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Spartans and Teamwork

Thoughts from the Porch: Summer is officially here. The summer equinox is in the rear-view mirror. The days will grow shorter though no one will notice (or care) for the next three months. While we normally experience summer drought, this year has kept the rains coming into June. We had another huge thunderstorm last night. It’s the third Sunday in a row for North Texas. I am eternally grateful for the rain as we’re still working on irrigation for the farm. I could do without the straight-line winds though. I’ll be clearing out tree limbs for the next couple of hours…

I had the privilege of attending my first Spartan race this Saturday at AT&T Stadium (Home of the Dallas Cowboys or “Jerryworld” as it’s known locally). I didn’t realize what a big deal a Spartan race is. The fact they were holding it at the stadium should’ve been a clue. There were folks from all over the country racing Saturday. The first competitors started early in the morning and they were still starting racers when I left at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon.

The Second Obstacle – makes me dizzy thinking about it…

My oldest son, Adrian, started running and working out regularly again. Last month he ran his first 5K in twenty years and finished first in his age group. I was proud of him and quite impressed! Saturday he was more concerned about simply finishing and helping other team members than where he placed in the race. I’m far more impressed by his heart than I am by his race time.

Over the first wall…

He formed a team with several other guys that shared the same race coach for the day. Although they hadn’t meet each other before the race, they bonded as a team and helped one another through a grueling race and obstacle course. One of the team members struggled and fell farther behind than the others. Finally, the rest of the team had to press forward, leaving him behind with the team coach. The other members went on to complete the course.

Finished the First One!

Adrian crossed the finish line and we celebrated together. Then he returned to the field to join the rest of his team look for the one runner still on the course. When he entered the field from the punishing run up and down the stairs at AT&T Stadium his team members were there to cheer him on.

Then an amazing thing happened…

The other team members joined him on the course to complete the final obstacles alongside him. It may not seem like a big deal, but understand, these guys had already completed the course. They were tired and sore. Most importantly, they didn’t have to do it. They ran through the remaining three obstacles and crossed the finish line together – as a team!

None of these guys had met before Saturday. The only thing they had in common was the Spartan coach they’d each paid extra for. Still, they became a real team. They were there for each other; the perfect example of sportsmanship.

Running and racing is generally thought of as an individual, not a team, sport. Adrian and his fellows reminded me one more time of the importance of teamwork. No one is left behind and forgotten simply because “I” finished. It’s about finishing together and relying on each other. I truly am my brother’s keeper and not just at a Spartan race…

I will remember Adrian’s example more than I’ll ever remember his race time. Thank you, Son for the reminder of what’s truly important. Individual accomplishments are great, but team accomplishments, what we do together as a community, mean the most. I’m proud of you, Son!

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Listen More, Talk Less…

Thoughts From the Porch: I’m posting this on my business website as well as the Opal’s Farm Facebook Page. Please bear with me as it has a bit more to do with Opal’s Farm than just produce. It’s a personal note on what the farm and working for Unity Unlimited, Inc. has meant to me for the last year.

 It’s been two weeks of running! Harvest is coming in at Opal’s Farm. Saturday was the big celebration at TCC South campus with the parade, the entertainment, and seminars and activities all day long. One of our partners and sponsors, the Tarrant Area Food Bank, gave away a semi-trailer full of food to the community.

Fort Worth Juneteenth Parade 2019

The Juneteenth events over the last ten days will culminate with “Juneteenth: The Play” at Will rogers Auditorium tomorrow evening. Tickets are still available, and proceeds benefit Opal’s Farm. Go to Opal’s Farm Facebook page or to www.juneteenthftw.com for details and tickets. It will be a delightful, entertaining, and educational evening. Most of you know that the Fort Worth Juneteenth celebrations are a huge part of what our parent non-profit organization, Unity Unlimited, Inc. does each year.

For those of you who have no idea what Juneteenth is…

“Juneteeth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.   Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.” www.juneteenthftw.com

Just a part of the Tarrant Area Food Bank’s Juneteenth contribution
A semi-load of free food for the community

Some Back Story…

One of my favorite authors is Donald Miller. My minister friend, Rusty, had mentioned him in passing one time. I was browsing through the bookstore and came upon Miller’s book, “Blue Like Jazz”. After reading the author’s note at the beginning I bought a copy. I read it through in a couple of sittings the first time. I read it much slower a couple of times after that. I found someone who vocalized much of my spiritual walk; things I always wanted to say and simply could not find a way to do so. I think I own the whole Donald Miller catalogue these days…

In “Blue Like Jazz”, Miller tells the story of a “confession booth” he and his friends built at Reed College. A Google search of Reed College will say three main things about the school. First, is its academic reputation as one of the best liberal arts schools in the nation. Second, its liberal political reputation. Third, its permissive policy toward open drug use and parties. Long story short – it doesn’t harbor a large “Christian” student population. Intellectual pursuits (and a bit of drug-induced fun) are often at odds with religious belief.

Miller and a few of his like-minded followers of Jesus had an idea: set up a “confession booth”, not to take confessions but offer them as evidence of Christianity’s failings and crimes against humanity – things like the Crusades, slavery, and Native American genocide. I won’t bore you with the details (you really should read the book!), but I’ve always loved the idea. Maybe if much of Christianity was honest enough to admit they’ve screwed up horribly, genuinely attempt to make amends, then they might have some real good news to share.  (Disclaimer: The Christian “right” doesn’t speak for many followers of the Rabbi) Just saying…

I mention it because I’ve thought a lot about confession this morning. In the Twelve Step tradition, introspection, ownership of one’s actions (good or bad), and admission (confession if you will) to God and another human being are essential to grow spiritually. Spiritual growth and building a solid relationship with a Higher Power are essential to recovery. Moreover, confession allows us to make amends, or make things right, so forgiveness and recovery (and in this instance, community) can take place. It’s essential to recovery, our spirit, and the humility that’s as critical as food and water are to the body.

My work with Unity Unlimited, Inc, Opal’s Farm, and Ms. Opal herself has led to deep introspection over the last year. I haven’t always liked what I’ve seen. I’m acutely aware of how old tapes play in my head. I’ve also learned the value of listening. My Dad used to tell me that I was given one mouth and two ears so I could listen twice as much as I speak. I must confess I don’t do that well.

Please forgive my unwillingness to truly listen. Today I will listen and be a friend and an ally. I’ll seek to learn from other’s struggles so that I too can walk the path toward freedom. Fannie Lou Hamer once said that none of us are free until all of us are free. I guess that’s why the last week of Juneteenth celebrations have affected so deeply. When I fail to listen, I rob myself of the chance for emancipation from old ideas and blind myself to new possibilities.

I believe in the old saying that “confession is good for the soul”. I look forward to taking our walk together.

Thanks to our partner for Opal’s Far – the Tarrant Regional Water District!
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Happy Father’s Day!

Yesterday was an amazing (and extremely lo-o-o-ng day). We worked at the Juneteenth celebration at TCC South campus. A huge thank you to Tarrant Area Food Bank. They were there early in the morning unloading a semi-trailer full of food – apples, oranges, potatoes, lettuce, milk, and so forth (all wonderful, healthy stuff!) – to be handed out to the people celebrating Juneteenth! By eight o’clock yesterday evening we had given away what seemed liked endless pallets of food…

Opal’s Farm was there too. We had fresh squash and green beans. We had seeds, cups, and organic potting soil so the kids could plant their very own herbs. We instructed them on taking care of the plants and how to use them as seasonings for the food at home. All in all, in was a fantastic day.

I was tired this morning and overslept. I had to jump in the shower and run to the great meeting we have each Sunday. I was only able to get half a cup of coffee down before running out the door. Needless to say, I came home convinced I needed to go back to bed. I decided to brew a pot instead and after three cups of coffee I’m wide awake and grateful for another Father’s Day.

Photo by Josh Willink on Pexels.com

I thought of my sons and called them both. I wished my younger one a happy Father’s Day vis voicemail. He’s filled my life with four of our five grandchildren. My older one isn’t a father yet but I needed to tell him how blessed my life has been because he came into it.

I was scrolling through two days of email when I came across his social media post. His profile pic had changed to one of he and I at Texas Motor Speedway for the Spring NASCAR race. It may sound silly, but I was overcome with emotion when I saw it. Tears streamed down my face (my friend Edgar says I get to cry like a man today…)

You see, I was a single father and not a great one at that. Addiction has a way of interfering with good intentions. It caused a lot of harm and scars, but the good news is years of recovery have healed the relationship I have with my boys today. Despite me and because of my later recovery my boys have grown into fine men.

I got myself together and called my older son, Adrian, to let him know what a precious gift his post was on this Father’s Day. He was on his way home from church. He told me the pastor spoke of the Prodigal Son today. I had to laugh at the timing. I’m acutely aware of and grateful for a Father that loves no matter how far I strayed from His presence. I was reminded the parable could easily be called “the Prodigal Father”, because of the relationship I have with my sons today. Grace is amazing…

I don’t have a lot of time to write today. You see, I get to spend time with a loving God and because of Him, a loving family. At some point today I’ll be at the cemetery to wish my father a Happy Father’s Day and to tell him how much I love and miss him. I wish the same for you all. Have a blessed and Happy Father’s Day!

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Always Remember

It’s a brilliant, sunny late Spring day here in North Texas. Soon I’ll head off to Opal’s Farm. It’s been incredibly busy. Our first harvest of French Breakfast Radishes came in. We have about a hundred pounds bundled for sale and another hundreds pounds still to harvest. The beans and peas are in full bloom and squash is getting almost big enough to pick.

I haven’t had a great deal of time to write this last week with all the goings on. This week marked the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion that turned the tide in the Allies favor during World War Two. Those who know me might find it peculiar I’m memorializing warfare. My faith calls me to be a non-violent peacemaker. Still, I know my calling is not shared by everyone and I honor the veterans who fought for their beliefs and each other.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Tom Brokaw coined the term “the greatest generation” when speaking of my parents peers. As a history student I was always intrigued by the men who fought so gallantly during “The War” as it came to be known. I grew up on the great epic movies about WWII- “Patton”, “The Battle of the Bulge”, Guns of Navarrone”, John Wayne and “The Fighting Seabees” and so forth. I saw “The Great Escape” at the long since demolished Gateway Theater twice a day on three successive Saturday matinees (for 50 cents admission I might add). Steve McQueen was my hero…

Things changed and I grew past the illusions I was taught. After all, “history is written by the victors” and subsequent wars proved to be void of morality. It’s no longer about defense but about gain. War is usually started by men who have never served. They were wealthy or powerful enough to worm their way out of military service. They’re quite content to let your young men fight for their wants while they talk about how patriotic they are; but enough said or I’ll get started…

Still, those WWII vets always held a special place of honor above all others. Perhaps its because of my father and my uncle’s (one of whom died at Anzio, Italy) service. It’s a way I hang onto them as well. They never spoke of their service. They did what they were called to do and now they’re gone, like so many of their generation. I miss them.

There are only 1.7 million WWII vets alive today. Their time is growing short. The “greatest generation” will pass away and become memory. That’s why it’s so important (for me anyway) to cherish the time I’m given with some of the men who served. They’re more likely to share about it today if you ask. I encourage you to ask. Not only will you be riveted to their stories, you’ll pay them honor and respect as well.

This is my small tribute to those men that leapt of the boats at Normandy seventy-five years ago. Thank you for being part of my life and sharing your stories.

“I cherish the memories of a question my grandson asked me the other day when he said, ‘Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?’ Grandpa said, ‘No, but I served in a company of heroes.'” —Major Richard Winters

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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.

Photo by Flickr on Pexels.com

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).