Reverend Meningsbee (Part 42) Rest Stop … February 19th, 2017

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Reverend Meningsbee

2.3 miles east of Garsonville, on an old country road, was an abandoned roadside rest–long forgotten and unattended, with a broken picnic table, a dry pump and an eroded sign which had once explained the origins.

Over the past two months, every single week, Reverend Meningsbee made his way to that spot before attending church, to take ten or fifteen minutes, just to “get decent.”

Getting decent meant freeing himself of all the hardships, prejudice, bruised ego, disappointments and frustrations of the week, lest he arrive in front of the congregation and pour out his misgivings instead of sharing a parcel of hope.

It had been a strange week.

On top of languishing in memories of his beloved Doris, he also discovered that Jesse, Marty and Hector McDougal were moving from town. They had become the touchstone–the stopping off place–for all the publicity and turmoil that had risen up because of the little boy’s amazing healing.

The family had received notice from a mega church in Idaho which had been spreading its spiritual wings into making movies, and the three were invited to come and live free of charge for a year while the screenwriters, actors and production team shot a film entitled, “Hector’s Baptism.”

They were so excited.

They even had a copy of the screenplay, which Meningsbee perused, quickly realizing that the writers had taken some creative license.

Meningsbee felt sad.

He wasn’t sure it was the right thing for the family–but it’s hard to argue with a year’s worth of free room and board. So he kissed them all on the cheek, prayed for them and two days later they were gone.

That departure was followed by the information that Patrick Swanson, whose congregation had been involved in some sort of wife-swapping scandal, was also leaving and stopped off at Meningsbee’s house to say goodbye.

He and his wife were off to Utah, to a marriage clinic, to restore their vows and commitments.

Patrick had become a Mormon. He looked much different–fresh haircut, crisp white shirt and a sweater vest instead of jeans, shaggy locks and a t-shirt. He was, shall we say, very appropriate.

When Meningsbee reached to give him a hug, Patrick instead took his hand and offered a warning. “Beware the sins of the flesh, my friend. I think you teeter on too much secular input in your ministry, and therefore are robbing your congregation of the full impact of the whole Bible for the whole man.”

Meningsbee felt a flame of anger ignite in his gut but he realized that Patrick would soon be gone, and his advice with him.

Meningsbee was in the midst of these thoughts and many others when a car rolled up next to him.

It was Sammy Collins.

He got out of his car and tapped on the passenger window of Meningsbee’s vehicle, requesting permission to enter. Meningsbee popped his locks and Sammy scooted in, shut the door and took a deep breath.

“Let me get right to it. I’ve been doing a lot of praying. I know we haven’t always agreed, but I believe I’m supposed to come and be your assistant minister.”

He paused. Meningsbee was speechless.

Sammy jumped in. “Well, that’s it. What do you think?”

“How did you know I would be here?” asked Meningsbee.

“I followed you,” said Sammy with a smile. “You didn’t even know, did you?”

“Nope,” said Meningsbee quietly.

Sammy turned sideways in his seat, filled with energy. “So what do you think, Pastor? You sure could use the help.”

“You see, Sammy, the kind of help I need wouldn’t work because it’s inside me. I couldn’t get you in there. Or maybe I wouldn’t want you in there. Or maybe, it just seems to me, that if I needed an assistant minister, God would tell me before he told the assistant minister.”

“God works in mysterious ways,” said Sammy with a twinkle.

“Yeah, but usually not hyper-weird,” replied Meningsbee.

Sammy, undaunted by the rebuke and rejection, opened the car door and said, “Think it over. You’re never gonna find anyone quite like me.”

Meningsbee just nodded, holding his tongue over a variety of responses that immediatly popped into his brain.

Sammy jogged to his car, got in and took off. Meningsbee, fully disturbed and interrupted, decided to head off to church.

He wondered what he would find there. He had to admit to himself that his message last week about the rich young ruler and how the congregation needed to decide if they were going to keep the revival alive or go back to their old ways, was pretty strong. Matter of fact, he had even used the word “damn” right in the middle of the pews, flowers and pulpit furniture.

Arriving at the church, there was a hum in the room. No–a real hum. The organist was playing the prelude and the congregation, uncharacteristically, was humming along with the familiar tune.

There were two apple pies sitting on the fellowship table which were normally not present for coffee time.

Deacon Smitters shook Meningsbee’s hand and held it a little longer than normal.

The song service was more boisterous, the testimonies enlightened and the “amens” aplenty.

No one said a word about the previous week’s service nor whether they were offended, challenged or informed. They just did what people in Garsonville do. They took it all in, let it rattle around for a couple of days, and decided what their best path might be.

There’s a lot to be said for that.

 

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Ask Jonathots … January 14th, 2016

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ask jonathots bigger

I’m fifteen years old and want to be an actress. I watched the Golden Globes and it looked like everyone was intoxicated. Some of my friends think that drinking is no big deal–after all, it’s not “doing drugs.” Their parents drink, after all. Their older brothers and sisters drink. Everyone drinks. What do you think about it?

I personally am not a big fan of camping.

Matter of fact, I only have one clear memory of going on such an excursion. What I do remember about the experience is that you do a lot of walking and while doing this peddling along, you are also carrying everything you need on your back, so that when you arrive at the campsite for the evening, you can open it up and have your “stuff” to make the journey tolerable.

You know what I discovered on the first night? Half of the things I brought were useless, making me tired carrying it around.

I found a nearby trash can and threw these items away, which someone had told me were necessary to have a woods event.

My second day was so much more pleasurable, and when I arrived for the evening’s rest, I had everything I needed–and if I didn’t, I was still happy that I had a lighter load.

  • Thus drinking.
  • Thus smoking.
  • Thus obesity.
  • Thus nervous energy.

Anything we decide to tuck into our lifestyle which we have to carry only makes the journey a bit more difficult, will slow our pace, and in the long run, when we arrive at our destination, will probably have to be abandoned in favor of more freedom.

I’ll tell you what I feel when I watch the Golden Globes and see people drinking. Since they are actors, directors and producers, I would like to follow the story line of their alcoholic curve. Are they really able to hold it to a couple of glasses of wine and an occasional beer, or does the liquor begin to control the dialogue, the circumstances, the party or even the friends?

I would say if you’re able to drink a glass of wine at a meal or have a beer with a bratwurst without feeling the need to carry alcohol into your life for inconvenient times, then you should be just fine. But to look at alcohol as a social statement, a way of relaxation, a means to unwind or a must so that you can garner the right people for your party, is to set yourself up for arriving at your goal toting a burden rather than a benefit.

How many people sitting at the Golden Globes have already been through rehab and countless attempts to stop drinking, or are short months away from a DUI which will place them in the public eye with a frown?

Alcohol is a substance. It warns us of its potency and danger by its flavor and after-effects. If you can incorporate that taste and responsibility in your life without losing control or feeling compelled to imbibe, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.

But many have insisted they can, and crashed.

Yes, many have lost their way.

Keep this in mind.

Alcohol never helped anybody get to their dream. 

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Getting in Character… August 17th, 2015

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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choking

From Act II, Scene VII of As You Like It, Shakespeare asserts that “all the world is a stage and all the men and women, merely players.”

Don’t kill off the competition.

You will be tempted to do so. The world around you encourages deception–in a passionate way–to gain a footing to win the role. And in doing so, you may be taught to be a detractor of another person’s talent.

Most plays have two main roles, and a whole bunch of character opportunities. Maybe you envision yourself to be a “lead role” type of person. But the deck is stacked against you, because once someone has been given a lead role and they’ve been successful, making money for the corporation, they will be favored for the next lead role.

You may find yourself disgruntled, on the sidelines, badmouthing the stars and insisting that you could do just as well.

No one likes that person. That person is normally written into the script of life as a villain or a pathetic loser.

To avoid the anger which leads to rage and jealousy, causing us to assassinate the character of our fellow-travelers, it is very important to learn where to go to be both happy and productive.

It’s a simple, four-step process:

1. Find a hole.

Yes, there are many things that are left undone, partially because they’re not very glamorous, or they appear to be more difficult. Find one of these–not just “the road less traveled,” but the opportunity less pursued.

2. Fill the hole.

Take that talent you’ve been reserving for the spotlight and move it stage right or stage left, and allow your best performance to shine.

3. Invite friends.

That’s right. Include other people in what you’ve discovered. There is nothing more powerful than making an obscure idea popular, and then walking away from it, so that you can…

4. Find a new hole.

The minute you discover that what you have begun has gained traction, look ahead to what humankind needs and start moving towards it.

There is no such thing as being “ahead of your time.” If you’re not ahead of your time, you’re waiting in line. Actually, being ahead of your time is just having the intelligence to know what is needed, and beating others to the market.

You will have a tendency to be a killer if you don’t learn how to be a doer.

And to become a doer, your job is not to build a super-highway, but instead… find great joy in filling in the pot holes.

 

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Getting in Character … June 29th, 2015

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Eating contest

From Act II: Scene VII of As You Like It, Shakespeare asserts that “all the world is a stage and all the men and women, merely players.”

It’s a common mistake.

Often in an attempt to seemingly simplify a job, we end up breaking it down into its external parts, while completely abandoning the passion that really makes it work.

The same is true for the actor.

When he or she first begins to view the world as a stage, many think the completion of the adventure settles in on three steps:

  1. Memorize your lines.
  2. Discover your entrance and exit.
  3. Learn where to stand.

The truth of the matter is, these three are merely the beginning, which often is abandoned to produce an adequate end.

That’s right. Memorizing your lines is not special, so it’s essential that once you retain them you forget that you ever had lines in the first place, but instead, realize that you are producing natural reactions to the unfolding plot.

As far as discovering an entrance and an exit, you will have to understand that this will expand as you gain further insight into the nature of the role you play in any given situation. It may require you to threaten an exit or instigate a surprise entrance.

And knowing where to stand makes you a fixture instead of part of the flow. Life rarely lets you perch, but instead, demands you keep moving in the right direction.

The missing ingredient for young thespians who are trying to get in character is, and always will be, passion. We’ve equated the word “passion” with romance, or sexuality, when actually it is the fuel of all human emotions, and propels us towards excitement.

So once you memorize your lines, discover your entrance or exit and learn where to stand, then the next thing you can do is forget it and set it to the side.

Instead, a hunger and a thirst must enter your soul for new commands:

1. Get hungry for your character.

  • Do I have limitations?
  • Is there a secret my character holds that needs to be revealed or healed?

2. Get thirsty to discover the elasticity of your character.

  • Limitations are always self-imposed. Lift them.

3. Keep looking for new angles.

  • Your character will never look stupid if he or she is willing to realize that everything written in stone crumbles.
  • There is much to learn, therefore there is much to seek.

If you lose your passion, you lose your character–so it’s more than memorizing lines, discovering your entrance and exit and learning where to stand.

Getting in character is walking away from the hard, fast rules … to find one’s true worth and ever-expanding mission.

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WITHIN

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The Alphabet of Us: F is for Fret … January 12, 2015

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Building Block F bigger

All human beings possess a heart, soul, mind and strength. Nothing of any true significance can be achieved unless this is understood.

Fear tentatively creeps across the stage and cautiously introduces “fret”–then runs and hides. Fret takes over.

Fret has three modes of operation:

1. Hesitation. “I’m not sure.”

2. Procrastination. “Let’s wait a little while.”

3. Frustration. “What the hell is happening?”

Sometimes it’s difficult to remember that fear is what got our fretful show going. Matter of fact, it’s almost impossible to trace it back to a specific apprehension that triggers our nervous twitches and worrisome attitudes.

People spend millions of dollars in therapy attempting to find the lineage of their fret. Honestly, my dear friends, I think it’s time and money wasted.

Since fret has decided to be the front man for the “band of fear,” you might want to deal with the lead singer.

Therefore, the main reason we hesitate is because we either refuse to deal with what we have or we’re convinced it’s insufficient. Here’s a great piece of advice:

What you have you have. What I have, I have.

Waiting for a new shipment to reinforce our supply causes us to fret. We do much better when we assume that no more is coming and we make a plan to use what we have.

Likewise, we procrastinate because we are unsure that what we have can be turned into what we can do, and that it will have any impact in solving our situation. Can we simplify?

What we can do is what we can do, and if more is needed, there is nothing we can do.

And often, developing a sense of humor about our lack causes others, and even God, to want to step in and fill in the gap.

And finally, frustration is when we’re constantly obsessed with the finish line and have lost sight of the steps that get us there.

For if I find out what I have and what I can do, I have the great opportunity to celebrate what is at least a good start.

Fret is an exercise in vanity.

It is the notion that we have achieved some status of importance that should make us pressure-free.

But if we find out what we have, and we discover what we can actually do and we pronounce it to be a good start, then hesitation, procrastination and frustration will be dismissed from our cast and replaced with much better actors.

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Perform like you do while acting like you don’t … July 7, 2012

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She laughed at me.

She enjoyed doing that. Since I was only twenty-three years of age, I often made naive observations about life that caused her to chuckle vigorously, while maintaining a generous attitude. Of course, I was a boy from Central Ohio who had only recently moved to Music City U.S.A. and she was a well-seasoned veteran of the Nashville industry.

On this particular occasion, though, I produced a giggle-fest in her because in passing conversation, I informed her that I occasionally went to a nearby steakhouse situated in the proximity of Music Row because I’d heard that the restaurant was a frequent hangout of country music stars. It seemed right to me–because the wall of the establishment was completely covered with signed photographs from these luminaries. After she got done nearly choking on her laughter, she said, “Listen, Jonathan. If you were a country music star would you really want to go eat your lunch at a place where your ugly mug stared down at you the whole time? And why would you want to sip your coffee to the probing eyes of a whole room of strangers?”

It gave me pause for thought.

So one day at lunchtime, she decided to take me over to a real eatery–where the people who were “in the know” went to acquire their noonday sustenance. It ended up being a little cafe stuck in the back of an old, nearly abandoned hotel that barely had enough room in it for fifteen tables. It wasn’t fancy and from looking at the menu, it appeared that the only items for consumption seemed to be various incarnations of chicken fried steak.

But the room was chock-full of country music stars, actors and well-known personalities of all sorts and sizes. Matter of fact, the first two people I saw as I walked in the door were Tennessee Ernie Ford and Andy Griffith. They were just sitting there, chompin’ away and smiling, almost like they were on the set in Mayberry. My dear lady who had brought me to this experience didn’t miss a beat, walking right over to Mr. Ford and Mr. Griffith, striking up a conversation and turning my way, a little perturbed that I hadn’t followed her and seemed to be stuck in cement somewhere near the door. She motioned for me to come over, and I timidly made my way to her side.

Andy Griffith, Tony Award-nominated and Emmy A...

Andy Griffith, Tony Award-nominated and Emmy Award-nominated American actor, producer, writer, director and Grammy Award-winning southern gospel singer. Image taken as President George W. Bush presents him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She introduced me to Tennessee Ernie Ford and I stuck out my hand as a greeting. He looked down at his own paw and said, “I’d shake your hand, son, but mine’s covered with gravy.”

Apparently I was temporarily inspired with a burst of courage, so I responded, “That’s okay. It’ll give me a chance to taste the cuisine before I order.”

He thought this was hilarious. Andy Griffith even laughed. I was on a roll, so intelligently I excused myself and found a table.

While I waited for my benefactress to join me, I looked around the room. Famous people as far as you could see, which, since the room was less than two thousand square feet, wasn’t really that extensive.

I watched them. They all had one thing in common and many things different. They had all succeeded in finding something they could do that other people wanted to buy, which had surprisingly made them well-known. But other than that, they were just human beings acting out their own particular agenda. Some were nice; some were friendly; some were quiet. Others were boisterous and loud. Some treated the waitress with respect, others bellowed out their need for more catsup. There was nothing really different here in the realm of the human family–just people who got paid a whole lot more money to do what they did, while still being who they were.

My dear friend joined me and several other famous individuals came up to the table, including Mel Tillis, Waylon Jennings, Jessie Coulter, Hank Snow and Ray Stevens. Each one of them had a kind word for my lady producer, and turned to me and graciously informed me that I was in good hands.

After I had crunched down a particularly well-fried piece of simulated steak, I told my friend, “You know what I learned today?”

She shook her head, curious. I continued. “I learned that fame is just another cross to bear, that can either take you to glory or just leave you hanging in the air, dying a little bit as the whole world watches.”

She sat quietly and didn’t respond. After a few moments, she put down her fork and replied, “So what are you gonna do about it? I mean, if you ever get to a position where people know your name and think you hung the moon?”

I thought for a long moment, looked around the room at all the folks who had achieved success, and said, “I think the key is in performing like you do while acting like you don’t. I’ve got it figured this way–when the spotlight hits you in life, you should be ready to give your very best, without timidity, anguish or any intimidation at all. But when the spotlight turns off, you should leave the stage humble, not quite sure who that person was that performed all those antics, and walk out to be among your brothers and sisters believing that you’re blessed to have survived that scrutiny–and not quite sure how you’d ever be able to do it again. That’s the key. Because when you begin to believe that what you do makes you better than other people, you really lose the meaning of why you do it. The real reason for talent is to encourage somebody else to live on a little happier and find their own abilities.”

Tears filled her eyes. It was one of those sweet moments that demanded more than milk gravy. But we still made do.

I never forgot that day. Just because you’ve found something you can accomplish on a regular basis doesn’t make you special–unless it blesses other people. So when you’ve done your little tap dance, sit down, relax–and humbly join the human family.

   

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Missed Takes… January 2, 2012

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Jonathan in Miami

Shakespeare contended that all the world was a stage and we–the actors. Some folks would object to that characterization, insisting that they don’t want to live “pretend” lives.

But there’s nothing “pretend” about theater. Theater is about discovering your character, getting into character and staying in character. In the process of doing that, many errors can be made–and the uncovering of flaws and virtues is illuminating to the thespian and eventually enlightening to the audience. It’s even more true in the movie industry, for when you make a film, rather than having a single performance that you have to live and die with, as in legitimate theater, you can start and stop, and do many takes of the same scene until you find exactly what you want.

Of course, in the process, you end up with an abundance of “missed takes.”

But it doesn’t make any difference. As long as you keep three things in mind when you’re portraying a scene, you will be just fine and always in character.

(1) You must have the right part. In other words, show up knowing your lines. You can’t be reading someone else’s dialogue and think that you’re conveying your own message.

(2) You must have the right heart–a passionate wonder that causes you to pursue the truth of your character faithfully.

(3) And finally, you must have the right start. Showing up grumpy, frustrated, angry or preoccupied will certainly diminish your possibilities.

If you have the right part, heart and start you will succeed in theater–because even if your first or second takes don’t match the style of the show, you will be willing to revise your approach and do better. There is only one thing that makes a bad actor–someone who insists that he has the right interpretation, which causes him to fail to take direction.

Such also is life.

The abnormal fear that now permeates our society over making a mistake has generated a paranoid, lying and cheating generation of people who feel they can avoid all critique by simply insisting they are incapable of error. It makes us look stupid.

Let me give you an example. When I arrived at the church yesterday, I had a long ramp to climb with my bad knee. The dear pastor met me at the bottom of that ramp and greeted me with all the warmth of her heart. She walked up by my side as I panted and groaned a little bit from some pain. In that moment, I appeared weak. There was no need to pretend that I was macho and strong–my weakness was obvious and the only thing that would have made me seem weaker would have been to deny it.

We don’t garner respect by acting like we’re impervious to pain. We need to learn that mistakes are inevitable. They are merely “missed takes” as we live out our lives on the stage provided. There are times we will be weak. If we’ve taken the opportunity to build up our strengths, those moments of weakness will not appear to be fatal, but rather, human. It is our job, just as with the character actor on stage, to show up with the right part.

I will tell you this candidly–if you want to have the right part in life, always pick people over rules. History will be cruel to you if you’re always siding with rules,  regulations and commandments to the detriment of people. People are not always right but they are always closest to the heart of God.

And speaking of heart, you should make sure you have the right one–and to have the right heart in life is not to be error free, but to always pursue mercy over critique. I don’t care if other people want to criticize the world around them. I refuse to join in. You may argue with me, believing that SOME things need to be condemned or attacked. Feel free. I just know that the measure we measure out will be measured back to us. And I, who walk around filled with foibles, obesity and silliness, certainly require my share of mercy. To obtain that, I must be merciful. And considering the fact that I will make mistakes, I need to grant grace to those who preceded me in the process.

And finally, if you’re going to do this thing called “life” well, you have to make the right start. Because back to that climb up the ramp yesterday at the church, there was no need for me to pretend that I was not laboring to achieve it. What WAS available to me was to remain in good cheer about the endeavor instead of casting a shadow of worry. Yes, the right start in life is to always find a reason to have good cheer rather than inserting the fussiness and futility of worry.

You and I will make mistakes. They are like missed takes on our life’s performance.

But if we have the right part–a love of people instead of adherence to rules–and the right heart–mercy displacing critique–and the right start–good cheer bumping the foolishness of worry out of the way–we will live to act another day.

If all the world is a stage and we are actors upon it, then take a little time … to study your script.

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Jonathan wrote the gospel/blues anthem, Spent This Time, in 1985, in Guaymas, Mexico. Take a listen:

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