Song Guy … July 28, 2012

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I didn’t know what an ordination was. Probably worse is–I didn’t care. It’s just that this guy I knew was going to be ordained and he asked our fledgling group, Soul Purpose, to sing a tune at his ordination service.

He was probably only twenty-seven years old, but because I was only twenty, I thought he was ancient. (Twenty is that age when anyone nineteen or under is a punk and anyone over twenty-three is heading for social security.

I am sure when this guy asked me to have our group sing, he was thinking about something like Amazing Grace or How Great Thou Art. That was not the way I thought. Even though I was only twenty years old, I had already written two songs, recorded them, put them on a 45 RPM record and had begun to travel around to small coffeehouses and area churches in order to convince all those willing to listen that I was worth hearing. So the invitation to sing a tune at the ordination prompted me to write another song. Now, I lived in a small town, where song-writing was normally relegated to Francis Scott Key or George Gershwin. Young men from the community–especially those who had not gone to college–were not permitted to participate in such a flamboyant activity. So the mention of writing a song was usually greeted with a frown or a snicker. It just wasn’t done.

So when I announced to my friend that I was going to write a special song just for his ordination, he was rather nervous. Matter of fact, he discouraged me from doing so in the nicest way possible. I didn’t care. You see, I wanted to be a Song Guy. One of those people who writes “the songs the whole world sings” and “wants to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.”

So I sat down and wrote a song, fittingly entitled To Be Ordained, taught it to our group and performed it at the ordination, to surprised appreciation. I had now written three songs and was convinced that Bob Dylan was in danger.

Shortly after that I was inspired again and wrote a fourth song, called The Blood of the Son Makes Us One. About two or three months after writing that song, I attended a concert by a well-known gospel group called The Rambos, and through a series of near-mishaps and unbelievable events, got them to listen to my song. They ended up liking it. They signed it and decided to record it. I was amazed at how easy this was. I had only written four songs and I was already poised to become the next great Song Guy.

And then … I learned what I probably should have known (but of course, I wouldn’t have known it because there was no place for me to have learned it).

I arrived in Nashville to present my song in front of the music publishers, and they, being good business people, wanted to hear my “entire catalogue.” You may not know this, but those picky folks in Nashville don’t consider four songs to be a catalogue. I was in a room with a captive audience of very influential and prosperous men and women, who were anxious to hear the entire body of my work, and I didn’t even have a thumb.

It was embarrassing. It was debilitating. They wanted more … and I had nothing.

You see, I realized in that moment that I didn’t want to be a Song Guy. I wanted to be a guy who wrote A song that made lots of money and then everybody just kept giving him money because he wrote THAT song. I became aware that I had been trained to work on what I wanted to BE instead of actually practicing and performing what I could DO.

It is one of the flaws in the American dream. AFter all, the hypocrisy and presumption is in the title itself. It is a dream–a fantasy of where we want to end up, with no comprehension about what it takes to get there and even less passion for the actual labor itself.

I walked out of that office in Nashville that day resolute. I would never put myself in that position again. I realized that I DID want to be a Song Guy, but not because I wanted to be recorded, make a lot of money and be famous. It was because I really had something to say. And whether anyone ever heard it or not, it needed to escape my body–or it would possess my soul.

Within two years, I wrote an album’s worth of material, which ended up being recorded and played nationally. I then turned around and wrote a fifteen-song musical based on the Sermon on the Mount which toured across the country. When I got together with my family, I wrote at least three albums of songs, which we never actually recorded, and even today, I feel compelled to compose enough music for at least one album per year.

I actually have less attention to my work than I did when I had my four little songs at age twenty, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t write music, books or even this jonathots because I am secretly awaiting the arrival of fame and fortune. I write music because deep in my heart I want to be the Song Guy. I have to allow the music to escape.

The greatest lesson you can teach any young person (or even yourself if you missed it on the way to older) is: Don’t think about what you want to be. Just start working on what you can do. It may be the flaw in our higher educational system. We ask people what they want to be when they grow up instead of giving them a chance to do it and finding out if it wears well on their everyday bodies.

I am a Song Guy. I don’t worry about whether I’m great. I’m not concerned about sitting in rooms with the upper crust of the music industry, seeking their approval. I write songs because they’re in me, I have something to say … and God seems to enjoy listening to them.

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

Seven Days Later … July 27, 2012

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One spoiled rotten boy

In a desperate attempt to annoy

Took his dastardly grown-up toy

And acted out his lethal ploy

Intent to kill off all our joy.

Seven days after Theater Nine. People trying to understand why.

Yet if our frustrated little boy from Colorado had come to us with a paint brush, we might have told him that “art is for pussies.”

If he had shown up with a hammer, we would have suggested that he go build something, and that we would decide if he was worthy of future constructions.

What if he had shown up with a song? The suggestion would have been made for him to audition for American Idol and hope for the best.

What if the little boy had arrived with just an idea? We more adult types would have smiled, patted him on the shoulder and offered a dubious “good luck.”

He could have completed his education. We would have handed him an application and told him to get in line.

And if our young, confused lad had brought along his dream, we would have felt the need to provide him with a big dose of reality.

But because he showed up with a gun, we have given him the entire twenty-four hour news cycle. What is the message?

  • “Be a dreamer or pursue something good … and be relegated to obscurity.”
  • “Devastate and decimate the body of humanity … and receive acclaim.”

It is because the infernal battle between conservatives and liberalsin this country squares us off into camps that possess jargon and slogans, but no real, practical way to make the American dream

English: Percent of self-identified conservati...

English: Percent of self-identified conservatives in the United States, broken down by state, according to Gallup, August 2010. http://www.gallup.com/poll/141677/Wyoming-Mississippi-Utah-Rank-Conservative-States.aspx#2. 49% and above 45%-48% 41%-44% 37%-40% 33%-36% 32% and under (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

wake up to personal success. The conservatives will tell you that all you need is a job, a family, a home and a faith. The liberals will postulate that human beings require opportunity, respect, equality and freedom. Here’s the truth: when our principles of purpose cease to produce better and happier human beings, they need to be revised, no matter how many times our forefathers may have endorsed them.

How about a true insight into our country? And it isn’t found by becoming a conservative or a liberal, but rather, by amalgamating all the better choices and forging them into the steel of a great American.

Here’s what somebody should have told the brat from Colorado:

“Welcome to America. You have the opportunity to get a job as long as you’re willing to use your ingenuity to work your way up. If you respect people and grant them equality, you might just get the blessing of having your own family. If you keep using your integrity, after a while you can buy a home–even though truthfully, you actually can make a home anywhere you decide to settle. You have the freedom to express your faith and convictions as long as you allow others unbridled liberty to live out their choices. There is no lifetime guarantee. There is just the guarantee that you have this lifetime. Please join us.”

That’s what someone should have told him. Instead, he was cast on a sea of division between conservatives and liberals that eventually caused him to decide that violence was the better way to gain notice instead of patiently being creative.

Seven days later, what have we learned? What do we know?

I will tell you what I perceive. Until the conservatives and liberals get off their high horse and we join together as people, to discourage violence and give great honor and place to creativity, we will continue to bury victims–many of them our children.

   

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Jesus Was a Communist… June 24, 2012

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Jesus was a communist.

I know that’s quite a shocking opening statement. I was equally as surprised as I perused the Gospel accounts and realized that Jesus traveled with his disciples, living off the land and sharing all things in common. Thus, a communist.

Upon additional research, I realized that my first assertion of a Communist Jesus was totally erroneous. As it turns out, Jesus is a capitalist. For he said, “He that has shall more be given, and he that has not, even the little he has shall be taken away from him.” Capitalism.

I also discovered through my readings that Jesus would be very upsetting to the NRA, because he was anti-gun, proclaiming that “they that live by the sword shall die by the sword.”

Yet ironically, he did support the troops, because he praised the Centurion who was in charge of one hundred Roman Legionnaires, by saying, “Never have I seen so great a faith—no, not in Israel.”

A bit befuddled, I pressed on with my project. Turns out that Jesus is in favor of gay rights. He said we should not judge, lest we all be judged, for “the measure that is measured out by us to others will be measured back to us.”

I was about to unveil this revelation to some acquaintances, when, with further perusal, I realized that Jesus was also in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, and might even be a homophobe, because he explained to the Pharisees quite clearly that God made male and female and that from the beginning that this was called true marriage—“that a man should leave his mother and a woman leave her home, and the two would be one flesh.”

By this point, I was fully intrigued, yet a bit shocked when I uncovered that Jesus was an Anti-Semite. Speaking to the women of Jerusalem on the day of his crucifixion, he told them that their “house was left to them desolate.”

So imagine how perplexed I was when I also read that he was a Zionist. Giving a partial rebuke to a Syro-phoenician foreigner, he told her it was not good to “give the children’s bread to the dogs.” That’s right—he called her a “Gentile dog.”

Now my curiosity was really piqued, so I started reading indiscriminately, trying to keep an open mind.

Jesus was a party animal. People referred to him as a “wine-bibber, a glutton and a friend of sinners.” Yet, bewildering, he was also a “refrainer.” For after all, he went into the wilderness and fasted for forty days and forty nights, and was hungry.

I then ascertained that Jesus HAD to be a Republican, because he bluntly said that “every good tree brings forth good fruit and every evil tree brings forth evil fruit.” So I was about to make my proclamation on the political nature of his message, when I determined that he was a Democrat, because he strongly believed in the separation of church and state.Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.”

I then realized that some women might find him to be a chauvinist, because arriving at a well in Samaria, he ordered a woman to bring him something to drink. But this was quickly dispelled by viewing the narrative about the day of his resurrection, when he turned to Mary Magdalene and told her to go and tell the other disciples that he was risen from the dead. Yes. He made a woman his first apostle.

Did you know he was pro-life? He told the surrounding audience that if they “offended one of these little ones, it would be better that a millstone be hung around their neck and that they be cast into the sea.”

Of course, a case could be made that he was pro-choice. He said, “If your right eye offend you, pluck it out.” And we certainly know that some women would find an unwanted pregnancy much more disturbing than bad vision.

Was he a saint? Pontius Pilate, a completely neutral bystander, claimed that he found no fault in him.

Was he evil? The religious leaders claimed that he was “a sinner, a Galilean.”

I pressed on. With my additional readings, I discovered that he was a religionist. He advocated that we fast, that we pray, that we give alms, and even mentioned that we should continue our tithing. So you can imagine how I was a little bit astonished to comprehend that he was a revolutionary, standing toe-to-toe with the religious system. He told them that “he was the Lord of the Sabbath.”

A strong case could be made that Jesus was a humanist, for he told his followers that the”Kingdom of God was within them.” Yet, he did not leave out the presence and power of the Almighty, because he spoke clearly and said that “you should love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.”

Did he favor men? Well, he did have twelve disciples, all circumcised. Yet you might have the inkling that his heart went out to women, because Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna, members of his troupe, gave “of their substance” to make sure the work went on. (You’ve got to love contributors.)

Are you tired yet? Because honestly, I found out he was a liberal. Defending a woman caught in adultery, he turned to a gathered audience of those who assumed they were righteous and said, “Let he that hath no sin cast the first stone.”

Yet I have to tell you, he could just as easily have been a conservative. Because in his Sermon on the Mount, he warned his followers that “he had not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it—and not one jot or tittle of the Law would be cast aside until all was completed.”

Well, you can see—I’ve had quite a journey. But there were still a couple more that jumped out at me.

I had always believed that Jesus was forgiving, because even hanging from the cross, he insisted, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” But also, he was a bit vindictive—because he warned that the individuals who did not stand with him were against him.

An environmentalist? Well, certainly a case can be made, because he said that “not one sparrow falls from the sky without God being fully aware of the loss.” But also a pragmatist, because he claimed that nature is fickle and unpredictable, with “the rain falling on the just and the unjust.”

So finally I asked myself the supreme question. Was he a savior? He made it clear that he laid down his life and it wasn’t taken from him. But you have to ask yourself whether he was perhaps a victim, because in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed in great anguish, “Father, let this cup pass from me.”

I finished my pursuit of finding the true nature of who Jesus was. And I ended up, as you see, with so many representations that it is no wonder why we have denominations aplenty, and nearly incomprehensible that we don’t have more.

Jesus can be just about whoever you want him to be. That is why over the years he has become the champion for many causes, some noble and others destructive. So my dear friends, how do we know who he really is? How do we know the best way to represent him? It didn’t take much more investigative reporting on my part to come up with a very simple outline—a prism, if you will—which we shine the light of Jesus through to determine his true colors. Because he makes it clear on three occasions why he came to this earth:

1.”I have come give you life and it more abundantly.”

2.”I have come that your joy might be full.”

3.”I have come to show you the Father.”

So as I looked over my thirty-two insights on the life of Jesus based upon fragments of his filibustering, I passed them through the acid test of these three obvious callings.

I decided not to teach anything that did not bring life to people in abundance.

No matter how many times it is shouted, I will not take partial theology to teach anything that does not encourage full joy.

And finally, it is ridiculous to pursue any path that does not show us a glimpse of God the Father.

  • Full joy.
  • Abundant life.
  • Revelation of the Father.

It’s what human beings need.  Therefore, it’s what Jesus is.

   

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Entertaining the Monster… June 23, 2012

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The monster never leaves.

He remains.

He festers.

He alternates between a domineering profile of supremacy and a whiny fussiness of oppression. He is looking for reasons to be offended. He, himself, offends.

He fears silence. He abhors contemplation. He resists the instinct to worship. He likes things to be noisy. He relishes clutter. He enters a room suspicious of all in attendance, wondering when his perfection will be acknowledged.

He has a memory with no conscience. He has a passion with no desire. He is looking for diversion from what he has not yet determined to be unworthy.

He fears reflection. He mocks repentance. He giggles over the notion of insufficiency. He is not to be reasoned with.

He demands to be entertained.

But sometimes …

Yes, every once in a while, I am able to devise a plan to fool the monster. I step out of my lodging, stride to my van and drive to a nearby park, where I sit on a bench, mulling. The monster is appeased because he thinks we have come to bask in self-pity. He believes we will recite the lines from a script which foretells a betrayal which will leave us bereft. He has prepared for consolation.

But you see, I have private plans. I had a meeting with my own soul, without inviting the monster. I sit in silence.

The monster is disquieted by my choice, but still feels confident that self-pity will soon raise waves of resentment, which will produce tears of anger, ending in childish tantrums.

But instead … I listen. In the midst of gaining solitude, I hear the song of one single bird, high above me in the tree. I concentrate on the bird’s ongoing song. Peace settles in my spirit. I consider the sparrow.

bird at piano lesson with rock

bird at piano lesson with rock (Photo credit: Terry Bain)

I listen to its melody.

Suddenly I am aware of my own inadequacy. My monster is desperate to acquire my attention. He tries to distract me with other sounds, other dangers, other diversions. I resist.

I stay focused on the song of the bird. In no time at all, I am given a window to my own sanctuary and peer at my treasure. And then, there before me–is my own heart. It is divided. It is sliced betwixt the truth of my need and the lies of the monster.

I retrieve the truth. It’s really not that painful, because in the midst of admitting the facts of my life, I am granted freedom through the choice. All at once I am exhilarated by my discoveries.

The monster is enraged by my pursuits, having been thrust to the back of my consciousness, locked in a closet unto himself. I have such a great assurance of peace in my soul that I feel like I can speak aloud to God–and there is that amazing chance that He might just speak back.

What a sensation.

I spend ten minutes on that bench with myself, temporarily freed of my monster. I don’t want to leave. I would love to believe that my adversary is gone forever, locked in the tombs of my past. But I know that as soon as I leave the bench and drive away from the park, the monster will gradually emerge from the shadows–sheepishly at first, acting a bit surprised that I ever deemed him an enemy. He will try to wiggle his way back into my thinking and will take the everyday disappointments and attempt to turn them into signs of the apocalypse.

I will resist him. I will recognize his hovering presence as being anything but protective. I will outsmart him again.

The monster lives. The monster breathes, being granted life by traditions and apprehensions. He seeks entertainment. He wants me to escape into the world, where I lose sight of gaining my own soul.

He wants me to hate. He wishes that I would call that emotion “discretion.” He is devious. He is part of me.

I fooled the monster today. I spent some time with a bird, my own reflections, talking to the Kingdom of God within me, uncovering repentance. The monster is a little weaker.

The monster craves entertainment, like an addict on the second day of rehab. I will attempt to refuse his demands. I will persever in controlling my monster. But it all begins by never forgetting that he is there.

Yes, knowing he’s there … but not giving it a single care.

   

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