Good News and Better News … September 21st, 2015

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(2699)

Tomah

Many years ago, I sensed a voice within me, encouraging me to go out and share my heart and abilities with the world. Some people would say it was the voice of God, while others would probably insist that it was just me, declaring my own bidding.

I don’t care.

I heeded the call, and that decision has taken me on an exotic adventure.

I was so proud. I finally got it right.

I spent the week misspelling the name of the town we were headed for our next gig. It was Tomah, Wisconsin, but I kept trying to move the “h” up next to the “t”–forming “Thoma.”

Try as I might, I apparently had placed a crease in my brain to prefer the premature h. But when I arrived in town and was jotting down a note or two for the upcoming presentation, I actually spelled it correctly.

Let me get back to that.

The people sent to greet us and assist us in setting up for the performance were Mary and Paul. Lovely folks.

You see, the key to hospitality is realizing that the quality of our being is not assessed on how well we treat ourselves or our families, but rather, on the profile we select in caring for strangers. (Strangers scare us. That’s why we emphasize it with the word “strange.”)

But Mary and Paul relaxed, so did we, and in no time at all it seemed like this was our eighth barbecue together instead of first conversation.

When it came time for Sunday morning, I arrived at a church whose pastor had recently suffered two strokes. I was saddened by this for a pair of reasons:

Number one, it is the responsibility of every human being to temporarily take on the pain of others to bring the reality to bear of the need for prayer.

Secondly, the lady who books us said that the pastor was a delightful, loving, giving and warm-hearted man. The Kingdom cannot afford to lose such a valuable creature.

In his stead was another fellow, who was formerly the pastor of the church, who kindly, gently and ably was filling in during the absence of the ailing shepherd.

How do I describe my experience with the Tomah people?

First and foremost, delightful. I do like people.

I like them when they’re difficult because it presents me with a challenge.

I like them when they’re easy because then I don’t have to survive a challenge and we can get to the business of just enjoying one another.

The two services were filled with great emotional moments. Emotion is our fuel:

  • If it’s a football game, we cheer.
  • If it’s a sudden burst of finance…well, we also cheer.
  • But if we’re in church and we realize how good our life is, how blessed we are, or how we were spared a disgrace or indignity, we tend to sit, bewildered by what to do.

You see, that brings me back to my situation with the spelling of Tomah. There apparently was some stubborn part of me that wanted Tomah to be spelled the way I proposed. Even though I was incorrect, I felt right enough to continue to be wrong without apology.

Yes, there was much good news at the Tomah church, but I can offer them better news, and here it is:

Blessing arrives in tiny bites which need to be appreciated, or you will never experience the satisfaction of a full meal.

Church was never intended to be a place where we come and tiptoe around, attempting to find the will of God.

After all, church is not for God. It’s for us.

It is a sanctuary.

It is a place where we come to escape debates, anger, shootings, frustration, foolishness, politics and threats that surround us all week long, in a world that seems determined to self-destruct.

We need a place where we can lounge in the confidence of the love of those around us, while celebrating the bites of truth that are gradually coming into the vision of our understanding.

So don’t tell me your denomination doesn’t get emotional when your denomination is filled with people–and people are emotional.

I don’t care how you do it. I don’t care what kind of music you use as background to your decision to feel.

But when you leave a church, you should sense that you’ve been uplifted and touched in your heart.

That’s what I tried to bring to Tomah. Were they listening? Well, honestly, that’s not my business.

Just like it was not my job to change how they spelled their town.

 

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Bink … September 15, 2013

Jonathots Daily Blog

(2007)

harleyHe came rolling up on a Harley Davidson motorcycle, dressed all in leather, with a black curly beard that lay on his chest as if it was resting from priestly duties. He climbed off, walked over, shook my hand and told me his name was Bink.

I was a little intimidated, so awkwardly, I asked him if Bink was short for anything. He explained it was the nickname his little nephew had given him because the tyke didn’t know how to say “bike” and instead, called him “Bink.” It was so cute and silly that I normally would have made fun of it, but looking at the motorcycle and the intimidating tattoos, I passed.

I began to wonder how I ended up with my two female cohorts at this particular gig. it was 1973 and I was only a couple of years out of high school. The dampness behind my ears was still drying. I had driven all the way to Detroit in my beat-up van, inserting a quart of oil every 100 miles ritualistically–just so the engine wouldn’t blow up.

The two girls with me didn’t know what to wear, so they each brought a prom dress for the occasion. Seeing Bink, I realized we were a bit overdressed. Matter of fact, some of the teenagers who were arriving for the evening bare-footed and in blue jeans began to peer at us and laugh.

Bink put an arm around me and led us inside, helping us set up our equipment. So when it came time for him to introduce us to his rather Bohemian brotherhood, he said the following:

“Listen, you scoundrels, I don’t want you laughing at these folks. They’ve come a long way to talk to us about Jesus. Maybe you don’t think they’re cool, but maybe you don’t know what God thinks is cool. So maybe you oughta just shut your mouths up, sit back and let your minds be blown. Because you know me–I’m Bink. And I’m tellin’ you … they’re beautiful dudes.”

With this, he held out his hand and welcomed us to come and do our thing. The gathering of young humans burst into applause, welcoming us. It was an amazing night–our girls in their prom dresses, hugging young women in the audience in hemp blouses, sporting long greasy hair.

I thought about that tonight as I made my way to Mount Clemens to set up for tomorrow’s gig. I thought about how civilized we think we have all become by finding compartments for every little piece of our lives, alienating off anything that doesn’t quite fit into the box.

I don’t know if a guy like Bink could exist today. Maybe he would be too specialized in his work and ministry to ever accept some fresh-faced novices from Ohio. But if that is the case, we’ve lost something.

And until we find it, we’re just a bunch of cynics on a fruitless search …  for an open-minded God.

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Quatrain of a Gig … August 6, 2013

Jonathots Daily Blog

(1967)

big equipment

Come prepared to shine

Shine believing in people

People rejoice with hope

Hope is our preparation

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Jiggle or Pray… May 26, 2013

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starcraftI’m really not quite sure why he did it.

For some reason, he took a liking to me.  He owned this beautiful, 24-foot, Starcraft motor home, which was sitting around his front yard, so he offered it to me to travel in with my three friends as we began to try to become artists, forces of nature and the next creative miracle in the music field.

I was only twenty-three years old. It is doubtful that I should have been entrusted to deliver a ham sandwich to an office building, but for some reason, this guy saw something in me–or he just had the kind of attitude that made him not worry about material possessions.

There was one stipulation to our deal. He had to pay a $178 per month payment on a loan for the motor home, which included insurance. I know a mere $178 a month sounds like a real bargain–but when you consider the fact that I couldn’t afford to purchase that ham sandwich I mentioned in the previous fictitious comparison, then you will understand my plight.

I had just enough talent to gain the attention of some big names in the Christian music field, so they invited me to come to Jesus USA, a festival being held in Pennsylvania, featuring the biggest names in the industry of the day. They explained that they couldn’t promise me a slot for performing on the show, but they would guarantee me that if I didn’t show up, there would be no chance to gig.

So I hopped in my motor home, putting together all my nickels, dimes and quarters–even scrounging in my couch pillows–and drove my motor home to Pennsylvania. When we arrived, we found that you needed a backstage pass to enter, but due to the beauty of our motor home, they assumed we were part of the show and waved us on.

I parked alongside the other gospel buses and soon became a popular hangout because our air conditioning actually worked and it was a very hot August day. Yet about three hours into our little excursion into the world of fame and notoriety, we discovered that our motor home wouldn’t start. That’s not exactly accurate–the key wouldn’t even turn in the ignition.

We didn’t know what to do. But being very young, at a Jesus festival, and obsessed with religious power, we started praying. We fervently supplicated to the heavenly Father on behalf of our starter, and then tried it. We did this again and again–for over two hours. Nothing happened. The key would not turn.

Being a bit immature, I hit my hand against the steering wheel in frustration, prayed one last time, reached for the key … and it turned. I was convinced we had experienced a miracle.

Just then one of the roadies from the stage crew stepped into our motor home and asked if we needed someone to help with our vehicle. We explained our problem and how we had prayed it away. He smiled and said, “That’s great. But if it happens again, what you need to do is jerk your wheel sharply to the right. It frees up the starter so it’ll work again.”

I tried to start my motor home and again the key wouldn’t budge, so I attempted the roadie’s trick. It worked beautifully.

I know it sounds silly, but part of me was disappointed that we hadn’t conjured a miracle, but that instead, in my fit of despair, I had beat some sense into the steering wheel.

I also must report that we never got to perform on the stage at the festival, but we did make a lot of friends.

Yet I learned a very valuable lesson that weekend: there’s a time to jiggle and there’s a time to pray. And the sooner you learn the difference, the less frustrated you will be and the less confused about moving in the will of God.

Here’s a good clue–if it was made in heaven and created by God, I would suggest you pray about it. If it was made in Detroit, I would recommend you jiggle it.

If I hadn’t gone through that lesson that day, I would never have learned the trick with the steering wheel. And as it ends up, I wouldn’t have been able to help about a dozen people over the years who were experiencing the same phenomenon and were desperate for some advice.

Always remember–God is in the jiggle AND the prayer. The God of mercy and miracles is also the God of knowledge and wisdom.

Don’t be afraid to try out both aspects of His resume.

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Triggered… April 11, 2013

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gunI probably should never have done the gig.

I was twenty-four years old, and through a combination of my pride and pressure from a new friend, I agreed to do a concert in the park for the homeless in downtown Baltimore as an outreach for his ministry to the poor. He had jokingly suggested that our group perform, figuring that we were too “prissy” to do such an event. I leaped in and volunteered our services.

So we dressed up in our duds, deciding that we were not going to give these folks any less of a show than anyone else. We set up in the park and drove to situate our van in an alley near a meat market, where the proprietor had graciously offered us a space.

Just as soon as we stepped out of our van and were heading toward the park, a young man emerged from behind a dumpster, brandishing a knife and demanding our money. He couldn’t have been any more than sixteen years old, a hundred and nothing pounds, with eyes bloodshot and obviously an overabundance of nervous tics.

Fortunately, I had told both girls in my group to be sure to leave their money behind, so we wouldn’t get started giving out dollar bills to the homeless, ending up with them lining up for donations instead of to hear our creations. I stuck twelve dollars in my shoe to buy hotdogs after the concert.

As I stared at the young man with his shaky hands and squeaky voice, I felt no fear whatsoever. It’s not that I’m extremely brave–it’s just that he was so lacking in intimidation, even though I knew he was still dangerous because he was wielding the knife.

I motioned for the girls to get behind me, and for some reason, that action totally confused him. Before I could explain to him that we had no money, he looked to his right and left, shuffled his feet and suddenly ran away. When I arrived at the park, my friend who was in charge of the outreach said that I should have had a gun.

You see, I’ve heard this all my life. “You’re traveling on the road. You need a gun to protect you.”

So I asked him–where would I put it? He looked at me confused, as if he didn’t understand my meaning. Here’s my meaning: that day, in the back alley in Baltimore, if I had put a gun in my glove compartment, it would have been of no use to me. If I had it under my seat, it likewise would have made no difference, unless I planned to run away from my perpetrator to dive for my van. The only way a gun would have been of any help would be to carry it. So it begs the question–if we’re going to insist that guns are valuable for personal security, are we also prepared for everybody to walk around wearing holsters, with their pistols at their side? Because short of that, a gun locked in a box in your house, or secured in your closet, will do very little to help you during a home invasion, when people bust through your door and order you to lay down on the floor.

Here’s what I know about guns: guns shoot and guns kill. Guns don’t protect–because unless you lead with the fact that you’re “packing heat,” your gun will be far from you in your hour of need.

What I used that day to avoid being stabbed by a twitchy addict was calmness, level-headed thinking and maintaining eye contact. Honestly, it was better than a knife because I would have had no knowledge of how to involve myself in such a struggle. And to make a citizen’s arrest, pulling a gun on a person with a knife, would certainly be an over-reaction.

I think guns for recreational use–hunting or for display in a collection–are somewhat intriguing. But a gun will not help you in the middle of an attack from someone who has decided to do harm.

In that situation, your best trigger is an intelligent spirit.

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Common “Since” … December 31, 2012

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GE DIGITAL CAMERA

Layovers.

For several years I toured the country by air–right before flying the skies began to resemble a prison transfer bus, complete with cramped quarters, armed guards and frisking. Like everyone else, I always found layovers to be unpleasant. After all, getting into that big, long tube once to fly non-stop to your destination is the ideal, but is occasionally impossible because your destination may be a smaller city or you may need a more reasonable ticket.airplane on the tarmac

So rather than complaining about layovers, I tried to start using them as a vehicle to attempt a productive project. Sometimes I tried to hook up with the people I knew in the town where I was going to spend a couple of hours and have conversations, or purposely plan a writing pursuit to fill the time. I became very aware of a phenomenon in human life which we shall refer to as the “since-then” syndrome.

“Since I’m stuck in an airport, then I choose to do the following…”

“Since my tire is flat and I’m going to be late, then I will change my plans and do this different thing…”

“Since I didn’t get the original amount of money I intended to receive, then I will adjust my budget to make it appear that I’m solvent…”

It is probably one of the most powerful principles you can teach to yourself and others in order to maintain the decorum which allows you the dignity to survive adversity and await the next opportunity that sprouts the unplanned-for blessing.

I ran across this same philosophy yesterday in Boynton Beach, Florida, at my gig. The pastor of the church told a story about a woman with a brain tumor, who developed the further complication of bleeding on the brain. The family, rather than looking on it as a setback, was grateful–because the bleeding was treatable, and in the process of taking care of that particular difficulty, they were praying that in some way the brain tumor itself would be addressed or perhaps even eliminated.

Now, the normal reaction from the average person to this kind of idea would range from admiration to mocking. But really, neither of those takes on the situation are on point with the value of their thinking. What I heard was that this family understood the “since-then” concept. We all have things happen to us that we have little control over–except to meter our reaction in the direction of the continuation of life rather than complaining about our lot.

I thought it was brilliant. It is actually a perfect example of faith. For after all, faith is not a foolish whim spoken into the wind in a dreamy sort of psychotic haze. Faith is accepting what has come our way, yet believing that God is looking for a path to increase our possibilities instead of limiting us.

I went Christmas shopping three times this year. I haven’t done that in five years. I gleefully go grocery shopping every week now. I found that very painful to accomplish over the past couple of years. All of these things are made possible because when I discovered my knees were failing, rather than giving up on my potential, I merely sat down in a wheelchair, and in so doing, increased my range. Since I am presently mobile only by using wheels on a chair, then I will take that new mobility and use it as proficiently–and frequently–as possible. I could even fly again if I want to.

See how it works? Since I am here, then I will do this. Since I write a daily column, instead of fretting over whether anybody reads it, then I will do my best, knowing that at least I have a strong readership in the heavens.

Of course, the supreme example of this is Jesus, who was given a cross–and since he was, then he turned it into salvation.

Layovers–you can either take the time to look at your watch … or use the time to watch and look.

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Sweet, Salty and Hot… October 6, 2012

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Live from October 1st filming

At last night’s gig, we received a “chili” reception.

What I mean is, they had a chili cook-off before our show. Fortunately for us, they set aside some of the magic potions for us to take back to our motel and enjoy. As I sat down in front of my bowl, I thought about how marvelous chili really is.

The first magnificent thing about the concoction is that it’s simple. Three major ingredients–beans, meat and tomatoes. If you don’t have those three elements in your chili, you may have come up with something that is in the household, but not in the immediate family. It takes beans, meat and tomatoes to make a basic chili.

Now, some people like their chili sweet, others salty and certainly there are those who prefer it hot. Each one of these groups would insist that their particular preference is the actual definition of chili, but truthfully, the mixture is best presented by the inclusion of  … beans, meat and tomatoes. Otherwise you end up with goulash or Sloppy Joe. Whether it is sweet, salty or hot, it is still called chili and therefore gets included on the menu.

As I munched on my meal, I thought about how much better off we would be if we approached our Christian faith the same way. In other words, once all the ingredients are in place, whether you like your faith sweet, salty or hot makes little difference. As long as you don’t mess with the holy three, you’re in pretty good shape.

And what would those three be? What would define a good Christian experience, establishing the necessary pieces to call it such?

1. We “bean” with Jesus. (I apologize for the pun. It was available, I was weak, I took it.) How can you tell that someone has “bean” with Jesus? They consider him to be the example for living instead of just the sacrifice for sin.

2. We “meat” the requirement of loving one another. (Again, my apologies.) Referring back to Jesus, he established this as the criterion for knowing whether someone was his follower. If they do not show love one for another, they have started their own club, just displaying a cross on their steeple.

3. No tomato is better than any other tomato. Hop in the pot and join the stew. Anyone who makes distinctions about human beings and judgments based upon any feeling of superiority has ceased to follow a Christian philosophy and has amalgamated into their thinking some sort of cultural preference that shuts out those folks that Jesus loves.

There you go. That’s how you make a Christian. Those are the ingredients.

Now, to continue, some people like it sweet. Their God is love and will always love, in a loving way, the whole world, which needs a loveable hug.

I don’t care if it’s sweet, as long as they’ve “bean” with Jesus, “meat” the requirement of loving one another and accept all the tomatoes off the vine.

There are those who like it salty. They’re interested in points of doctrine, deep theological discussions and will even dabble in some of the psycho-babble of our time, linking it with Biblical implications.

Who cares–as long as they stir in the beans, meat and tomatoes?

And certainly, there are those who like it hot. They want the message to burn all the way down to their innards, believing the Word of God to be infallible, without question, searing away the evil in our world and establishing the good.

More power to them–as long as they accept Jesus as the source of wisdom, they love one another without question and they include everybody in the gift of salvation.

You see? Chili is like being a Christian. If you get the basic ingredients in place, flavoring it is just fun, and I don’t mind if you flavor it one way or another, as long as you can still see the evidence of those three main ingredients: Jesus, loving one another, and an open door to everyone.

They sent home a couple of different kinds of chili with us. I ate one of the warmer varieties, which stung my tongue, and Jan opted for the more benign, kindergarten variety.

But you know what? We both had chili.

And just like in the Christian experience, when you get it right and all the ingredients are in place, there’s one thing for certain: it’s a gas.

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