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Whatever Happened to the Golden Rule?

Webster’s Dictionary defines nostalgia as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” I usually associate nostalgia with the old guys who long for the good old days when there was little question of white supremacy, where anyone who wasn’t a white male knew their place, and women had no rights over their own bodies. This is not nostalgia. That’s called right-wing conservatism. Thus, I tried to avoid waxing nostalgic.  Besides, I was born at the end of the fifties and I’ve drawn a blank on much of the sixties and seventies…

Fortunately, I found the real definition was much closer to the way I’ve been feeling lately and that folks, is nostalgic. It hasn’t been a longing for my college days or the party life I enjoyed as a young person (which I try NOT to think of, by the way). It’s been something far more trivial in the grand scheme of things. I long for the days when people drove with some degree of civility.

I know that sounds silly, but when I learned how to drive, I was taught to “drive friendly”. That meant acknowledging someone coming the opposite way with a small hand wave, particularly in the neighborhood. It included things like letting people in on the freeway or pulling over to let them pass on a two-lane road (that happened a lot in the country) and thanking them when they did the same for me by waving appreciation. It also meant staying out of the fast lane if I wasn’t passing other vehicles. Fast lanes were “fast” lanes. Don’t slow them down. I don’t know if this was just a Texas thing or not, but civility seems to decline in direct proportion to the influx of new Texas residents moving here each year.

I was coming home from the farm the other day. Traffic was abnormally heavy, and people were more impatient than most days. They’re always impatient – got to get one car link in front of anyone else as if one car link is the difference between life and death. I’m the one who’s often impatient if truth be known. However, this day the Golden Rule popped into my head, and I found myself becoming more patient and at ease.

Most everyone is familiar with “The Golden Rule” – “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the prophets” (Matthew 7.12 – NIV). If you’re my age, we even learned it in school. That simple phrase was a guide for living that somehow came to mean do unto others only like they do unto you. I thought about how that had manifested in my own life and realized how such a misinterpretation made me angry and resentful. I’m at the point in life I really don’t have the time nor the desire to be like that.

I got home and pulled out my Message version of the Bible I like the simple “umph” that comes from a translation closer to the “umph”) of old Aramaic. “Here is a simple rule of thumb guide for behavior. Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get.” (Matthew 7.12 – The Message Bible).

I thought about that over and over. I was looking for some kind of caveat or exception, but I didn’t see one there. It was up to me to treat people the way I wished to be treated no matter what they did. I simply had to act how I wished others would. It’s rocket science. It’s my responsibility and no one else’s.

Ms. Opal always reminds everyone to be a “committee of one” because one person can be the catalyst for change and an example to others. I understand and do that in many areas of life, but I can’t manage it in even the simplest things like driving (Yes, I’ve been guilty of laying on the horn and flying a one finger salute…). It’s the simple things that make the more difficult things go easier. I decided then and there I’d start exercising this simple rule of thumb when I got behind the wheel. If I’m nostalgic for the “good old days” then maybe I can act like it.

An amazing thing has happened over the last few days. I’ve noticed that there are others who drive friendly – the Texas Way – and even appreciate me when I do the same. That makes me feel happy and much more at ease. Maybe it does the same for them.

If you’re new here – welcome. Hopefully, we can show you how to drive friendly too…

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Life Symbols

I was looking for something else when I found this article I wrote four years ago before I was blogging on WordPress. The days mentioned may be a bit off. Time moves the dates to the past but the feelings are still the same…

Thoughts From the Porch: Tomorrow is the astronomical first day of Spring. It’s the unofficial birth certificate for a new season of green grass, new blooms, and, if you live here in Texas, the coming of the bluebonnets. I keep hearing the tender voice of the Teacher saying “behold, I make all things new”. I love Spring…

Today started slowly for me. Not because it’s the dreaded “Monday morning” mind you. Today begged for a slow awakening with the coos of the morning doves and the chatter of the mockingbird on the streetlight across the way. I lingered on the porch a little longer than usual and reveled in the day. Spring Break is over here in Fort Worth. Kids are back in school. I could hear the Star-Spangled Banner and morning announcements playing over the speakers from the school down the street. I may have a long “to-do” list today, but I lingered anyway.

I suppose it’s because Easter will soon be here, the celebration of resurrection came to mind. It’s ironic that the cross became the dominant symbol in Christianity. Historically, it’s based on the vision of the cross that Emperor Constantine claimed led him to victory; and thus, led to conversion and Christianity as the state religion of Rome. That’s probably more information than you needed but suffice it to say that early Christians didn’t focus too much on it. Just saying…

I’m not saying crosses are bad. They make an attractive piece of jewelry and great art. They’re a good reminder of how much God loves us and the sacrifice Jesus made for us. Yet, I wonder if folks concentrate on the wrong symbol. I’d much rather concentrate on life than death. Maybe I should have a stone necklace or empty tombs as artwork on the wall. You know, to remind me I’ve been reborn: that I don’t have to live like I used to; bound up in a self-made prison of resentments and fears. Still, I guess stones around my neck would be too heavy and empty tombs would leave holes in the wall.

It’s easier to remember the crucifixion than the resurrection. I choose to remember resurrection today. I celebrate new life today. Maybe that’s why I’m out on the porch so long today. It’s a pause for the quiet celebration. This morning is a reminder of grace.

I probably harp on grace and its natural outcome, gratitude, far too much. The more I experience God’s grace, the more I experience gratitude, and the more I want to share that grace. So please bear with me, gentle reader, but I can’t help it. Besides, life seems so much simpler when experienced with grace and gratitude. Simple things for simple people…

I guess I’ve come to see different symbols of grace in my life today. The empty tomb of Easter morning is more indicative of my life today than a cross. I want to be a “resurrection person” today. I want to be full of the joy and freedom that comes with this new life. I want to “have life abundantly”. I believe it’s possible.

My prayer this morning is that because I’ve received this new life, this grace, I will in turn become more “grace-full”: less judgmental and more forgiving, less sarcastic and more affirming, less fearful and more vulnerable.

I’m not going to wait to celebrate Easter. I think I’ll start today…

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Joel Says…

It’s an exceptionally brilliant sunny morning here in Cowtown. The sun reflecting off the snow-covered lawns makes everything brighter. It won’t stick around too long as the forecast calls for a warming trend this coming week. The long-awaited precipitation is welcome news to Opal’s Farm and the rest of North Central Texas. We’re moving deeper into a drought phase, so even snow and ice are welcome (if the power stays on anyway…)

Most folks here were not looking forward to this recent cold snap. The power outages, broken pipes, water shortages, and deaths from last year’s major freeze were still too fresh. Everyone was afraid of a repeat this year. The rest of the country must’ve been watching as well. Momma called from Kentucky to make sure we were okay – North Texas made the national news. I’m somewhat embarrassed that everyone doubts Texans can survive a couple of inches of snow and freezing temperatures, but after last year I understand.

The ice and snow are on there way out and it’ll be seventy degrees by next weekend. Our family stayed warm with no power outages, broken pipes, or water shutoffs. The winter crops survived the cold and life goes on here in Cowtown. If truth be told, a couple of days of Arctic blast just aren’t that big of a deal, but I’m grateful to be inside this morning and to have time to read and write…

I reread the Book of Joel for this morning’s meditation. When I was a kid, I very proudly told everyone that our family was in the Bible. I made up a lot of stories about my heritage and who I was so I could feel some value to my schoolmates. I may not have known much about my birth family when I was a kid, so I embellished the lineage of my adopted one. That’s another story for another day…

Back to the Book of Joel…

Joel is probably one of the truly “minor” minor prophets. He doesn’t talk about exciting things like invading foreign powers or wars, you know, the big stuff. Instead, he writes about an invasion of locusts that have left the country destitute and hungry. His story would likely be buried a few pages deep in today’s newspapers. Bugs and hungry people don’t sell advertising very well, particularly when they’re somewhere “over there”. Honestly, I never paid him much mind even if we did share a name.

(Aside – As an adult I now know I’m completely unrelated to him. His father’s name was Pethuel. There is no one in my family tree by that name…)

Locust swarms aren’t a large concern here in Texas like they are in the Middle East and Africa. We had a serious bout with grasshoppers and couple of year ago – that was bad enough – but they didn’t put a huge dent in our harvests at Opal’s Farm. It was annoying to walk the rows and be hit by large, jumping grasshoppers or throw peas away because they’d been chewed on: I can’t imagine what it must be like to have swarms so big they block out the sun, hinder movement, and eat everything in sight like they do in other parts of the world.

Joel’s words echo today. Substitute climate change or social justice for the plague of locust and not much has changed in 2500 years. I watch the news – wildfires that grow bigger each year, hungry kids, systemic racism, and raging pandemics. I can easily echo Joel’s initial despair.

“God! I pray and cry out to you! The fields are burning up. The country is a dust bowl, forest and prairie fires rage unchecked. Wild animals dying of thirst, looking to you for a drink. Springs and streams are dried up. The whole country is burning up. Joel 1.19-20

“Shake the country up… A black day! A doomsday! Clouds with no silver lining!” Joel 2.1-2

It’s a bleak picture, but…

“But there’s also this, it’s not too late – God’s personal message! – ‘Come back to me and really mean it! Come fasting and weeping, sorry for your sins!’ Change your life, not just your clothes…

Fear not Earth! Be glad and celebrate! God has done great things. He’s giving you a teacher to train you how to live right” Joel 2.12-13, 21-23

“I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people… Whoever calls, Help, God! Gets help. Joel 2. 28,31 (The Message)

Joel offers choices and hope for what appears to be a bleak future. That’s what I hope to do today. Take actions that offer hope – whether it be the regenerative farming we practice at Opal’s Farm or the unity we try to build in the fight against racism and hate.

I know I’m not alone either and that’s gives me hope.

Photo by Wendy Wei on Pexels.com
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Not Today…

Today was supposed to be the big day for my wife, Margaret. She’s dealt with severe, chronic pain in her neck and her back for quite some time. Her long awaited surgery to relieve some of the pain was supposed to take place today, but COVID reared its ugly head and has put it off once again. We got the call late last night that her pre-surgery COVID test had come back positive, and the surgery would have to be rescheduled.

This was a devasting blow to us both. The surgery was scheduled in September of last year – that’s how long it took to schedule a surgical suite. COVID pushed many “elective” surgeries off schedule – just because it isn’t life threatening means it’s elective. “Elective” loses its meaning when it comes to living in constant pain and drastically limited mobility. There’s no telling how long this will take to reschedule.

We had both prepared ourselves emotionally and physically for this surgery. All the pre-op steps were followed and now plans are again on hold. Any time we’re talking about an 8-10-hour surgery there’s some degree of emotional preparedness. It’s scary and stressful even though the hoped-for results are beneficial. All Margaret could do was cry when the call came last night.

We are mightily disappointed, but our faith has made this somewhat easier to bear. God’s timing is always perfect. We know that, but it doesn’t take away the frustration and stress the situation creates. The sad thing about all of this is that Margaret and I are fully vaccinated and boosted. I’ve tested a couple of times in the few weeks leading up to the 1st just in case. We’ve been extremely careful to wear masks and maintain social distancing. Unfortunately, we live in a place where very few people follow the CDC safety protocols maintaining that it’s their “right” to be inconsiderate of others.

I suppose that’s why I feel so angry right now – so much of the death and misery of COVID could have been prevented. Margaret could be on her way back to pain relief if simple measures could’ve been taken by us all. Vaccination, masking, and social distancing should never have been a “rights” issue. It should have never been a political issue. It should have always been a public health problem addressed by scientific fact and more than anything else, should have been a cooperative effort by our community to save lives and save us from the tyranny of the pandemic. Knowing this could have been prevented but there are those who think it’s their “right” to be selfish fools and refuse common sense and care for others infuriates me – especially when they choose to wear the moniker of Christian.

“Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of status no matter what. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and the died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that – a crucifixion.” Phillipians 2.5-8 (The Message)

What you do today doesn’t only affect you…

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Don’t Be an A-hole

It’s cold in my office today. I left the bar up on the patio door and Sadie, our lovable, sweet dog, decided something was important enough to warrant exterior investigation. She’s incredibly bright. She can open the door if she bends her paw just right. Unfortunately, she hasn’t figured out how to close it. The door was open this morning. The overnight low was twenty-one degrees. The coffee is appreciated more than ever…

I figured I’d warm up the fingers by writing an update on what’s happening at the Joel household I finally received my COVID test results back and they were negative. I figured they would be but it’s possible to be asymptomatic and still pass it on to others. My wife is having major surgery on February 1st, so I’ve been extra careful to avoid bringing COVID home. It took almost five months to get an open surgical room. COVID would put it off again and we definitely don’t want that.

My work is not just the food. It’s ultimately about unity between all people regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual preference, gender identity, and abilities. So, I’ve weighed heavily on writing something that’s divisive. The whole of our culture is divided right now. The last thing everyone needs is another divisive rant. Sometimes loving others requires saying what needs to be heard. Even Jesus got pissed-off about the moneychangers in the Temple.

I’d like to think I’m accepting (albeit begrudgingly at times) of everyone, but that would be a lie. Lately, even begrudgingly doesn’t work anymore. Case in point: Margaret and I have had all our COVID vaccinations, I always wear a mask, and maintain social distance when I do have to go into a store (usually Home Depot – it’s been my toy store for years…). We try to do all the things recommended by doctors and epidemiologists to stop the spread of COVID – for both ourselves and others in particular.

Last night I had to go in to pick up a dinner order that we’d ordered for carry-out. It wasn’t ready and I had to wait. An unmasked gentleman (and I use the term loosely) came up behind me – right behind me mind you – I’m not sure there was even two feet between us. He was close enough to feel his breath on my shoulders. I moved over to the corner to put some space between us. When he finished ordering he also moved into the corner, crowding me again.

I’m irritated when anyone gets in my personal space even in pre-pandemic times, but even more so now. I moved again and he moved closer to speak with his son. I moved once again. So did he. That’s when I could take no more. I looked at him and said, “Sir, you need to back off”.

He looked surprised. I continued, “I need you to maintain some social distance please. My wife is having surgery and I can’t risk taking anything home”.  Everyone was looking at me. Two of the folks that had masks on and nodded approval (two people in a room full of employees and diners). His son murmured “what a dick” and they took a couple of steps back – not six feet though. My food was ready so I got out of there as quickly as I could.

My wife was watching National Geographic documentary called “The First Wave” when I got home. It’s about the first months of pandemic when New York City was the epicenter for COVID. It followed doctors and patients through overwhelmed hospitals during the first wave. We ate dinner and I continued to watch (even though I had a ton of work to do). I became both saddened and angry to watch the death rate soar while healthcare providers shared the emotions that come with helplessness and over-work. Their valiant efforts could not overcome the effects of the disease and they watched friends and patients die and the grief of loved ones who couldn’t even say goodbye. I wept at the loss and frustration.

Sadness quickly turned to anger when I thought of that yahoo at the restaurant. Two years after “The First Wave” we’re still fighting COVID because so many refuse to mask, get vaccinated, or maintain social distance – all the things that would have slowed the pandemic, saved lives, and made of everyone safer – and their refusal is based on their “right” not to do so. Right-wing politicians in many states, like our Governor “COVID” Abbott, have made mask or vaccination mandates illegal. Playing to the Republican-Trump base is more important than saving lives…

This isn’t about politics, our “rights” or “the mark of the beast” people. It’s about having some concern for the common good, for all our friends and neighbors. It’s about not being an ass-hole and “thinking of others more highly than yourself (I read that in a book somewhere). I don’t like wearing a mask, but I do – not even so much for me but for others. I don’t like having to stand back from friends that I normally hug when I see them. If I’m honest, I’m a sissy when it comes to shots. I hate them, but guess what? I’ve had ALL my vaccinations – COVID and everything else as well. Follow the science people and exercise some common courtesy…

Facts no longer change minds and there is little communication, real communication, going on between those on either side of the issue (unless yelling at each other is considered communication. Common courtesy is not that common anymore. The one hope I have is that there are many others choosing to do the right thing – the courteous, wise, and selfless thing. That’s personal choice that’s good for everyone. Remember, don’t be an a-hole

Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko on Pexels.com

A side note: The new Omnicron variant is far more infectious although early data shows it may not be as deadly – at least for the vaccinated. Many doctors are now saying it’s not if you catch the virus, it’s when.