The Box I Built … February 9, 2013

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I gave my caretakers, instructors and the adult world nearly two decades to make their imprint on my life, to prove their case. I think that’s pretty generous.

And then I noticed “now abideth faith, hope and love…” I suddenly realized in my late teens that I did not believe in my clan’s faith. It’s not so much that I had doctrinal differences as that I was completely dissatisfied with the absence of a belief system. My parents adhered to God without ever allowing the influence to permeate the corners of their minds. I wanted more than that.

I also did not favor the hopes they had for me. They wanted me to be a slightly updated version of their rendition of the American pursuit. I was not very impressed with the American pursuit. It advertised great promise, with the fulfillment of a dream, but rarely delivered the goods. I went out looking for my own hope.

In our house, I always felt “love” was a word that was set off in an emotional parenthesis–assumed, as it were. I don’t want you to think I’m being critical of their choices. My parents were raised in an era when survival was much more important than hugs. So emotion was basically drained from the experience of affection, and intimacy was only expressed following moments of crisis.

Let me explain.My father passed away when I was seventeen. About three months before his death, realizing that he was terminal with cancer, he came in the room and tried to converse with me, ending our session by reaching over to tickle me. I was seventeen years old–not really “tickleable.” I pushed him away. As I look back on it now, it probably was a point of sadness to him. But the emotion of love does need to be expressed more frequently than when you’re afraid you’re dying.

So I pursued a “reborn” identity. I chose to be born again spiritually–in a way that my family would have considered to be over-wrought and overly involved with the Divine. I rejected working at the local retail store as a means of occupation and pursued the hope of being a writer and performer, even though I was qualified for neither. And with a very limited understanding of human sexuality, I went out to find love, experimenting with the ease and ability of a blind chemist.

It didn’t all go well. But I was satisfied with my choices.

I built a box for myself. It was still a box,. I was inhibited by my childhood fears, restricted by my family’s traditions and intimidated by my own insecurities. But I still stepped out and tried things. I did some things poorly; I did some things well.

But I got away.

It’s one of the first things you learn about Jesus of Nazareth. Had he never left the home fires and the carpenter’s shop, running away from his family (which pursued him to drag him back to his duty) we would have the story of a Galilean carpenter who found a new way to refinish wood, instead of a teacher who changed the world with the Golden Rule.

Unfortunately, many people never escape the box built for them. They live with their “born” identity, making excuses for their lacking while simultaneously being defensive over their choices.

Sooner or later, you have to build a box for yourself. It is the only definition that truly fits the  phrase “right of passage.” You have to find your own faith, you have to chase your own hopes and you have to define “love” for your world.

It is the box I built.

Yet one day I realized … it was still a box.

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

The Year of the Draggin’ … January 23, 2012

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Live in Philadelphia, PA

     

Happy Chinese New Year! And in honor of the occasion—and also to make a little coin off of a phrase—what DO a billion Chinamen care about? Actually, the same thing as three hundred million Americans:

Themselves.  It’s not a bad thing. It is fascinating to me that we think the best way to teach people to be more expansive is to enter them into some crucible of self-denial. We’re just not very good at it.  What we can do is question what parts of us are working and what units have closed down shop and ceased production.

Yes, it is the year of finding out what is draggin’ us down.

It is my joy as I travel to meet the most delightful people God could ever have hatched from a mere fanciful notion of “let there be …”  I have no complaints about them whatsoever, but I do have one lamentation. Many of them are burdened by the amount of baggage they carry when what they want to do is fly off to pursue their dreams. Each one of us has three compartments to our thinking:

1. What we were taught. This is a mixture of conversations with our parents, Sunday School classes in our small towns and dialogue we had with our friends growing up in our close-knit environments. Much of what we were taught was good, and even universal. But there are portions of what each one of us was instructed in that are prejudiced, errant and even destructive. Identifying the dangerous chemicals in our cupboards can keep us from ingesting the poison.

2. What we believe. Our beliefs are those thing that we’ve taken from what we were taught, the prayers and sermons that dented the armor of our resistance and the general consensus of our feelings about what has happened to us and those we love. Belief is a good thing—unless you believe in something that is harmful, restrictive, selfish or foolish.

3. What we’ve personally experienced. This is the living we have done on this orb we call earth, free of parental interference—flying solo, away from merely believing. Many young people lose all of their training and spirituality the first time they walk into a college classroom and someone begins to recite different experiences which contradict their own earlier training. That’s too bad—not because I think we should hold fast to our “village precepts,” but rather, because I contend that experience should enhance our belief and reinforce the portions of our upbringing that were truly grounded in common sense.

But as we begin this Chinese New Year (understanding that most of us aren’t Chinese) how can you take this moment and make sure it’s a year where you’re not “draggin’ yourself down?”

A. Trust your experience. The Bible says “that which we have seen and heard we declare unto you.” Honestly, my friends, I was not there when the Red Sea parted nor when Jonah was belched out of the mouth of the big fish. It’s not that I’m denying that these things happened, nor am I feverishly defending them. My faith has to be MINE—a collaboration of my own personal discoveries, as God and I together reinvent Christianity just for me. If your experiences are not primal in your life, you will fall back on beliefs that you end up defending, and training that is more parroting than lionizing. You’ve got to trust your experience. The reason most people don’t change is because they do not allow experience to reform their patterns of behavior, but instead, deny their own encounters in favor of belief and local, small-town thinking. If your experience is primal, you will find that your beliefs will be fewer, but more realistic and strong, and your respect for the parts of your childhood memories that were rich—with good tradition—will not only be upheld, but glorified.

B. Don’t try so hard to believe. There’s no magic number on the things that we hold close to our hearts and insist are true. There are a lot of things in the Bible that I don’t understand. I don’t deny them. I don’t discuss them. They are not part of my experience; they are not relevant to my life and therefore, I choose to ignore them. If people want to argue about them, I will listen in for a few minutes, but will not participate in the debate because the irrelevance the material has to my experience would make me hypocritical if I were to voice a concern in the matter.

For instance, I don’t know why the New Testament talks so much about hell. To make coin off of another phrase, I honestly don’t give a hell about hell. It doesn’t make me doubt the New Testament; it doesn’t make me believe less in Jesus. I just don’t need a hell to get to heaven. Heavenly things attract me, joy seduces me and the act of loving people entices my soul towards excellence. I don’t know—maybe some folks need the bottom to get to the top. It is not part of my experience.

When I was a teenager, I probably believed two hundred different things but now that I have become a man, it has really boiled down to one factor: “NoOne is better than anyone else.” So relax and love everybody who will let you do it, and move on from the ones who won’t.

C. And finally, honor your father and mother by doing them a big favor and ignoring all the stupid things they said because they didn’t have the information we now possess. I’m not mad at my parents because they weren’t God. I am grateful to them for so many things and I choose to focus on those instead of clinging to misconceptions and accidental bigotry that they passed along my way simply because they lacked one trip to the library or were one decade short of revelation.

So in conclusion, the Chinese say it’s the Year of the Dragon. But may I suggest that we make this the Year of the Draggin’? Identify those parts of our upbringing and belief system that are repressing us and dragging us down and instead, push to the forefront the personal experience that grants us an amendment to our constitution—that we are loved, and therefore are capable of the same.

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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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To see books written by Jonathan, click the link below! You can peruse and order if you like!

http://www.janethan.com/tour_store.htm

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