Untotaled: Sitting 60 (September 24th, 1970) A Spartan Start … March 28, 2015

Jonathots Daily Blog

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(Transcript)

We figured $25.00 was going to be enough.

Actually, it had to be. That’s all the money we had left. My  girlfriend’s dad had closed the bank account in Arizona, poaching our nest egg.

We climbed into our old Chevy, which the guy at a local gas station told us had no chance of making it on a long trip, and set off for North Carolina, where people of our age were allowed to get married without a parent’s approval.

Along the way, we had a blow-out of one of our tires, which is what the old bald culprits do when they reach the end of their lives. So that took $5.00 we didn’t expect.

We crossed the border of North Carolina and the first town we came to was Sparta. We found a motel, which cost an additional $7.00, and accounting for the gasoline, brought our entire kitty down to a disconcerting $8.34.

We went to the United Methodist Church in town, where the pastor agreed to marry us and even brought his wife over to witness the event. So in a large sanctuary which echoed when we talked, the lady and myself became the traditional “husband and wife.”

I didn’t have any money to give to the preacher. I was embarrassed, but young enough to quickly get over it.

We had to eat, so we went to a local diner as newlyweds and ordered exactly $3.34 worth of food, including tax.

We shared with the waitress and the cook about our nuptials, and out of the kindness of their heart, they donated the meal to us.

We both cried. It seemed like a long time since we had felt a tickle of love from human fingers.

We went back to the motel, and for the first time as legal before God and Caesar, we made love.

We had decided on the drive down to North Carolina not to return to Ohio. We realized that sooner or later we were going to have to tell people that my new wife was pregnant–and we would just rather do that with a new batch of folks, who just might maintain some original politeness.

I had a friend in Kentucky who was starting a church after his Bible College experience. He invited us to come there and spend a week or so, and have…well, have our honeymoon.

So we drove up to Kentucky, spending our last 75 cents on gasoline about thirty miles from our destination, only to discover that there was a bridge which went across the river to the little town…that had a toll.

One dime.

We didn’t have it.

So I rolled up to the toll-keeper and explained our situation. The old man reached into his pocket, pulled out a dime and dropped it into the container and said, “Consider it a wedding gift. Good luck to you both.”

We crossed the bridge to our new life…on the grace and generosity of a stranger.

 

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Mount Vernon … September 21, 2013

Jonathots Daily Blog

(2013)

Mount VernonI suppose, to the average person, the mention of Mount Vernon might conjure a hazy memory of an American history class, where the name was mentioned as the location of the home of General George Washington. Even though I, too, have that realization, to me, it was a community twenty-three miles north of my boyhood home town.

As I rolled in to Mount Vernon today, I was astounded at how much living, doing and feeling I had birthed in that space:

When I was twelve years old, we had a Bible League contest in the town, with teams from all over the Central Ohio area gathered to push buttons and light up bulbs, answering questions about Holy Scripture. We had studied every jot and tittle, and split the information apart like atoms to compete with one another for points, prizes or just the privilege of partaking of some overly sweet church punch and dried-out cake. All in all, it was a great way to consider the musings of ancient patriarchs without dozing off in the process.

Mount Vernon was also one of the first places that I promoted my own gospel sing, consisting of my group along with some others, in the Memorial Auditorium. I actually saw people arrive in cars, park them and gather to hear us all squawk and wail.

Just outside of town, in the early seventies, I got the chance to perform for the first time with a fellow named Andre Crouch, who had a group called the Disciples at the Bible College, in front of a good-sized crowd of local folks who certainly didn’t come out to see us, but tolerated what was supposed to be our fifteen-minute fronting of the main event. As I discovered that night, and also from working with Andre Crouch in the future, he was never on time, so our mini-concert turned into a forty-five-minute show, which was certainly a problem, especially considering that fact that we only knew six songs.

Mount Vernon was also the location where in my early years, when I was destitute financially, some of the local quartets gave me a dribble of money to arrange music for them, to try to make them sound a little better in front of the small congregations they were able to schedule to hear their efforts.

And last but not least, my third son, Jerrod Micah, was born in Mount Vernon–about two minutes after I walked in the door of the hospital, rushing to get there to see his arrival. (My wife never seemed to have much trouble with labor. I guess some women would insist she never went through it–more like calisthenics.)

I was nearly in awe of all the memories that just splashed in my face as I drove down the main street of the metropolis. And to think, blessed man that I am, now in my sixth decade, I get to go to Mulberry Street United Methodist Church and make another memory, tomorrow morning and night, adding a new page to my dusty catalogue of memorabilia.

Life is wonderful if you don’t get fussy.

And if you do get fussy, life is still willing to be wonderful … if you just don’t give up on a good idea.

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Forty-two Months… May 24, 2013

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ShreveportIt was a hot, humid, May evening in an area of the country that only knows how to be hot and humid in May.

It was the night that I first met my partner, Janet Clazzy. She was the principal oboist in the Shreveport Symphony and came out to a press conference I had put together to publicize my musical, Mountain, the Sermon on the Mount set to music. I was twenty-nine years old–energetic and just stupid enough to believe that great things could be done with little effort.

This initial meeting came to my mind last night as we drove into Shreveport to do a gig.

The first time I arrived in that town, I was a refugee from a year of my life which had been crowded with too much activity and laced with disaster.

1980.

I moved from Nashville, Tennessee, traveling the country with my Broadway-style show, Mountain, to twenty-five cities. After that I took a position at a church in Alabama. My second-oldest son, Joshua, was in a hit-and-run accident with a car and suffered a massive brain trauma. I left Alabama and moved to Shreveport to take a position at a small Bible college, which appeared to be getting smaller all the time.

I was damaged goods.

I did not know the extent of the buffeting that had occurred in my soul, but I was fully aware of the residue of the bruises. I stayed in Shreveport, Louisiana for forty-two months–in what I would call a complete human overhaul. It was more than healing–it was a rediscovery of my self, my talents, my faith, my potential and certainly–my limitations.

Nearly all the people I met when I was in Shreveport during those forty-two months are still in my life in some capacity. Some of them are close to me, a few have abandoned our former relationship, and most have moved on, taking bits and pieces of what they learned in that season and salting their lives with the experience.

When I finished up last night, walked out to my van and looked at the skyline of the city, I was grateful. It was in Shreveport that I remembered I could write again. I composed songs, penned dramas that were aired on the radio and was called “pastor” by a handful of loving souls.

I learned to fight for what I believed in without becoming aggressive. I became a producer of videos for public access TV and argued with the zoning commission of the town to permit us to have a location for our tiny fellowship. I found myself going down to the county jail in the middle of the night to help people who had fallen through the cracks, and practically begged companies to give food, bread and blankets for us to distribute to the hungry and needy.

I grew a soul.

A soul is like anything else that grows–it requires seeds. Some of those sprouts are unconventional–things like tears, pain, heartache, disappointment and anguish. Yet they all produce beautiful fruit when they are allowed time to mature. But the laughter, joy, cleverness, creativity and the unexpected blessings also were sown into my spirit, “bringing in the sheaves,” rejoicing.

I would not be the man I am today if it were not for that forty-two months I spent in Shreveport–in “spiritual rehab.”

Even though my son eventually passed away and the little work I began there as an outreach is no longer intact, the manifestations of that effort are still evident every day in the lives of my friends and colleagues.

So I am grateful.  I am grateful to Shreveport.

I am overjoyed that instead of giving up on the idea of God, I decided to reinvent faith … inside my tattered being.

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Meant Well… September 2, 2012

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The Bible.  Some people think it’s just a book. Others call it holy. It’s divided into two sections–Old Testament and New Testament.

You see, I understand that. Really, it’s not that different from me. After all, I’m always divided into two sections: Meant well. Doing better.

I don’t know why we fail to notice that the Bible makes it clear that God is learning. We seem to be obsessed with the notion of perfection instead of enjoying perfecting. I think it’s because we secretly hope we reach a point where we’re always right and never have to make corrections, so we project that image onto God.

It certainly is not what He advertised about Himself. For after all, He created man; then he was sorry He did, so He killed them off with a flood. Then He was sorry He did that. He went along with the Jewish people when they wanted a King and then everybody was sorry about that. So God sent them prophets to tell them about a better way. Some of these messengers got heard; most of them got killed.

So just to establish clearly that God was in a learning mode, He started a New Testament. He decided to become human, and when He did, He came to learn. He used the name “Jesus” and we’re told that He learned obedience through the things He suffered and He grew in wisdom and in stature.

Yes, there is an Old Testament–that’s where God meant well. And there’s a New Testament. That’s where we’re doing better.

We did it with our country, too, you know. We got together and came up with a constitution–a magnificent document. It establishes that we meant well. But immediately we realized that this particular conglomeration of words didn’t cover all the needs of a society dedicated to liberty. So we started adding amendments, trying to do better.

I remember when I was thirty years old, I took a job at a teeny, tiny Bible college, as a professor. They were trying to expand the vision of their little learning center and increase enrollment. In the first four months, I wrote and produced a play, did several fund-raisers and started a five-minute daily radio broadcast of a continuing drama series. Sure enough, it got a lot of attention and the number of students increased. But I failed to notice that I was losing the support, confidence and affection of the president of this little college. But because I was very young, I assumed it was his problem and that he was just an old fuddy-duddy. Even though I began a good work there, I was unable to finish it because this disgruntled leader asked me to leave. You see, I meant well. But from that point on, I started doing better by understanding that the wheels of progress really aren’t supposed to roll across human flesh.

There is always a step necessary to take us from what we have done to what we need to do. It’s called learning. And if Jesus had to do it, who do we think we are? Why do we think our ministers should have the right answers the first time around? Why do we think our politicians should delve into problems they’ve never experienced before and perfect solutions on the first attempt?

I think life is pretty simple–and I’m so grateful that God uses Himself as an example to show us how it works:

  • Meant well.
  • Learn.
  • Doing better.

There’s your secret, folks. It really demands only three understandings:

1. Start with your heart as pure as you can, to make sure you’re at least pointing in the right direction.

2. Be prepared for a certain amount of success and an adequate amount of failure.

3. Pursue the success and abandon the failure.

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But when pride, insecurity, frustration or stubbornness come into the mix, the whole thing gets screwed up. Let’s be honest–who would we be today if God decided to stick with the Ten Commandments and we were all judged solely on how well we jump through those hoops? God was kind enough to adjust His message for the human beings who were meant to benefit by it.

The Bible is not about human beings finding God; the Bible is about God finding human beings. The constitution is not about making the people adjust to the government, but rather, finding a government suited for the people. And my job at that Bible college was not about finding a way to show off my abilities, but using my abilities to show off the college.

If God needed an Old and a New Testament to get it just right, what makes me think that my first crack at anything is going to end up getting the job done? So I work on my heart. Make sure I mean well. Then I go into it keeping my eyes open, ready for signs of what works and what doesn’t. Then I learn. I take what I learn and I go out and do better.

If we actually applied that in corporations, politics and religion, mankind would inch its way forward instead of gradually slip-sliding away. We know it’s true. Otherwise we wouldn’t put “New and Improved” on a box of cereal to communicate the product is still being worked on. We wouldn’t hoist a sign in the window of a diner that says, “Under New Management” unless we wanted to communicate that change is in the air. And God would not have an Old and New Testament unless He was trying to tell us that learning is what pushes us forward and self-righteousness and pride are what destroy us.

I meant well. Honestly, in almost every circumstance of my life, I had no axe to grind and wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. But unfortunately, I did. So I had to learn. And fron that learning, I always came up with ways of doing it better.

So as I go off this morning to be with the fine folks of South Lyon, Michigan, I want to tell them that they’re coming together to praise a God who always meant well. But He did learn, and He came up with a way of doing it better.

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