Good News and Better News… October 30th, 2017

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3476)

I have participated in thousands and thousands of …

Now, what shall I call them? For if I refer to these as “performances, shows or gigs,” religious people will give me the holy frown of disapproval because I have trivialized the spiritual significance.

But by the same token, referring to my efforts as ministry, worship leading or any other divine terminology makes me reek of pretension.

Of course, worst of all is the safe, but vanilla describer, “presentation.”

I run into the same problem when I try to decide whether to say a robust “Praise God” or a timid “thanks be to God.”

Do I go for the full dunk in baptism, or settle for some other plunk?

Should communion be unleavened bread, or a golden loaf?

Wine or Welch’s grape juice (which many denominations insist was Jesus’ preference)?

And I think the most intimidating crossroads of all is settling whether our Christian faith is ground in social commentary or revivalism.

That’s why the tambourine is pictured today. A tambourine can scare a Lutheran or a Methodist to death–almost as much as a printed bulletin with liturgy makes a Baptist tremble.

It just doesn’t seem to occur to us that defining the word “ministry” requires taking a long gaze into the lifestyle and actions of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus was both contemplative and flamboyant.

He had the strange notion that the profile for what he did in blessing others was contingent on what they needed, and not confined to the Book of Common Prayer.

So to one person, he said, “Be healed.”

He touched lepers.

He spit on someone else.

He stuck his fingers in another person’s ears.

And he shouted to raise the dead.

He would have upset a lot of people.

Jesus didn’t worship miracles; he didn’t minister miracles–he performed miracles.

He showcased the Gospel in stories, told with colorful description and high-flung gestures.

The church has lost Jesus because it has focused on either social gospel or revivalism.

Jesus was the Son of God, who came to teach us how to get along with each other–with a tambourine in his hand.

So the good news is that we need both social commentary and revivalism.

The better news is, when we actually mingle the two, we suddenly become more relevant.

 

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Catchy (Sitting 17) Come and See … October 8th, 2017

Jonathots Daily Blog

(3454)

 

Matthew stared at his computer screen which had a heading of “International Federated Mercantile Institution”–a fancy name for “bank.” He had been peering at the same page for nearly a half an hour. Actually, the same number. It read, “Balance: $248,798,565.38.

It was hard to fathom. He had mixed feelings. There was joy over having that much capital to play with, but also a responsibility to turn it into somewhat of a completed vision for what Old Man Harts had desired.

What was originally 250 million had been eaten away by legal fees, surveys, transportation and just the transactions that happen when legal and business minds collide. It was still a hell of a lot of money. A hell of a lot of money for a heavenly purpose.

Matthew remained uncertain about why he had decided to take on the project. Even a week ago his inclinations had been negative. But something happened in Vegas that didn’t stay in Vegas.

He’d had an awakening. Not so much a religious eruption, but rather, a clarity of thought. When he met Jubal Carlos, who was working frantically to assist the homeless, Matthew asked himself what was he doing to make the world just a little less crazy?

He didn’t want to be overly analytical. He was certainly basically a good person. He tried not to purposely do harm to anyone and on occasion his generosity was worthy of note.

But was it possible to do more? Especially if you were granted hundreds of millions of dollars to try?

So after the awkwardness with Jo-Jay and Soos in the suite at the casino, he decided to meet with Tomlinson, and see if he could change the attorney’s mood into a positive direction instead of the grumpiness that had ensued.

He stopped off at headquarters and picked up Sister Rolinda and Prophet Morgan, realizing that the uptight attorney with the bow tie, Tomlinson, would have no counter for such creatures.

Sure enough, when Prophet began to preach salvation to Tomlinson and Sister Rolinda recited promises and possibilities for inner healing, the barrister couldn’t wait to transfer the money and get the crazies out of the room.

It seemed strange to Matthew that in a world of emotional agnosticism, Prophet Morgan and Sister Rolinda carried the day with their passion.

But what finally sealed the deal, causing Tomlinson to loose the purse strings, was the plan. Matthew was going to get Jubal Carlos to travel the country, playing the part of Jesus–in character, in appearance, in wisdom, in knowledge and in pungency.

Jubal already had the look. He had the intensity. And he certainly had the inclination to be a helper of mankind. Keeping him out of churches and just in public arenas–colleges and even rock festivals–would create the adequate controversy that could simulate the upheaval which occurred two thousand years before in Israel, when the real guy walked the earth.

It was a plan that needed tuning, clever applications, great press releases, You Tubes and even maybe a short movie. But once again people could come and see Jesus–even though it wasn’t the actual one, but another human being, carefully crafting an image that was sensitive and faithful to the original.

The slogan for the campaign would be “Come and See.”

Prophet Morgan was ecstatic.

Sister Rolinda thought it had potential, but she wanted to meet Jubal to see if he had the goods.

All systems seemed an outrageously wonderful “go.” There was only one problem:

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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

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3307)

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

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(3193)

Jon close up

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

(3137)

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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