Confessing… May 16th, 2015

   Jonathots Daily Blog

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II.

I confess so I can heal.

If I deny, I remain sick.

832 miles.

It was the entire round trip from our home to a tiny village in Tennessee, which had opened a coffee-house and kindly invited our fledgling music group to come and share.

They promised to give us dinner and to pass the hat for whatever audience might make its way to the 500-square-foot enclosure.

We jumped at the chance.

We were tired of rehearsing, and considered ourselves quite prepared for public consumption. We scraped together the money to get gasoline, a bag full of snacks and we took off.

It was exhausting, exhilarating, haphazard, crazy, silly, inspiring and probably dangerous.

We didn’t care about the peril. I was just 20 years old and had not yet received my shipment of good sense.

The drive down wore us out and after we finished our little show, the 18 souls who had gathered to hear us collected an offering of $31.22. We thought we had discovered Solomon’s gold.

So when we hopped back in the car to head toward home–with no plan whatsoever on how to actually get there–the first 100 miles zoomed by, as we buzzed with tales of our escapade.

But then, as if struck by a “sleep angel,” we all grew suddenly weary and were in grave danger of running off the road. So we decided to do something none of us had ever done before.

We stopped and took out a motel.

The young lady from our troupe who purchased the accommodations came out and explained that she bought the room for just one person, because if she had included all four of us, there wouldn’t have been enough money.

I had the opportunity at that point to object–or at least feign a concern–but I didn’t.

I felt if we got by with it, it must have been “God’s will.”

So half an hour later, when we were lounging around, getting ready to doze off, there was a sharp knock at the door. It was the innkeeper.

Three of us leaped up and hid in the shower stall behind the curtain while our single, legal member answered the door.

The innkeeper pushed his way in, walked into the bathroom, pulled back the disguise and there we were. He was infuriated.

He demanded that we immediately leave, refunding a fair portion of our money, pushing us out the door and into our car–where we departed, cursing him for what we considered to be his evil spirit.

Somehow or another we made it home.

Candidly, it never occurred to any of us that we were wrong. And if there was a bit of guilty conscience, it was swept away by what we considered to be the owner’s volatile personality.

I thought about that incident today.

I wondered if there was any of that 20-year-old boy still left in me, who thought that “the ends justified the means.”

I do know this–whenever we look for an easier or cheaper way, we open the door to a cheater’s path.

Is there any of that in me?

Is there any part of the grown man I am who would trust my own deceptive tongue instead of risking doing it the right way?

motel we count heads

 

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Untotaled: Stepping Four (April 28th, 1964) … March 1, 2014

Jonathots Daily Blog

(2165)

(Transcript)

The Gospel Tones.

They were a singing group that visited our church on April 28th, 1964–actually, three friends of our pastor, who used to sing together back in college.

The southern gospel quartet–bass, baritone, lead, high tenor–an interesting blending of a musical circus atmosphere mingled with the sanctity and sobriety of the Gregorian chant.

I remember that night well. I had never seen our preacher so alive. He usually had a somberness which accompanied his sermons, granting him the authority to be holy.

But on that night he was moving around and singing low bass notes on the RCA Victor microphone which had been placed in the middle of the platform.

I got excited. Honestly, it was a little corny, but still had enough fun in it that I participated.

After the show everybody processed to the fellowship hall for cookies and punch. I grabbed three of my friends and we headed off  to a Sunday School classroom which had an off-key Wurlitzer piano, and started pounding out some songs of our own. We didn’t sound very good but we were totally enthusiastic.

Right in the middle of an exhilarating screech, one of the church elders stuck his head in, rebuked us and said we were bad children because we weren’t joining in with the rest of the church. My friends were intimidated by the austere condemnation and left to go eat their cookies, but I stayed in the room. I played and played; I sang and sang.

That night changed me. I realized I liked music. I liked entertaining.

I regathered my three friends shortly after that evening and we began to sing everywhere–nursing homes, school talent shows, street rallies, coffee houses–and later, when my buddies paired off and got married, I kept it up.

In the process I worked with the Blackwood Brothers, the Rambos, the Happy Goodmans, the Imperials and the Oak Ridge Boys.

I became an egg. Whether I was scrambled, fried, poached or put in an omelet, I was an egg. You could use me to make a cake, a souffle, or even to hold your meatloaf together.

I was not a ham and certainly not a crab.

On April 28th, 1964, listening to the Gospel Tones, I chose to become an egg. Over the years many people have tried to get me to fit into their box, but I’m an egg.

I was built for a carton. 

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Stop Trying… January 12, 2012

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Many years ago our music group, Soul Purpose, was just getting started and therefore found it difficult to gain any opportunity to perform in front of an audience. You see, the problem with waiting around for the perfect gig is that you have to gig perfectly. No one can do that if they haven’t had a chance to try their act out on the road in other venues. So we decided to go anywhere that anybody would invite us.  That included nursing homes, small churches, gospel sings, birthday parties, clubs, shopping malls and even on several occasions–prisons.

Yes, we were invited to perform at a maximum security prison. We showed up, passed inspection, went into the auditorium, set up all of our equipment and changed into our best duds to prepare for the excursion. About five minutes before the show was supposed to begin, the warden walked in with a horrified face. (Well, his FACE wasn’t horrific. He was just surprised to discover that we had two girls in the group.) He quickly explained that the ladies could not be allowed to perform in front of these particular inmates because safety would not be guaranteed. I just as quickly explained that we were a GROUP and did not perform separately. He apologized but said there was no way he would allow the two young women to step out onto the stage.

I asked him for a private moment for our group to deliberate. We chatted, and the girls felt I should go ahead and do the performance without them, since we were already set up. I was terrified. Let me be candid–most people who perform in a group do so because they have selected NOT to be a soloist. And on top of that, if I WERE to become a solo act, an audience at a maximum security prison would not be my choice for “breaking out.” (Pardon the pun.)

But my comrades were insistent and they said they would be backstage listening and praying for me. So we told the warden, who was very grateful, because he didn’t want to go out and cancel a concert in front of the less-than-agreeable conclave. So dressed in my Sunday best, I was introduced and strolled onto the stage and sat behind my piano and began to play and sing.

I finished my first song to complete and utter silence. There was a long pause and then one of the inmates just released a quiet, “Boo.”  The rest of them thought this was very funny, so they chorused in. In no time at all, I was surrounded with “boo” jailbirds. The warden looked nervous. I think he was trying to figure out some way to step in and bail me out. So he stood to his feet, and as soon as he did the chant of disapproval died down a bit.

I sat there for what seemed like a good ten minutes (even though it was probably ten seconds). I had no idea what to do next. I had been given an agenda–friends of mine wanted me to “preach the gospel.” My singers backstage were praying I would be able to communicate some deep truth to these lost men. But now that I was in front of them, I was just a scared little boy from Sunbury, Ohio, who was more insecure than talented, needing approval and finding none.

In the midst of this moment of silence, someone from the back of the room yelled, “You’re fat!” This particular proclamation evoked the fist applause.

When it calmed down, I leaned into my microphone and quietly replied, “That’s probably because I eat more take-out Chinese than prison food.” I wasn’t trying to be funny–just to escape the ridicule. But these gathered folk found it inexplicably hilarious. They laughed and laughed. It was weird. Suddenly I was no longer in a prison–just in a room full of people who were nervous to be around one another and had moved away from some of that trepidation through a good laugh.

Feeling a little bolder, I spoke into the microphone again. “I guess the closest I’ve ever been to a prison is …well, today.” Once again, they thought this was absolutely the funniest thing they’d ever heard. There’s something pure about a roll of laughter that cannot be duplicated in any other human expression, and dare I say, perhaps none from the angels. So I just started to talk. I didn’t talk about my work; I didn’t talk about the gospel. I didn’t talk about music. I talked about how close I came to being in the same situation they were. I told them that I hit a bad spell in my late teens where I got a girl pregnant, her parents hated me, they threatened to call the police on me, but I persevered and we got married, but then drove to New York State to abort the baby, only to change our minds as we stood before the awesome wonder of Niagara Falls.

I forgot about the audience. I was suddenly immersed in both the magnitude of the danger I had been in during my earlier life and the grace of God which brought me through. Then I realized that the audience was completely silent–matter of fact, I had never seen so many tattooed people with tears in their eyes. I risked singing another song. This time the response was different. They stood to their feet and applauded. I didn’t push my luck; I left in the midst of the standing ovation and came back out for another bow.

I then did something that made the warden very nervous. I leaped from the stage and ran out into the midst of the inmates as they surrounded me, patting me on the back, and I gave them all hugs. It was a beautiful moment. It was made beautiful because I stopped trying. Had I continued to persist in my religious training, my musical background or my stage etiquette, I would have failed miserably, blaming my surroundings for my misfortune.

I learned that day something I treasure to this moment: we have two powerful weapons in our arsenal–the true story of our lives and our sense of humor. It saved me from prison. (Well, I mean a visit at a prison.) And it can save you, too, if you’re just willing to cease following conventional wisdom and let your experience in the spirit lead you.

If at first you don’t succeed …  stop trying. Take a deep breath, regain your sense of cheer and self, wait for some inspiration and then proceed. 

With humility.

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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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To see books written by Jonathan, click the link below! You can peruse and order if you like!

http://www.janethan.com/tour_store.htm

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