Thanks for the Turkeys … November 22, 2012

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It was the first thing that came to my mind.

I don’t really like to admit this, because we all like to rewrite the history of what we did, presenting it as a bit more noble than it actually was when it squirted out of our innards. But somewhere along the line, a certain amount of honesty is necessary–otherwise, you end up being bruised and confused by your own lies.

When I discovered that I was having trouble with my legs, the notion of being inhibited in walking was not nearly as uncomfortable to me as the realization that a certain amount of virility, powerfulness and masculinity would be robbed from my profile. For let us be candid–a man sitting in a chair with wheels might be considered one of the classic turn-offs. If it weren’t, someone would certainly have considered using it to pick up chicks at the bar.

  • I didn’t want to be that short.
  • I didn’t want to be that vulnerable.
  • I didn’t want to be that annoying guy sitting around with a ready explanation.

I wasn’t really upset about rolling along instead of walking. It’s just that the stigma attached seemed fairly costly to my manliness and was going to permanently, I guess, rob me of the necessary sexuality to keep me from going bonkers. Do you know what came to my mind at that point?

Turkeys.

Maybe it was because we were coming up on the season–or that my brain just seems to fluctuate between periods of lucidity and inanity–but I realized that the turkey has a really bad public relations problem. You know you’re in trouble with the mass appeal of society when your name conjures images of being a loser.

“You’re a turkey.”

Or the even more pointed example, “You are a REAL turkey.”

It’s hard to hold your beak high when you realize that even if you have smoothed all your feathers and you’re looking your best, people are privately thinking to themselves, “Thanksgiving dinner!”

It must be especially difficult for the turkey because he or she realizes that they came so close to becoming the symbol of American prowess, power and patriotism. Benjamin Franklin, a notable forefather, pushed the bird forward as the candidate to be the nation’s favorite feathered friend. He was outvoted. I’m not sure what the count was, but the bald eagle won. It may be the only occasion when a bald creature won a contest over one with better plumage.

I don’t know what was in the minds of those who voted against the turkey. Was there hidden prejudice? Were they privately thinking to themselves, “That bird can’t fly!” After all, no one is ever going to use the phrase, “Soar like a turkey,” just as no one will ever be able to say, “Run that marathon like Jonathan Cring!”

And the final indignity, do you have to be killed, beheaded, plucked and baked, but for some reason, people step back with a scrunched face, dissatisfied, and think, “It’s not enough. We should stuff him with oysters, bread and seasonings.” And then, on top of THAT, when you’ve made the supreme sacrifice of your carcass–to become tasty–you’re usually smothered in gravy because you’re dry.

Yet, my dear friends, this is not the last indignity. Yes–after people have gorged themselves on your flesh, they have the audacity to insist that it’s your fault that they fall asleep during the football game, because you contain some sort of “hidden drug” which knocked them for a loop.

Do you see the point?

I was greatly encouraged by the plight of the turkey, realizing that I was still able to have a brain and be equated with intelligent conversation instead of relegated to “gobble-gobble.” (Oh, my dear God, is that the source of “gobbledygook?” I’ll have to have Jan look that one up.)

It is also important in this bad public relations swing, to portray the turkey as belligerent, habitually  pecking at things, in order to advertise and promote turkey shoots.

It seems that sometimes in life we all find ourselves in the position of being a turkey instead of an eagle. So on this Thanksgiving morning, and throughout the day, I will commiserate with my fellow-persecuted-old-bird, as I realize that I may have been weakened in some way by my affliction this year, but I’m still not ready to end up face-down on the platter.

I have much to share. I have much to say. And I’m thankful for anyone who has an ear to hear.

By the way … do turkeys have ears? That would be the final insult–or maybe blessing–to be deaf so you wouldn’t have to hear what a turkey you are.

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Squeaky Wheel … September 21, 2012

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Complaining is when we take the precious time to stop off and write the “Book of Lamentations” when we know we should be finishing up the “Book of Acts.” It is the proverbial squeaky wheel which Benjamin Franklin insisted always gets the grease. But candidly, for every dollar’s worth of attention a complainer receives from the world around him, he spends two dollars in lost respect from others.

Human beings are often hypocritical, and one of our main hypocrisies is that we simultaneously despise complaining when it trips off the lips of others, but find it logical and necessary when its origin is in our mouths. Still, all in all, we actually judge the true depth of character in the human family by whether those around us are able to endure, or if they give in to sharing their opinions about their plight. Those who persevere are dubbed spiritual. Those who don’t are viewed as devilish.

The true problem with complaining is that it shuts down the learning process. It is quite impossible to be sharing misgivings and frustrations while still keeping an open mind about new possibilities. It’s just one of those things that makes us too predictable to be valuable.

My friend Caddie had a hard time learning this one. I met Caddie in jail. I was visiting and she was a temporary resident. She had acquired my number off of the wall next to the pay phone in the county jail, placed there by a young man I had assisted through some difficulty a month or so before, who obviously felt compelled to spread the good word about my generosity.

Caddie was a shop lifter. Within twenty seconds of meeting her, she explained that even though she’d had the twenty dollars in her wallet to pay for the scarf, make-up, hair brush and tooth polish, that she couldn’t purchase those items and still have enough money set aside for some groceries and bus fare. Her reasoning was flawless in her own mind. Even though she was surrounded by prison bars, she felt she was the victim of an unjust society which failed to understand that “Caddie needed to do what Caddie needed to do when Caddie needed to do it.”

I helped her get bailed out of jail and offered her a place to stay at my home, and for the next two weeks, as we awaited trial, I attempted to assist this young lady in finding some answers to what I believed were her burning questions.

As time passed, I realized that Caddie didn’t have any burning questions–just complaints. She started off leading me to believe she was asking for my counsel in some matter, but before she ever got to the end of the sentence to form a question mark, we took a detour–four or five details recounting how unfair the situation was in the first place.

She didn’t like the bed we gave her–it was too soft. She was allergic to almost everything we had to eat. She only drank Japanese tea, which I learned was quite different from Chinese tea, or the offerings of Mr. Lipton. She didn’t like television, only appreciated certain types of music on the radio (none of which we were able to provide, by the way) and for some reason, immediately tried to start a war with my young sons, who “returned in unkind” with their own nasty remarks. It didn’t take long for Caddie to set our entire household on edge. People began to root against her. I think one of my boys even hoped that when she walked across the floor she would slip and fall. Caddie seemed oblivious to the disapproval because she was already deeply embroiled in all sorts of disapproval of her own.

When the trial date finally came and we went to court, I found it difficult to be a character witness for her, even though that’s what she desperately needed. So this is what I said to the judge (maybe much to her chagrin):

Your honor, I am not related to this woman, but she has come my way and I have been doing my best to help her find a better path. I cannot tell you that she will never steal again, but I can tell you that she knows she shouldn’t. I also can enlighten you to the fact that Caddie’s main problem is not thievery, but complaining. But… for the past two weeks, she stayed in my home and learned that the squeaky wheel does NOT get the grease. What we do with squeaky wheels is … replace them.”

The judge chuckled and gave Caddie a very light sentence. She stuck around for a week or so more after that, and then took off. About five years later I received a phone call from Indianapolis, Indiana. It was Caddie. She told me she’d had a devil of a time tracking me down, because I had moved and was the traveling sort. She wanted me to know that she had landed somewhere and realized what a pain in all areas of the body she was, had gotten married and started a new life.

With a bit of boldness I stepped up to the plate and asked the most important question. “Have you stopped complaining?”

She laughed. “How do you think I got a husband?”

I laughed, too.

I will tell all ministers, politicians, school teachers and parents this very valuable point. Continuing to leap to your feet to respond to the complaints of a malcontent is to do nothing but build up a thunder cloud of stormy weather in your own soul which will eventually dump rain on them at the wrong moment. Instead:

Don’t give grease to the squeaky wheel. Change the tire.

Ask other human beings to do what you, yourself, have to do to continue to be a learner instead of just a burner of time.

Stop complaining.

And the best way to stop complaining is to understand that difficulty is pre-packaged in life to keep the human race moving forward and discovering instead of just settling into dangerous repetition, boredom and stagnancy.

So the next time you run across something you really don’t like, take an extra moment and find out why it’s really there instead of trying to spit it away with your complaints. Then maybe, like Caddie, you can escape the selfishness that steals time from others and yourself, and instead, find new life.

Maybe … in Indianapolis.

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John, Tom, Pat and Ben … February 8, 2012

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Just four guys, rebels at heart.

They shared a common anger, expressed individually and tuned to their personal interests. Their primary cause was that all four of them–John Adams, Tom Jefferson, Pat Henry and Ben Franklin–despised King George.

They were radical insurrectionists who were under suspicion for treason, desiring to separate themselves from the existing government. The only reason we know their names at all is because they were successful. Had they failed to unplug themselves from merry old England, they would have gone down in history as a footnote for fools and a parenthetical remark of attempted revolution that failed.

We admire them. We call them the “founders of our country.” But as you study them, you find they are four distinctly different gentlemen. Their only mutual thrust is a desire for independence. Unfortunately, they make one major mistake: they free themselves without freeing everybody.

They do exactly what every government proposes, which eventually pronounces its doom. They focus on one group or another–with the intention that when they get in power, they will aid those who have been forgotten.

For John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were anti-slave. Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson were from the Commonwealth of Virginia, where slavery was permitted. The four did not discuss the issue because any debate would have blocked the progress of their cause to gain freedom from the British. And hypocrisy entered the procedure–because Thomas Jefferson, who owned slaves, insisted that “all men were created equal” when he penned his purpose and declaration. Any idea, no matter how noble, that allows the introduction of hypocrisy will eventually come apart at the seams. How much longer would it have taken them, in their Continental Congress, to resolve the issue of slavery once and for all, and begin their new nation as free men and women across the board?

I don’t know.

I certainly will not argue with anyone who would claim that such a goal would have thrown an irreparable wrench into the works. But we delayed the discussion–and the war over it–by a mere eighty-five years. And we changed it from a deliberation of men of high ideals into a future time, when less motivated individuals struggled over the issue with guns and cannon–and bloodied our soil.

Can we learn anything from John, Tom, Pat and Ben? I think we can.

If you are a Republican, you cannot say, “We’re going to take care of the rich so they can give to the poor and provide jobs, and then, once we’re elected we’ll come in and sew up the safety net as required to provide for the needy.” We’re smarter than that. If rich people gave to poor people, then OPEC would drop the prices on oil because the American family is struggling.

The Democrats, on the other hand, say they will take care of the poor by forcibly inflicting taxation without sufficient representation on the rich, and then try later to get them to join in the motivation of increasing jobs in the economy. Of course, one problem with that is that the reason that people are poor is not always as simple as mere financial lack, and once you start dumping America’s wealth down a hole called poverty, you may very well find that the pit is bottomless.

No, we have to be a little smarter than John, Tom, Pat and Ben. They should have resolved the issue of slavery as the nation was founded, but instead, wrote into the Constitution that the value of a black man/woman/child was a fraction of what the Lord intended. There was never a breath of peace from that moment on about that particular issue–honestly, even to this day. For a nation founded on slavery still finds it difficult to abandon all of its bigotry.

This is why I’m touring this country with a very simple message. “NoOne is better than anyone else.”

When people first hear it, they give a nod of assent, as if it is a concept already in place, not needing punctuation. But then, as they think about it and realize that each one of us has negotiated our deal for personal independence on the backs and detriment of others, they often become resistant. Because when Jesus told us to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” he presented an answer–but in the form of a puzzle. How much do I love myself? Should I love myself more? Do I love myself first and then love others? Is it a simultaneous action?

The six words, “NoOne is better than anyone else,” becomes the key that unlocks that paradox: we just don’t go forward on anything unless it includes  everybody. That means, in this present political climate, we cannot solve the nation’s problems by taking the side of rich OR poor, but must package ourselves together as total equals. It’s how this country was conceived–and even though occasionally it may be to our distaste, displeasure or contrary to our personal choices and beliefs, it is the only way to maintain the integrity of the United States of America.

John, Tom, Pat and Ben were so anxious to become successful revolutionists that they left out freedom for some people. We paid a horrible price for that mistake. Let’s not do it again. Whether the issue is immigration, abortion, taxes, states’ rights, the economy, jobs or international treaty negotiations, let us correct the mistake of our forefathers by living out the true message of liberty: NoOne is better than anyone else.

Is it possible that if the black race had been freed along with the thirteen colonies, we would have built an even greater country than we have today? Is it possible that in freeing the slaves, our conscience towards the Native Americans would have been more tenderized? No one knows for sure. But we do know that freedom provided for the few offers those remaining souls only the option of war to achieve their own. Most unfortunate.

2012. Let us, as spiritual people, rise up and begin to believe that “NoOne is better than anyone else.”  For I do contend that John, Tom, Pat and Ben would look back at our history and realize that morning in July, 1776, there was one more line that should have been added to the document before signing:

NoOne is better than anyone else.

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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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