A Dying Breed … January 27, 2014

Jonathots Daily Blog

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cottonShe passed by me without saying a word, heading for the door.  It had all the appearance of an exit. Suddenly she paused, turned on her heel and walked slowly back toward me.

She said, “I’m a dying breed. I was raised two counties over. My mama and daddy grew cotton, so we spent all of our time in the field, crawling on the ground and picking cotton, dragging huge sacks behind us to collect the fruits of our labor. It was so hot that I had to cool my feet in the shade of the plants, and sometimes the work day was eight to ten hours. We didn’t have much, but we always seemed to have enough.”

And then she just stopped talking.

I looked deep into her eyes. It was like bathing in a well of experience. I suppose some people would consider her rural, rustic or maybe even rugged. It isn’t really so. That’s just another example of how we make quick judgments because we’re too lazy to spend time with one another. I realized she was embarrassed with her own silence and would soon slip away, so I decided to ask her a question.

“What did you learn?”

She didn’t miss a beat. “I learned to take care of myself and to not ask too much of others.”

It was one of those simple, beautiful, profound answers, laced with so much experience that additional wording would have been cumbersome.

“I just wanted you to know my story. How I’m part of a dying breed. People today don’t understand and kids would have no idea. I enjoyed your show.”

She quietly turned, walked away and disappeared out the door.

I thought about her words. The truth is, I don’t take care of myself enough. Somewhere between silliness and believing in the abiding grace of God, I float along, thinking that each day is promised to me instead of a gift. Much to learn.

And even though I try hard to be a servant instead of a burden, there are still strides to be made in that arena, too.

I sat and thought for a moment.

  • Some people read the Good Book to find their inspiration, believing it to be the sole source of life and instruction.
  • Others stubbornly wait for God to give them a burning bush to illuminate their path.
  • I suppose there are even people who are praying for an angelic visit to grant them the insight to propel their heart’s desire.

Not me.

Since we’re all part of a breed that’s dying, the smartest thing we can do is listen, observe and believe in other members of the herd that come our way, and accept the beauty: that it’s a gift from God.

 

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Dirty Bowl… January 28, 2012

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From Miami, Florida

I had a hankerin’ for some oatmeal. (I don’t normally say “hankerin’,” but since it’s an election year I thought I’d follow the leading of the political candidates and try to “rural up” my language.)
 
As I was saying, I wanted some oatmeal. I don’t buy my oatmeal in those round containers with the picture of the austere Quaker, with a bit of a grimace on his face. I get the pre-packaged kind, usually in flavors, so I can just pour it into a bowl, add some hot water, and let the magic begin. So I did just that. I grabbed a bowl, poured my package into it, dumped in water, stirred it up and started to eat. It was delicious. I was more than halfway through my delicacy when I noticed there was something black at the bottom of the bowl. So I pushed the remaining oatmeal to the side and discovered a huge dirty spot.
 
It was a little disgusting. I’m not prissy, but eating out of a dirty bowl isn’t my idea of macho fare. So I dumped out my oatmeal and discovered the black splotch, stuck it under the faucet and tried to clean it. I was strangely relieved to discover that it wouldn’t dislodge itself and actually was not able to be scrubbed away. It was a permanent blotch. Matter of fact, you couldn’t even refer to it as a dirty bowl anymore. Perhaps you could call it stained. Scorched. Burnt. Discolored. Marred.
 
But I was no longer ill at ease, thinking I was consuming some sort of bacteria experiment from the depths of my oatmeal. I no longer felt like the guy who, having eaten half of his apple, suddenly discovers a half-eaten worm. Or like that one time when I reached in a package of luncheon meat and pulled out a slice that had green around the edges, foretelling of mold. (Unfortunately, I had already consumed two previous slices from the same package.)
 
No, this was different. This was a bowl which, in the process of doing bowl-like activities, had encountered some injury. My bowl was wounded. Its particular infection was not contagious, but rather, a lasting reminder of a poorly chosen activity. It was an amazing transition. I was happy that I could finish the remainder of my oatmeal without too much intimidation (though I was a little squeamish). There was really only one task that remained. Well, not really a task. More a decision.
 
Do I take my marred, discolored, stained, burnt, scorched bowl and throw it away–or keep it? I probably don’t want to eat oatmeal out of it again, but I could put a paper towel in the bottom and serve some grapes or potato chips. It is still able to encircle a food product, holding it in one place. It has not outlasted its complete usefulness. Honestly, it was too much for me to think about, having merely consumed a bowl of oatmeal. So I put it on the shelf, where it remains today.
 
I did not cast it away. I did not reject it. I did not try to make it totally clean by bleaching it and utilizing every cleanser known to man. I realized that sometimes, if you’re a bowl, and you’re in the midst of action of the kitchen sort, you just might get damaged. And if you were able to speak, you certainly would desire mercy.
 
Now, I know this is a little too much thought to give to the rights and privileges of a cheaply manufactured plastic unit. But still, it’s just nice to know that the bowl wasn’t dirty. 
 
Just … well-traveled.

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Jonathan wrote the gospel/blues anthem, Spent This Time, in 1985, in Guaymas, Mexico. Take a listen:

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Trutherans — October 21, 2011

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A small Lutheran church in rural North Carolina.

That was my place of visitation on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. People–pundits, politicians and pollsters–all love to categorize them into convenient clumps for conversation. It’s just not that easy. Southerners are not alway Southern, Northerners are not always Northern, and likewise for the West and East.

Here are three things I CAN tell you for sure–people are not nearly as complicated as you make them out to be. People are much more sophisticated than you might think at first. And people always show up with some damage. As long as you keep that in mind, you can actually be of assistance to your fellow-man instead of a deterrent to their growth.

As I told you, it was a Lutheran church–yet most of the folks I met had absolutely no connection to a rogue monk named Martin Luther, who pounded ninety-five theses on the door of the Wittenburg Church in protest to the excesses and fallacious doctrines of the Mother Church. Matter of fact, some of the folks I met this week might even have a hard time understanding Luther’s mindset, way of life and approach to God and others. Yet the church bears his name. For instance, we still call it the United States of America, even though there are many people who would desire to tear us apart from sea to sea. What I encountered was not a congregation that was following the dictates of a reformer; what I found were Americans who grew up in a denomination they now continue to attend in hopes of pleasing a God they hope someday to meet.

The religious climate in our country is a great source of confusion to me. For after all, the average person has four major concerns: God, money, sex and family–not necessarily in that order, and the particular line-up for each person may very well clarify their focus.

The church talks about God, a little about family, but sex and money are normally taboo subjects unless an offering plate is being passed or someone’s teenager is discovered with an unwanted pregnancy.

Politics will surface the subject of God, completely avoid sex (unless it’s an “intern”-al situation), focus on money and use the subject of family to create commonality.

But no one seems to have the ability to tie it all together, bringing heaven to earth and connecting earth to heaven. If we were faithful to the teachings of Jesus, we would completely comprehend that this is the essence of human life, but unfortunately, those who want to go to heaven feel the need to be critical of earth. And those who want to get the best of earth are equally as condemning and mocking of heaven.

No one seems to get the notion that if there is a heaven, that means there is a God, which means God made heaven, but also holds fast that He created the earth.  Same guy. If you don’t like the idea of heaven, it certainly will taint your appreciation of earth and eventually turn you into a curmudgeon who growls at people instead of embracing them. If you happen to be greatly in favor of heaven, then you just might tend to develop a discontented attitude towards earth–and therefore earthlings–making you of little light to the earth around you, and certainly not a city on a hill for all to see.

My message to those delightful Lutherans was this: we really show that we believe in heaven by relishing, studying, absorbing and appreciating in great thankfulness–the earth.  We equally project our anticipation of what heaven will truly be by attempting to duplicate its glory in our earthly confines.

For instance, if I lived in a lovely house, went on a cruise ship, the boat sank and I ended up on a desert island, would it be better for me to sit around and pine in despair over my abandonment, or try to find the elements on that particular island of destination, attempting to duplicate the beauty of my original home and surroundings? Obviously, good mental health demands that I believe where I am is where I am going to be and therefore I decide to make it the best possible scenario within my power to create.

Unfortunately, we just don’t believe that. Some people believe the earth is miserable and someday we’ll go to a better place. Some people believe there is no better place and the earth is our final destination, so they end up making themselves feel miserable. The end result? Misery for both.

Here’s what I feel. I don’t think heaven is a better place. I think it is God’s rendition of what I’ve already begun on earth. Yes, I think that as a great Host, He is preparing a place for me that imitates in His lavishness what I have already created here with my limited resources.

So if we don’t love the earth, believe it’s the Lord’s and enjoy the fullness of it, we probably will try to procure heaven–but only once or twice a week when it crosses our minds. If we believe there is no heaven, we probably will attempt morality but give up in favor of our own choices and acquiesce to our greed.

I tried, this week, to turn Lutherans into Trutherans. I asked them to believe with me that Jesus was the bridge between earth and heaven. He was the son of man … and the son of God. And he came to give me the power to become the same.

So I never think about heaven without making a snapshot of that vision here on earth. And I try never to think about earth without believing in a heavenly Father who cares about everything here and now.

You know the beautiful thing? Those dynamic souls in rural North Carolina at that Lutheran church opened up their hearts and allowed the simplicity of this message to reside within them.  It was an amazing experience.

And so if Lutherans can become Trutherans, then … who knows?  Perhaps atheists could become “maybe-ists.”

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Jonathan sings “Let”

Jonathan Sings “Spent This Time”

Jonathan and his partner, Janet Clazzy, play “The Call”

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