Jesonian … January 20th, 2018

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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A growling grouchiness tends to fester my soul every time I sit down in front of some sort of clerk who wants to ask me questions so that he or she can “punch me into their system.”

I have a natural inclination to turn and run full speed out of the room, thus “unplugging.”

Systems don’t work.

Now, I know over-generalized conclusions such as this one are frowned on by people who want to remain congenial and open to all parties, but once any organization or movement acquires a mortgage, as far as humanity is concerned, they usually become no damn good.

Rules are established, guidelines are formulated, temperaments are discussed and limitations established.

I don’t care if the system is taking care of the poor, preaching the Gospel or electing candidates to office–just the presence of the instinct to follow an “inner office memo” filled with stipulations stifles creativity and smother passion.

Nicodemus came to see Jesus by night-Step 1 of any system.

Play it safe.

Nicodemus did not know whether his friends would approve of him interacting with the rogue Galilean, so he “came by night.” I’m sure he thought he was smart. I’m sure he believed he was more open-minded than his buddies, who wouldn’t come at all, even if it was pitch black.

He begins his dialogue with Jesus by trying to coerce a mutual sense of equality from the Nazarene–Step 2 of a system. “We know you’re a teacher sent by God.”

(Just like us…)

Every system wants to make everything the same for everybody, because if it isn’t, it’s just not fair–and if you acquiesce to one person, then everyone wants the same consideration.

I am not a conceited man, but my mission is not the same as the pastor of some United Methodist church in Wisconsin. I am not better than him–but I have been given more. And the scriptures tell me that because I’ve been given more, more is expected of me.

Jesus doesn’t mince any words with Nicodemus. He doesn’t give in to the equality theory, but tells Nicodemus that he “must be born again.” The cleverness of the statement–the parallel of spiritual rebirth to original birth are ignored by this scripture peruser.

He does what people always do to someone who apparently wants to rock the boat–he mocks the simplicity. He makes fun of Jesus suggesting that an old man could go back into his mother’s womb. He might even have chuckled at his own reference. He is convinced that in a world of black and white, it is necessary to strictly honor the available colorations.

Jesus explains to him that it’s an uncomplicated concept and challenges Nicodemus to walk more in his intelligence instead of marching in beat with the purists. Jesus says, “If I tell you of Earthly things and you don’t understand, how could I ever tell you of heavenly things?”

Then, as always, the system is offended, and begins to denigrate the concepts which lead to the conclusion of personal responsibility.

It is so much easier to be religious if you believe God is in control, has a plan for your life, is moving angels and demons back and forth and has already won the battle. It becomes a bit more intricate when you realize the Kingdom of God is within you.

Nicodemus departs, unimpressed. Matter of fact, later on the scriptures refer to “some of the Jewish leaders” who privately had sympathy for Jesus and his Kingdom movement, but were afraid to speak up.

Nicodemus found himself trapped. When the Council decided to have a meeting to put Jesus on trial, and Nicodemus objects to them indicting the Master without hearing him, they dismiss Nicodemus. They ask if “he, too, is a Galilean.”

He says nothing more. He is silenced.

You will never make strides in your spiritual life or truly understand the humanity of Jesus and the mission he had to save souls as long as you hide behind vespers and prayers.

Jesonian is a lifestyle.

And Jesus spent his life being the champion of the human race. To do so, he had to dodge many systems and ignore those who were locked up in the mindset of the moment instead of grasping the born-again heart of those who were fully aware that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son.”

 

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Good News and Better News … June 13th, 2016

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Good News Stephens City

You might find the picture I’ve selected for this morning’s essay to be a bit odd. After all, considering the possibilities of objects and people available to me at the Stephens City United Methodist Church, to focus on a plant sitting between two chairs might certainly be considered obtuse.

Yet as I arrived in the foyer yesterday morning, this vision leaped out at me. It prompted a notion: something is growing in the midst of the furniture.

Feeling very blessed to be invited to share with the church on Pastor Bob’s final Sunday, I came with an open heart and a yearning soul.

Hearing reports of treachery in Orlando and the pernicious inhumanity that continues to speckle the globe, I was in need of a baptism of hope with a refreshing splash of good cheer. For after all, the world will not be changed through contemplation, but instead, by each one of us concentrating on what is good, pure and worthy of praise.

So I salute the Stephens City United Methodist Church because it is a plant growing in the midst of all the religious decor.

1. They stood at the door and welcomed us in without exuding the “sneer of beholding the queer.”

2. They tried to find reasons to help us. They wanted to connect. It was so refreshing to see other human beings who were prepared to link.

3. They sat close to us in the sanctuary rather than perching themselves far away.

4. They clapped their hands when we played “I’ll Fly Away” instead of acting like a bunch of music critics on America’s Got Talent.

5. They believed in belief. Most people recite belief instead of holding the conviction that it still has power.

6. They honored Pastor Bob, who had served them for 730 days, and blessed him as he headed for the new assignment procured by the United Methodist Church.

7. They sang with the gusto of passion instead of being careful not to be heard.

8. They laughed without fear. They laughed without reservation. And they laughed like they were supposed to be laughing.

9. They cried because they cared. Maybe it was the thought of so many dead fellow-Americans who were attacked by a maniac that made their hearts a little more sensitive. I don’t know, but they were willing to be touched.

10. They gave because they understood, not because it was required.

11. And they are blessed because they are blessed.

Maybe I caught Stephens City on a good day. Yet the real pulse of our country is not in the devastation of a night club in Orlando. It is when we realize that life is short and each one of us is fragile, so we decide to express our feelings freely.

The good news is that Pastor Bob labored well.

But the better news is that there is something growing in the midst of the furniture.

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Good News and Better News … February 29th, 2016

 Jonathots Daily Blog

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Good News Moncks Corner

Young lions enjoy the thrill of the kill.

Old lions hunt to eat.

Young fishermen pursue the toss of the sea.

Old fishermen are satisfied with anything they can hook.

I spent an enlightening and enriching morning at Moncks Corner United Methodist Church with Pastor Mike and the eager congregation.

Pastor Mike is an old lion.

Or maybe he’s an old fisherman.

Whichever the case–and for the sake of him not being offended–let me tell you, it’s a good thing.

For in our youth, we chase dreams. As we age, we learn to accept our slice of life.

I have so much fun doing what I do because I do not try to wish for more.

  • Is there anything better than pressing the flesh of strangers and having it turn into fellowship?
  • Could a human be blessed in any greater proportion than to be able to share his heart and have it mean something?

Oh, certainly, I get a variety of responses on any given morning. There’s always a tiny handful who finds my utterances to be inappropriate for such an atmosphere of solemnity. And there are people who notice my girth and find it difficult to get past its weightiness.

But overall, the human race is not possessed with idiots and cynics, but rather, filled with the ranks of those who seem to be aware of the danger of both.

So Pastor Mike has taken his years and avoided idiocy and cynicism, to arrive at a simple path of appreciation for what is set before him.

That’s the good news.

We need such leadership in every aspect of our American culture. We don’t need political candidates who promise us more than we actually deserve. They just need to let us know that even if it gets difficult, it can remain pleasant.

That’s the better news.

For I will tell you–nothing of quality happens without joy.

So the first thing I brought to the folks of Moncks Corner was joy. They’ve had enough sadness, degredation, incrimination, bigotry and despair. If I can’t bring joy, I need to go out, find a comfortable chair and tend my tomato plants.

Once joy is in place, as human beings we are prepared to be motivated to mercy. Our particular species becomes extremely demonic when we remove mercy from the equation. Yet it is difficult to be merciful if you’re not already joyful.

And once you motivate people to mercy, you can welcome peace. Peace is when we understand that the joy in our hearts has instructed us to be merciful, and it certainly is our reasonable service.

So to Pastor Mike and all the beautiful souls of Moncks Corner, I encourage you to begin with joy, motivate mercy … and settle into a glorious peace that passes understanding.

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Untotaled: Stepping 27 (June 15th, 1966) Piano Boy … August 16, 2014

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The Shelby Valley United Methodist Church tracked me down and invited our little quartet to come “two Sundays coming” to sing at their church during the morning service.

I almost swallowed my heart, which had leapt into my mouth. Without me knowing, we had become famous.

I was so thrilled that I ran and told my friends and were all jumping up and down over the prospect of becoming a “travelin’ band.”

Now, the Shelby Valley church was a tiny, white clapboard construction just south of town, sitting on the corner of Shelby Valley Road, thus giving it both its charm and name.

Our quartet was accompanied by a lovely young girl named Paula, who was always being hit on by the hormonally drugged young men singing next to her. She liked it. We liked it too because she never picked a favorite, but flirted with all of us.

Now, her father, Elder Kenneth from our church, found out about our performance opportunity. He became enraged because he wasn’t about to let his daughter go elsewhere on a Sunday morning, especially not to a United Methodist Church, where they ignorantly ignored immersion.

He raised such a fuss that I was brought before the pastor and elders of the church to explain the situation. Even though I waxed a bit eloquent with enthusiasm and received approval from the governing body, Kenneth still refused to let his daughter play piano for us, feeling that he had triumphed by removing the music from our singing.

Actually, all he succeeded in doing was pissing off this big, fat white boy.

I grabbed a young friend of mine from our church, the brother of one of our singers. We usually ignored him because he had the foolishness of being a year and a half younger than us. I said I was going to teach him to play piano. His name was Andy–and he was thrilled by the notion of becoming an ivory tickler, even though he had never taken a single lesson.

I, on the other hand, was the veteran of three years of both Shaum and Thompson book training, and so was thoroughly qualified to become his instructor.

We asked the Shelby Church if we could make it six weeks in advance instead of two, and I took that time to work with Andy. And would you believe that by the time we stepped in front of that congregation of “sprinklers” (their preferred baptism method) we had learned six songs with Andy, and he played them perfectly?  (Unfortunately, they asked for an encore, and we had to opt for a capella, which actually made us look quite diversified.)

Andy continued playing piano, within months becoming better than me, and when he graduated from school, played professionally for a while before settling into Illinois, to delight the Illini State with his talent.

What I learned from this experience is that the only way to defeat stupidity, ignorance and bigotry is by coming up with better ideas and proving to them that you really don’t need their help.

Unfortunately, Paula just cried.

 

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Peace with the Pieces… March 10, 2013

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piecesIt was odd.

I was suddenly overwhelmed by the notion of my own inadequacy.

Thinking about the sharing I would be doing tomorrow morning at Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, I was confronted with my lacking. I am a bald, aging man with limited mobility, who has suffered–or at least struggled–with obesity all my life.

To say that I feel humbled by the notion of offering exhortation, edification or even insight into the lives of others would be an oversimplification of my vacancy. I don’t know whether anybody is worthy to be a voice crying in the wilderness–especially entrusted with the concept of challenging people to “prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight.”

Somehow or another it seems prudent for me to straighten some of my own paths before instructing others in path-straightening.

But what does that mean? Am I to sit around and wait until I am a worthy representation of goodness in order to praise goodness, point to goodness or even stand in awe of what goodness can do?

I am pieces, trying to make peace with myself.

I am chunks of what could be a whole, but doesn’t really promise to ever coagulate.

I am an incomplete vessel who really has only one responsibility–don’t lie about my insufficiency. Don’t exaggerate my qualification. And don’t pretend to be anything other than the subtotal of my pieces.

When my knees gave out on me late last year, I thought my time  of speaking in front of audiences and pouring out my heart was over. I honestly did not want to be a disgrace to the kingdom of God through my weakness. I was determined to develop an excuse for escaping my continued participation in the unification of the human spirit with the presence of God by pulling up lame–literally.

Maybe it’s just that I felt stupid. Maybe “wheeling” my way in front of an audience to hobble to my keyboard was just a little too much hyperbole of uselessness.

I don’t know. It wasn’t that I wanted to quit. It just seemed that quitting was an honorable thing. Make room for someone who’s more … whole.

And then I remembered the words that God said to Adam in the Garden when his little buddy was hiding among the fig leaves.

“Why are you hiding?”

“I’m hiding because I’m naked,” said Adam.

“Who told you that you were naked?” asked God.

Yes–who told me I was unworthy? Who told me I was weak and beyond redemption? Who told me that it was time to graze in the grass instead of  shepherding people to greener pastures?

I did.

I decided what was righteous.

I decided what was beautiful.

I decided what was marketable.

God hasn’t worked with me for these many years and seen me crash and bounce to the earth to not allow me to continue to speak my mind.

I’m finding ways to be at peace with my pieces. For after all, being complete is over-rated. When we express our weakness, those around us perceive us as stronger by the confession. When we pronounce our strengths, yet obviously sprout flaws, we are only made weaker by our boasting.

I come to you in pieces, trying to find a way to have peace with them.

You can decide … whether it’s worth hearing.

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My Five Friends … September 15, 2012

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‘Twas another glorious night spent in small-town America, sharing with her fine citizens.

Coloma, Michigan–proudly displaying its Subway restaurant in the middle of the town square as confirmation of the presence of civilization. About a half a hundred souls made their way out to see me shake my reed in the wind. (Or perhaps most of them were there to hear Jan play her reed on her wind instrument…)But they came.

I have been doing this so many years that it has granted me the age, grace and courtesy to understand the validity of how things work without “kicking against the pricks”–because I will give you a quick definition of stupidity: stupidity is when a God-given reality is explained to you in detail and you stubbornly choose to believe it is merely an opinion.

Here’s what I’ve learned: there are five types of people who show up for everything in life. I am sure that your deeper insight may expand it to seven or boil it down to three. More power to you. Regarding this quintet of human possibilities, though, I have learned to love all of them. Obviously, I am drawn to the more affectionate members of the family, but my understanding of the others grants me the patience and general sweetness to include them.

All five of them were there last night at the First United Methodist Church. May I introduce you to them?

1. Mr., Miss or Mrs. I Am Here and Willing. These are people who show up bringing their own energy. They are the lovely folks you wish to sit next to in an airplane, who happen to have granola bars in their possession when you find out you’re stuck on the tarmac for an extra hour. They are willing to share. These folks require no hats, whistles or cake to have a party. They have made the journey with a sense of anticipation, with their own enthusiasm which will render the evening profitable even if the offering from the stage is less than professional.  They applaud dancing monkeys because the little fellas “try hard.”

2. This particular group I have dubbed I Am Here and Curious. They have left their homes because some little piece of advertising about the event has caught their interest, and they’re willing to come out to see if it was worth their time. They are not unfriendly, but they certainly don’t bring their own power boost. They are similar to that used car that the salesperson touts “only needs a good jump start, but runs great.” They are the kind of people who sit on the airplane, seeing that someone brought granola bars, and swear to do it next time, although they are destined to surely forget.

3. I Am Here Because I Am Always Here. “This is where I live, this is where I come, this is the source of my loyalty, I am not so sure I understand what I am about to experience, it doesn’t matter, I learned as a young human to show up or face the punishment. I am neither enthralled nor in agony–just seeking my gold star for being present. I am always a bit bewildered because my neutrality is viewed as negative instead of as an apathetic adaptation to my ongoing low expectation.”

4. I Am Here to Watch–with absolutely no intention of becoming involved. Matter of fact, I wish the whole event was on closed-circuit TV in a room containing an excellent candy machine. I think that I’m at home, so at the least urging of my whim, I may arise several times to go to the bathroom or check out what’s going on in the narthex. I am not negative, I just have developed a highly polished form of indifference.

5. And finally, I Am Here to Critique. Perhaps I watch too many episodes of America’s Got Talent or American Idol. I am under the conviction that the world is waiting for my scorecard on every issue, so rather than allowing my emotions to become involved, I will sit back, hand on my chin or arms across my chest, and watch from a distance so as to be able to give an impartial representation when asked about the procedure. I have no motivation to be critical–unless it ends up being as mediocre as I fear.

There you go. This is the way human beings function–and it doesn’t matter if you’re in the work place, the church, a concert, a party, a meeting or even around the family dinner table–you will see these five incarnations blossoming in front of your eyes. The problem, though, is that often intelligent people become aware of these variations, but rather than having tender mercy, kindness, humor and gentleness towards the less involved members, they become cynical, angry, challenging and even mean to them.

I am professional enough that I don’t peer at the critics in the audience, nor do I gear in on those who are trying to protect their hearts by perching their arms in front of them. But I also don’t allow myself to become overly giddy about those who are arriving with a pre-smile and a jolt of excitement. My job is to give my talent in excellence–and find a way to love everyone in the room.

That’s why I titled this essay My Five Friends.

  • Because Friend 1, who is here and willing, doesn’t really need me to do much except avoid dashing ever-present hope.
  • Buddy 2 requires information concerning my mission and purpose in order to turn curiosity into an actual level of interest.
  • Comrade 3 merely requires that I establish that I have arrive at his domain where he frequently resides–to edify instead of destroy.
  • Acquaintance 4 is often won over by a bit of surprise and flash–allowing for a smirk or even a smile to pass across a stony countenance.
  • And Adversary 5? Well, the best I can do with this one is to hope that he or she walks out thinking that this was one of the better performance they were ever forced to critique.

You can see the key. Winning over my first two friends is pretty easy. Trying to win over Friends 4 and 5 is an exercise in graying the hair–a bit futile. So the victory lies in turning Comrade 3 into a believer instead of just an arriver.

Is it really that simple? It certainly is, and thank God, because any deeper complexity would render me completely ill-prepared for participation.

So all five of my friends showed up in Coloma last night–and all five of them went home. My hope and prayer is that each one of them found a certain satisfaction that will enlighten their hearts to be the better sparkle of themselves.

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Road of the King–October 27, 2011

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About four or five miles outside of King, North Carolina, is a little United Methodist Church where I’ve spent my past two days sharing with salt-of-the-earth citizens while adding my particular sprinkle of pepper. The experience was rich. People are always a little hesitant to embrace strangers for fear of contracting some sort of social leprosy or actually absorbing a new idea or two. But once you get past the initial shock of physical appearance and survive the great bathing of curiosity, you can get down to the realities of person-to-person.

Unfortunately, two of the greater forces in our society–religion and politics–always fail to deliver us from true evil. They manufacture enemies for us to despise or attack in an attempt to keep our minds off the real problem. And that dilemma would be our inability as a species to deal with our own problems, preferring to pick at the sores and scabs of others.

As I’ve taken a magnifying glass to inspect my innards more frequently, I have discovered that I have much less time to examine yours. It is a good thing. So as I leave my new friends in King (or actually rural King, NC), I impart three different thoughts to them–great barometers to measure whether what they believe and do is really on the right track with the mind of Jesus, or just a bunch of religious rhetoric and political poo-poo.

Let me begin it by saying, “You know you’re on the right path when …”

1.  Children are welcome and encouraged to understand. Somehow or another we forget that children are going to spend most of their lives as adults. If we let them walk around believing they don’t need to understand the truth, they can carry their childish attitudes into the grown-up world and become both obnoxious and useless. Sometimes we think that childhood is only about soccer balls, video games and parties, with a little schoolwork thrown in on the side. Now soccer is great exercise, some video games can be entertaining, everybody loves a party and I certainly have nothing against the pursuit of knowledge. But I think children need to know they’re heading towards a world of responsibility, which they need to both understand and enjoy. Otherwise, you have bratty kids who are going to become frustrated adults. Now, most twelve-year-old children think church is boring, old people are boring, and Jesus is both church AND old, and therefore boring. It is a huge mistake. Every kid should walk out of church with a smile on his face and an idea in his head. Pastor, if they’re doing that, you’ve reached the old ones, too.

2.  Joy should always be established. Joy is a great two-pronged blessing. It is feeling good about what just happened while simultaneously knowing that if it never happens again, you’re still going to be all right. Joy is happiness mingled with the understanding that being giddy is not always possible–but happiness never has to leave. It is the knowledge that we are never forsaken. It is the great information that we matter.  And it is the realization that because we matter, the person sitting next to us does too.

3. And finally, every church service should holler with glee that faith is admired. We need to stop reciting things so much and instead, need to live out a fruitful life, which gives us reason to testify.  Stop expecting people to believe. Belief is a lot harder to achieve than most ministers preach. Faith demands that I walk away from a lot of things I’m seeing towards a bunch of stuff that appears to be invisible at this present moment. That’s tough. But if I’m not walking towards possibility, I’m walking away from opportunity and leaping into disappointment. Faith should be admired. When we see people standing on their own two feet, even though they’re a little wobbly, we should come and put an arm around them and tell them how we admire their bravery. Unfortunately, we’re too busy trying to find all the right answers instead of taking advantage of each and every moment.

Most of the things being debated in our society–that folks are so sure they know the right answers to–I often am not even certain that I comprehend the question. Here’s what I do know.  Faith is necessary for me to get out of my circumstances. My circumstances are often of my own making, but God has granted me grace and forgiven me. And that forgiveness is contingent on me loving people–whether I like them or not.

That’s right. I don’t have to like you to love you.Liking you means I would look forward to an opportunity to share dinner and conversation with you. Loving you means that I’m going to get out of your way and let you have a good life so you can find somebody better than me to eat dinner with and have conversation. So that’s it, King. I love you.  And guess what? I even like you.

But take a  look in the faces of your children to see if your beliefs are working. And make sure you never get together without joy being established. And when you see faith in yourself and other people, step back and applaud and shout hallelujah. Those three things right there will set you apart from the mediocre politicians and the picky religionists.

I hope to see you again. And I know if we pursue these things together, there certainly will be a great meeting place.

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

Jonathan sings “Let”

Jonathan Sings “Spent This Time”

Jonathan and his partner, Janet Clazzy, play “The Call”

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