Barking Dogs… January 14, 2012

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I’ve only been working on it for about a year.

Honestly, I’m not very good at it. But I still continue to pursue the idea because I realize how valuable it is–and perhaps even necessary to my own well-being and certainly to my fellow-humans. For many years I knew it was something I should consider, but candidly, I just thought people should take care of their own business, be grown-up and not involve me in their messes.

But here’s the truth–lots of people don’t take care of their own affairs. People tend to wear their feelings on their sleeves and then become easily bruised and upset when you bump into them. It causes strife, fighting, feuds and just a general feeling of discontent among the populace.

So that is why, for the past year I have been trying to listen to and note the barking dogs that hound the minds of my fellow-travelers. Because if I take every nasty attitude that’s thrown my way and assume it was meant for me, I am an idiot. People arrive in our presence already cocked to go off like a gun, with feelings of resentment, remorse and insecurity that have absolutely nothing to do with us. They may choose us as a dumping ground, but unless we take the time to suck up some air and consider their plight, we will explode all over them, further confirming their belief that life sucks. It is a step of maturity that I am ill-prepared to undertake–but I do acknowledge that it’s required in order to move forward. People have “barking dogs” on their heels all the time that they’re running from, causing them to be less than considerate, pre-occupied, frustrated and often incompetent.

Let me give you an example. Several weeks ago, I finished performing in a church and a lady came by my book table in a wheel chair and rolled on down the hallway towards a restroom. She sat in front of the restroom for a few moments and then tried to roll to the door but was unable to open it, and after two attempts, backed her wheelchair up and disappeared around a corner, out of sight. It got me thinking. I wondered if she was around that corner trying to figure out how to get into the bathroom, yet completely stymied by her situation and, for whatever reason, unwilling to ask for assistance. I took a chance. I knew she wouldn’t allow me to help her into the bathroom, so I asked a teenage girl nearby to do me a favor. I quickly explained the situation and inquired if she would be willing to go find the lady and see if she was sitting there and ask her if she would like some assistance getting into the restroom. The young girl looked at me like I was a little crazy, but since she thought it was a “worthy” nuttiness, she complied. She disappeared and short moments later, reappeared rolling the lady to the restroom, completing the mission. I don’t know how long that woman would have sat, trying to figure out how to get into the bathroom, allowing the “barking dogs” to create greater and greater dissatisfaction in her soul. But I was glad I could silence the hounds in her mind on this one occasion. You see, in the midst of a society constantly trying to judge the actions of other people based on outward appearance, the more intelligent path is to listen for the barking dogs that hound people into being less than what they really desire to be.

I find it difficult to write about the subject because I am in such an infant stage of discovery that my explanation probably sounds like baby-talk. But this is what I know–ninety per cent of the people who are mean to me are so because they think they’re attacking somebody or something else. If I retaliate solely based upon what they say or do to me, I start an unnecessary war. If I pause for a second and wonder what vicious consequence of life has caused them to arrive in such a foul mood, I allow my compassion to take the forefront instead of my retaliation. It doesn’t always work–but when it does, I offer salvation to my friends instead of incrimination.

Can we tune our ears to hear the barking dogs that are hounding the minds of those we meet? Perhaps it’s a pipe dream. You might even consider it a piece of foolishness. But I know this–to spend my whole life judging things by what I hear and see and never look deeper into the heart is to remove the essence of God from my journey.

Because it is always God’s will to look inside … instead of judging the book by its cover.

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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

Deciding… January 5, 2012

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Fear is the womb that births all indecision.

What makes us afraid?

It is the monsters we chased from our childhood closets, which now have mysteriously found “home” in our adult minds. Most people think the important thing is deciding to do right. Actually, the more valuable choice is landing on the right way to decide. 

I think there are six things that prompt us to “decide,” and the quality of your decisions will be based on which one of these frightens you–or excites you.

1. What’s up? There are many folks who make all of their major directional changes based on the climate of society, the mood of their surroundings or the popular choices of the day. They are literally “blown by the wind.” They move from one thing to another based upon the fad of the moment. They are at the mercy of trends. Of course, we know what the problem is with such a profile. What is presently in vogue will, within a matter of days or weeks, be considered foolish. So if you’re making your decision based on “what’s up,” half the time you’ll be hidden within a  host of adherents and the other half of the time, you’ll be considered out-dated and meaningless.

2. What’s proper? Propriety always harkens to a former time. Former times tend to bring habits to the forefront that are repetitive but not necessarily good. Bad habits breed repression. Repression welcomes sin–and sin ushers in a premature death. Making your personal choices based upon what is proper also puts you at the mercy of the opinion of the strongest and loudest screamer instead of the still, small voice of reason.

3. What’s hard? This is a tricky one–because some people avoid hard things and other people welcome them, feeling they’re very mature because they’re taking on difficult tasks. Can we make something clear? A thing is not better just because it’s harder to do. “Hard” is just a level of fussiness which exists, awaiting an intelligent mind to simplify it. Doing things the hard way is basically admitting you’re stupid–because if any “smarts” existed, a more proficient and easier path would be found.

4. What’s God’s will? This is the one that really makes me laugh. There are people who believe that through prayer, Bible reading or meditation, they are able to make decisions in their lives based upon their discernment of God’s will. This is scary. When I look back over the history of the Crusades and other causes launched in the name of God, a shudder goes down my spine at the notion of anyone believing they are tapping the present daily schedule of the Almighty to find the best approach in any given matter. Actually, God’s will is very simple.  It is: love your neighbor as yourself. And since love and fear cannot coexist and being uncertain of who your neighbor is might stall the process, and an unwillingness to embrace one’s own abilities and emotions could be a deterrent to the conclusion, those very religiously based individuals certainly will find God’s will a bit beyond their groping.

So there are the first four. As you probably can tell, I don’t favor any of them.

  • I will not decide anything based on the vox populi.
  • I certainly cannot condone moving forward on an idea solely determined by its propriety.
  • I am not inclined to pursue a project on the basis of how hard it is–either as a punishment to myself or a proof of my prowess.
  • And honestly, being a mere mortal, accessing God’s will in every matter really is just a case of playing “hot potato.” Because every time I try to toss it off to God, He throws it back my way.

That leaves the final two–and as you probably have guessed, this pair tends to be my favorite.

5. What’s next? Let’s be honest. There is a natural order to things which we sometimes deny because we have pet concepts we want to push to the forefront and often they tend to be out of the flow. On any given day, I know exactly what needs to be done first, second and third, but I may not want to do those things so I pretend they’re unimportant. Life pretty well gives you a “things to do today list,” which you can either ignore or put off–but it doesn’t mean they won’t reappear the following morning. There’s a power in knowing what’s next. Here’s my criterion for what’s next: Of what I presently can do or am willing to do, what is going to create the greater happiness? I will never choose to be unhappy. Even if I am inflicted by disease, my particular attitude will be to move towards happiness and contentment. If you want to know what’s next, find out what’s going to make you happy. If you remove happiness from your life because you think it is unnecessary or unachievable, you are at the mercy of society, propriety, difficulty or a misinterpretation of God’s will. Not a good place to be.

So even when I look at what’s next, I also ask myself, “Is this going to make me and other folks happy?” If the answer is “no,” I am suspicious that this intruder has jumped in line and is not really the next thing I’m supposed to deal with.

6.  And finally, what’s fun? In some ways, we were smarter when wearing short pants. When we were children, we pursued things that were fun and ended up at the end of the day well-exercised, giddy, exhausted and with many friends. What scares away excitement, giddiness and people? Any assertion that fun is not necessary. Because if you’re choosing “what’s next” based on being happy, then deciding what’s fun is just the procedure of making your happiness obvious. If you ask most people if they’re happy, they will say “yes” —  as they frown at you. I just happen to believe that happiness is better expressed through visibly having fun.

As we travel across the country, people will often explain to us that they have to make a decision on whether to have Spirited come into their church. I listen to the tone of their voices.

For some, it’s about, “What’s up?” In other words, “Is this in the flow of our people and will they think it’s a good thing?”

With others, it’s, “What’s proper? Is Spirited going to come in and suggest things we are not presently doing–that might be different?” It’s amazing to me that people expect to have revival in their churches without doing anything new.

Some people want to know if hosting Spirited is going to be hard. They’re afraid there might be a level of difficulty that may surpass their abilities, or that we might make it so easy that they will feel no sense of achievement.

And of course, there are those who think it has to be God’s will. You know, folks, I don’t think I could have traveled for forty years if I didn’t have God as my main investor.

Here’s what I think the basis of every decision should be: What’s next? Is it going to make myself and other folks happier? And: What’s fun? Is that happiness going to be obvious and make us grow into becoming more fruitful individuals?

The first four on our list are decisions based on fear. The last two are decisions of grown-up people who have chased away all the demons — and no longer believe in the Bogey Man.

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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

Encouraged… January 4, 2012

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Jonathan in Miami

One does not normally go to the service center at the local Ford dealership in Fort Myers, Florida, to be edified. No, it is normally considered to be an event taxing both patience and pocketbook.

I found myself there yesterday, with the back door of my van refusing to open, at the mercy of technicians who certainly had the capability of turning my mechanical hangnail into a terminal cancer. So I was a little apprehensive–especially when I walked into the waiting room and it was packed to the gills. Figuring that I would not be there long, since it was just a door lock being repaired, I perched myself in the midst of the teeming humanity to endure the surroundings.

What was I expecting? God forgive me, I have joined the carnival of human negativity that marches down the street looking for doom and disaster instead of peering into the gathered crowd for a bit of good cheer. I don’t want to be that way–but with my upbringing, influenced by a media that tells me how horrible things are–and a little bit of grumpy over having to repair my vehicle–I was primed to be fussy.

But I was alone. The room was filled with folks just like myself who were there  to get something fixed and certainly knew, just as I did, that patience would be required and money demanded. They didn’t seem to care. Matter of fact, I would say there was an air of near-jubilation in the room. People greeted one another, politely asked permission to sit down; one man offered a cough drop to a lady who was hacking away and another gentleman suggested to a mother who was trying to handle three rambunctious young ‘uns that there were some chocolate chip cookies over there that she might avail herself of to negotiate better behavior. People talked, laughed and they got along.

I was delighted, shocked, incredulous, rejoicing–all at the same time. Where ARE these depressed American people whom the 24-hour news cycle keeps telling us are being afflicted by economic woes that are rendering them immobilized? It reminds me of the comical statement, “Maybe all of us would get less sick if there were fewer doctors.” Maybe America would be better off without politicians and self-righteous religionists. Maybe our problem is that we’re always being told how miserable we should be instead of being patted on the back for choosing to get along with one another in tight quarters.

I watched for four hours. Yes, it took ’em four hours to figure out how much money they could get out of my wallet. Matter of fact, I was one of the last people in the room when they finally relented to give me back my van and let me go.

I felt paroled. But I also felt encouraged. I was in a room populated with patrons who possibly had good cause to be a little aggravated–inconvenienced. Instead, they put together a four-step process that I studied and am going to pursue more faithfully on my own:

1. “It ain’t so bad.” Complaining about life only stalls the decision to try to resolve the conflict. It does not eliminate it.

2. “You ain’t so bad.” I think the more you put people in situations where they have to solve problems together, the less bigotry and alienation we actually experience.

3. “We ain’t so bad.” I think the whole room had the sensation that I felt–that we, as a gathered host at this particular season in this particular environment, were doing pretty doggone good getting along with each other and succeeding. I do not know why politics thinks it has to find a villain to get a vote, or why religion needs a devil to make God look better. We ain’t so bad, folks. It doesn’t mean there’s no need for improvement; it certainly isn’t a case of escaping repentance. But the fact of the matter is, when we put our minds to it, we’re pretty good at repenting and we’re even better at fellowshipping. Which leads to:

4. “God ain’t so bad.” I do not know whether we can continue to promote love for a God who scares the crap out of us. There is something seriously wrong with contending that God loves us so much that if we decide not to accept Him, He will retaliate by burning us in hell. That would be similar to me asking a girl out to the prom in high school because I thought she was absolutely lovely, and upon receiving her rejection, I decide to blow up her house. I might expect to spend some time in jail for that. And if God is really so insecure that He must punish us for not loving Him, then maybe He should spend some time in some sort of divine jail also.

But God ain’t so bad when we realize that we ain’t so bad and you ain’t so bad and it ain’t so bad.

I was encouraged. I was so enthralled with the blessing of my fellow-man that I decided to avoid watching too much television to discourage my onslaught of faith. It was a good choice.

So thank you, people–and may we all learn that:

  • It ain’t so bad
  • And you ain’t so bad
  • Which means that we ain’t so bad
  • Which gives us the confidence to believe that God ain’t so bad

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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

Scared Cropless… January 3, 2012

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Jonathan in Miami

I just found out that she’s very sick.

I met her thirty years ago when she was just a kid and I really was, too, although I had a few years on her. She wanted to be a singer but had settled for a husband. He was a religious fellow who ended up procuring some violence and repression along with his favorite Bible verses. He didn’t want her to sing–so she didn’t do much.

She was an idealist. An idealist is a person who cleans up the messes in life, convinced that it’s just preparations for a great big party. More often than not, the party doesn’t arrive. Her life became a journey of disappointment, masked by moments of religious euphoria. In a juncture of weakness, she obtained a lover who fathered three children with her but never quite got the idea of being a husband. She was a damaged soul with a pasted-on smile, singing hymns with tears in her eyes.

She was always in financial need, always praying for God’s grace and always talking to me about how “next week” she planned on doing “something” with her abilities. She never did.

She did the three things that we humans perform when we are silently frightened of trying to compete and still want to appear self-righteous. She settled in, she hid away and she checked out. She settled in to a life of domestication, making her children her life. She hid away in the choir at a large church, pretending she was using her gift to full capacity, and she checked out of any responsibility to sow her seed and reap. And the Bible she honored so dearly made it quite clear that God is not mocked–that “whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.”

The problem with that concept is that most people are scared cropless. Out of fear of reaping the wrong conclusions, they just refuse to sow anything into the earth and they sit back and do their best impersonation of patience.

She was a princess, expecting a prince. She was a believer, demanding a miracle. And she was a talent, waiting for opportunity. She failed to realize that the Prince has already arrived and is offering us peace; that miracles are what God provides when He encounters an exhausted believer who is still moving forward faithfully, and that opportunity only comes to those who refuse to bury their talents, but place them out visibly for others to see and enjoy.

Tears came to my eyes when I heard about her illness, mainly because I love her and I’m very sad that she’s not well. But I’m also greatly angered by a religiosity that still permeates our society which keeps people crippled in their inadequacy instead of telling them to rise and walk in the newness of life. The fact of the matter is, most people don’t reap bad things in their lives because they sowed poorly–the majority of the populace reaps nothing because they planted nothing. They played it safe, they waited for the next train, and they passed on the possibility. So the time of harvest comes around and they have very little to celebrate. They falsely believe that it is the lot of those who follow Jesus to be the underdogs.

How sad.

Please pray for her. I hope she recovers and gets another chance to stop expecting, demanding and waiting. I hope she gets a door to escape settling in, hiding away and checking out.

Don’t be scared cropless. Take what you have, plant it, water it and see what happens. You never know. It just might grow.

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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

Missed Takes… January 2, 2012

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Jonathan in Miami

Shakespeare contended that all the world was a stage and we–the actors. Some folks would object to that characterization, insisting that they don’t want to live “pretend” lives.

But there’s nothing “pretend” about theater. Theater is about discovering your character, getting into character and staying in character. In the process of doing that, many errors can be made–and the uncovering of flaws and virtues is illuminating to the thespian and eventually enlightening to the audience. It’s even more true in the movie industry, for when you make a film, rather than having a single performance that you have to live and die with, as in legitimate theater, you can start and stop, and do many takes of the same scene until you find exactly what you want.

Of course, in the process, you end up with an abundance of “missed takes.”

But it doesn’t make any difference. As long as you keep three things in mind when you’re portraying a scene, you will be just fine and always in character.

(1) You must have the right part. In other words, show up knowing your lines. You can’t be reading someone else’s dialogue and think that you’re conveying your own message.

(2) You must have the right heart–a passionate wonder that causes you to pursue the truth of your character faithfully.

(3) And finally, you must have the right start. Showing up grumpy, frustrated, angry or preoccupied will certainly diminish your possibilities.

If you have the right part, heart and start you will succeed in theater–because even if your first or second takes don’t match the style of the show, you will be willing to revise your approach and do better. There is only one thing that makes a bad actor–someone who insists that he has the right interpretation, which causes him to fail to take direction.

Such also is life.

The abnormal fear that now permeates our society over making a mistake has generated a paranoid, lying and cheating generation of people who feel they can avoid all critique by simply insisting they are incapable of error. It makes us look stupid.

Let me give you an example. When I arrived at the church yesterday, I had a long ramp to climb with my bad knee. The dear pastor met me at the bottom of that ramp and greeted me with all the warmth of her heart. She walked up by my side as I panted and groaned a little bit from some pain. In that moment, I appeared weak. There was no need to pretend that I was macho and strong–my weakness was obvious and the only thing that would have made me seem weaker would have been to deny it.

We don’t garner respect by acting like we’re impervious to pain. We need to learn that mistakes are inevitable. They are merely “missed takes” as we live out our lives on the stage provided. There are times we will be weak. If we’ve taken the opportunity to build up our strengths, those moments of weakness will not appear to be fatal, but rather, human. It is our job, just as with the character actor on stage, to show up with the right part.

I will tell you this candidly–if you want to have the right part in life, always pick people over rules. History will be cruel to you if you’re always siding with rules,  regulations and commandments to the detriment of people. People are not always right but they are always closest to the heart of God.

And speaking of heart, you should make sure you have the right one–and to have the right heart in life is not to be error free, but to always pursue mercy over critique. I don’t care if other people want to criticize the world around them. I refuse to join in. You may argue with me, believing that SOME things need to be condemned or attacked. Feel free. I just know that the measure we measure out will be measured back to us. And I, who walk around filled with foibles, obesity and silliness, certainly require my share of mercy. To obtain that, I must be merciful. And considering the fact that I will make mistakes, I need to grant grace to those who preceded me in the process.

And finally, if you’re going to do this thing called “life” well, you have to make the right start. Because back to that climb up the ramp yesterday at the church, there was no need for me to pretend that I was not laboring to achieve it. What WAS available to me was to remain in good cheer about the endeavor instead of casting a shadow of worry. Yes, the right start in life is to always find a reason to have good cheer rather than inserting the fussiness and futility of worry.

You and I will make mistakes. They are like missed takes on our life’s performance.

But if we have the right part–a love of people instead of adherence to rules–and the right heart–mercy displacing critique–and the right start–good cheer bumping the foolishness of worry out of the way–we will live to act another day.

If all the world is a stage and we are actors upon it, then take a little time … to study your script.

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

**************

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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