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Sunshine and Sunburns

Spring officially arrived this week and I have the sunburn to prove it. I’m not bragging, mind you. I feel guilty for even mentioning this because I know some folks are still dealing with the effects of a lingering winter. I lived in Colorado for many years. Sporadic winter storms could pester everyone until April sometimes. Planting ones garden often had to wait until May. Heck, I remember going over Monument Pass in white-out conditions on June 6th. Apparently, it set the record for latest snow on Colorado’s front range.


If you’re feeling a bit envious of our warmer weather, please know Spring in North Texas can be a bit tricky as we make up the southern end of “Tornado Alley”. Severe thunderstorms are our version of ‘Bomb’ cyclones and blizzard conditions. They just don’t last as long.

The sunshine brought a busy week to Opal’s Farm. Thanks to Zimmerer Kubota and the tractor they provided, the plowing is finished, and bed preparation has begun. The first season of farming is the most difficult simply because all the ‘infrastructure’ must be built (from the ground up – no pun intended). Organic farming becomes easier with each passing growing season because more organic material is put back into the soil.

Caring for the soil is why we call it regenerative agriculture. We rebuild and renew the soil instead of draining it dry of nutrients through chemical applications of herbicides, insecticides, and typical commercial fertilizers. Caring for the soil is also the way we practice stewardship of the creation we get to enjoy. Most importantly, care brings a bountiful harvest for our community.

Today’s post will be short. The sun is shining, and wet weather is coming this weekend so it’s time to get busy. This afternoon, Texas Christian University (TCU) students working with the Tarrant Food Policy Council are coming out for a photo shoot at the farm. We are so grateful for TCU, their support, and their work to make urban agriculture a success in Fort Worth. I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to Dr. Aftandilian’s class for each and every one of his students who are working with Grow Southeast and Opal’s Farm. Thank you, TCU!

Just a reminder – we can’t do it without all of you. WE love our volunteers and donors. You can always donate to Opal’s Farm by going to our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/unityunlimited or directly to http://www.unity unlimited.org. Make sure you note that it’s for Opal’s Farm.

Well folks, I’m off. See you at the farm…

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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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Shootings and Shock

Thoughts From the Porch: I stepped out on to a dark porch this morning. The Mockingbird sang his morning song, and all was peaceful. Our little cul-de-sac is far removed from the rest of the world on mornings like this. While I enjoy the respite of the porch, I’m not immune to the world around me. I know how blessed I am. Others are not so fortunate.

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I watched the news in horror as another hateful display of violence and white nationalism resulted in the death of 49 people and 20 others wounded in Christchurch, New Zealand. My heart goes out to our Muslim brothers and sisters who were doing nothing more than practicing their faith. It seems to be a story often repeated: Sikhs in Wisconsin, Christians in Charlottesville, Jewish worshipers in Pittsburgh. It even happened a couple of hours south of me in a small church in Texas. All mass shootings motivated by hate, racism, and insanity.

While I’m deeply saddened by what happened in Christchurch, I’m saddened far more by the fact that I feel no shock whatsoever. Mass shootings are no longer exceptions to the norm. According to www.massshootingtracker.org there have been 65 mass shootings as of March 16th in the United States alone.

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I was living in Denver, Colorado in April 1999 when the Columbine shooting occurred. While there had been earlier mass shootings, Columbine hit home. Maybe it was the scale of the violence or that the news coverage was so immediate, but I was completely shocked by the event. Moreover, my oldest friend had friends at Columbine. It was all-to-real.

I’ve lost count of how many mass shootings there have been since. Maybe that’s why I’m no longer shocked to hear of yet another one. I despise the fact that I’m no longer surprised. It feels like giving in and giving up. People die, it causes an uproar in the media for a couple of days, and everyone goes back to life as if nothing has happened. It’s just the way things are.

I don’t pretend to know how to fix the problem. I’m not here to debate gun control or the other policy decisions that might prevent, or at least mitigate, mass shootings. Prayers and sympathy might help but they aren’t enough. They’re usually lost in a twenty-four-hour news cycle that dulls the senses anyway…

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Daylight Savings and Brothers

Thoughts From the Porch: I survived the Daylight Savings time change. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this oddity a bit of history is in order. It seems that the practice came about during World War I to extend daylight in the Spring and Summer months to conserve coal for the war effort. It has remained in effect off and on in the years since. While the US and most European countries observe Daylight Savings Time, most of the rest of the world does not. I wish we’d get on board with them.

Daylight Savings Time (DST) has its benefits. I’ll be the first to admit that I enjoy the longer periods of daylight, especially working on the farm. Unfortunately, it has its drawbacks as well. I don’t simply miss an hour of sleep. I tend to lose a whole day. Maybe it’s best that it falls on a Sunday since I can always take a nap.

The Center for Sleep Medicine at the Mayo Clinic says the effects of time change last more than one day though. The effects last five to ten days. Since DST happens twice a year, almost a month is affected. It not only alters sleep patterns, it leads to memory and learning problems, increased heart attack or stroke risks, poor social interaction, and affects overall cognitive performance. If I’m having cognitive issues today, I at least have a temporary excuse. I’m not sure what I can say about the other eleven months…

Daylight Savings Time (DST) has its benefits. I’ll be the first to admit that I enjoy the longer periods of daylight, especially working on the farm. Unfortunately, it has its drawbacks as well. I don’t simply miss an hour of sleep. I tend to lose a whole day. Maybe it’s best that it falls on a Sunday since I can always take a nap. The Center for Sleep Medicine at the Mayo Clinic says the effects of time change last more than one day though. The effects last five to ten days. Since DST happens twice a year, almost a month is affected. It not only alters sleep patterns, it leads to memory and learning problems, increased heart attack or stroke risks, poor social interaction, and affects overall cognitive performance. If I’m having cognitive issues today, I at least have a temporary excuse. I’m not sure what I can say about the other eleven months…

Spring’s on the way to Opal’s Farm!

The cognitive issues were obvious this morning. I had a great morning on the porch. Margaret is still sleeping so I extended my porch time today. A lone Mockingbird serenaded me from the top of the street lamp; announcing the coming Spring in song. He (or his kids) always show up when everything gets ready to bloom and hangs around until the following Winter. I was so excited I came to write about him and my morning thoughts. I did so until I hit something on the keyboard that deleted my whole story. Definitely a cognitive issue!

Ss here I sit rewriting this morning’s post. I’m extremely aware of my occasional Attention Deficit Disorder on mornings like this. I’m not sure I remember what I wrote in the first place. “Squirrel!” Don’t laugh. Some of you know exactly what I mean. Oh, I remember now…

I got to spend some time with my brother Craig this weekend. I don’t get to do that as often as I’d like. I’m often asked why our mother would name us Craig and Greg, so let me explain.

About eleven years ago, I suffered a couple of cerebral hemorrhages that left me unable to work. Without health insurance or income, I ended up losing my house after several months and was staring at imminent homelessness. I frantically searched for housing programs for people in my position but had found nothing by move-out day. My friend Craig (he wasn’t my brother yet, but I’ll explain that in a bit) offered to let me stay at his place for a couple of weeks while I looked for housing. I left five years later…

Craig and I spent our mornings on his porch or in his workshop having coffee, praying together, and talking. After a couple of weeks, Craig asked if I wanted to be his roommate. The coming years led to so much more.

Men do not often have the kind of relationship Craig and I have. I have good friends. My parents have passed away, but I have family: my sister and her family in Georgia whom I love dearly. Still, the bond Craig and I have is beyond mere friends. I think it hit home when Craig gave me a tobacco pipe that he handmade in the shop (he’s amazingly talented with wood). I still have the note that accompanied his gift. It’s taped to my desk so it’s the first thing I see when I sit down to write. It says,

“Like David and Jonathan, you are my best friend. This pipe is a token of my love for you. Enjoy it my friend.”

Before David became the King of Israel, he had come to live in then King Saul’s house. Jonathan, the King’s son, felt an immediate bond with David and they became fast friends. King SauI and David went on to become enemies, but it never changed the friendship between David and Jonathan. Samuel 18 tells us that Jonathan was “totally committed to David. From that point on he would be David’s number-one advocate and friend.” Later, “Jonathan, out of his deep love for David, made a covenant with him. He formalized with solemn gifts: his own royal robe and weapons…”    

I know how richly I’m blessed to have my relationship with Craig. Many people, especially men, fail to foster such deep relationships with others. I won’t pretend to know all the answers why. I’m no relationship expert. Still, I’m filled with gratitude for one who has gone beyond friend to my brother. In the five years that I lived at Craig’s house , we never had a cross word with one another. Not to avoid conflicts, mind you. Peace and serenity are the natural by-products and love and respect.

My sister and I are both adopted. We know what it is to have a family desire and love you so deeply that you become part of them. I was in my fifties before I knew that I had an adopted brother. We may not share the same parents, but we share the same Spirit. I’ve got the pipe to prove it…                                                 

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“Us” and “Them”: Part Three – The Wright Brothers Were Wrong

Thoughts from the Porch: It’s frigging cold! I huddled over the trusty old desk in a long-sleeved shirt, hoodie, and the space heater turned on high as close as I can get it without burning myself. Did I ever mention my office is the coldest room in the house?

Our home was built in the 1960s. Back then, builders in North Texas weren’t concerned with energy efficiency and insulation. Since Margaret and I moved in we’ve made improvements slowly as the money has come. Rare cold days like today put a strain on the heater and thus my office is simply damn cold. Anyway, the rant is over. On to other things…

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Experience has taught me to look for the positive in every situation, albeit hard at times. It’s usually easier after the fact. I may be wrong, but I believe it was Steve Jobs who said something to the effect that “life is meant to be lived forward but can only be understood looking backward”.

There are times when our ability to believe a lie is a positive thing. My wife has dealt with back issues and chronic pain for most of her life. She’s had many surgeries and some post-operative infections over the years. The doctors have often given little hope of keeping her out of a wheelchair and are always surprised when we walk into a new appointment. Her philosophy through out her lifetime has been “don’t tell me what I can’t do”.

Doctors base their truth on the evidence at hand. We tend to call it an opinion rather than a truth, but it’s an opinion based on facts. The facts indicate Margaret should not be ambulatory, but don’t tell her that. She doesn’t believe it. She pushes through and is still, albeit with a cane, walking today. Her refusal to accept the facts lead her to live a better life and she’s not alone.

Whether you believe man left a garden, or the African savannah doesn’t really matter. Either way, I can imagine those early humans sitting around the tribal campfire after a long day of hunting and gathering. Autumn has set in. There’s a chill in the night air. As they laugh and chat about their day, a flight of geese heading south for the winter passes overhead.

One of the guys looks up and says, “I wish I could fly south and get away from this winter. Maybe I can find a way to do just that”. His other buddies crack up with laughter and tell him how goofy he is. He becomes the object of ridicule. After all, man doesn’t have wings and can’t fly like a bird, right?

Fast forward many centuries to the Renaissance. Leonardo Da Vinci is busy drawing a flying machine. Man is still thinking of ways to “head south for the winter”, to fly like bird. If you fast forward to a hill at Kitty Hawk in 1903 and the Wright Brothers finally the first airplane flight. Just a few decades later and we’re walking on the moon. Go figure…

Now the truth is man can’t fly. No matter how fast one runs across the meadow flapping man-made wings, they fail miserably. I know. I tried it, but that was back in the seventies and involved hallucinogens which is another story all together. The fact, the truth, is that man can’t fly.

Before you deem me simple of mind take a moment to think about it. Have you ever known a man to fly? I haven’t but I have seen man create new and better airplanes and forms of flying machines. They fly; sometimes without a human pilot aboard. I know it’s all semantics, right? Still, I’m thankful old Wilbur and Orville believed in the lie that man could fly. Because of their belief in a lie, I can hope a jet for Jamaica in the winter (which I really wish I were able to do today…), soak up the sun, and take a dip in tropical waters. You see, there’s something positive in everything.

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By now you’re probably asking what this has to do with “Us” and “Them”. The truth is humans were created to live in community, to live life together, and what’s inside each of us is inside all of us. This sounds so cliché, so trite, but it’s the truth. The truth is there is no “them”, there’s just us.

My friend Edgar always said, “Show me how you act, and I’ll tell you what you believe”. If I believe the “Them” lie, I can justify all kinds of bad behavior toward others. My belief system is faulty. I believe a lie. Sometimes I think it’s easier to be a duck, but I’m not, so today I’ll try to be the best “Us” I can be and act accordingly.

What do you believe?

“Show me how you act and I’ll tell you what you believe…”

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Us and Them: Part Two

Thoughts From the Porch: The temperature is dropping like a rock and the wind is blowing harder here in North Texas. My office is in the coldest part of the house. Normally, this is a good thing. I tend to be hot when everyone else is merely comfortable. Today’s a bit different. I need to add the space heater next to my desk to my Gratitude List for the day.

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It doesn’t matter whether you believe in the literal creation story or if you see it as a metaphor for the beginning of human history; the end result is the same. Man, the rational animal, can act irrationally and believe things that simply aren’t true. I’m no scientist but I’m pretty sure that we’re somewhat unique in that regard.

Dad used to tell me, “Son, if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck”. Straightforward and simple, right? You see, a duck doesn’t think itself anything other than a duck. It waddles down to the pond, takes a swim to find something to eat, and quacks at the other ducks. It doesn’t bark, stalk prey, or run like a cheetah, nor does it particularly want to. It’s a duck! Anyone can see that, right?

Imagine for a moment that you’re at the duck pond, feeding the dusks, and someone walks up and says, “look at that Canadian Snow Swan”. You look around and all you see are a flock of Mallards fighting each other for a piece of bread. Intrigued and thinking the stranger a bit off his duff, you ask what he’s talking about. He points to one of the less brightly colored Mallards and says, “see, a Canadian Snow Swan”.

Now you know better. After all, you passed high school biology. This guy must be confused. You press him a bit more. He explains that Canadian Snow Swans are very similar to Mallards, but not as brilliantly colored. They tend to follow Mallard flocks as they migrate to and from, so they are often confused for Mallards. A seed of doubt was just planted.

A few days later, you’re at the same duck pond. Someone comes up and says, “Oh, look at the Mallards”. You wisely declare that they’re not all Mallards, a couple are Canadian Snow Swans. You proudly proclaim your thorough knowledge on the subject because “they” said. It doesn’t matter who “they” are, but apparently “they” are in the know. Now you one of “them”, and everyone believes a lie.

One of the first questions I ask someone when they tell me “they say that (fill in the blank) is who “they” are. Ninety-nine percent of the time the respondent has no idea who “they” are. The internet is full of “them”, experts in falsehood who proudly proclaim their version of “Truth” and it gets repeated over and over. After all, it was on the internet so it must be true…

Now the duck hasn’t changed, nor has the fact that it’s a duck, but we now believe it to be something else. Having proclaimed it a Canadian Snow Swan we now defend our position with a myriad of justifications – “plausible, but untrue” explanations of our correctness. Nobody likes being wrong, right?

One of the disastrous consequences of false belief is an equally false superiority over everyone who doesn’t believe the way we do. “They” are different rom “us”. Religion is a prime example. Talk about “us” and “them”! History is littered with the wreckage of “us” and “them”. I’ve heard it said that man can survive without a God but he cant’ live without a devil. The devil’s in “them”.

Sometimes I wonder if we can ever get past the “us” and “them” mentality, the tribalism, that keeps us from being simply one of God’s kids. That’s my own personal idealism and believe me, I’ve had plenty of people tell me I’m wrong. The good news is that I’ve met a lot of folks who share that ideal, so there’s still hope.

I may be completely wrong in all of this. I’ve never been a duck so I’m not sure what’s going on in those little duck heads. What I know for sure is that I’m capable of believing lies. I haven’t cornered the market on “truth”, so I must depend on my fellows to lead me there. Maybe that’s why God thought community so special: so that we could learn from one another and find our way to a better place.

(Part 3 tomorrow)