Sunday, January 31, 2010

From A Birmingham Jail

Recently the old Empire Theater was completely remodeled after years of neglect and decay and re-opened as "The Mainstreet Theater". It was a grand old movie house in it's day, and it was the first job I ever an usher. I shouldn't have been able to get a job back then, but I lied about my age (15), and they hired me.
One night, right in the middle of a showing of "2001, A Space Odyssey", the management made a special announcement..... the theater needed to be cleared out and shut down immediately. There was rioting going on in the streets, all across the city. Folks were told to leave and go home. The police were out in full force. It was a very chaotic few days following that unusual night.
When you're a young, white teenager growing up in the late 1950's/early 60's you mind is on girls, cars, clothes and partying (at least mine was). It definitely wasn't dwelling on racial issues, particularly segregation and racial equality.
Recently we celebrated a national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I decided, after all these years, to read something that Dr. King penned many years ago,... in 1963 to be exact. It is called, "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", which he addressed to fellow clergymen from his jail cell after being arrested on the trumped-up charge of "parading without a permit". Dr. King had been summoned to Birmingham to participate in a non-violent demonstration against segregation in that large southern city. Some of his contemporaries in the Churchwere upset with him for stirring up the local government by organizing some of the demonstrations, consisting mainly of sitting at lunch counters reserved for "whites only".
Dr. King, through his letter, defends his actions and makes sterling arguments for the use of non-violent resistance to bring about social justice. He claimed that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere".
The black experience in America, especially in the South, had been brought to a boiling point and the non-violent demonstrations were simply to bring to the surface the brutality was was already present in the society. Televised scenes of water canons, billy clubs and attack dogs, methods used by the police on the peaceful protesters, changed the hearts and minds of a great number of Americans and became a tipping point in the fight for racial equality.
One paragraph in the letter which paticularly struck me was this one.....
"When you find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?";... when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable confines of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored",' when your first name becomes "nigger", your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are), and your last name becomes "John", and your wife and mother are never given the respected title, "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you're a Negro...... there comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair".....

Startling, elegant words....

That night in 1968 was an extraordinary time in history and, at the time, I could not, did not, appreciate it for the history that it was. I was just an ignorant teenager, trying to enjoy a nice, spring evening in April, totally unaware of the implications of what was happening at a Memphis motel, hundreds of miles away, where a remarkable man, struggling to bring peace into a hostile environment, was the target of a sniper's bullet.... Now I know.
I would encourage anyone reading this blog today to take some time out to read "Letter from a Birmingham jail". I'm sorry that it took me so long to get around to reading this wonderful letter, ... a plea for peaceful change in a time of great human animosity and turmoil.

"Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty"... Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,
Martin Luther King, Jr.

To read the letter in it's entirety you can click on the link below...

Have a great week!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Old Friends

My friend, Stan, was an extrovert. He played piano, wrote wonderful songs, and was one of the few artists who could literally bring me to tears with his warmth, humor and love of ministering grace into the lives of others through his music and stories. His was a special gift, and his gift opened the door for him to move hundreds of miles away to become the music and youth minister of a large church in the southern part of the United States. I missed our times together, especially our meals. Stan loved to eat, especially barbeque, and it "showed" (if you get my meaning)..... Let's just say that Stan fit the physical definition of "jovial".
After he had been gone for a few years I found myself one day in his city on business and gave him a phone call, hoping to catch up on old times and see what he was up to. We met for lunch at a BBQ restaurant (naturally). It was good to see him again... but, there was something different about him. He wasn't the old Stan that I once knew. He was much more somber, less talkative, less...vibrant. We ordered our food and drinks and eased into some light conversation. How was his wife?.... She had some health issues, but doing o.k.... How were his step-kids? They were doing fine. How was his job going?.... Stan looked down at his plate and didn't say anything for a
for a few seconds. "I lost my job" he said. "Really?... I'm so sorry. What happened?"... Stan looked at me.... "I lost my job... I lost my ministry... I lost my church... I think... I've lost my way.".... Wow! I did NOT expect this!.... Stan opened-up to me and told me that somewhere along the way he had fallen into a particular sin, which had become an addiction...and that he had lost control. He had, inexplicably, become addicted to shoplifting. It had been going on for quite some time. When he was finally caught and, (horror of horrors......arrested)... the truth had finally come out into the open. His home church soon found out about it and had tossed him out on his "r" ear. (There's an old saying that "the Church is the only organization that shoots it's wounded.")... I don't think that's always the case, but too often... it is. Instead of discipline, counseling and loving restoration, they had simply dismissed him. He had "fallen from grace". (Not God's Grace... just "man's" grace...small "g".
I told Stan I was sorry that it had happened... but that I understood. There was a time in my life when I too, had inexplicably found myself caught-up in an addiction that I felt I couldn't escape. Alcoholism and drug addiction is often described as a "cunning and baffling" disease. I think that is just the way it is with sin.... so cunning that when we let down our guard and get involved with it we are simply "baffled" by our inability to explain the loss of control we experience.
Our half-hour lunch turned into about three hours of just sharing our experience, strength and hope. We encouraged one another. Most of all, we confirmed that anything we receive from God, including our freedom from sin, guilt and shame, is indeed,...a gift. We sometimes (often) must be reminded that we are ALL sinners....saved by "Grace alone". When we stumble and fall (oh, dear will)....we need to remind ourselves that we can fall from man's grace, but never from God's Grace.
When we finally broke up our meeting, we hugged each other, shed a few tears, and told each other that we would pray for each other. I knew from that meeting the exact nature of what the Bible describes as "fellowship". We had shared things about each other that perhaps we had never told another human being. We loved each other "with the love of Christ". It was a meeting that I will never forget...and never want to forget.
Several months later I received a phone call from Stan's wife. Stan had suffered a massive heart attach and was...dead. He had gone to be with The Lord. (That's how the Bible describes it). "To be absent from the body is to be present with The Lord")... The news saddened me, but I take great comfort in knowing that Stan is finally in the presence of The One who holds him tight and tells him how much his is loved.... for all eternity...
My old friend... I look forward to the day when we shall meet again. And we shall sing together once again, songs of peace and joy. And God will wipe away every tear....

Friends are friends forever
If the Lord is Lord of them
And a friend will not say never
'Cause the welcome will not end
Though it's hard to let you go
In the Father's Hands we know
That a lifetime's not too long
To live as friends

(from the song, "Friends" by Michael W. Smith).....

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Serenity Prayer

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference".
I've prayed this prayer often in my life, searching for that elusive "serenity" (peace) in times when my life seemed backed into a corner with no escape...the "Let go and let God" admonition that we so often are instructed to practice. Also praying for the courage to change the things I have the ability to change. Often this is in the area of "making amends", trying to right a wrong from the past. It definitely takes courage to reach back into our past and ask forgiveness from another human being...and, sometimes... having to repay a monetary debt. It's a humbling, yet liberating experience.
The prayer for "wisdom" is also vitally important, especially in the pursuit of making amends. As it says in the Big Book Of A.A., "Making amends to people wherever possible, "except" when to do so whould injure them or others."... Most people do this with the help of a sponsor, or mentor, someone who has already been there, done that, and knows which situations to tackle and which to simply "let be". One can make amends in ways other than digging up the past.
The author of the Serenity Prayer was 20th Century theologian, Reinhold Neibuhr. Born in Missouri in 1882, he died in 1971. During his lifetime Reinhold Neibuhr was the best-known Christian intellectual in the United States. His writings influenced such luminaries as Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy. Professor Neihbur was an advocate for social justice and used his personal faith in Jesus Christ to try and advance humane working conditions in the booming industrial age, particularly in the automotive manufacturing industry. A man of great faith, he was also keenly aware of the sinfulness of man and the need for a spiritual, supernatural change in the human heart. His total surrender to his God was the impetus for writing the inspiring Serenity Prayer. The prayer has become a standard in opening and closing A.A. and other various meetings for years. Most people think that the prayer consists simply of the lines mentioned in my opening. Actually, the prayer is somewhat lengthier and I would like to present it to you in it's original form...
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference, living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardships as the pathway to peace, taking, as HE did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next..... Amen"

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Love Chapter

First Corinthians, chapter 13, is known mostly as the "Love Chapter". The apostle Paul is writing this letter to the Church in Corinth, encouraging them to love one another and making the point by distinguishing between "works" and "grace". If I "do" this, or If I "give" this...but don't have love, then I'm just faking it. Love is the most noble of Paul says, "the most excellent way".
My son, Nate, recently got married and his brother, Seth, read the Love Chapter at the wedding. A lot of weddings include at least a portion of this chapter in the ceremony.
My friend, Jim Mathis, is a writer, musician and photo artist. He has cleverly re-worded the Love Chapter for "Musicians". I thought this was brilliant and I wanted to share it with everyone on my email list. It just goes to show that the truth of the Word of God is relevant no matter what our station is in life. As a singer/songwriter, is sure got my attention.....
Ist Corinthians 13.... paraphrased for musicians by Jim Mathis

If I have the most gorgeous voice in the world, but have not love, I might as well be beating on a trash can. If I have perfect pitch and know all there is to know about chords and harmonies and have mastered the last detail of music theory, but have not love, I am nothing. If I play in prisons, concert halls, churches and arenas, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient to those less skilled. Love treats the audience with respect. Love does not need a Martin D-45 and a stack of Marshall amps. Love is not arrogant nor does it show false humility. Love does everything possible to please the audience. It doesn't get upset when it can't hear the monitors or if somebody is out of tune. Love does not brood over last nights gig. Loves does not enjoy seeing somebody else bomb, but wants everyone to rock. Loves takes care of other musicians and is always trying to improve.
If there is love, there is no failures. Great players lose their chops, great singers lose their voices, great songs are forgotten, but love will never die.
We will never get it right here on earth, but when we get to heaven, the whole set will be nailed.
When I was a child, I dinked around on my instrument, but when I became a man, I played with passion. Now I hear like a cheap speaker. In heaven it will be 10,000 watts and crystal clear. Now I have to look for the chords. Then, they will all fall under my fingers and Jesus Christ will hear each note of worship played for Him.
And now three things remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.....

You can click on the link below to read the original blog and read more of the inspired ramblings of Jim Mathis...

If you enjoy reading my Monday morning blogs and think of others who might be interested please pass on my link to your friends.... thanks and God Bless...
Bob Jenkins

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Forest Green

Pacific Blue...and Forest Green...
Color rolling ocean waves and summer leaves....
This is the beginning lyric of a song I wrote called, "CRAYONS"....
You can hear the entire song at:
I think Freud was onto something when he talked about how the mind sometimes works "subliminally".
I was probably somewhere between 8 and 10 years old (5th or 6th grade?)... When sometime mid-year a new kid showed up in school one day. His name was Forest Green... (and, no, I'm not making this up). Forest Green was a lot different than the rest of us classmates. He seemed to wear the same clothes every day to school, he was unkempt and quiet... pretty much kept to himself. Also, at our school we had "hot lunches". Back then I believe it cost 50 cents a day if you wanted to eat a cafeteria lunch. I think most of us kids did...except for Forest. He brought his lunch in a paper sack (I think it was the same papter sack every day)... One day I just happened to notice that all he had in his sack was a bologna sandwich...maybe it was peanut butter...the exact memory fails me. All I know is that, in my world, at that time, Forest Green was very "different" than me. I do know that I (and the rest of the class) pretty much left him to himself. We probably made fun of him and teased him... the way kids are prone to do when they encounter someone quite unlike themselves. Forest was only in our midst for a short time...probably a few weeks at the most. One day I came to school and he was simply "gone". Looking back I imagine that his family was poor and transient and the father (if there was one in the home) probably lost a job and they had to move on.
Sometimes, even now, a half-century later, I find myself wondering what ever happened to that young boy who moved in and out of my life like a wisp of smoke. Did he ever escape the cycle of poverty? Did he end up in a juvenile facility? Prison? ... Did he ever find love? ... get married?... Does he have kids?... Is he even still alive?
In First Corinthians 13, the "Love" Chapter, it reads: "When I was a child I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man I put childish ways behind me." Sometimes, when I think about Forest, it makes me wonder... Have I really? Have I put childish ways "behind me"?... as an adult?
It seems that God, in His infinite wisdom, has always provided Forest Greens who periodically move in and out of my life... those "Ragamuffins" of society who somehow always show up unexpectedly and inconveniently in all their scruffiness and unlikeableness. Jesus was constantly criticized by the religious leaders of His time for not only hanging out with, but embracing the poor, the downtrodden, the lepers, the dregs of "society". When I read the Gospels I can't help but be taken by the fact that God loves ragamuffins. As a follower of Jesus (yes, I try)... I'm embarassed to admit that I, more often than not, still yearn to "cling to my childish ways". I still want to run the other direction when I see someone "different" than the person I think I am. ("I THINK I am") being the key phrase. God help me.... to see the worth in every human being created in YOUR image!... Help me "grow up" and put away the foolishness of childhood. Father, forgive me....Forest...forgive me. For not being there for you when you desperately needed a kind word...when all you wanted was someone to care... just another little kid who would play catch with you or sit down and share his lunch with you. When you needed...a friend.
I know,... I know... It was years ago. I was just a child back then. But now, I have no excuse.