Catchy (Sitting Two)This Young Man … June 18th, 2017

Matthew Ransley was an advertising agent but fancied himself an executive. He was a founding partner in a company called S.E.E.D.S.–an annoying, elongated acronym: “Selling Everything Everywhere, Delivering Success.”

Matthew was very good at what he did. He worked at being congenial but if sufficiently aggravated, could launch into a rampage to defend one of his well-guarded opinions.

It was Tuesday when the phone rang and Mariel, his secretary (though she preferred “executive assistant”) was not yet at work to answer, so Matthew found himself taking the call. It was from Marcus Tomlinson, an attorney—an attorney for the estate of Arthur Harts.

Matthew knew who Arthur Harts was, and had even heard that the old man had died. He listened carefully as Mr. Tomlinson explained about the recent reading of the will and the revelation of the “Make Jesus Popular” addition.

It did cross Matthew’s mind that it might be a crank call. But the attorney established credibility because he seemed to know what he was talking about, including an abundance of information about Matthew and his agency.

“The reason we called you is that we thought that your agency’s name, S.E.E.D.S., sounded a little religious, and in doing a background check on you, we also discovered that you had some interest in matters of faith and such when you were a student back in college.”

Matthew smiled. He remembered. College–a chance to plan your future while simultaneously ruining your life. After graduation he had included every piece of resume-worthy material possible on his application to gain employment.

He had begun a club during his college years, launching a fledgling organization initially called the “Son of One” (he being the only member at the time.) His vision was to create a para-religious/party-motivated/pseudo-intellectual club, which would attract both thinkers and drinkers.

Before too long he achieved a member and they became the “Crew of Two.” Then came another and they became the “Tree of Three.” When a fourth joined, they dubbed themselves the “Core of Four.” A fifth inductee created the “Hive of Five,” and a sixth, the “Mix of Six.” When a seventh young lady cast her lot with the organization, they became the “Leaven of Seven,” where they remained throughout their university years, garnering no new converts.

Matthew assumed this was what the attorney was referring to when he mentioned “some interest in matters of faith.” Honestly, the seven young folk liked to talk about God and politics until the wee hours of the morning while indulging in “the beer and bong.” It was hardly a consecrated conclave, but rather, dedicated to the proposition that all men–and women–are created equally arrogant.

“What is it you want?” Matthew asked. It was too early to chat–or reminisce.

Mr. Tomlinson proceeded to explain that one of Arthur Harts’ dying wishes was to give two hundred fifty million dollars towards increasing the popularity of Jesus.

“How popular does he need to be?” asked Matthew. “I mean, they named a religion after him, and, if I’m not mistaken, doesn’t our entire calendar run by the date of his birth?”

There was a moment of silence. Then Lawyer Tomlinson spoke in metered tones. “Let me just say that I don’t know much about religion, or God for that matter. I am merely performing the literal last request of a very wealthy man.”

“So what do you want me to do?” inquired Matthew.

“What do I want you to do? I guess I want you to tell me that your agency will take two hundred and fifty million dollars and at least try to make Jesus more popular.”

“We could start a rumor that he and Elvis are going to get together and cut an album.”

A pause. “Sounds fine with me,” replied Tomlinson.

Matthew chuckled. It was becoming quite evident that this lawyer was merely going through the motions of fulfilling a contractual oddity. On the other hand, as unusual as the request sounded, the two hundred and fifty million dollars did offer a bit of sparkle. As a founding partner in his business, did he have the right to reject such a lucrative offer simply because it was weird?

The lawyer piped up, uncomfortable with the delay. “Perhaps you could suggest someone else.”

Matthew laughed nervously. “No, I don’t really think I could suggest anyone else. I’m not familiar with any All Saints Agency or God Almighty, Inc.”

“It is two hundred and fifty million dollars. I mean, can’t you do something?”

“Yes,” said Matthew. (He figured it was always better to say yes to two hundred and fifty million dollars. You can revise your answer later, but in the meantime, well, it’s two hundred and fifty million dollars.)

Matthew punctuated his acceptance by adding, “Maybe we could get Jesus to date a supermodel.”

“I think he’s dead,” said Tomlinson, without inflection.

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Catchy (Sitting One)This Old Man … June 11th, 2017

Preface

Welcome to the first installment of our next story, “Catchy.” I will continue to pursue it until it has finished or I run out of ideas, which I hope will be simultaneous. Enjoy.

Sitting One — This Old Man

Arthur Harts was an old man, and being an old man, he had long since forgotten a conviction he held to be true when much younger: old folks should just be ready to die at any time.

He was a billionaire oil tycoon who at one time possessed a reputation of being a playboy, but through the years, due primarily to an aging body, had transformed himself into a philanthropist, and eventually, a somewhat religious fellow.

Eight years ago he had run for President of the United States on what he dubbed the “5000 Plan”–a contention that every man and woman in America should be given $5,000 to begin a business of their own, to stimulate the economy with new products and ideas, and foster what he called “inventionism” amongst the common folk. Amazing as it may seem, those same simple sorts chose not to vote for Mr. Harts, opting to punch the time clock.

So Arthur had spent recent months funding ventures to reach those same individuals with a quasi-spiritual message–combining, as he phrased it, “an ongoing spirit of revision with a heapin’ helpin’ of self-esteem.”

But Arthur was old, and as often happens with those who persist in adding years to their time, his energy waned, his health failed, and well, one night he died in his sleep: the poetic end to a life spent in peaceful pursuit.

Now when a poor man dies, all relatives and friends tend to scatter, not wishing to acquire any of his personal indebtedness. It is much different with a rich man—especially a billionaire. There was a widespread interest in the will and testament of Arthur Harts, including friends, relatives and the collective masses he once stumped for votes and sought to redeem.

So one morning, in a large room with a large mahogany table, a large group of lawyers got together and read a very large document that explained how this man of large influence wished to distribute his large sums of money.

Item #44-A of the testament—a recent codicil–was most intriguing to everyone. It read as follows:

“I, Arthur Harts, being of sound mind (and if I weren’t, there’s not much you can do about it now) wish to leave two hundred and fifty million dollars to a well-recognized, well-selected and well-intentioned advertising company to propel and promote one great idea: find a way to make Jesus popular again. I, Arthur Harts, am not speaking of some anemic attempt to promote a church or religious institution, but rather, in some way to convey to the people of this earth the intensity and intelligence of the person who once walked with us, bearing the name Jesus of Nazareth. There were few more popular than he was when donning a loincloth. So I see no reason why, if he were promoted correctly in our multi-media society, he shouldn’t be just as popular today.”

As the team of bewildered barristers finished reading the passage, there was a hush. Perplexity. How were they supposed to fulfill this bizarre request from this eccentric billionaire?

Perhaps some attempt would have been made to interpret the passage in a different way by evenly distributing the money to the larger denominations of the Christian faith, but time and chance stepped in and the unusual request was leaked to the press. So it would be impossible to ignore Mr. Harts’ wishes, implausible as they may seem.

This is where our story begins–a quandary wrapped in a mystery drenched in an impossibility, garnished with just a little weirdness.

 

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Good News and Better News… May 15th, 2017

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People are afraid of dying–even God-loving folks.

There are those individuals who insist they have no fear of journeying to the Great Beyond, but that is only because the Angel of Death is not presently circulating in their neighborhood, soliciting souls.

Realizing that this fear of death was in place, Jesus comforted his disciples by saying, “Let not your heart be troubled.”

What a magnificent statement–a balmy breeze of tenderness.

Yet I must tell you, the average religious organization in this country takes the basic fear we have of dying and scares the hell into us. Rather than comforting, they offer another apprehension–eternal damnation.

So now, because we are afraid of dying, and also of hell, we have a great tremor of anxiety over sin.

Am I sinning?

What is sin?

Do I sin more or less than you?

Can I cover up my sin so it doesn’t seem to be sin at all?

Am I more afraid of sinning, or getting caught with my pants in some unexplainable position?

We are supposedly born again, Spirit-inspired people, who are afraid of dying, hell and now sin.

But that’s not enough for the religious ramblers–the trepidation must be hammered into our souls.

So they begin to make congregations afraid of sinners. The notion is promoted that this sin thing can “rub off on ya'” if you get too close to it or accidentally condone it by refusing to judge people instead of condemn them.

In other words, you might be in danger of dying and going to hell because of the sin of loving sinners.

But that must be the end, right? No. There is one last fear stuck into the backpack of every hapless religious camper. Since dying is coming and there’s a hell to be avoided, which means you have to run from sin and the sinner, it’s just best to play it safe and be afraid of living.

We start sprouting nasty statements.

“Let’s not try that.”

“That might not be of God.”

“Let’s play it safe.”

“Until we see somebody else do it, let’s back off.”

“God may be more forgiving than we think, but just in case, let’s take away all semblance of joy in our worship, freedom in our walk and thought to our theology.”

So we have nervous ninnies serving a nit-picking Nazarene.

Consider: Jesus was in a boat when a squall came up on the Sea of Galilee. He was asleep. Matter of fact, they had to wake him up and tell him how desperate the situation was, because he had cuddled into his pillow. He did not rebuke the storm. First he asked the disciples why they were afraid. He told them to “be of good cheer.”

There you go.

Church of the Lord Jesus, why are you so damned afraid, and how about a little good cheer?

Here’s the good news–Jesus wants you to stop being afraid, followed by the better news: less fear, more love, more life and more love of living.

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G-Poppers … January 20th, 2017

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G-Pop loves the Gospel.

Not because it’s religious, but because it’s good news. And good news always has a market, an audience and a possibility.

Many religious people think the Gospel is Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of the world. This is the invitation to salvation, not the solution to human conflict. After all, you can have seven billion baptised believers in the crucifixion who still want to kill each other.

The power of the Gospel is the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

For years, it has been honored as a sacred oracle, and even though tarnished, attacked and ridiculed, it stood the test of time–the only hope for us getting along with each other.

Then came 2016.

Under the masquerade of a Presidential election, the Republicans, Democrats, press, pundits and lobbyists worked together to dismantle the integrity and power of the Golden Rule. Through countless proclamations, we were told that “loving your neighbor as yourself” was too weak a position to defeat ISIS, negotiate Syria, overcome racism or eliminate terrorism.

You and I were there for it. It was televised nightly–a four-step process:

  1. People are different.
  2. Difference makes conflict
  3. Because there’s conflict we need to be strong
  4. Because we’re strong, we will make enemies

It was a macho, self-righteous belief that the “exceptionalism of America” means that we have a duty to view ourselves as superior to the rest of the world.

Both political parties utilized the platform, abandoning the Golden Rule in favor of alleged “brass balls.”

What is G-Pop telling his children?

What is our mission in 2017?

Get out there and renegotiate the Golden Rule.

  • Stop advertising violence and the aggressive idea that another drone strike will take care of our problems.
  • Stop focusing on our differences.
  • Stop colorizing people with blue, black, red, yellow or orange.
  • Find common ground and build a hope there.

Yes, the Golden Rule is under siege.

For thousands of years, it has prevented us from dissolving the human race

The Golden Rule is still gold.

It just needs people who will continue to tout its value.

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Dear Man/Dear Woman: A Noteworthy Conversation … December 3rd, 2016

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Dear Man Dear Woman

Man: I want a woman who’s smart.

 

Woman: Well, I would suggest that you get smarter. Intelligent people tend to find each other. I want a man who’s confident.

 

Man: You’ll need to be careful with that one. Confidence isn’t bragging. It’s a delicate balance between accomplishment and humility. I want a woman who’s sexy.

 

Woman: Well, there are lots of women who need sex–claim to have a yearning for it. But if you’ll allow me to say so, you might look for a woman who wants to have romance solely with you. I, on the other hand, would like a man who’s talented.

 

Man: Well, there’s talent that’s perceived, and talent that has the proof of performance. It’s easy to find a guy who has a guitar and a whole bucket of songs he’s written and is convinced he might have a future. Let’s be honest. If somebody isn’t giving him money for his talent right now, they probably never will. That’s why I would like to have a woman who’s generous.

 

Woman: Now, generosity is a tricky thing. Some people are generous to those they know or to their families, or might even spread it to their friends. But the true spirit of generosity is doing something for someone who has no ability to give it back in your direction. I guess that’s why I yearn for a man who’s spiritual.

 

Man: That can be a trap. There’s a big difference between being religious and being real. True spirituality is realizing there’s nothing in heaven that can’t at least be attempted on Earth. If your man is constantly talking about heaven, faith, prayer and church, he’s letting you know that he has no intention of making God’s will done here on Earth as it is in the sky. Me–I would love to have a woman who’s funny.

 

Woman: Keep in mind, there’s a fine line between silly and humor. And the trouble is, sometimes women who are silly are also air-headed about everything. Here’s how you know a woman is funny. Is she self-deprecating about her own weaknesses without losing a bit of her self-esteem? For me, finding a man who’s kind would be the greatest thing I could achieve.

 

Man: That does sound good, doesn’t it? Except for the fact that some people are kind because they’re afraid of being honest. Kindness has to be borne from a knowledge of the truth, with the addition of mercy. Otherwise you start insisting that everybody in the world is okay, and slam the door on those who might have decided to get better. Let me guess–you’d like a strong man.

 

Woman: Strong worries me. He may be able to lift a box and carry it up to the third floor, but those same muscles could be attached to a bad temper and used against me. I think I would prefer a man who pursues being fearless and uses the strength he’s got to tackle his problems instead of attacking the people he loves.

 

Man: You know what I’m hearing?

 

Woman: What’s that?

 

Man: We’re looking for the same thing in each other.

 

Woman: I guess it’s safe to say, we’re looking for people who realize they’re human beings instead of a penis and a vagina.

 

Man: A little blunt, but I think I agree.

 

Woman: I wasn’t blunt. I was just being strong.

 

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Good News and Better News… November 21st, 2016

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good-news-summit-heights

Fifteen friends and family joined us yesterday at the Summit Heights United Methodist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, to celebrate and fellowship over our final gig of the year.

What a year.

Twelve states, thousands of people and memories to last a lifetime.

The Summit Heights congregation was a beautiful human concoction of simplicity and joy, with a great sense of humor–guided by a bright, hopeful and forward-thinking young man named Todd.

So when I took the stage to begin the morning with our prelude, there was an eagerness and energy in the air. I thought to myself, This is what God wants. He wants His children showing up to His house ready for cookies and milk instead of thinking they’re going to have to stomach the medicine.

As I continued in the service, an abiding notion suddenly permeated my mind.

God is not going to do anything without us.

We can pray, we can study, we can hope, we can criticize the world, we can judge others–and God will ignore our feeble, religious efforts. For God is not going to do anything without us.

When Jesus wanted to feed the five thousand, he required the five loaves and two fishes from the disciples.

When it was time to preach the good news, he sent them out two by two.

When desiring to make wine, he requested water.

When people came for healing, he told them that their faith made them whole–and when their faith was absent, it says he was not able to heal many.

And certainly when God wanted to save humanity, He found a willing woman to bring the Savior into the world.

I don’t know why we’re so afraid to become involved in our own life, ministry, outreach and salvation–but it will take our spirit, our countenance and our heart to transform America from its angry position of self-absorption, back into one nation that truly is under God’s guidance.

What kind of spirit?

It’s a spirit of repentance. “I could be wrong and because that’s possible, I am prepared to change.”

What is the countenance?

It is a full-faced expression of joy, which shows that we’re aware of life’s pain, but we realize it can only be conquered through good cheer.

What is the heart?

It is a heart of compassion–letting everyone know that because we have weaknesses, we feel a tender kindness to those like ourselves, who find themselves weak.

It is my prayer that Summit Heights will take on the power of the Gospel, which is: “Christ in me, the hope of glory.”

 

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Good News and Better News … October 10th, 2016

Jonathots Daily Blog

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good-news-holly-sign-facesWhether you’re promoting the idea that Mexicans are rapists or insisting that your political opponents should be stuffed in a basket labeled “deplorables,” you have basically failed to recognize the central meteoric truth of life on Planet Earth:

Our human journey is about getting along with humans.

The ministry of Jesus is capsulized in how we treat others. Also, our relationship with God is determined by how well we welcome those who have been deemed worthless.

When I arrived at the Holly Calvary Church to meet the energetic and engaged Pastor Cliff and his congregation, I was fully aware that nothing I have to share has any value if I am a grump.

Yes.

  • I am my Gospel.
  • I am my message.
  • My facial expression is what I think God feels about people.

And my attitude is certainly my theology.

During one of the prayers, a word came to my mind: exceedingly.

good-news-holly-sign-namesLooking back on the past week in America, there have been people who are exceedingly mad. They want to get even. They want to hurt somebody. Their energy is fueled by fury.

There are people who are exceedingly sad. They’ve given up. They’ve decided to settle. Despair has become their cry for retreat.

What we desperately need–and what I shared with the good folks in Holly–is the message of Jesus: rejoice and be exceedingly glad.

What does that mean? Why isn’t “glad” enough? Why does it need to be “exceedingly?”

Because mad and sad people try to cover up their true motivations with missions which seem to be legitimate. So if our gladness doesn’t spill out of us like cold water from melted mountain snow, then it will be difficult to set ourselves apart from those who snarl and sigh.

Pastor Cliff is encouraging his church to get back to the Word of God. I agree. That “Word” is personified in the lifestyle of Jesus. He is the Word. And he wants us to be glad.

How do we know when we’re being glad?

  1. We decide to love everybody even if it seems ridiculous.
  2. We refuse to judge anybody even if it appears necessary.
  3. We determine to help everybody find their abundant life.

I truly believe if the absolutely amazing individuals I met yesterday in Holly will generate love, stop judging and aid their brothers and sisters in finding life, which is grounded in the Word, they can also be free of religious chains.

That’s the good news.

The better news is that “exceedingly glad” does come with the additional benefit of personal smiles and inner joy.

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