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What Are Your Four Words?

It’s a cold, windy morning here in Cowtown. The “feels like” temperature won’t get out of the low twenties but by Tuesday we’ll be back in the seventies. The rollercoaster continues…

A friend posted a word puzzle on social media that said the first four words you saw were going to be your mantra for the new year. I’m the perpetual skeptic when it comes to things like this, but I looked anyway. I must say I’m pleased with the words I found. The order was:

The first one was love. I can’t think of a better way to begin the mantra. I strive to love better each day, but I fall woefully short sometimes. Fortunately, I have tremendous role models, mentors, and friends who help me along the way. My wife, Margaret, is my main role model. Her patience and acceptance of others is wondrous. Then there’s Ms. Opal. Maybe when I get to her age, I can love others as she does, but I have a feeling it’s something she’s been doing for a lifetime.

The second word was peace. Our home is a place of peace. We prayed over our home since we bought it eight years ago. We wanted our home to be a place where the spirit of peace abides for us and our friends. We live a predominantly drama-free life. We have our moments, but they are few and far between. I’m infinitely grateful God has blessed us with his peace.

I’m in dire need of having peace as part of my mantra when it comes to looking beyond our home. There is division and strife everywhere I turn these days. I sometime think of the words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”. It’s as simple as that, but it’s certainly not easy. I think of Jesus’ teaching, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God”. I pray that I become a peacemaker – not a peacemaker: one who exercises power over others to simply maintain order or someone who gives on everything just keep the peace.

Peacemaking is an arduous task and that brings me the mantra’s third word – strength. It’s not physical strength I need (although I might say different at the end of a long day at Opal’s Farm…), but spiritual strength to be the man God made me to be. Honestly, there are some days when my strength is completely absent and then I find the strength to do the next thing in front of me. I became acutely aware of this when my son died in 2020. God held me up then and still holds me up in many ways today I need strong emotional shoulders for others to better serve them. I need strength of character to be there for others and, to be a peacemaker.

The final word of the mantra was change. I had to think about this one for a while. Change is so difficult for folks to deal with. There was a time in my life I was sure nothing was going to change – but that had more to do with my fear, addiction, and depression – that life was a problem with no solution. I’ve learned differently since then.  

I know longer fear change (most of the time), but welcome it. My walk with God encourages me to grow, to change, and to be the special, unique man God made me to be. I look back over a lifetime and the only constant has been change – some good, some bad – but always know that the God of my understanding has walked me through each one. He always has my back, so I don’t have to fear. Maybe that’s why “Be not afraid” is mentioned so many times in the Bible…

I also pray to be an agent of change – to be part of the world around me no matter how big or small that world may be. I have a quote from Mother Theresa at the bottom of each of the emails I send, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one”. I may not be able to do for the hundred, but I can be the agent for change for one person. I may never know that I was, but each of our actions has influence and consequences. You just never know how you can change the trajectory of someone’s life.

The mantra now made complete sense. If I walk in peace, rely on God’s strength, and be an agent of change, then I will automatically love better.

“But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.” 1 Corinthians 13.13 (The Message Bible)

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Change is Possible

I’m home this morning. I went for my check up yesterday. While everything went well – I’m blessed with good health – I received my third COVID vaccine, my shingles vaccine, and my flu shot. I made it through the first two COVID vaccine, but that’s not the case with this one       I’m feeling it a bit this morning so here I sit. Much has run through my mind the last few days, so I’ll take a moment to share some things with you.

I haven’t been able to do that very often – Opal’s Farm has had a busy Fall. Add to that my fantastic Thanksgiving week with my newfound family in Kentucky and I’m swamped with work. Writing, whether it’s read or not, is one of the greatest joys in my life. Every now and then God says slow down, rest, and write. Enjoy the morning. Today I may be feverish with the chills but I feel intense gratitude for my life, my family, and my friends.

I celebrated sixteen years clean on December 1st – my rebirthday. I had a friend who always said we were such blessed people to live two lives in one lifetime. Looking back, I can appreciate that statement more than ever.

My story isn’t that much different from any other recovering person. I spent a long time believing the lie that I could successfully drink and drug while living a life for everyone else. I fell deeper into the hole I was digging until there was no way to climb out. I’ve heard it said by those in recovery that God provides the ladder. Quite frankly, if He did I didn’t even have the strength to climb it. As I look back today, I can see that a loving God reached down and lifted me to freedom. The life I have today is simply grace and mercy from a God that loves His kids fiercely.

This time of year is always a time of reflection for me – probably even more so this year. I got a call earlier in the Fall from the folks organizing the Annual Erma C Johnson Hadley Awards Dinner. Ms. Hadley was the first women and first African American to serve as Chancellor of Tarrant County College and brought the college to one of the premier county colleges in the nation. She was a trailblazer and fine educator. The dinner is held annually in her honor since she passed away.

I thought they were calling for volunteers – I had worked one pre-COVID – but Dr. Jackson informed me that I was receiving the Community Leader award and she needed a short bio and headshot for the program. I was overwhelmed. How could this happen to me. I called my dear friend Edgar and all I could ask was why. Do they have any idea who they’re talking to? Don’t they know I’m simply a farmer?

Edgar reminded me that I need to share that. I’m nothing special. I grow food for people and help marginalized neighborhoods. I try to honor my calling in very simple ways. Who I was before December 1st, 2005 is not who I am today. My relationship with God has brought about a radical transformation. His will was my own true will for myself all along. He lovingly and patiently waited until I was ready to surrender to Him.

I only bring this up as a reminder to myself and others that one’s past doesn’t dictate one’s future. My addiction defined who I was some sixteen years ago. God defines who I am today. I simply had to let it. From an ex-felon and drug addict to a community leadership. Hmm. Change is possible…

“That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good” Paul’s letter to the Romans 8.28

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A Vision Check Up

I have “senior moments” – those times of forgetfulness that are becoming all-too frequent as I get older. I’ve tried organizing my life with lists, calendars, and self-help books on ordering my world. Unfortunately, I usually forget where I put the list, leave the calendars on my desk, and the books find their way back to the shelf in favor one something more compelling. I need to apologize for my forgetfulness; more often than I care to admit.

Fortunately, the “to Do” lists still get done, I manage to get to the necessary appointments on the calendar, and I constantly re-read books I already have which cuts down the cost of new ones (I’m blessed to have an extensive library). I’ve found that repeated reading shines new light on things. I see it differently than I did and often, I find things I never saw before.

I was talking to my friend Charlie the other day about one of the miracles mentioned in the Gospels called “The Feeding of the Five Thousand”, and the one most people are familiar with. I’ve read the story hundreds of times over my life, but Charlie shared a perspective I’ve never thought about – the miracle of self-lessness.

The feeding of the five thousand is one of the miracles found in each of the Gospels. Each of the authors found this to be important. My favorite, and the one that started my discussion with Charlie, is from the Book of John, Chapter 6:

“After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee… the crowd followed him, attracted by the miracles they had seen him do among the sick…

When Jesus looked out and saw that a large crowd had arrived, he said to Phillip, “Where can we buy bread to feed these people?” He said this to stretch Phillip’s faith. He already knew what he was going to do.

Phillip answered, “Two hundred silver pieces wouldn’t be enough to buy bread for each person to get a piece.”

One of the disciples – it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter – said, “There’s a little boy who has five barley loaves and two fish, but that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.”

Jesus said, “Make the people sit down “… about five thousand of them. The Jesus took the bread, and having given thanks, gave it to those who were seated. He did the same with the fish. All ate as much as they wanted.

When the people had eaten their fill, he said to the disciples, “Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted.” They went to work and filled twelve large baskets from the five barley loaves.” (John 6.1-13 The Message – paraphrase mine)

I’d always believed the miracle was the five loaves and two fishes being enough to feed five thousand people. That certainly is a miracle, but after my conversation with Charlie and a fresh reading of an old story, the real miracle is much deeper than that.

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Imagine five thousand hungry people – the other Gospel’s say it was late in the day and the disciples were concerned enough to ask Jesus to send them away. In fact, they interrupted his teaching to bring this matter to his attention. Jesus’ response – “Nope, you feed them.”

I can only imagine the look on Phillip’s face when Jesus handed the problem back to him. He must’ve been thinking Jesus had been in the sun too long. Andrew, ever the one bringing people to Jesus, brings him a young man with 5 loaves and two fishes and says, “This is what we have to work with.” I’d like to think Andrew’s faithfulness came into play, but I have a feeling it was to say “This it. It’s all we could find.”

Traditional teaching focuses on Jesus’ blessing and the multiplication of a miniscule amount of food to feed the crowd but a deeper look reveals an even more miraculous occurrence. A crowd of hungry people take just enough and everyone has their fill.

Let that one sink in a moment. A large crowd of mostly strangers has been out in the sun all day to hear this new prophet. They haven’t eaten all day and suddenly a basket of food comes by. Without ever looking in the basket they take enough and pass it on. Sounds simple enough, right?

The Miracle I Never Noticed

It was a miracle that five thousand hungry people didn’t try to take everything in the basket. Had they looked inside they would have seen the small amount and yet the Gospel writers tell us everyone was fed. They didn’t record any instances of hoarding (they couldn’t say the same of pandemic era consumers!). Everyone passed the basket along. It was assumed there was enough for everyone.

That is a miracle indeed. For a moment in time, no one looked through the lens of scarcity. Jesus’ world was a world of “enough” – enough for me and enough to go around. It runs counter to the prevailing world view of scarcity -get it before it’s all gone. Everyone should have a slice of the pie, but there’s never enough pie. Even if there is, my slice needs to be bigger than your slice. Economists call this capitalism, which is a fancy, more politically correct way of saying selfish and self-centered.

That’s why I’m captivated by stories of people who step out of “scarcity” and into “enough”. Scarcity demands competition. It separates and divides people into “Us” and “Them”. It’s credo of “Do unto others before they do unto you” sows seeds of superiority and distrust. Fear is at its root and discord, violence, and strife are its fruit. The Apostle Paul put it this way:

“It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all of the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic show religion (can anyone say TV evangelism and prosperity gospel… my thoughts added); paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming, yet never satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on”. (Galatians 5.16-20 The Message)

“Enough” on the other hand, drives people to be self-less and kind towards everyone. “Enough” says just that – enough – “there’s enough to go around so why don’t I enjoy what’s here and pass some of it along to someone else who really needs it?” Again, the Apostle Paul says it much more eloquently than I:

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a basic conviction that holiness permeates (all) things and (all) people (even those we don’t like or don’t like us… my thoughts again added…). We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”  Galatians 6.22-23 (The Message)

“Enough” is the lens through which we see the world as it was meant to be. “Enough” is God’s gift to His kids.

Sometimes I forget to put on my new glasses, or the lenses get fogged up with “stuff” (a nice word for fear and worry) and I begin to see a hostile world of scarcity out there. Sometimes I forget for a long while. I make myself miserable until I remember my new lenses and my vision becomes clearer.

For example – when I came to work at Opal’s Farm and Unity Unlimited, Inc. I quit taking new clients in my writing business. The farm would take all my time to make it successful. I had a contract salary with Unity, but I also knew that there was little to no funds for the farm. As Ms. Opal often reminds me – “we’ve done so much for so long with so little that we can do anything with nothing”. Donations and consequently, my salary were small and intermittent for the first year.

My wife and I are fortunate enough to have retirement income. It covers our living expenses – sometimes – but we count on my work to provide for the shortfalls with our bills. We burned through what little savings we had those first few months. By October that first year I finally had nothing to pay the mortgage with. I was in a deep depression. I was sure I’d made the wrong decision and announced to my wife one evening that I had really screwed up, that I should give up a go get a job that paid even if it paid a little. Her response threw me a little…

“Greg, we prayed about this, and I know this is where God wants you to be.”

“I know, but (another case of being a know-it-all and a “but” head as my friend Jim would say) is we don’t pay the house payment tomorrow they’re going to start foreclosure’. Where will we go then?”

She was silent for a moment. “You’re right, but we’ll go somewhere. Why don’t you give it one more month and we’ll decide then.”

“Okay, but we’ve got to do something, and I don’t see anything we can do (echoes of the disciple Phillip?)”.

I didn’t sleep well that night – there was too much on my mind – but I got up, dressed, and off to the farm. The phone rang as I drove (Relax folks, I have a hands free phone system). It was our Executive Director, Dione. “Guess what? We just received a grant from one of our donors. Come by my office today and pick up a check.” When I got there, I was in shock. The check was just enough to pay all our bills through the end of the year.

I got home, shared the joyous news with Margaret, and went back outside to have a little chat with God. I had to confess my thickheadedness and distrust. After all, how many times in life have I been on the receiving line of blessings I most certainly don’t deserve (It’s that thing called grace). In hindsight I know that God has had my back 100% of the time. I told God, “I get it. I won’t worry about how we’re going to make it anymore.”

I haven’t worried about the bank balance since that October night three years ago. Somehow there’s always enough – the bills get paid, seed gets planted, and crops grow (rinse and repeat). We don’t have all the things I used to think we wanted, but we live simply, have everything we need, our home is peaceful, and life’s storms just don’t seem that bad anymore (Yes, Virginia, it still gets stormy…).

How do you see the world – through scarcity (there’s never enough) or through God’s “enough”? When we have enough,” we always have “enough” to share. If you have “enough” already, please be sure to pass it on. If you don’t, give me a call. I bet we can do a better job on those lenses if we work together…

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Hidden Gems

“When you looked at me

your eyes imprinted your grace in me;

for this you loved me ardently;

and thus my eyes deserved

to adore what they beheld in you. . . .”

Let us go forth to behold ourselves in your beauty.

—John of the Cross, “The Spiritual Canticle,” stanzas 32, 36

This was in my email this morning from the Center for Action and Contemplation. Fr. Richard Rohr goes on to share his own paraphrase of John of the Cross’ poem…

“You give a piece of yourself to the other.

You see a piece of yourself in the other (usually unconsciously).

This allows the other to do the same in return.

You do not need or demand anything back from them,

Because you know that you are both participating

In a single, Bigger Gazing and Loving—

One that fully satisfies and creates an immense Inner Aliveness.

(Simply to love is its own reward.)

You accept being accepted—for no reason and by no criteria whatsoever!

This is the key that unlocks everything in me, for others,

and toward God.

So much so that we call it “salvation”!”

I grew up in a religious tradition that often failed to share the words of the early Christian mystics. I wish that I had brought their words to life earlier in my journey with God. Yet, everything comes in its’ right time. For that I am so grateful.

When a Pharisee came to Jesus, he asked the question, “what is the most important commandment?”. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. This is the most important on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: Love other as well as you love yourself. These two commandments are the pegs: everything in God’s law and the prophets hang from them.” (Matthew 22. 37-40 (The Message – emphasis mine).

Everything – just do these two and the rest will take care of itself…

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The Urgency of Now

When is it time Lord?

For Your will to be done on Earth as it is in heaven.

When is it time Lord?

For us to be one as You and Your Son are one.

When is it time Lord?

To believe the Red Letters in Your book and act like it.

We said it was time when a young lady stayed in her bus seat because she was tired.

That your will could be done on Earth as it is in heaven.

We said it was time when thousands gathered on a hot August day to share a dream,

That we could be one as You and Your Son are one.

We said it was time over and over and over again,

But we still don’t believe the Red Letters in Your book.

The Red Letters are just too idealistic, too unreal,

No one can do that,

Why, you’d have to be a white Jesus.

‘Cause it’s just too hard to believe,

A brown-skinned Palestinian Jew…

If we really believed them, we’d be cut to the very core of our being…

Our sin would be laid bare,

And we might have to change,

And who in the world wants to do that.

“Ignorance is bliss”, so goes the old saying.

And we’re a blissful lot.

We hide behind our stained-glass windows,

and under our steeples,

and talk about how God loves us all,

except He loves some more than others.

You can tell by the color of their skin…

(as if blessings are determined by color)

We all worship You, Father, but “they” need to worship over there,

Maybe it’s just so white folks won’t have to look at themselves.

I don’t know Abba.

I don’t even pretend to understand anymore.

It’s our prayer that…

Pictures of a white man on a black man’s neck have opened our eyes,

Screams of “I can’t breathe” have opened our ears.

We can’t be blind.

We can’t be deaf.

But some of us still choose to be…

I know the time is coming.

when Your will is done on Earth as it is in heaven.

I know the time is coming,

when we will be one as You and the Son are one.

I know the time is coming,

When the words of Your Son shine as bright as the sun in our lives

When people will know of Your love by our love.

When men are “no longer judged by the color of their skin,

But the content of their character”.

I know the time is coming,

it’s long overdue.

To be silent is to be complicit.

It hurts too much to be quiet.

The time is now Father.

My time is now.

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