Fallen… February 21, 2013

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helpHe crawled to my door, recently cast to earth by that which he considered to be god-like. He was a discombobulated mutation of the Gingerbread Man, Humpty Dumpty and a misfit toy. After twenty plus years of marriage, three children, late notices on bills, burned meat loaf and too few kisses, he found himself alone–abandoned by the other human soul who had promised to remain forever.

He was suddenly surrounded by ants, worms, dirt and spit-out gum. Like the ant, he was scurrying around to rediscover the picnic. As the worm, he was flat on his belly, sucking up the soil–and he was discarded, flavorless.

He and she were no longer we.

He was alone for the first time in over two decades and had no idea what to do. I am not so sure why he decided to seek me out. But years of handling such visitations have taught me the rules of operation: never bring an opinion–just a cup of coffee “to go” and two ears “to stay.”

He sat on the floor so as not to allow himself any further descent–and uttered the typical words: How could she do that? What did I do wrong? What are people going to think? What am I going to do now?

Even though these might sound like questions, they really aren’t. They are screams into the darkness, pleading for response but never remaining for an answer. It is important to remember that two words are absolutely forbidden during these excursions into the dark night of bewilderment: “God” and “the future.” Both of them seem too mean, too forbidding, too misunderstood and too impotent.

He is hurt. He presently does not possess faith, but is rather possessed by a smothering faithlessness. He doesn’t need quotations and does not require counsel. He doesn’t even really appreciate a flick of my eyebrow or an ill-placed, “I see.”

He is fallen. He will never rise again if he is not allowed to savor the moments of self-pity that generate the revelation of the true value of existing blessing.

We spend too much time criticizing those who have already been criticized. We are too eager to throw stones at those who have already been stoned. We sit in judgment over those who are precariously doomed to execution.

We lack the sensibility to remember what it is like to be fallen when we are standing on our own two feet, peering down at the hapless victim.

He will have better days. He may reconcile with his former love or he may not. But this is not a sickness unto death. Recuperation, however, demands that we allow people to crawl before they walk, and stroll before they run.

Sometimes “fallen” is the only way we actually become grounded.

Because dirt is closer to the earth–and the earth is our residence.

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Sympathizer … February 20, 2013

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Black Jon

Two Johns.

Two men living at the same time.

John Brown.

John Booth.

Two men with B names.

Two men with nine letters in their names.

Two sympathizers.

One a sympathizer for the cause of halting slavery.

The other, a sympathizer for maintaining the dignity of the south, states’ rights and  slavery

Both men took up the gun.

Both men ended up dying in Virginia.

Both men made the history books.

Both men took lives.

But one of these sympathizers, John Brown–although viewed by some to be a domestic terrorist–is revered as a forward thinking abolitionist and even a prophet, who foretold of a bloody struggle to rid our nation of the scourge of slavery.

The other, John Booth, a well-respected actor, took a small hand gun and walked into a theater and killed the President of the United States, thinking he would be known as a hero, and ending up arguably the most notorious man in US history.

In the season of their lives, they were viewed quite differently.

John Brown was hated, tried, convicted and hung–with John Booth in the gallery.

John Booth was considered by many to be one of the greatest actors of his time, and had at least half the nation believing in his cause of maintaining the integrity of the hinter lands and the necessity of slavery.

Move ahead in time.

John Brown was right.

John Booth was wrong.

*****

What did you think of my picture? I think I make a fairly striking black man, don’t you? Some people would think such a photograph is tasteless. I understand their sentiment. Many people are frightened of any semblance of controversy for fear it might lead to a discussion that demands transformation.

Some folks might think it’s clever–but only from an artistic angle, not realizing the significance of the timing of the artwork. For I am trying to learn to be a good sympathizer. I am studying what history, God, common sense, liberty and free will tell us are the landmark issues that cannot be restrained and must be allowed to play out with full bravado.

I am attempting to navigate course across a sea of confusion and land in a safe port, where in the future they will look at my dealings and say, “Jonathan Richard Cring made some good choices.”

I want to be a sympathizer. To do this, I must occasionally abandon my own predilections, sensations and even the tenets of my faith to allow free will to have its holy moment–because to remove liberty is to chase away the spirit of God.

I want to become a sympathizer. I want to find myself erring on the side of liberty instead of faltering in the fables of my youth. How can I know that I am sympathizing with the right causes? The truth is, I will never be a black man. How can I sympathize with my brothers and sisters and still demand of each one of us that we be conscious of goodness and mercy?

After much thought, I came up with a simple conclusion. I will allow you to muse over its deeper meaning:

You can’t build up any idea, organization, doctrine, faith or political movement that tears down other people. If you do, you will be John Booth instead of John Brown.

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

Not So Much … February 19, 2013

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I was wearing an old pair of running pants and a stretched out T-shirt, certainly a bit askew of GQ.

I was sitting in my chair, waiting for the final tally of the groceries I had selected, when two young boys came walking by, one of the lads poking his friend in the ribs, pointing at my protruding belly and laughing. The other young man seemed completely uninterested, so they scampered on their way, with the first little guy maintaining his chuckle.

There was a time in my life when I was quite aggravated by such youthful assaults. But on this particular day I didn’t give it another thought. I realized that the reason I did not give it much attention was not that I had “grown in maturity,” but because it has lessened in occurrence. Yes, over the years, as a fat man, I have observed less giggling from bored youngsters than once was the case.

I was suddenly struck with a great wave of gratitude–because in this time, when people are complaining so ferociously about all the difficulties and “simmering pots,” it is nice every once in a while, to look back and realize that we have made some human progress.

For instance, it used to be in this country that people of different races couldn’t date, marry or be together without receiving ridicule and persecution. Not so much anymore.

In our history–quite recent, may I add–it was a favorable thing to segregate and even do harm to those who did not exactly match our skin hue. Not so much now.

Catholics and Protestants in Ireland massacred one another at one time, in the name of Jesus Christ, to establish the dominance of their spirituality. Not so much.

Water supplies in towns across America were questionable in their quality because there were no restrictions on certain contaminants. Not so much.

Litter filled the highways with trash as a scar on our nation’s landscape. Not so much.

Politicians were able to get by with numerous scams and scandals without ever being caught by a press corps that was often in the back pocket of big corporations. Not so much.

Religion was blindly accepted for all of its inadequacies instead of being questioned and challenged to be productive in the human environment. Not so much.

Children were to be “seen and not heard”–set aside and basically ignored unless they were extraordinarily accomplished or equally in the other direction, naughty. Not so much.

Catsup was considered to be a vegetable by national leaders, who were gradually turning all of our children into guinea pigs for commercial poison. Not so much.

I just paused as I sat there and waited for my groceries, which are now so easy to purchase and much simpler to carry in their bags than they used to be, and was grateful that the little boy who ran by me with his ridicule was in a minority. Somewhere along the line, we have taught our children to be more tolerant of human space.

That’s good.

So in the process of trying to change our lives and improve the lot of the American populace, let us occasionally stop off at an altar of gratitude and realize that much of the crankiness, bigotry and controlling attitudes that once permeated our adult culture have been decimated by mercy, knowledge and appreciation for one another.

Am I optimistic? Don’t push it. But today, I am grateful.

And I can say this about stupidity: not so much.

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

Holes … February 18, 2013

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GE DIGITAL CAMERAComplicating life doesn’t make you smarter.

Coming up with intricate ways of conducting your business certainly does not make you more efficient. And merely saying you live a “simple life” doesn’t work either, if you end up ignoring what needs to be done.

What works is making a plan, fully aware that life, circumstances, people and even God will reveal holes in your goals. What you do with the holes determines whether you will be considered a problem-solver, clever and on-point, or an avoider, a liar and a cheat.

That’s really how easy it is. If this were taught in our schools and churches, within one generation we would solve at least half of our problems–because we would be able to identify them as bobbles before they became disasters.

Allow yourself one fear–a fear of a lack of repentance.

Failure is inevitable because we are all learning. Set-backs are necessary because they instruct us in better ways to accomplish our goals. And without inadequacy, none of us would ever desire to learn more precise procedures to improve our lives.

While the church is concerned about sin, politics about flip-flopping, corporations frightened of whistle-blowers and the average Joe and Jane on the street terrified of embarrassment, we have developed a society which spends most of its time “spinning” our flops into accidents–or even worse, consequences beyond our control.

Here’s the system: I make a plan. In the process of doing that, I study what is set before me, evaluate what I have, and set in motion ideas which appear to be my best selections and which also don’t seem to harm anyone else. As soon as I rev that engine on my new invention, I will discover there are holes.

If I am the first one to notice them,  am prepared to repair them and I am willing to make the adjustments to them I will always appear to be a forward-thinking genius. If I insist that my original prototype is perfect and just misunderstood, or hasn’t had a chance to work out its bugs, or should be accepted despite its lack of quality, I will end up looking like a first-class jerk.

That’s it. Life is about making plans, knowing there will be holes, but that if we’re willing to patch them without bad attitudes or denial, we will make progress.

Do you want to grow up a little today? Make a plan, look for the holes, repair them–and laugh because you didn’t have to humiliate yourself by being exposed as a fool.

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

Simplicity … February 17, 2013

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GE DIGITAL CAMERAIt doesn’t happen very often.

When I first started traveling, as a young man, the invitations to go out to dinner with people after a show were much more frequent. Time moves on. Tastes change. The world shrinks in latitude while growing much more separate in attitude. But last night after I finished setting up my equipment, Handlee, Julio and Liz asked Janet and I to go out for a meal. It was weird–because my first inclination was to say no. Do you know why? I was scared.

Having not done it for some time, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to handle the chit-chat and the simple conversation without leaving dead spots–or making myself look like a dead spot. But I felt foolish.

Breaking bread is really what the original concept of “communion” was intended to be–people getting together, eating food and discussing their wonderful memories of life, the joy they’ve had in living and the power of their faith in Jesus.

It is one of those rare occasions when the heart, soul, mind and strength are allowed to co-exist and feed off the same experience, without starving out one of the members. The emotions are open to sharing heartfelt thoughts as the soul expresses belief, allowing for the mind to be renewed with new ideas, different perspectives or even foreign concepts. Simultaneously, the body is sitting there in ecstatic bliss, absorbing all the food and drink it desires to help maintain attention.

It is simply perfect. Because after all, perfection is simple, or it would be beyond our grasp and therefore, just a mean taunt from a nasty God. But God is not nasty. He is practical–so practical that He lived a human life just to make sure He understood and also to make sure it could be done with grace and truth.

I don’t remember a whole lot about the food. It was good enough to eat–because I did. (Of course, I’ve eaten a lot of things in my life that really weren’t good enough but still filled space in my mouth on the way down to my tummy-tomb.)

It is the definition of simplicity–a moment I almost missed because I was afraid. And fear is the great thief of joy and satisfaction.

If I could remember that, maybe I would learn to embrace occasions like tonight and even initiate them on my own. But if you don’t mind, I’m not in the mood for making promises or predictions. I just am thankful for three new friends and the opportunity to prove that we human beings are not as separated as we think we are–just absent some good conversation … while breaking bread.

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A Great Reward … February 16, 2013

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Jillian MichaelsShe stomps around the room, panting and huffing, with fire in her eyes, screaming a tirade of disapproval to a collection of hand-selected American fatties, who haplessly receive her critical words, having no way of escape. She is muscular, slightly emaciated and totally bewildered by why these misfit souls can’t exercise their way to trimness and beauty.

“What’s wrong with you?” she bellows from the depths of her self-righteousness.

***

I looked forward to it every day.

When kindergarten was over, if I had been a good boy, my mother would drive me down to the Dairy Delight in Delaware, Ohio, and buy me two chicken sandwiches and a root beer freeze. It was so delicious–so reassuring. Sometimes during the morning hours, it was all I could think about while I organized my crayons and cut circles out of construction paper.

It was my reward–proof that I had done well. And I learned it excellently.

Like millions and millions of other people in this country, I was teased, taunted and tantalized with the reward of eateries and treats, to accentuate the possibility of my good grades and fruitful behavior.

“That’s right, Tommy. If you’re a good boy in the grocery store, Mommy will buy you a candy bar.”

As painful as it is for Tommy to maintain the vigil of purity, the prospect of a soft Milky Way candy bar melting in his mouth sustains him through the rigors of restraint.

“If you’re good, Jane, on the way back from dance class, we’ll stop and get ice cream at Baskin Robbins.”

Jane is willing to tolerate the ridiculous contortions of her instructor’s demands for the prospect of Rocky Road with a squirt of whipped cream.

It is the practice of this country to reward its children with naughty little pieces of caloric destruction when they have achieved success–and then we wonder why we grow up to be a nation full of bloated bodies, if not egos.

So some of these rewarded children discover they have slower metabolisms, or they even develop addictions to their rewards and treats, growing fatter than their neighbors. Then we wonder what’s wrong with them. What turmoil is churning in their souls which cause them to destroy their bodies with the poison of food?

We are absolutely insane. We have a First Lady who proclaims the excellence of good eating, while simultaneously living in a nation where food–dripping with grease, fat, sugar and salt–is touted as a confirmation of our prowess and pleasure.

If we actually are going to be healthier, we have to develop a better reward system. I know it torments me to this day. When I finish a show, I want my two chicken sandwiches and my root beer freeze from the Dairy Delight. “Jonathan has been a good boy.” I have colored within the lines. I put down the toilet seat so the little girls wouldn’t fall in at kindergarten. Where’s my treat?

Until we address this problem, we will manufacture a hypocrisy which is not only befuddling to the masses, but also offers little alternative for ever achieving a trimmed-down solution.

I don’t care what you do with your children, but food–especially those terrible morsels of treachery–can no longer be dangled as rewards for good performance.

How about developing “house bucks”–little dollar bills you print–as the reward for excellent work, which can be traded in for favors, opportunities and the ability to make decisions. In other words, you collect 25 house bucks and you get to select all the TV shows for one night. 50 gives you the chance to choose the dinner, as long as it includes all the necessary food groups. 100 house bucks–you get a bicycle, so you can ride around and exercise instead of sit around and eat fat.

Whatever our decision, we cannot punish our adult population, which is growing obese, because as children they were taught that they were good boys and girls, and confirmed to be so by chomping on caramel and cream.

When you remove the hypocrisy, what remains is your reality. As long as you’re not afraid of it, you gain power. We need to understand that food is not a reward–it is nourishment. The true reward in life is the opportunity to decide for yourself what you’re going to do … and to find a way to have fun doing it.

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Little is Big on a Bad Day … February 15, 2013

school color

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Pictured above is the Miakka School House, a historical landmark which I photographed last night during my visit to the tiny community, which is strategically enclosed in the greenery and mushiness of Central Florida.

You might suspect that in person, the schoolhouse does not appear to be psychedelic. I have enhanced it. Some people would say I’ve distorted the image. Such is life. Rarely do we get a glimpse of an image in actuality before our minds take it over and attempt to either enhance it, or in a fit of frustration, distort it.

I will tell you this of a certainty–very few people have their lives ruined by a disaster–mainly because disasters are rare. It is much more likely to have your life altered, devastated or left barren by a little thing that is blown out of proportion than it ever is by being struck by lightning. The human tendency to take “little things” and make them “big” simply because “we’re having a bad day” is what renders us fearful, suspicious and often frozen–unable to move forward.

Our upbringing doesn’t help. Adding to the trepidation are the number of murders offered on television as evidence of a cruel society. And honestly, just the human tendency to think that evil is more intriguing than good causes us to swing to the dark side. I guess it would be harmless if it weren’t so harmful. But it is often in the midst of our false concerns that we fail to recognize a true opportunity, which ends up leaving us with a mess.

How can we keep from distorting the facts presented to us? Or just as bad, from trying to enhance everything in order to make it look better, ending up with a bizarre representation?

First of all, I think we have to admit to ourselves early in our morning that we are ill-prepared for the day and have set our feet toward being a dunderhead. Sometimes I even give those around me the gracious warning that I am a ticking time bomb of stupidity.  Amazingly, often that is enough to shake us out of our dim-wittedness.

Yes, merely confessing “I’m having a bad day” sometimes changes it into a good day. But if you continue to walk around in a foul mood, insisting there is nothing wrong with you, it’s everybody around you doing “stinky work,” you can set in motion the beginnings of a real disaster.

“I’m having a bad day. Please, someone help me.”

And since you know you’re having one of those bad days, and you are susceptible to making everything little too big, don’t make any decisions without asking three questions:

1. Have I done this before? Is this situation in front of me, which seems so foreign and problematic, really just an opportunity that I’ve previously handled, wearing a different hat? You will be surprised at how encouraging it is to remember former successes.

2. If this did happen before, what did I learn from it? Most people think that the brain remembers things because we see something that triggers memory. Actually the brain only remembers things when we ask it to retrieve similar occurrences. The brain is not helpful, just available. So if you don’t ask your brain to dredge up the past, it will lock it up solutions like they’re in solitary confinement. What did I learn the last time?

3. And finally, what is different with today? Occasionally something will be unique in your present dilemma. But usually not. Generally speaking, the only thing separating today’s frustration from yesterday’s clear-headedness is a bad night’s sleep, nightmares or low blood sugar. What is different?

By the time you finish asking these three magical questions, having already admitted  having a bad day, you have much less chance of turning something little into something big, distorting the image set in front of you. It is a problem we humans encounter incessantly. Therefore, it would be a good idea to have a plan of action for handling it.

Because of the rainy, drippy weather, only a handful of determined souls made it out from the Floridian rural countryside to our concert last night. I drove a long way to get there. So I was tempted to take something little–like poor attendance–and make it a big thing. Instead I asked myself the questions:

  • Have I been here before? Yes, and every time that I remained faithful, it’s always been beautiful.
  • What did I learn? Whether you and I are in front of eleven people or eleven thousand, it makes no difference if I am sharing in a bad mood. So buck up.
  • What is different? Me. I am different because now God has given me the grace to ask these miraculous questions instead of dumping bad attitude along the side of the freeway like I’m running away from town to escape an eviction notice.

You don’t need to enhance your life and you certainly don’t need to distort it. Just stop making little things big–just because you’re having a bad day.

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

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