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“Schadenfreude – pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.”

I have a standing meeting on Sunday morning from 9AM to 10PM. I love to listen to National Public Radio on the way home because “Hidden Brain” is on air with the host, Shankar Vedantam. I’m fascinated by the topics and most all, by the science of why we do the things we do. More importantly, the things we have in common are far more numerous than anything that divides us. Today’s topic, envy, was no different.

Envy has a poor reputation. It made the infamous ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ list. Depending on who makes up the list, it usually ranks second or third on a scale of one to seven. No one wants to admit feeling envious, but we all do it from time to time.

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There are instances envy can have positive consequences. When used for social comparison it can motivate action leading to positive change that brings about happiness – ‘I wish I had what you had so I’m going to do what you did in order achieve it’. This is benign envy. It may be frustrating at times but leads toward action that is generally positive. It’s upside of the very human emotion of envy.

The other side is the one we are most familiar with: malicious envy. It’s the kind of envy that wants to pull a superior person down. That’s where schadenfreude, envy’s evil cousin, comes in – pleasure at another’s misfortune, laughing at another’s failure.

I could go into all the science, psychology, and sociology that explains envy, especially schadenfreude, but I’ll leave that to the experts. I couldn’t help but think about the Biblical story of Cain and Able. The story explains, either parabolically or literally, how envy reared its ugly head in human society.

The book of Genesis tells of two brothers, Cain, the older brother, and Abel, the younger of the two. Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd. Cain would offer the first fruits of his produce in sacrifice to God. Abel would offer the “firstborn animals of his herd, choice cuts of meat”. For whatever reason God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s. I often cited this story as the reason I didn’t like vegetables growing up! God obviously is not a vegan.

Anyway, Cain was peeved that he didn’t measure up (there’s the social comparison thing – kind of like ancient Facebook). He headed for his room and sulked. “God spoke to Cain: Why this tantrum? Why the sulking? If you do well, won’t you be accepted? And if you don’t do well, sin is lying in wait for you, ready to pounce; it’s out to get you, you’ve got to master it.” (Genesis 4.6-7 The Message).

I can only imagine what Cain was thinking, but I’ve been there, as much as I hate to admit it. We all have at one point or another. Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian denomination I get it. I know what it’s like to ‘never measure up’. I could never be ‘good’ enough to get on God’s good side. It wasn’t until many years later I discovered that there was absolutely nothing I could do anyway, nor did I have to. God’s good side is called grace and it is totally free. It can’t be earned, but that another story…

Most of us know the rest of the story. Cain experiences a severe case of schadenfreude. He not only wants to pull Abel down: Cain kills his own brother. Envy, malicious envy, puts Abel in the ground. Cain tries to deny his involvement, but ultimately faces the consequences of his action. I’ve been there.

In my younger years I chased a lot of pipe dreams out of envy and delighted in schadenfreude when those I viewed as competitors failed. I’m glad Facebook and social media wasn’t available back then. Comparison to the projected images on social media would have killed me. There’s no way I could ever measure up.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve experienced envy and schadenfreude far less than I used to. It may simply be the result of getting older and hopefully, wiser. Robert Fulghum once wrote that one day he walked out to the mailbox in his old bathrobe, bunny slippers, and bedhead hair and didn’t care what others thought of him. He said it’s either “going to seed” or “the beginning of wisdom”. I can relate.

It’s not that I don’t care what others think of me. It’s that I have no energy or time left for chasing images. I’m content with reality these days. Life is simpler, full of gratitude, and drama-free. My quiet time on the porch and my days at the farm are filled with peace and serenity. Life is good…

Ultimately, it’s not important what you think of me or even what I think of me. The most important thing is what God thinks of me. Because of his grace, I know He not only loves me, but He’s especially fond of me. I don’t have to compare myself to anyone else, because He’s especially fond of all His kids.

I maintain a presence on social media. I have a business and Opal’s Farm. Heck, my blog even gets posted on them. I simply wish others well when they get to have fabulous vacations to exotic places. I don’t get the check-ins and pictures of dinner, but I still get envious when I see someone eating a pint of Bluebell Chocolate ice cream…

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What’s the Difference Between “Us” and “Them” (Part One)

Before I proceed with today’s post I want to wish my bride a very Happy Anniversary! I am one of the most blessed men in the world. When I was single, I didn’t think life could get much better. I was happy and content. My life was full, it was good, but it changed for the better on March 2nd, 2013. I love you, Margaret!

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This morning I’m awaiting what hopefully will be the last hard freeze of the winter. I’m enjoying the forty-degree weather in anticipation of the arrival of our Arctic neighbor sometime this evening with its accompanying wind chills in single digits. It looks like coveralls and wool hats are the proper attire for the next couple of days.

I try to stay away from my newsfeed on the weekend. It’s often difficult given my news addiction. I’ve tried to practice moderation in viewing such things, but I always look despite my best efforts. I feel like the rubber-neckers on the freeway when there’s an especially bad accident. I just have to look.

My friend Jim used to tell me that, “when you get hit by a train it’s not the caboose that kills you”. My newsfeeds a bit like that train. Usually it’s one of those positive stories like people being kind toward strangers or animals that draws me in and then BAM! I’m confronted with the chaos that makes up the news. After all, I live in Trump’s America. Enough said.

What really puzzles me is that, first, he actually won the election and two, that some people actually believe him. It got me thinking about human nature and an interview I heard the other day about animal consciousness and self-awareness. You’re probably wondering how we got here from news addiction, but stick with me…

I’ve often pondered what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. I’ve heard all the theories – free will, self-awareness, etc. – and seen them cast aside by new evidence. Now I’m no expert or scientist, but I often wonder if the main difference is that humans can believe a lie, especially one about themselves. Hear me out here…

It began at the dawn in human history, at least that what the creation story tells us. It seems that God, the great cosmic artist, was extra busy one week (at least in His concept of time) and started creating this thing called a universe. There were stars and galaxies, planets and moons, and all kinds of beauty in the heavens. The cherubim and seraphim oohed and aahed at the artistry, but He wasn’t done yet.

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He picked one particular planet (that we know of anyway) to make oceans and mountains, savannahs and thick forests, all kinds of unique plants and animals. The angelic hosts were astounded by the majesty of the blue whales, the brilliance of the reef fish, and cunning of the sea otters. They laughed at the giraffes and the platypus and wondered what lit this creative fire in the Big Guy. After a few days of sculpting God announced that the grand finale would be tomorrow, and He wouldn’t disappoint.

The dawn of the sixth day broke. All the heavenly host gathered round. A hush fell over the crowd as God reached down and grabbed a handful of dirt. He spit on the mound of dirt and slowly began shaping and turning the wet pile. After some time, He closed his hand, cleared his throat, and addressed the assembly.

 “Can I have your attention please? I decided to create a creature in our image, one to love and take care of the rest of creation, and I’d like you all to help him out. Can you do that?”. Heads nodded in agreement and the anticipation was overwhelming.

God slowly opened His hand. “Behold, Homo Sapiens”!

A collective gasp resounded through the crowd. Some of the less reverent Cheribum snickered, wondering if this was another of the Boss’ jokes. Everywhere else there was stunned silence. The Archangel Gabriel leaned over to his cohort Michael and whispered, “He must’ve been working too hard. What was He thinking? This thing is next to worthless. Look at it, it doesn’t have claws or fangs and it obviously can’t run fast with just two legs. How will it survive out there?”

Even Jesus was heard to remark, “I don’t get it but if Dad asked me to die for them I would”.

Now I’m no theologian, but I think it’s at this point Satan turned in his keys to the executive heavenly washroom and stormed off mumbling “I’d rather be a snake in the grass than help those things out”. More on that later…

God leaned back on his heavenly throne and pronounced His creation was finished and it was good, not perfect, but good.

Fast forward a bit and God decides it isn’t good for His man Adam to be alone, so He knocks him out, takes a rib, and forms a woman for him to hang out with. Then He puts them in a garden, so they have a great place to live and all their needs are met.

Now if I’m Adam, I have it pretty good. I get to frolic around naked with this gorgeous woman called Eve and hang out with God in the evenings. There’s no such thing as shame or guilt. I can pretty much do anything I want to except eat off this one tree. Talk about paradise…

Everything is going long fine. Adam’s off doing whatever Adam did back then. Eve’s lounging in the shade when a snake slithers up and strikes up a conversation. Now a talking snake might have set of warning lights for most folks, but Eve didn’t think anything about it.

“S-s-s-o Eve, how do you like the garden?”, the serpent asked.

“This place is pure heaven”, she replied. “Every day is a new adventure.”

“I-m s-s-s-sure it is”, he hissed. “Well, I best be on my way”.

“Wait, snake. Are you hungry? Want to join me in a little snack?”

“What are we having?”, he asked as he turned back toward Eve.

“I don’t know. There’s so much to choose from. What’s your favorite?”

“How about some of that fruit there?” he asked excitedly.

“Oh, not that one. God said we can eat anything except fruit from that tree”, Eve replied innocently.

“I’m not s-s-s-surprised”, said the serpent. “It’s just like God to keep you away from that one. He doesn’t want any competition”.

“Competition. What do you mean?” Eve was puzzled.

“It’s obvious isn’t it? That fruit will make you like God. No wonder he made it off limits. Oh well, I got to go”, and he slithered off into the underbrush.

Eve pondered his words and a frown came on her face and an irritability she hadn’t experienced before. She wasn’t happy and it probably had something with being told no. She looked at the fruit and turned to look for Adam. She was overcome with desire and indecision.

Please understand I’m not here to expound on ‘original sin’, assign blame to Eve, or any of that stuff, but I have a pretty good idea what happened next. Adam came back and wondered why Eve looked so different. He wasn’t sure what to think, but he somehow knew he had to fix it. Men have been trying to ‘fix’ things ever since.

To make a long story short, they discussed what the snake had said and made a decision to “just take a bite” and see what happened. Man has been trying to be “God” all through history.

I don’t know which was worse – eating the forbidden fruit or believing they could become like gods. In either case, the results are the same: paradise is lost, living in the real world is often difficult, and the human possess the ability to believe in something that just isn’t true. I’m just saying…

(Part Two tomorrow)

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Happy Anniversary My Dear

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s a wee bit chilly on the porch this morning. Overcast skies make for a dreary opening for the month of March. The good news is that I saw my first Robin this week. They tend to be a more accurate predictor of Spring. It may be cold but today is the unofficial beginning of Spring in my book. It’s time to get busy.

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I’ve been a bit reflective of the last six years. You see, tomorrow Margaret and I will have been married six years. It’s hard to believe. It’s sounds so cliché to say it seems like yesterday, but in a way it does. On the other hand, my life without my beautiful wife seems like eons ago. That’s a good thing. I can’t imagine life without my bride.

I love telling the story of our “whirlwind” relationship. We started dating on December 1st and got married three month later. I tend to leave out the part that we’d been friends for many years prior to dating. It’s more romantic that way.

I also tend to leave out the part about my proposal. It wasn’t so romantic. Fortunately, when you get married in your fifties, practicality has its own rewards. I debated whether I should include that part in this post, but since many of our friends know about it anyway, here goes…

Margaret and I were at my house getting ready to go out to a recovery function. We were running late so both of us were in the bathroom getting ready. We were in rather inglorious positions, she was getting ready and me shirtless, shaving away. It felt a bit like an old, married couple. I laughed to myself, looked at Margaret and said, “You want to get married?”

She looked over and said, “Are you serious?”

I looked back at her. She looked radiant, despite the awkwardness of our locale. “Yeah, I think so”. The rest my friends, is history.

She still teases me to this day about my ‘romantic’ proposal. I freely admit it wasn’t one of my stellar moments, but it was the most important question I ever asked in my life. The trajectory of my life changed in the bathroom that day and it definitely changed for the better.

There are a couple of reasons I’m sharing this story today. One is that we both had been single for many years prior to our marriage. Each of us had reached a point where we thought that’s the way it would be, and we were each okay with it. Life was good, but companionship would be great and love even greater. We were both complete human beings loving the gift of life and recovery as precious children of God. We were happy and content just the way we were. We didn’t need someone to feel whole. Had we started dating earlier (and believe me, I thought Margaret was hot and way out of my league), neither of us would have been ready for the relationship we have today. It was on God’s time and not ours.

Sometimes it feels like God’s time passes far too slowly. I always want answers to life’s questions now, but it rarely works that way. I knew how to fail in marriage, but I had no clue as to how to have a successful one. If I’m honest, the only thing I knew for sure was what I didn’t want in a relationship. Experience was a great teacher in that regard. Like Tom Petty sang, “the waiting is the hardest part”.

Looking back, I had so much to learn and it took a lot of growth, both personally and spiritually, to even be ready to meet someone special like Margaret. I had to be led through the process of “becoming”. By the time we began dating I had grown in my relationship with God and, consequentially, was ready for someone like Margaret. Patience truly is a virtue. What I’m trying to say is that Valentine’s Day may not be your favorite holiday when you’re single, but it becomes one when you learn to treat yourself as worthy of love.

Secondly, even the simplest, most awkward of times can be holy moments. I often think of how I would’ve liked to have proposed to Margaret. I really can be romantic at times. Still, I wouldn’t change a thing if it meant life would be any different. Margaret and I married eight days later. I was scheduled for a craniotomy to remove an AVM that was bleeding in my head. Even though it was to be a routine brain surgery by one of Fort Worth’s most respected neurosurgeons I couldn’t fathom the idea of passing away without Margaret being my wife. Our friends came together and planned a beautiful wedding in that time. Over a hundred of them came to our wedding and we love each them dearly.

Thinking about tomorrow I find myself wishing to shower Margaret with gifts, kisses, and thanks. I can do the wishes and the thanks, but the gifts are going to be slim. We are struggling financially right now so I can commit all my efforts to our non-profit for the farm. We prayed about it and know this is what God wants us to do. That never would have happened in my past life – the prayer that is. God orders our steps today. That’s what makes ours a wonderful marriage – God is the center of it. The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “a rope of three cords is not easily broken”. Thanks to my beautiful, thoughtful, and loving wife for making a home of three cords: God, Margaret, and I…

One of my favorite pictures
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A Day for Grace

“grace”

(Entry 1 of 2)

1a: unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification

b: a virtue coming from God

c: a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance

2a: APPROVALFAVOR stayed in his good graces

B archaic : MERCYPARDON

c: a special favor : PRIVILEGE each in his place, by right, not grace, shall rule his heritage— Rudyard Kipling

d: disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency

e: a temporary exemption: REPRIEVE

3a: a charming or attractive trait or characteristic”

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

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Grace. Do I really believe it’s possible to receive “unmerited divine assistance”? Do I really believe that I’ve been granted “approval, favor, mercy, and pardon”; that somehow, I’ve received “a special favor”? Do I show a “disposition to kindness, courtesy, or clemency”? Is grace the “attractive trait or characteristic” of my life?

Have a grace-filled day!

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Super Sunday… not

Thoughts from the Porch: It’s the last day of January. It felt like it on the porch. Still, I can enjoy my porch time unlike our neighbors to the north. The record low temperatures remind me how lucky I am to be a Texan where we complain about the cold when the high is in the forties, not forty below. Prayers of warmth are being sent up for the folks in the Midwest. Hang in there, guys…

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Being from Texas, I’m genetically predisposed to be a football fan. Football is most certainly a religion here. Our football fervor has inspired countless books, several movies and even a television series, “Friday Night Lights”. Visit any small town on Friday nights in the Fall and you’ll see what I mean. In the big cities there are multi-million dollars high school stadiums filled with frenzied fans. Winning coaches and star players are often held in the same worshipful regard as Davy Crockett and the heroes of the Alamo. Fans know the stats of every player on the home team. For a few months of the year, football is king.

When I moved to Colorado in my early teen years, I was baffled that high school football seemed to take a back seat to basketball. My dad informed me that football wasn’t revered by the heathens north of the Red River. Though that might have been true about high school, it didn’t seem to apply to pro ball. Denver Bronco fans were intense! Colorado had some redeeming qualities after all!

For many years, my Sunday afternoons were spent at either the stadium or in front of the television. I was happy to play Monday morning quarterback with coworkers and friends. God forbid that I ever miss a Super Bowl, regardless of whether my teams were playing. I was a football fan!

This coming Sunday is Super Bowl LIII. It’s unlikely I’ll be tuning in except to see the new crop of Super Bowl commercials for the year. They’re far more entertaining even if they are about rampant consumerism. Things have changed over the years. I may see part of one or two games per season, if I think about it. Watching for a few minutes seems to be a waste of time. It’s just not the same.

I still make high school games. I love the school spirit, the energy, and the love of the game. High school players still play ball because they enjoy it; for the most part anyway. People still fill the stadium because that’s what we do: support our kids, yell at the opponents, and then go out for dinner with them after the game. There’s a certain purity to that.

I don’t follow professional football much. Not only are the Dallas Cowboys (my favorite team) absent from the playoffs most years, watching a bunch of prima donnas do put on end zone theatrics, kind of turns my stomach. It’s far more about money and celebrity than it is love of the game. Real players and role models are few and far between.

I have mixed emotions about the sport today. The medical community has begun to understand the long-term consequences of the game. It’s not just bad knees and back problems anymore. There’s traumatic brain injury and early onset dementia to think about. I sometimes wonder if allowing my son to play was in his best interests. His college scholarship hopes were cut short by an injury during his senior year.

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Despite his injuries, I still believe in high school football and the purity of the game. He learned a lot about teamwork, sportsmanship, and perseverance playing ball. Watching most (not all, mind you) pro players today those things seem to be absent. I have no desire to give my time or my dollars to such foolishness.

So, this Sunday will find me working around the house, catching a movie on Netflix, or sleeping in my recliner. You won’t find me watching the “Big Game” but, if it’s a Friday night in November, you might just see me under the Friday night lights.

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Cemeteries and Rodeos

Thoughts From the Porch: Yesterday would have been my father’s ninety-third birthday. He passed in 2002 and nary a day goes by that I don’t miss him. Even after sixteen years there are days when grief feels overwhelming. I often stop by the cemetery on my way to and from so I can sit and “talk” to him. It’s a great way to work through the grief I feel some days.

One can argue that the cemetery is a resting place for the body only. For those that share my religious faith it’s understood that Dad’s spirit probably left that place to go wherever it is that our spirits go after death. It may sound childish, but I believe it’s a place for our spirits to be together.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead says something to the effect that when one with a great soul passes, a strong wind will begin to blow. I remember stepping outside the hospital to have a smoke after he had passed. A blustery wind made it almost impossible to light my cigarette. I was so overcome with grief that I didn’t put two and two together until a cemetery visit some time later.

On that particular visit, I had come to read my father a letter I’d written acknowledging the fact that I had caused a lot of harm while in my active addiction. In my program of recovery, it’s called “making amends” a cleaning up of the wreckage of my past. Some may doubt that amends, the process of amending or righting a wrong, can be made to someone who has passed away. My experience that day says otherwise.

I stood in front of the headstone, wiping away the tears, and reading my letter. The details of my letter are deeply personal and between Dad and me. Suffice it to say that my father was an incredible man who loved me dearly and I never gave him much to work with as a son. It wasn’t until he was gone that I realized his greatness.

People often said that he was my chief enabler and, while that may be true, it was his love that showed me what God’s love was all about. As frustrated, and oft-times angry, as he could become with me, he never stopped loving (or forgiving) me. I can’t think of a better example of how the God of endless grace loves me…

I finished my letter. The tears began to subside. I looked up and the wind began to swirl around me. It had been still just a moment ago.

Our family plot is in an older part of the cemetery surrounded by beautiful old oak trees. I mention this because as the wind swirled about, I could see that none of the tree limbs were moving. That’s when it hit me: “when one with a great soul passes, a strong wind will begin to blow.” Dad was telling me one more time, “It’s okay. I forgive you and I love you more than you can ever know. Keep doing what you’re doing.”

I think of that day often, especially when life shows up with all its occasional difficulties. If Dad, a mere human, can love me that much – how much more so can the Creator of the Universe love me?

I’ve been thinking about Dad a lot this week. Not only was it his birthday, but the Stock Show and Rodeo opens on Friday. After Dad retired from the railroad, he would work the Harley Street gate for the Stock Show every year. He would be there a week before the show and a week after, so for a month straight he worked twelve-hour days. We usually didn’t celebrate his birthday until afterwards because he just came home, ate, and went to bed. As tired as he was, especially as he got older, he wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

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Since 1918, the Fort Worth Stock Show was called the Southwestern Exposition and “Fat” Stock Show. Now it’s just the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. I’m not sure why they changed it. I guess it’s no longer politically correct to call livestock fat. Maybe “weight-challenged” is more acceptable. I’m not sure Dad would approve. Cows are supposed to be fat and it violates tradition. Dad was big on tradition…

Saturday I’ll watch the annual Stock Show Parade and I’ll think of Dad. Afterwards, I might go by the cemetery on the way home. It’s no surprise that Saturday is supposed to be a really windy day…