Ask Jonathots… October 27th, 2016

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Is there any such thing as a good war, a necessary war or a productive war?

I am always frightened of pat answers.

I’m talking about those responses given which attempt to be clever or cover a multitude of opinions in order to please everybody. We know that life doesn’t work that way. Actually, truth is a poison ivy that leaves everyone scratching.

So when you talk about war, it’s easy to take familiar stances.

For instance, “war is fine as long as we’re protecting the innocent.” The problem, of course is, who is really innocent?

And most people who decide to go to war tout that they’re doing it to “shelter the needy,” but have ulterior motives.

There are those who say war is necessary to promote our way of life. In other words, “these people are going to do what’s right or we’ll kill them.”

And there are people who contend that war is acceptable when we, ourselves, are attacked. Then the question comes, at what level? Are we talking about a bombing of our whole country, or an aggressive move toward one of our ships?

The truth of the matter is, war is so wrong that it must be won by people who know it’s evil.

If we begin to believe that there’s a righteous war, or our cause is anointed by the heavens and we’re allowed to enact violence, then we become the latest plague on the planet.

  • War is wrong because it kills people.
  • Killing people is against life.
  • God is a promoter of life.

So what should we feel about war?

I think many wars are avoided by choosing our skirmish.

In other words, if we step in early enough and rip the bad seed out of the ground, the ugly cactus of conflict doesn’t have to pop up in the desert.

If we use diplomacy, a show of force and a line in the sand that we really do follow through on, we have a much better chance of avoiding a death toll and devastation.

Should the United States have become involved in World War II earlier? Yes–the U. S. should have stepped in when Hitler decided to annex part of Austria–long before he took over Poland, all of Europe and bombed the hell out of England.

We should have noticed the political upheaval in Viet Nam and addressed it with the tools available–a show of force and diplomacy–instead of sending human bodies to shoot at human bodies.

War is not inevitable. More often than not, it’s a refusal and a denial of existing problems, hoping they will go away, only to discover that they multiply.

For instance, in a marriage, long before there’s a divorce, there are a thousand junctures where communication and conversation could have changed the outcome.

War is caused by delay.

Delay is triggered by politics.

And politics is the notion that by pretending everything is good, we will get elected.

Choose the skirmish.

Avoid the war.

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Cracked 5 … April 5th, 2016

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History As Remembered in the Mind of a Millennial

A. Abraham Lincoln won World War II and freed the slaves from the Eiffel Tower, where they were held hostage by Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan.

 

B. The Beatles came with the British Invasion, causing Benjamin Franklin to write the Declaration of Independence, which ushered in the Grammy Awards.

 

C. When the Viets attacked, Richard Nixon opened the Watergate to drown the Nams and save Woodstock.

 

D. The Pilgrims brought turkeys from their boat to feed the starving Indians at the Plymouth Rock Festival.

 

E. Two guys built an airplane and they did it so well that people called them the “Right Brothers.”

Plymouth Rock Festival

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Innocent Blood … September 5, 2012

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Seven things: it really seems like a lot.

For the Proverb claims that there are “seven things that God hates.” I kind of wish it were two. You see, if it were just a few items, I could ignore it, assuming I didn’t fall into the narrow definition. But seven? Just the law of averages leads me to believe that I just might be included in there somewhere. As I look these over,  I realize that at the core of all of them is this nasty human vice of wanting to be better.

For instance, the proud look. It proclaims, “I am better than you.”

The lying tongue. It states, “I am better than truth.”

Just with that pair right there, you have the foundation for a social malaise that causes us to contend that as long as we have confidence in ourselves, then telling the occasional fib to protect our position is just logical. Tricky stuff. But not nearly as tricky as the third hated thing:

“Hands that shed innocent blood.”

After we reach the point where we believe we’re better than other people and that we are sure we’re better than the truth, it’s an easy slide into the evil position of believing we’re better than life–especially that life over there, that isn’t like us.

Innocent blood.

In this election year, the reason I have trouble supporting any party–including those who claim to be independent–is that there is no consistency in the principles they follow, and no meter stick applied across the board to create an equality of conclusions. Nowhere does this show up any more blatantly than the with issue of life and innocent blood.

After all, those who want gun control in our country and to limit the distribution of fire arms will also tell you that it’s completely all right to abort a child. And those folks who are against aborting children and will tearfully tell you that it’s murder, have absolutely no difficulty declaring a war and dropping drone bombs on areas, resulting in collateral damage, including little children.

Perhaps Shakespeare was right when he said, “To thine own self be true.” If we really believe that hands that shed innocent blood are hated by God, we must understand that He puts great sanctity on the life which He created.

And that also goes for animals–because the proclamation does not say, “innocent human blood,” just “innocent blood.” So is it all right to kill a porpoise to get a good catch of tuna? Shall we continue to use animals to test products if there are other possibilities which would only increase the cost and not eliminate the benefit?

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I think it is a risky venture to try to define God only using the criteria of what is easiest for us to do. God doesn’t care if it’s easy. God is concerned that we treasure life.

An amazing thing happened in 1944. For thousands of years, war had been fought on battlefields, with armies basically lining up like chess pieces to confront each other man on man. But then the Allies landed on the beach at Normandy and headed across Europe to expel the Nazis from Germany. To do so they often had to go from village to village and house to house, bombing the terrain indiscriminately, killing saint and sinner and placing them in a common mass grave. Yes–the enemy began to hide out amongst the innocent.

Ever since 1944, all the fighting our troops have done has fallen into this dangerous, precarious status. It happened in Korea. It most certainly happened in Viet Nam. And more recently, our forces found themselves uncertain of who was civilian and who was the enemy in the Iraq War and also the actions in Afghanistan.

It often becomes difficult to know who is innocent. But it is our responsibility, if we are people who believe in a divine Creator, to recognize His preference for avoiding the shedding of innocent blood.

Can we do this and still maintain a powerful worldwide presence? And if we decide to bypass such a precaution based upon the diplomacy of our own needs, how can we as a people survive, claiming we believe in life when we actually exterminate it?

Even though I am just a mortal, simple man, I feel compelled to develop some consistency on this issue in order to confirm to you and myself that I actually believe there is a God in heaven and I’m not dealing with a masterful myth. So here goes:

1. Guns–guns should be distributed based upon need. How do we determine need? I have no idea. But to arm human beings, who are emotionally driven creatures, with personal missiles to destroy their neighbors, be they human or animal, is irresponsible. Then how should the debate be formed? There are many areas in our lives where we are asked why. “Why do we want this?” “Why do we qualify for that?” Guns should be no different.

2. War. The purpose of war is to honor the thing that God hates. It is to track down those individuals who are shedding innocent blood, and as meticulously as possible, execute them. When we begin to believe that the ends justify the means, or even that trying to save money or time to conclude a conflict by killing innocent people is appropriate, we become part of the problem instead of the solution.

3. Capitol punishment. You know my stand on this one–if God did not execute the first murderer, Cain, who killed his brother, Abel, I seriously doubt if we have the right to do so. What is the alternative? To me that’s where the debate should happen, instead of trying to determine the most humane way to snuff out our villains.

4. Abortion. When we begin to believe that we have a choice to take human life which has no power to object, then we are shedding innocent blood. I think women should be granted every choice possible–but I do not believe abortion on demand is the correct way to handle the population explosion or levels of inconvenience. There are plenty of people who want to adopt children and there are certainly lots of folks who are presently forbidden to adopt, who would make better companions for these little ones than a cold grave does.

5. Animal rights. I believe animals can be consumed for food. I don’t have anything against people who are vegetarians but I do believe that it is clear throughout our history that to serve human children and the family with food is not only appropriate but necessary. But any execution or mistreatment of animals–to shed their blood for no cause other than sport, boredom or ease–is wrong.

There you go. Since war has become a house-to-house affair, we must become much more adept at conducting the extrication of malevolent folk, and in so doing, remain a civilized society that honors human life.

Consistency.

Republicans are against abortion, but welcome the free distribution of guns to the masses. Democrats contend that gun control is essential to protect human life, and then place the decision to terminate a human existence on the fears of a young, frightened girl.

The debate will not be easy. It never is. But to scurry into our camps of lies and deception and pretend that we are pursuing righteousness when actually we are just defending a political platform is to miss the whole point of why the writer of the Proverb told us there are things that God hates.

  • Yes, a proud look makes you communicate that you think you’re better than other people.
  • A lying tongue conveys that you believe you’re better than truth.
  • And hands that shed innocent blood make it clear that they are better than life.

Two thousand years ago, the skies were darkened, the earth shook and a religious institution was eventually toppled because they took the innocent life of the Prince of Peace and shed his blood on a cross. God in His mercy turned it into salvation. But He wept over His son’s massacre.

Make a decision. Be bold. Stop rationalizing to fit the agenda of your party or the common jargon of the day’s chatter. We can’t shed innocent blood without incurring God’s hate.

Find the villains, isolate them and protect the innocent. It is the work of the angels–and because it is the work of the angels, it will demand heavenly wisdom.

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Kneiling… August 28, 2012

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I don’t know much about him.

I mean, I know his name–Neil Armstrong. I know that he walked on the moon. I’ve picked up bits and pieces about his history by listening to spurts of conversation over the past couple of days on the news blabber.

But honestly, I have chosen to remain ignorant about his specifics, and only consider his life as it pertains to me. Yes, I have granted myself a bit of indulgence. I don’t want to study the life of Neil Armstrong to discover patterns of behavior, reveal his denominational affiliation or find out if he’s conservative or if he’s liberal. I am fed up with that type of analysis. I am interested in what Neil Armstrong did and how it pertains to me.

He arrived on the scene in 1969 with his crew cut and space suit, climbed into a capsule which certainly promoted claustrophobia, and was exploded into outer space, to land on the moon.

It fascinates me that in that same time, the United States was fighting a war in Viet Nam while simultaneously opposing the same war, with young folks marching in the street. We were reeling, trying to recover from two recent assassinations in the previous year of Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King. We had just elected a new President and were on the verge of fulfilling a promise by another President, who was also assassinated, who vowed to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. Also in the midst of this pursuit of the moon, a bunch of hippies from New York were planning a rock concert, which ended up being one of the largest music festivals ever held. They called it Woodstock.

All of this was going on at the same time. (If we’d had a twenty-four hour news cycle, they actually would have had something to report on instead of trying to make hay out of all the straw polls.)

There was a sense that to do anything less than pursue radical excellence was to be  un-American. Even in my small town, our church started a coffee-house, which had grown to 125 kids showing up on Saturday night, in a town of only 1400. When some of the parents objected to the fact that the coffee-house was held in a church and they didn’t want their children pummeled with religion, our board just went down the street and rented a small house where the young folks could have their gathering. Nobody argued about it; nobody called it religious persecution. We just adapted.

In the midst of this confusion and activity, Neil Armstrong, from Wapakoneta, Ohio, took a trip to the moon. He walked around, said his famous line–“one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”–and returned, received a couple of medals, waved from a car in some parades and went back to being Neil. He didn’t host a new reality show. He didn’t start a business off of the fame of being the “Moon Walker.”  He didn’t appear incessantly on television news programs as an authority on every subject thought to be even partially peripheral to his expertise. He didn’t demand anything.

He walked on the moon and then he came back and lived on the earth.

It is a style I would like to study–a better way of “kneeling.” Some people take their posture of prayer and rise to condemn the world around them. But Mr. Armstrong did his “Neiling” and returned to be just one of us.

Here are three things I have learned about “Neiling:”

1. Do something well until somebody notices. Then you might get a chance to do it even better.

2. When you get that chance, do your best walking, your best work and leave behind an example of magnificence.

3. Don’t make a big deal about it, but instead, blend in with your fellow-human beings, thus confirming that the same potential exists in all of us.

It is ironic that the death of this great astronaut is simultaneously commemorated with the termination of manned flights into outer space. They say he was very upset about that. I would imagine so. Someone who prospered and excelled in a season of war, protest, rock and roll and dancing on the moon might find our times and attitudes a bit anemic.

This I know–an eighty-two-year-old man passed away who quietly lived his life with one major exception: for a brief season, to each and every one of us, he confirmed that there was a man in the moon.

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My Favorite Jim… May 17, 2012

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In the late winter and early spring of 1980, I found myself in a recording studio, spending one hundred hours laying down the tracks for a Broadway-style musical I had written called Mountain. It was the Sermon on the Mount, set to music. Even though the tunefulness of it gained much appreciation and buzz, my expertise in putting together such a monumental project was based more on presumption than actual knowledge.

So I was quite grateful when two friends came to join me in the process, to enlightened me where I was in darkness and give energy to my bulb of inspiration. It happened that both of them were named Jim. One of them was a pastor of a church who looked like a male model and had a burning passion to share the gospel, but also a secondary agenda of trying to remove all pornography from our community. The other Jim was an entertainment promoter with a delightful sense of humor, an interest in the gospel’s ability to enhance the brotherhood of man, with a very private lifestyle which he rarely shared with anyone. (To avoid confusion, let me call the minister “P. Jim”–for either Preacher or Pastor.)

P. Jim was an interesting blend of rock and roll with rock of ages. We don’t have many people like him around nowadays–because the sixties and the Jesus movement made him desirous of being open-minded, even though his theology sometimes wanted to “corral” that horse sense. Jim, on the other hand, grew up in a very religious home and was doing his very best to distance himself from such godly frugality.

Both of them came to planning sessions for the work on Mountain.  P. Jim would usually steer the conversations towards evangelism and the potential the musical had to “reach the lost.” And Jim nodded his head as he sat with a pencil, adding up how much this proposed evangelism was going to cost. The combination was perfect. I got to play the part of the artist who was not concerned with mere Bible verses nor touched by the insensitivity of money matters. The project was finished, the results were amazing, the casting was completed and two debut performances were scheduled–when a problem arose.

P. Jim called me out to a local restaurant for a cup of coffee. He was nearly in tears. He had found out through the spiritual sour-grape line that our other Jim was a homosexual. (If I may take a moment, this was a time in our country when there was no such thing as “gay.” Those of the more generous inclination in the heterosexual community referred to the “others”  outside their righteous world as homosexuals. If they were NOT generous, the words “queer” and “faggot” fell off their lips.)

P. Jim was a generous soul–but he was certain that he would not be able to continue his support for the Mountain project if Jim was going to be involved. He finished his speech, dried his eyes with a napkin and looked at me, waiting for my response.

I said, “Is that it?” He nodded.

“Okay,” I replied. I got up and started to walk out of the restaurant. Shocked, he grabbed my arm and pulled me back into the booth. He wanted to know what I was going to do.

I said, “Well, I guess I’m going to figure out how to do this project without your support.”

P. Jim was bewildered. No–beyond bewilderment. Actually, he was doubly baffled–first, that I was ignoring the potential judgment of God on our endeavor by allowing this sodomist to continue to participate. And secondly, he was bruised that I felt that he could so easily be cast away without it making any difference.

I explained my feelings. I wanted to have both of them. I wanted to have P. Jim, with his passion for God and love for humanity, and Jim, with his knowledge of the business and ability to raise funds so that the idea could get off the drawing board and into construction. But if P. Jim was going to make an issue over something that was really none of my business in the first place, I would go find the spiritual passion elsewhere and stay with what was working.

To say that P. Jim was flabbergasted would be the classic understatement. He began to throw scriptures at me–and I had a parcel of my own. Scripturally, we came to a dead-even draw. He tried to intimidate me with what would happen when people found out there was a homosexual involved in the planning. I told him it was America. There was no such thing as bad publicity, just ways to further entice people to come out to appease their curiosity. P. Jim wondered how I could do a mission on the Sermon on the Mount while still promoting evil.

I said, “Jim whether it’s evil is for God to decide when He finally closes the door on this little pawn shop of earth He’s put together. I know two things–I don’t have the right to judge and God looks on the heart and not the outward appearance. And Reverend Jim, our mutual friend, Jim, has more heart for this project that maybe the both of us put together.”

P. Jim frowned. He told me he would go think about it. Honestly, I never expected to hear from him again. And if you moved ahead thirty years in time, that WOULD have been the end of P. Jim’s involvement in my life. But you see, P. Jim grew up during the Civil Rights era, Viet Nam, Watergate, Woodstock and disco. His brain was not buried in cement, but rather, sloshing around in the quagmire of a Biblical swamp.

About five hours later, my phone rang and it was P. Jim. (I had already told Jim that we were going to lose the pastor and his church. Jim was devastated by the news and offered to resign. I explained to him that I wouldn’t have made a stand just so I could lose BOTH of them.) But anyway, back to my phone call, as I said, it was P. Jim. He was once again in tears. He apologized for interfering in the progress of what was truly an inspirational notion to bicker over the finer parts of religious law. He told me that if I had a belief in Jim, then he had the faith to stand behind my belief.

We had an amazing premiere, with P. Jim and gay Jim standing backstage together, applauding and hugging.

I lost contact with these two fellows shortly after that. I heard that P. Jim’s church eventually shut down and the porn stores he had been trying to get rid of in the community not only didn’t fold, but multiplied. Jim left the entertainment field and returned to a more normal life, becoming an accountant and a man discovering more about his identity.

But I will never forget that season, when the preference of two individuals–one for and one against–was set aside to pursue common passion.

Well, I entitled this particular essay My Favorite Jim, so you might ask, which one IS my favorite Jim? To answer that, I think I’ll fall back on the wisdom of Jesus. “Anyone who does the will of my Father …”

 

   

 

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Hey, Buddy — September 28, 2011

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I like to sit out in parking lots, roll down my windows, open my sun roof and work on ideas, writings, scripts or whatever is on my present platter, while enjoying the surrounding sunshine and people passing by. I don’t like offices; they sniff of officious. Desks and computers are sterile. or me, just a pad, a pen and surrounding life is a nice atmosphere for creativity.

I was doing so yesterday in Richmond, Virginia, when I was approached by a gentleman who had both a need and an agenda. “Hey, buddy!  Nice car! Is it a Mercedes? How ya’ doin’?”

I don’t know exactly what to do with a flurry of questions.  What do you address first? But I did immediately know two things: this was a guy who was trying to be very friendly because he was going through a hard trial. He wanted something from me.

Now, people in need don’t bother me. Honestly, individuals who have an agenda are pretty obvious, so they don’t particularly trouble me either. But I am not fond of people who have both a need and an agenda. I told him my car was a Korean knockoff of a Mercedes called an Amante.  

He didn’t even hear me; he was in full need and agenda.  Here was his speech:

“Listen, man. I’m a Vietnam veteran and I’m on my way to work and my truck broke down. I left my wallet at my house. I believe in God and I know God’s going to take care of me, so I was wondering if you could give me a lift back to my house so I could get my wallet, so I could get some gas for my truck, which is a big truck, so it takes a lot of gasoline, so that I could get to work, so I can take care of my family, which I love very much.”

Amazingly, he said it in one breath–yet with no real emotional inflection.

Let’s look at the story. 

  • First, he said he was a Vietnam veteran. The Vietnam war ended forty years ago–which means the youngest people who would have fought in that war would be sixty.  He wasn’t a day over forty-two.
  • Secondly, it was 10:15 in the morning, so he probably wasn’t on his way to work. 
  • And there was no truck in sight, so the story about needing gasoline for his vehicle may have been a little bit contrived.
  • “He left his wallet at his house” is pretty unlikely–although I was unsure why he wanted me to put him into my car to take him to another location. (A pretty good rule: don’t follow a potentially homeless person to his alleged home.)
  • For some reason, these individuals with the combo of “need” and “agenda” always demand that you understand that they believe in God, they’re God-fearing, or God is with them, or God is their savior, or God … whatever.  I’ve never met a person who is homeless who doesn’t have a deep, abiding, verbal faith in the Almighty.  It isn’t really a great testimony for religious participation, even though David says in the Psalms, “I’ve never seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging for bread.”  Sorry, David.  I have.  Actually, most of the people I have encountered who are without sustenance will tell you that God is King of the Universe–as they beg you for a dollar or two to pick up some of that good stuff for themselves.
  • And adding the final feather in the cap of his spiel, he mentions “family.”  “Family” seems to be the great elixir in our country, intoxicating us into believing that we are loving and caring people. We must realize, though, that to create a family only requires that you make children, which demands a bodily function between two consenting adults. It’s not making a family that’s special. It’s whether you can make the process meaningful to not only yourselves, but to the world around you.

I am not offended by people who are poor.  As Jesus said, “the poor you have with you always.  Do what you can for them.” I am just fed up with the politics of ANYTHING. I certainly don’t like the politics of politics–where destroying your opposition is more important than opposing what destroys us.  I certainly despise the politics of religion, where placing a candle in its sacred place is more meaningful than teaching the congregation to be the light of the world. I hate the politics of corporations, which possess no sense for the common good, but only view a line that runs at the bottom of the barrel. And I don’t like the politics of poverty. I don’t like it that a man has to lie to me about his situation just to coerce a little money out of me to make it through his day. I don’t like the fact that he has to cajole me into listening to him by using buzz words instead of admitting that for whatever reason, right now his life sucks, and he needs me to squeeze off a few singles his way.

I understand the politics of poverty. I realize that most folks think that homeless people are lazy, trifling and have chosen to be impoverished. So if the unfortunate don’t come up with a good story line, they will not only go without and be disregarded, but also will be looked upon as common, meaningless and trashy.

I just think it is our responsibility to attack politics wherever we see it. I am tired of the phrase, “Well, that’s just the way the world works.” No, my friend, that’s the way someone decided the world works a long time ago, and because nobody argued with him in that moment, and many cowards have followed since, we have ended up with a system that is insufficient to our needs and irreverent to the requirements of others.

My friend closed his little spiel yesterday by saying, “If you’re going to be here for an hour, I’ll come back and give you double repayment for what you give me.”

It was at this point that I stopped him.

“Stop it,” I said. “Let’s not do the dance. You and I both know you don’t have a job, there is no truck, if you have a wallet it has the addresses of local food banks in it, and whatever family you have needs just as much help as you do. Let me tell you, friend, I’m going to give you some money, but not because you came up with a great story or because in your mind you shot Viet Cong. I’m going to give you some money because you crossed my path, and if I don’t I would never be able to explain to myself or God why I chose this moment to be so damned stingy.”

He tried to object but I just held up my hand and he realized there was no need.  He nodded his head and I pulled out some money from my pocket, which I carry at all times for just such occasions. If you don’t carry a few singles around for the lost individuals who happen your way, then you might just be tempted to pretend that there’s nothing you can do. I gave him the money and he was on his way.

As he was leaving, I proffered one final thought.

“You see, brother,” I said, “Now we can actually talk about God and it’ll mean something.”  He smiled and disppeared into the surrounding day.

Here’s the truth: politics creates the need that makes people feel they must have an agenda to get what they want.

I, for one, am tired of it. I refuse to participate. And I am not ashamed when I run across those in need–as long as they don’t try to pretend they’re somebody they really aren’t.

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