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I Cast No Stones…

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s finally Fall in Texas. I was greeted by temperatures in the forties, a crystal-clear morning, and the song of birds that haven’t been around our area since last year. I haven’t put pen to paper or keyboard to screen in a bit. I had a tinge of disappointment when I realized this is the first October entry and there were only a couple for September.

It’s been a difficult couple of months. Margaret went to the hospital on Labor Day, came home two weeks later, and is back in the hospital again. The only good news is that this time it’s for a broken leg. We were heading to the porch when Maggie decided to bolt out the door, knocking her over, and breaking the tibial plateau. Apparently, this a rare break and she’ll have to keep pressure off the leg for the next twelve weeks. Leave it to us to try and be unique…

Anyway, my trips are once again between home, hospital, and Opal’s Farm. It’s an all-to-familiar cycle I hope to break (no pun intended Baby!) soon. We’d certainly appreciate your prayers…

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I found this gem in my morning meditation. Dorothy Day was the founder of the Catholic Worker movement. She spent her life ministering to “the least of these” – addicts, the homeless, the marginalized, and broken people. She often wrote in her diary of the temptation to give up. She also wrote of the reason that kept her going.

“Yes, I see only too clearly how bad people are. I wish I did not see it so. It is my own sins that give me clarity. If I did not bear the scars of so many sins to dim my sight and dull my capacity for love and joy, then I would see Christ more clearly in you all. I cannot worry much about your sins and miseries when I have so many of my own. I can only love you all, poor fellow travelers, fellow sufferers. I do not want to add one least straw to the burden you already carry. My prayer from day to day is that God will so enlarge my heart that I will see you all, and live with you all, in his love.”

Her honest look at herself – “the unwed pregnancy, her quick temper and often biting tongue – that allowed her to show grace to others.” (Phillip Yancey, What Good is God?). When I practice brutal honesty with myself I too, find grace much easier to extend to others.

I’ve often heard others quote Jesus, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” but all-too-often I fail to put those words into practice. When I do, however, I find a peace I never dreamed possible.

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Thistles and Wheat…

Thoughts From the Porch: I was just looking back over the last three or four weeks and noted that I haven’t posted much this month. I’ve tried to keep everyone updated on Opal’s Farm, but I spend far more time at the farm and less time at the desk (or on the porch). June is an incredibly busy month for everyone at Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. The Juneteenth celebrations and programs, harvesting our Spring crops, and preparing for Fall planting keep us hopping. It has been a fantastic, yet tiring, month.

We’ve been blessed here in North Texas with below average temperatures and abnormally late rainfall. The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting rainfall into July, which is extremely rare on the southern plains. We haven’t even had a one hundred plus degree day yet (I’m knocking on my old oak desk as you read this). It’s still hot (this is Texas), but the farm is doing well. We had our first public sale to the neighborhood last Sunday. We hope to be at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market tomorrow (we’ll keep you posted!).

I was weeding the watermelon and cantaloupe rows yesterday and had to be somewhat gentle in my approach to some tall weeds. Tall weeds, especially the Johnson grass, are the inevitable consequence or good rainfall. Still, I’ll gladly trade tall weeds for abundant amounts of rain.

If you’re familiar with melon vines you know they put out small tendrils that grab onto anything in their path. The vines were tangled among many of the weeds making it impossible to remove one without damaging the other. I decided to let vines go crazy through the weeds rather than damage the growing melons.

It reminded me of a story Jesus told of a farmer who planted good seed in his field only to discover someone snuck in during the night and planted thistles among his wheat. The farmhands wondered how to resolve this dilemma. The head farmer told them to leave it alone. If they tried to remove the thistles, they’d pull up the wheat as well. “Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvester to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn” (Matthew 13. 29-30, The Message).

Jesus said God’s kingdom is like that. The good (wheat, or in my case, melons) are often intertwined with the bad (the thistles and Johnson grass). Sometimes I simply accept that my field, and my life, are filled with both good and bad things, but the end always results in a harvest. If I don’t try to have my way (I don’t like weeds, nor do I wish the discomfort of the negative things in life) it seems the harvest is always bountiful. Opal’s Farm is a reminder that watermelons and cantaloupes always win out over thistles and Johnson grass. I just have to take gentle care of the field…

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Living in Exile

Thoughts From the Porch: We had a series of precipitation events this weekend; at least that’s what the weather folks called them. I thought it was just rain. Regardless of what you call it, the result is it’s too muddy to do a lot at Opal’s Farm. Brendan and I will harvest radishes tomorrow, but weeding will have to wait. Oh well. It means a little more time on the porch.

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I re-read “Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile” by Rob Bell and Don Golden. I re-read many of my good books. After two brain surgeries and the trudge through middle age I get to enjoy them almost as much as I did the first time. I gain new insight and reaffirm old ones from re-reading some of my favorite authors.

I appreciate Don Golden for his work as Executive Director of Red Letter Christians (https://www.redletterchristians.org/). I had the opportunity to attend the Red Letter Revival last Fall in Dallas. Being around other disciples who strive to live out the radical, and often subversive, teachings of Jesus was the highlight of my year.   

Rob Bell ( https://robbell.com/) has always ranked high on my list of favorite authors; especially since his book, “Love Wins” put him on the outs with the evangelical community. He was labelled an apostate and a universalist (God forbid!) and exiled in the truest sense of the word. Questioning long-held doctrine and institutional religion is risky. Jesus can attest to that. I guess that’s where the sub-title came from…

A brief tangent…

I purchased “Love Wins” at my old church’s bookstore (a Starbucks-looking “seeker-friendly kind of place). I had seen it in the store the previous Sunday but could no longer find it anywhere on the shelves. It turns out that “Love Wins” had generated too many questions for the church. The Senior Pastor had asked that it be kept underneath the front counter. It was available only by request. I can assure that when the last copy was sold no more were reordered.

I asked for a copy and my purchase was quickly placed in a plain brown paper bag. It was like buying Christian pornography. Forbidden wisdom there, Don and Rob…

“Trendy” Christians

There’s a current trend among many churches to be “seeker-friendly”. Contemporary services with great bands constitute the worship experience now. Sometimes it seems like they should be taking tickets at the door. The experience is more one of entertainment than worship; for me anyway…

I retain a church home in name only. I’m not okay with sitting in the same place every week only to have the same people ask me if this is my first time at the church. This tends to happen a lot in mega-churches. It’s not the worshipper’s fault. Large groups tend to be impersonal.

My old church has a plethora of Pastors and staff members: so much so that a large portion of the budget goes to administrative costs. They do some wonderful and amazing things for the local community and in missions, but I can’t help but wonder what the early Jesus followers would think. Just saying…

I used to work on quite a few service projects the church took on, many of them having to do with community gardens and almost always working with young people. I was invited to go with the Youth Group on a service project to New Mexico. When they ran a background check (yes, a background check!) they learned I had a felony conviction from my old life involving bouncing paper. Suddenly, I was unfit to work with the young people I’d been working with for over five years. They said it was a question of liability, but I think they were afraid I’d teach the teenagers how to pass bad checks…

Honestly, I was pissed. I felt betrayed. Church was supposed to be a place of forgiveness and healing, not a business concerned with liability and self-protection. I tried to move past my feelings. I continued to attend for a while, and probably well past the expiration date…

My friend and mentor, Rusty, taught a class I enjoyed and corporate spiritual growth took place within our small, class-sized community. Unfortunately, the class was cancelled, and he was made the ‘Online’ Minister. Churches have gotten tech-savvy in the pursuit of new converts (and additional dollars? – I know, I’m a bit cynical). Quite frankly, the online community simply isn’t the same for me. I spend enough time in front of a computer screen.

Self-imposed Exile

I don’t think I’ve attended a service at my old church in three or four years. My spiritual appetite has been fed in other places: “being” the church instead of “going” to church. I get to do that daily. I’m blessed to work with a non-profit, Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm, that is faith-based and inclusive of everyone. Its mission is to provide for and minister to (serve) oft forgotten and marginalized communities in Fort Worth. Jesus called them “the least of these”. I get to be of service daily. My vocation is the same as my avocation.

I was relieved to hear that others struggle with the same issue. In his book, “Scary Close”, Donald Miller said something to the effect that he was a “Christian writer who hadn’t been to church in five years.

Lately, there’s been a nagging longing for spiritual community. I’ve been missing a home church, or more accurately, a church home: a place where I belong, where I can have community with other believers, and where I can celebrate and incorporate the Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus, in my life. 

I’ve been blessed to have stepped out of my comfort zone. Stepping out is never easy, but over the last few months I visited several churches outside my long-held religious tradition. I’ve discovered how much I miss corporate worship of the Creator and the community of other disciples. There’s a huge difference in being a Christian and being a disciple.

This past Sunday I visited a church my friend attends. The service was beautiful, the people friendly, and the Eucharist was celebrated in a way that reminded me of the beauty of community. Our time together was holy. I left feeling far less alone in my faith. That’s a good thing…

Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know my faith was never meant to be exclusive of other Jesus followers. The writer of Hebrews urges the Hebrew Christians to remain faithful to gathering together. It’s for their benefit and growth. It’s time for me to revisit this advice.

How About You?

What is your experience with this? I’d love to hear from others who struggle with this issue and how its resolution (of suggestions anyway).

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Good Friday

Thoughts From the Porch: The wind is a bit frisk this morning, but all is well on the porch. It’s still too wet to work on the farm so I’m enjoying the quiet solitude of our little cul-de-sac and my second pot of coffee.

Today is Good Friday. I’ve always been curious how it came to be called “Good” Friday. I get the idea that Jesus’ crucifixion led to a Good Sunday (Easter), but there’s really nothing good about hanging someone on a cross. Maybe Christians would do well to change their iconography for the cross to a stone. I’d rather constantly remember the resurrection than a barbaric and humiliating form of capital punishment. I want to be a resurrection disciple.

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Those who have experienced God’s grace on a deep level tend to be aware of the price paid for their redemption. They know spiritual death. They know what the proverbial “end of the rope” is. They know what it’s like to have nowhere and no human being to turn to. They know that accepting God’s grace is the only thing that will bring us back to life and there’s no doubt how costly that grace was and is. They eagerly cling to Easter and resurrection.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to stay stuck on the crucifixion, to live in the past, and forget that the real joy in life comes from the resurrection. God did, and does, the impossible. He often does for us what we cannot, and sometimes will not, do for ourselves. That’s where the real power lies. Not in the cross, but in the rolled-away stone…

“I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of”. John 10.10 (The Message)

Today, I’m living in the present, enjoying the resurrected life I’ve been given…

“Yes, all the things I thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant”. Phillipians 3.8 (The Message)

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Honor Your Wife…

Thoughts From the Porch: A line of thunderstorms is knocking on our door this morning. The wind, called an outflow boundary, is the precursor to the storm that will barge in any second. Jamison the Farm Dog is huddled beneath my feet, making writing difficult by distancing my fingers from the keyboard. Thunderstorms are anathema to him. He pants and paces or hides under my desk to escape the noise. All I can do is reassure him we’ve got it taken care of and we’d never let anything harm our Jameson.

Today is Margaret’s birthday. Please join me in wishing my beautiful wife a very happy birthday. I think of myself as one of the most blessed men in the world. It can’t be easy being married to me, although Margaret tells me constantly that I’m not difficult. Some days I’m not so sure. I find myself preoccupied with the daily goings-on of life and fail to stop and enjoy the company of the best woman I know.

Sometimes I’ll be out and hear other people talk about their difficulty in relationships. It makes me want to run home and kiss my wife and tell her how much I love her. I realize what a gift she is in my life. Our marriage isn’t perfect by any means. We each have our little idiosyncrasies that cause friction. I’m acutely aware of mine, but to be honest, I can’t think of any of Margaret’s. I’m sure they are present. They all seem to fade away when I’m with her.

I used to think that wasn’t normal, that our relationship was too comfortable. I’d hear others speak of their struggles in their marriage or cohabitation. People would talk about how much work their relationship. Everyone talked about “working” out their marriage. Maybe we were doing something wrong because, quite frankly, I can count on less than one hand the number of issues we’ve had to deal with over the years. I’m sure that they each centered around miscommunication or misunderstanding.

My Favorite Picture!

I used to believe we were an anomaly, a blip on the screen that couldn’t be explained. I thought there was no way anyone would believe how good our marriage was (and there may not be…). However, I’ve observed the marriages of our friends and acquaintances, and I’ve seen first hand we’re not so different after all.

There seems to be one or two constants throughout them all. The first one is the one my friend Jim told me about. Many years ago, he asked me if I knew what honor was. The Good Book says to “honor your wife”. What does it mean? I offered the proper dictionary definition and he laughed. He said that was nice but didn’t come close. The real definition was… and he drew in a quick, deep breath. I waited patiently for him to add his definition, but he just sat there, silent.

“Come on Jim. What’s your definition of honor?”

He again inhaled sharply, “h-h-h-h-h” and fell silent. I was beginning to get a bit perturbed and asked again to which he gave the same reply. Now I was ticked off.

I guess he sensed my aggravation because he looked me square in the eye, took another deep breath, and said “that’s what honor is”.

I sat there a bit perplexed. He went on to explain that honor was seeing your wife walk in the room and she takes your breath away. It wasn’t until years later that I really understood what he meant.

Fast forward to March 2nd, 2013 and Jim’s definition of honor became crystal clear. I was standing in front of many family and friends next to my Best Man, Edgar, with my brother Craig, the pastor for the day. Everyone stood and turned to watch Margaret start her walk down the aisle. She was radiant in her wedding dress, her face beaming. I inhaled sharply and deeply. She took my breath away…

Fast forward again to April 6th, 2019. Margaret walks in the room and she still takes my breath away. I can’t believe I am married to such an incredible woman. I want to honor her in every way possible. What surprises me is the honor she bestows on me. She makes me a better man.

I’m no marriage counselor but what I know for certain is that honoring my wife is easy. As a result, our marriage is easy as well. If we are an anomaly, then so be it. I could spend the rest of my life being different…

So, I wish my wife an unbelievably Happy Birthday. I look forward to sharing many more. I’m not confused my dear – you truly are “my better side” (I hate “half” as we were complete when we joined together) and my best friend. Today I honor you and wish for you a beautiful, joy-filled birthday!

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Obituaries…

Thoughts From the Porch: After putting the brakes on Spring for a couple of days we’re returning to normal here in North Texas. The sun is shining, temperatures are far more Spring-like and my time on the porch was punctuated by competing bird songs and a woodpecker in the closest tree. The bluebonnets are gathering force with the other wildflowers waiting in reserve to make April a month of vibrant color. All is well in our corner of the world.

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An article in the Daily Good (you can read the article at https://www.good.is/articles/mean-obituary-daughter?utm_source=thedailygood&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailygood ) caught my eye this morning. Whenever I see “brutal honesty” in a headline I must click it and see. Honesty is rare these days, and brutal honesty is usually code for hateful opinions. I had to laugh at someone getting the last word in with one’s obituary. While some may find such an obituary inappropriate, I hope whoever writes mine when the time comes will tell the truth – good and bad – and will get both a good laugh and a new respect for the grace given so freely.

Several years ago, I remember an assignment I was given by my mentor and friend, Jim. He told me to write my own obituary. Then write it from the perspective of a family member or friend. Finally, write it like someone who knew little about me. (I want to note that this little assignment came from a speaker he had heard many years ago, but I don’t remember which one. This wasn’t unique to him and I sure don’t want to take credit away from the originator.) The one thing he asked was that I be brutally honest with myself in how each was written.

The bottom line was how I see myself, how does my family see me, and how does the world see me. Jim was always big on introspection. He would always tell me “self-examination coupled with prayer and meditation produces favorable results”. I wasn’t too happy with the results at the time. Fast forward the clock a few years and the exercise became a lot easier and far more friendly for me.

I made a lot of mistakes. Scratch that (brutal honesty, remember?). I hurt a lot of people: myself, my family, and everyone I met through my selfishness and self-centeredness. Even when I was “doing good” it was usually to manipulate others and meet my own desires. The process of looking inward and being honest with myself revealed the real me – not the “me” I wanted to be and sure not how I wanted to be remembered.

As I’ve grown older, I still go back to the assignment Jim gave me periodically. I try to keep stock of myself daily. Periodically, I need to go through a full-blown inventory and take stock of my life. Now that I’m “in the last quarter of the game”, as my friend Gary says, I’ve become more aware of the legacy I leave. I believe others see me far differently from before. I know I’m not the same man as I was when I started this process. I trust that others see me far differently as well. I still make mistakes and have failures, but they no longer define who (or who’s) I am.

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Professionally, I worked many years as a Process Manager and Engineer building process improvement teams and finding ways to increase productivity for the companies I worked for. Writing and revisiting my own obituary has been “process improvement” for my life. It goes on today…

I’ve been blessed with the “favorable results” Jim always promised. I was fortunate to find a life of service to others. It’s the nature of what I do today, both as a writer and as the Farm Manager for Opal’s Farm. I ‘get’ to have a wonderful marriage, a loving family, and good friends. I ‘get’ to sit on the porch each morning and think about the amazing world I live in. I ‘get’ to say thank you to my Creator constantly for the grace I’ve received. I say ‘get to’ because it’s an opportunity I never had while wrapped up in self-centered blindness.

Each day is a new opportunity to rewrite my obituary, to leave a legacy of love and a servant spirit for my family, friends and community. I don’t think I could ask for more so maybe I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.

I’d urge each of you to take on the same assignment. If you already have then please share your results with me!

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Thoughts on Grace

Thoughts From the Porch: Wednesday is my busy day, especially at the end of the month. I have a group meeting every Wednesday morning and try to schedule as many meetings as possible on that day, so I have more time available at Opal’s Farm the rest of the week. The last Wednesday of the month is the Grow Southeast meeting and a chance to work with other urban farms and growers.

 Our Wednesday morning meeting, Fort Worth Development Group, is a group seeking to “bridge the gap between ministry and business through cultivating meaningful relationships in the workplace: allowing our character and integrity tom minister God’s love to others through our daily business practices.”

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I attended the first time thinking it was another ‘networking’ group. Networking does take place. That tends to happen whenever business people are gathered together. However, it’s far more than that. That’s why it’s a development group. Each quarter we have a theme that guides our speaking and discussions. This quarter that theme has been gratitude. The coming quarter will be on grace. It seems you can’t really have one without the other. Grace and gratitude have this whole “chicken and egg” thing going on. I’m not always positive which came first…

Next week, I’ll be delivering the ‘Hot Topic’ on grace. I’ve submitted a title and catchy tagline for my talk (after all, business appreciates good content). It’s called “Simply Grace – 100% natural with no additives”. I have about 15 to 20 minutes to speak on grace. One of the most difficult things I’ve done is try to squeeze grace into 20 minutes. I have a newfound respect for the preachers I’ve heard speak on the subject. God forbid they go past 20 to 30 minutes and make their worshippers late for lunch…

I’ve spent a lot of time preparing for next week. I’ve finally managed to get my ideas within the time limit but believe me, it hasn’t been easy because everything in my life; every action, every deed, and every experience is about grace.

The older I get and the deeper my relationship with God becomes the more I realize just how much grace I’ve received. My successes and my failures have taught me that grace is enough, and everything is grace – “an unmerited gift”.

Some of you know exactly where I’m coming from. Experience has taught me that a simple prayer, “God, help me”, opens the door to receive the grace that was waiting there all along. Ironically, it was grace that my prayer possible. I couldn’t even muster up the strength to do that on my own.

Life has since become a process of learning to accept the grace I’ve been so freely given. Gratitude, the natural consequence of accepting and living a “grace-full” life. Gratitude makes it easier to set aside old mental tapes and put to death the tired, old lie of self-sufficiency. I see clearly the importance of my fellows and the value of each and every individual I meet. Through gratitude I’m able to share the grace that was so freely given to me.

That’s not to say that I still don’t have my moments: moments when all thought of God’s marvelous gift of grace takes a backseat to my worries and problems. I have moments of self-absorption and self-centered expectations, of myself and others. I still have times when I feel woefully inadequate and undeserving of grace. I always seem to come around though. You see, I am undeserving of God’s grace (Heck, I’m undeserving of grace from most people if I’m honest about it). There is absolutely nothing I can do to earn it. If it could be earned, it wouldn’t be grace. Funny how that works…

I’m fortunate to have daily reminders of God’s grace. I have an amazing family. I get to work with some truly awesome people in my business and with Opal’s Farm. I’m not confused by these reminders. I surely didn’t deserve them. Quite frankly, I’m in awe that I’m even still around. Self-care was not something I was big on until late in life. Some of you know what I mean. I’ve heard it said that God has a big heart for kids and fools. I often fall into the latter category, in case you’re wondering.