Graceful Effort … May 1, 2013


birdsI love believing. It’s so much more fulfilling than being cynical, doubting the power of virtue and the possibilities that lie within the human family.

On the other hand, I don’t always LIKE being a believer. What I mean is, the stigma placed upon spirituality by relegating it to the status of mere “religion” often annoys me to the point of pulling out my hair (thus explaining my baldness).

What is the difference between believing and being the common believer who follows the rhetoric of religion? I think it lies somewhere in discovering the balance between grace and works.

If you’re on of those believers who thinks that God has a wonderful plan for your life,” or that everything is written in the stars, or that the future is pre-determined and you’re just finding your place in the great scheme of destiny, you usually find yourself in a bit of despair, inept and impatient with your lot.

If you happen to be one of those individuals who is minus a spiritual direction and believe that you forge your own path with no help from a divine friend, you can also become disheartened and angry at the complexity of what you hoped would be simple.

I think it would do us good to become bird brains. For some reason or another in our pursuit of human superiority, we have deemed the bird to be stupid, when the Bible actually tells us that the birds have it figured out better than us. For instance, I woke up this morning to the sounds of chattering, singing, flying feathered folks right outside my window. I didn’t pick up any aggravation in their song; no disgruntled soul complaining about the early hour or off-key brothers and sisters. They just seemed to get it.

“We’re birds. We sing. It’s morning. Sing loudly. Sun came up. Go get worms. Bring them back to the nest. And fly around … until something kills you.”

But in our pursuit of some deep hidden meaning to life, we refuse to accept the fact that even though Jesus said we are worth “many sparrow,” he DID compare us to sparrows. You may want to believe that you, personally, are of more value than all the sparrows in the world, but in heaven your actual rate of exchange is merely MANY sparrows.

So what is the perfect balance between grace and works?

Graceful effort: pursuing what life has set in front of you, working on the excellence of your humanity, perfecting your craft, keeping a good sense of humor, while all the time understanding that this humility permits God to extend His grace to you.

God does not give grace to the prideful–and it is certainly prideful to proclaim our sanctity and purity without producing any evidence of works and effort.

So what creates humility?

  1. “Like the sparrow, I will sing my song.”
  2. “Like the sparrow, I will hunt my worms, knowing that they feed me.”
  3. “Like the sparrow, I will build a nest and find my peace within it.”
  4. “Like the sparrow, I will know that life is brief and my time, limited.”
  5. “Like the sparrow, I will leave the rest to God’s grace.”

No sparrow ever dies in its nest of natural causes. Sparrows don’t get Alzheimer’s. They live their life full-throttle until their lives are no more. Often it’s a tragic end–but quick. Knowing this, they never miss a morning to sing.

Graceful effort: when I realize that life has conditions, direction and purpose, and rather than fighting it, I eagerly join in with my portion. In doing so, I humbly offer my melody to my Creator

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Please contact Jonathan’s agent, Jackie Barnett, at (615) 481-1474, for information about personal appearances or scheduling an event

Hunting for Worms … March 20, 2012


When I was ten years old, I lived across the street from Marky Messner, who became my daily playmate once our parents deemed us mature enough to leave the front porch to pursue neighborhood adventures. One hot July evening, Marky asked me if I wanted to go out and hunt for night crawlers–big, fat worms we could use for our hooks when we went fishing at the local reservoir. He explained that since we’d had a real soaking of rain earlier in the day, that the wigglers would be anxious to get out of their flooded apartments in the earth and escape into the night air, where we would grab ’em, stick ’em in an old mason jar, to later turn ’em into fish food. He told me to bring along a flashlight and a shovel, and so that night we scurried down my back yard towards a nearby vacant lot.

It was really dark. There was no moon, and street lights were at least two decades in the future in the mind of some city planner. As we were walking through the vacant lot, looking for good clumps of earth to locate our wiggly friends, Marky told me to be careful because there were possums in the field and I might need to chase them away. This startled me a little bit. I didn’t know much about possums, but I had an inclination that I would find them unfavorable. We walked a few more feet and Marky stopped again and told me that Mrs. Satterfield’s dog sometimes came out to bother him when he was looking for worms–and if the dog came near us I should hit him with my shovel.

You can see, this was digressing by the moment. I had signed on to hunt for worms and now had the added chores of chasing possums and possibly killing a neighborhood dog. Even though I was just a young boy, I realized there was something wrong here, so I dropped my shovel and my flashlight and ran home, spooked. This incident changed my relationship with Marky. We didn’t see each other much after that. You see, Marky thought I was a sniveling, little yellow-bellied coward–and I was pretty sure Marky was nuts.

This is the same way I feel about what’s going on in our society today with the conservatives and liberals. I don’t want to fight with either side.

A conservative will come along and tell me that he thinks President Obama was inexperienced when elected and failed to deliver the promise of all the hopes and dreams of his campaign. You see, I don’t have any problem with that. I don’t even know if Barack Obama would object to that observation. It’s just like that night with Marky. If we had actually gone out and hunted for worms and gotten worms, it would have been okay. But a conservative can’t just leave it there. He has to add that the reason Barack Obama is so bad is that he’s a socialist and doesn’t have a birth certificate. At this point, the conservative will pause to check my reaction. You see, in my opinion, we just started chasing possums. In other words, they’re not really there, but we’re already making plans on what to do if they bother us. Not satisfied that the President’s character has been sufficiently derailed, the conservative will conclude with: “After all, Obama is a Muslim terrorist.” To me we just started killing neighborhood dogs.

The same thing is true with my liberal friends. Some Republican candidate starts speaking out against contraception and interfering in a woman’s right to make choices concerning the birth of her children. It’s easy to agree that this is interfering, fussy and unnecessary. I would even be willing to tell the Pope that in this matter he needs to loosen up his Basilica a bit. But the liberal can’t stop there. No … he or she must point out that this Republican is also against abortion, which they insist is the same thing as contraception. You see, I get a little lost here. Doesn’t a woman use contraception so she DOESN’T have to abort? That would not make them the same–it nearly creates an opposite. You see, I get the feeling I’m with Marky again, chasing possums. And then to cap it off, I heard some liberal pundits criticize the same candidate because he came out against pornography. Are we really going to defend pornography as if it is similar to abortion and therefore parallels contraception? Isn’t pornography the exact enemy of women’s rights? Because the nature of that medium is the exploitation of the female of the species and the taking away of dignity?  You get my drift? We’re killing dogs, here.

We have a lot of worms in our society. There’s nothing wrong with shining the light on them, exposing them and removing them from the earth. But when you’re on a worm hunt, I don’t think you have to chase possums. And my God, please–let’s avoid killing Mrs. Satterfield’s dog.

I could never be a conservative or a liberal, because they both continue to insist on destroying the character of their opponent, when all you have to do is point out the worms.


Below is the first chapter of Jonathan Richard Cring’s stunning novel entitled Preparing a Place for Myself—the story of a journey after death. It is a delicious blend of theology and science fiction that will inspire and entertain. I thought you might enjoy reading it. After you do, if you would like to read the book in its entirety, please click on the link below and go to our tour store. The book is being offered at the special price of $4.99 plus $3.99 shipping–a total of $8.98. Enjoy.

Sitting One

 I died today. 

I didn’t expect it to happen.  Then again, I did—well, not really.

No, I certainly didn’t expect it.

I’ve had moments of clarity in my life.  Amazingly enough, many of them were in the midst of a dream. For a brief second I would know the meaning of life or the missing treatment to cure cancer.  And then as quickly as it popped into my mind it was gone. I really don’t recollect dying.  Just this unbelievable sense of clear headedness—like walking into a room newly painted and knowing by the odor and brightness that the color on the wall is so splattering new that you should be careful not to touch it for fear of smearing the design. The greatest revelation of all? 

Twenty-five miles in the sky time ceases to exist.

The planet Pluto takes two hundred and forty-eight years to circle the sun. It doesn’t give a damn. 

The day of my death was the day I became free of the only burden I really ever had.  TIME.


Time is fussy.  Time is worry. 

Time is fear.  Time is the culprit causing human-types to recoil from pending generosity. 

There just was never enough time. 

Time would not allow it.  Remember—“if time permits …”

Why if time permits?  Why not if I permit?  Why not if I dream?  Why not if I want?  Why does time get to dictate to me my passage? 

It was time that robbed me of my soulful nature.    It was time that convinced me that my selfishness was needed. 

I didn’t die. The clock in me died, leaving spirit to tick on.  

So why don’t we see the farce of time?  Why do we allow ourselves to fall under the power of the cruel despot?  Yes, time is a relentless master—very little wage for much demand.

I died today. 

Actually … a piece of time named after me was cast away.

Clean, Baby, Clean — September 23, 2011



Cars are lucky. Even if we become busy or too lazy to wash them, God sends the rain to help out. We, on the other hand, don’t sit in parking lots all night waiting to be cleansed. We hide away inside, both physically and  emotionally, to disguise our dusty and dirty parts. So unless we purpose to “get clean” we just shuffle our dirt around like used furniture, trying to make it seem artful instead of cluttered. It’s our problem.  And once you accumulate enough trash in your home, it’s no longer really a house, now, is it? It’s just an indoor dumpster.

Here’s the problem:  because religion, politics and corporations do not accept the fact that humans are emotional creatures, most people’s feelings are toted to the back of the basement or stuck in the attic. We assume that once we set these feelings aside, they won’t bother us anymore. But instead, they continue to call out for resolution while we pursue our spiritual journey if we’re religious, our mental journey if we aren’t, and our physical journey if we’re young enough to still believe that we can be active.

But the heart is the center of it all. It is out of the abundance of that heart that we speak; it is where we keep our treasure. It is where we evoke the passion to either do or deny the need to perform. So if it’s not clean and it gets gummed up by doubt, dismay and disgust, we start becoming nasty to those around us, eventually finding ourselves quite alone, feeling even further rejection and becoming emotionally distraught.

So what’s the answer? If we haven’t been dealing with life as “daily bread,” and instead, have been hoarding our manna–only to have it turn into “stinky worms”–what can we do now? Can I give you a simple solution? I know sometimes I may frustrate theologians and even those who believe themselves to be intellectual, by how I break things down into tiny nibbles instead of full-course meals, but I’m not so sure that life is a banquet. I think it’s more “snack and run.” You pick a little up as you go and use the energy from that experience to get you through the next endeavor. If you wait for the five-course meal before you sit down and eat, you probably will finish your soup–but end up nuts. Here’s what I suggest for those of you who really want to get back onto the daily bread of emotionally dealing with your life in a twenty-four-hour period. Are you ready?

If I can, I will.  If I can’t, I won’t.

You only have to make ONE decision.  Can I or can’t I?  Please stop participating in the foolishness of thinking that you should be trying to do things you can’t. I don’t care whether you’re afraid, intimidated or even defeated by it. If you have discovered you can’t do something, don’t frustrate yourself by continuing to attempt to pursue it out of some sense of stubbornness.  It is not only aggravating; it is debilitating to the human emotions–to always fall short of your aspirations.  If you want to live a clean life, just simply look at the situation set before you in the day and ask yourself, “Can I do this? Can I address this? Can I be part of this? Can I start this, not finish it and still feel okay about myself? Can I be proud of this when I’m done?”

If the answer to those questions is yes, then jump in. But if the answer to those questions is no, or “I’m not sure,” step away. You are not responsible to solve all of life’s problems–just the little boxful that’s handed to you. The reason that worry enters the human experience is that we start lamenting things we can’t do and try to figure out a way to overcome our lack.

People often ask me, “Do you worry about your children?”  No.  Do you know why? Because everything I could do with these young men–all seven of them–I have already accomplished.  What I can’t do is follow them around to make sure they follow my philosophy exactly as I wish they would. So what I can do, I do.  And what I can’t, I don’t. This alleviates the need to be overly involved because I’ve already assessed my responsibility in the situation.

It is the practical application of Jesus’ telling us to “count the cost.” You will not be good at it at first. Here’s why: we have been taught that worry has a function, and that the function is simple: it supposedly shows that we care. But honestly, we know that we care when we do what we can, walk away from what we can’t and put it into the hands of those who can, or if nobody is available, in the mighty mitts of God. You will not live a clean, emotional life until you are able to find what you can do and do it–and discover what you can’t do, and avoid it.

But what are you supposed to do when these unaccomplished tasks taunt you? What should you feel when worry tries to seep into the corners of your spirit and mind? This is where the doctrine of good cheer comes in.  It is just as easy to laugh at worry as it is to participate in it. For verily, verily, I say unto you, I am hilariously incompetent.  Now, not in everything; I do have gifts. But the things I can’t do are so obvious that if I were to attempt them, the hilarity that would follow should make the entire planet chuckle in joy. So for me it’s easy to be of good cheer when I feel that incompetence creeping in. I will not allow my insufficiency to taunt me into believing that I should try stupid things.

Today is sufficient. I don’t need anymore. And if you want to be clean, you must learn to find what you can do and do it.  Discover what you can’t do and avoid it. And then develop a sense of good cheer over your shortcomings. You will discover at the end of the day that problems that seemed to be insurmountable and beyond the scope of your talent can be handled by other folks–if you aren’t bungling them yourself.

One of my most effective weapons in aiding the planet earth is being able to turn to my friends and say, “I don’t have any idea on that subject.” Without this admission, they do not feel they can intervene for fear of interfering. But once they know I have laid the ball down, they feel the freedom to come and dribble.

If I can, I will. If I can’t, I won’t.

Isn’t that simple? Is it so simple that you won’t try it because it does not possess the complexity of moving parts that we normally equate with great intelligence? Or are you like me–tired of contrived answers that don’t have the quality of human ease?

  • Live in the twenty-four-hour period.
  • Use your daily emotional bread and set it aside when it’s over.
  • Don’t let the stinky worms of doubt, dismay and disgust wiggle their way in.
  • And finally, get clean, baby, clean. If you can, then you will. If you can’t, then you won’t.

Here’s to cleanness–because the only people who actually get to see God … are the pure in heart.

Stinky Worms — September 22, 2011



People complain.  Usually two reasons–first, they complain because they don’t think they get what they deserve; and secondly, deep in their hearts, they know they don’t really deserve it, so they complain about how their unworthiness is going to leave them out in the cold.

It’s always been the same. Even back in the Old Testament, the children of Israel were freed from Egypt to go into a desert where they became hungry. So as the story goes, God sent manna from heaven. It was a little wafer that tasted like honey, landing on the grass each morning, and all they had to do was go out and gather it–an omer apiece, for each man, woman and child.  Now, I don’t know what an omer is, and the Bible tries to assist our understanding by explaining that it is one-tenth of an ephah. (Thanks a lot.) So let’s just say that it’s somewhere between the size of a McDonald’s coffee cup and the trunk of a Chevy Impala.

Here was the catch for this magic bread–it only lasted for a day. So if you tried to store it up, you would wake up the next morning and it would be full of worms and it would stink. (I assume this was God’s way of making sure that people would not horde, creating the dreaded “omer envy.” )

Yes–stinky worms. The manna was for today and if you didn’t use it, it turned into stinky worms. 

Right on point. Likewise, if we don’t use our daily bread of emotional give-and-take to heal ourselves and keep ourselves fresh for each and every moment of our lives, we, too, will wake up to a heart filled with stinky worms. There are three types, you know:  doubt, dismay and disgust.

When you don’t deal with your daily bread of emotions and address your feelings in a candid and often-times humorous way, you will find that doubt will become part of your ongoing position. You see, doubt is not something we feel towards God or others. It may manifest itself that way, but because we actually DO love our neighbors as ourselves, when we cease to comprehend that we are going to attempt to address our own difficulties, we certainly do not have any faith that others will do it, either.  So we doubt ourselves first, others second, and of course, once you doubt people, it’s hard to believe in a God who made them. Doubt cannot be resolved by telling people to study the Bible or become more spiritual. That’s why Jesus said that “if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed’ and do not doubt in your heart …”

So where does doubt come from?  The emotions. “I did not deal with today’s problems so I probably will not deal with tomorrow’s, so in seven days I will have a week’s worth of difficulty which will certainly make me feel weak.”

Now that’s a stinky worm.

The second one is dismay.

  • ” ‘Dis may be the worst I’ve felt waking up in my whole life.”
  • ” ‘Dis may be the least money I’ve had to live on since I was a baby.”
  • ” ‘Dis may be the worst group of people on any job that I’ve ever held.”

Because once you realize that you’re going to dodge your emotions instead of dealing with them, a bit of dismay comes into your life about the prospects of improving your situation and making things better. Candidly, this is where I meet most people. They’ve already given up on the notion of newness of life; they have not seen their faith in God deliver any practical goods to the table and they’re going through the motions of adulthood without any sense that improvement is on the way.

Now that is a stinky worm.

Which lends itself to the final “smelly wiggly”–disgust. It’s so easy to become disgusted. Disgust is the sensation that fills our being when a seed of anticipation we had in our youth is snatched away and we’re just left with dirt. We can’t even stare at the dirt, hoping something will grow, because we know the seed is gone. It makes us grumpy with other people, selfish over the few crumbs we have and suspicious of anything or anyone who would suggest that life has potential.

It is a stinky worm.

Once you decide that you’re going to table the discussion of your emotions and what you feel, you open the door to worms inhabiting your daily bread–because it was never meant to last more than twenty-four hours. 

Doubt, dismay and disgust.

So politics feeds on these worms by trying to make people even more disgruntled with present conditions. Religion acknowledges the worms by telling us that “someday we’ll go to a better place that isn’t infested.” Corporations attempt to advertise less wormy options. But no one addresses the real problem. When we receive our daily bread of both trial and opportunity, if we do not emotionally address what we feel and turn it into a sense of good cheer about our possibilities, we will try to bottle up our feelings and end up with stinky worms.

What can you do with a society that doubts that miracles are still possible, is dismayed over the surroundings presented to them and has a certain amount of disgust about life as a whole? The only possibility is to take our daily bread, use it in the day to address our problems and then, as evening falls, “let it go”–and prepare for the next day’s opportunities.

If you can’t get yourself into the twenty-four-hour period that is afforded you, you will either presumptuously think that tomorrow will be better, or you will give up on all the chances that could come your way.

Stinky worms: doubt, dismay and disgust.

It’s no way to live.  It certainly isn’t what God intended when he created a utopia called Eden. So what can we do to expose our infestation and set in motion a new way of thinking that allows us to deal with our feelings in the correct moment instead of allowing them to decay inside of us? Because what we all need is a sensation of being clean. 

Yes. Clean, baby, clean.

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