Catchy (Sitting 53) Assigning Blame… June 17th, 2018

Jonathots Daily Blog

(3706)

She birthed triplets.

Jenesca Bradbury, in a matter of just a few minutes of time, brought three living souls into the world.

There was no father present–matter of fact, no father was ever brought up or even mentioned. Just three little boys and their mother.

She named them Jubal, Jasper and Jamison.

They were born into poverty, they learned to live in poverty, and most importantly, Mother Jenesca made sure they were happy, though poor.

For the first two-and-a-half years of their lives the boys lived in Salinas with their mom at their grandmother’s house. It was difficult. The house was small and Grandma was sensitive to too much noise.

So one night when Jenesca wiggled a furlough from the house for some private time, she sat at a bar and met a man named Roy.

Roy Carlos. He was a farmer from Clovis, who spent all of his time planting, picking and selling fruit.

After the second–or maybe it was the third–drink, Roy suggested that Jenesca pick up her three boys and move down to Clovis. He had an old Amish barn about four hundred yards from the main house which could be fixed up and turned into living quarters for her little family. He promised her work, pay, and a way to keep the kids busy with chores, which would provide a legitimate form of daycare.

Maybe it was the alcohol. Maybe it was the tugging emotions from the pedal steel guitar in the country music playing in the background. Maybe it was a young woman who was just tired of living with her mother and pretending she was dead. Whatever the reason, Jenesca agreed.

In less than a week, she, Jubal, Jasper and Jamison ended up on Roy’s farm, fixing up the loft in the barn, trying to turn it into something that resembled a home. Some folks from the local church brought in furniture and managed to hook up a stove and refrigerator to make it seem more functional instead of just a hair-brained scheme.

Like many women before her, Jenesca decided that this was what she was going to do and she would find a way to be content with it.

Roy was a happily married man, and his wife tried hard to be tolerant of the new young hen who had crept into the barnyard. Still–Mrs. Carlos was suspicious. Roy kept his distance, and Jenesca tried to be good, but within a year’s time they were lovers.

They were very careful to keep it quiet, and had all of their rendezvous at the Holiday Inn in Fresno. But Mrs. Carlos was always aware that when a teenager was hired to watch the three boys, it meant there was a party in the making.

Amazingly, it didn’t change anything. Maybe Mrs. Carlos was tired of Roy, or Roy had some magical personality that he unleashed on his wife at just the right moments. No one ever knew how the situation worked. After a while the gossips got tired of chatting about it, and accepted the fact that three young men were growing up in a barn, and three grown-ups were practicing what might be considered to be barnyard morality.

There was always work, and because of this, money was available. Not much. Mother Jenesca referred to it as “aggravating dough.” Just enough cash on hand to make you wish you had more.

The boys never enrolled in school. Although Jenesca was of European descent, all three of her sons had golden brown skin, leading everyone to believe that Jenesca had welcomed immigration. She wasn’t comfortable with her fellows being away from her, so she taught them. She taught them everything she knew, everything other people thought they should know and a whole lot of things from the Bible that she considered necessary.

They did attend church–one that mingled Baptists and Pentecostals who agreed to participate in each other’s activities to keep peace. All three boys were born again at the age of twelve. All three felt the God was calling them to do something other than pull rotten peaches from baskets. And all three of them had stars in their eyes while simultaneously surrounded by very dark nights.

It came time for Mother Jenesca’s birthday. The boys were fifteen years old and decided they wanted to do something special. She had never been on a trip. She cleaned up, dressed up and acted like she was going to Paris every time she drove down the road to Fresno with Roy.

Jubal, Jasper and Jamison wanted to send their mother on a trip to New York. They priced it: $823.

Jasper had an idea. There was a convenience store in Clovis. Out behind the store, surrounded by weeds, was a Camaro. It was ugly, but still in solid enough shape that it could be fixed up and sold to folks who liked such vintage wheels. Jamison got pen and paper and figured out that it would take about a thousand dollars to fix it up if they did all the work themselves. Then another thousand would be needed to put tires on it and give it a good paint job. Finally, a thousand dollars for the trip to New York.

So the three boys figured if they could get three thousand dollars out of the car, they would be coming up with the best birthday gift ever. They were told by those in the know that such a vehicle would actually garner about five thousand dollars.

There was only one obstacle. Could they talk the manager of the convenience store into letting them have the Camaro? After all, it had been growing with the sucker-plants for at least a year.

It was decided that Jubal would speak for the trio. They were completely delighted when the owner said if they could get it out of there, they could have it.

A time was set to meet with the store owner to sign the title over and for them to pick it up. Jasper borrowed the truck from Roy and headed out for the store.

They were all ready to collect their prize, but the owner was very busy. Matter of fact, they ended up sitting in the truck for three hours, until it was time for the store to close.

Then everything seemed to go just fine. The title was signed over, and they started removing the car from its buried condition. The owner left the store and drove away.

About fifteen minutes later, while they were hooking chains onto the car to pull it out, a Clovis police car rolled in. Jubal quietly and slowly got out of the truck and walked to the middle of the parking lot with his hands held high. Jasper followed Jubal’s lead and did the same.

But Jamison was stuck under the Camaro, trying to hook the chain onto the drive shaft. He didn’t see nor did he hear the police arrive.

So Jamison slid out from under the car and came walking up from the darkness with a big wrench in his hand. The young Clovis policeman was surprised. He had already pulled his gun to ensure there would be no trouble. When he saw Jamison emerging with the silver tool, he fired at him.

It was an accident.

He didn’t even know he had pulled the trigger until Jamison was lying on the ground bleeding. The two brothers ran over. Jamison had taken a hit between the eyes. There was no life; no movement.

It crashed into their minds that suddenly the three had become two.

******

This ended the essay written by Jennifer Carmen and delivered on Monday morning at the NBC affiliate. When she first arrived, there hadn’t been much interest in her presence, nor the project. Obviously, Raoul had not promoted the idea to the management.

But Jubal, anticipating the situation, had arrived with ten copies of the essay and passed them around to secretaries, copy writers and bosses.

As Jen chatted with a couple of sales people, suddenly the room was filled with moans, groans and tears. One of the big-wigs emerged from his office and said, “Who in the hell wrote this?”

Jen sheepishly raised her hand.

He continued. “Is this real? Did you get this story from Jubal Carlos?”

Jen nodded her head and answered, “Yes. That and many more.”

“So he has a twin brother?”

Jen nodded but added no further explanation. The next thing she knew, she was called into the office and given a contract for a nine-part series to be shared on the nightly news.

The boss introduced himself as Mr. Wiggens. Mr. Wiggens just sat there and shook his head, glancing over the piece one more time.

“I know they say this all the time, but this is gold. Hell, this is gold.”

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Good News and Better News… October 30th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3476)

I have participated in thousands and thousands of …

Now, what shall I call them? For if I refer to these as “performances, shows or gigs,” religious people will give me the holy frown of disapproval because I have trivialized the spiritual significance.

But by the same token, referring to my efforts as ministry, worship leading or any other divine terminology makes me reek of pretension.

Of course, worst of all is the safe, but vanilla describer, “presentation.”

I run into the same problem when I try to decide whether to say a robust “Praise God” or a timid “thanks be to God.”

Do I go for the full dunk in baptism, or settle for some other plunk?

Should communion be unleavened bread, or a golden loaf?

Wine or Welch’s grape juice (which many denominations insist was Jesus’ preference)?

And I think the most intimidating crossroads of all is settling whether our Christian faith is ground in social commentary or revivalism.

That’s why the tambourine is pictured today. A tambourine can scare a Lutheran or a Methodist to death–almost as much as a printed bulletin with liturgy makes a Baptist tremble.

It just doesn’t seem to occur to us that defining the word “ministry” requires taking a long gaze into the lifestyle and actions of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus was both contemplative and flamboyant.

He had the strange notion that the profile for what he did in blessing others was contingent on what they needed, and not confined to the Book of Common Prayer.

So to one person, he said, “Be healed.”

He touched lepers.

He spit on someone else.

He stuck his fingers in another person’s ears.

And he shouted to raise the dead.

He would have upset a lot of people.

Jesus didn’t worship miracles; he didn’t minister miracles–he performed miracles.

He showcased the Gospel in stories, told with colorful description and high-flung gestures.

The church has lost Jesus because it has focused on either social gospel or revivalism.

Jesus was the Son of God, who came to teach us how to get along with each other–with a tambourine in his hand.

So the good news is that we need both social commentary and revivalism.

The better news is, when we actually mingle the two, we suddenly become more relevant.

 

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Good News and Better News… October 2nd, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3448)

She was a sweetheart.

During my two presentations at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Clermont, Florida, I got a chance to meet this delightful woman.

She bounced up to my book table and engaged in conversation. About halfway through our exchange, her face got a little more serious and she asked me, “How do we rate? I mean, you go to places all over America. How would you rate our church?”

I knew she wanted a serious answer, yet I wasn’t going to placate her nor was I going to try to place some burden on her heart by pointing out an inadequacy.

“You’re kind of right in the middle,” I said.

She started to smile, then squinted and replied, “Well, that’s not very good.”

After nearly forty-five years of traveling America and sharing in a vari=ety of venues, many of them churches, I will tell you what makes a good church. It begins and ends with the word “generous.”

One of the most chilling statements Jesus offered to his disciples, and to us who would follow his message, was “to he who much is given much is expected.” So it’s a little optimistic to think that you’ll receive eternal salvation while lounging on a heavenly hammock. So here are the three things that make a great church:

1. Generous space.

Sanctuaries are too cramped. They’re confining. This stifles the sensation of freedom. Since your church probably is not filling up the sanctuary for every service, take come pews out. Create room. Make people aware that they have the freedom to extend their legs and arms. Give children a place to crawl.

Clear everything unnecessary from the platform. There should be room for three or four people to stand side by side easily.

If you give air to the room you give air to the people to give air

2. Generous face.

If you’re not going to talk to someone, don’t peer from a distance. It’s creepy. And when you walk up, don’t stay too long, but do make eye contact while you’re there.

We met a fabulous brother named Joe at Shepherd of the Hills. He was not an “average Joe.” He was loving, giving, kind, and made us believe that we had a primal place in his present consciousness.

No one expects you to be a counselor or long-lost friend from high school, but grant folks the dignity to enter your generous space and receive your generous face.

3. Generous grace.

You have no right, privilege or scriptural authority to probe into the lifestyles of those who worship next to you. Share the Gospel of Jesus and let the Gospel do its work. The Holy Spirit is much more adept at convicting people than you are with your gossip. I don’t care what you hear about people. I don’t care what you think about people. At no time do you, I or anyone else have the permission to judge anyone.

It is possible for any church in America to become a Jesonian church–a Jesonian Catholic, a Jesonian Baptist, a Jesonian Methodist, a Jesonian Lutheran, a Jesonian Pentecostal–but it requires you to take on the heart of Jesus instead of pounding your favorite theological nails.

The good news is that Shepherd of the Hills Church has this delightful lady who is not willing to subsist in the middle.

And the better news is, if you make your church a generous space with a generous face, offering generous grace, you will grow.

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Cracked 5 … May 16th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3308)

cracked 5 logo keeper with border

Other Names Considered for Jesus (and also the ones who proposed the “handle”)

 

A. Temple Tumbler–presented by the sarcastic Pharisees after Jesus “turned the tables” on them.

 

B. Winey Boy–a quickly devised name by some very drunken souls in Cana who suddenly found themselves slurping a burgundy made out of water

 

C. Jim Bay Luben–a proposal by the Southern Galilean Baptists, who were hoping it might promote Jesus to be more like his cousin, John

 

D. Carpo the Carpenter–a business-package idea by the Nazareth Chamber of Commerce

 

E. Bastard–a never-dying rumor by old, disgruntled Nazarenes who were “month-counters” for Mother Mary.

 

 

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Good News and Better News… March 27th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3259)

In the midst of the morning prayer at the First United Methodist Church in Port Saint John, Florida, I peeked from my bowed-head position out at the congregation. It was a small gathering.

The church as a whole has been losing folks over the past few years. We could probably do a whole article on that subject, but let’s just work on the basis that there is an “exodus of the chosen people.”

So the denominations step in–Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists, Pentecostals and the like–and offer their remedies to try to plug the dike of leaking souls. The answers they come up with are rehashing of former traditions or speculation on how better to use social media.

What they fail to consider is that church is dying because the reason for church has been crucified.

  • Church is for people.
  • People are the church.

When the church does not relate to people, but instead, makes some arrogant attempt to reach God through vain repetition, then people run away to brighter prospects for encouragement and a chance to access their better selves.

People often ask me if I am anti-church. Quite the contrary. I think church is our last bastion of hope to retrieve community among all living creatures.

It’s just that we need to be willing, for a season, to be awkward.

We don’t know what we’re doing.

We don’t know how to reach people.

And we certainly cannot figure out a way to escape our vague practices to translate them into real “soul food” for the everyday consumption of our brothers and sisters.

And for those who have left the church–citing hypocrisy, boredom, indiscretions and scandals–I must say to them: well, it certainly doesn’t bother you that your politicians, your entertainers and your movie stars are riddled with unholiness.

We need people who feel awkward about returning to church to join with those who are awkward about being in church, to laugh and cry their way about coming to church.

Folks, it’s gonna be ugly.

But yesterday morning I watched beautiful, insightful, gentle human beings come together with two strangers and create fellowship in an inspired, clumsy way.

It made me cry–it can be done. But we need to get our heads out of religion and our eyes on the prize of finding new ways to love one another and repent of our foolishness without shame.

The good news? It’s just like when we were learning to date in high school and survived our feeble attempts, to eventually end up in a relationship.

The better news is that if we stop trying to be godly, and just start looking for the goodness that has been placed around us, we literally can become a community of faith that “comes, communes and creates unity.”

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Good News and Better News … May 23rd, 2016

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Good News Cross Plains

When I was twelve years old, a school buddy invited me to his church for a night of revival, with the tease of a delicious pot luck dinner preceding the event.

I was thrilled.

Of course, I was interested in the pot luck dinner, but much more excited over the chance to see my friend far away from school books and blackboards.

The revival was held at his home church–a Pentecostal Baptist.

I didn’t know much of anything at that point in my life, so I can’t tell you a lot about the evening’s activities, except that at one point during the sermon by the guest evangelist, he paused, staring at the audience with bulging eyes, sweat dripping from his brow, and proclaimed, “God’s grace cannot be earned, nor can it ever be lost.”

The reason I remember this statement is that it evoked an explosion of cheers, applause and “hallelujahs.” The folks really liked it.

Of course they did.

We all deeply enjoy free stuff.

The idea that none of us had to work on our salvation or had any chance of losing it just because we went on a “lying spree” was certainly intoxicating to the spirit.

But unfortunately, when you put no expectations on human beings, generally speaking, you get no production.

When I visited Fishersville United Methodist Church yesterday, I was struck by two outstanding realizations:

  1. These were some lovely, intelligent and caring people.
  2. But left to themselves, they can be lazy, uncaring and unfeeling.

I will tell you that no Creator with the intelligence to make a kidney which enables us to pee would ever let human beings think they did not need to be involved in their own lives, or even their own salvation.

We certainly wouldn’t do that with our children: “I love you, Johnny, so you don’t need to do any chores or clean your room because my affection is enough.”

If we did that we would be in danger of raising a criminal or a politician.

It is important to realize that God loves us.

But He’s also provided a purpose for life, where we learn to take responsibility for ourselves and save some extra time to assist others.

I refer to it as “sanity saves.”

If you do not stay involved in your own life, with an awareness of what you need to work on, your brain will deteriorate to the point that learning ceases to be possible. Then you’re stuck with what you know and nothing else.

God gives me a “sanity save” every day.

My mind is renewed by the celebration of knowing that the Gospel that Jesus preached is not only a message to make me Heaven-worthy, but also Earth-friendly.

It gives me sanity and it saves me from becoming an emotional and spiritual bum.

Without these sanity saves, we start relying too much on chance, fear or a presumptuous faith to carry us through difficulties, instead of using principle, prayer and the power of learning to grant us the wisdom to overcome.

As the folks came to my table yesterday, I found myself conversing with an 89-year-old World War II veteran. He was standing next to a nine-year-old boy.

They both came to chat with me. I looked into their eyes and saw the same thing. There was a sparkle of enthusiasm with the moisture of repentance.

It is what makes us powerful human beings–that which excites us should make us repent. And the repentance stimulates more excitement.

Sanity saves: when we take the salvation provided and turn it into a lifestyle that considers others.

That’s the good news.

The better news is that God’s grace is never deserved, but does offer us lives of sanity.

 

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Good News and Better News … January 4th. 2016

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(2803)

lightsabers

“May the force be with you.”

‘Tis a current sentiment merged with a movie event.

Once again, a hope desiring to see the Heavens save the Earth–a flurry of beliefs in a blizzard of supplications producing an avalanche of conflict.

Yes, while the Jews honor tradition and the Muslims bow to Mecca, the Middle East burns–violently.

Simultaneously, the Baptists preach against, the Lutherans for and the Unitarians insist they never preach.

The Golden Rule becomes just a coined phrase.

We do not need the force to awaken; creation has already given us a Natural Order ripe with a crop of solutions, if we can find laborers to harvest them:

  • Remember, there is no destiny–just a destination.
  • Get along with each other or join the dinosaurs.
  • We are the ones who must awaken and use the force.

Yesterday, this was amazingly acted out to my ears as a young couple in the motel room next door yelled out the problem. It went something like this:

1. “We ain’t got enough and it’s your fault.” (Trying to find blame just lengthens the game.)

2. “You always…” (Humans are never consistent, even in the bad department.)

3. “If I can’t be successful, I at least want to win the argument.” (Keep in mind, all of nothing ends up being the same amount as half of nothing.)

4. “I’m leaving until you come to your senses.” (Unfortunately, reasoning is a profile better performed by at least two.)

The good news, my friends, is that the force has never slept, therefore, need not be awakened. Everything is available if we are willing to ask, seek or knock.

How about some better news?

That would be this: we actually need each other to find all these cures.

By the way, that young couple from the room next door got over their huffing and puffing, and started talking instead of blowing their house down.

May all of us little piggies do the same.

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