Always Finishing … January 14, 2013

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All Saints pic

The key is in changing your wanter.

Yes, there are things I want in life, but honestly, most of them are temporary ticklings in my soul rather than permanent inclinations. Perhaps that’s the definition of maturity–understanding that what I want right now is going to change, so instead of becoming stubborn about it I should learn to be prepared to change my wanter based upon availability.

One of the worst pieces of philosophy being propagated in our society is that we should have a dream and stick with it. What if our dream sucks? What if this vision of our future is riddled with inconsistencies, with no acknowledgment whatsoever of our factual abilities? Then we’re not dreamers–we’re just fools, waiting for the next bus to hit us as we energetically step off the curb.

I arrived at All Saints Lutheran Church in Tamarac, Florida, yesterday morning. Here is what the average person would ask me about my morning’s activities:

  1. Do you really, really, really want to be there?
  2. Is it a fulfillment of your dreams?
  3. Do you consider it a stepping stone on your way to your five-year goal plan?

You see, this is the kind of garbage they write about in self-help books. It has nothing to do with the reality of the soup in which we are stirred. So let me answer these questions as a soul who has learned the quality of changing my wanter:

1. Do I want to be there? Well, I am there and it is my next best possibility toward acting out my heart’s desire in front of a group of people who may be particlly interested in listening. It is my experience that the quick door to success is often located on the edge of a cliff. It is better to slowly, meticulously, intelligently and joyfully work with what you’ve got, change your wanter and convince yourself to do immaculate work as if you were doing it in a larger venue in front of millions of people. I did not give the congregation at All Saints Church a presentation based on the size of their particular configuration. I gave them the best that Jonathan Richard Cring had on January 13th, 2013. That’s what I deserve, that’s what they deserve and that’s what God anticipates.

2. Is this a fulfillment of my dream? My dream is to be usable. When I start trying to illustrate that dream with a picture in my mind of the ideal, I arrogantly eliminate most of the real possibilities that will come my way. If I want to be taken seriously by millions, I must faithfully finish my work in front of the ten, one hundred or one thousand sent my way. So if this all ends tomorrow, I can complete my course knowing that I put on a show that was worthy of millions in front of the audience provided.

3. About my five-year goal plan–I don’t like stepping stones. That connotes that everything is located beneath my feet instead of being embraced by my heart. Those beautiful people yesterday were not a stop-over on my way to my journey–they are my journey. Maybe in the process of the journey I will meet more. Or perhaps I will end up with fewer. But I will finish what I set out to do with the vigor, height and depth of my talent.

Sometimes when I’m on stage I close my eyes. Because I am a believer in faith, I also recognize that everything I am doing is being transported to some eternal storage facility where it will be valued. It is my treasure. I will finish it with flair. I will learn from my mis-steps. And I will change my wanter to match my “got it.”

I feel so fulfilled today because I was granted the immense opportunity to share in front of the precious souls at All Saints. After all, what can be more humbling and blessed than being allowed to proffer your limited resources in front of all the saints?

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Parma Jon… October 8, 2012

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Live from October 1st filming

That’s my new name. Parma Jon.

Well, at least it is for today, as I reflect back on my visit to the Parma Lutheran Church and the clipped-off version of my name, Jon. (Like so many things, the idea seemed cuter in its conception…)

There was nothing remarkable about the Parma Lutheran Church. That’s what makes it truly exceptional. While America seems obsessed with discoveirng its new Idol, X-Factor, Voice, or political savior, God is doing what He always does–searching the deserts, the villages, the huts and the crevices for anyone who’s happy being who they are, doing what they do, who might consider taking on just a little bit more possibility.

It seems appropriate to me on this Columbus Day to talk to you about discovering America. Like Christopher Columbus, I launched out to find one thing and ended up uncovering another. When I left in January, I thought that I would be going to regions of the country that were saturated with culture, preferences, political swingings and religious tendencies. I should have known better–I’m not exactly a novice in the realm of traveling and speaking. But the pundits on television are very convincing, insisting that our country is diversified and split into many sections. It just ain’t so.

Actually, it’s much simpler than that. There are those folks who still believe, pursue and persist in the Golden Rule“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”–and a contingency who have succumbed to the notion that it’s every man for himself.

In other words, whether it has a southern accent, a Yankee dialect, a Georgia drawl or a west coast coolness, “I don’t care” ends up feeling just as cold. And whether it’s Republican, Democrat, conservative or liberal, “How can I help?” is just as comforting.

I met a man yesterday who used to deliver packages for UPS. Now he stands in a pulpit and tries to deliver the best of salvation, hope, gentleness and tenderness to a congregation of people, while dodging fiscal responsibilities and fits of grumpiness from those who have forgotten the mission of the Master. You know what struck me about him? After all his years of dealing in business and now the religious community, he is still overjoyed in the pursuit of finding reasons to be joyful. Though tempted to be jaded, he instead remains gold.

I met four wonderful young humans who sat on the front row in this church and indulged in enjoyment, praise, laughter and kindness to one another without feeling the need to explain it to the old folks or make excuses for their particular profile of worship. They were intelligent and caring. They were not prejudiced against Janet and myself because we’re older, but instead, took our gift of talent and message and received it in their own space, with their own simplicity.

I met a woman who came to my book table, and because I was having a bit of trouble with my legs, brought me a cane to ease my pain in walking to my van. She also brought a beautiful hand-carved elf that her husband had whittled, which was absolutely gorgeous. He was due for surgery today, so I send out a prayer his way.

Did I mention the poet who came to the table, bringing me his recently published book? I think the reason God likes creativity is because it sparks a light in our eyes and a giggle in our souls–that we were actually able to make something instead of just using up all the natural resources around us. That was the countenance on this fine fellow.

One after another, they came before me yesterday–delightful human beings in the midst of making that very important choice between believing that NoOne is better than anyone else, or finding reasons to separate themselves from the human family.

Oh–not everyone likes me, you know. There are people who stomp out the door, angered by my presumption to mess around with perfect, Germanic Lutheranism. I do not begrudge them their opinion.

But I will tell you that the majority of the American people I have met this year, especially in Parma, Ohio, are looking for a reason to continue to believe in the idea of people and God. It is amazing.

It makes me glad that the heavenly Father has not asked me to check out of my human living quarters and move on to eternal reward. I am so honored to be part of this phase of history and to jump into my four-wheeled Santa Maria and to sail away, discovering America.

So yesterday, I was Parma Jon. Today I move on. But I want to thank all the wonderful human souls that I have met over the past four or five days in the Northern Ohio area. They have enlightened me, blessed me and made me aware that taking the time to believe in people is never wasted.

It is the only way to guarantee that you have actually tapped a little piece of the mind of God.

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

With All Your Getting … September 17, 2012

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Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the news media’s overly simplistic, goofy representation of life in these United States. Travel with CNN, MSNBC and Fox News as they journey us around the country to break us apart into little bits and pieces of quirks, which they then amplify to represent the majority popular opinion.

First stop for our tour bus?

  • Alabama. Guns, God and grits.
  • Then we journey down to Florida. Medication, Middle East and Medicare.
  • Cruising on, we arrive in Texas, with faith, football and fried…everything.
  • In no time at all, we enter the state of California, with television, tarot cards and tofu.
  • I think we have time for a bathroom break in Minnesota. Stoic, Scandinavian, and St. Lutheran.
  • Our tour bus now takes us to the state of Indiana, where …

Hold on a second. Please allow me to interrupt this cavalcade of comedic conclusions. I just spent the weekend in Indiana. What I found there was the same thing I uncovered in Alabama, Florida, Texas, California and even Minnesota. They’re called folks. And by the way, some get it and some don’t.

It’s really that simple. Some people burst out of the borders of their training and provincial surroundings and realize more universal truths of human behavior and how to get along with other individuals. Others cling to the bad habits of their ancestors, getting the same results of inadequacy, poverty and prejudice.

It all boils down to three be’s. If you learn these, you can go anywhere in the world and co-exist with any culture, religion and even form of government. If you don’t, you make yourself cranky, and therefore, a target for criticism by neurotic folks around you, who are looking for a reason to be offended.

1. Be friendly. Really, it won’t kill you. Suspicious, careful, backward, frowning, reserved, reticent and distant leave to the public their opinion on who you are and what you are. Friendliness is required to create the image of who we wish to be and how we wish to be viewed. I do not know when people decided it was their God-given right to be unfriendly, but all it does is make them look arrogant and causes other humans to want to hurt them.

2. Be there. Please do not come to a meeting talking about the your next meeting. Don’t have a conversation with me about how busy you are and how lucky I am that you’re even taking the time to speak with me. We owe one thing to everyone we meet–give them the time they deserve and our attention, or just don’t show up. The most aggravating attitude you can present to another person is to lead them to believe that your mind is on something else other than being with them. Great people do great things by focusing on small details. Be there.

3. Be changing. My brain is not presently manufacturing enough truth to sustain me for the rest of my life. I need more information. In the process of receiving that input, I will also have to deal with challenges to things that I already hold dear. If I am prepared to change my mind, I am a candidate for prosperity.

Let us realize that not everything can be voted on. America is presently obsessed with the notion of popular opinion. If popular opinion had been allowed, slavery would never have been abolished. Segregation would still be in place. Rock and roll would have been banned. The right for women to vote would have been a joke. And even smallpox, by this time, would be bigpox. Sometime the people DON’T know best. It requires us to have the kind of leaders who are willing to change their minds–in a  direction that will benefit the common good.

And if you are willing to be friendly, be there and be changing, you will be on the cutting edge of the three things that make life on earth prosper, and therefore, fulfill the will of God.

People need liberty. And here is my definition of liberty: Liberty is when health, happiness and honesty are thrust to the forefront.

People have a right to be healthy. They certainly have the right to pursue happiness as long as it doesn’t exclude others, and the presence of honesty allows us to keep a pureness of heart that makes the viewing of God so much easier.

Please do not fall victim to the news media, which tries to divide this nation into smaller and smaller units of conflict. What I saw in Indiana yesterday was very simple. I met some absolutely inspiring human beings, who had decided to be friendly, be there and be changing. What remained were those lost sheep, who think that by avoiding others, avoiding their surroundings and avoiding change, they can actually keep life the way it is. They can’t.

So with all your “getting,” get understanding–and the greatest understanding is that where the spirit of God is, there is liberty–the pursuit of health, happiness and honesty.

Happy Monday to you. Be friendly, be there and be changing.

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Trinity Means Three … July 9, 2012

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Situated almost directly between Chattanooga and Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee, is a wonderfully blessed space in the road named Hixson, where I spent my Sunday with the inspiring folks of Trinity Lutheran Church.

There are those in this country of a more liberal bend who would refer to this particular region as “back-woods,” while who are more conservative in their preferences might call the area “the real America.” Since I do not prescribe to either camp, I will tell you that determining the quality of the people I meet is not based upon where I go, but instead, a choice of two approaches. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Dixie or New York City, you’re probably going to fall into one of these categories: (1) I love people and I will change myself until I do; (2) I just believe that some people are unlovable.

Now, if you happen to be in that second group, you’re likely to be suspicious, grumpy, pessimistic and may even sprout an occasional sprig of prejudice. If you’re in the first group of people,  you’re not better than anyone else–you’re just aware that you’re not, and are prepared to make the adjustment towards mercy, knowing that’s the only way to obtain it for yourself.

All that being said, let me tell you that I found the people of Hixson to be in Group 1. Actually, most of the world around me, in my opinion, is in that first group. There are those who find that overly optimistic. But after all, once someone is in Group 2, there’s not a whole lot I can do for them. They’ve probably already found me to be unlovable.

So may I say thank you to Pastor Gary, Pam, Marty and all the sweet souls at Trinity? And I know when you named your church Trinity, you were thinking of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, which certainly is a righteous tripling. But as a parting piece of grace and insight from this traveling troubadour, may I offer you another trinity? Yes–can I present to you three ideas which just might help to continue to enrich the fertile soil in which you plant your gospel seed?

1. Find yourself without fear. Don’t get fooled. You will never find God until you find yourself, discover your own weaknesses and approach them without fear or condemnation. Righteous people aren’t perfect. Honestly, they’re often not even what you would call “good.” They’re just unafraid to admit their lack–and therefore, they grow in their strengths. Be the first one in your neighborhood to notice what you don’t do very well and have the confidence in your talents in to share your shortcomings without fear.

2. Find others without being afraid. Once you’ve taken a journey through your own soul and survived the odyssey, extend the same mercy and tenderness to other folks that you just gave to yourself. It’s often the case that people are not mean–they’re just dissatisfied and they’re trying to create the rest of the world in their image. If you’re not afraid of who you are, you become valuable to both friends and strangers because you don’t have to be afraid of who they are. Sometimes our discoveries are alarming–but if we’ve allowed ourselves the salvation of being free of fear, we can escape all that apprehension and start to love people where they are and give them a chance to find their way. Here’s a truth–you will never find others until you first find yourself–without fear.

3. Find God in your lack of fear. I know there are those who will quote, with great reverence, that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” But sooner or later, we have to stop “beginning” wisdom and actually embrace it. I will tell you of a certainty that the wisdom of the Lord is the end of fear. As the Bible says quite beautifully, “perfect love casts out fear.” Once you find yourself without fear, it gives you the courage to find others without being afraid. Surviving that project, you are now ready to find God in your lack of fear.

Sooner or later, following Jesus of Nazareth has to be more than acquiring a bus ticket to heaven. Jesus did not envision being a caretaker for a bunch of sick souls whom he transports to eternity for rehab. He envisioned making strong people who were the “light of the world” and the “salt of the earth”–people who live without fear and therefore do not have to warm up their hearts to accept others, but already have a pre-heated oven of compassion, ready and waiting.

So I walked out of yesterday a blessed man and climbed into my van, having been in Hixson, Tennessee. Long ago I rejected the over-simplistic attitudes of the conservatives and liberals and have been on a quest to discover the soul of America, one person at a time. I leave behind a little piece of my heart for Trinity–and many of my thoughts, and I encourage them to take on a new trinity:

  • Find yourself without fear.
  • Find others without being afraid.
  • And therefore, find God in your lack of fear.

It truly is the essence of all that we really know about the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.

   

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The Garden of Gethsame (Lutheran) … July 2nd, 2012

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Right there in the middle.

Yes–stuck directly in the center of the word “tradition” is “it.”

I don’t mind people who honor tradition. Matter of fact, yesterday morning I was honored and privileged to be granted an audience in front of a traditional Lutheran congregation. Such confinements and constrictions don’t concern me at all–that is, as long as they get “it.”

Yes, if people will admit that their preferences in style, music and procedure have very little to do with truth and they are still able to unearth the true mission of the heart of Jesus, I couldn’t care less if they do it with a tambourine or a pipe organ.

But you have to get “it.” First of all, you have to understand that if you name your church Gethsemane Lutheran, you are acknowledging that your particular work is built on the concept of one of the greatest conflicts between mankind’s ignorance and God’s mercy. The Garden of Gethsemane was where tradition that DIDN’T get “it” decided to arrest, try and kill the messenger of the ultimate expression of love. It is also the location where miraculously and most wonderfully, a human being stepped away from convenience and humbly prayed, “Not my will, Lord. Yours be done.”

So the name itself–Gethsemane Lutheran–carries with it a tremendous responsibility. We need to understand that we must not crucify Christ again, like the stubborn religious leaders of the past, and instead learn from him the simplicity of seeking out an ultimate good in the midst of present chaos.

I saw great hope for that yesterday–people coming out of the service having the wisdom and intuitive power to distinguish between liturgical practice and down-to-earth, Godly commonsense.

For instance, I love the man who walked up to me and said that he wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper, citing that in America there is no absence of jobs, it’s just that people often don’t want to take the employment because the positions available have not been given value, and therefore they know that they, themselves, will be disrespected for faithfully working. It was an inspired notion. It caused me to think about the motel maids, the waiters and waitresses and the maintenance men that I meet every week. What would I do without them? What tremendous service they offer to us! Yet they are often relegated to the status of secondary citizens and taken for granted as being merely “common laborers.” How brilliant, my brother. Yes, we need to learn to value what people do–and in that action, create and continue an ongoing value for one another.

I listened as men and women came to my table and shared their stories–one having a background in theater, desiring to bring that creative essence into the worship experience; another, a transplant from the Eastern seaboard, who possessed a wealth of history, knowledge and humor in his pursuit of the Christ walk; a leader of the worship service, who came with an open heart instead of feeling the need to sprout some suspicion over the newly arrived strangers; a musician who gave us place and honor to present our own tunefulness with her support; a wonderful, caring woman who presented us with delicious fruit to refresh us between the programs; teenagers, sparked with enthusiasm, picking up our pieces of equipment and carryuing them to our van, lightening our load; and a lady whose heart had been broken many times, but still brought the pieces to Janet, with the aspiration of receiving restoration.

I had no problem with the tradition of Gethsemane, because they get “it.” And what IS “it?”

1. You can’t follow Jesus without occasionally offending some Pharisees. If every stiff-necked, religious fanatic bound by church stuffiness is pleased with you, you probably aren’t doing enough. Truth offends liars. There’s nothing you can do about it. You can be gentle; you can be caring and you can be open, but if you’re going to share Jesus, you will offend some Pharisees.

2. If you’re going to follow Jesus and get “it,” you’re going to believe that NoOne is better than anyone else. “Whosoever will may come” does not allow for secondary prejudice. Even in our cynical world, which would deem such innocent doctrine impractical, we must continue to believe that “NoOne is better than anyone else.”

3. The only thing sacred in churches are the people. As Jesus so eloquently stated it,Man was not made for the Sabbath; the Sabbath was made for man.” We’re not having church if everyone is going through the motions and no one’s being touched in the emotions.

4. To follow Jesus is to understand that the spirit blows where it wants to blow, and nothing will be identical from week to week. You may feel free to have a favorite hymn, but you also must be prepared, if you’re going to walk in the Kingdom of God, to hear a new song.

5. Jesus is not here to please the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance. By the way, that’s HIS quote. If we find ourselves trying to appease those who are already in the rank and file, we will also find ourselves displeasing to the one who was interested in seeking the lost.

6. Nothing is done without good cheer and the pursuit of happiness. Jesus gave us one mission–to be of good cheer. He also told us that our goal is happiness. If your belief is that your faith is going to produce more pain than joy, then you probably should shift teams. It is our job to find good cheer in everything we do, and always be on the lookout for reasons to inspire happiness in ourselves and others. It’s just part of getting “it.”

7. And finally, if you’re going to follow Jesus, you’ll understand that the Kingdom of God is within people, not institutions, ideas, dogmas or rituals. In other words, if what we’re doing is actually making people more cheerful, happy and enriching their lives, then continue. If it isn’t, revise the plan until some “joy comes in the morning.”

After having the delectable experience of being with my Gethsemane brothers and sisters, who were traditional but still got “it,”, I ended my day back at my motel, taking a dip in the swimming pool. I was surrounded by other folks who were trying to escape the St. Louis heat wave. There was a family from Iowa and two young men from Honduras. The young men were a little suspicious of Janet and myself when we got into the pool, because, I guess, we look a little older–and very white. But I flashed them a smile, and moments later they leapt into the pool and struck up a conversation with us. After finishing my first encounter with these two fine, young gents, I then talked to the family from Iowa. Lo and behold, when I finished that conversation, I was once again engaged by my two Honduran brothers, who explained how overjoyed they were that Janet and I were so friendly, because they had been working construction in town and had been “cussed out” by some of the locals because of their Hispanic roots. They worked very hard to understand my accent, as I did due diligence for theirs–but the end result was giddy communication, tenderness and the knowledge that “NoOne is better than anyone else.”

My family from Iowa peered over at us curiously as we conversed with Carlo and Jose. I often think that the problem is not that people are prejudiced–just that they’re afraid. I noticed moments later that the Iowa daddy made an attempt to talk to one of the Honduran workers. It was beautiful. It was what Jesus would want.

Shoot, forget Jesus for a minute. It’s what I wanted. I don’t want to be someone stuck in my “white bread tradition,” unable to carry on a conversation with two hardworking Honduran boys. I also want to be able to communicate with the good friends from Iowa. I want it all. And the only person who gives me the ability to do that is my mentor.

His name is Jesus. And he was the first one to get “it.”

   

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