Not Long Tales … August 20th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Underneath

Lance sat quietly staring at his hands.

They didn’t seem small—at least, he didn’t think so. But the bully who lived seven houses down on the right-hand side had made fun of them yesterday, in front of four or five guys, and worse, two girls.

It wasn’t easy being eleven years old, anyway you looked at it. But being ridiculed for your little hands in front of friends was more than humiliating. It was debilitating and left no recourse. After all, you couldn’t scream, “My hands are big!”

But Lance had anyway. And when he objected, everyone laughed at him. Because tears that were lurking in his eyes suddenly avalanched down his cheeks.

Lance hated summer vacation. As bad as school was—and it certainly had some really stinky things about it—at least your day was filled, and you didn’t have to try and figure out a reason for getting up in the first place.

It was especially difficult because Lance had a mother who insisted he “go out and play with the other kids.” She didn’t understand that he had just been targeted for having tiny paws.

Yes—he felt like a puppy being mocked by the big hound. He was afraid to leave his doorstep.

There was one friend who never deserted him—what you might call the saving face. His name was Jallus. Lance’s mother always referred to him as “the black boy” and Jallus’ mother called Lance “the white boy.” Sometimes the two buddies joked with each other, calling each other “black boy and white boy,” just to get the giggling going. Of course, it was ridiculous. Lance was the color of dirty sand and Jallus looked like chocolate milk diluted by water.

But the two boys needed each other, because the bully also told Jallus that his hands were puny. They found comfort in each other’s company.

But during this particular summer, Lance had discovered an escape. He hadn’t told anyone, not even his buddy, Jallus. In the back of the house, just underneath the steps, there was a piece of white lattice covering up the crawl space. There were a couple of screws missing from the top—just enough that Lance could pull it back, squeeze through and climb in beneath the house.

When he first discovered it, he was scared. His mind went crazy thinking about what might be in that crawl space, lurking to harm him. A rat, a snake—and most certainly, any variety of bugs made their homes in the sludge.

Yet it was so peaceful in there—especially on hot days, it was just a little cooler, and on rainy days it stayed dry, but gave Lance a front row seat on the beauty of the pelting rain. He adored the place.

He cleared it out a little bit. There was some trash—discarded bags of cement and rocks getting in the way of affording him total space. He sat in there for hours at a time thinking about life, small hands and his daddy. Lance had never actually met the fellow. He had departed before Lance had a full brain for knowing. His mother told him that his daddy probably loved him, but lived far, far away, in Mississippi. It made it nearly impossible to come and visit.

One day when he was snooping through his mother’s closet, he found a picture stuck in a box—a fellow sitting on a motorcycle, wearing a cowboy hat. He assumed it was his daddy. Sitting behind him on the bike was probably his mother, back when she was a girl.

Seeing that motorcycle reminded Lance of the time his mother said that his father had sent a birthday present of a bicycle. It came in a big, huge cardboard box, but it wasn’t put together. Mama had tried really hard to get all the bolts in the right places, but it was never right. So it just sat in the garage in a heap. Every once in a while, Lance would pull out a piece or two and play with the back wheel for a while. The bicycle was so much like the rest of his life—everything seemed to be there, but nothing came together.

But when Lance went underneath the house into his chamber of privacy, it was a whole different situation. He took a flashlight with him so he could keep an eye on the surroundings, in case he was invaded by one of nature’s uglies. He also found an old canteen in the garage, which he cleaned and filled with Kool-Aid, to sip on as time passed by. The Kool-Aid was so refreshing that the next time he brought a plastic bag of Gummi-bears. Goldfish crackers and M & M’s. It was so peaceful and satisfying.

Lance never thought he’d ever want peace. Being a boy, he was rather fond of chaos. But occasionally, he needed to feel like feeling was okay and nobody was staring, wondering what he was doing.

Sometimes he would lie on his back and listen to the floorboards creak—Mama preparing dinner in the kitchen. Sometimes she would sing. It made him feel so good when he heard her sing. Other times, she just talked to herself. He couldn’t hear what she said but could tell from the tone that it came from an unhappy place.

Summer persisted, as the summer sun often does.

Then one night, right before bedtime, sirens went off from the nearby town. Mama was frightened. She explained to Lance that the sirens meant there was a tornado coming. It didn’t take very long before great winds began to sweep by their house, rattling the windows and striking terror into their souls.

The two of them lived in a very simple house. There was no upstairs, no basement. Just the one floor—and Mama had no idea what to do. She was looking for a safe place for them to hide from the danger, but she couldn’t move. Her head turned, her eyes peering in all directions, as if waiting for someone to give her instructions.

All of a sudden, she prayed—no, nearly screeched, “Oh, Jesus! Help us!” Just about that time, a tree blew over in the front yard and landed on the top of the house, mashing in the roof.

Lance looked at his mother. He knew two things—she wasn’t going to move, and Jesus wasn’t going to stop the storm.

He took his Mama by the hand and started to walk toward the back door. She wouldn’t come. He pulled a little harder, but she resisted. Then, as if inspired by forces far beyond his understanding, Lance decided to run out the back door, figuring that Mama just might follow, terrified that Lance would be swallowed by the big twister.

As he ran toward the door and opened it, the screen flew back, broke off and landed on the ground. He hurried down the steps and when he reached the landing, he looked back. Sure enough, there was his mama, faithful lady that she was, chasing him.

He slid around the steps and over to the lattice, pulling back as hard as he could, to make room for him and also his mother to get in. He climbed into his precious space. She trailed, peeking inside. “What are you doing?” she asked.

Lance realized there was no time to explain, so he whispered. “Trust me, Mama. Trust me.”

She stared at him for a moment, trying to make out his image in the darkened space, and then wiggled forward as he grabbed her hands and pulled her down to sit next to him. As soon as she was seated, they heard a cracking—breaking glass and horrible thumps coming from all directions. They sat in the dark, holding each other and breathing heavily, hoping…hoping there would be a life left for them, since they would still be living.

Then, as quickly as it began, it was over. There was just the sound of rain splashing against the broken lattice. Mama shivered. Both of them were afraid to move.

Lance thought his mom would eventually release her grip, but she stayed where she was, squeezing him. He could hear her heart pounding. Finally, after a few moments, she relaxed. Her arms came free, and she wrapped them around her knees. She took four, maybe five, deep breaths.

He watched her. Either there was more light or his eyes had adjusted, because he could see her face clearly. She looked like a little girl. After all, that’s what bad storms do—they turn us all into children.

He leaned over and stroked her hair. “Mama,” he said, “what do you think about my place? I call it ‘Underneath.’”

Her eyes filled with tears as she looked around with her limited view and managed, “I like what you’ve done with it.”

She started to move, as if she was going to head out of the protection. Lance grabbed her arm. “Let’s not,” he said. “There’s no need for us to find out anything right now. You see, if we don’t know, then we don’t know.”

He offered her a drink from the canteen and some Gummi-bears. She accepted, putting a Gummi in her mouth and then taking a swig from the canteen. She emitted a tiny giggle.

Lance reached over and grabbed her hand. “Mama, this is where I come to get away from all my storms.”

Her face brightened, with a glint of understanding. She scooted across on her bottom, pulled him close to her and hugged like she had never hugged before.

The two just stayed there, hugging, crying and breathing in unison…

Underneath.

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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.

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

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

Not Really Evil … April 29, 2012

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In Los Angeles

When two dreams are separated and ignored, what lies between is a nightmare–a surrender to sleep, devoid of rest.

Such was my life for a season. About twenty years ago I stopped traveling. I ceased writing. I refrained from sharing. I removed creativity, suffocating my dreams. I settled into the San Francisco Bay area in a motel room with my wife and three children and attempted forced domestication. I worked the “dead man’s shift” at the front desk of the same motel to cover my expenses.

I was at that position late one night when he walked in the door. I had heard rumors from the maids and maintenance staff that he had checked into room 214 and was planning on staying a while, but it seemed so unlikely that I dismissed it as idle chatter. But all at once, in the night hours, he came strolling in, looking for a book of matches.

It was Evil Knievel. I didn’t know much about him. I mean, I had a cursory understanding of his fame and the bold endeavors he had undertaken by leaping over things with his motorcycle. So I was a bit starstruck and dumbfounded at the same time. I fumbled around, found him some matches and he stood there, staring at me, saying nothing. It was very intimidating.

I wanted to speak or maybe even ask a question, but each idea I formed in my mind was more stupid and comical than the previous, so I pretended to be working on some figures behind the desk–as he continued to stare. He only stayed for ten minutes. During that time he asked me three questions.

1. “Have you always been fat?” (That one was easy. I said “yes” and then began a sentence to explain, trailing off prior to verb usage.)

2. “Does the motel offer anything other than Danish for breakfast?” (Another easy answer. We didn’t. We wouldn’t. We can’t. And we shouldn’t. All the excuses I had been provided.)

3. And finally, he said, “What’s your name and what in the hell are you doing here?” (He tricked me with a two-part question. Through my flustered condition, I still was able to retain my name–Jonathan Richard Cring–but I was not sure what I was doing there, though I couldn’t confirm it was hell. But in a strange burst of boldness, I flipped it. “Let me ask you, Mr. Knievel. What in the hell are YOU doing here?”)

He gave a quick laugh which turned into a smoker’s cough, with a long clearing of the throat. “Damned good question, my man,” he said. He turned on his heel, walked out, disappeared around the corner and I never saw him again. About three weeks later he checked out of the motel and I followed his career enough to know that he had a couple of come-backs over the next few years before he took his final leap over the River Styx into eternity.

But in that brief visitation with this man, who had achieved such great fame and now was discussing breakfast choices, I realized that I had escaped down a hole simply because it appeared in front of me. I had decided that traveling around the country with my family, sharing a message of hope and love, was a bizarre thing for a father to do and that I was tired of being out of the box. I wanted to be normal. So I settled in and began to live in a motel, which in itself was extraordinarily abnormal. So here I was, trying to please an existing social system that was not of my heart or making, and even though I had forsaken all of my sense of calling and the energy which rattled my soul to excellence, I had still fallen short of the demands of my culture. What a fool. Just like Evil Knievel, I was hiding away because the hideaway was made available.

It was shortly after that visit that I packed my bags up and took my family back out on the road to reestablish our identity, such as it was. Because life does not consist of a marching army of conformed troops adorned in the same uniform. Life is a personalized journey through a wilderness, where survival is contingent on using what is available while maintaining the best attitude you possibly can.

Evil walked through my door that night–but he really wasn’t so bad. He wasn’t mean. Evil wasn’t out to get me. The main thing I will remember about Evil is that he was lonely. Loneliness is what we’re left with when we follow a voice that is not our own, which ends up not being God.

For after all, respectability is achieved when my needs are covered and you are happy over my choices. Contentment is when my needs are supplied … and I am happy with my choices.

  

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

This … February 1, 2012

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This threatened to be more than she could bear. Her husband was killed–struck down in the street on his motorcycle, leaving her stricken. This was life without a companion. This was life devoid of repair. This was life minus a second chance. And now she had found out, this was also life deprived of justice–for the perpetrator of the accident was granted leniency instead of responsibility. This was painful. Not that she wanted revenge, or even an accounting of deeds. This just seemed to demand a sense of direction or purpose–or at least, meaning.
 
This generated some anger in her. She was ashamed of her anger. Being a good, Christian woman, she felt the need to forgive, even though the seeds of that emotion had not found any rich soil in her heart. This left her wounded.
 
She shared with those around her, and we, as people, did what we often do in these kind of situation. We comforted. We suggested. We offered an ear. We presented the possibility of our prayers. And we even pointed to some scriptural concepts of comfort. But even as these overtures were put forth, everyone knew how lame they were in comparison to her pain.
 
Actually, how inconsiderate it can be to bring up a God who was present at the accident, and even though He is bound by His doctrine of free will, still–He stood by and allowed her loving man to die. Yes, there is a time when even God wishes to shrink back into the shadows and not be a source of further anguish to us. For after all, prayers seem vacant of possibility in the stark reality of loneliness. Scriptures are similar to giving a box of powdered milk to a man dying of thirst. Without water, the powder can’t make fluid, and if you had water, why would you need the powdered milk?
 
This is not what she needed. This was not the answer.
 
In the midst of tragedy, three steps have to be achieved, and each one of them seems more impossible than the other:
 
1. Find yourself. Life will, unfortunately, go on–and the most valuable thing you can do is find out who you are and where you are in accordance with what you’ve done, and place yourself on the map of the landscape of life. This is hard. It demands that we envision ourselves without someone we love.
2. Find people who will let you grieve and who will listen without commenting. Grief was never meant to be alleviated by spiritual counseling or prayer. It is a process by which we replace our anger, frustration and disbelief–first with reality and then with a willingness to move on.
3. And finally, don’t stop doing what keeps you sane. The worst mistake in the world is to “take time off” to try to find yourself. The only way you truly find yourself is to use your time to make your gifts work for you.
 
This is often the “this” we have in life. We do not choose it. We would certainly select to escape it. But being forbidden any choice and finding no way of escape, we must take our emotions and let them run their course and find ourselves in the end.
 
She was a lovely woman with years of service to mankind. She wept as she told her story. At first I wanted to be a savior –a comforter to her soul. But as the moments passed, I realized I was needed only to listen and to remain still. Like watching a deer in the forest, this dear creature of God needed her moment to run wild. I will pray for her–privately. I will think of her for many days to come. But the best I can do for her personally is give her room to be human.
 
This … is my mission.
 
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Jonathan wrote the gospel/blues anthem, Spent This Time, in 1985, in Guaymas, Mexico. Take a listen:

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To see books written by Jonathan, click the link below! You can peruse and order if you like!

http://www.janethan.com/tour_store.htm

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