doesn’t love them anymore” because their kiss is abbreviated or in some way less than explosive. (There was even a silly song from the sixties that said you could tell a man loved you because “it’s in his kiss.”) There’s enough insecurity in romance without feeling the pressure of the Olympic trials and needing to break some sort of record. Some kisses are long; some kisses are short. Some kisses are awkward; some kisses are memorable. Kisses should never be critiqued. They should be viewed the same way you do when you look at a picture done by your three-year-old as he explains to you that it really IS a horse and not just four brown lines on the paper.
  5. Covered above.
  6. And the final problem with kissing–the peck. Matter of fact, it can cause a peck of trouble. After people have been in a relationship for a long time, they still feel the need to kiss, but it has degraded to this brief brushing of the lips against each other, which barely allows time for puckering. It’s so dumb. People are prideful about it. “He didn’t kiss me good-bye …” “She left without kissing me …” Come on, now. Is a peck really even a kiss? And what does it communicate other than the fact that we are getting old and we might just be afraid that if we pushed any harder with our lips we might break our teeth?

So even though I’m a great advocate of kissing, I am not afraid to discuss the need for improvement. And I must warn you that to ignore the pitfalls of life assures you that you will spend some time in the ditch.

So here’s to kissing. May it ever endure–but let us not be afraid to expose our preferences and our indifferences on the issue. Because if kissing is going to survive into future generations, it will need to be given proper scrutiny. Otherwise, we will eventually think that romance is just “wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am.” I don’t know about you. That would leave a bad taste in my mouth, leading to bad breath, which, as I told you earlier, may be the greatest guaranteed kiss off of all.

  

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

Matters … May 22, 2012

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He was very loud.

He apparently had a deep conviction that using much volume and vigor was the symbol for commitment and passion. He strutted across the stage, engaging the audience, whipping them into a frenzy of agreement. I was never quite sure whether those listening were responding to the words or were merely overtaken by the sheer magnitude of the effort.

I turned down the noise in my mind and listened solely to this TV preacher’s  content. This is what he said:

“Sometimes I’m moody. Sometimes I’m depressed. Sometimes I’m mean. Sometimes I don’t like people. Sometimes I’m hard to get along with. Sometimes I’m not a very nice fellow. Sometimes I’m not a good husband. Sometimes I’m not a good preacher. Sometimes I’m just who I am—and without God giving me grace, I wouldn’t have a chance to ever make it to heaven.”

Each time he offered one of his “sometimes” phrases, the audience cheered. I wondered what they were cheering about. Was it just a gigantic pep rally, where anything that was in the context of “Yea, our team!” would have been greeted with equal exuberance? Or was it just that the gathered souls were simply offering their support to the general position of their leader?

I don’t know. But when I got done listening, the question that came to my mind was, “What’s the point?” If you’re going to be a believer, following the leading of the Heavenly Father, and you’re still the same kind of jerk you were before, why go to the trouble? Why take money out of your coffers to support a cause that doesn’t make you any different? Why take the time to dress up, perfume yourself and drive  to a building to worship an entity that offers no reprieve to your ailing soul, but rather, seems to revel in your insufficiency? How can we be the light of the world when we continue to be dim-witted? How can we be the salt of the earth, but have such a flat taste? How can we be a city set on a hill and be in darkness because someone failed to pay the light bill?

Jesus called God “the Father”’ but what KIND of Father? Is He one of those abusive Dads who levy punishments for minor infractions? Is He one of those doting Papas, who thinks His offspring can do no wrong, and always makes excuses in order to maintain the family bond? Or worse yet, is He one of those Fathers who pretends to be supportive, but inwardly and secretly hopes the child fails at his independence so “the young ‘un will come home to Daddy?”

It gave me a chill. Is that really the best we can offer? “Come and worship God, who will show you how weak you are and help you maintain your feebleness until you either die and discover the truth of the matteror get sick of being the underdog, run out of the door of the church screaming–to escape the bondage of religion?”

Is there a way to be human, acknowledge that you are, but also learn from the spirit of the Divine how to be better at it–and be adequately challenged and loved through the whole process?

I sat down and wrote three things on a piece of paper. I believe these three points are necessary to maintain emotional well-being, spiritual prosperity, mental health and physical solvency. (1) I matter. (2) You matter. (3) It matters.

First of all, I cannot advance my cause if I don’t believe that I matter. I can only tolerate a certain amount of self-imposed incrimination before my heart rebels against being treated like an unwanted orphan. Everything of quality in life has to commence with the understanding that “I matter.” To me, one of the more invigorating verses of scripture is when Jesus told his disciples that they didn’t need to worry, because the Father in heaven knew what they needed before they even asked. How lovely. And as a smart Creator, He knows that he placed within each and every one in us a need to believe in ourselves, pursue our own betterment, and refuse to give in to mediocrity. I matter—and if I matter, I’m not going to sell out and assume that my most meager efforts are my best.

So I say to that minister on the television, you may get some immediate “Amens” from the crowd by portraying human beings as incapable of overcoming their inconsistencies, but in the long run, you will cause them to lose the power to become the sons of God.

Because until I believe I matter, I cannot possibly let YOU matter. I love you but I’m not going to let you be better than me. I appreciate that you’re God’s child and I welcome you to a seat at the table—but I’m never going to give you my pork chop.  But when I feel secure in the fact that I matter and have a mission to improve myself instead of settling, I then will pass the platter your way and let you partake. It’s impossible to love your neighbor if you don’t already love yourself. Facts are, you WILL love your neighbor just as much as you DO love yourself, and if you think that you, yourself, are just a big pile of trash in the corner, then you certainly will be prepared to haul your friends to the curb.

If you really believe it’s natural for human beings to be depressed, mean, moody and selfish, then you will become fiercely competitive with others and suspicious of the world around you. The only way I can let you matter is because I know that I matter. If God is not transforming my life, why do I think He would be interested in your situation? Spirituality is not the absence of self-confidence, but rather, the definition of it. And that definition is simple: I matter enough that God tells me what will make my life even richer, so that I can live that out and make room for you to matter, too.

Do you see where we’re going? After I realize that I matter and my life is important, I have the joy of believing that you matter. And once you matter, suddenly the true miracle of life occurs: IT matters.

There’s nothing too small–setting up chairs in an auditorium, driving your car, buying groceries, folding the laundry, watching a football game or sitting in a church, worshipping. You know that I matter, and you’ve given grace to others to allow them to matter as well, and then suddenly–everything you do matters.

You give the greatest part of yourself to your own life—and that is attention. For instance, as I write this jonathots, I am nowhere else, thinking of nothing else, worrying about no one else, completely absorbed in this matter. I love it.

I was greatly saddened by this flamboyant, energetic minister on TV. He was seeking the approval of the populace by telling them they didn’t need to do anything more than what they were already doing in order to be godly. I suppose it is true if your goal is to maintain a mediocre lifestyle. But if you really want to be happy, you have to find a way to challenge your moodiness, depression, meanness and selfishness—and open the door to continual flows of living waters into your soul.

  • I matter.
  • You matter.
  • It matters.

And in the end, because it DOES matter, it gives even greater confirmation to why I matter, and it starts the circle of life again.

I’m sure there are those who can cite specific holy writings which might contradict parts of this thesis. But real holiness is a truth that makes us free—a word which has value because it is both heavenly and has an obviously rewarding earthly application.

Don’t settle. Don’t give in to your weakness and call it humility. Find out why God is a good Father—because He teaches His children to believe: I matter, you matter, it matters. 

  

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Redlands… May 21, 2012

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I keep searching.

Every week I climb into my big, black van and go from town to town across this expansive country, trying to find a spark of revival. (I do take the precaution of bringing along my own “matches”…)

And when I speak of revival, I’m don’t mean merely a spiritual awakening, but rather, a complete human awakening, fueled by spirit. I will not bore you by telling you about the disappointments along the way. I have never been one to belabor the darker edges of the quilt of my experience. What I would rather do is tell you how encouraged I was yesterday.

I arrived in a church that had rejected complexity in preference to simplicity. They relished communication over the repetition of mere religious practice and liturgy, and they had enough vulnerability that even a stranger such as myself could come in, and as long as I was willing to be equally as transparent, they were of a mind to listen.

It’s not really very complicated. It’s all about ingredients. If you talk to four or five chefs about spaghetti sauce, each one will tell you what elements he prefers prefer to make the ideal concoction. Some want more oregano. Others insist on large doses of basil. Of course, there’s a strong contingency that will tell you it’s all about the garlic. These are all issues of flavor. The truth of the matter is, you can’t make spaghetti sauce without tomatoes. And in our society, emotionally, spiritually and mentally we lead so strongly with taste that we forfeit the tomatoes. Yesterday in Redlands, I discovered a lovely group of souls who were still focusing on the main act.

  • For instance, I talked to a trombone player from the band, who lamented that there was not printed music in the bass clef for his particular instrument–BUT he was still playing. Unlike so many other folks, who have given up playing in the band due to the lack of perfect conditions, he still remained–tootin’ away.
  • I met a women who had recently lost her husband, but rather than making that the focal point of her communication, she uses the experience to spring off with greater concern and love for others.
  • I met a fine fellow with a great interest in independent films, who transfers that passion for the movie industry into his own interpretation of how his life in the spirited realm should be revealed.
  • I saw young humans sitting in the front of the church instead of texting in the back, allowing themselves to be affected by a good thing instead of resisting it simply because it came out of an older vessel or sounded like God-talk.
  • And I met a pastor, excellent at golf, and successful in taking the same energy and intelligence he uses in perfecting his back swing, bringing it into the church service as he claps his hands during the songs and rejoices over being with his congregation–a “holy in one.”

Last night, as I mused over these comrades, I realized that they had discovered a simple procedure that makes spirituality work. It is the blending of three words: need, ability and power.

Although many churches are persistent in expressing how much we need God, it rarely gives us the impetus to tap our abilities and grant us the power of our own conviction. Then there are the more out-of-the-box religions that focus on the power without insisting that we perfect our abilities or ever express need in any way, shape or form. Both approaches leave us void of what is necessary to use our humanity effectively.

No, it’s getting things linked in the right order that gives you the kind of results that allows you to remain human without being obnoxious, while still touching the heart and mind of God. Here’s how I see it–the way I think it should work, confirmed yesterday with my visitation to Redlands:

1. A need to do better. Human beings become ugly when they cover up their inadequacy with false bravado–self-sufficient. They become equally as grotesque when they insist that they’re constantly needy, devoid of any goodness whatsoever. It’s just the admission that we have achieved something, but upon closer examination, we have a heart’s desire to do it better. it makes us sexy. It makes us happy; it makes us powerful. And mostly, it makes us tolerable to those of our own species.

2. An ability to pursue a goal. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? But there are many folks who can not remain faithful to a plan simply because they feel more intelligent when they are critiquing it, ignoring it or trying to prove why it won’t work.  Just having the willingness to learn how things work, shutting your mouth and pursuing to the best of your ability may be the definition of godliness. I know this–what we call faith is really when need and ability sign a peace treaty. Faith is the magnificent emergence of a new energy created by the convergence of admitting our need while still pursuing our abilities. And as the Bible says, “without faith, it’s impossible to please God.” Some religions are too needy. Therefore, their adherents are always repenting–reluctantly. Some theologies are too arrogant about personal domination. The result is that those who follow that philosophy end up making claims to everyone else around them, who are privately hoping they fail.

 But when you combine need and ability, you get faith. And then faith gives you the third element:

3. A power to change YOUR world. You need to stop trying to change MY world. Also, you need to relieve your mind of any Pollyanna notion that you’re going to change THE world. Faith gives you the power to change YOUR world. As Jesus said to all the people who came to him, “Your faith has made YOU whole.” My faith can’t make anyone else whole. But it does give me the power to be a light to those who desire to escape the darkness.

When you get those three things placed in the correct order, human beings are really delightful, God seems like a wonderful next-door-neighbor, and the universe is absent a devilish vendetta against you.

Redlands, I hope you continue to understand how wonderful you are in your innocence. And if you do forget, perhaps you can refer back to these words I have shared this morning.  Because when you take a need to do better and mingle it with an ability to pursue a goal, you get the power to change YOUR world.

And the fact of the matter is, if we singularly change enough worlds … who knows? Maybe someday we can surprise the planet and change the whole blessed thing.

 

  

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

WDJD… May 20, 2012

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I said yes. I like to say yes, mainly because “no” demands too much of an explanation and makes you sound like you are hem-hawing around instead of being forthright and honest.

A lady at a church, a teacher at the local high school, asked me if I would be willing to come and speak for an assembly of the student body the following morning after my concert. She had taken the initiative to arrange it, so I had no reason to say no.

I do not consider myself to be a great spokesman to young humans–but by the same token, I don’t despise them or find it difficult to communicate once  I get over my own fears and preconceptions. Long story shortened (to allow for you to maintain your attention)  I arrived at the school and was greeted by a young lady who was to be my hostess. She carried that timidity common to the adolescent of our species. I noticed that she was wearing a WWJD bracelet. So I commented.

“Oh, I see you have a WWJD bracelet. Are you a Christian?”

“Well, kinda,” she replied sheepishly. “Actually, my grandma gave it to me along with a little booklet about what it means. Honestly, I haven’t read it yet.”

I decided not to pursue the conversation any further. The WWJD fad really didn’t last too long–mainly because it did become more of a jewelry accessory rather than a spiritual odyssey, and secondly, because most people don’t know what Jesus would do because they are so ingrained in their own personal cultures that they color the purity of that spiritual quest with their own upbringing. So I waited for my instructions concerning the assembly.

Well, things began to fall apart, as they often do whenever you enter the realm of public education. The principal came out and apologized, saying that a full assembly would be impossible because there was testing going on. I listened quietly. He said he had arranged for the drama, speech and music departments to gather in the auditorium to hear me share about the power of inspiration in entertainment. I thanked him for his courtesy and awaited the opportunity. About ten minutes later the principal reappeared and said that regrettably, the choir, music and drama departments would be unable to attend the lecture because they were preparing for an upcoming concert–BUT the speech classes were still very interested in hearing my inspiring talk.

I nodded my head. About three minutes later, the secretary arrived (the principal apparently too embarrassed to attend further) and she said the speech department was going to be unable to hear me, because they needed to rehearse for a debate to be held at a rival school. By this time I was giggling inside, wondering exactly who I would end up speaking to, or if I was just starting my day early to make me appreciate my afternoon nap.

About a half an hour later, I was escorted into the gymnasium, where, in a far corner of the bleachers, about six young women sat–students from a physical education class. They didn’t dress out that particular morning, because they were either sick or had forgotten their exercise clothes. They sat peering at me as the secretary gave me an overly elaborate introduction and unleashed me on these uninterested souls.

I realized at this point that I did not need to know what Jesus WOULD do, but instead, required an understanding of what Jesus DID do. What DID Jesus do when he was placed in a position where he was given lesser and lesser importance, ending up with an audience he did not anticipate or prepare for? You see, I had taken some time to study the school–understood their mascots and had even checked out their website for their sports schedules, to know the team records. At this point, in front of these six non-dressing gym students, this all seemed quite irrelevant.

What was NOT going to work was a typical human reaction based on ego–because every time we feel slighted, cheated, angry, frustrated, misunderstood or fussy, we are viewed as the villain, no matter how justified our reasoning may be. This was my audience, which had deteriorated from fifteen hundred promised students to six students–who didn’t seem to have much promise at all.

What did Jesus do when slapped in the face by reality? There’s a four-step process to understanding how Jesus communicated his message of love and faith to the world. It’s not hard to understand; it’s not difficult to grasp. The problem with religion and Christian theology is that it has a goal rather than a search. Every denomination is determined to promote its particular spin on godliness instead of  just studying the mind and personality of Jesus. Sitting in front of those six young ladies who were bored to death, I applied the Jesonian philosophy on human interaction.

1. Open the heart. You will never reach people spiritually, mentally and physically if you haven’t touched them emotionally. It is futile to reach for the brain or the soul if you haven’t first passed through the heart. Jesus was a heart teacher. If you have no emotion in your spiritual experience, you will have no soul to it, no renewing of the mind and therefore no physical evidence.

2. Tell a story. Anybody who believes they can communicate God by reading the Bible has lost all sense of reason. The communication of God has always been, and always will be, the sharing of a personal testimony from our own experience.  Everything else sounds like jumbled words from a former time written by Shakespeare.

3. Use the earth. We are earthlings–and I don’t mean that in a science fiction sense. I mean that we are all inhabitants of earth. Therefore we understand earth and earth is our best source for communication. When you talk about heaven, the wrong people listen. People who are self-righteous. People who are trying to escape responsibility. People who are ethereal. People who want to condemn other people to hell by first talking about heaven. When you use the earth, every son and daughter of Adam who has ears can hear.

4. And finally, make God human. When Jesus told stories, God was portrayed as a Father, an owner of a vineyard, a king, a fisherman, and even a sower of seed. The true failure of religion is that it is obsessed with the notion of making humans godly–impossible–instead of taking the more logical path of making God more human.

I don’t have to wear a bracelet that says, “What would Jesus do?” I have isolated off the gospels and understand his modus operandi. So when I sat down in front of those six girls, instead of being upset, I opened my heart by telling them the funny story of how my day was going so far. I related about how that happened to great people everywhere–for example, that Abraham Lincoln was deemed to be a complete failure before history called him a success. I used the earth to connect with them about how it felt to be sitting there, not dressing out for gym class, and how when I write something like a movie, I look for anything that is common in order to connect with people. And then I made God human. I told them that I believed if God came to earth today and was looking for work, He would enter the entertainment field. I joked with them that He probably wouldn’t be an accountant–too many numbers. Certainly not a politician–they all laughed. God would make a horrible lawyer because he would always want to forgive the criminals. They especially liked that.

My morning finished triumphantly–although only in front of a half-dozen folk. I left the school with most people not knowing I was ever there, but I got a chance to make friends and impact six young ladies simply because I kept my cool instead of becoming prideful. And I used the magical power of what Jesus DID do–opening the heart, telling a story, using the earth and making God human.

   

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The Muddle Class… May 19, 2012

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I do believe I was in the ninth grade–a freshman. At our school the class was called Civics. It was a required course taught to instill  an understanding of how the American form of government functions and also to do a little bit of flag–waving to convince us, as future tax-payers, how fabulous the setup truly is.

It’s called checks and balances. You know it well: the executive branch, headed by the President; the legislative, by Congress, and the judicial, mainly referring to the Supreme Court. I suppose I could talk about our history and say that this particular organization seems to function–but the lethargy, competition and frustration that is produced through the process holds back progress to such an extent that it is often nearly lethal to human causes.

It’s because we believe strongly in this country that we need a middle. We want a middle class, we extol the value of middle-of-the-road music, we love the happy medium (just another name for the compromised middle), and we’ve even established a world called “middle management,” where people who have not yet excelled to executive level can still feel a boost of confidence that they are no longer working on the floor with the serfs.

The problem with the middle is that it creates a jealousy for the top, and too often, a disrespect for what lies beneath. The checks and balances envisioned by our forefathers was constructed in a time when individual thinking was supreme, and being linked to a party or clump of beliefs was secondary. In other words, as long as every person actually thinks for himself and is not responding to the demands of an organization, then debate, challenge and conversation can occur on issues, resulting in some sort of agreement. But if your allegiance is primarily to your cause instead of reasonability, then your particular “flavor of the month” can dig in its heels and halt progress.

I will tell you what the problem is with the legislative branch of our government–you have nearly 535 or so men and women in one building, wishing they could be President–wanting to do the bidding of the President, or deciding to do everything they can to discredit that President. They are jealous of the executive branch and therefore can use their vote to pout.

Let’s move on to the judicial arm of the government. When I was a young man, the politics of a judge appointed to the Supreme Court was quite private, and whether the individual was conservative or liberal was a better-kept secret, with each person who received the honor promising to judge cases on merit instead of political swing. That is gone. The Supreme Court has lost its meaning because it’s just as political as Congress.

So as both political parties try to extol the beauty of honoring and respecting the middle class as the true by-product of America’s governing style, the middle class instead becomes the muddle class–lacking the integrity of being satisfied, but also lacking mercy towards those who have not yet achieved solvency. This is why middle management, in a company, is filled with some of the most nasty, cantankerous pencil=pushers you will ever find. They are discontented that they are not upper management, and also disgusted with those who work beneath them because they once held those jobs and feel that they are menial and meaningless.

If you will allow me to advance a theory, here’s the problem. Right now, in this country, we are trying to develop a philosophy based on the facts provided. Therefore, we are always changing our philosophy just due to circumstances, which can frankly often be temporary. America has developed a “moveable philosophy,” and because of that, all we have to do to become befuddled, frustrated, angry and unwilling to cooperate is to be confronted with a new set of hassles that contradict and challenge our previous conclusions.

Consider this: we just finish with the issue of civil rights for our black citizens, battling, arguing and even shedding blood over the issue, and then, before we can even take a deep breath, here comes the issue of gay rights. Rather than taking what we learned through the civil rights movement during the 1960’s, we act like we’re reinventing the wheel when it comes to civil liberties. We fail to honor a basic philosophy. Bluntly, we do NOT hold it to be self-evident that all men are created equal, as Jefferson insisted. We are continually looking at similar issues and acting like they’re brand new problems.

Let’s bring it into the normal household. If my oldest son has a curfew of eleven o’clock and I discover, that eleven o’clock is too late for him to be out because of the temptations available and I decide to change his curfew to ten-fifteen, it is ridiculous for me to start all over again with an eleven o’clock curfew with my next son. Have I learned anything through the experience with my first-born? Have I developed any concepts, attitudes and notions that are transferable to the next situation?

Therefore it is not an issue of checks and balances nor whether we have a middle class. The problem with our vision is that whenever anything new comes up, we never consider our history while honoring our philosophy, and applying both yardsticks to measure out wisdom to our new situation. So there you have it. History, our philosophy, action–the correct order and it is the way to get things done using the gravitas of our journey.  Instead, we try to develop a new philosophy for everything based upon the facts provided rather than adjusting the facts provided to our well-established, trusted and tested philosophy.

I have very little conflict in my life. It is not because conflict is not available. I deal with hundreds and hundreds of people every week–a built-in formula for stress (or even a coronary). But I don’t look at every person I meet as a new problem or even a new situation. I take these people into my life based upon an established philosophy and allow them to fit into that existing Magna Carta of tried-and-tested behavior. I took a combination of Thomas Jefferson’s “all men are created equal” and the suggestion of Jesus–“do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and I came up with MY core of conduct: “NoOne is better than anyone else.”

So if I were in Washington, D.C., the checks and balances would work for me. I would not feel I was better than the people who elected me, and I wouldn’t be jealous of someone who had achieved a higher office. In my soul, I have accepted the fact that no one is better than anyone else. But absent that fireball of intense understanding inside my soul, I begin to try to adjust everything I do to the information that is right in front of me. In that case, I not only become confused over the statistics and data, but bewildered and angry that nothing seems to be working.

I don’t care if you’re a Republican and I don’t care if you’re a Democrat. But I will tell you this–if the soul of your philosophy is not the precious idealism of “NoOne is better than anyone else,” you will eventually clump and muddle things up by protecting your cause instead of creating a cause to protect those in need. I do not extol any system unless it honors a central truth and holds that truth to be not only self-evident, but well-practiced.

So you can debate about Mitt Romney or Barack Obama all you want to. Our government will be at a stand-still as long as we are trying to find a middle ground that just becomes a muddled mess of confused, conflicting opinions. Sooner or later, both parties–all Americans–and everyone who lives within our borders need to agree on the lessons of our history and hold dear a common philosophy about how to move forward. We can debate how “NoOne is better than anyone else.” We can argue about the best method to treasure that particular gold nugget. But to proceed forward with half of our country believing one thing about humanity and the other half of our country believing another thing about humanity is to produce a muddle class that has no idea which direction to go. Going up seems impossible; going down sounds like hell.

Here is my suggestion–tell me your core philosophy and I can tell you if we’re going to be able to work shoulder-to-shoulder towards the common good. For me, if someone contends that “some people are just better than other people,” I can love that person but I cannot work with him. Because for every reason you can come up with that some individuals are better than others, I can tell you that holding that position is always the first fruits of bigotry.

So how do we get OUT of the muddle class? Somewhere along the line, as Uncle Tom Jefferson told us, we must hold some truths to be self-evident. Otherwise we debate the statistics and twist them in our own direction, instead of using our philosophy to determine how we will address the present possibility. 

   

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Crueler Donuts… May 18, 2012

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Once upon a time, for a brief fourteen seconds, I nearly convinced myself that I didn’t really like sweet things. During the sharing of such a fable, I even espoused some disdain for desserts. I said I preferred meats, vegetables and fruits over sugar-laden snacks, pies and cakes. In the midst of the relating this fairy tale, somebody walked through the room carrying a platter stacked with donuts. It was like the wicked queen displaying the magical poison apple to Snow White. My devotion to meat and vegetables was gone—my intent devoid, as I reached over with trembling hand and seized one of the lovely, circular specimens and stuffed it in my mouth.

Over the years I’ve had a great love affair with donuts, which I have, so to speak, tried to keep undercover. Because there is nothing worse than watching a really fat person eat desserts. Everybody just nods their heads and goes, “Oh, I see how it happened …”

But donuts are tough. (Or is it moist?)

I think my love affair with donuts began back in 1971, when for a brief time, I was homeless. Well, that’s a little too dramatic. I wasn’t living under a bridge using newspapers for blankets, but my wife and I didn’t have enough money for gas, food and lodging, so lodging ended up taking a back seat, and in our youthful optimism, we sponged off our friends for a spare couch or space on a patio for sleeping purposes. As you probably realize, one wears out one’s welcome quickly with such presumptions. So eventually we ran out of friends willing to lodge us for the night, and others we contacted had been fully warned of our mooching activities.

One alternative remained. (You would probably insist there was another alternative, called going out and getting a job, but honestly, that did not even enter our adolescent mindset—to pursue such an obtuse process.)

So the alternative we found was to borrow my mother’s key to the loan company that she managed, make a copy and quietly slip into the back room well after dark, sleeping on the floor of the establishment. We had to make sure that we didn’t go in until the rest of the town had gone to bed, and be out before dawn.

We had a morning ritual where we drove in our beat-up van down to North Columbus to a donut shop run by one of my dear friends who had not yet figured out that he would be better off free of our companionship. It was his job, as manager of the donut shop, to throw away all the donuts from the previous evening at about six-thirty each morning. He explained that if we would be there before the trays were dumped into the trash, that we could have as many of the rejected sugar treats as our hearts desired.

We never missed a morning.

It became one of the staples of our diet. We would usually get a couple dozen of those free blessings, buy a loaf of bread, a pound of bologna, a half-gallon of milk and two oranges. Allotting for the fact that we didn’t have to pay for the donuts, the whole day’s food expense was less than four dollars. It seemed to be an ingenious system.

(After a while, we did notice that we were gaining weight. In a state of denial, we assumed it must be the oranges, so we stopped buying them. But it was not until we got caught being squatters in the back of the loan office that we finally stopped making the trek down to get our donut bonanza, and mysteriously, after that, stopped gaining weight and actually lost a little.)

But it was through that experience that I learned to love donuts—so much so, that now, I never eat them at all—because if I did, I would have no idea when to stop.

I used to have favorites, but after a while that seemed like a waste of time and created forbidden territory that was neither satisfying nor particularly intelligent. One of the donuts I never really enjoyed was crullers. In my obese piety, I held that they were “too heavy” and more like cake than a real donut. But that particular abstention was overcome one morning when I arrived at my friend’s donut shop and ONLY crullers were available. For that day, and many days to follow, they became my favorite.

Donuts may be the only reason I ever actually drank a cup of coffee.  Matter of fact, let me tell you the top five things I like about donuts:

1. They’re portable. You can take them from place to place. They travel well. They don’t require a fork or a plate.

2. You can eat three and claim you ate one. Unless there’s someone minding the box as the “donut police,” it’s difficult to determine who is consuming what and how much has been depleted.

3. The hole in the center—an illusion of fewer calories. You can always say, “It’s not that much” because at least half of it is empty space. Which brings me to:

4. They actually make donut holes. Also one of my favorites. Especially when they filled the little donut holes with whipped cream.

5. Eating donuts seems to be spiritual. A great way to have fellowship, or even, in some cases, overcome addiction, survive divorce, or be a part of any support group whatsoever. Because there is no church or organization in America that doesn’t greet you at the door with, “After the service is over, we have donuts and coffee available…” You see what I mean? Who could hate such an innocent vehicle of human joy and interaction?

Donuts bring people together.

But several years ago, I decided that donuts were not for me. If you are what you eat, then I was beginning to resemble a jelly filled donut—big and round, with lots of goo at the center. I did extremely well—as long as I didn’t look at them, smell them or have some really wicked person offer a fresh glazed one that was still warm.

Then, on August 14th, 2011, it happened. I even remember the time—7:32 P.M. I was driving along with my wife, Dollie, and my partner, Janet, when we passed a Dunkin Donuts and I thought to myself, why not? After all, we deserved a treat, didn’t we?

So I rolled into the parking lot and told Janet to go in and get us some of the delicious items. Jan is a wonderful woman, but not someone you want around when you have an addiction to donuts. Janet has never met a sweet treat that she was not willing to consume in excess. So when I told her that we should get MORE than a dozen—so we could “save them up for the week”—she readily agreed to go in a select a variety of two dozen.

Long story short, we went back and in probably less than two hours, the three of us consumed all two dozen.

Ridiculous, you may cry. Gluttony, you might charge. But we didn’t care. Having been deprived of them for so long, we gorged.

About an hour and a half later, my stomach and brain began to conspire in some sort of mystical journey of hallucination—not that dissimilar to how people describe an LSD trip.

I was sleepy. I was alert. I was fidgety. I was sick to my stomach. I had a headache. I think I had a conversation with the devil about sprinkles or icing. Needless to say, it was a bad trip. (Stay away from the purple icing…)

I think that evening cured me once and for all—because as much as I love donuts, they are crueller. What they do is tease you with their ease. They please you with their taste. And they attack you with regret.

For after all, we want to make sure that we are the ones eating the food, and not the food, in some strange way … totally consuming us.

 

   

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