Untotaled: Stepping 18–(January 14th, 1966) On My Sleeve … June 14, 2014

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Two doors down from our home were some neighbors who were quite friendly, but we only saw about six times a year and talked to maybe twice.

So imagine our surprise when they showed up at the door the day before Christmas and brought gifts. My mother was frantic, trying to figure out how to reciprocate with some sort of generosity to this surprise burst of holiday cheer.

But the most amazing thing was when I opened my present on Christmas morning from these little-known neighbors and it was a sweater.

It was beautiful for two reasons. First of all, it was a swirl of blue in a cardigan style and had brown leather buttons that looked like chocolate covered cherries.

But the greatest blessing was that it fit. I was a big fat boy, and in that era, no one made provision for such creatures. I don’t know where our neighbors found it, but it was made of Angora–that material that looks like it should be on a goat or a really pretty rabbit.

I loved it. I wore it every day. I pretended it was my winter coat. Maybe because of that, I picked up a cold.

I hate colds.

I guess everybody does, but the main reason I despise getting the common flu bug is that I had no intention in my young teen years of doing anything about it except enduring it with much complaint.

So I was sitting in the study hall while wearing my beautiful blue Angora sweater with the chocolate buttons. It was a very cold day and they had turned up the heat, and the mixture of the other students in the room with the air of the furnace blowing started my nose running.

Now, I was a young man who had little care for anything that looked frilly, so I certainly did not carry Kleenex. (I don’t know what kind of fellow you would have to be in 1966 to have a Kleenex on you.) And I was also too macho to ask a nearby girl if I could use one of her tissues. That was forbidden territory.

So at first I just tried to sniff it back into my nose. Of course, this was loud, sounded gross and caused a cheerleader next to me to crinkle her nose and turn away.

I did not know what to do. I had already used up all my bathroom privileges with the study hall monitor, and was quite sure I would not be allowed to leave the premises. And sure enough, when I raised my hand, he just looked at me and shook his head.

Meanwhile, my nose was reaching avalanche proportions. I don’t know what it looked like, but it felt like Niagara Falls was running down my lip. It had to be gross. I tried to duck my head down, but that made the gravity of the situation worse.

I thought about running my hand under my nose, but then I would have it on my hand.

Suddenly, without thinking, fearing that I was about to embarrass myself in front of the entire class with my river of snot, I reached up with the sleeve of my sweater and ran it across my face two or three times.

Fortunately, at that point my nose loosened up and I was able to have one huge sniff and the running went away.

But my beautiful Angora sweater had been slimed by my drippy nose dropping.

I took off the sweater, folded it up, and when I got home that night tried to wipe the goop out of the fur–but it wouldn’t go away.

I wore the sweater a couple more times, but people kept asking me why the sleeve was matted.

I loved that sweater so much.

But about four days later, I quietly went out into the back yard, dug a hole, and buried it.

I realized there would be no way to ever fix it. My family knew nothing about dry cleaning, and I was in no mood to try to explain why it was rumpled and stiff.

I know it sounds strange, but I cried. Actually, I cried more at the grave of my sweater than I did for a couple of aunts who passed away.

Of course, they never looked nearly as good or kept me nearly as warm.

 

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Elizabeth the First… November 15, 2012

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Ill-suited.

Similar to wearing a turtleneck and a cardigan sweater to a Metallica concert. That was me last night.

I arrived in the tiny burg of Elizabeth, Indiana, to a church that planned a concert with us, but had focused its efforts on bringing in an audience of children to view the performance. It was not a malicious act on their part–they have a rich and fulfilling ministry of reaching out to neighborhood youth on Wednesday evenings, with a meal and a time of kindness, so as to express the church’s tenderness to the kids. The pastor just wanted to afford these fine young ones a new experience.

Unfortunately, I found myself ill-suited.

I was suddenly thrust in front of fifty or sixty young humans between the ages of seven and fourteen. Understand, the last time I was their age, Lyndon Johnson was President and the Beatles had just invaded America. Neither one of those particular insights would be valuable to this present crop of offspring.

I had three immediate emotions–I was a bit frustrated with the fact that I had ended up in this dilemma, unable to share freely from my given talents and resources. Secondly, I felt a tad diminished, and perhaps even insulted, to have my abilities displayed in such a limited and specific capacity. And third, I felt like an absolute brat for feeling the previous two.

I was at war with myself. I had no idea how I was going to transform my material into the kind of vernacular and visual comprehension that would reach this particular generation of earth-dwellers. On top of that, the handful of adults who attended the event–teetering between chaperones and prison guards–were so preoccupied with their positions as instructors or overseers that they were not of any particular assistance in increasing the attention span or cultural depth of the room.

No, it seemed this was going to be a show for kids. What was I supposed to do? Of course, my worst fear was boring them. I think the reason we fail most of the time with young humans is that we have a two-fold agenda, instead of seeking out a single purpose. Especially in the church, we not only want to welcome these fledglings into our presence with entertainment and excitement, but also feel a necessity to indoctrinate them into our religious system at the same time. We must understand that religion is a hindrance to true spirituality. It doesn’t matter whether you’re six years old or sixty. You waste time by trying to get children to believe in God by teaching them the etiquette, stance and correct posture for praying. My job was NOT to convince these dear children that the church is the answer to their problems. Not only would such an endeavor be fruitless, but also not particularly honest.

In the few moments before I was introduced, I realized that the mission of the evening was not that much different for these little ones than it is for an average adult congregation.

  1.  See if you can get them to step out of themselves for a few moments and think about the beauty of life.
  2. Show them that good cheer is not an occasional option to relieve tension, but the only way to live to avoid it.
  3. Make sure they understand that Jesus came to side-step religion and offer the option of a personal relationship.

Once I clarified those thoughts, it became rather simple. Oh, I did a few extra songs that had some pep. I told more stories than commenting on cultural phenomenon or scriptural twists and turns, and I made the show a bit more interactive than you might do at the downtown First United Methodist Church in Des Moines, Iowa, on a Sunday morning. But other than that, I simply introduced them to Jesus, who already made it clear that he loves the little ones and wants to bounce them on his knee and bless them.

I was ill-suited going into the event and equally so coming out–so I simply relied on the ideas of my favorite messenger, Jesus, who told us that each and every one of us needs to become just like these little children to enter the Kingdom of God.

I shall not drop my present outreach to become a minister to children. But I am grateful that the message I share can reach all ages, all races, all denominations and all levels of faith … or doubt. It’s because I try to keep my message as simple as possible, centered around the heart of Jesus instead of the doctrine of the church.

It was a good evening. I was so glad I experienced it because it showed my weaknesses, and gave me a chance to bolster some of my previous failures into better efforts. Yes, my friend, if you’re going to become more accomplished, you have to start out being willing to do things poorly.

Elizabeth the First was God’s gift to me–to both inform me of my inadequacy and show me that His grace is sufficient to my need.

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