Untotaled: Stepping 42 (August 27th, 1967) Driven… November 29, 2014

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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(Transcript)

I woke up in one of those adolescent grumpy moods, staring at the ceiling, disgusted with my life.

It was nearly time for school to start again and I felt like I had squandered my entire summer, worrying about how little summer I had left.

Even the things I had done which seemed enjoyable had passed too quickly, and now it was time to go back to school–to pretend to be a student and memorize a bunch of information which would give me a good grade on a test, knowing in my heart that I would soon forget the knowledge, yet knowing that somewhere in the future, I would be expected to remember it.

I had acquired three dollars yesterday by finally mowing the lawn, which had grown so high that one of the neighbors had complained to my parents, fearing that varmaints or snakes might dwell within. I reluctantly did the job and was rewarded with the remuneration.

So I woke up with a scratch I needed to itch. That’s the way it is when you’re a teenager–it’s not really an itch you need to scratch, but rather, an ongoing scratching sensation and needing an itch to justify it.

I got in my car and headed over to Katie’s house. She was the highlight of my summer. We had come together to search for pop bottles we could turn in for deposit to get gas money so we could drive around, talk and be silly.

There was nothing romantic involved, though candidly, I would have jumped her at the slightest invitation. She just thought I was funny.

When I picked her up that day, she had two dollars she had earned by picking blackberries on her grandma’s farm. Between us we had five dollars, three candy bars and some leftover tuna sandwiches her mother had foisted on her as she departed.

Katie explained that she needed to be home by three o’clock in the afternoon, and since it was already ten-thirty, our time would be shortened.

I told her that since we had enough money to buy fifteen gallons of gasoline, that we should drive three hours somewhere, talk, laugh and turn around to drive three hours back.

She was cool with it so we took off for Columbus.

Driving on I-71, we reached the south end of Columbus. Then that scratch that needed an itch suddenly raised its head. So I said, “Let’s keep going.”

She was nervous but agreed–and before too long we passed through Washington Court House, Wilmington and suddenly found ourselves on the outskirts of Cincinnati. It was deliciously naughty, filled with wild abandon and irresponsibility.

A sign read that the Ohio River was four miles ahead. I had never seen the Ohio River, and Katie had only passed over it in a car with her parents while being sound asleep in the back seat. So I said, let’s do it.

We crossed the river into Kentucky.

We felt like fugitives. It was similar to trying to make our way into the Soviet Union through the Iron Curtain (they had that back then).

Everything on the other side of the river, including a town named Covington, looked so different. We felt like Christopher Columbus eyeballing the New World.

Suddenly, Katie looked down at her watch and it was two o’clock in the afternoon, and she realized there was no way she would be able to get back in time. There also were no cell phones or texting, and pay phones were out of the question because we had used all of our money for petrol.

So knowing we were going to get in trouble, we turned the car around and headed back the way we came. It was the strangest combination of fear, jubilance, independence, anxiety and nervous bowel twinges that I’ve ever experienced in my life.

Strangely enough, when we arrived home, people really didn’t say much about us being late–just that we should never do it again.

Katie and I knew that was impossible.

Something changed that day.

I no longer felt bound to a small home on a tiny street in a little village. I realized there was a big world out there–and the only way I would ever get to it and be myself was to survive a couple more years of provincial schooling … to finally be able to point my life in my own direction.

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Untotaled: Stepping 13 (June 23rd, 1965) Old Lady Dickerson … May 10, 2014

Jonathots Daily Blog

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(Transcript)

A nickel is five times more than what you need if you don’t have a penny to your name.

That’s where I found myself in the summer of ’65. I was an unemployed, untrainable, unteachable, unworkable, unadult young teenager.

What I did have in great abundance was need.

I had reached an age where money was suddenly important but totally unavailable. A simple principle was explained to me in vivid but boring detail: “If you want money, you gotta work.”

This was new. Since birth, food had been provided–trinkets, toys and even occasional trips–without me having to expend any energy except the occasional complaining whine, “Are we there yet?”

But now, when I requested money, my parents were suddenly a dry well, asking me to pursue odd jobs in order to procure some personal finance.

Now, there’s a reason they call them “odd jobs.” The jobs are odd–low paying, ridiculously stupid and generally speaking, hot and sweaty. I will not go into vivid detail about how I hated each and every one of these elements, but since I needed to raise five dollars for a gift I wanted to impart to myself, it became obvious that I was going to have to walk down to the end of our street and ask Old Lady Dickerson if she had any chores she needed done.

She always did. None of the other kids wanted to work for her. She was cheap and waited too long–thus making the task she requested even more difficult.

For instance, she didn’t mow her grass until it looked like an African Serengeti. And because she had a house full of cats, on those rare occasions when you needed to go in for a drink of water, you had to hold your breath–otherwise you would faint from the deadly feline perfume.

There were also rumors that because the grass was so high, mowing the lawn put you in danger of encountering snakes. Granted, they were just garter snakes, but that’s like saying, “These are only criminals that commit non-violent crimes.”

Yet I found myself making the trek down to her house to ask for work so that I could garner my five dollars.

Please understand–to get five dollars out of Old Lady Dickerson required that you work all week. She paid in quarters, which she squeezed out of her wrinkled, bony fingers, holding tightly to them, forcing you to nearly yank to acquire your payment.

This particular week of torture included mowing the lawn, where I did discover a garter snake, and like a frightened little girl, jumped back and pushed the mower really hard, over the top of it, spitting the slimy thing out the back end. I don’t know if I killed it, because I refused to mow anymore that day.

She also wanted to have her thistles removed. She wasn’t satisfied with having them mowed over. You had to get out there and pull them out with your hands. (There is a reason, you know, they are called thistles.)

And for some reason she had decided to clean up some old newspapers in her house which the cats had used as urinal pads. I literally put a clothes pin on my nose to perform the duty.

At the end of my five days of hard labor, she decided to pay me all at once instead of in quarters. Would you believe that old lady stiffed me a buck and only gave me four?

It was fine.

Many years later, she died, and one of the richer members of our community bought her house. I was told they had to tear out the walls and pull up the floors to get all of the cat stink out.

Did I learn anything from working for Old Lady Dickerson?

Yes.

I learned that I did not want to work with reptiles at the zoo, that thistles can pretty much have their way in my yard and that it is always a good investment to find a young man or young lady … to mow your lawn.

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Arizona morning

After an appearance earlier this year in Surprise, Arizona, Janet and I were blessed to receive a “surprise” ourselves. Click on the beautiful Arizona picture above to share it with us!

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G-14: Jungle or Garden?… March 7, 2014

Jonathots Daily Blog  

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jungleI think most people have found themselves in the embarrassing situation of arriving late to an appointment, being held up by traffic, and requiring an ice-breaker to share when entering the room of awaiting friends.

One of the favorites quips is the gasping exclamation, “It’s a jungle out there!”

It usually evokes some laughter–partly due to its corniness–but mostly because we have all become a bit convinced by society, entertainment and even religion that human beings are depraved animals.

So rather than looking at life and our potentials with optimism, we find ourselves desperately trying to avoid the human representations of silly monkeys, ravenous lions and venomous snakes.

Somewhere along the line we have forgotten the beautiful explanation that man and woman were spawned in a garden. Maybe it’s too idealistic. Perhaps the world around us will not permit us to believe that such beauty is attainable and such blessing within our grasp.

I just don’t know what we ever gain by allowing the underbrush of weeds and human mediocrity to surround us, causing us to retreat to our caves in fear. Yes, I think there’s a choice. Am I going to continue to live in a jungle or am I going to do my best, before I leave here, to turn the earth–or at least my portion of it–into a garden?

cultivated gardenTwo things are necessary to transform a jungle into a garden:

1. You’ve got to cool things down.

Jungles are steamy and hot, breeding all sorts of creeping, crawling vermin which welcome such a searing climate. Sometimes the greatest thing we can do in any situation is to refuse to participate in frenetic energy and heated debate, find a quiet place, sit down and wait for things to cool off. I do think it’s what Jesus meant when he suggested that the “meek inherit the earth.” As long as you’re struggling, punching and fighting with everyone for the dead carcass in the middle of the Serengeti, you are exhausting yourself–not to mention casting your lot with the more unseemly actions of the beasts.

Cool things down.

Occasionally I find myself in an argument and realize that the flame is rising and the intelligence is leaving. The situation requires that somebody shut up. When I actually am wise enough to do so, things cool down.

2. Clear things out.

I have been focusing this year on eliminating the scrub brush that suffocates my life, making me feel paranoid and claustrophobic. There are things I just don’t need, require or even desire anymore. Maybe they were once status symbols or security blankets, but now they’ve just become all-encompassing. If you’re going to grow something, you often have to remove what is occupying space but is useless.

Clear things out.

When you cool things down, all the hot-headed animals and the plant life that is tropical disappear. When you clear things out, you find soil underneath the tangled mess of weeds. Then you’re prepared to plant a garden.

And what is a garden? A glorious three-step process. A garden give me the chance to:

A. Seed what I need.

Yes, to actually get specific instead of hoping for the best or praying for miracles because I failed to do my job.

B.  Grow what I know.

I realized last week that I don’t lack wisdom. I lack frequent flyer miles using it. There is so much I can do, say, share, perform and be that I squander in pursuit of things unknown or beyond my capability.

C. And finally, receive what I believe.

Having come to peace with myself and my own gifts in the garden I have cleared off, and knowing that things have cooled down, I can be a good farmer. Yes:

  • Seed what you need.
  • Grow what you know.
  • Receive what you believe.

You can think whatever you want–I believe we were born in a garden … and have settled for a jungle.

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Killing is a Dead Issue … January 2, 2013

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jon with gun to head

I want to have a mature understanding–with a childlike application.

There you go. That is the power of faith–to possess wisdom but not use it against yourself and others, but instead, apply it in such a way that you are as harmless as a dove.

That’s also what I feel about violence. Let’s get several things straight–children don’t play with guns. Children are taught that guns are not cool. And children are instructed that life has value in all its forms.

A quick story. When I was eleven years old I went to church camp and the grown-up in our cabin who was watching over us brought a hand gun.  He pretended to hide it, but brandished it once or twice–enough so that we were horribly curious, being of that age and immaturity. When one of the boys asked him why he brought the gun, he said is was just in case we run into snakes or bears. Here’s the problem with that–there are no snakes or bears in Central Ohio, and secondly, he left the gun under his pillow when we went out to where there might be snakes or bears, and a quick run back to the cabin would have been impractical.

People who own guns in America are not using them to protect themselves. They would have to be packing heat everyday when they walked down the street–which in most communities is illegal. So if you found yourself in a bank robbery, it would not do you much good to have a gun locked in your safe at home. Even if you had a burglar break into your home in the middle of the night, by the time you got your safe open and your gun out, most of the damage would be done and you would possibly be the only armed person in your home, since most burglars don’t carry weapons because if they get caught, it levies a much higher sentence.

So what is the purpose of all this gun craze? It isn’t the Old West. We don’t have holsters hanging from our waist dangling a Smith and Wesson. The only reason to own a gun is to impress or intimidate.

Smith & Wesson

Smith & Wesson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My camp counselor brought his gun to camp to make the kids think he was cool. Actually, it scared me–especially when he would yell at us for not making up our beds. I always wondered if he was going to grab the gun and take care of the problem once and for all.It was intimidating. That’s why we came up with the statement, “If somebody put a gun to my head…” This is not a pleasant greeting. It is intimidation. It’s trying to impress. It’s what we tell our children NOT to do.

For instance, we do not suggest that the solution to bullying in our public schools is to make sure that everybody bullies. We attack the bullies for bullying instead of giving everybody mean things to say to each other to even the score on bullying.

The answer to gun violence in this country, and to crime, is not to arm the populace. The answer is to teach people to disarm situations without killing someone.

I do not think that guns should be illegal. I just believe they need to stop being cool. Just as cigarettes had their heyday, were revealed as being dangerous and relegated to a lesser position in our society, so it should be with the necessary evil of firearms.

A young minister told me he bought a snub-nosed revolver. He was so proud. I bit my lip. His revelation concerning his purchase brought great interest from congregation members–perhaps more focus than he gets from preaching the Golden Rule. He puffed up. He was impressing people.

I shook my head and walked away. I have no judgment for my brother, but I am on a quest this year to be more childlike in my faith, and as I told you–children don’t play with guns. Children shouldn’t think guns are cool. And children should value life … in all its forms.

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