The Faith Count… November 27, 2011

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Charlotte, North Carolina

I woke up with a sore throat.

I haven’t had a cold in two years so let me be the first one to say that I’m grateful for the reprieve from such escapades and appreciative of the ability to use all my faculties to communicate my message. For 181 shows this year, I’ve been able to dip into my talent, ability and confidence to propel the notions and inspiration that have been granted to me to share with my fellow-travelers.

Today my throat is sore. Before me are two programs for St. John’s United Methodist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. So what should my profile be? I still have a voice–that’s good. I just don’t have a sense of my talent, ability and confidence. That leaves me with my faith.

It is amazing what we discover about the true nature of our faith when our talent, ability and confidence have been shaken–because there are a lot of scriptures that tell us that God’s grace is sufficient for us. But I am staring down at a line-up of songs and stories that require more than my particular belief in God’s grace. I could piously tell you that I am completely reassured that the presence of God will be enough for me in my morning’s activities, and even though that statement would not be a lie, it also would not be completely forthcoming.

I find that a good portion of my faith in God is wrapped up in my ability, talent and confidence. I guess there are theologians that would object to such an assertion as being faithless–or even anti-God. I don’t know. I’ve just never been a “let go, let God” person. And allow me be so presumptuous as to say that most of us aren’t. Unlike the typical student of the Bible, when I run across something that most humans are NOT comfortable in performing, rather than assuming we are depraved and indifferent, I choose to consider the fact that maybe some of the ideas we have about God and life are ill-informed.

I think it’s an issue of the faith count. For instance, in today’s programs, I believe I truly will have to have faith that God will be with me as I share. But I also need to count the cost and take a good assessment of my talent, ability and the confidence I possess. False spirituality is the belief that how we are created and how we act is an abomination to God.

Would I rather not have a sore throat? Absolutely. Would I rather have my ability, talent and confidence at 100%? Darned tootin’. I am not thrilled to be less. But what I CAN be is overjoyed that wisdom trumps it all–and all wisdom is given by God to those who will ask.

So even though my talent, ability and confidence may be shaken a bit, if I will use a little wisdom to count the cost and truly decide what I can and cannot do, I therefore am able to present God with a possibility which He is able to bless. For after all, God has no intention of doing it all, nor does He particularly favor being left out. He rather likes our partnership.

So even though my throat is sore, I can still speak and I still have some talent and ability–and if I choose the right things to do instead of over-extending myself, my confidence should reappear.  This gives God the chance of surprising me with the ability to do more than I thought I could, yet without dumping the entire gig on Him.

It is the faith count. I will count factually what I think I can do, reestablishing my talent, ability and confidence, and then place it in God’s hands for His brilliant distribution. It’s the five loaves and two fishes brought my me to feed the five thousand. It’s the woman touching the hem of Jesus’ garment for healing. It is the decision that Jesus made not to tempt the Lord his God, but rather, use what he had instead of trying to jump off the pinnacle of the temple. Yes, I shall not jump off the steeple of St. John’s United Methodist Church. Instead, I will take what God has given me on this Sunday morning and use it as efficiently and wisely as possible. But I will do so by taking an accurate count of my talent, ability and confidence.

It is the faith count--and like everything else that is truly spiritual, it is the intelligent blending of the human with the Divine.

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Here comes Christmas! For your listening pleasure, below is Manger Medley, Jonathan’s arrangement of Away in the Manger, which closes with him singing his gorgeous song, Messiah.  Looking forward to the holidays with you!

The Gesundheit Factor… November 26, 2011

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In Washington, D.C.

Maybe it’s because I’m in Chattanooga, Tennessee–a town known for its choo-choo–which made me think of “At-choo!”  Sneezing. Which prompted me towards the appropriate response when hearing a sneeze, culminating with “Gesundheit.” (Honestly, if you followed that logic, maybe you’ve read a few too many of my essays.)

I like “Gesundheit.” It is some sort of German derivation of “God bless you.” Yet, I’m not so sure it was a German who first said it, but rather, some forward-thinking, sensitive human being who realized that every time he or she said “God bless you,” there were those NOT part of the faithful sheep-fold who might have been a little offended by the reference to the Divine in the midst of their normal, bodily function of sneezing. So rather than offend people who did not have a spiritual sensibility, he or she decided to place the context of the message in another language, which would still convey the essence, but perhaps beg the question: “Gesundheit? What does that mean?”

Because to be quite blunt, dear folks, if you can’t get people questioning, answers are somewhat useless, lying dormant on a side shelf, collecting dust. It is contingent on those who have discovered peace of mind through emotional health and spiritual well-being to find ways to communicate the principles of their great bonanza of revelation in the most creative ways possible. It is certainly why Jesus spoke in parables instead of pulling out old scrolls and reading the same material that people had heard over and over again.

It’s why he told us to “bury the leaven in the lump.” Yes–to take things that are truly eternal and completely absorb them and dissolve them into the practical world around us. For after all, if things truly are spiritual, they will be like yeast, giving rise to any project in which they are placed. It’s religion that ticks people off. It is the notion that one book or one doctrine is sufficient to cover every human need–with no particular sensitivity given to individual preference. That’s why I like “Gesundheit.” It is clever, communicates a message and also begs the question which lends itself to further enlightenment.

I am very weary of ministers and people who attend worship services lamenting why the masses don’t come filing through the door to find inner peace and salvation. Here’s a clue:  it’s boring. And truthfully, if 90% of the people who attend these times with God can get out of them, they do. It’s not exactly that there’s a mad rush by the fervently faithful to attend worship services, either. They are boring, they are predictable, they take pride in the fact that they do not change and possess more tradition than relevance, and they are geared to the taste of the members who attend instead of to the need of the community where they live.

There’s a certain amount of pomposity that accompanies the decision to be irrelevant. Unfortunately, that particular approach to spirituality is very Old Testament and has absolutely nothing to do with a young Nazarene who lived with the masses, communicated with the masses, told stories to the masses and spoke the language of the masses.

We must find a way to bury the leaven in the lump. We must “Gesundheit” our theology. I have five personal beliefs from the philosophy of Jesus that I hold dear. I never share them as blatant quotations from the holy book. Why? Because people have an aversion to religion that comes from pages instead of people. Here are my favorite five:

1. Love your neighbor as yourself. It’s so easy to change this into the “me factor.” People don’t mind talking about themselves, and all you have to do is allow them to do that and merely guide them to give that same courtesy to other folks.

2. Don’t judge, lest you be judged. All of my art and expressions of creativity are peppered with the notion that we cannot expect to get back any different than what we give. The reason I have mercy on other people is that MY lifestyle demands mercy.

3. Go the second mile. In a generation that has trained itself to settle for second-best, we can still rejoice in the fact that those who exceed expectation are not only appreciated but revered. Finding ways to go the second mile is a fun little journey for all of us–as long as you don’t quote book, chapter and verse.

4. Whenever you’ve done it unto the least of these, my brethren, you’ve done it unto me. Projecting God into the face of those who are less fortunate is a simple concept for people to grasp. It is much easier than the plan of salvation and it is certainly more fruitful than another discussion on the rapture or the second coming of Christ. And finally…

5. You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. People really want to believe that their lives mean more than a pile of bills hopefully paid each and every month. Quietly give people a sense of mission and their spirits will soar, their emotions clean up and their minds clear. Empower people to believe they were created by God instead of constantly reminding them of their depravity.

I just believe in the “Gesundheit factor.” I’m not trying to water down the truth of the Bible–I’m trying to put its ingredients into the recipe of life, and then allow those flavors to expand the dish for all the world to enjoy.

So you can feel free to say “God bless you,” but understand that you are communicating immediately that you are a religious person. No one likes religion. We tolerate it. That’s why we always talk about “religious tolerance.”

But everyone can use ideas that benefit their souls, enhance their feelings and maybe even sweeten their pots. So it’s up to you. As for me, I will take my favorite five and stir them into the daily coffee of American life. It’s worked for me–and when people sneeze, I say, “Gesundheit!” Those who know what it means hear “God bless you,” and those who don’t get a chance to know why God wants to bless them.

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Here comes Christmas! For your listening pleasure, below is Manger Medley, Jonathan’s arrangement of Away in the Manger, which closes with him singing his gorgeous song, Messiah.  Looking forward to the holidays with you!

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