Good News and Better News… March 27th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3259)

In the midst of the morning prayer at the First United Methodist Church in Port Saint John, Florida, I peeked from my bowed-head position out at the congregation. It was a small gathering.

The church as a whole has been losing folks over the past few years. We could probably do a whole article on that subject, but let’s just work on the basis that there is an “exodus of the chosen people.”

So the denominations step in–Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists, Pentecostals and the like–and offer their remedies to try to plug the dike of leaking souls. The answers they come up with are rehashing of former traditions or speculation on how better to use social media.

What they fail to consider is that church is dying because the reason for church has been crucified.

  • Church is for people.
  • People are the church.

When the church does not relate to people, but instead, makes some arrogant attempt to reach God through vain repetition, then people run away to brighter prospects for encouragement and a chance to access their better selves.

People often ask me if I am anti-church. Quite the contrary. I think church is our last bastion of hope to retrieve community among all living creatures.

It’s just that we need to be willing, for a season, to be awkward.

We don’t know what we’re doing.

We don’t know how to reach people.

And we certainly cannot figure out a way to escape our vague practices to translate them into real “soul food” for the everyday consumption of our brothers and sisters.

And for those who have left the church–citing hypocrisy, boredom, indiscretions and scandals–I must say to them: well, it certainly doesn’t bother you that your politicians, your entertainers and your movie stars are riddled with unholiness.

We need people who feel awkward about returning to church to join with those who are awkward about being in church, to laugh and cry their way about coming to church.

Folks, it’s gonna be ugly.

But yesterday morning I watched beautiful, insightful, gentle human beings come together with two strangers and create fellowship in an inspired, clumsy way.

It made me cry–it can be done. But we need to get our heads out of religion and our eyes on the prize of finding new ways to love one another and repent of our foolishness without shame.

The good news? It’s just like when we were learning to date in high school and survived our feeble attempts, to eventually end up in a relationship.

The better news is that if we stop trying to be godly, and just start looking for the goodness that has been placed around us, we literally can become a community of faith that “comes, communes and creates unity.”

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Middlin’ … September 14, 2013

Jonathots Daily Blog

(2005)

last night bowI was sitting in the left lane on my drive over to Chesterfield, Michigan last night to share at Grace United Methodist Church, backed up behind a bunch of cars, wondering why someone had created a light that only stayed green to give enough time for three cars to turn. It was a curiosity.

I also watched carefully as some cars passed me, trying to get further up in line and stick their noses in to make greater progress. I felt my human ire rise over their presumption. And then I realized that I had departed in plenty of time, that I wasn’t any better than anybody else and that everyone was having to wait their turn–and though I saw a number of cars in front of me, when I looked behind me, I saw there were even more cars to my rear.

I was in the middle.

That’s where we spend most of our time. Usually we don’t win the race; we’re not first place. Fortunately, we’re usually not in last place, either.last night crowd

We spend most of our lives … middlin’.

If we would learn to enjoy that, deal with it and find great comfort in being surrounded by fellow “middlers,” we might just end up becoming more pleasant and easier to get along with. But we live in a society that pushes us to be first place and tells us to cover up our mistakes if we end up being the caboose.

So we never enjoy where we are.

I’ve had a fantastic week, meeting amazing people. It’s been my great excitement to write jonathots to you everyday.

Yet yesterday a friend of mine asked what I planned to do to expand my work. You see, friends are not always friendly. They think they’re being ingenious when they pipe out the last night wind machine upsentiments of our culture, which basically tells us that “we’re all good” while simultaneously applauding only those who gain notoriety. Here are the two things I know to do:

1. Find a place where you can do what you’ve been called to do, perform it excellently, don’t hurt anybody else and relish the people around you.

2. Don’t be afraid to try something new if it comes your way–but don’t be frustrated if beautiful things continue to happen, yet they don’t seem to be terribly expansive.

There you go.

Tomorrow I go to First United Methodist Church in Mount Clemens. It isn’t, by the way–I mean it isn’t the first United Methodist Church ever, and it certainly won’t be the last. The truth of the matter is, it’s the Middlin’ United Methodist Church, filled with middlin’ people, who will have great lives if they learn to enjoy their surroundings and the folks standing next to them … as they wait for their turn in the road.

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Austin Without Limits … July 13, 2013

Jonathots Daily Blog

(1942)

First United Methodist Church BuildingThe population is 24,834.

Truthfully, I must apologize to the 24,684 people in Austin, Minnesota that I will not be able to communicate with tomorrow morning, simply because I have not been creative enough to find a way into their lives in a realistic form which would reach into their homes instead of asking them to come out to the first United Methodist Church to peer at me.

I do not begrudge them their privacy. I am not critical of their position of needing to be elsewhere. I think it falls my lot, as the person driving the wagon, to find a way to deliver the goods.

I have decided to be on the road, which does make it much easier to find Austin, Minnesota, instead of checking the itinerary of a major airline, thinking they might have a terminal in the burg. Yes, it’s best to motor into Austin.

And I have taken some time to learn a bit about the city. It is the home to a large Hormel plant, which specializes in making spam. I have eaten spam. I like spam. Spam is a lot like me–it’s a bunch of pork products with gristle, held together with fat. I have an affinity for the little square.spam

Candidly, I’ve heard there are those who are not sentimental about this canned delicacy, but that’s because they haven’t fried it up in the skillet with some over-easy eggs and a tiny bit of maple syrup on top.

Maybe that’s the whole key to everythinghow we serve it.

And it is my full intention to serve the good folks of Austin tomorrow instead of arriving there requiring service.

It was Jesus who made that brilliant point. I think he realized there would be an awful lot of people in life who would arrive needy and greedy instead of ready and steady.

So it’s my job to have most of my hang-ups out of the way, my expectations low enough that the folks of FUMC Austin can exceed them, and to have my ABCs in place:

A. Accept the job. These folks will not immediately embrace me as a long-lost cousin from Birmingham. They’ll probably sit at a distance on the back pews and leer at me, waiting for me to do something worthy of their consideration. That’s just part of the job. Folks don’t owe us props. But it sure is nice when they give us a chance to open up our traveling trunk and display our wares.

B. Be humble. Now, here’s what I think about humble: humble really doesn’t mean a whole lot if you end up doing a crappy job. Humble is good when most people think you might have a right to be conceited, but instead, you choose to be simpler, gentler and friendlier.

C. And finally, care as you share. After all, ministering to people is not giving a speech. It’s using as few words as you possibly can to let them know what you believe, so if they have a need, they can open up their hearts and inform you where it hurts. How do we care? I think the best way to let people know you care is to tell them what you’ve seen and heard, and freely admit you haven’t seen and heard everything.

I am looking forward to being in Austin in the morning. Matter of fact, they’ve invited me back to do something in the evening, and the audience that gathers for that particular excursion will be based upon how well I displayed my ABCs in the morning.

All I can say is, I hope they receive my message … and I don’t end up in spam.

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Please contact Jonathan’s agent, Jackie Barnett, at (615) 481-1474, for information about personal appearances or scheduling an event

From My Mouth to Monmouth… June 30, 2013

(1928)

mouthDo you know what the worst part of public speaking is?

Talking.

I don’t mean that it’s “difficult to share in front of an audience.” I just think it’s really presumptuous and sometimes arrogant to think that anybody should actually listen to me. Sometimes I get bored listening to myself.

Every once in a while I start the second verse of a song and wish it was over because I’m sure I’ve taken too much of the congregation’s time.

Some people just like to hear themselves yak. I’m not one of them.

Other folks like to pontificate for hours on a subject, to share their great wealth of knowledge. I can pretty well empty my bucket in a couple of minutes.

So as I head off to Monmouth, Illinois, tomorrow morning to be with the wonderful human beings at the First United Methodist Church, I set a standards. If I am going to open my monmouthmouth to spit out some words and ideas, I want to make sure they are:

  • accurate
  • real
  • and maybe, by some miracle, resemble the truth.

Accurate is the easy one. That just means I need to tell everyone the facts about myself without trying to pump them up with air, smoke or project them into mirrors. It’s not like anyone will be more impressed if I lie. But it is a part of our human race to want to make ourselves look better than we are. I think I owe it to those who hear me to give them something that lands in their ears that rings of honesty.

Then–being real. I like that one too. Being real is a decision to admit that you live in the present, aren’t trying to bring back the past or thrust everybody too far ahead into the future. Real is where we are right now–without apology. Real means that we’re all getting used to a bunch of stuff we never thought we would have to deal with. But now it’s here, so we’re doing our best to stay loving, while we also attempt to maintain a bit of personal conviction. It’s not easy. Some people think it’s 1950 and other folks are pretending we’re using flying cars and spending the weekend on the moon. Neither situation is true. We’re here now and we need to deal with the now because it’s our daily bread.

Then finally, there’s that thing called truth. Truth is that idea that God knows, which He only lets us discover a crumb or two at a time, lest we become so prideful with our understanding that we thump others with our beliefs.

Truth is what comes out at the end of a performance when I have been accurate and we’ve all been real. Then God in His mercy grants us a brief glimpse into His gentle heart and His wise soul. We are probably not worthy to spend too much time there, but even a short tour can be quite thrilling.

So I already apologize to the people of Monmouth for the fact that I have to open my mouth. I will be concise, joyous, entertaining and inspirational–at least as much as I know how.

I will be accurate in personal data, real to the time that God has called me to, and will humbly sit back with the rest of you, to see if some truth doesn’t spring forth.

It should be fun. That is … if I don’t get too gabby.

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******

 Jonathots, Jr.!

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A New Trinity… March 22, 2013

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Trinity First UMC

The three men I admire the most

The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost

Lyrics from American Pie, written by Don McLean. I doubt if too many people remember it, but every time I hear the tune I get tickled by that passage.

The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit have been really good to me–mainly because I have escaped the futility of looking at them as religious icons and instead, have taken them into my heart.

My Father created me, was there at my conception and promises to stay with me until the end.

Jesus, the Son, is my elder brother, who’s gone before me and knows where all the pitfalls may be, and graciously has taught me how to avoid them and live successfully.

And the Holy Spirit, as promised, is a comfort to my soul, and gently nudges me, reminding me of the beauty of the message which gives me hope.

But as I said, there are those who have taken this Holy Trinity and used it for their own agenda or made it just some sort of repetition of worship that is visited once a week at the great museum of spirituality. Too bad.

You see, I find myself headed this weekend to Trinity, Texas, population 2,712 delightful souls, whose main industry is attempting to stay industrious in this tepid economy. I’ll be sharing over there Sunday morning, at the First United Methodist Church, with Pastor Russ and all the good souls.

I’m sure they believe in the Trinity–but I will be gently informing them that the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost needs to be translated more simply to our generation, which is quite reliant on visual aids to understand great concepts.

Truthfully, placed gently somewhere between Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore is the conscience and spirit of the United States of America. Most folks are not hyper-liberal OR conservative. Honestly, most of us are not righteous Republicans or determined Democrats. We are people, trying to do our best. And if we’re not trying to do our best, we at least are trying to remember what the best looked like when people were actually doing it.

So along with teaching the doctrines of the Bible and the beauty of the original Trinity, we should be aware that the average person is in need of a new Trinity.

Yes, the Father they need to see is a church in the middle of town that is a welcoming center for the children of earth. All of us know there are different types of fathers. There are grumpy fathers, who scream if the children run too loudly through the house. There are cheap fathers, who turn off every light when they walk through the home, frowning at everybody for using too much electricity. And then there are those young fathers, who like to giggle, run and play–and make their children feel loved while they push them in the swing or play a game of tag in the yard. Dare I say, I believe we might err in presenting too grouchy of a God?

So I will tell those good folks in Trinity this weekend that the house they’ve built to welcome the spirit of God should be a friendly place, where the people of the community can come and see their Daddy instead of being on a weekend visitation with their estranged Father who has divorced Mother Earth and reluctantly pays child support. Yes, the church at 131 North Elm Street in Trinity, Texas, needs to be a beautiful home for Daddy, where all of His children are welcome.

And when they get there and they feel comfortable in the presence of the Father, in His house, they should be able to see the Son. Not just hear about him through the parables and tales of the Bible, but they should see Jesus in the eyes of the congregation. It is why Jesus said that “greater things would we do” because he goes to the Father. He said we are “the light of the world”–and we are supposed to grow to “the fullness of the measure of his stature.”

No matter how good you teach the New Testament, people will believe that the Jesus you share is the Jesus you live.

And then, the Holy Spirit, which should fill that house of the Father, should be a warm blanket of mercy. Mercy is easy for me–it’s when I remember how much I am in need of grace before I ever start doling out judgment. The Holy Spirit, to our generation, is mercy. It’s what our people need. They are being bombarded with ideas and emotions from all sides, when what they require is a moment of peace and sanity, so they can hear the still small voice within them talk some sense.

So as I head off to be with Pastor Russ and all the gang in Trinity, I will tell them that they have the opportunity to present a new Trinity:

  • a Father who lives in the house they’ve built on Elm Street, who is more of a Daddy than a detached bread-winner;
  • a Son who is well-represented by a gathering of believers, who still think it’s important to live out the Golden Rule instead of just storing the gold in a safe somewhere;
  • and a Holy Spirit that leads with mercy, because each and every one of us sitting in the pews know that we need mercy ourselves.

If you add onto that a simple message–for instance, I recommend “NoOne is better than anyone else”–you would be surprised at how many folks will be drawn to such a sanctuary of hope.

The Father is God’s house located, in this case, on Elm Street.

The Son is Pastor Russ and all the good members of the church.

The Holy Spirit is the mercy we feel for those around us.

And the message is NoOne is better than anyone else.

We’ll be there on Sunday. We’ll be honoring the original Trinity of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, while also presenting our new “visual aid”–us.

I‘m looking forward to it.

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May I introduce to you … November 23, 2012

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I hate my job … in a loving way.

I love my job, although sometimes it aggravates the hell out of me.

You can probably tell from these two statements that I’m a bit conflicted. But the conflict is very necessary in order for me to be successful, fruitful and relevant to my times.

This morning, I would like to introduce you to Jesus. Now, this is a name that evokes  everything from a collective yawn to a congregational cheer. But in a season in our world when we need direction and wisdom grounded in common sense and an eye on history, to most hearers, the name “Jesus” conjures images of crosses, wooden pews and starched, white collars.

Thus my aggravation.

On the other hand, I open up the life and times of this exciting adventurer, and I uncover not merely the spiritual energy of my Creator, but also the flesh, bone and true essence of what human life was abundantly intended to be.

Therefore my joy and love.

How am I supposed to communicate to a world determined to separate everything into boxes labeled A and B?  Yet the power and pungency of a human life lived two thousand years ago does bear consideration in our twitter world.

Let me make three things clear to you as I introduce you to the real Jesus. You may be able to find exceptions to what I share because you’re desperate to maintain your theology or your atheism, but the general consensus of the information provided will contradict your meager holdings. In other words, it’s pretty obvious that Abraham Lincoln had a beard, even though I’m sure you could find someone who would promote the idea that he glued it on every morning.

There are three things that are not only obvious about Jesus, but also important because they are human-friendly and therefore, God-ordained.

1. Jesus hated religion. Just to keep all things fair, religion hated him right back. It was not the Romans, the constables, the tax collectors or the whores who nailed him to the cross. It was the First United Methodist Church in cooperation with the Southern Baptists, who for the first time, had a joint resolution to do something in correlation with one another by ridding themselves of a teaching and infestation that would eventually rob their ranks of parishioners and also steal money from their coffers. Got it?

You may ask what Jesus hated about religion. The answer to that is simple: religion always makes faith about reaching God instead of about God reaching people. There you go. If you’re presently in some sort of doctrinal quagmire, constantly trying to figure out what is pleasing to God, you are in religion, you will live in confusion and you will die in ambiguity. The purpose of faith is to make everything heavenly earthly so that while we are here, we have a working plan, and when we finally are NOT here anymore, God can “surprise the heaven into us.”

2. Jesus taught that humans are heart, soul, mind and strength. If you are attending a church which insists that we are body, soul and spirit, you are pursuing a line of thinking that has no line. Because placing the emotions and the brain in the same container and believing they are able to work together without having a buffer between them consisting of some sort of conciliatory force is absolutely ridiculous. Here’s the truth: I FEEL and I THINK. Those two things normally HATE each other. If there were not a spirit between them negotiating deals, we would live in a world of total confusion, war, political upheaval, financial disaster, anger and inequality. Wait a second…! We do. Could something as simple as a misunderstanding over our nature bring about such devastation?? Absolutely. Jesus came to teach us that out of our heart we speak. So if we don’t keep our hearts pure and understand our motives, recognizing our emotions, we are still going to jabber off things we don’t want to say at the wrong moment, and end up pissing off everyone in the room. That’s why we receive in the heart and we take it to our spirit. And what is our spirit? Our spirit is the place where what we’ve experienced and what we believe sit down and negotiate peace with one another. It is only the spirit that can renew the mind and teach the brain something new–which then gives our body an opportunity to become excited about living again.

3. NoOne is better than anyone else. Jesus lived in a time when the Romans thought they were gods, the Greeks were so confident in their intellectualism that they believed that molesting children was permissible, and the Jews were absolutely convinced that they were the “chosen dudes of God.” This is not exactly the formula for the possibility for a great “mixer.” Jesus broke the curse. Jesus told us that Hamas is not better than Israel. Jesus told us that Japan is not superior to China. And Jesus told us that the United States is not the God beacon and favorite over Russia.

So you can see that I am not a religious man because I really love God and I like the heft of a good hymn book in my hand. I have become a follower of Jesus because I am a true environmentalist, I am a true patriot, I am a true believer, I am a true humanist, I am a true internationalist, I am a true man, I am a true woman–and most of all, I am a true human. This is the only philosophy ever offered that affords me the ability to be all of these without trying to eliminate the competition.

So let me introduce you to Jesus. If you don’t mind, I’ll have to pull him down from the cross where you have placed him in storage. If it doesn’t offend you too much, I will have to tear up his papers of being “only a Jew.” And if you will not crucify me, I will have to let you know that he doesn’t think Americans are “the best.”

If you’re interested in him, you might want to continue to read my column from time to time because I will speak to you of his escapades. If you found something in this essay to be distasteful, disrespectful or unrighteous, I recommend the pabulum from any one of a number of denominations which also offer blogs on their take on the notorious Nazarene.

It’s just that I am angry enough that I am ready to release my love without apology, to unleash the spirit once again of Jesus of Nazareth, whom I believe has earned his “stripes” to be the Son of God.

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