Things I Learned from R. B.


Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 7

Eight thousand three hundred and twenty-nine miles.

From Erie, Pennsylvania, down to Jacksonville, Florida, across to Houston, Texas, up to St. Louis, Chicago, then over to Detroit, and even Nashville, Tennessee—with many cities in between.

For thirty-one days we traveled to twenty-five cities, putting on performances of my musical, surviving on fast food, common hospitality, and the financial generosity of an audience asked to pass the hat.

Providing our transportation were two leased vans—one stripped of interior seats, which acted as utilitarian, hauling equipment and suitcases. The other was a twelve-passenger van for the cast.

There were nine of us in all. I drove the passenger van, and Gary and Don took over the responsibilities of the “Ute Van.”

They liked that. And little else.

I often wondered why the two of them had auditioned for the play in the first place. Then I realized it was because they didn’t think they would be good enough to get in, but thought it would be fun to try—never imagining they would run across a producer like myself, who was so desperate for a cast that he hired them.

Every once in a while, just to keep things honest, I sent R. B. back to ride in the Ute Van along with Gary and Don, to act as my eyes and ears.

Unfortunately, R. B. was so inexperienced that he didn’t realize the pair was smoking pot right in front of him. When we stopped for gasoline, his innocence played out comically in how loopy he acted—from exposure to second-hand smoke.

When I cracked down on Gary and Don about the grass smoking, they immediately assumed that R. B. had squealed. They confronted him and he denied it, but they never believed him. They used the remainder of the tour to make his life as miserable as possible, with practical jokes, mocking him in front of the girls in the cast, and I think once even peeing on his costume.

Even though I tried to correct the matter, the cast members were not my wards of the court, but rather, young people wanting to get by with as much as they could and doing as little as they could in the process.

One of the girls challenged R. B. to “stand up for himself.” He explained that such a maneuver was against his Christianity because he believed in “loving people and forgiving them.”

Although his rendition of the Gospels was accepted by the other cast members who heard him share it, I interrupted with a different interpretation.

“Forgiveness is powerful if you’ve already established yourself as the salt of the Earth and the light of the world. If you’re valuable—nearly indispensable—then offering the humility of forgiveness carries some weight. But if you’ve spent most of your time on the back of the bus—or the back of the van, in this case—your forgiveness just looks like what any loser would have to do.”

R. B. had to make a choice. Was he going to side with me and the rest of the troop or was he going to quietly join into the rebellion of Gary and Don, as they attempted to convince themselves that they could do everything better than me?

One night, the sponsor at our concert called me into his office about an hour before showtime. He was an old buddy—going way back. He knew everything about me, and I the same for him.

He said, “You need to get your cast straightened out. I just had three of them in here, trying to convince me that you were crazy and that they needed some relief from your dictatorial style.”

Before I could even ask my friend who the three were, he identified them. “It’s your three boys,” he said. “Gary, Don and R. B.”

I wasn’t surprised with Gary and Don. But I was quite astounded that R. B. sided with his tormentors against me.

I know the cast thought I was going to yell at them before the show once word spread that I had been informed, but I did no such thing.

When I was introduced to do the opening words before the musical began, I received warm applause from the audience, which remembered me from former days. I did something that surprised everybody—even myself.

I said, “I want to thank you all for coming out here tonight. We are not in very good spirits and have been arguing with each other for several days. I didn’t want to try to fake you out. I didn’t want to pretend. I didn’t want you guessing. The cast that’s about to come out and perform are doing a good job, and they’re probably peeing their pants right now, wondering why in the hell (pardon my language) I’m saying this. The reason I am is that we don’t have to be perfect to do good things. But it sure helps if we’re honest. So I would like you to forgive us for being mere mortals, and please allow us to take you on a journey. Perhaps in pursuing that odyssey with you, we might get in better moods ourselves.”

The audience burst into applause.

The overture began and we were off to the races. It was a brilliant show.  When some of the cast members made their entrances, you could see tears in their eyes.

I didn’t have any more trouble with Gary and Don. But R. B. was never able to get over the fact that in his opinion, I had humiliated them all in front of the audience.

Even though Gary and Don despised him, R. B. chose to befriend his detractors.

Good News and Better News… November 28th, 2016

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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good-news-man-thanksgiving

Yesterday–for the first time all year–I did not go to a church and share my heart for a Sunday morning worship service.

I am officially on hiatus for the Christmas season. I think the obvious questions would be, how do I feel about not ministering and performing. Did I miss it?

Actually what I felt was nothing.

Although some people would consider that to be a negative statement, “nothing” is the most positive position in which we can find ourselves.

Several years ago I was prompted in my spirit to close letters I wrote to a friend with the phrase, “without nothing.” I think she was a bit confused by this departing phrase, but it’s quite simple. Without nothing, something has no chance of happening.

The best way to ensure that you will not pursue anything of new value or creativity is to constantly claim, “I’m busy.”

Busy smothers the better parts of our soul

Busy convinces us that we have no time.

And busy shuts out others in preference to a pre-arranged party-goers.

When we finally stop being busy, we can arrive at nothing, which then offers the possibility of something.

If we don’t have enough time on our hands to be nearly frustrated by the time on our hands, then we’ll never use the time on our hands to take our hands to create.

  • Without nothing, there is no something.
  • Without a void, there is no filling.
  • Without loneliness, no new relationships.
  • Without grumbling over the absence of a feeling, there is no seeking innovation.

So as I sat in my chair Sunday morning, thinking for a moment what song I might be singing or story I might be telling under normal conditions, I was suddenly flooded with the assurance that God uses nothing to get my attention to do something.

That’s the good news.

The better news is: I found something.

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Perform like you do while acting like you don’t … July 7, 2012

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She laughed at me.

She enjoyed doing that. Since I was only twenty-three years of age, I often made naive observations about life that caused her to chuckle vigorously, while maintaining a generous attitude. Of course, I was a boy from Central Ohio who had only recently moved to Music City U.S.A. and she was a well-seasoned veteran of the Nashville industry.

On this particular occasion, though, I produced a giggle-fest in her because in passing conversation, I informed her that I occasionally went to a nearby steakhouse situated in the proximity of Music Row because I’d heard that the restaurant was a frequent hangout of country music stars. It seemed right to me–because the wall of the establishment was completely covered with signed photographs from these luminaries. After she got done nearly choking on her laughter, she said, “Listen, Jonathan. If you were a country music star would you really want to go eat your lunch at a place where your ugly mug stared down at you the whole time? And why would you want to sip your coffee to the probing eyes of a whole room of strangers?”

It gave me pause for thought.

So one day at lunchtime, she decided to take me over to a real eatery–where the people who were “in the know” went to acquire their noonday sustenance. It ended up being a little cafe stuck in the back of an old, nearly abandoned hotel that barely had enough room in it for fifteen tables. It wasn’t fancy and from looking at the menu, it appeared that the only items for consumption seemed to be various incarnations of chicken fried steak.

But the room was chock-full of country music stars, actors and well-known personalities of all sorts and sizes. Matter of fact, the first two people I saw as I walked in the door were Tennessee Ernie Ford and Andy Griffith. They were just sitting there, chompin’ away and smiling, almost like they were on the set in Mayberry. My dear lady who had brought me to this experience didn’t miss a beat, walking right over to Mr. Ford and Mr. Griffith, striking up a conversation and turning my way, a little perturbed that I hadn’t followed her and seemed to be stuck in cement somewhere near the door. She motioned for me to come over, and I timidly made my way to her side.

Andy Griffith, Tony Award-nominated and Emmy A...

Andy Griffith, Tony Award-nominated and Emmy Award-nominated American actor, producer, writer, director and Grammy Award-winning southern gospel singer. Image taken as President George W. Bush presents him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She introduced me to Tennessee Ernie Ford and I stuck out my hand as a greeting. He looked down at his own paw and said, “I’d shake your hand, son, but mine’s covered with gravy.”

Apparently I was temporarily inspired with a burst of courage, so I responded, “That’s okay. It’ll give me a chance to taste the cuisine before I order.”

He thought this was hilarious. Andy Griffith even laughed. I was on a roll, so intelligently I excused myself and found a table.

While I waited for my benefactress to join me, I looked around the room. Famous people as far as you could see, which, since the room was less than two thousand square feet, wasn’t really that extensive.

I watched them. They all had one thing in common and many things different. They had all succeeded in finding something they could do that other people wanted to buy, which had surprisingly made them well-known. But other than that, they were just human beings acting out their own particular agenda. Some were nice; some were friendly; some were quiet. Others were boisterous and loud. Some treated the waitress with respect, others bellowed out their need for more catsup. There was nothing really different here in the realm of the human family–just people who got paid a whole lot more money to do what they did, while still being who they were.

My dear friend joined me and several other famous individuals came up to the table, including Mel Tillis, Waylon Jennings, Jessie Coulter, Hank Snow and Ray Stevens. Each one of them had a kind word for my lady producer, and turned to me and graciously informed me that I was in good hands.

After I had crunched down a particularly well-fried piece of simulated steak, I told my friend, “You know what I learned today?”

She shook her head, curious. I continued. “I learned that fame is just another cross to bear, that can either take you to glory or just leave you hanging in the air, dying a little bit as the whole world watches.”

She sat quietly and didn’t respond. After a few moments, she put down her fork and replied, “So what are you gonna do about it? I mean, if you ever get to a position where people know your name and think you hung the moon?”

I thought for a long moment, looked around the room at all the folks who had achieved success, and said, “I think the key is in performing like you do while acting like you don’t. I’ve got it figured this way–when the spotlight hits you in life, you should be ready to give your very best, without timidity, anguish or any intimidation at all. But when the spotlight turns off, you should leave the stage humble, not quite sure who that person was that performed all those antics, and walk out to be among your brothers and sisters believing that you’re blessed to have survived that scrutiny–and not quite sure how you’d ever be able to do it again. That’s the key. Because when you begin to believe that what you do makes you better than other people, you really lose the meaning of why you do it. The real reason for talent is to encourage somebody else to live on a little happier and find their own abilities.”

Tears filled her eyes. It was one of those sweet moments that demanded more than milk gravy. But we still made do.

I never forgot that day. Just because you’ve found something you can accomplish on a regular basis doesn’t make you special–unless it blesses other people. So when you’ve done your little tap dance, sit down, relax–and humbly join the human family.

   

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