Jesonian: Reverend Meningsbee (Part 5) Late … May 29th, 2016

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Reverend Meningsbee

Sunday morning, and Meningsbee woke up late.

He wanted to blame his alarm clock, but since he was fully aware that he was the master of all of its decisions, he scurried along, skipping two of his pre-shower rituals.

He scooted into his car, started it and zoomed toward the church at what he hoped was a reasonable speed. He was thinking about what he wanted to share.

The Gospel of Mark. Most certainly.

It had been an interesting week.

After the breakthrough, with Betty and Clarice being reconciled, there was a sweet buzz of contentment among those who were present, but simultaneously, there were around twenty-five former members who had begun meeting in the banquet hall of the nearby Holiday Inn Express. They were stirring a flurry of frustration through the town.

Their contention? Meningsbee had “stolen their church.”

He understood their perspective. Yet there was a push in his spirit to continue the experiment–to find the real meaning of gathering together instead of marching in time to the drone of repetitive hymns.

Arriving, he ran to the door of the church, and then paused. He could hear the sounds of conversation. It was not the usual pre-church verbal exchanges, but instead, purposeful–what sounded like meaningful, prayerful tones.

So Meningsbee chose to enter quietly and climb the stairs to the balcony, where he could view the proceedings.

He had noticed coming in that there were a few more cars in the parking lot, and was delighted to see, when he looked down from his perch, that there were four visitors and a few of the original congregation who had returned.

But most enlightening was the fact that the three chairs he had placed in the front on Saturday night were filled with people, surrounded by other folks who were sharing and praying for one another.

On the seventh row was a young family who Deacon Smitters had befriended, and was quietly but feverishly entertaining with one of his stories.

It was a reverent scene, in the sense of the true meaning of reverence–full of humanity, compassion, tenderness and just a bit of the childlike freedom that was so often absent from the normal Sunday morning drill.

Reverend Meningsbee wanted to just hang out in the balcony and watch. He knew that as soon as he entered, the holy spell would be broken and they would turn to him to find order.

Finally he decided that it was not good for him to stay away for the whole time. He climbed down the stairs and came into the church as the gathering fell silent.

He turned slowly and addressed them.

“I overslept. But I have been here for fifteen minutes, just watching all of you. It is so beautiful for you to treat each other so beautifully. I know that’s not a good sentence, but it’s what I feel. Thank you. Thank you for being here. Thank you for loving each other.”

All at once, a hand went up. It was Clarice, from last week’s reconciliation.

“Hello, Pastor. I just wanted to let you know that after Betty and I mended our fences, I got inspired to contact my son in Lincoln, who ran away from home a couple of years ago because he was mad at me for being such a–can I say ‘bitch’ in the church?”

Meningsbee laughed. “You just did.”

Clarice continued. “Anyway, I invited Michael home, we made peace, and I told him to come here with me today to seal the deal.”

The congregation burst into applause without being coaxed. It was spontaneous and it was electrifying.

One after another, there were testimonies about those who came and sat in the chair to receive God’s grace through the kindness of God’s people.

The good Reverend just stood back and shut up. There was a small part of him that felt useless, but most of him felt he had discovered his true use.

Lead the sheep to the green pastures, and then let them eat.

It came time for the end of the service, and Meningsbee wasn’t sure what to do.

Betty stood to her feet and said, “Did you know that Clarice’s son, Michael, plays a mean piano and can really sing?”

Michael feigned a bit of embarrassment, but also exuded a willingness to display his talent. So Meningsbee pointed to the piano, and Michael slowly rose to his feet, walked over, sat down and played and sang “Let It Be” by the Beatles.

It was an inspiring conclusion to the morning.

Meningsbee listened to the song very carefully.

“Let It Be.”

What good advice.

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Populie: You’ve Got to Play the Game … August 20, 2014

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monoplyThere is a popular assertion by the masses that “life is a game.” It is usually accompanied by the rallying cry–which is also a lie–that “you’ve got to play the game.”

Thus a populie.

Now, religion, politics and entertainment don’t always have to agree on a premise for it to gain popularity. Sometimes they disagree, which generates great tension, and therefore, press coverage.

So religion loves to believe that the world is kind of a bad place and the poor sheep must be careful not to be consumed by the evil lurking in every direction, thus giving their congregations the benefit of both being morally superior while also potentially victims.

Entertainment loves to bounce between promoting the game and criticizing the game of life, placing itself into the position of being the arbiter.

And of course, politicians love to portray their opponents as gamesmen, and themselves as “the straight arrows of truth.”

Oh, forgive me. I failed to mention what the game is. Here it is in a nutshell:

  1. Get mine
  2. Get it fast
  3. Get going.

We are convinced that life is much more exciting when we acquire what we need–perhaps to the detriment of others. It turns us into a vicious, nasty, grouchy, backbiting lot, always paranoid about the intentions of the folks around us, and never quite satisfied when we do achieve our goals because we’re afraid they’ll be stolen from us by those who want to “get theirs, get it fast and get going.”

So once you believe in this game you never have a moment of rest, because you are either involved in the pursuit or else cladding yourself in armor, to protect your valuables.

You can imagine–I disagree.

I will refrain from calling my idea a game. Rather, it is a lifestyle. It is as follows:

  1. Get mine.
  2. Get yours
  3. Get moving

There’s nothing wrong with me pursuing mine first, as long as I am willing to give the same passion, doorway and opportunity to you, to acquire yours. As a result, I make an ally instead of an enemy. I’m acquiring a comrade instead of competition.

So perhaps when we go on our next adventure we can do it together. We can get it for both of us, and get moving much more effectively.

The cynical American would insist that I’m opening my life up, to be decimated by the greedy. But I would point out that the greedy individuals in life don’t need me to open up in order to eliminate me.

I would rather make the choice.

As long as you believe that the game is about garnering your portion and being gleeful that someone else failed, you are just waiting for a bigger bus to come along and strike you down.

I don’t believe in the game.

I will not play the game.

I will get mine, and through that process have the confidence to help you get yours, so we can get moving … together.

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Untotaled: Stepping Six (May 8, 1965) … March 15, 2014

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When people control your food, water, hygiene, play and sleep, you learn to believe what they say–or spend a lot of time in your room without supper.

On May 8, 1965, I was thirteen years old and still a novice at any form of teenage rebellion. So when the church men decided to go to the mountains of Oklahoma for a meeting of all-male types–three thousand in attendance–to hear nothing but gospel preaching and gospel singing for a whole week, sitting on hard, knotty pine benches with a big knot just beneath my butt crack, I was compelled by those who controlled my supplies, to go.

It ended up being a week of firsts:

  • It was the first time I ever went skinny dipping in an ice-cold mountain creek.
  • It was the first time I heard that Martin Luther King, Jr., was a Communist and a womanizer.
  • The first time I had s’mores made with miniature marshmallows.
  • The first time I heard proclaimed aloud that Jews and Arabs were going to hell.
  • The first time I got poison sumac on my bum (thus the origin of “bummer,” I would assume).
  • And it was the first time I heard the word “nigger” used as a universal, collective pronoun, describing a group of people I didn’t understand and I suspect the speakers had little knowledge of, either.

The rally was forceful. It was intense. It was a meeting that peaked at times in jubilance. It was full of “god-talk.” It was permeated with self-righteousness.

And it was child abuse.

Because I needed …

Well, I needed tenderness. Instead, they gave me large doses of macho.

I needed an open mind. They worked very hard to seal mine shut.

God, I was desperate to know about girls. They proclaimed that women should “submit.”

Some laughter would have been nice. They reserved giggling for the older men around the campfire after they thought we young’uns were asleep.

And of course, I needed a world view. They provided God’s 40 acres.

After I got home and healed of my poison sumac, I started to think for myself. Yes, in my own simple way, I began to rebel.

I have never stopped.

I am still a warrior against anyone who has constructed a box for God … and wants the sheep to come passively, and worship.

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Painted Pigs … September 20, 2012

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One of the more intriguing chores while traveling on the road is arriving in a new community, establishing a headquarters and locating a grocer who doesn’t charge too much for basic grits and gravy. We used to eat out a lot at restaurants, but that is not only expensive, but much too high in calories and filled with so many unknowns that one feels like a culinary explorer. So we find it much more healthy and wise to eat off of plates instead of styrofoam.

In this pursuit in Marion, Indiana, I was cruising along in my van and was startled to look on one of the corners and see a pig. Now viewing myself as an individual with an open mind, I was willing to accept that in a small farming town, a pig might be allowed to wander at will. But upon careful inspection, I saw that this particular pig was purple, with stripes, and had flowers on his backside. Even though I’m not a farm boy and not very acquainted with the fashion statements of the herd, I was still pretty sure that this was unusual. With a more intense second glance, I realized that this was not a living pig, but rather, a ceramic or tin one, sitting on a street corner, decorated–painted, if you will.

It looked very authentic–so realistic that I was a bit creeped out by the whole experience; because as I turned to the right, there was another one–this particular one, plaid. Straight ahead of me was yet another, adorned in some sort of bonnet.

They were everywhere.

Even though I have lived for many decades on this planet, I suddenly realized that … I don’t like pigs. I don’t know what the source of this disdain for the creature may be. Maybe it’s because I read Animal Farm. Or was it that CSI episode, where they explained that if you threw a dead human  body into a pig pen, that within twenty-four-hours the pigs would eat everything, including the bones. (You have to admit, that’s creepy.)

I kind of think it goes back to the fact that when I was a small child, Porky Pig freaked me out. He was dumb. Or maybe not. But he stuttered. And he was always–pardon the expression–the butt of every joke.

And of course, the Bible doesn’t do anything to help the image of your basic porker. Jesus says not to “cast pearls before swine.” And we also have a gruesome image of hogs running down a hill, possessed by demons, leaping off a cliff and drowning in the water below.

So as I drove through town, I realized that what they were attempting to accomplish was a cute, quaint tipping-of-the-straw-hat to the rural culture that had formed the backbone of their community. And I do have to admit that painted cows on the corners of the street would not have been any more relaxing to this tourist. But there are swans. Ducks. Sheep might even have been better. But pigs … are best “baconed,” ribbed, barbecued, and chopped. And even then, they ultimately get their revenge by hanging around to clog up our arteries and terminate our lives.

I have since been back to the Marion community three times, and have not yet gotten used to the painted pigs. I still fail to remember that they are there and that they’re not really alive, and one time even reflexively slammed on my brakes, thinking that one of them was about to run out in front of me. So if the goal of Marion, Indiana is to present something intriguing or memorable for those individuals passing through their village, they really missed the mark with me. Pigs on the corner of the street do not bring out notions of warmth–fireplaces and farm houses with grain silos filled with provision and goodness. No. Pigs are … piggy.

So in my opinion, it would be better to select some other way to bring coloration to your community. Because honestly, if you’re not supposed to cast your pearls before swine, it probably would be true that putting pearls on swine isn’t any more effective.

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May… June 20, 2012

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“May we pursue this with vigor?”

“It may happen…”

“Maybe…”

One of the great, unique aspects of the Christian faith is the assertion that we all are “to become as little children.” Other philosophies and religions tend to relegate those who have young spirits, bodies and minds to a secondary status until they are granted the approval of maturity. Jesus asked us to reverse that process–to escape the austerity of being “grown-up” and maintain a childlike simplicity. But what is that?

A spiritual, childlike heart is the blessing of continuing to believe even when that particular energy is not always bearing fruit. It is having the maturity to know that the absence of belief–the subtraction of “may” from our lives–does not make us more intelligent or productive, but rather, renders us jaded and cynical. Jaded and cynical people end up stymied in their own fear of failure and lethargy over being disappointed.

There is a third silence that we have to avoid–it is silent doubt.

As I travel this country, I encounter an overwhelming reticence that can only be explained as doubt, which has taken root and removed all of our sensation that “something good may happen.” I don’t know–maybe it’s just a brattiness inside us that doesn’t want to chase down dreams unless we’re guaranteed that they’re going to work. We should know that nothing works all the time. In my mind, the presence of disappointment is the confirmation of God. If life continued to give great benefit to some and detriment to others, I could hardly consider it to be an act of love, and therefore an acknowledgment of God. Balance lies in the fact that good and evil, dark and light, and sunshine and rain are equally distributed to all.

But if we don’t believe that, a doubt enters our soul which is kept silent in order to maintain the integrity of being part of a religious idea. Sitting in a church, I often hear the silent screams of those around me, pleading: “Are we really going to sing one more hymn? Why?” “Will this be over soon?” “I don’t know half the people in this room and I don’t really care to get to know them.” “What does that communion bread and wine really mean anyway?” “If I have to listen to one more Old Testament scripture with unpronounceable names and locations, I think I’ll go crazy.”

But instead of giving voice to these doubts–that they may not believe inGod the Father, maker of heaven and earth”–they maintain silence in an imitation of reverence. That is why Jesus describes a frustrated people, who “praise me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

Silent doubt has brought progress in this country to a screeching halt, as we continue to go through the motions of repetition without having any internal confidence that ideas will work or perseverance will win the day. We just don’t believe any more–but saying that out loud is too frightening; yet living with it may be too painful.

The most famous doubter in all of history was named Thomas. But the reason he is granted a status of acceptability is that rather than keeping his feelings to himself, he admitted that he had questions about the validity of the statements that were being shared around him. He said he didn’t believe that Jesus was risen from the dead. Dare I say, there are people in the church and even in the ministry who don’t believe that either, but they would never speak it aloud because to do so would make them seem out of the loop and heretical.

But not Thomas. If he was going to have a doubt, he was going to live it out so it could either be confirmed or disproven. Because of that, Thomas remained as one of the twelve disciples and was able to encounter the resurrected Christ.

Doubt is killing us–not because we have it, but because we mask it with pretense. A silent doubt has taken away our ability to believe in what may be God’s will, what may be a better direction, what may be fruitful and certainly what may need to be done to progress us as people.

If we don’t reveal this silent doubt and tap into faith by realizing that belief is not a guarantee for success, but rather, a door open to possibility, we will continue to go through the motions without any of the personal payoff.

May. We have stalled the vehicle of our own better natures by allowing a silent doubt to steal from us the childlike simplicity of merely continuing to wish, no matter what the results.

There are two things that are certain: (1) life will continue; and (2) life is just better when we believe.

Belief does not guarantee us prosperity, but silent doubt robs us of any tools to excavate it. So if we’re going to have a real sense of the return to a “may” mentality in our spiritual environment, we need to be willing to uncork our doubts and allow them to breathe. There is nothing wrong with wondering why things are the way they are, as long as you don’t pretend that we are doomed to remain impotent.

Just as silent prejudice keeps us from embracing one another and silent surrender takes away the strength to pursue excellence, silent doubt drains our faith and childlike simplicity–which is the only way to actually enter the Kingdom of God. And since the Kingdom of God is within us, we’ve actually closed the door to our own internal potential.

We need to be careful. We are desperately teetering on the brink of having a form of Godliness while denying the power of it. There is only one thing worse than spiritual oblivion and the sensation of being lost, and that is masquerading as part of the sheep, only to end up with the goats.

   

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Mangerial … December 16, 2011

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Live from Palm Coast, Florida, in A Spirited Christmas

 
I was nearly twelve years old the first time I actually heard and grasped the entire Christmas story. I had been to church before but because of my youthfulness, the absence of having ears to hear and possibly the infrequency of the tale being relayed, I somehow missed the entire impact.
 
I remember when I heard it with my “first ears,” I was astounded by the notion that the heavens could light up with stars, kings could come from the east, angels could dance across the sky and a baby could be born in a barn without the whole world exploding with anticipation.  How could the community the next morning go about business as usual? It was beyond my twelve-year-old mind that something so magnificent and visible could occur without recognition.
 
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think many of us are under the false impression that if something is grand enough, glorious enough, or even talented enough, then it will receive appropriate status. Now that I have aged and realize the ways of the world, I know that nothing could be further from the truth.
 
God put together the perfect scenario to make sure that the birth of his son went without acclaim amongst the people. Look at it:
 
Two thousand years ago, who cared about a pregnant teenage girl in a small town? Are you trying to tell me there would be any notice for that today? The attitude would be, “She’s poor and ignorant, so her premature entrance to motherhood is somewhat predictable.” Mary, mother of God, didn’t even raise an eyebrow.
 
 Equally so, her partner and husband, Joseph, was just a common everyday laborer in a little community. Who cares about such folks? Governments debate taxes, wealth and affluence. Some fellow working with wood or trying to build a wall wouldn’t garner much attention. 
 
Same thing is true of the star. To see the stars, you have to leave your house at night and stare into the heavens. Most people are too tired to do that. Most people don’t have time to look up because they’re too busy gazing at the ground.
 
And of course, nobody would care what a few shepherds thought about seeing a vision of an angel. They would be considered drunk, blowhards, or just trying to make their lives more interesting.  Shepherds weren’t exactly at the top of the social ranking.
 
Meanwhile, some foreigners coming into town, who were “wicked astrologers” according to the Jewish law, would certainly not have been taken seriously either. After all, the way they viewed the heavens was unacceptable and therefore rejected.
 
Who cares about kids? Once you see a baby and tell the mother it’s beautiful, what’s next? What can a kid do to take away the burden of Roman law? The two most disrespected units in our society are people under the age of ten and over the age of eighty. Who cares about a new-born king?
 
Especially one surrounded by animals in a barn. Talk about disrespect! What creatures get more disrespect than donkeys, sheep and goats? How much of a king could you be if you’re surrounded by livestock?
 
God pulled off the perfect plan. He beamed his son down to earth and shared that information with the most obsolete individuals in the culture of the day–and because it was proclaimed to the forgotten, those who forget never even knew.
 
I decided many years ago that ministry is ALWAYS what is done and never seen–because those who need the ministry the most have no way of either producing remuneration or offering us any notoriety. Pregnant teenagers don’t even make a blip on the screen of politicians. Working men from Nazareth don’t get mentioned in political debates. Weird astrologers from the east are just that — weird. Shepherds are dismissed as eccentric. Children are to be seen and not heard. And animals…well, after all, they’re just animals.
 
I’m slowing up over the next few days, to pay attention to the forgotten of our society–because if Jesus is going to be re-birthed in our hearts, it will not be done on Christian television, CNN, FOX News or some Barbara Walters special. We will find him in the pregnant teens, the working men, the bizarre star-gazers, the flighty shepherds and amongst the creatures of the earth. That’s where he’ll be.
 
So here’s to the first birth–and to my quest to find Jesus in this Christmas season. Just find the forgotten and you will rediscover the manger.
 
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Here comes Christmas! For your listening pleasure, below is Manger Medley, Jonathan’s arrangement of Away in the Manger, which closes with him singing his gorgeous song, Messiah.  Looking forward to the holidays with you!

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