Reverend Meningsbee (Part 47) Increase and Decrease … March 26th, 2017

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Reverend Meningsbee

June in Nebraska is a celebration. It is a festival of survival.

Until the end of May, winter threatens to clamp down on any enthusiasm about the arrival of warmer weather. But by June, the monster of frigid temperatures and the obstruction of snow drifts have melted away, leaving behind fields blossoming with corn, sunny skies and the threat of blistering heat.

One local once conjectured that the reason most Nebraskans were so easy-going was because “everything that happens around them is so extreme.”

They wouldn’t dare over-react–to a blizzard or a heat wave.

It was on the third Sunday in June, right when people were beginning to think about the upcoming July 4th celebration, that he came walking into the back of the church.

At first Meningsbee didn’t recognize him. He certainly didn’t remember him being so tall–six foot two, as it turned out. Dark brown hair, chiseled chin, hazel eyes and weighing in at a military 183 pounds was Carl Ramenstein, the young hero who had rescued Meningsbee months earlier in Chicago, from the onslaught of some challenging questions.

As Carl had explained, he had a cousin in town and he came to spend a couple of weeks, having recently graduated from seminary.

Carl fit right in. Everybody loved him. He grew up on a farm, worked on a ranch, liked fishing, knew the working end of a plow.

All the kids adored him because he played so hard. All the old ladies straightened their buns when he walked in the room. And the men pulled out their war stories. It took only one Sunday for Carl to become part of the atmosphere, attitude and heart of the Garsonville Church.

So when two weeks passed and it was time for him to leave, the folks begged him to stay. It turned out to be tremendously beneficial, considering that on the following Wednesday, a little boy about five years old fell into an abandoned well just outside town. Carl spearheaded the rescue effort.

He was in the local newspaper and had dinner invitations enough to last the rest of the year.

But Carl was not interested in all the praise. Carl loved God. In a season when such devotion from a man of his age seemed unlikely, or maybe even suspicious, his legitimate warmth and appreciation for the heavenly Father was demonstrated in how well he treated his children.

Carl loved people.

Meningsbee stood back–astounded. You see, Meningsbee wanted to love people and every once in a while mustered the spirit to do so. But Carl possessed a streak of conviction that every human he met had been waiting for the chance to meet him so that Carl could pass on a blessing.

It was the most amazing mixture of confidence and humility that Reverend Meningsbee had ever seen.

Young women were literally following him around town, just hoping he would turn and give them a smile, and although fully aware of their attractions, he was careful not to put himself in dangerous situations where rumor could give way to scandal.

The people took a liking to Carl.

Carl took a liking to the church.

The church was taking a liking to the community, and the people, who had been sitting on the fence, trying to decide what it felt about the Garsonville Church, were now beginning to trickle in, one by one, and find a place of peace and fellowship.

Matter of fact, one older gentleman took Pastor Meningsbee aside and said, “My dear parson, you had a good idea, but you’re a rather odd little fellow. There’s nothing wrong with that–but Nebraskans are not completely familiar with odd and try not to do much that resembles little. That boy coming to town–well, he’s taken your words and turned them to life.”

Meningsbee smiled, not knowing how he should react.

Although some folks were waiting for the dark side of young Ramenstein to come creeping out, Carl took the opportunity to sit under the teaching, simplicity, honesty and common sense of Meningsbee, and grow taller and stronger.

So Carl kept delaying his departure until finally, one of the deacons of the church said to Meningsbee that he’d better “hire the boy or lose him forever,” because somebody certainly was going to grab him.

When Meningsbee said that the budget would not tolerate it, ten families stepped forward and offered to increase their pledges so that Carl could stay.

So it was on the seventh Sunday after his first visit that Carl Ramenstein was ordained as the Assistant Pastor of the Garsonville Church.

There was a party with joy all through the town.

The following Sunday there were twenty additional visitors, some of whom said they had just been “waiting around to see if they were smart enough to hire him.”

Right after the ordination, Meningsbee realized that he had never heard the young man preach. Carl never asked for the pulpit. It never came up. Carl may have been the first minister ever hired without having to offer three points.

The folks immediately dubbed him “Pas Carl,” for Pastor Carl.

He was a breath of fresh air.

He was a summer miracle.

And he was here to stay.

Now Meningsbee had to get used to sharing the attention.

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Reverend Meningsbee (Part 43) Broad Shoulders… February 26th, 2017

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Reverend Meningsbee

Even though spring was less than two weeks away, the Windy City was still frigid, with sporadic snow flurries careening through the air.

Meningsbee had spent too much time admiring and devouring his deep-dish pizza, and so found himself hurrying the short distance down the street, to “The Illinoian,” a downtown hotel which in its salad days was dressed lavishly, but with the wear chasing the tear, had somewhat lost its flair.

Meningsbee was late to deliver a speech in Ballroom Three, for the “Midwest Evangelical Mainline Church Convention.” It was an annual gathering in Chicago, usually drawing about 5,000 pastors, church leaders, music directors and congregation members who found such seminars to hold some interest. Matter of fact, Bob Harborhouse from the Garsonville Church, had come, and Monique Jennings, the church secretary.

Meningsbee had been invited to speak on the subject of “Innovation in the 21st Century Church.” His first inclination was to decline, but on second thought, was quite grateful for the opportunity to leave Nebraska for a few days.

He was a little concerned about whether anybody would show up in Ballroom Three. After all, Monique had already decided to go shopping and Bob had opted to attend a different seminar on church finance, entitled “The Power of the Shekel.”

So Meningsbee was on his own and a bit out of breath as he stepped off the elevator on the third floor, and was suddenly surrounded by cameras, with a reporter sticking a microphone to his mouth. It was Katrina Middlesex, who was no longer with USBN, but had now joined a conservative think tank from the blogosphere named “The American Way.”

Meningsbee tried to wiggle past the entourage, but Katrina positioned herself in front of the door, prohibiting him from entering. With bright lights in his face and cameras poised, she began to fire questions.

“Do you think its hypocritical for you to be here?”

“Do you think what happened in Garsonville is your fault?”

Then it was the third question that shocked Meningsbee.

“Is it true that you have a problem with pornography?”

He could not disguise his surprise.

So she asked him again, “Are you involved in pornography?”

Frustrated, angry and beginning to feel some indigestion from his lunch, he snapped, “No comment.”

Katrina smiled and slowly backed away, allowing him to enter the ballroom.

Safely inside, he immediately realized it was the wrong answer. He should at least have denied it. “No comment” was an admission that there might be some substance to the question and that he needed to consult an attorney.

It was so stupid.

Meningsbee lifted his eyes to look at the room, peering at a beautiful hall with 300 chairs–speckled with about forty human beings. Worse, they had spread themselves all over the place, as if trying to avoid a contagion.

He took a deep breath and walked to the front of the auditorium, placing his portfolio on the podium, As he did, he saw a note. It read: “Dear Reverend Meningsbee: I’m sorry I will not be there to introduce you. Got all tied up. Just feel free to start on your own, and may God bless you.”

Meningsbee didn’t read any further. Knowing who had left him out in the cold would not make him feel any warmer.

He tested the microphone, which whirred and whistled a bit, causing some of the congregated to giggle, and then began to speak from his prepared text. He wasn’t even five words into his spiel when a hand was raised in the audience. He stopped, acknowledged the individual, and she posed, “Why were all the reporters out in the lobby?”

Another man sitting three rows in front of her threw a comment over his shoulder in her direction. “There was some sort of scandal in his hometown and they wanted to ask him about his involvement.”

Meningsbee stepped in, objecting. “It wasn’t a scandal. It was just people stuff, which they made scandalous.”

A fellow four or five rows over piped in. “Was it sex stuff?”

A lady all the way in the back responded, projecting her voice to cover the distance. “Yes. I think so.”

Meningsbee interrupted. “I’ve come here today to talk about innovation in the 21st century church.”

Yet another hand went up. Meningsbee reluctantly acknowledged the inquisitor.

“Did you use the scandal to advertise the church? That’s pretty innovative. You know what they say–there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

Meningsbee was lost. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know what to do.

All at once, another voice. Male, younger–strong.

“If you don’t mind, Reverend Meningsbee,” said the young man, standing to his feet, “I would like to tell them what you did. If you folks are not familiar with the work that is going on in Garsonville, I’ve been keeping up with it through reading the blogs about the movement in the town, and also I have a cousin who lives there who fills me in on all the adventures.

“This gentleman, Reverend Meningsbee, wrote a book called ‘The Jesus Church.’ If you’ve never read it, you should. I know people always say that. In this case, it’s true. Basically, it asks the question, ‘What kind of church would Jesus run if Jesus was in the church running business?'”

People chuckled.

“So,” the young man continued, “the Reverend came to be a pastor in Garsonville, to see if he and the folks there can get together and form…well, I guess ‘form a more perfect union.’ But anyway, let me shut up, and let the parson tell us the whole story.”

The young man sat down, leaned back, crossed his legs and prepared to listen. The other people in the hall noted his position and followed suit.

Meningsbee was able to finish his speech. Afterward, he quickly found the young man, and thanked him for his kindness.

He replied, “Oh, you were fine. You didn’t need me. My dad used to tell me, ‘always travel with a little bit of grease, because most of the time you won’t be the wheel, but lots of times the wheel will need the grease.'”

Meningsbee found out that the young man’s name was Carl–Carl Ramenstein. He was a student at the Illinois Theological Seminary and was due to graduate in May.

“Come and see us,” said Meningsbee.

Carl smiled. “Why?”

The question took Meningsbee by surprise. He was just trying to be polite, but now the astute young man was calling him on it.

“Good question,” responded Meningsbee. “I guess because you’re young, good-looking, level-headed, humble and the Kingdom of God certainly wouldn’t suffer under your efforts.”

Carl feigned surprise. “Are you offering me a job?”

“No, no,” said Meningsbee. “Stale Danish, weak coffee–that’s our offer.”

Carl laughed, paused and considered. He reached out to shake the pastor’s hand, saying, “Well, I’ll tell you what. If I ever need stale Danish and coffee, you’ll be the first place I go.”

They shared a laugh. Meningsbee couldn’t help but be grateful for the intervention of the stranger.

Now all he had to do was figure out how to get out of Ballroom Three without seeing Katrina again. 

 

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Reverend Meningsbee (Part 41) There’s Always a Space … February 12th, 2017

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Reverend Meningsbee

When Meningsbee’s wife, Doris, died, a minister friend counseled him to take some time and give himself the luxury of grieving.

So for six months, Richard permitted his heart, soul and mind to reminisce and dream delightful thoughts about his dear friend, Doris.

There seemed to be a healing. It got a little easier to consider her gone, though there was never any real “ease” in the notion.

After the six-month grieving period, Meningsbee decided to reenter his life of writing and pastoring, only to discover that the emotional stitching he had done on his internals busted loose, and he was flooded with a deluge of remorse.

He thought he was crazy. He even thought he heard Doris moving about the kitchen.

Sitting at breakfast, his mind wandered. He saw her perched in the chair across from him, with her feet tucked up under her butt, with her long, graceful fingers caressing a coffee cup–closing them around the handle, bringing it to her lips, sipping slowly and then giving a seductive little contented shiver. It was so beautiful.

Her peace of mind made him feel like a man.

Even one Sunday at church, during a communion service, his eyes filled with tears. The congregation thought he was moved by the experience with the Holy Meal, but actually it was the scent of the communion wine that brought a memory of a green lotion Doris once applied to her feet–to heal her corns. He giggled inside, remembering her smearing the fluid on her feet and quipping, “I was a girl. Now apparently I’m going to become a grandma with corny feet, and completely skip woman.”

Then, three weeks ago Matrisse’s sister from Chicago came to town, and a blind date of sorts was planned. She was an extraordinarily attractive woman–intelligent and the general manager of a corporation in the Windy City. But because she was just coming off a divorce, she ended up discussing her misgivings and in no time Meningsbee found himself counseling and consoling her instead of considering her. The movie was cancelled and she expressed her gratitude for his words of wisdom with a peck on the cheek.

Meningsbee realized there’s no such thing as “getting over” someone you loved.

There’s always a space–always something they did that was so unique that it couldn’t be duplicated by the actions of another.

Exactly three days before she passed away, Doris rose in the morning after they’d had a fussy tiff with each other the night before, bounced into the room, hugged his neck and said, “Reverend Richard Meningsbee, you are my favorite annoyance.”

How can you forget that?

Somewhere along the line, the preacher just decided to stop fighting the urges to love her.

People are not replaceable–we just learn to appreciate what other people have to offer.

There’s always a space–a space forever occupied with visions of Doris.

 

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Ask Jonathots … December 22nd, 2016

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Do you think there’s a need for saying “Happy Holidays” as opposed to “Merry Christmas?”

Mary and Russell were my parents, and when they birthed me they named me Jonathan Richard Cring.

I had an uncle who immediately dubbed me “Johnny.”

One of my older brothers called me “Rock.”

Aunt Mary thought I was better suited to “Little Jon.”

I had one friend, Mack, who always enjoyed referring to me as “J.”

Many, many friends rejoiced over proclaiming me “Big Jon.”

One business associate in Nashville, Tennessee, recognized me as “J. R.”

And of course, countless folks have shortened my Jonathan to just Jon.

At no time during all these transitions did I lose my identity, nor fail to respond to a beckoning.

Likewise, Christmas does not lose any of its impetus by being referred to as “Happy Holidays”–especially when you consider that the word “holiday” is an Old English version of “Holy Day.”

Jesus is not diminished by “Season’s Greetings,” since he is the “reason for the season.”

And even the tiny handful who might call the occasion “Winter Solstice” are still surrounded by innumerable manger scenes dusted by snow.

Yes–the critics are outnumbered.

Sixteen million Jews worldwide may celebrate Hanukkah and twenty million African-Americans may honor Kwanza, but two-and-a-half billion people over the Earth worship the Baby of Bethlehem.

It’s not even close.

And when we become defensive over the terminology of Christmas, we miss the whole point of the message of “Peace on Earth, good will toward men.”

We fail to recognize that Jesus, himself, said “those who are not against us are for us.”

So a Jewish family which lights a candle, and a family in the inner city of Chicago which dresses in African garb and jubilantly trumpets the celebration are certainly not against the Christ child.

Jesus was not defensive.

Jesus did not insist on silencing those who had different opinions, but rather, welcomed questioning.

So I will tell you, it doesn’t matter what people say to me–what I hear is “Merry Christmas.”

And may I point out–it is impossible to hide, disguise, obliterate or even marginalize the effects of that one solitary life which changed the dynamics of the planet–whose birth even set time in motion.

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Jesonian: Reverend Meningsbee (Part 9) Tongue Depressor … June 26th, 2016

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Reverend Meningsbee

Monday morning was no better.

Before noon, Meningsbee succeeded in offending three well-meaning souls.

Coming back from the church service on Sunday in a growling mood, he had tossed and turned all night, failing to get enough sleep. So when he was awakened at 8:45 A. M. by the phone, he was barely able to eek out a respectable “hello.”

The call came from Pastor Mickey Jiles from the Pentecostal Assembly Church just down the road. Mickey explained that he had awakened “concerned for his brother” after the events of the past week, and wanted to let him know that “prayers were going forth” and “if he needed anything at all, just give a buzz.”

Meningsbee was in no mood for generosity. He managed a curt, “Thank you, but I’m fine,” and hung up–wondering if Pastor Jiles felt the conversation was over.

In the midst of Meningsbee trying to don his socks, there was a knock at the door. It was young Danny, the paper-boy, who came to collect for newspaper deliveries. Suddenly Meningsbee found himself in a squabble with the fine lad over a price hike that had come from the big city without asking Danny’s permission.

Meningsbee begrudgingly paid the extra money as he slammed the door.

Then, somewhere in the midst of a bite of burnt toast, the phone rang again and it was his good friend from Chicago, calling to see how he was doing and how the great experiment was coming along. Meningsbee lied and said he was on his way out the door and would call back later. The sweet old chum remained jovial, but sensed there was some difficulty.

Tuesday was not much better, and Wednesday threatened to get worse. By Thursday, Meningsbee felt it was best that he not interact with any human for fear that he would generate emotional devastation.

So when Sunday rolled around and it was time to go to the church, every “negative nagging ninnie” notion came to his mind as he drove to the sanctuary. He sat in his car, trying to get in a better mood.

The transformation was aided by the fact that there was a pretty good turnout. With his professional pastoral “car-counting ability,” he judged that most of the folks who last week made the benevolent journey to the other congregation had made their way back to the flock.

It should have put him in a good mood, but it didn’t.

So it was time to fall back on his training. How should a good pastor act?

He took three deep breaths, emerged from his car and proceeded into the building.

He forced a smile.

He portrayed himself as jovial.

He hugged a couple of children.

In so doing he became a little too loud, a bit boisterous, and although he had set a precedent for allowing the congregation to determine the tempo of the service, on this morning he stepped in to become the “leader of the worship.”

It was adequate. The average person sitting in the pew possibly didn’t sense anything different, but Meningsbee knew better. He had lost some innocence. What was once a passion for constructive change had now become a competition by a company man.

He was so angry. Or was it disappointment? Or was it a feeling that justice was not being provided?

He remained human just long enough to greet all those who came, and then, before the building was even emptied, he slipped away to his car, climbed in and sat for a moment, staring at the departing friends as tears filled his eyes.

It was a shitty day.

Yes, the word “shit” came from his lips.

Profanity had speckled his mind all week long, but had been held at bay by propriety.

Now it was unleashed.

What the hell was going on?

He started his car, backed up and headed out the exit. He turned right, pointing his vehicle northward, and just started driving.

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Untotaled: Stepping 58 (Later That Same Night) Did I say no? What I meant was … March 14, 2015

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(Transcript)

So…

I invited my startled, shocked, surprised, nervous, worried, shattered, partially giddy and apprehensive girlfriend over to my motel room that night to share a pizza and discuss our dilemma.

Of course, being teenagers, the first thing we did in a motel room was ravage one another, unleashing the frustration of a five-week absence.

After the brief and awkward romantic encounter was over and the pizza was delivered, we sat and munched on Italian delight, discussing our Middle-American quandary.

Her situation was simple. Obviously, if she had wanted to return to a relationship and marriage, she would probably have found a way to fly back to Ohio to be with me.

She had naturally been wooed from such a committment by the fact that her parents had moved to a bungalow next to the ocean in Guaymas Sonora, Mexico, thirty paces from walking on the beach, and they had thoroughly excited her about being a freshman at the University of Arizona.

Somewhere in the midst of her enthusiasm, she had left two realities out of her thinking: the baby that continued to grow within her loins, and me, who had been the visitor to the same.

Even though the conversation I had with this girlfriend was very tender, fruitful and never escalated to anger, by the end of the evening she candidly shared that she would not return with me. There was just too much to leave behind.

I placed her in a taxi (which she had to pay for) and she was off and away.

As far as I knew, that was the end of it.

I didn’t sleep much that night. Mine was not merely the turmoil of a forsaken lover, but also the annoying prospect of trying to figure out how I was going to get a fifty dollar ticket to return to Columbus, Ohio, and what I was going to do when I arrived, since I had missed the opportunity to sign up for college in the fall.

It was the shortest night of my life because my brain moved at hyper-speed, and before I knew, it was six o’clock in the morning, and I was in desperate need for a plan to get from my motel room, to the airport, and back to my normal surroundings.

Yet I decided to call her one last time.

  • Was it to say good-bye?
  • Was it to ask her if she might reconsider?

Well, I got very little out of my mouth during the phone conversation before she explained that her new girlfriends at the dormitory had been talking to her all night about her decision. One of the young ladies had developed a tremendous dislike for my girlfriend’s father because of how rude he was when he called the dorm, looking for his errant daughter.

These young ladies thought she was a fool for walking away from love to merely study such encounters in books at the university.

So my girlfriend changed her mind.

She said she had packed her bag, would hop a taxi, and be there in less than an hour. She actually arrived. I was a little surprised, considering her history of missing appointments.

When she arrived, she showed me a checkbook her father had given her for college, with a balance of $750.

My dear God, I had never seen $750. We were starting off our journey wealthy.

With that money we were able to purchase our standby tickets and enjoy a swordfish dinner at a fancy restaurant during our Chicago lay-over. We landed in Columbus feeling like Romeo and Juliet, without being dead.

We were certainly not ready for what happened next…

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