PoHymn: A Rustling in the Stagnant … June 29th, 2016

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Patchwork

Patchwork

Oh say, can you see

My country ’tis of thee

Come on, give peace a chance

Disco, tango, square dance

Black, white, red, yellow

Hostile, hippie, hyper, mellow

And the rocket’s red glare

Yet please don’t stop and stare

Brown, tan, beige or pink

Freedom to share what you think

I pledge allegiance to the flag

Redneck, negro, chick or fag

Check your gun with the attendant

So to honor the Second Amendment

All men are created equal

Say it again, we need the sequel

To the oceans, white with foam

Where the deer and antelope freely roam

Go to war, stop the war

Open the gates, slam the door

We don’t care where you piss

Just be kind and never miss

North, south, east and west

Take your pick, which one’s the best?

Yankee Doodle, make your strudel

Uncle Sam, carve the ham

MLK, what do you say?

Crazy Horse, with no remorse

Buy a slave, all the rave

All men free–better, you see

America is a melting pot

So humbly bring what you’ve got.

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PoHymn: A Rustling in the Stagnant

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My Favorite Jim… May 17, 2012

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In the late winter and early spring of 1980, I found myself in a recording studio, spending one hundred hours laying down the tracks for a Broadway-style musical I had written called Mountain. It was the Sermon on the Mount, set to music. Even though the tunefulness of it gained much appreciation and buzz, my expertise in putting together such a monumental project was based more on presumption than actual knowledge.

So I was quite grateful when two friends came to join me in the process, to enlightened me where I was in darkness and give energy to my bulb of inspiration. It happened that both of them were named Jim. One of them was a pastor of a church who looked like a male model and had a burning passion to share the gospel, but also a secondary agenda of trying to remove all pornography from our community. The other Jim was an entertainment promoter with a delightful sense of humor, an interest in the gospel’s ability to enhance the brotherhood of man, with a very private lifestyle which he rarely shared with anyone. (To avoid confusion, let me call the minister “P. Jim”–for either Preacher or Pastor.)

P. Jim was an interesting blend of rock and roll with rock of ages. We don’t have many people like him around nowadays–because the sixties and the Jesus movement made him desirous of being open-minded, even though his theology sometimes wanted to “corral” that horse sense. Jim, on the other hand, grew up in a very religious home and was doing his very best to distance himself from such godly frugality.

Both of them came to planning sessions for the work on Mountain.  P. Jim would usually steer the conversations towards evangelism and the potential the musical had to “reach the lost.” And Jim nodded his head as he sat with a pencil, adding up how much this proposed evangelism was going to cost. The combination was perfect. I got to play the part of the artist who was not concerned with mere Bible verses nor touched by the insensitivity of money matters. The project was finished, the results were amazing, the casting was completed and two debut performances were scheduled–when a problem arose.

P. Jim called me out to a local restaurant for a cup of coffee. He was nearly in tears. He had found out through the spiritual sour-grape line that our other Jim was a homosexual. (If I may take a moment, this was a time in our country when there was no such thing as “gay.” Those of the more generous inclination in the heterosexual community referred to the “others”  outside their righteous world as homosexuals. If they were NOT generous, the words “queer” and “faggot” fell off their lips.)

P. Jim was a generous soul–but he was certain that he would not be able to continue his support for the Mountain project if Jim was going to be involved. He finished his speech, dried his eyes with a napkin and looked at me, waiting for my response.

I said, “Is that it?” He nodded.

“Okay,” I replied. I got up and started to walk out of the restaurant. Shocked, he grabbed my arm and pulled me back into the booth. He wanted to know what I was going to do.

I said, “Well, I guess I’m going to figure out how to do this project without your support.”

P. Jim was bewildered. No–beyond bewilderment. Actually, he was doubly baffled–first, that I was ignoring the potential judgment of God on our endeavor by allowing this sodomist to continue to participate. And secondly, he was bruised that I felt that he could so easily be cast away without it making any difference.

I explained my feelings. I wanted to have both of them. I wanted to have P. Jim, with his passion for God and love for humanity, and Jim, with his knowledge of the business and ability to raise funds so that the idea could get off the drawing board and into construction. But if P. Jim was going to make an issue over something that was really none of my business in the first place, I would go find the spiritual passion elsewhere and stay with what was working.

To say that P. Jim was flabbergasted would be the classic understatement. He began to throw scriptures at me–and I had a parcel of my own. Scripturally, we came to a dead-even draw. He tried to intimidate me with what would happen when people found out there was a homosexual involved in the planning. I told him it was America. There was no such thing as bad publicity, just ways to further entice people to come out to appease their curiosity. P. Jim wondered how I could do a mission on the Sermon on the Mount while still promoting evil.

I said, “Jim whether it’s evil is for God to decide when He finally closes the door on this little pawn shop of earth He’s put together. I know two things–I don’t have the right to judge and God looks on the heart and not the outward appearance. And Reverend Jim, our mutual friend, Jim, has more heart for this project that maybe the both of us put together.”

P. Jim frowned. He told me he would go think about it. Honestly, I never expected to hear from him again. And if you moved ahead thirty years in time, that WOULD have been the end of P. Jim’s involvement in my life. But you see, P. Jim grew up during the Civil Rights era, Viet Nam, Watergate, Woodstock and disco. His brain was not buried in cement, but rather, sloshing around in the quagmire of a Biblical swamp.

About five hours later, my phone rang and it was P. Jim. (I had already told Jim that we were going to lose the pastor and his church. Jim was devastated by the news and offered to resign. I explained to him that I wouldn’t have made a stand just so I could lose BOTH of them.) But anyway, back to my phone call, as I said, it was P. Jim. He was once again in tears. He apologized for interfering in the progress of what was truly an inspirational notion to bicker over the finer parts of religious law. He told me that if I had a belief in Jim, then he had the faith to stand behind my belief.

We had an amazing premiere, with P. Jim and gay Jim standing backstage together, applauding and hugging.

I lost contact with these two fellows shortly after that. I heard that P. Jim’s church eventually shut down and the porn stores he had been trying to get rid of in the community not only didn’t fold, but multiplied. Jim left the entertainment field and returned to a more normal life, becoming an accountant and a man discovering more about his identity.

But I will never forget that season, when the preference of two individuals–one for and one against–was set aside to pursue common passion.

Well, I entitled this particular essay My Favorite Jim, so you might ask, which one IS my favorite Jim? To answer that, I think I’ll fall back on the wisdom of Jesus. “Anyone who does the will of my Father …”

 

   

 

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Click, click, click… May 5, 2012

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Possibly nothing is more terrifying than knowing about trouble that might happen, probably won’t, but doesn’t seem to want to go away.

It was 1990 and I was traveling with my family in California. We were in the Sierras, scheduled in the town of Lone Pine. Now, to get to Lone Pine you first had to drive to Nowhere, take a sharp left turn into the forest, drive about eight miles through the underbrush, and then all at once–you’re there.

Our means of transportation in that season was a 1977 silver Mercury Cougar pulling a travel trailer which had given up the will to live years earlier. We had decided to resurrect it from the tomb, reverently believing it was our savior.One of the more bizarre aspects of this particular trailer was its lighting system. There was a series of little wires which looked like disconnected arteries desperately pleading for a heart, which had to be strategically placed in the correct holes to make sure that when we put on our brakes or turn signals, the people behind us could be aware of our transitions. It was a hit-or-miss project.On days when the lighting actually worked well, like Viking warriors, we felt that the gods were with us. On those days when the lighting lost its sense of illumination, we were constantly nervous about all stops, turns and passing officers of the law.

One particular night, as we were leaving Lone PIne to head north, we were cruising along–my son Jerrod (then about fifteen) in the front next to me; my wife, Dollie, and oldest son, Jon Russ, and our little three-year-old, Jasson, in the back seat. Those in the rear had already fallen asleep. It was a moonless night, a little bit chilly. Suddenly our lights began to blink ferociously, accompanied by the horrific sound of a “click-click-click.” I immediately pulled the car over and asked Jerrod, who was in charge of the lights, to go back and work on them. He was a fine, industrious young man, so he leaped from the car, went back, opened the trunk–where the lights of the trailer connected to the car–and came back and said, “It all looks good, dad.”

And he was right. It was about twenty-two miles of “good.” Then, all at once, it began doing that startling “click-click-click” again. Pulling over, I decided I had better go back with him and check it out for myself. I reached in the glove compartment for my flashlight, and discovered that the batteries were dead. So I stepped out of the car into the chilly night air, and was immediately greeted by the mournful howling of a coyote. I cannot describe to you how disconcerting such a sound can be when the air is cold, the night is dark and you’re confronted by a problem that you have absolutely no idea how to address, let alone solve. I was not an electrician. My God, I didn’t even know an electrician.

So the two of us climbed into the dark trailer, crawled on our bellies to the back-end, where the lights went into the rear of the cab, and without being able to see anything, attempted to negotiate rewiring our system–ala Helen Keller. About that time, I looked out the rear window of the trailer and saw the shadow of red, flashing lights. We had apparently acquired the interest of a passing highway patrolman. I crawled out of the trailer and went back to talk to the policeman. I explained my situation and he offered us the use of his flashlight for a few minutes, which was very handy and enabled us to complete our best attempt of not knowing what we were doing.

Just as we were finishing up, he got an emergency call on his radio and he had to take off, wishing us well. As he left, my son and I walked slowly to our car, knowing that in short seconds we would know if our particular patchwork had actually “quilted” our lights together. There was the another call of the coyote as I climbed into the car, turned it on, and we flicked on the lights. They worked.

We rejoiced. Being the believing sorts that we were, we actually said a couple of “glory hallelujahs.” Our little praise session for divine inspiration lasted another twenty-five miles before “click-click-click” returned to taunt us, reminding us of our human ignorance and frailty.The true horror of the experience was that the interruption was intermittent. In other words, we could drive ten miles and the lights would be just fine, and then suddenly we were in the middle of a disco show.

We tried to pray. Let me tell you something about prayer. Prayer is a wonderful thing to do when you’ve been given an accurate diagnosis of a problem, the prognosis is clear and you are fully aware that any human effort is probably not going to meet the need. Yes. Ask God’s help. But ignorant prayer is often a plea for grace. And grace resembles mercy. And Jesus made it clear that mercy is only obtained by us if we’ve extended it to others. So it’s difficult in the middle of a dark night with flickering lights annoying your travel, to ask for mercy unless you’ve already been living a merciful life yourself.

We were fortunate. Although Jerrod attempted to slumber, periodically our car’s tribute to Saturday Night Fever went off with its “click-click-click,” awakening him with a start. We somehow survived the experience and made it to dawn, when, with a great sense of relief, I reached over and turned off the headlights, thus ending our ordeal.

At our next stop, we discovered that the problem had nothing to do with the trailer, the wiring, or anything beyond the front dashboard of the car. We had a bad light switch, which turned on the headlights.There was a short in it, so anything we could have done would have been meaningless.

It was a good experience. It taught me that the grace of God is often more valuable to me than the intervention of the divine. Because unless God was going to come down and heal my light switch, nothing was going to work. And honestly, if God’s going to heal something, it probably should be that little girl in a hospital somewhere in Alabama who’s dying of cancer instead of my ailing car part, don’t you think? Most of the time what I need is the mercy of God instead of having all my problems solved in one big explosion of blessing.

And receiving that mercy requires that I live a life of giving mercy to others. It’s a good deal. It’ll get you through the night–and keep you from being eaten by coyotes. 

  

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