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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Jesonian… May 13th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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jesonian-cover-amazon

 Their minds and hearts drift back so readily to Galilee–to friends, family, loved ones and labors of love.

For the traveling is exhausting and drains the passion of purpose. Going from town to town, the folks they encounter are able to treat them as strangers, leaping to establish tribal superiority and regional domination. So there’s always a little bit of loneliness creeping into the corners of swelling doubt.

It threatens to extinguish the desire to speak peace to the perishing.

Each night they gather by the fire at the end of the day. Yes, devoted. But devoid of energetic will, not wanting to be too close to me.

After all, I am the teacher.

I am the messenger.

I am the reason, beckoning them from their safe memories of normalcy.

So in deference to their need for privacy, I excuse myself from the common fellowship. They require an opportunity to reminisce together, question their calling without condemnation, and whisper wishes across the embers.

I have a place I go.

After all, I have my own memories of childhood.

I, too, have a family that misunderstands my meaning. In that private space, I speak to God. He’s a good listener. Honestly, He doesn’t often contribute or elaborate, but in His own way, He helps me to clear my thoughts.

By the time I return, my brethren are asleep. I try to do so myself. Morning will soon be here.

Another day of wandering.

Another chance to fail.

And oh, yes–another opportunity to see the world born again.

 

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James, More or Less… November 9, 2013

Jonathots Daily Blog

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There were two of them.james the less

At least that’s what the Good Book shares.

Out of twelve disciples, two of them ended up being named James. Over the passage of time, to distinguish between the fellows, one gained the title of James the Greater and the other, James the Less. It’s something we just accept–that is, unless you were the James named the Less.

I suppose it would be a little frustrating to pass the muster of graduating from being one of the five thousand that Jesus fed to being one of the seventy he sent out, to finally be honored by receiving the accolade of achieving the top twelve, only to be referred to as “James the Less.”

Such is life. Sometimes you get to be more and most of the time, you get to be less. The trick is finding out how to be the same person with the same values and the same passion no matter which title is temporarily bestowed upon you.

Something we rarely consider is that Jesus, the ultimate, cool “fair” guy, did bestow more significance on three of his disciples, more than the other nine. Whenever he went on a secret mission, he took Peter, James and John, leaving James the Less and his other eight buddies behind. What was that like? (Matter of fact, it’s a little surprising that only one of the disciples decided to betray him, considering human nature…)

I’m sure there was grumbling. We know they were especially upset when the two “fishing brothers,” James and John, campaigned to become the favored two: “Let us sit on your right and left hand when you come into your kingdom…”

That was their request.

So how DOES it work? What can I learn from this as a human being filled with my own concerns, desperately trying to discover a noble thought within? Because I know this–sometimes I get to be James the Greater and sometimes I’m James the Less. Here’s the odd thing–what I do when I’m James the Less is more valuable and important than what I do when I’m James the More.

Truthfully, the popular people in our country, whose names are splashed across the television screen twenty-four hours a day, are completely unable to solve our problems. So what’s the advantage of being famous if you’re a gunky-flunky? On the other hand, although my operation is small, and I’m not nationally known, I’m pretty pleased with the fruit of my labors.

The power of being James the Less is that nobody really wants your position, so you can call your shots with more freedom, and therefore determine your destiny.

When you’re James the Greater, the spotlight’s on you, everybody has an opinion and you are granted less privacy to choose your path. Oh … and did I mention? James the Greater was so popular that Herod Agrippa decided to behead him to gain kudos from the Jews. (Now THERE is a distinct disadvantage to being promoted.)

church of st jamesSo as I go off tomorrow morning to St. James United Methodist Church in Miamisburg, Ohio–a small congregation–I wonder if they can take advantage of being “the Less” without pining to be “the Greater.”

I am curious if they can maneuver themselves into a position of revival instead of following the mediocre philosophy of our generation. I am desirous to uncover their heart–because James the Less lived out a life as one of the twelve without needing to make the “top three.”

That’s me.

And because I have learned to be Jonathan the Less and do the best I can, making my own decisions through my faith, I have been granted great opportunities, and by the way … haven’t lost my head.

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Happy Feathers Day … June 15, 2012

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No, it’s not a misprint. The word IS feathers.

For after all, there has to be something more involved in fatherhood than just being present for conception and providing room and board for your chickadees. Actually, the job is to encourage the foundation and growth of good human beings. So every year when this Father’s Day holiday comes along, I like to take a look at where my family is in the context of what I deem to be important, and what I believe to be universally applicable.

Your children can be like “feathers in your cap.” They are a confirmation of your efforts, and proof-positive that you actually showed up for the job, punched the clock and did an excellent day’s work before heading home.

I’m going to give you a list of ten things that I ask about my children each year, to evaluate how many feathers I feel I can put in my own cap concerning my humble efforts with my offspring. They are more or less questions which I carefully evaluate to note progress, or on occasion, some back-sliding.

1. Do my children respect other people’s rights to privacy and choice? (Prejudice is not part of DNA. It is force-fed to children who have no other information but what they hear.)

2. Does my offspring honor excellence and challenge mediocrity? (Making excuses for poor work is the first step to lying, which is the path to all iniquity.)

3. Can they laugh at themselves? (We are living in a generation that can mock but has little ability to be meek about their own weaknesses.)

4. Do they watch AND pray? (It’s what Jesus told us to do. Don’t just piously recite prayers, but also watch and be attentive to your own life and how to make things better.)

5. Do my children believe in the family of man? (There’s a great danger in our times of becoming overly focused on our immediate genealogy, ignoring the greater fellowship in the world around us.)

6. Do they receive the truth? (The truth is always a shock if you don’t constantly remind yourself that your opinion probably needs additional input.)

7. Do they enjoy the world but also recognize when it has gone crazy and make a stand? (It’s very important to be congenial, but not a pushover when things have gone awry and principles need to be honored.)

8. Can they make a stand for what they hold true? (Often peacefulness and cowardice can be the same action if we are willing to sacrifice the power of what is proving to work in our lives.)

9. Do they know that the kingdom of God is within them? (All religion is an attempt to break down our personal responsibility to a few exercises of worship instead of using our lives as a vehicle for creating peace.)

10. Are they creative? (The true test of creativity is to have the sensibility to stop and listen when frustration is trying to make you repeat bad habits.)

So there you go. Those are the ten “feathers in my cap,” available to me if I discover each and every year that my children have continued to pursue the good path on which I tried to place them. Of course, along the way, they pick up excellent ideas of their own. That’s how the generations move forward instead of backwards.

Honestly, each and every year, the tally is a little different. Each and every child scores uniquely. I don’t judge them by this test, but rather, evaluate whether our particular rendition of humanity is blessing the planet or merely inhabiting it.

But always keep in mind, if some of these ideas were never transfused into your children when they were growing up, you still have the power–through repentance–to set a new example, even at a distance. I want my children to see that Dad wasn’t always right, but that Dad is still moving to find out what is.

So–Happy Feathers Day! Because the feather we can stick in our cap is knowing that we have unleashed on the world folks who have come through our household who are not lethal to others … and might just be ready to offer abundant life.

   

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