Jesonian … March 3rd, 2018

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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The Gospel writers had a really stiff drink to mix to stir together all the ingredients to write the cocktail of the life of Jesus.

First and foremost, let me tell you as a writer, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are not books. They are long short stories–an oxymoron. The number of words in each Gospel is about the same as a big short story.

So with an economy of words and phrases, these gentlemen set out to capsulize what is arguably the most interesting life ever lived. On top of that, they had the problem of being infested with some agendas of their own. Each one of them was intent on convincing the reader that Jesus was Messiah/Anointed One/Christ/Son of God.

They were also pretty pissed off with the Jewish leaders. This is reflected in many references. And they certainly wanted to compete with each other in the retelling of the resurrection.

I offer this preface because in a good overview of their works, there are only a few times that each of them include the same stories.

  • Crucifixion
  • Resurrection
  • Feeding of the five thousand

These are in all four Gospels. And in Matthew, Mark and Luke–the Synoptic Gospels–one other particular story is included by this trio of authors.

It seems to be a rather insignificant tale–matter of fact, I doubt if it makes its way into many sermons. But it was very important to Matthew, Mark and Luke.

On a Sabbath, the disciples were walking through a field of wheat and picked some of it because they were hungry. The story-tellers are clear that the disciples take the kernels and grind them in their hands to “get the good stuff to eat.”

The significance? According to the Pharisees, it was permissible to pick the wheat but you couldn’t grind it in your hand and eat it–not on the Sabbath. That was work. Therefore, if you were hungry, you would have to take the wheat home and wait until the next day to eat.

It is the travesty of the religious mind–to manufacture a God who is so displeased with us that He demands we function in uncomfortable contortions to receive His favor.

In this story, the Pharisees complain to Jesus.

Now, Jesus is not a diplomat. He is not determined to offend the Pharisees, but every time he did, refused to pull back from his position.

He told these fellows that King David ate the shewbread that was reserved for holy days and for the priests. His army was hungry. No one died.

Jesus explained that the Sabbath was a time to do good and not evil. It was an occasion to fulfill mankind’s needs instead of heaping heavy burdens on them.

Knowing that the Pharisees would be quite unwilling to criticize King David, he offered this argument while simultaneously insisting the his disciples should be granted the full measure and respect that David deserved.

Then, in the story, Jesus tells the Pharisees that they should learn mercy and not sacrifice–otherwise they will spend their whole lives attacking innocent people.

And if that wasn’t enough to fully flummox these religious leaders, he closed off by saying, And by the way, “I am the Lord of the Sabbath.”

This story was important to Matthew, Mark and Luke. It sniffed of their Master. It smelled like Jesus.

For they experienced and knew that Jesus was a champion for the human race and would not tolerate anyone attacking people, especially if it were being done in the name of God.

Damn it to hell, you don’t pick wheat and then not eat it. It is illogical, irrelevant, irreverent and inhuman. Jesus didn’t come to turn human beings into gods.

Jesus was the personification of God turning himself into a human being.

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Jesonian: Reverend Meningsbee (Part 24) The Unbroken Circle … October 9th, 2016

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Reverend Meningsbee

It was Meningsbee’s style to arrive at the Garsonville church mere moments before the service was set to begin.

He chose this profile not because he had a flair for dramatics or wanted to bring attention to himself, but rather, desired to communicate that he was arriving with the congregation instead of waiting to greet them.

But a phone call from a very confused deacon, Mack Robbins, had summoned him immediately to the church because of “strange doings.”

Now, the term “strange doings” in a small Nebraska town could range from a fourteen-cent hike on the price of gasoline at the local pumps to somebody wanting to show off a two-by-four that had stuck itself in a tree during a tornado years ago.

But in this case, Deacon Mack was very concerned because fifteen young people from the high school had arrived at the church early with candles in hand and had slowly marched to the front of the sanctuary, sat down lotus style in the front, lit their candles and quietly hummed some unknown tune. (Mack did not recognize the melody, but felt it was not a common hymn.)

Those who were arriving for normal church did not know exactly what to do. Should they be seated? Should they ask the young people what they were up to? Or should they freak out, call their minister and plop the problem on him?

Being good religious folks, they chose the latter.

So when Meningsbee arrived, he saw his entire congregation standing in the vestibule, peering through the partially frosted windows, staring at the circle of adolescent candle-bearers. Collectively, his sheep turned to him, looking for direction from the shepherd.

He whispered, “Why don’t we just go sit down?”

Everyone nodded as if they had heard wisdom from the great King Solomon.

The ninety-five people tiptoed their way into the sanctuary, found seating places and then waited for the Reverend to take care of the bizarre predicament.

Meningsbee perched himself near the front, crossed his legs and then, as if he had sat on a cactus, leaped to his feet, stepped up onto the altar, found a candle, lit it and eased onto the floor with the students.

This was very baffling to the Nebraskans. Was the parson suggesting they do the same? Many of them had not been that close to the floor since the last time they fell and couldn’t get up. So they chose to sit quietly and see where the odd escapade would head.

After a few moments, the youngsters stopped their singing. When they did, Meningsbee took the opportunity to do a little singing himself.

“Michael row the boat ashore, alleluia…”

Meningsbee glanced at the congregation, encouraging them with his eyes to sing along. Some did.

The students listened through one or two passages, and then joined in to the best of their ability. When the song was done there was a moment of silence. Meningsbee spoke.

“It is very important for all of us to return to the last place we sensed something good. Although our questions will never be answered in full, we should remain full of questions. I want to thank you for coming today and giving us the soul of our service. It was Jesus who said that we are the light of the world. You have brought light into our presence. It was David who told us to sing a new song. You have brought us a new song. And it is every intelligent teacher and prophet throughout history who tells us to challenge ourselves. You have sat here, humbly offering your gratitude and expressing your desires. We welcome you. You have made our church today. You are our church today. We thank you. And we want you to know that you’re welcome here anytime–to bring anything you feel–to help us understand the depth of your soul and what’s important to you.”

One of the young men from the circle of visitors spoke up.

“We didn’t mean to interrupt. We thought you would just go ahead and have your service.”

Meningsbee replied, “You see, son, that’s the mistake we make in the church. We think you’re supposed to come in here, learn about what we do, follow the routine and develop a taste for it. That’s not really what church was meant to be. Church is the people coming, expressing what they need, and letting the opportunity of being with God supply it. Don’t ever forget that. And when you come back here again, it’ll be the same way. We don’t exactly have an order of service. We let the service that needs to be provided grant us order.”

The unbroken circle of young folks nodded in approval. The congregation smiled as some cried.

If church was supposed to be a series of beautiful moments of human interaction and revelation, then Garsonville was slowly on its way to becoming a church.

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Jesonian: Easy Does It … August 23rd, 2015

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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corn in hand

Into a world filled with self-righteousness, power struggles and idiotic inclinations, Jesus of Nazareth walked on the scene with a simple message.

Easy does it and lighten up.

“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

Leadership hated him for it.

Making truth accessible to the masses and suggesting that it is not that difficult to attain does not endear you to those who make a living out of turning every situation into a quandary.

No mortal receives benefit when we demand divine effort.

Interestingly enough, right after he shared these thoughts of “easy does it” and “lighten up,” he was confronted by a situation which embodied the whole dilemma.

You see, his disciples were walking through a field of corn and they were hungry. Common sense said not to stand around and bitch, but rather, to pick some of the nourishment.

Logical enough, right?

But posted nearby were those religious leaders who made a living from “straining at the gnat and swallowing the camel.” They criticized the disciples and Jesus for the action, citing that the Law of God demanded that the Sabbath be honored by declining to take care of human needs.

Jesus’ answer is a spiritual classic.

He explained that throughout history, whenever noble men and women of mission found themselves without provision, rather than standing on ceremony, they used what was available instead of complaining to the heavens about their lack.

He said that King David even ate the holy bread from the Temple and gave it to his soldiers when there was a gnawing at their innards.

But Jesus didn’t leave it there. He told the Pharisees that everything revolves around one principle: God will have mercy, not sacrifice.

Because if you find yourself feeling sacrificial, restricted, bound and intimidated by religious fervor, very soon … you will end up condemning the guiltless folks who walk amongst you.

 

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Untotaled: Stepping 39 (March 23rd, 1967) The Gospel Brothers–Dreamy, Cute and Darling… November 8, 2014

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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(Transcript)

If you live in Central Ohio, the month of March is a beacon of hope–not just of the arrival of spring, but the burgeoning reality that summer cannot be far behind. It makes everyone want to shed their parkas, remove their long underwear and run naked through the streets, clapping their hands to some great Woody Guthrie folk tune. (Well, maybe not that far, since we tend to be a stoic, bashful Germanic sort.)

The month of March was also the time when we had our annual youth rally, held at the Ohio State Fair Grounds, featuring an array of speakers no one remembered, seminars when we passed notes to each other, and venues when the young people could express themselves through music, which had to be gospel.

Last year our group was the hit of the conference. The guys were slapping us on the back and the girls were swooning. We felt we were studs, ready to conquer the world.

But this year, when the poster arrived advertising the event, there was a new music group on the slot, from Boardman, Ohio (up with the rich folks) who obviously were named Dreamy, Cute and Darling–since that’s what all the girls said as they lingered, drooling over their picture.

I thought they were ugly and obviously could not sing, since visually they did not exude any tonal quality.

Jealous, I decided to bad-mouth them, and found that the only allies I had were the other members of my group, who were equally as intimidated by the “beauties.”

Making matters worse, when we arrived at the conference, the three little dweebs were nice. Their rich daddy had just purchased them a Shure Vocal Master System, fresh off the assembly line, which they proudly reported was the twenty-fifth unit available. Only a few famous rock groups were ahead of them numerically.

They were so expansive that they allowed us to use their new PA system, explaining how it worked and encouraging us during rehearsal.

This did not keep me from hating them, and as hate often does when it links with jealousy, it wipes our mind clean of any thought and talent, making us look completely incapable of achieving what we originally were easily able to accomplish.

In other words, we stumbled all over ourselves trying to be better than people who were already better than us because they were nicer.

Yet unwilling to relent from our jealousy, we tried to gossip about them, garnering no audience other than the Grumblers Four.

I learned a lot at that conference.

And although they wanted me to learn about King David and his mighty sling against Goliath, what I learned was that jealousy makes you look small, resentment robs you of your talent, and gossip gives you an ever-shrinking market.

I retain that to this day.

The brothers never went on to pursue a musical career and I have. I assume they did continue to be handsome, and I continued to be … well, determined.

 

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I Got to P… November 14, 2013

Jonathots Daily Blog

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SixFor a five-year period, I wrote screenplays–seventeen of them in all, with thirteen movies produced in an independent-film format. Trust me, I was no threat to either Aaron Sorkin or Steven Spielberg, but considering the meager budgets involved, some pretty amazing projects were completed and released into the cosmos.

What I discovered when I wrote these screenplays was that people involved in artistic pursuits are often pressured by two different camps to comply to an agenda:

  • Religious writers are compelled to profess
  • Secular ones are taunted and teased to be profane

So if you wanted to write things that were acceptable to church people, you had to profess the principles of religion faithfully, while being careful not to add anything worldly, untoward or negative to your script.

On the other hand, if you wanted to get intrigue and interest from the “film festival crowd,” a certain amount of off-beat, unrealistic and profane inclusion was necessary.

I found both camps to be obnoxious.

I don’t have to go any further than the Good Book to demonstrate the aspects of good story telling. This is the reason I believe that the Good Book still has value. The writers felt no compulsion to profess, nor did they feel pushed into making the tales more profane in order to create a wider audience. They just shared it.

So you have King David, who writes really beautiful songs and poetry, but also is a lousy father and an adulterous murderer.

You have Samson, who did mighty deeds for the children of Israel, but also ended up blinded and humiliated because he let his “little head” rule “the big head.”

You have a story of the Jewish nation which is equally peppered with both praise and ridicule for their works and deeds.

By no means did the writers of the Good Book want to either profess or be profane. Instead they went for a third Pprofound.

This is what I pursued in my screenplays, too.

And what is profound? A profound script has heart, soul, mind and strength in it.

1. Heart. What is the real emotion involved? I am not talking about made-up feelings so the writer can manipulate his characters to do as he proposes. I am speaking of the unabashed, unapologetic sensations that go along with the story and our participants.

2.  Soul. What can we use of faith, hope and love to propel our tale and still achieve better conclusions? Removing spirituality from great writing is similar to jotting down your thoughts with invisible ink.

3. Mind. What is accurate? If we’re going to be in the desert, people should get thirsty. If we’re going to be on the ocean, someone should be seasick. Failing to produce accuracy in the pursuit of either profession or profanity is a journey into faulted futility.

4. Strength. What is human? Don’t ask your characters to be superheroes. There’s too much of that in our theater today. Don’t portray them as demons. Expose humanity without fear or prejudice.

I don’t know–maybe someday I’ll start writing screenplays again. But if I do, I won’t be anemic and merely profess my own beliefs. And I won’t pursue profane, espousing the common whim of present-day society.

I will find the heart, soul, mind and strength in the journeys of my characters … and allow the words to produce profound results.

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A Creeky Encounter … January 12, 2013

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Jim and HuckIt was a stream of water that ran by the road in my hometown. It was no more than four feet deep at its braggart’s point and so narrow in some locations that you could step across it on four rocks protruding from the water. Most people didn’t pay much attention to it. For some reason, they named our local high school after this brook–Big Walnut.

Most of the good white folk stayed away from it because it was a hangout–well, it was a place where some of the “negroes” from nearby Columbus would come to congregate on the weekends. There were a few fishermen’s shacks which had been erected near the water, where these darkened visitors would sleep and relax as they cast lines into the nearby flow, seeking to capture a particular style of varmint called a sucker. Now, a sucker was an ugly fish–big huge mouth, with what looked to be thick lips and humongous, bulging eyes. Yes, the good white folks of our town were very careful not to spend much time on the banks of the Big Walnut, or to ever even consider consuming a sucker.

I occasionally went down to look at the water because it wound its way through a very pastoral setting of trees and rocks. On one of those occasions, when I was gazing from the bridge down at the creek beneath, an older fellow saw me and motioned to me to come down and join him. I was terrified, surprised, frozen and intrigued, all at the same time. For you see, he was a negro.

I was fifteen years old and had never spoken with a negro. I had seen them. I had even tackled one in a football game with a nearby city school which was intergrated. But I had never had an actual conversation with anyone of that color persuasion.

He motioned to me again, and because he was an older chap and I felt deep respect for folks of that ilk, I picked my way down the hill to join him at the waterfront. As I arrived, he got a bite on his hook and right then and there, pulled up one of those ugly sucker fish, which looked to be nearly a pound and a half in size. He gave a hoot.

Negro:  Would you look at that, son? Halleluia! I have supper for tonight.

(I pulled back in terror at the sight of the ugly fish.)

Negro:  Have you ever eaten a sucker?

Me:  My dad says they taste terrible and have too many bones.

Negro:  Well, I probably have too many bones, and I’m not so sure I taste good, either. But if you smoke ’em, they are delicious.

(I must have had a comical, perplexed look on my face because he laughed.)

Negro:  Do you know what smoked is?

Me:  Cigarettes?

(More laughter.)

Negro: No! You’ve eaten ham, haven’t you? Smokin’ meat is like puttin’ it near the fire instead of on the fire, and lettin’ the hickory flavor do the cookin’.

(I nodded my head–not because I understood, but because I was bored.)

Negro: Do you like to fish?

Me: Yeah, kinda. My dad and older brothers are nuts about it. I like to catch fish.

Negro: Me, too. By the way, my name is Marsh.

Me: Pleased to meet you Mr. Marsh.

(I was speaking to him from a distance of about six feet, so as to give myself the first fruits of an excellent exit. He stuck his hand out across the distance.)

Negro: No, it’s not Mister. Just call me Marsh.

(I was staring at the hand of a Negro. It was big. I could see callouses protruding from every knuckle. I quickly glanced down at my hand, which more resembled a medium-sized, damp white terry wash cloth. What was I going to do? He kept his hand extended, determined to make connection. So I cautiously inched forward and shook his massive paw.)

Marsh: You come down here often?

Me:  No–because …

(I stopped in mid-sentence. I almost let it slip–that the community generally considered this to be reserved for Negroes and not available to the whites.)

Marsh: (interrupting) Let me guess. You don’t come down here because people who look like me seem to own this place, right?

Me: We call it Monkey Hollow. At least that’s what my dad said.

Marsh: He did, did he? Well, we people of a different point of view call it Goshen’s Point. Do you know the story of the place?

(I shook my head.)

Marsh: Tale is that an escaped slave arrived here with his wife and didn’t feel it was safe for him to live among the white folks, so he settled here by the creek, built a cabin and started to raise a family. He called it Goshen because that was the land where the Jews were safe from the Egyptians.

(Once again I nodded my head. I wasn’t really interested–just fascinated by being in the proximity of this aged Negro. I stepped a little closer–honestly, just to find out if he smelled different. I was told they did. He ended up smelling like fish and the residue of earth worms, which was not unusual for people who frequented the sport.)

Marsh: What is your name?

Me: Jonathan.

Marsh: That’s a good Bible name. Jonathan–the best friend of King David. A good young man who got himself mixed up in family loyalty. Instead of siding with his friend, David, he followed his dad…to death.

(I crinkled my brow a bit because I knew the story, but found it more interesting coming out of the mouth of this wrinkled alien.)

Marsh: Is this the first time you’ve ever talked to a nigger?

(My expression must have been worth a million dollars, because Marsh laughed like he had just discovered a treasure.)

Marsh: You have heard us called niggers, right?

Jonathan: Well, once or twice, I guess, but never … near one, if you know what I mean.

Marsh: I do, son, I surely do. Usually they call us Negroes, right?

Jonathan: I guess. If that’s all right.

Marsh: I guess there’s a name we call every person to their face and another one we use behind their back. What do you think, Jonathan? What would Jesus think about that?

Jonathan: I don’t know. Are you a Christian?

Marsh: I sure am. But not like you.

Jonathan: What do you mean?

Marsh: You see, Jonathan, I’m a Christian because I need to be one to survive and get along in this world. You’re a Christian because there’s a church down the road where your friends go, that has some mighty good pot-lucks from time to time.

(I was offended.)

Jonathan: I believe in God.

Marsh: I know, son. I know. It’s just that my faith allows me to believe that God believes in me, too. That God somehow or another is able to escape staring at my color and sees right down to the tiptoes of my soul.

(I frowned, making him smile. Marsh held his freshly caught fish up to his face)

Marsh: Don’t you think this sucker looks just like me? Big lips and bulgy eyes?

(I didn’t know what to say.)

Marsh: You run along. I sure have enjoyed our conversation. I just hope you know that we Negroes–niggers, or monkey, or whatever you hear us called–are able to talk and really don’t bite or hurt nobody.

(I bit my lip because I couldn’t think of an adequate retort. Marsh turned around and started fishing again. I wanted to say something meaningful, warm or profound, but ended up pulling myself up the hill in silence.)

Marsh was the first Negro I ever talked to. Since then, I have purposefully had thousands of other conversations in honor of my initial “creeky” encounter.

I also have grown up and left my small-town, both in location and in thinking. Truthfully, I never did eat a sucker, smoked or otherwise.

But I did somehow manage … not to become one.

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