Not Long Tales … November 5th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4219)

13.

Turnkey Dinner

Melanie Shakeland was the mother of two intelligent, talented, precocious sons, Maxwell, thirteen, and Johnny, ten.

Unfortunately, the boys were also poverty stricken, since their mother had been out of work for thirty-five days, and all the remaining finance had been used up in the pursuit of living and breathing.

They lived in a two-bedroom apartment at the Bermuda Manors, Room 1211. There were about seventy units in the building, with people of all nationalities, all ages and certainly all dispositions.

Melanie had made her run through all the agencies, charities, churches and generous friends and relatives in McKendree, Michigan. There was no one left to tap—no one who hadn’t heard her story of difficulty and struggle.

She made a plan.

Sitting and talking candidly with her two sons as if the three of them were board members from a Fortune 500 company, she explained her scheme. She was going to go somewhere to get money to pay their rent on October 15th, take care of the utilities and leave behind enough money for the two industrious young men to survive on for eats and treats until she returned to them by November 15th—with a new job, a new city and a new home.

Maxwell and Johnny could barely contain themselves with joy. Although they liked the McKendree school system and had many friends, it was embarrassing to be considered the “poor boys” of the class. They believed in their mother—actually, they believed in their mother more than their mother believed in herself.

Melanie took a deep breath and visited one more person—a minister who was new in town at the Universalist Unitarian Church. He was a foreigner from someplace in the Mideast. He was called Tanzier. He refused to be called Reverend, Pastor or any title whatsoever. Tanzier listened carefully to Melanie’s plight, which by this time she had perfected to a sharp, pointed edge. After she was done, Melanie was shocked when the young Arab man agreed to give her money for her October rent, utilities and also extra for food and gasoline.

Melanie was so startled and breathless over the blessing that on the way home she picked up a five-dollar pizza so they could celebrate with the remaining root beer in their last bottle.

She explained the plan one more time. She would be gone for one month. They were to tell nobody that she was out of town. The boys were to keep to themselves.

She showed Maxwell her signature, making him practice it so he would be able to fake school permission slips. She also created a fictitious relative named Aunt Mindy to deter those who might be so nosy as to challenge the situation. Mindy would be staying with them while their mother was away on business.

Although Maxwell and Johnny were frightened and saddened by the absence of their mother for a month, they were determined to do their part to help the family remain a family—and hopefully, with some good luck, become an everlasting family.

On the morning of October 15th, Melanie, having paid the rent and secured the utilities, rose and shared some toast and jelly with the boys before kissing them on the forehead and lips. She handed them two fifty-dollar bills, and with tears in her eyes, said, “Make it last.” She headed out the door.

Time passed. There were many close calls—folks who felt it was needful to talk to Mother Melanie. But the promise of Aunt Mindy—the reassurance that she would get back to them as soon as she could, eventually caused all parties concerned to back away and leave well enough alone.

The hundred dollars Melanie left behind spent pretty well, but after all, the boys were only thirteen and ten, and had little experience with purchasing groceries. They went through half the money in the first week, buying things to eat from the closest convenience store.

November 15th came and went. There was no contact from Mother Melanie. The same was true the next day and the day after. Maxwell encouraged Johnny, and Johnny was attempting to be uplifted—to give Maxwell some peace of mind.

Before they knew it, here came Thanksgiving Day. All they had left was eight dollars and forty-one cents. They nearly got into a fight on Thanksgiving morning, over who had spent too much money on what, and why some particular candy bar should have been avoided.

Just when they were about to start scuffling, Johnny stopped, looked Maxwell in the eyes, and whispered, “I don’t want to fight with you. You’re all I’ve got.”

The two boys broke into tears, grateful they were alone and such an action couldn’t be mocked by their friends.

“What are we gonna do?” whimpered Johnny.

“About what?” asked Maxwell.

“Thanksgiving,” replied Johnny, with a crackle in his voice.

Maxwell smiled. “You know, my brother, I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve got a plan, if you’ll help me. At school the other day, I looked up on the Internet the ingredients used for a Thanksgiving dinner. I wrote them all down. So I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind going to apartments and asking people if you could borrow some of these simple ingredients, because your mom ran out, or forgot to get it at the store.”

Johnny interrupted, upset. “Maxwell! You can’t ask people for a turkey!”

Maxwell patted him on the shoulder. “No, no, of course not. You see, that’s the beauty of the plan. What you do is ask them for this easy, cheap thing, and then when they invite you in to get it, you stare at something from their table, or maybe from their kitchen they’re preparing, and then—if my thinking is right—they might offer you a little bit of it. When they do, you can shy away like you’re upset that you got caught looking. That’ll only make them insist more. Then finally, let them give you a piece from the dish, and bring it back here. Take the thing you requested and leave, thanking them a whole bunch.”

Johnny stood and stomped his feet. “This ain’t gonna work,” he objected.

“Oh,” Maxwell said. “I see. I got it. I didn’t know you were Chicken Boy.”

Johnny hated to be called Chicken Boy. It was like pouring salt into his gizzard. “I ain’t no Chicken Boy and you know I ain’t no Chicken Boy!”

Maxwell spat, “Well, I know you think you ain’t a Chicken Boy. Since it’s Thanksgiving, maybe I should change it to Turkey Boy. Are you a turkey, Johnny?”

Even though Johnny wasn’t sure what was entailed in being a turkey, he was deeply offended, and threatened to punch his bigger, older brother in the belly. Maxwell blocked the punch and hugged him, holding his flailing arms.

“Listen,” Maxwell spoke into his ear. “Just try it once. If it doesn’t work, that’s fine.”

Johnny, still irritated and twitching, slowly nodded his head. Maxwell released his grip. “Here’s the first thing I want you to go after,” he said. “Poultry seasoning.”

Johnny crinkled his brow. “What’s that?”

Maxwell sighed. “I don’t know, and you don’t need to know either. It’s Mama stuff.”

Both Maxwell and Johnny thought it would be good to start on the furthest end of the building and work their way back toward 1211.

The plan worked at the first stop, where they offered Johnny a huge clump of pumpkin pie. When he went to the next unit, asking for cinnamon, he got some dressing. When he inquired about borrowing some aluminum foil, he was loaded down with a generous portion of mashed potatoes. At the next apartment, he requested corn on the cob holders, and they gave him a huge hunk of ham. Finally, when he was in search of a potato peeler, two ladies who happened to share a home both gave him treats—one, some corn on the cob, and the other, a salad (which had enough non-green things in it to make it look possibly edible).

It took about an hour and fifteen minutes, but the boys sat down at a table with a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner—and poultry seasoning, cinnamon, aluminum foil, corn on the cob holders and a potato peeler, just in case they ever needed them.

They were about halfway through their surprising feast when there was a knock at the door. Maxwell frowned, worried. Maybe somebody had become suspicious. Maybe they had noticed Johnny going to more than one apartment to borrow things. Or maybe, after a whole month and twelve days, some neighbor had put together what was really going on and was ready to uncork his or her opinion on the two befuddled lads.

Johnny looked at Maxwell and Maxwell back at Johnny. Should they answer the door?

They stayed as quiet as possible, but after the third knock, the visitor spoke from outside the door. “Maxwell? Johnny? Are you two boys in there?”

They immediately knew who it was. It was Mr. Caylens, one of the teachers at the McKendree School, who lived right down the hall. He was a nice fellow—kind, and always a little bit sad because he had lost his wife to cancer over the summer. But whenever he saw the two boys, he greeted them with gentleness and asked them about their studies and activities.

Still, Maxwell remained quiet, and held Johnny’s hand to keep him from responding. For some reason, Mr. Caylens refused to leave. “Maxwell? Johnny? I know you’re in there. I just saw you, not more than ten minutes ago, running down the hallway. That was you, Johnny, wasn’t it? I just wanted to step in and wish you a happy Thanksgiving. I brought some fried turkey I made this year—it sure is juicy and good.”

The two boys couldn’t help salivating. Although their dinner was quite impressive, the only turkey they had acquired had apparently died and dried out in the desert.

Maxwell considered his choice, and then all at once, spoke up. “Just a second, Mr. Caylens. Thank you for thinking of us.”

He walked over and opened the door. Mr. Caylens looked him in the eyes, but also gazed above his head, searching for an adult presence. “Is your mother here?” said the teacher.

“No,” said Maxwell. “I thought you knew that she went on a trip and left us with our delightful Aunt Mindy.”

Caylens laughed. “Is she delightful?”

Johnny stood to his feet and ran over to join them at the door. “She sure is, Mr. Caylens,” he piped in.

Caylens chuckled. “Well, if she’s that delightful, I certainly must meet her.”

He tried to step through the door, but Maxwell awkwardly blocked him. Mr. Caylens pulled back, a little startled, and Johnny tried to fill in the moment. “It’s interesting that you brought up the fried turkey, because Aunt Mindy just left to go pick ours up at the grocery store. I mean, it’s not frozen or anything—you probably saw the sign, that they cook turkeys, and she was just going down there to get ours, but this is gonna be great!”

Johnny reached up to take the turkey, wrapped in aluminum foil, from Mr. Caylens’ hands. Maxwell touched Mr. Caylens’ shoulder, trying to turn him to leave. “Yeah, this is going to be great. Aunt Mindy told us that sometimes those store-bought turkeys can be dry to the bone.”

Mr. Caylens paused. Although he had been guided to walk out the door, he turned back around and looked into the faces of the two boys, trying very hard to play their parts in the deception.

He had pretty well figured out that there was a problem when he overheard the landlord, who arrived on the fifteenth of November for the rent, and the boys explained that their mother was sending it in the mail, and it would be a few days. It just didn’t ring true.

Mr. Caylens had been a teacher for nearly twenty years, and he certainly could sense a ruse when it was trying to rise. He didn’t want to scare the boys, and certainly didn’t want to disrupt their unity.

Then, struck by a thunderbolt of inspiration, he said, “I don’t know whether you boys know this, but your mother did explain her plan to me.”

Maxwell looked over at Johnny, who was about ready to speak, excited at the prospect of an ally. Hurriedly, Maxwell stepped in. “What are you talking about, Mr. Caylens?”

Mr. Caylens leaned against the doorpost. “You know,” he replied. “The plan she devised so she could get back on her feet to take care of you boys.”

Maxwell was stumped. There was just enough truth in what Mr. Caylens said that he sure was tempted to believe that his mom had a backup person to watch out for them. After all, that would be pretty smart. And one thing Maxwell knew—his mama was a genius.

Johnny couldn’t stand the wait any longer. “She’s a few days late, Mr. Caylens,” he said. “She said it would just be a month, but you know how time can slip away.”

Mr. Caylens nodded. Even though Maxwell was still suspicious, he was also very tired of carrying the burden. He was weary of deceiving the teachers and friends who had once meant so much to him, but now were just obstacles to a private scheme.

Maxwell spoke very slowly. “I don’t know whether you’re lying to us, or trying to get information, or whether my mom did talk to you. What I want you to know is, if you have plans to mess with our plans, well…” He paused. “Well…”

Mr. Caylens interrupted. “Well what, Maxwell? Are you gonna kill me?”

Maxwell shook his head. “Hell, no! What would make you say a thing like that? I’m not a killer—and please forgive me for saying hell.”

Johnny interrupted, using his most mysterious voice. “I guess we just have to get you to swear to silence. You know—like a blood covenant.”

Mr. Caylens frowned. “Well, I certainly don’t know what you mean by that, but it doesn’t sound very good. Here’s what I can do. I can become Aunt Mindy.”

The two boys frowned at him. Mr. Caylens burst out laughing—like he probably hadn’t done for months. “What I mean,” he said, still chuckling, “is that I know there’s no Aunt Mindy. But you see, I’m right down the hall. I don’t need to move in with you, but I do need you to check in with me. And I need you to trust me to quietly find out what’s happened with your mother.”

Johnny looked up at him with big, brown eyes and said, “Sir, we’ve only got eight dollars and forty-one cents left—plus the food we were given by all the nice folks.”

Mr. Caylens reached over and ruffled his hair. “I don’t think it’ll bust my budget to help you all to keep groceries in the refrigerator. But here’s the one stipulation—”

Maxwell jumped in. “Now, I know you’re an English teacher, but does stipulation mean ‘rule?’”

Caylens nodded. “Yeah,” he answered. “Basically. Rule might be too mean. Stipulation is just an agreement. And here’s the stipulation. You will contact me when you come and go. You will let me know if you need something. You’ll let me do all the signing on the notes, and you’ll check in with me in the morning and before you go to bed.”

Maxwell and Johnny felt like slaves that had just been freed from a Roman galley ship. No longer would they have to lie, cheat, plot—and worse, scrounge. Johnny looked up into Mr. Caylens’ face. “Don’t worry, sir,” he said. “It won’t be long. Mama’s comin’.”

Caylens sat down with the boys that night, adding some leftovers from his own table, and he had a delicious dinner with the turnkey boys. As he left to go back to his apartment, wishing the boys a good night, deep in his heart, he knew there was something wrong.

He had always known Melanie Shakeland to be a solid person but being poor could make someone do poor things. He was doubtful that the boys would ever see her again. He was already formulating what he would have to do on the first of December when she didn’t return.

It was November 30th, in the afternoon, when Johnny knocked on Mr. Caylens’ door. Opening it, the young man said excitedly, “Can you come down to our apartment?” As soon as the words were out, he disappeared down the hallway.

Caylens slipped on a sweater and slippers and ambled down to their unit. The door was open, so he stepped in.

There was Melanie Shakeland, surrounded by two of the happiest boys that had ever been known.

She reached out, took Mr. Caylens’ hand and thanked him. “Maxwell and Johnny tell me that you figured out our little deception, and that you were good enough to watch over them. I’m sorry I was late. But I found a job. A good one. Actually, it’s kind of weird—I got a position as a nanny for a very wealthy family down in Grosse Point. I couldn’t come back on time because they were going to Europe and needed me to immediately move into the home to take care of their two children. I didn’t know how to get hold of the boys or what to tell them. I probably did wrong. But anyway, this family lives on beautiful grounds with a mansion and a house out back, that used to be called servant’s quarters. They’ve invited me to bring my two boys to live there, and to take care of their daughters. I don’t know how science, God or Mother Nature saw fit to bless me so. I just plan on trying to do my best to be worthy of it.”

Mr. Caylens was shocked to the point of tears, overcome with the emotion of being present for what could only be called a miracle.

For this mother he had presumed dead was alive.

She was lost, and now was found.

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3 Things … May 2nd, 2019

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That Just Can’t Be Beat

1. Having a smorgasbord of life with a side order of humor

 

2. Possessing a twinge more humility than talent

 

3.  Ohio State when it plays Michigan

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Good News and Better News … August 29th, 2016

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Dividing people is easy.

Just get them to focus on their differences, and their prejudices will do the rest.

But uniting people is equally simple.

Turn the conversation toward our common humanity and let our sense of humor draw us closer.

Ebensburg Penn State highway signAs I finished up eleven weeks in Central Pennsylvania, I headed off to Ebensburg en route to begin my tour in Michigan.

Every little community in America touts some piece of uniqueness, or sometimes even insists that it has a personality unto itself. I have absolutely no idea why we want to distinguish ourselves by our quirks and profiles.

But once you break through that initial crustiness, what you find are human beings. As human beings, they have three basic natures:

1. They are concerned for themselves.

2. They are concerned for what is directly around them.

3. But it doesn’t take a whole lot for them to realize that in order to get Numbers 1 and 2 means they need to be concerned about others.Ebensburg set with Jan

I loved my time in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania.

The audiences were not easy. Having an insulated sense of community, they wanted to look on Janet and myself as strangers, but we popped out of that box and offered big hugs.

So by the time we got to the end of our programs and were ready to pack up, they invited us to a luncheon. We shared with them that we needed to hit the road, because we had a two-hour drive to Youngstown, Ohio. dividing people, prejudices, uniting people, sense of humor, commonality,

They sweetly accepted our explanation, but then they came back a second time and invited us again. Why? I suppose if I were bratty, I could say they were being pushy. But that wasn’t the case.

Ebensburg pianoIn the three hours we were with them, a connection was made–and they just wanted us to know that they were fully aware of it and treasured it.

We gently declined again, and all at once one of the sweet Ebensburg souls said, “Why don’t we make you some plates to go? You have to eat. What is it you want?”

It was so moving. Perseverant love.

They wanted us to eat their food, and we needed to eat food, even though we could not stay–so they came up with a plan.

They bagged us up dinners, complete with two cold bottles of water.

As I drove down the highway enjoying my salad with just the right dressing and all the little choices they put on my plate, I considered perseverant love.

The church is in a position to become the only resource in America that has an open door policy and offers perseverant love. It will begin when we stop studying the Bible in abstract, but instead, study human life, find out what’s really going on with people, and then come back to the Gospels to unearth what Jesus says about it.

That’s the good news.

The better news is that when we have this perseverant love, it’s a lot easier to comprehend that somebody could feel that way toward us, too.

Ebensburg empty piano bench

 

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Jonathan’s Latest Book Release!

PoHymn: A Rustling in the Stagnant

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What I Learned on my Summer Vacation … September 2, 2013

Jonathots Daily Blog

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first day of school

It’s just about time for the bell to ring.

The first day of school is nearly over when the teacher lifts her hand, commanding silence, and informs the classroom that the only homework required for that evening is to write a 250-word essay on, “What I learned over my summer vacation.” She tells the class that the little journals will be read aloud.

So in the spirit of that memory, I will tell YOU what I learned over my summer vacation.

Candidly, I didn’t vacate anything. In other words, I didn’t go on vacation. I continued my occupation, which includes enough travel that one might think I WAS in the midst of some sort of leisurely activity.

Actually, I signed up for the TMMMIII package: Texas-Missouri-Minnesota-Michigan-IowaIllinoisIndiana.

It’s what most people would refer to as “The Heartland,” even though I’m sure the Lone Star State would object in being included with such Yankee stock.

What I learned was very simple:

1. People are everywhere. They are not going away. They are not here to aggravate us, nor necessarily bless us. You can call them self-involved, but really, what they possess is the natural need for survival.

2. People are the adventure. I somewhat pity individuals who need to get on a roller-coaster ride to convince themselves they are acquiring excitement. For me, I can perch on a bench in a mall and watch humanity walking by, and within moments find plots and subplots for movies, plays and certainly, jonathots. Yes, people are underrated as a source of entertainment and inspiration. Also:

3. People don’t charge admission. On the other hand, if you take a trip to Disney World, you can spend $200 a day–easily. But besides my grits, gravy and well-positioned pillows, my odyssey doesn’t cost much as long as I’m willing to accept the show provided. The danger in life is becoming so stuck in your ways that you need everybody around you to be a certain style or you can’t find joy in them. I’m only human. There ARE people I prefer over others, but I do find all of them intriguing, and I’m very grateful that they don’t try to tap me for funds to participate in their three-ring circus. Which leads to:

4. Enjoy the show. I am thoroughly convinced that our earth journey is about learning to enjoy what comes our way, who comes our way, how it comes our way and even why it comes our way. Too much philosophy makes you grumpy. Too much religion makes you prejudiced. And too much knowledge puts you on a search to uncover the ignorant. I enjoy easing up a bit and allowing myself the chance to take in the main stage of everybody’s life, and let them make their case.

It’s been a fantastic summer, and as I sit here on this Labor Day, I can barely call what I do hard work. To some it would probably seem arduous, but I guess I’m just having too much fun … taking in the scenery.

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Poor Coverage … August 9, 2013

Jonathots Daily Blog

(1970)

For two-and-a-half years I shared and ministered with the poor, disenfranchised and homeless folks in Shreveport, Louisiana.

I would not trade that experience for any amount of gold or prestige. Yet I have to tell you that even though it was peppered with great blessing, it was also salted with revelation and discovery.

I learned first-hand what Jesus meant when he said that “the poor you have with you always.”

It never stops. A bag of groceries does not alleviate aching hunger. Paying an electric bill fattens the purse of the local utility, but frustrates the recipients, who realize that next month they will find themselves in the same predicament.

There is a misrepresentation about spirituality–that those who pursue deeper understanding of the heart of God are meant to be propagators of generosity to the destitute. Why the misconception? Because it sounds good.

I observed it last night during my visit to a church in Michigan. These wonderful congregants had put together a system of providing paper goods and needful supplies to members of their community suffering under the rigors of financial depression. I watched as the people came in to receive their bag of goodies and observed as they departed. There was no joy, no sense of appreciation, no discovery of a deep truth etching its way across their features. They were resigned. Or maybe they HAD resigned. I don’t know which one.

But even though they possessed goods which they did not previously count in their storehouses, the realization that it was a “temporary fix” burdened their souls.

Discussing poverty is probably one of the most difficult subjects to broach. You will find yourself becoming either encompassed with the festering futility of the ongoing epidemic, or trying to distance yourself–coming across as a calloused, uncaring goofball.

What SHOULD be our position?

Jesus said they’re not going to go away, so you should “do what you can.”

I think that’s what the generous folks WERE accomplishing at last night’s church. But simultaneously, I must alert them that Jesus fed the five thousand … until he discovered they were following him JUST for the food.

  • Jesus healed the lepers but never visited a leper colony. He instead required that these diseased souls track him down and bring their faith.
  • And Jesus, when confronted by Judas about being uncaring toward the poor by wasting ointment on his head and feet, replied that Judas was out of the flow and didn’t realize that there are more important things than a temporary band-aid on a gaping wound.

What DID Jesus do?

1.  He energized the working class and the rich to appreciate what they had and realize that more of them was required.

2.  He kept his ears open to those who broke out of the pack of self-pity and made their way to his side for transformation.

3. He taught people how to be industrious instead of dependent on luck or divine intervention for their provision, telling them that they were “the salt of the earth” and that  “the Kingdom of God was within them.”

4. And in more than one parable, he told them that seed needed to be sown even when it seemed like there was no possibility for it to take root.

I learned during my two-and-a-half years that caring for the poor is something that has to be done in stride rather than being an actual walk in and of itself. And ultimately, the best way to solve poverty is to take the ten per cent who are ready to pursue personal and financial excellence and ask them to look out for the needs … of nine of their neighbors.

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Just One More… November 17, 2012

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Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia.

All of these places have been my home this year. I have established a temporary address in each one in an attempt to achieve some permanent results. It has been Tour 2012–and it finishes off tomorrow morning in New Albany, Indiana. You will probably never visit New Albany, Indiana. You don’t have to go … because I’ll take you with me.

At one of my stop-offs in Grand Junction, Colorado, a man asked me what my favorite scripture was. I thought he was just trying to make conversation, so I turned the tables on him and asked him to tell me his favorite passage. He said it was a toss-up between for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son” and “nothing can separate us from the love of God.”

I told him I thought those were excellent choices. He pursued. “But what’s your favorite one?”

“My favorite one is found in the gospels,where it reads, ‘and Jesus went to another village.’

He looked at me, perplexed. I didn’t expect him to totally understand. For you see, the power of the gospel does not lie in the establishment of a church–the organization of religion into practices and rituals. The power of the gospel is that it travels well and is best expressed when it’s moving. It’s why Jesus said, “Foxes have holes but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

My traveling enables me to come into a town and love people, bring some incentives, make a few suggestions and exhort the areas where they are pursuing better paths–and then leave, allowing them, as mature people, to assimilate the message into their lives as they deem powerful. The danger of remaining in one community and believing that you can make a difference is that we all have a tendency to settle…and meddle. We “settle” into a series of repetitive actions determined to be normal, and then, when other people don’t follow our structure, we have a tendency to “meddle” in their affairs, taking away their freedom to be who God has made them to be.

Sometimes we use politics, sometimes we use corporations, but usually we use religious conviction as a club, attempting to hammer people into submission to the will of our local village.

It is most unfortunate.

Traveling as I do, I don’t have to “settle” for anything. I can live my life as I choose and share my discoveries with others without feeling the need for them to either condemn or affirm my purposes. Therefore, I don’t hang around long enough to meddle in their affairs or critique their concerns when those particular selections are not to my favor.

So you might ask me how you can do the same thing–to escape “settling and meddling”–and still maintain the integrity of a local post office box. That’s really easy. God gives every one of us a “tour schedule.” The beauty for most of you is that you don’t ever have to leave your own home. That tour schedule is called Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Yes, all of you can be on a tour–as long as everything that happens on Monday is not carried over to your next stop, on Tuesday. So you have your Monday tour and then you climb into your wonderful tour bus of sleep to journey onto your next gig, which is called Tuesday. Now, if you take along the problems of Monday or celebrate too many of the victories, without being fully aware that the next tour stop will have its own conflicts, then you make a huge mistake. But as long as you live within the day, not worrying about tomorrow, and you don’t fuss over the affairs of the last performance from the day before, you can find yourself in the same position I do–touring.

For after all, we’re all just visiting this place anyway. And those who put down their roots too deeply become very dissatisfied, disillusioned and discontented at the brevity of the visitation.

So I have one more stop tomorrow–but actually, I never stop. Because even as I go on to Nashville, Tennessee, to eat Thanksgiving with my family, and then climb back into my van to tour for ten days with a Christmas presentation, to finally, arrive in Miami to spend the holidays with all my kin, I am always moving on. Sometimes it’s just from Monday to Tuesday; sometimes it’s from New Albany, Indiana to Knoxville, Tennessee. The gospel works best when you don’t try to make your location concrete, but instead, understand that we’re all just passing through–one day at a time.

“And Jesus went to another village…”

A lady recently told Janet that she had come to the conclusion that we were homeless. I guess in some people’s minds it might appear that way. Of course, for fifty years now, I have been a follower of a homeless man who ended up traveling around–and in so doing, changed the whole world. I guess I rather admire his choices, and pattern some of mine after them.

So you will find me, for the rest of my life, going to another village. You may follow suit by keeping your favorite pillow but permitting yourself the blessing of traveling from Monday to Tuesday without feeling the need to worry about the former day or be too concerned about the next one.

Just remember one of the great rules of the road: it’s not polite to steal towels from your last lodging.

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Wicked Imaginations … September 12, 2012

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She had heard it was a cut-throat business. It didn’t matter. Sandra Collier was determined to be a writer.

She’d possessed the aspiration ever since she was a small child and read her first Dr. Seuss book. She gained impetus pouring through the pages of Black Beauty, Red Badge of Courage, Moby Dick and even to some extent, the works of Faulkner. She loved to put pen to paper and ideas to stories.

She had one. A story, that is. She’d even taken it further than that–she had turned it into a manuscript, perhaps a novella. It was the tale of a young girl seeking love, who gave up on her hometown possibilities and flew to Paris to find romance and adventure, falling in love with a man who ended up being from her home town and grew up just two blocks away.

She let all of her friends and family read the story and everyone raved about the beauty, tenderness and joy of the unfoldings. There was one professor at a local community college who told her that the idea and concept seemed “generic.” Or maybe he said “derivative.” But she chalked his comments up to the disgruntled mumblings of a frustrated artist who ended up in academia.

Sandra Collier was determined to be a famous writer. So she sent her manuscript off to five different publishers, and approximately six weeks later received five rejection slips, only two containing personal notes, which cited that her offering was naive, childish and non-marketable. She was discouraged. Even though she didn’t expect immediate acceptance, she required it.

In one note, the publisher suggested that she pursue finding an agent to help her proliferate her talent in the New York publishing field, so she decided to take the advice, and in the process came across an agent who expressed some interest in her story. He invited her to come to his cabin in the woods in the upper peninsula of Michigan, to discuss possibilities on presenting her “prose to the pros.”

She was a bit hesitant. Her mother warned her of “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Not certain what that meant in the modern-day world of business, Sandra decided she was old enough to handle herself and set off to meet with her new comrade in arms.

Things went well. He made suggestions and they punched the story up a little bit while having great conversations about angles, advertising and even photo shoots. She was enamored. She began to feel like the heroine in her own story, who had gone off seeking romance–and found it.

So after a couple of days, when the agent made a slight advance her way, she put up no resistance. A love affair ensued.

Even though Sandra was not inexperienced, she was certainly ill-prepared. She fell head over heels, deep with infatuation for this knight in shining armor who was going to help her become the fair maiden of the book selling world. They left each other with a tender kiss and a promise that soon he would contact her with the first fruits of his labors in seeking out publication.

Two months passed. She placed calls. At first he cautioned her to be patient, but eventually he stopped returning her overtures. It was on the third Tuesday of the third month that she received a note in the mail. It was from him.  She was so excited. She opened up and read the words:

“Good-bye. Now that you’re disappointed, go write something true.”

Sandra couldn’t believe it. Literally, she felt that somebody was playing a joke on her, so she tried to call him. The number was changed and unlisted.

Sandra stopped pursuing writing. She decided that it was a childish dream of such unrealistic proportions that she was embarrassed to even admit she had ever pursued it. She met a man, she got married, she had two children. She took a job. Every once in a while, people would bring up a movie or book they had seen or read. She made a practice of leaving the room, refusing to participate in such creative nonsense.

She felt she was healed from her previous novice error. She felt mature. She felt wise. She thought the true essence of gaining knowledge was admitting that dreams were best kept in our nighttime beds. She was an advocate of realism. She was a person who refused to take risks and embrace any new idea that might offer the option of disappointment. She took the profile of a human being who had swallowed up life as it is, while rejecting happiness. After all, she mused, happiness is what we decide it should be.

Sandra Collier never became a writer. The world will survive. The problem is that Sandra never became happy.

In our time there is much talk about good and evil–a back and forth, see-saw discussion, rife with contradictions, accusations and half-truths. But identifying evil is not as difficult as it is made out to be in the movies, with priests chasing the demon-possessed through the darkened halls of castles. Evil is much simpler. Evil has only one goal–to convince disbelievers of its importance and equality, because it is much more realistic. Once the populace has nodded and assented, evil triumphs.

It is the essence of the fourth thing that God hates–a heart that devises wicked imaginations. When we feel that life has only having dismal possibilities, dark corners ormorose conclusions, we become useless to ourselves and a stumbling block to anyone who would love to progress a great idea.

God hates this particular surrender to the inevitability of failure, because it is a proclamation thatI am better than happy.” Evil is the proud stomping ground for the earth native who wants to pound the drum and scream that life is devoid of meaning. Evil is giving up before we even have considered whether any option might be fruitful. Evil is allowing our hearts to be filled with despair, and therefore our jaded consciousness determining our passion.

In the quest for realism, we have locked ourselves into a tomb of doom, where we nervously scratch our arms, stare off into the distance and lament the fate of humanity.

Sandra gave up. She didn’t kill herself, she didn’t become an alcoholic, she didn’t put the heroin needle in her arm, and she didn’t climb into a 1962 Chevy Impala and go around the country indiscriminately killing people. She didn’t even curse God.

She continued to be a mother, a wife, a church-goer, a worker and a member of her community–who just didn’t believe anymore. She became a victim, with a heart continually devising wicked imaginations. She believed she was better than happy. And because of that, she never found the stamina to succeed.

For it is the joy of the Lord that is our primal source of strength.

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