Jesonian … December 9th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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To the classic question, “Were you born in a barn?” I can truthfully answer, “Matter of fact, I was.”

Although my good friends, Matthew and Luke, did a charming job relating the circumstances of my coming into this world, many layers and textures of the actual tale were left out in favor of a concise sharing, a Hollywood ending with all the participants–shepherds, wise men, angels and Holy Family–lined up in a row for a photo op.

Certainly beautiful and even miraculous, the actual unfoldings were different. I did not learn all the factors of my birth in Bethlehem until I was twelve years old. Mary and Joseph wisely chose to withhold some of the more frightening aspects of the experience from my ears until I was of an age when I could at least attempt comprehension.

But following a trip to Jerusalem, where I was particularly disobedient to them by chasing my curiosity instead of using my common sense, they sat down one night along the trail and spilled.

First, let’s understand that a young girl getting pregnant without a husband was always met with shunning or stoning. Mary’s simplicity and piety did not spare her from the wicked tongues of the gossips.

Joseph felt pressure. We’re told that an angel spoke to him, but Joseph never confirmed that with me. He said he was tortured in his dreams and finally realized that he loved my mother more than he wanted the approval of the town elders.
He did not need to make the journey to Bethlehem with Mary–he could have represented on his own to give the information about the taxes. He brought her because he was afraid to leave her alone.

So they made a fifteen day journey to a little town outside Jerusalem, which had no significance in their lives other than the fact that some “Great-Great Somebody” was born there and Joseph happened to be part of that clan.

When Mother and Father were unable to access lodging in the houses surrounding the town square, they quietly slipped into the stable, hoping not to be discovered. The innkeeper found them huddled in a corner among the animals, and when he saw that Mary was hopelessly pregnant, he chose to leave them alone rather than interfering.

They were stowaways in an animal shelter.

The birth was difficult because Mary was so small, weary from the journey–and both of them completely inexperienced with the process.

No shepherds arrived that first night. No angels sang. Nothing but grunting animals, relieved parents because the baby actually came out whole, and a chill in the air disguised by the heated odor of the stable’s occupants.

The next morning Joseph went to try to find food, and both of them realized there was no place for them to go. They would need to stay where they were for eight days to fulfill the Jewish law on circumcising the baby, so they remained as quiet as possible, hoping the innkeeper would leave them alone.

Three days passed with them scrounging for food, tucking themselves away in the farthest corner of the manger. It was on the fourth night that some shepherds did arrive. They looked perplexed, abashed and completely out of their element. They explained that they had been spoken to from the skies and told to come to find a baby in a stable.

It made no sense. Matter of fact, there was a sniff of alcohol on all three of them which hinted that the visit from heaven might have come from a flask. But Mary and Joseph listened politely, and it made for great conversation over the next few days while they waited for the circumcision.

Arriving at the temple on the eighth day, they were accosted by two very old, wild-eyed individuals–one man and one woman–who claimed the gift of prophecy. They told Mary and Joseph that the baby was going to be great and amazing. Even though Mary and Joseph wanted to believe the words, they feared the utterings were coming from dementia rather than another dimension.

Then things became really difficult. There was no need to go back to Nazareth. The presence of the baby would only increase the gossip.

So Joseph talked to the local carpenter and secured a single room in his home in exchange for work. The job included repair work, masonry and even some garbage collection.

They found contentment, until Joseph was awakened by an angel. (This time he really believed it was an angel.) He was told to leave Bethlehem to protect me from danger. When Joseph told me the story, he said it was the hardest decision he had ever made. It seemed illogical, for they had been in the carpenter’s home for a year-and-a-half and had found some peace of mind. Leaving seemed futile, if not insane.

Before departure could be executed, there was a visit from foreigners–those wise men mentioned in the Gospel story. They brought gifts. They inserted finance into a family that was about to be on the lam from the law. It was certainly timely.

The visitors explained about a star in the sky, but Mary and Joseph never really understood the significance, nor the tie-in.

During the journey to Egypt and the next six years of exile, I developed a separation anxiety. I just never felt part of anything. When Mary and Joseph started having other children, I didn’t feel like a brother. It was more like I was an intrusive uncle or a foster child.

This haunted me my whole life. I never felt quite secure with my surroundings. There were times I left the fellowship with my disciples to slip away and get my head straight, so I wouldn’t come off like a crazy man, nervous and frustrated.

Even though Egypt saved me from King Herod, the rejection hung in my mind throughout my life. I had to be careful not to get offended by the treatment I received. I learned mercy because I had no sense of mercy being given to me.

It became especially strong, and nearly violent in my soul, when Nazareth rejected my ministry, and then my mother and family thought I was crazy. I had to walk away from them.

You see, Christmas is a different tale to me.

It’s a story like many stories in the sense that God’s hand is not completely obvious in the moment, and is only unveiled through the endurance of his followers.

God picked the right pair. For if Mary had been prissy, Joseph would not have been able to manage without her. And if Joseph had been too conventional, Mary would never have been able to muster a companion. They needed each other.

Christmas is a miracle story–about God allowing people of faith to use their faith to do faithful things, to see their faith make things whole.

So Merry Christmas.

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A Barn Yarn… August 18, 2013

Jonathots Daily Blog

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barnMany years ago a music group of which I was a member in fair standing was invited to a rustic resort in Western Minnesota to put on a concert. The brochure provided to explain the services of this facility were very enticing.

  • Gorgeous cabins.
  • Swimming pools.
  • Hiking for those inclined.
  • And buffet lines, stacked with freshly grilled hamburgers, and sweet corn— steaming, salted and buttered.

Needless to say, this music group of which I was a part was very excited to go to the facility, which was offered to believers who had grown tired of worldly toil, and who wanted to escape the rigors of a demented society and spend three days listening to Christian music, with public speakers brought in from all over the country to fill them with spirit.

The joint was aptly named Christian Retreat.

unfortunately, upon arrival we discovered that the cabins had been booked up and all they had available was one small compartment, which would not be acceptable for three–especially since I was a male intruder. So the girls skipped off to their living quarters and I was escorted … to a barn.

Now, when they told me I would be staying in a barn, I assumed it was a euphemism for a rustic facility, but one still worthy of human habitation. Climbing the crest of a hill, what I beheld was actually a barn–an Amish cathedral–complete with hay, stalls, John Deere tractors and cattle with their south ends pointed to my north.

I did not complain. I found an area they had set aside for human occupation which included straw beds and a shower they had rigged with a spigot protruding from a pipe and a wooden frame to stand upon and a hole dug to drain the excess watery parts from people like me.

I was sitting on a bale of hay when I was interrupted by the arrival of another gent. He started talking. I point this out because from the point that he commenced speech, he never stopped. He explained that he was a farm hand. He told me how difficult his day had been. Within three minutes, I had the full description of his mother’s nasty divorce from her abusive husband which left him with a single mom, working very hard, but still on food stamps.

All during the discourse he was disrobing in front of me, preparing to take his nightly shower, with no embarrassment whatsoever, and was eventually standing buck naked from the curly top of his head and simultaneously beneath.

I am not comfortable around naked people. Matter of fact, I prefer “lights off romance.” If I were a nudist, I would constantly be apologizing, making excuses and informing everyone that I planned on starting a weight loss regimen next week.

Not this fellow. He turned on the spigot, climbed up on the boards and proceeded to suds himself repeatedly.

I did not know where to look, so I stared down at my shoes. When he asked me what I was doing, I explained that I was an amateur cobbler and that I was considering taking the steps to repair my own footwear.

At this point he climbed down from the boards, fully foamy, and walked over to eyeball my shoes, to see if he might be able to assist in the cobbling

I made eye contact–not because someone in a seminar told me to, but more or less for emotional survival. He made some suggestions which I cannot remember, turned the other cheek, climbed back up on the boards and resumed his bubbly process.

I finally had enough and excused myself, explaining that I needed to go set up for the concert–and I instinctively grabbed my gym bag on the way out, knowing that unlike Douglas MacArthur, I had no intention of returning.

After the program that evening, I headed towards our beat-up van, climbed into the back, put together a make-shift pillow and stretched out to go to sleep. My partners in music were concerned, and asked me why I wasn’t going back to my accommodations.

I thought about telling them about my encounter with the farmer’s son,” but instead replied, “I discovered I really DO have hay fever and don’t get along well with barn animals–especially when they talk.”

 

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Have Yourself a Mary Christmas… December 25, 2012

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1. Don’t be afraid. God really IS love.

Mary and Jesus

2. So therefore, God uses young and old alike. He picked a teenage chick and an old dame to birth two children of promise.

3. Your partner will come around. Don’t expect people to understand the seed that’s been planted inside your soul. If they love you, they’ll find you–and end up listening to an angel of their better natures.

4. Outsiders are critical. That’s why we call them “outsiders.” People who are frightened of change are either overly curious, jealous or prejudiced. It’s not that you can’t please everybody. If you’re trying to please people, you won’t end up with anybody.

5. It never happens the way you think. Everyone would love to birth their idea to great applause, notoriety and success. Yet every great idea has to spend its time stuck out in a barn somewhere.

6. Be prepared to travel. When your new idea of blessing and what you’ve birthed through your talent and faith is not immediately received by the hometown folks and is even attacked, you might want to slide on your shoes and see how you will fare in another locale. Remember, God never told you that what’s in your heart will be received by those who are closest to your heart. God just told you it’s important.

7. Leave a little bit of your own personality imbedded in the miracle. Sometimes we think that Mary was just a birthing chamber for Jesus. But she was his mother. So even though he had his Father’s soul and wit, the young Nazarene had his mother’s humor and determination.

If you believe that Mary of Nazareth was a one-hit wonder which will never be duplicated again, you will probably be willing to sit back and watch our generation flounder without the needed infusion of renewal, renovation and revival.

But if you realize that she was just a young girl who was willing to let the Spirit touch her in a unique way and then see it through instead of giving up, you can take a little bit of her spirit with you every day.

Yes, I have a little bit of Jesus in me–because of Mary. So on this beautiful day, when we celebrate the birthing of the Prince of Peace, let’s remember that his mother made it all possible.

So have yourself … a Mary Christmas.

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Sameness… December 24, 2012

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It was a time when the world was engrossed in a raging debate over taxes. The most recent Caesar was deliberating on how to maintain the integrity of his empire, keeping it from falling off the current “fiscal cliff.”

Poverty was everywhere. It was gnawing at the flesh and the innards of ever-increasing numbers of common people, who were only able to muster complaints over the sheer magnitude of lack.

Kings were concerned about maintaining their power, ignoring the needs of mothers and children in order to maintain the supremacy of their positions.

Zealots roamed the terrain, performing terrorist acts against perceived injustice–all in the name of their favorite gods.

Religion, having stalled in its own inadequacy decades before, was trying to discover new life through regulations, restitution of historical moments and rigid application from the pages of dusty scrolls.

The cultures were segregated. Some say it was done so that the traditions of each group of people and their customs could be honored, but more often than not, the separation just created misunderstandings and blockades to communication, sprouting feelings of superiority.

Nations were rising against nations and kingdoms against kingdoms.

It is into this environment that God inserted Himself in human flesh as a baby–birthed in obscurity.

As I sat over a meal last night with the lovely members of my family, I looked around and realized that they were an intelligent lot, filled with creative energy, but still sheep heading to the slaughter of the sameness of “olden times.”

For today, we suffer from the same conditions that greeted the Messiah. We are trapped in the inflexibility of men’s wills and purposes. We extol our differences and tout our uniqueness, never having a chance to absorb deeper fellowship through commonality. We have trapped ourselves in religious and political upheavals that threaten our future, overemphasize our past and leave our present stalled–void of purpose.

I suppose I could tell you that some things have changed. We have computers, which quickly inform us of our disjointed status. We have penicillin to heal diseases (until those same infections discover ways to outsmart our drugs). We dress differently, if not better. We drive cars instead of camels and we eat with knives and forks instead of our fingers.

But the main demons that possessed our society all those years ago remain intact, having survived all of our attempts at deliverance.

I have decided not to join the melee. I resist all attempts by the masses to deem me odd,  not slithering into the present pit of lava. I have decided to shepherd the sheep that are sent my way, simultaneously listening for the angels of my better nature. I am trying to gain wisdom as I look to the skies. And I travel the earth as a student of discovery instead of a know-it-all.

I am not interested in taxes and I’m quite intent on avoiding kings. I may appear to the common man to be insensitive as I move in and out of cultures, seeking similarities instead of accentuating differences. And most of all, I find my source of worship and meaning in barns and mangers instead of sanctuaries and the halls of Congress.

Call me weird.

Most of the world slept through the night some two thousand years ago, wondering how things could ever get better when everybody seemed content with them remaining bad. It took a child–and it will take a child in each and every one of our hearts–for us to birth peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

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Taxing the World… December 17, 2012

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Jon Signing

Let’s assume the story is true. For the sake of today’s essay, let’s agree to believe that the tale told by Matthew and Luke in their gospels is factual.

Caesar decided to tax the world. There’s always someone trying to do that. We live on a globe that is continually bombarded by frustrated individuals who feel that one more annoyance, one more trial, one more war, one more evil or one more excess isn’t going to make any difference one way or another. They are deliverers of straw for the backs of camels–never quite sure if this present shipment is going to break all of our backs.

They are just people who tax the world. They don’t bring anything to the party–they just fuss. They extol the virtue of “debate” and perfect it to the greatest levels of dissension, all in the name of a cause which rarely is developed because there is no time left over for progress. That part of the story makes sense to me–Caesar taxing the world.

Then there are people. Good-hearted, yet not good-natured folks, who end up spending all of their time bitching about the taxes. They try to free themselves of the bondage to the latest Caesar but because they are always complaining about the actions of the government or the mis-deeds of the disenfranchised, they openly admit they’re at the mercy of these merciless politicians and ne’er-do-wells. So Caesar bewitches and the mass of humanity…well, “we bitches.”

It is a nasty, immovable gridlock of meaningless conversation lending itself to deadly delay, opening the door for tragedy to slip into the back windows of our lives because we are too busy discerning the unchangeable. Yes, there are those who tax the world and there are those who bitch about the taxes.

So it was over two thousand years ago in Bethlehem, Judea. It seemed that the most important thing going on was the present affliction being levied on the masses by the Romans, who were trying to raise money to pay for a war in Britannia against the Angles and the Saxons.

And then there was a handful.

In the moment, they seemed meager–a carpenter and his pregnant, besmirched wife, arriving too late into town, not having made preparations for lodging and ending up stalled in the stable; shepherds who certainly wanted to complain about taxes, but found themselves interrupted by more angelic possibilities and needing to make a choice, and wise ones from the East, who were probably mocked by their neighbors as star-gazers with their heads in the clouds, who evidently were completely oblivious to Caesar’s latest imposition.wisemen under star

Yes, there were a few people who decided to birth a new idea.

It is a lesson for all of us. For I will tell you bluntly–CNN and FOX News don’t care one whittle that I write a daily column on the Internet, that I was able to reach tens of thousands of people this year through my travels or that I am recording a new album of music. They are following the latest story of “whoever is taxing the world.” They are also quite interested in those who want to bitch and complain about how over-taxed the world is by problems and difficulties. If you want to send in a tweet or email lamenting some evil in our world, you might get your twelve seconds of fame flashed across the bottom of the screen.

But just as it was in our original story back in Bethlehem, those who are trying to birth a new idea are relegated to obscurity and stuck in a barn somewhere.

But also, just like those so many centuries ago, you have to decide whether you want to be there for the birth, whether you want to worship or whether you want to be one of the wise people.

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Thick is bloodier than water… November 8, 2012

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Michael won.

I was furious. It wasn’t supposed to happen. My arrogance and stupidity got together and planned a pity party with no refreshments. I didn’t understand. I had won junior class president the year before, only challenged by one girl who received two votes–her own and that of her twin sister. I was supposed to be a shoo-in.

But before we elected our senior class officers, Michael decided at the last minute to throw his hat in the ring, and he got all of his buddies together from the Future Farmers of America (the FFA) to support him, boosting him on their shoulders to victory. This was made possible because I lived in a rural community where the FFA was the largest club in the school.

As painful as it was to lose to Michael, even more aggravating was the discovery that my friend, Howard, had gone behind my back and voted for my opponent. Howard explained to me that he felt compelled to do so because he, too, was a farmer, and the pressure from the club to get behind Michael was more than he could resist.

I was so pissed off. Howard and I were friends. Now granted, we hadn’t tilled the soil together or considered the best way to herd cows, but we had done many more important human things which should have engaged his loyalty in my direction.

For instance, we sang in a quartet together. That means there were days of rehearsal, little road trips, late-night talks about girls and how parts worked, giggling, crying…and oh, speaking of crying, I was there with Howard when he discovered that his girlfriend, Jackie, was dating Ben behind his back. (By the way, another farmer.) Actually, Howard was not sure that Jackie was being a two-timer, so one night the two of us went out in his 1958 Chevy coupe and found Ben and Jackie, parked in Lover’s Lane, necking away, with Ben plowing where Howard had already planted crops. Howard was devastated. I stayed up with him all night, talking, crying and coming to the early morning decision that Jackie was just no good.

So you see, we had history. We were friends. And honestly, sometimes being a friend is much stronger than being a relative, especially a farmer. I just didn’t understand.

Howard knew I was angry. I stayed that way for at least a month. We would talk, but I made sure that he was aware that out of revenge, I was withholding some of the better stories that I could have been sharing. Actually, within a couple of weeks, I was glad that I wasn’t president of the class. Being vice-president meant I didn’t have the responsibility, but still got out of class, still got the respect of students and teachers, but Michael was left to deal with the sticky messes. But I didn’t tell Howard that’s how I felt. No, Howard was on my crap list. And it really wasn’t a list–just Howard’s name, signed at the bottom.

Finally one day, Howard took me aside and tried to explain. He said, “You know, blood is thicker than water.”

I just stared at him. “Is there a bloodline of farmers? And what’s that got to do with anything?”

But in a moment of pity I looked into his eyes and realized that Howard was afraid. And whenever we’re afraid, we go back to patterns of behavior ingrained in us long before we are able to resist. After all, even if your parents were abusive, they were still the first ones to put a bottle in your mouth and tell you about Santa Claus. It’s hard to forget that. And if your parents are farmers and you’re a member of FFA, it makes you feel like you’re betraying your kin if you vote for your buddy instead of your barn-mate.

I didn’t exactly forgive him, but I realized he was thick. Emotion, truth, gentleness, loyalty and faithfulness were unable to get through a crusty hide of tradition and false respect.

We eventually made up. If I recall, it had something to do with him meeting a new girl, who also cheated on him–so we had to go out together and chase down the latest infidelity. (For some reason Howard had very poor success in maintaining the ongoing affection of loyal girlfriends.)

I remember this story because I always want to be reminded that not all blessing comes from my family tree. Not all wisdom comes from my little village. And not all growth can be spawned from my little garden patch of understanding.

I need newness of life–and that includes new people with new ideas, new faces and new ways that may at first seem contrary to me, but in the long run, expand my heart and make me a better human.

Thick is what bloodies the waters.

Dear God, help me not to be thick-headed, building concrete around my brain.

Heavenly Father, help me not to be thick-gutted, padding the fat around my waist with additional reinforcements.

And Almighty Creator, keep me from being thick-hearted, protecting my emotions from the experiences that will make me more understanding instead of so doggone sure of myself.

I didn’t get to be senior class president. Part of it was because a dear cohort chose a farmer over a friend. But what I learned is that God always allows us to grow, even from our disappointments, as long as we don’t get so thick that He can’t reach our insides.

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