Things I Learned from R. B. (May 31st, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 17

R. B. deeply enjoyed Chinese food, even though he hated ordering it off the menu because he was unable to remember the names of the delicacies that enticed his flavor lust, and ended up having to ask the waitress what the various terms meant, and then ended up nodding his head as if he understood, only to reveal upon her departure that he was clueless as to what had been explained to him—and just a little bit pissed that she was “so damn foreign.”

About two weeks after arriving in Nashville, R. B. requested that we begin what he called “sessions.” Having been unemployed for well over a year and spending most of his time alone, he was very reclusive, and a bit fearful to share his feelings in front of others, even if he knew them well.

So he saved my family for “fun times.”

He asked me if I would be willing, once a week, to partake of a meal and help him with his plans. Thus, the “sessions.”

I suggested we choose a Chinese buffet that had become our family favorite, where we also taped a weekly broadcast of a radio show, which I purchased time for on a local station. It was a five-minute-a-day newsy, comedic and sometimes musical presentation on an outlet which, according to a respected survey, seemed to have no listeners.

We didn’t care much. The show was for our glow. We gathered at the Chinese restaurant on Saturday mornings, taped the show and then over-ate the MSG.

I told R. B. that he might like the place because he wouldn’t have to remember the Chinese dishes but could just stare down into the buffet until he could visually identify a favorite. So it was agreed that we would meet once a week—the day and time changing based upon his whimsy.

R. B. knew how to talk.

Apparently saving up lots of energy from lonely nights, he could fill three hours of conversation better than any man I’ve ever met.

The situation was simple and perverted. R. B. wanted to present plans he’d made, which, as time passed, proved to be theories he had no intention of pursuing. And I got to pretend that I was using my skills as a teacher, a reasoner and a counselor, to help another human being. In the process, both of us got high blood sugar and weight gain.

Since I had not seen R. B. for some time, the first “sessions” were a little bit startling. He had settled deeply into habits. I suppose some people would call them bad.

It is certainly safe to call them questionable: smoking, staying up late, drinking, over-sleeping, temper tantrums and having a diet which consisted of anything that fit concisely into a Styrofoam container.

The sessions were not a healthy situation. I knew if I aggravated him by making contrary suggestions, he wouldn’t want to meet anymore, and I would lose my buffet appointment and ability to claim that I was in the midst of counseling.

He also did not want to become aggravated because the sessions were his red-letter day of the week—when he could spring for $6.99 to have a pair of ears listen to him ad nauseum.

Looking back on it now, I see how easy it is for us to get involved in meaningless and perhaps even dangerous entanglements. I can tell you three unchanging ideas that came out of R. B. during the sessions:

  1. The industry was changing and that’s why he was unable to get a job.
  2. In some way or another, he was smarter than me and he didn’t even know why he was seeking my counsel since I was basically a nobody-nothing.
  3. It was made clear to me that I could be encouraging, supportive, complimentary but needed to avoid espousing any idea that he didn’t appreciate. Otherwise R. B. was likely to pout.

Working within this framework, we maintained what could be loosely considered a friendship.

But I did maintain it. I had selfish reasons which were bolstered by a couple of selfless aspirations.

One of the selfless thoughts was that if I didn’t talk to R. B. and commiserate with him, who would?

Of course, a case could be made that if he wasn’t being pandered to by a Chinese-gobbling friend, he might have been able to get some real help.

The fact of the matter is, I, myself, was too needy to help the needy. I didn’t realize it at the time.

But every session always ended with the same speech.

“This was good,” opined R. B.  “Let’s follow up on some of the ideas and meet again next week, and I certainly will try to work up the energy and hopefulness to go out and apply for a job or two.”

Meant Well… September 2, 2012

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The Bible.  Some people think it’s just a book. Others call it holy. It’s divided into two sections–Old Testament and New Testament.

You see, I understand that. Really, it’s not that different from me. After all, I’m always divided into two sections: Meant well. Doing better.

I don’t know why we fail to notice that the Bible makes it clear that God is learning. We seem to be obsessed with the notion of perfection instead of enjoying perfecting. I think it’s because we secretly hope we reach a point where we’re always right and never have to make corrections, so we project that image onto God.

It certainly is not what He advertised about Himself. For after all, He created man; then he was sorry He did, so He killed them off with a flood. Then He was sorry He did that. He went along with the Jewish people when they wanted a King and then everybody was sorry about that. So God sent them prophets to tell them about a better way. Some of these messengers got heard; most of them got killed.

So just to establish clearly that God was in a learning mode, He started a New Testament. He decided to become human, and when He did, He came to learn. He used the name “Jesus” and we’re told that He learned obedience through the things He suffered and He grew in wisdom and in stature.

Yes, there is an Old Testament–that’s where God meant well. And there’s a New Testament. That’s where we’re doing better.

We did it with our country, too, you know. We got together and came up with a constitution–a magnificent document. It establishes that we meant well. But immediately we realized that this particular conglomeration of words didn’t cover all the needs of a society dedicated to liberty. So we started adding amendments, trying to do better.

I remember when I was thirty years old, I took a job at a teeny, tiny Bible college, as a professor. They were trying to expand the vision of their little learning center and increase enrollment. In the first four months, I wrote and produced a play, did several fund-raisers and started a five-minute daily radio broadcast of a continuing drama series. Sure enough, it got a lot of attention and the number of students increased. But I failed to notice that I was losing the support, confidence and affection of the president of this little college. But because I was very young, I assumed it was his problem and that he was just an old fuddy-duddy. Even though I began a good work there, I was unable to finish it because this disgruntled leader asked me to leave. You see, I meant well. But from that point on, I started doing better by understanding that the wheels of progress really aren’t supposed to roll across human flesh.

There is always a step necessary to take us from what we have done to what we need to do. It’s called learning. And if Jesus had to do it, who do we think we are? Why do we think our ministers should have the right answers the first time around? Why do we think our politicians should delve into problems they’ve never experienced before and perfect solutions on the first attempt?

I think life is pretty simple–and I’m so grateful that God uses Himself as an example to show us how it works:

  • Meant well.
  • Learn.
  • Doing better.

There’s your secret, folks. It really demands only three understandings:

1. Start with your heart as pure as you can, to make sure you’re at least pointing in the right direction.

2. Be prepared for a certain amount of success and an adequate amount of failure.

3. Pursue the success and abandon the failure.

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But when pride, insecurity, frustration or stubbornness come into the mix, the whole thing gets screwed up. Let’s be honest–who would we be today if God decided to stick with the Ten Commandments and we were all judged solely on how well we jump through those hoops? God was kind enough to adjust His message for the human beings who were meant to benefit by it.

The Bible is not about human beings finding God; the Bible is about God finding human beings. The constitution is not about making the people adjust to the government, but rather, finding a government suited for the people. And my job at that Bible college was not about finding a way to show off my abilities, but using my abilities to show off the college.

If God needed an Old and a New Testament to get it just right, what makes me think that my first crack at anything is going to end up getting the job done? So I work on my heart. Make sure I mean well. Then I go into it keeping my eyes open, ready for signs of what works and what doesn’t. Then I learn. I take what I learn and I go out and do better.

If we actually applied that in corporations, politics and religion, mankind would inch its way forward instead of gradually slip-sliding away. We know it’s true. Otherwise we wouldn’t put “New and Improved” on a box of cereal to communicate the product is still being worked on. We wouldn’t hoist a sign in the window of a diner that says, “Under New Management” unless we wanted to communicate that change is in the air. And God would not have an Old and New Testament unless He was trying to tell us that learning is what pushes us forward and self-righteousness and pride are what destroy us.

I meant well. Honestly, in almost every circumstance of my life, I had no axe to grind and wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. But unfortunately, I did. So I had to learn. And fron that learning, I always came up with ways of doing it better.

So as I go off this morning to be with the fine folks of South Lyon, Michigan, I want to tell them that they’re coming together to praise a God who always meant well. But He did learn, and He came up with a way of doing it better.

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

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