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One at a Time…

Thoughts From the Porch: The last few days have been a preview of Spring in North Texas. It was shorts and tee-shirt weather and even hit the eighty-degree mark. Yesterday morning was a reminder that Winter won’t be leaving for a while yet. Today was the coldest day of winter so far: a mere 25 degrees. I know my friends in Chicago and the Midwest are saying, “what a wimp”, but it drove me to the desk in rapid time so here I sit, coffee at hand and Stevie Wonder on the stereo.

February is the shortest month of the year as far as the number of days goes, but it seems like it’s unending. Regardless of what a large furry rodent says about Spring’s timing, February will last for months. That’s what February does.

The good news about this February is that the ribbon cutting for Opal’s Farm is going well. Invitations are being sent and we’ve had a great response given those who have sent their RSVP. We secured tents in the event of inclement weather (it is Texas…). Thank goodness it fell in an interminably long month. Maybe we’ll get everything done…

As I write this it’s mid-morning here in Fort Worth. I rarely sleep in and never on a work day. However, I feel into bed quite exhausted last night. Apparently, I never set the alarm. Even without the alarm I’m usually up and about by 7 AM at the latest. Today it was well after 8:00. My body said “stop” and I must have listened, at least subconsciously. It’s taken several cups of coffee to clear the fog hanging around my head, but here I sit.

Yesterday, Ms. Opal and I had the opportunity to speak to a Food Justice class at Texas Christian University. Thank you, Dr. David Aftandilian, for asking us to make a presentation about Opal’s Farm. He also works with the Tarrant County Food Policy Council and I can’t begin to tell you how much that work is appreciated. My work with Opal’s Farm has brought me in contact with so many people who work diligently to improve food justice and access for the residents of Tarrant County and North Texas.

The greatest difficulty I face when speaking about food scarcity and access is the time limits imposed by everyone else’s schedule. I easily go on for hours about these issues for hours. That’s why I’m so passionate about Opal’s Farm. I have no doubt that everybody would love to resolve hunger and food injustices, not just in Tarrant County, but everywhere. Unfortunately, that problems so big that it often seems too abstract to solve. I’m under no illusions. Opal’s Farm won’t settle the entire problem, but it will make a dent in it. It’s something tangible. It puts the face of our neighbors, people who live right here in Tarrant County. It addresses their needs one person at a time.

I have a friend who’s been in the substance abuse and recovery field for over twenty years how she managed to stay so positive when the problem can be so difficult and frustrating. She said her focus was on the one, not the many, that made her work so important. Like her, I know I can’t “fix it all”, but I can do something. Farming is the first step.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” — Mother Teresa

Ultimately, Opal’s Farm isn’t about the food it produces nor the access it provides. Those are the means to an end. The end is serving people, of transforming lives by being of service, by offering opportunity, education, and simple human dignity, but it begins with a farm…

Thank you again to TCU for inviting Ms. Opal and I to speak. Thank you to the college students eager to learn and seek solutions. Thank you to all the folks who are working to find and create solutions to food injustices, poor nutrition, and hunger for all our neighbors. Thank you to all our fellow urban farmers who work diligently to ward the solution. Thanks to all of you who jump in and donate to become “farmers” along side all of us at Opal’s Farm!

“As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people

the permission to do the same.”

— Nelson Mandela

It’s a lot longer than it looks!

Beatitudes, Bible, Christianity, Communication, Politics, Prayer, Relationships, Writing

Red Letter Revival – Dallas

I’d love to take time to write a post this morning, but I’m on my way to Dallas this morning. It takes a pretty momentous event to motivate me to drive in Dallas traffic…

But such an event is happening today! The Red Letter Revival has come to Dallas. Some of you may be familiar with the first event held in Lynchburg, Virginia outside the halls of Liberty University. Faith leaders have gathered to reclaim our faith: faith that’s been often co-opted by those calling themselves evangelicals but seeking political clout over following Jesus. 

The words printed in red, the words and teachings attributed to the Rabbi himself, are often overlooked in favor of political power and false teaching. I’m looking forward to spending a day among people who strive to live a life according to the words in red.

I never though I’d see this in print but – I hope to see you in Dallas

St. Luke’s “Community” United Methodist Church, 5710 East R.L. Thornton Freeway, Dallas, TX 75223

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Labels

It’s hard to believe that summer is over. Although it will end officially on September 21st, Labor Day weekend is the traditional start of Fall. The kids have returned to school and we can hear the loudspeaker from the school up the street, greeting students to the new day. I know it’s 8:00 AM when I hear America the Beautiful and the faint hum of students saying the Pledge of Allegiance. I don’t know if they do that elsewhere, but they still do in White Settlement…

The other day, a fellow blogger, Stephen Black, posted an article titled “It’s Not God’s Fault that Christians are Idiots” (www.fracturedfaith.com) I’ve been thinking about that question a great deal over the few days. I’m uncomfortable with the word ‘Christian’ and being labeled as such. What does that really mean anyway? Often, it has negative connotations. Stories of spiritual, emotional, and physical abuse by Christian ministers and church officials are reported regularly. ‘Evangelical Christians’ are frequently associated with extreme right-wing politics and somewhat self-righteous individuals who leave a lot to be desired when it comes to loving God and loving others – the foundation of following Jesus’ teachings. Maybe if I identified myself as a ‘Jesus follower’ it would be better, except that’s what ‘Christian’ meant in the original Greek. Etymology can be frustrating.

I’m told that ‘Christian’ was originally used as a term of derision for those making up the early church because they lived differently from the rest of the Roman Empire. The early Church didn’t quite buy into the whole ‘Caesar’ as god thing. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but Jesus himself said, “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. Not only that – count yourself blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable”. (Matthew 5.10-11 The Message) The sad thing is that religious folk seen to be some of the most vehement prosecutors of other Christians. Maybe truth is just a bit uncomfortable…

So, I’m labeling myself a Christian, whether I like it or not. I’m a ‘Jesus follower’. I believe in grace and redemption. I believe in a God who is loving, and as my wife says, sweet. He created me as one of his kids and, like kid, I simply want to be like Dad. I believe, that despite the fact life has hardships and difficulty, He always has my best interest in heart. I want to share the joy, peace, and freedom I’ve found, so in that sense, I guess I’m even an ‘evangelical Christian’. When I read the daily newsfeed and see what others, who call themselves evangelicals, are doing with the appearance of self-righteousness and false piety, I want to run and hide. I don’t want to be associated with the likes of such. Still, I remain a ‘Jesus follower’, a Christian.

It took me a long time to be okay with calling myself a Christian. I had my own demons and past to deal with. I tried to do everything my way and the results were rather dire. Ask anyone who crossed paths with me then. Such is a life run on self-centeredness, obsession, and compulsion. I finally asked for help and help led me to a real relationship with God. That led me to a lot of frustration with ‘Christians’, since I found that relationship outside ‘church’ walls. Some of you know what I mean…

What I know today, with some degree of certainty, is that the people whose lives touched mine, and the way they lived was nothing like the way I was always taught. I had a religious upbringing, and that really sucks. I learned about piety and fearfulness when what I really needed to know was how to have a relationship with God. In one of my favorite passages, Jesus was questioned by a bunch of religious folks about his propensity for communing with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other ‘sinners’ (my kind of crowd!). His reply was, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this scripture means ’I’m after mercy, not religion’. I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.” (Matthew 9.12-13 The Message). I’ve always felt I was ‘outside looking in’. Maybe that’s why I took advantage of the invitation to follow the Rabbi, and maybe that’s why I want to be like Him…

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Old Friends…

I spent some quiet time on the porch this morning and retreated to my office to check out the newsfeeds and my various social media accounts. I was shocked to find that my good friend and mentor, Edgar, underwent heart surgery and is in ICU recovering. For those of you that know the power of prayer I ask that you offer prayers of healing and continued grace for him and his family. I would not be the man I am today had it not been for the love and guidance he offered when no one else wanted much to do with me. Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about.

I firmly believe that when I’m barraged with the same message from various places that it’s probably something I should give some thought to and, if necessary, write about. Edgar told me that if one person tells me something, I should just acknowledge it and go about my business. If two people say the same thing, I might want to give it some serious thought. If three people bring up the same subject, God might be trying to tell me something…

In the quiet of the porch this morning I kept hearing something Jesus said in what we know as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’. It was his manifesto for life and so I try to follow it as well. I particularly like Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message. It brings out the fullness of the original Greek and Aramaic of that time. What I kept hearing can be found in Matthew 5.5,

You are blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”

I thought about it a while and went on to enjoy my coffee and go about my morning routine. After the initial shock of what happened to my friend, I settled into my day. The first article I read started with a quote from Queen Latifah that said,

Be bold, be brave enough to be your true self.”

That was twice now I heard about being one’s self, one’s true self. It was followed by a third, fourth, and fifth time as many of the blogs I follow were about the same thing. I can be pretty thick-headed at times, but I heard this one loud and clear. Be true to your ‘self’…

When I met Edgar some twenty-plus years ago, I didn’t have a clue who I was, much less what my true self was about. Poor decisions, bad choices, and a moment of clarity brought us together, and started me on an inward journey to finding who I really am. I wish I’d followed directions better during those early years of our friendship. It wouldn’t have been near as frustrating for either of us. Still, I thank God today for a friend that stuck by me despite my stubborn, hard-headed ways.

When I started following the suggestions he offered me, things began to change. I began to see myself differently and quite frankly, I like the man I am becoming. It’s definitely a journey. I’m not confused. I know God’s grace is the power that truly transforms me into who I was meant to be all along, but His transformation is meant to be accomplished with my cooperation and the people in my life. I’m grateful for all of them, but especially my friend, Edgar.

I spent many years trying to meet others’ expectations, or at least what I thought were their expectations. Today I strive to live honestly, be myself, and recognize that I’m just another thread in the tapestry of life. There are still times I get all turned around. My life looks like the back of a tapestry – a confusing mess of color and wild threads – but I’ve learned that it is really a small piece of the greater, beautiful picture on the front. Most importantly, the picture would be lacking something if it weren’t for my thread.

Edgar’s mentor, and our mutual friend, Jim, used to say that “self-examination, coupled with prayer and meditation, followed by vigorous action, produces favorable results”. That’s been my experience. He also told me that “obedience to spiritual principles shortens the distance to my hopes and dreams”. That, too, has been my experience. In the process, I’ve become “the proud owner of everything that can’t be bought”.

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Enough

“I woke up this morning with my mind set on freedom…” The Justice Choir, Poor People’s Campaign

What a way to start the morning! I woke up early, left my sleeping wife and dogs, and took my coffee to the porch. A little cloud cover and a slight breeze made for an excellent morning to pray and meditate in the cool of the day.

Yesterday was the culmination of the last forty days of the Poor People’s Campaign, A National Call for Moral Revival. Fifty years ago this week, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the original Poor People’s Campaign to Washington D.C. I sat and listened to the livestream of the rally in Washington and became incredibly grateful for those that continue to work for justice, peace, and a better life for all people and not a select few.

I have to tell you about a news report about James Comey, the former FBI Director. It seems he was going to Dublin, Ireland on his book tour. Upon arrival he commented to his wife that they should tell the Irish immigration officials they were Canadian. They were ashamed to be Americans in the current world situation. I understand completely. I’m embarrassed by association, but I’m reminded by the Poor Peoples Campaign of the good, decent human beings who strive daily for social and economic equality and justice. They are what I always thought the country of my birth was about.

I’m grateful for the life God has granted me. I’m under no illusions about the advantages of my birth, my family, and even my home, especially when I compare my life to the majority of the world’s population. I live better than most and I know that’s a privilege and a blessing I’ve been given – even when we struggle with health and financial issues. My son, who doesn’t share my spiritual beliefs, asked me once if being poor meant that God thought less of poor folks. It’s a legitimate question. Watch a few minutes of most televangelists and it doesn’t take long to assume that you’re out of God’s favor if you aren’t blessed financially. According to them, you’re just not praying with the right heart. God is a cosmic Santa Claus and he’ll give you everything you ask for if you ask the right way and do the right things. It’s no wonder my son questions such a God! I would, too…

I know that humans have an innate ability to make a mess of things. I know from personal experience that I can be pretty good at creating havoc in my life and the community in general. I know that power, class, and social structures are created by fallible men and I can’t blame a loving Higher Power for their, or my place in the system. However, I am obligated by my relationship with the God of my understanding to speak out against economic and social injustice in the world. I guess that’s why I enjoyed the livestream so much. It touched my spirit and invited me to live and love better.

I’ve known poverty, both in the economic and the spiritual sense. Spiritually, my Higher Power calls me to poverty. In Matthew 5:3, Jesus said, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule”. The older versions of his sermon call it being “poor in spirit”. I couldn’t get out of the way until I had nowhere else to go. In recovery programs, it’s called ‘hitting bottom’. I was so poor spiritually that I had no way out of my predicament. If there’s anything to the ‘Prosperity Gospel’, it’s that when I finally recognize my spiritual poverty, I begin to experience God’s grace – and everything is grace – and what a prosperous life it is!

Economically, my wife and I have experienced ‘enough’. We live paycheck to paycheck but there’s always ‘enough’.  That’s what poor people ask for when the march in campaigns and hold rallies. That’s what they cry for when they ask for a return to morality – to live in a society of morals and values that don’t exclude them. Men and their institutions would have us believe in scarcity of resources, time, and money. Yet, God’s kingdom, His way of living, says there’s enough for all His kids. When the Poor People’s Campaign calls for a return to some semblance of morality they are saying ‘enough’ – not only is there enough wealth and resources to go around – they’re speaking to the morals and values we claim to hold dear. They are “speaking the truth to power”.

I’m filled with hope when I see people coming together to ask for ‘enough’ – enough food, enough healthcare, enough justice, enough economic and social equality – for everyone. I’m filled with hope when people take time out of their lives to stand together and try to do what’s right. I’m filled with hope that maybe, just maybe, there’s a tiny chance that the world my grandchildren inherit will be a little better, that they’ll have ‘enough’.

It’s easy to become jaded when I peruse the news as is my daily habit. Then I read about things like the couple in California who started a Facebook campaign to raise $1500.00 to post bond for immigrant families separated by the injustice of Mr. Trump and his cronies. As of yesterday, NPR reported that they’ve raised nineteen million dollars. It’s the largest fundraiser ever on Facebook. Suddenly, I’m not quite as embarrassed by being from America. I’m reminded of Jesus’ admonition to, “Keep an open house; be generous with your lives”. Sometimes, we get it!

This morning I’m filled with hope. I’m so grateful. It’s such a blessing to have ‘enough’…