Reverend Meningsbee (Part 51) Under the Weather… April 23rd, 2017

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Reverend Meningsbee

Shortly after the premiere of “Eden,” it was as if the community fell under a spell.

People just started getting sick–lots of flu, colds, injuries. An ever-growing list of those diagnosed with cancer during prayer time. A few of the prominent couples in town filed for divorce. It sent a shock wave through the community.

Meningsbee was fully aware that those who live on the prairie are not without the knowledge of the real world, but the decision to stay there was often an attempt to escape it. Sometimes superstition smothered common sense.

Some of the members started talking about “curses.” There were musings that the sins of the town were taking root and that God had removed His favor from them and that everything they tried was laying an egg.

Meningsbee attempted to encourage folks, but a dark slime of depression settled in.

Meningsbee went to prayer. Normally when it came to prayer, Meningsbee liked to listen. If he was in a group of people, they often deferred to him to lead in prayer, but he frequently requested that someone else do it so he could just enjoy.

But sometimes he knew it was important for him to pray–find a good closet, shut the door and turn down all the noise. Just allow his spirit to be free of fear and open to the possibility of solution.

While he was in prayer, he remembered a question that one of the women from the Ladies Auxiliary had posed. “Pastor Meningsbee, how do you know it’s not a curse? It’s not like evil would let us be aware of its plan.”

He thought long and hard on that. People spend an awful lot of time fighting, cursing or chasing the devil. Yet if there were actually a creature who spawned darkness and evil, it was unlikely that people would be able to deter him from his ways.

So where does that leave us? he thought. Exactly. It leaves… us. What do we know we can do? What do we know we can be? What do we know we can think, that will keep the effects of gloom out of our minds and open the door to good cheer?

From that time in prayer, Meningsbee put together a message, which he shared the following Sunday.

After praying for a grim list of sick folk and listening to a hymn sung with no enthusiasm at half-volume by weary people, he offered a simple thought.

“The only thing I can do, the only thing you can do, is control what comes inside us. Because once it is inside us, it’s going to feed us or it’s going to starve us.”

He stepped out into the middle aisle and pointed out five or six different individuals.

“Do you believe that if you eat better, you might just feel better? But if you’re like me, when you get depressed, you want to eat things you know are bad for you, but they temporarily make you feel good.

“And if your mind is clouded and unclear, should you be watching things on television or at the movies that leave you with more questions than answers? For the Good Book tells us that a double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

“And if you’re pretty sure that life has temporarily decided to suck, should you be sitting around listening to people who have prime, juicy examples to confirm your conclusion? What should you be hearing?

“Now I know some of you think we’re under a curse. I don’t happen to agree, but let’s say you’re right. How should we break the curse? It’s against the law to sacrifice virgins anymore. I don’t think any of us are up for an exorcism.

“God only asks you and me to take responsibility for what we handle. So I don’t know about you. Maybe it’s just a bad time, or maybe it’s a curse. But here’s what I can do.

“I can eat better. I can stop watching trash on TV. And I can listen to people who have a message of hope instead of those who’ve given up. You know what? I feel better just thinking about feeling better. How about you? How many of you feel better just thinking about feeling better?”

Nearly everyone in the sanctuary raised their hand.

“Now, we can’t expect our brothers and sisters who don’t come to church to set a miracle in motion, but if our town needs a miracle we need miracle workers. And Jesus says that begins with faith.

“So if you dear souls have the faith to say to this curse, ‘Be thou removed’ and you do not doubt in your hearts, it will go away. Especially if we start eating better, looking for light and listening for good reports.

“Now I want you to do something we don’t normally do in this church. If you heard what I shared today and you thought to yourself, ‘that’s a pretty doggone good idea,’ I want you to come up here and stand with me.”

The entire congregation stood to its feet in clumps and intervals and moved to the front altar area.

Reverend Meningsbee made his way to every single soul, squeezing their hands and simply saying, “Let’s be well.”

Now maybe the good news was there all the time, or maybe the community was so depressed it was unable to see anything but bleak possibilities. But starting that very morning, Garsonville got healed.

It was their faith that made them whole.

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Reverend Meningsbee (Part 50) Lights, Camera, Inaction … April 16th, 2017

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Reverend Meningsbee

Russ and Tracy were the local and only filmmakers in Garsonville.

They referred to themselves as “cinemaniacs.” They loved movies. They loved making movies.

They could tell you the back story of every single Hollywood blockbuster that ever rolled across the silver screen. They spent hours discussing their preference on a particular type of electronic cord or the do’s and don’ts of good lighting.

They lived together, unmarried, in a small apartment above the downtown apothecary. Although such relationships were frowned on in the small town, the people accepted them and concluded in their minds that they must be brother and sister.

Russ and Tracy, along with Carl, came to see Meningsbee, possessing the excitement of three ten-year-old children who just discovered they had a snow day. They wanted to make a documentary–the story of the Garsonville Church since Meningsbee had arrived, including the controversy and also the burst of recent growth. For last Sunday, there had been 230 people in attendance at the church.

Meningsbee listened carefully to their plan, and was greatly surprised to discover they had already “townfunded” $4,223 from the citizens.

Meningsbee had his doubts. To him, it kind of felt the same way as the first time somebody described sushi. It sounded like a good idea, but something was a little fishy.

Actually, he had two major concerns, so he voiced them.

“Listen,” he said, “before I give my blessing to this project, I need to know, number 1, do I have to do anything different, weird, unusual or fakey?”

The three assured him that all he had to do was be his glorious self.

“Secondly,” he continued, “do I have to wear makeup? You see, about ten years ago, I did a talk show in Rhode Island and the girl at the studio insisted I wear makeup because she noticed that my lips were so thin that they crawled back into my face. Since she was the professional, I agreed to let her smear some stuff on my forehead, and then she took lipstick and put it on my mouth. It was kind of dark brown in color. Later on, when I caught a glimpse of myself on the TV monitor, I looked like one of those Old West gunslingers lying in the pine box before they carried him away to Boot Hill.”

Russ and Tracy assured Meningsbee there would be no need for him to wear makeup unless he really enjoyed it.

“I’ll tell you what,” said Meningsbee. “I think I can get the church to agree to take a $5,000 donation that’s just come in, and give it to you guys to make this idea come to life.”

Jubilation rocked the room.

Two weeks later there were cameras and lighting equipment in the streets of Garsonville, and the citizens were solicited for their opinions, insights and any stories they might like to share with the documentarians.

It took three months to shoot the whole thing. There was a complete sense of community–enthusiasm beyond measure–and with Russ and Tracy telling one and all there was a possibility that the little flick might be going to film festivals, everybody was preening and preparing for “bright lights and big city.”

Meningsbee gently but firmly warned the folks that they had been equally enthralled with USBN. But you see, this was different. This was “home town kids doing home town things to express the beauty of the home town.”

After three weeks of shooting, there was another forty days of editing, at which time it was decided there needed to be a premiere of the documentary at the local high school. They decided to call it “Looking for Eden,” and the premiere was only twenty-five days away.

The auditorium only seated 500 people, and the interest level seemed so strong that it was decided there would be two showings–one at 6:45 P.M. on Saturday, and one at 2:30 P.M. Sunday afternoon.

Posters were printed, the newspaper interviewed the filmmakers and all potential stars, and Meningsbee sat back and watched his congregation and community go just a little bit crazy one more time.

He, himself, had filmed two segments for the project. One was a question and answer session in his office, and another one had him sharing spontaneously from his heart as he walked slowly down the main street of Garsonville. Both scenes seemed a little bit contrived and incomplete to Meningsbee, but Russ and Tracy said the dailies looked great–the dailies being the footage they looked at each afternoon, to make sure quality was being maintained.

Watching the town prepare for the event was similar to eyeballing a seven-year-old boy in church who needs to pee. He’s not quite sure what to do with himself so he wiggles around, hoping a bathroom is in his near future.

Premiere night arrived. A couple of limousines were hired for the filmmakers and the more prominent dignitaries from the town, and the auditorium was packed all the way to the walls, with people who came to see a tribute to their town, which amazingly, included their mugs.

It started off all right. There was a song played by a local boy as the opening credits rolled.

But then the actual movie began. It wasn’t bad. The camera work was good, the sound was adequate.

But it was just boring.

What Russ and Tracy did not take into consideration was that Nebraskan folks sometimes take two minutes just to say hello. Slow paced life. Slow paced speech. Slow paced moving picture.

One of those just didn’t work.

People began getting fidgety, with lots of bathroom trips, several coughing fits, and some of the younger people couldn’t help but release agonizing yawns.

After two hours and thirteen minutes, the ordeal was over. Some folks hung around for a little while to express their appreciation, but most scurried out as quickly as possible, hoping and praying that this piece of cinema would never be seen anywhere else.

Matter of fact, on Sunday afternoon, the only people who came out to see the movie were Reverend Meningsbee, four or five close friends and two couples who had been out of town and just drove in, and were unaware of the reviews.

Russ, Tracy and Carl were discouraged. “I guess we’re just boring,” said Russ.

Meningsbee put one arm around Russ, the other around Tracy and drew them in close.

“No,” he said. “And you guys did a great job. Matter of fact, I was pleasantly surprised. Because let’s be honest, it could have been worse. When you put a close-up on our community, it’s like watching pudding cool and thicken. It’s not pretty, it’s not camera worthy, but it’s solid and you can count on it.”

Meningsbee took the three filmmakers out to an early dinner and they sat around and talked about life, dreams and love–and newer and better ways of looking for Eden.

 

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Reverend Meningsbee (Part 49) Troubling the Water … April 9th, 2017

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Reverend Meningsbee

Professor McIntosh.

Meningsbee always remembered him fondly.

He was one of those college professors who thought it was his job to come up with the most clever way to communicate ideas, gauging his success on how dazzled his students would become or how they would squint at him, perplexed, acting as if they didn’t understand.

He was a character.

One of his primary theories was that everything in the universe was based on physics and chemistry–even people–that even though we advance the idea that loving our neighbor as ourselves is a noble pursuit, that certain chemicals, reactions and even structures of different individuals actually inhibit them from making connection–even though they try. Sometimes they even get married, attempting to work out a relationship, only to discover that they suffer from a perpetual awkwardness whenever they’re together alone.

The reason for the walk down memory lane was that recently Meningsbee had come to the conclusion that his old professor just might have stumbled upon some wisdom. Because try as he might, there was one gentleman in the Garsonville congregation who just could not tolerate the pastor.

Matter of fact, Meningsbee found himself referring to this gent as “Mr. Jackson, from the bank,” because he had never heard his first name. He thought it was “Maynard,” but considering how unusual that seemed, he was hesitant to try it out loud.

So whenever Meningsbee entered the room, Jackson stayed for a few moments, but excused himself pretty quickly. At first he thought it was a coincidence, but then some of the other church members noticed it, and began to check their watches, timing when Jackson made his exodus.

Meningsbee thought about going to talk to Jackson, but reconsidered. Honesty only works when two people agree to the terms. Otherwise, the person who chooses not to share his heart can simply terminate the peace offering by saying, “Problem? What problem?”

But recently Meningsbee had become worried.

Mr. Jackson had begun spending a lot of time with young Carl. He offered to buy the young man a new suit. Whenever Carl was doing something in the church, like a special song or maybe a sermonette, Jackson would specifically invite the other members of his family.

Meningsbee was concerned about being too paranoid. How much was he reading into the circumstances? But it just seemed that Jackson was trying to create a rift between Carl and the senior pastor.

Meningsbee was not an idiot. He knew he could be imagining everything. Yet something was amiss. Carl was not quite as gentle and free-flowing when the two of them were together. He seemed to be making stubborn stands over things that really didn’t matter that much. Meningsbee was stymied. What should he do?

Then came the petition.

It was presented as a lark. Matter of fact, it was printed off on pink paper with yellow flowers. It stated:

“We, the undersigned, demand that Pas Carl get the chance to preach at least once a month on Sunday morning. We do this by the authority granted to us by nobody, in the spirit of true bumbling.”

Even as they presented it to Pastor Meningsbee, they did so with an overstated bow and a giggle.

He took the flamboyant petition into his office, sat down and stared at it. He knew one thing: solving problems was not about having all the answers, but instead, knowing when to use the answers.

Since it was Sunday morning and he had the petition in his hand, he decided to follow up on the frivolity of their offering with some silliness of his own. He reached into a trunk of toys he kept in his office for kids who needed a distraction for when they were waiting for their parents and he pulled out a red plastic fireman’s hat, which was obviously too small for his head. But he placed it on top and fastened it down to the side of his face with scotch tape.

He walked to the door of the sanctuary and then skipped down the aisle to the front of the church, and turned around with his fireman’s hat tipping precariously.

The look on the faces of the congregation: amused, confused, not certain how to react, even though some of them couldn’t help themselves and began to giggle. Borrowing from the energy of a Broadway play, in overstated tones, he began.

“When you come to the Garsonville Community Church, what are you hoping to see? An aging minister wearing a child’s fireman’s hat? Of course not. But look! It’s still provided.”

A big laugh.

“But what do you come here for? What is inspiring you today? I’m not talking about what inspired you when you were sixteen years old and you could barely wait for Halloween so you could go on the hayride and make out with your boyfriend or girlfriend. I’m talking about what inspires you in church today.

“You know what inspires me? You know what rings my bells? You know what keeps my firehat in place?”

He reached up and touched the side of his face. “Certainly not the scotch tape. What gets me moving–what gets me excited–what makes me want to race to work every day is the opportunity to work with that young man over there…”

He pointed to Carl.

“And try to do great things for all of you out there.”

He pointed to the congregation.

“What should I say about Carl? Pas Carl. I wish I had known half of what he knows when I was his age. I would now be twice the man. I wish I was half as good-looking. I wish I could say I rescued a boy out of a well. I wish I’d had my hands in dirt more, growing crops, or milked a cow or two. That is what you do to them, right?”

He leaned forward and the congregation laughed. “Because every time I get to work with him, I know we’re doing something great for you. But the amazing thing is that even though we’re enjoying this blessing, we sometimes forget that it never happens because of one thing. It’s when all things work together to the good.

“Would you say it with me? All things work together to the good.

The congregation repeated it.

“And when you start tearing that combination apart, trying to focus on what’s the better part, or the best part, it stops working together. Now, even though I couldn’t, wouldn’t or shouldn’t do without Carl–he’s a smart fellow. He’ll tell you he’s young. He’ll tell you that he couldn’t do without me.”

Carl hung his head.

“And even though there are people in this congregation that don’t love me–heck, maybe you don’t even like me–you still receive my love and the thrill of my soul to be your shepherd.

“I had a professor in college named McIntosh. He believed that everything in life is based on chemistry. What if he’s right? What if we take one Richard Meningsbee and mingle it with a Sarah, Matreese, Bob, Sally, Darla, Daniel, Mr. Jackson–Maynard, I presume?–and Carl, and stir it up. We know what we’ve got then, don’t we? We have this beautiful eruption called church.

“What if we remove one of the ingredients? Will it be the same? Will the chemical reaction be as intense? I, for one, think not.

“I was offered a petition, requesting that this young man, who I love, be able to preach one Sunday a month in this church. I tell you–no. You’re absolutely wrong. He should preach two Sundays a month in this church. Starting next week.

“And before I finish here, I need you to seriously take a moment and let me know, by raising your hands, how many people like my hat.”

Hands went into the air, applause rattled the room and everybody left church in joy.

Everybody except Mr. Maynard Jackson.

He never returned again.

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Reverend Meningsbee (Part 48) Damaged … April 2nd, 2017

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Reverend Meningsbee

Meningsbee didn’t recognize the name. Carl had left a note: Please call Cam Collier.”

Then there were three or four different numbers. The end of the note read, “Very important.” The two words were underlined.

When Meningsbee dialed the number he was still trying to retrieve who Cam Collier was. Even when Mr. Collier answered the phone, it still took Meningsbee a moment to recall that this gentleman was Kitty’s husband–the successful millionaire with all the silos.

He simply asked if Meningsbee would be in the office tomorrow morning at ten o’clock, and if he would mind a visit. Meningsbee agreed and then spent the rest of the day trying to figure out what it could possibly be about.

Could Cam need spiritual counsel? Were there problems in the marriage?

So the next day at ten o’clock, when Cam walked in the door and sat down in Meningsbee’s little office, his curiosity was about ready to burst.

Since they had no history with one another, there was no real need to catch up. Cam just launched into his purpose.

“This is hard for me,” he began. “Matter of fact, I would deeply appreciate if everything I share with you is kept private between the two of us.”

Meningsbee reassured him that confidence was secure.

“You may remember that I married Kitty and we came back here and picked up Hapsy to start our life together.”

Meningsbee inserted. “Is there a problem with Hapsy?”

“No, no,” said Cam. “She’s a sweet little girl.”

Meningsbee questioned, “Then are you alright?”

“No, no, it’s not me. So you probably can figure–it has to do with Kitty. I don’t really know how well you know Kitty–she always talked like you two were old friends.”

Meningsbee nodded, not wanting to blow Kitty’s cover.

“And since you probably were friends,” continued Cam, “I apologize for not getting ahold of you sooner.”

Meningsbee inquired, “Is there a problem in the marriage?”

Cam paused. “Well, not exactly. There’s a problem with Kitty.”

Meningsbee leaned forward. “Is she sick?”

“No, Pastor. It’s beyond that. She’s…well, I guess you’d have to say she’s permanently damaged.”

“I don’t understand,” said Meningsbee.

“Of course you wouldn’t,” replied Cam. “How could you? Let me put it as gently as I possibly can. Even though I did love Kitty–though I must admit to you, man to man, most of it was lust. But it did have an element of love in it. I always knew she didn’t love me. She needed me. Sometimes she even liked me. I suppose I might even have amused her from time to time. But it didn’t take long after we were married for her to start flirtin’ and eventually cattin’ around. You know what I mean, right?”

“I do,” said Meningsbee quietly.

“I didn’t think much about it,” said Cam. “I suppose I’m not a prideful man. I do know I’m not handsome or a great prize. Hell, my money barely makes me passable. But I did not expect it to happen.”

“Has she left you?” asked Meningsbee.

“No. Not physically. I mean, she’s still around.”

Cam took a breath. “About two months ago we were vacationing in Florida, and Kitty got a hankering to go water skiing. Well, I don’t even like boats that well, let alone gettin’ on two sticks and skippin’ across the stream. So she found a guide and several young folks who were going out to ski and spend the day in the sun. I knew she was attracted to one of the young men. I think she knew I knew. Well, anyway, he brought along some… what do they call’em? Recreational drugs? So they were partying really hard.

“One of the young men had never driven a boat before, so while Kitty was on her water skiis, he got behind the wheel, took off, and zoomed as fast as he could, with the boat pulling her.

“Well, they were all laughing and screaming. But right when she was about to come up on one of those–I don’t know what you call ’em–where you go up on your skis in the air?”

Meningsbee inserted. “A ramp?”

“Yeah. That’s it. Well, like I said, the boy was inexperienced and he thought since they were coming up on a ramp, he should slow the boat down. When he did, it caused her to hit the ramp at an odd angle, and she went flying into the air, straight into the ramp, head first.

“They thought she was dead at the scene. But they got her to the hospital, put her on life support. They weren’t sure what would happen next. After two weeks, she regained consciousness, but she wasn’t right.”

Cam broke down in tears as he finished the last thought. Meningsbee pushed a box of Kleenex in his direction. He took a tissue, wiped his eyes and wadded it up in his hand.

“She’s… I don’t know what’s the right word. She’s retarded. She can’t think or do for herself totally. I’ve asked the doctors, and they believe she’s stuck right where she is.”

“Now, Reverend, I know that my wedding vows say ‘in sickness and in health,’ but I’ve got to be truthful with you. I lied.

“I could tolerate that girl as long as she was healthy. But I can’t live with what’s left. I didn’t sign on to be a care-giver to a woman who was determined to cheat on me.

“She doesn’t look anything like what I wanted, and I think I would do her a horrible injustice by having her around me and despising her…well, at least despising the situation…every minute of the day.

“So you see, what I’ve got is money.”

He looked up. “I didn’t come and talk to you first. I know you preachers.”

Meningsbee interrupted. “Well, you don’t know me.”

Cam continued. “So you’re saying you wouldn’t have told me to be patient, hang in there for a while and see how it works?”

Meningsbee smiled. “Well, I might have.”

“Sir, I can’t hang in there. I’m a doer. I want things and I want ’em now. I’m not saying that makes me a good man. I’m not saying that makes me a bad man. I took on a young girl to be a lover, not a patient.

“So before I came to see you, I went to see Matreese.”

“You went to see Matreese?” asked Meningsbee, surprised.

“Yes. I didn’t meet her for very long, but I liked her. There’s a toughness and a tenderness in her that’s rare. I told her what happened to Kitty. You know, she never blinked an eye. She just listened.

“When I got all done, she interrupted me. Now listen–here’s what she said to me. She said, ‘So you want to get rid of her but you don’t want to feel bad about it, so you came here to see if I would take care of Kitty and Hapsy.’ Pastor, she blew my mind. She was right on the button.

“I told her I was willing to pay. Without cracking a smile or even moving a muscle in her face, she said, ‘You better be. You’re asking a lot.’ Long story short–well, I guess that’s not possible, is it? Well, anyway, she told me what she would require to take over the care of Kitty and Hapsy.

“She said, ‘You write me a check every month for forty thousand dollars and I’ll take on your responsibility. And I’ll do a good job.’ Can you believe that? Pastor, I married the wrong woman.

“Well, I didn’t have my calculator and it took a minute, but I figured out that was almost a half million a year. But it’s worth it to me. Hell, it’s worth it. Just to know that I don’t have to do it, but the girl’s taken care of.”

Meningsbee waited for a moment, and then realizing there was a silence, he spoke up. “Where do I come in here?”

“Matreese told me I had to come and get your approval for this deal, and also that I needed to donate five thousand dollars a month to the church.”

Meningsbee desperately tried to remain still, but the thought did cross his mind how five thousand dollars a month would help in the work.

He asked, “Will you visit them?”

“No, I won’t,” said Cam. “I suppose I should tell you that I will, but then I would just end up disappointing you. It may sound like a bad joke, but it seems that Kitty and I just ended up being ships passing in the night.”

Cam stood to his feet, stuck out his hand, and the two men shook on a most unusual deal.

When Kitty arrived–delivered, as it were–three days later, Matreese brought her to the church. Her wounds had mostly healed, except for a few scars on her head. She was lovely, with what seemed to be a permanent smile affixed to her face…and the mind of a four-year-old child.

Matreese had two little girls, and would soon have a young girl who was meant to be the mother of a flourishing woman. It would be odd.

But it would be paid for.

And God had one of his best angels at work on the job. Matreese would find a way.

And God would make all things possible.

 

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Reverend Meningsbee (Part 47) Increase and Decrease … March 26th, 2017

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Reverend Meningsbee

June in Nebraska is a celebration. It is a festival of survival.

Until the end of May, winter threatens to clamp down on any enthusiasm about the arrival of warmer weather. But by June, the monster of frigid temperatures and the obstruction of snow drifts have melted away, leaving behind fields blossoming with corn, sunny skies and the threat of blistering heat.

One local once conjectured that the reason most Nebraskans were so easy-going was because “everything that happens around them is so extreme.”

They wouldn’t dare over-react–to a blizzard or a heat wave.

It was on the third Sunday in June, right when people were beginning to think about the upcoming July 4th celebration, that he came walking into the back of the church.

At first Meningsbee didn’t recognize him. He certainly didn’t remember him being so tall–six foot two, as it turned out. Dark brown hair, chiseled chin, hazel eyes and weighing in at a military 183 pounds was Carl Ramenstein, the young hero who had rescued Meningsbee months earlier in Chicago, from the onslaught of some challenging questions.

As Carl had explained, he had a cousin in town and he came to spend a couple of weeks, having recently graduated from seminary.

Carl fit right in. Everybody loved him. He grew up on a farm, worked on a ranch, liked fishing, knew the working end of a plow.

All the kids adored him because he played so hard. All the old ladies straightened their buns when he walked in the room. And the men pulled out their war stories. It took only one Sunday for Carl to become part of the atmosphere, attitude and heart of the Garsonville Church.

So when two weeks passed and it was time for him to leave, the folks begged him to stay. It turned out to be tremendously beneficial, considering that on the following Wednesday, a little boy about five years old fell into an abandoned well just outside town. Carl spearheaded the rescue effort.

He was in the local newspaper and had dinner invitations enough to last the rest of the year.

But Carl was not interested in all the praise. Carl loved God. In a season when such devotion from a man of his age seemed unlikely, or maybe even suspicious, his legitimate warmth and appreciation for the heavenly Father was demonstrated in how well he treated his children.

Carl loved people.

Meningsbee stood back–astounded. You see, Meningsbee wanted to love people and every once in a while mustered the spirit to do so. But Carl possessed a streak of conviction that every human he met had been waiting for the chance to meet him so that Carl could pass on a blessing.

It was the most amazing mixture of confidence and humility that Reverend Meningsbee had ever seen.

Young women were literally following him around town, just hoping he would turn and give them a smile, and although fully aware of their attractions, he was careful not to put himself in dangerous situations where rumor could give way to scandal.

The people took a liking to Carl.

Carl took a liking to the church.

The church was taking a liking to the community, and the people, who had been sitting on the fence, trying to decide what it felt about the Garsonville Church, were now beginning to trickle in, one by one, and find a place of peace and fellowship.

Matter of fact, one older gentleman took Pastor Meningsbee aside and said, “My dear parson, you had a good idea, but you’re a rather odd little fellow. There’s nothing wrong with that–but Nebraskans are not completely familiar with odd and try not to do much that resembles little. That boy coming to town–well, he’s taken your words and turned them to life.”

Meningsbee smiled, not knowing how he should react.

Although some folks were waiting for the dark side of young Ramenstein to come creeping out, Carl took the opportunity to sit under the teaching, simplicity, honesty and common sense of Meningsbee, and grow taller and stronger.

So Carl kept delaying his departure until finally, one of the deacons of the church said to Meningsbee that he’d better “hire the boy or lose him forever,” because somebody certainly was going to grab him.

When Meningsbee said that the budget would not tolerate it, ten families stepped forward and offered to increase their pledges so that Carl could stay.

So it was on the seventh Sunday after his first visit that Carl Ramenstein was ordained as the Assistant Pastor of the Garsonville Church.

There was a party with joy all through the town.

The following Sunday there were twenty additional visitors, some of whom said they had just been “waiting around to see if they were smart enough to hire him.”

Right after the ordination, Meningsbee realized that he had never heard the young man preach. Carl never asked for the pulpit. It never came up. Carl may have been the first minister ever hired without having to offer three points.

The folks immediately dubbed him “Pas Carl,” for Pastor Carl.

He was a breath of fresh air.

He was a summer miracle.

And he was here to stay.

Now Meningsbee had to get used to sharing the attention.

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Reverend Meningsbee (Part 46) Fussing … March 19th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Reverend Meningsbee

As the weeks had passed, most of the folks who had been attending the “Old Time Religion Church” returned to Garsonville Community, and settled in like eggs in a carton.

Matter of fact, Sammy only had fifteen faithful remaining.

But those fifteen suddenly became enraged when they discovered that yoga was being taught at the high school in the gym classes as a means of stretching and relaxation.

Sammy was convinced that yoga was “of the devil.” He had read somewhere that it was a gateway philosophy to Eastern religions.

So he and his fourteen constituents painted signs and were standing outside the high school, exercising their God-given right to annoyingly protest.

As is often the case, the more they protested against the yoga classes, the more the young people became interested in taking them–which meant the school had to bring in two teachers, which further inflamed Sammy Collins and his old-timers.

Sammy’s complaint was very simple: if you’re going to have yoga classes, you should put prayer back in school.

When the principal asked Sammy how he would suggest prayer be reinstated, Sammy explained that he would be more than happy to come over every morning and do a prayer for the children over the public address system. The situation was further complicated when the principal laughed, thinking he was joking.

Now Sammy was not only in a theological bubble-up, but also insulted, and determined to go to the next school board meeting for a showdown.

Of course, Sammy wanted reinforcements, so he called Meningsbee. Figuring that any man of God would be equally as distraught as he was over the issue, he asked the pastor to join him and spearhead a revolt against what he referred to as “the yogalization of Garsonville High.”

Sammy was rather proud of the slogan.

As was often the case with Meningsbee when dealing with his old buddy, Sammy, he found himself at a loss for words.

Meningsbee did not know exactly what he felt about yoga, except he was pretty positive he did not want to do it. (When living on the East coast, he had once been asked to attend a yoga class, to which he had replied, “Sorry. That’s a stretch for me.” When they didn’t laugh, he realized it was probably not his crowd.)

But overall, he saw no reason to prohibit young people from participating in yoga. He was pretty sure that once it became too religious, they would ignore it just like they did church.

But he also did not want to leave Sammy out in the cold, so he agreed to join him at the school board meeting–not as an ally, mind you, but as a soul arriving with an open mind. Sammy agreed, unsure of the meaning.

The night of the school board meeting arrived. It was well attended–mostly by parents who were deeply afraid that their children were going to be deprived of an exercise program because some stuffed shirt with a Bible was intolerant.

Yes, the younger couples of Garsonville, who had long ago decided to find their spirituality via the Internet, showed up to argue with Sammy Collins and his remnant.

Meningsbee sat in the back of the room trying to hide the best he could. Speaker after speaker came forward to testify of the wonders of yoga and the physical health benefits.

Then it was Sammy’s turn. He gave a ten-minute sermon about the dangers of false religion, mysticism and also the lack of God in the public school. Although his points were punctuated by some “amens” by his followers, there was a general sense of disbelief and superiority among the others listening. Realizing that yoga was going to be instituted and Sammy was going to lose, Meningsbee stood to make his way out the back door. But before he could make a clean getaway, one of the school board members noticed him and asked him to come forward and give his thoughts on the matter.

Meningsbee tried to decline, saying, “I think it’s been thoroughly discussed on both sides.”

But there seemed to be a general consensus that he should say something more. He came forward and stood behind the lectern, where people had been postulating all evening long. He took a deep breath and began.

“I don’t want the school teaching religion. I don’t think you know what you’re doing. I think you’re working real hard just to get the math scores up. I think Jonah and the whale would probably swallow you up. I don’t want anything to bother or torment our children. I don’t want anything pushed on them. And that goes for Bible reading or yoga.

“So when some of you talk about meditation and others refer to prayer, I’ve always found that such devotion is better done in one’s own closet instead of the public thoroughfare.

“I would neither pray nor would I chant in public. What I would suggest is that with all of our desire to expand the horizons of our children, that we remember the greatest lesson we can teach them. They have more in common with the other people on Earth than they think, and their goal is to get along with them.

“So if you want my vote, I’m for anything that’ll make us more pleasant.”

The room was silent. Meningsbee dared to take a glance over at Sammy. Collins was squinting as if he didn’t fully comprehend the message.

But the younger couples nodded their heads and seemed to realize there’s a lot more that goes into making a young person become an adult than yoga and prayer.

They need to learn how to get along.

 

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Reverend Meningsbee (Part 45) The Singing Castles … March 12th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Reverend Meningsbee

Answering the phone at the parsonage of a small town church was always an adventure. Usually on the other end was someone with a need who wanted the pastor of the church to do something about meeting it.

Tricky business.

When do you say yes, how can you say no? Many charlatans have made a living off of fleecing the sheep simply by making them feel guilty if they don’t assist.

When Meningsbee returned from the diner after the shocking encounter with Carla, he was in no mood to be a pastor, a consoler or a benefactor to anyone jangling him on the phone. The first four times it rang, he ignored it. But it kept ringing and ringing and ringing. Finally his sense of concern overtook his reclusiveness.

Answering it, he found himself talking to a gentleman named Matthew Castle. Matthew tried to explain his situation, but nothing was clear. So Meningsbee agreed to meet him at the church.

When the pastor arrived, there was a big, old-fashioned recreational vehicle sitting in the parking lot, with hand painted letters which read, “The Singing Castles.” A man got out of the vehicle, walking toward Meningsbee. Matthew was a tall, thin country man, with one of those overly seen Adam’s apples, slicked-back hair and some sort of leather jacket that looked like it was picked up on sale at the Goodwill store.

After shaking Meningsbee’s hand, he called out–and the rest of his family emerged from the vehicle.

First was his wife, Luka–as it turns out–an immigrant from Turkey. Then his two children, Marco, about sixteen years of age, and Joan, around fourteen. The children were friendly but bashful, and the wife maintained a subservient position.

Matthew explained that they were a traveling family who held revival meetings in churches. They were having some trouble with their motor home, needed to get repairs done, and he wondered if the pastor would like them to hold a revival while the vehicle was being tended to.

A quiet, rumbling chuckle erupted inside Meningsbee’s soul. He was trying to imagine his rather traditional congregation and how they would receive The Singing Castles.

While he deliberated, Matthew suggested that the family sing a song–a capella–right out there in the middle of the parking lot. He gave them all a pitch and they launched into a rather rousing rendition of “When We All Get to Heaven.”

Meningsbee listened patiently, thinking to himself that it really wasn’t that bad. The young girl especially had a pleasant voice, and the mother sang some good harmony, though it was colored with accent. Daddy sang bass and Marco sang tenor.

They were getting ready to go into a second verse when Meningsbee interrupted. “Listen, our church would not hold a revival, but I see no reason why you folks can’t come on Sunday morning and sing for us, and we’ll collect an offering. And meanwhile, until you get your vehicle going, if you want to park it here in the lot and plug into our electricity, help yourself. That is the way it works, right?”

Matthew grabbed his hand, shook it firmly and then gave him a huge hug. In the brief encounter, Meningsbee was pretty sure he smelled both tobacco and alcohol. It didn’t matter. Acts of charity don’t require that those who benefit measure up to a particular standard.

As it turned out, the Castles ended up being an industrious sort. They launched out onto the grounds, cleaned everything up, and straightened up the basement of the church, which had needed a good “caring to” for a long time.

And on Sunday, they sang. And they sang. And they sang some more.

Their musical sound had country overtones, but included an accordion. The congregation seemed to love them. They especially laughed uproariously when the father introduced the family and pointed out that they were very Biblical. They “were the Castles, but they were also Matthew, Marco, Luca and Joan.” (To make the joke even more corny, each one of them spoke their own name at the right moment, in sequence.)

When it came time to take up an offering, the little Garsonville church came up with five hundred dollars. Also, one of the congregation members noticed that the motor home had a couple of sags and twitches, and agreed to fix them for free.

The Castles didn’t bring a new theological revelation. Matter of fact, their theology was rather out-dated and old-fashioned. They weren’t the best singers you’d ever hear in your life, and certainly would be snubbed on every coast. Their grammar lacked punctuation and their manners were rustic. Their clothing was old and desperately in need of some stitching and retouching.

But their hearts were pure. Whatever caused them to drive around the country and share their music was certainly not greed, nor was it selfishness. It was some deep-rooted belief that the best way they could be together, stay together and remain happy was to sing the Gospel and drive from place to place in their magical chariot.

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