Thoughts From the Porch: I had a meeting this morning that allowed me to have a brief time on the porch. September usually doesn’t allow it. This is our busiest time at Opal’s Farm. There’s new seed to be planted and watered (frequently!). Fall is a great time for crops in Texas although it’s kept me away from the porch temporarily.
The farm is a great substitute for the porch. On the days I
don’t have volunteers working I get to spend some alone time with God: perfect
for prayer and meditation. Things will settle down next week and return to a slightly
normal schedule. Stay tuned. Thoughts From the Porch is just taking a little
hiatus. I’ll be back next week.
From the Porch: We sold out early at the farmer’s market Saturday.
We sold much of the week’s harvest on Wednesday, so we were a bit light for
Saturday’s market. Our normal crowd was a bit smaller due to the rainy morning.
Even a few of our farmers took the day off for other pursuits. Hopefully,
everyone enjoyed a much-needed break from summer chores. I know I did.
Our friends Melvin and Janice called Friday night to invite us up to Lake Murray for a camping weekend. It was a perfect Saturday morning to leave market early and head to Oklahoma. Cell service is almost non-existent there. Spending a couple of days unplugged from everything is a periodic necessity. A couple of days in a quiet campsite with good friends is just what the doctor ordered!
Life is full of small pleasures. My Sunday morning meeting was covered by someone else, so I slept in for a change. Upon awakening I made the coffee and headed for some serious porch time. I made the mistake of checking out my CNN app and discovered twenty-nine people had been killed in two mass shootings just hours apart: one in El Paso and the other in Dayton, Ohio. It was difficult to separate the horror and sadness I experienced from the rising fury toward the hatefulness of the crimes.
I wanted to write
about it but growing older (and hopefully wiser) has allowed me to hit the
pause button on such occasions lest I speak or write out of anger. I tend to
say things I later regret or that are misunderstood. It makes apologies and
amends to others for my emotional outburst extremely difficult. So, I’ve mulled
this over for the last couple of days before sharing my thoughts.
story, different day…
The storyline has become all-to familiar. Another mass
shooting. The news covers all the vigils held to honor the dead. Finding
relatives of the fallen or hospital room interviews with survivors are a
ratings bonanza. There’s an outcry against gun violence. Politicians and
political pundits from both sides of the aisle pontificate on how to prevent
this from happening again, just as they did the last time and the time before
that. What happened Sunday will happen again today, tomorrow, and so it goes.
According to data collected by the non-profit organization,
Gun Violence Archive, (as of August 4th, 2019) a mass shooting is
defined as “an event where at least four people, not including the gunman, were
shot”. By this definition, there have been 292 mass shootings in last 219 days
of this year alone. I’m no math wizard but according to my calculations, that’s
1.3 mass shootings a day.
We simply don’t hear about most of them. It seems only a
large body count is newsworthy. Maybe we’ve become numb to “average” shootings.
Many occur in communities most folks ignore anyway. Sadly, if this weekend’s
events are like previous mass shootings, the media will play with the story for
a few days until another ratings booster comes along…
kill just like bullets
The FBI is unsure as to the motive of the Dayton shooter, but are treating the El Paso event as an act of domestic terrorism based on white supremacy. The shooter’s motives were clear so he several hundred miles to carry out a planned attack on immigrants because of the “Hispanic invasion of Texas”.
The “Hispanic invasion”. “Those people”. “Go back where you came from”. All words and phrases coming from the highest office in the land. All words that spark hate, division, and most of all, fear. When asked what we can do about the problem with those people, someone shouted, “shoot them” and everyone present laughed. Except for one 21-year-old from North Texas. He took those words literally…
I don’t know what to do about gun control, red flag laws, or mental health issues and gun violence. I don’t know if the present occupant of the White House will change his words, but maybe we should hold him accountable for those words. Words kill. They accounted for at least 22 of the deaths this weekend. Hateful words, attitudes, and divisiveness pulled the trigger as much as the gunman did. Donald Trump is as complicit in the El Paso shooting as the gunman.
What I do know is to counter hateful words and actions with
love and grace, despite my anger and sadness. The grace shown to me by a loving
Abba will guide my actions. I’ll not allow hate and division to interfere with
loving and uniting others, especially “the others”.
What I know for certain is, “The only thing necessary for the
triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”―Edmund Burke(in a letter addressed
to Thomas Mercer).I
won’t be quiet, nor will I sit still.
Thoughts From the Porch: I was just looking back over the
last three or four weeks and noted that I haven’t posted much this month. I’ve
tried to keep everyone updated on Opal’s Farm, but I spend far more time at the
farm and less time at the desk (or on the porch). June is an incredibly busy
month for everyone at Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. The Juneteenth
celebrations and programs, harvesting our Spring crops, and preparing for Fall
planting keep us hopping. It has been a fantastic, yet tiring, month.
We’ve been blessed here in North Texas with below average
temperatures and abnormally late rainfall. The Farmer’s Almanac is
predicting rainfall into July, which is extremely rare on the southern plains.
We haven’t even had a one hundred plus degree day yet (I’m knocking on my old
oak desk as you read this). It’s still hot (this is Texas), but the farm
is doing well. We had our first public sale to the neighborhood last Sunday. We
hope to be at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market tomorrow (we’ll keep you posted!).
I was weeding the watermelon and cantaloupe rows yesterday and had to be somewhat gentle in my approach to some tall weeds. Tall weeds, especially the Johnson grass, are the inevitable consequence or good rainfall. Still, I’ll gladly trade tall weeds for abundant amounts of rain.
If you’re familiar with melon vines you know they put out
small tendrils that grab onto anything in their path. The vines were tangled
among many of the weeds making it impossible to remove one without damaging the
other. I decided to let vines go crazy through the weeds rather than damage the
It reminded me of a story Jesus told of a farmer who
planted good seed in his field only to discover someone snuck in during the
night and planted thistles among his wheat. The farmhands wondered how to resolve
this dilemma. The head farmer told them to leave it alone. If they tried to
remove the thistles, they’d pull up the wheat as well. “Let them grow
together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvester to pull up the
thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it
in the barn” (Matthew 13. 29-30, The Message).
Jesus said God’s kingdom is like that. The good (wheat,
or in my case, melons) are often intertwined with the bad (the thistles and Johnson
grass). Sometimes I simply accept that my field, and my life, are filled with both
good and bad things, but the end always results in a harvest. If I don’t try to
have my way (I don’t like weeds, nor do I wish the discomfort of the negative
things in life) it seems the harvest is always bountiful. Opal’s Farm is a
reminder that watermelons and cantaloupes always win out over thistles and
Johnson grass. I just have to take gentle care of the field…
Life loves to grant opportunities for introspection and
growth. Sometimes they come from unexpected, and often, unpleasant places.
Sadie, our Rottweiler/we’re not sure what else, is the happiest dog that has ever graced our home. She’s the smallest of our three rescue pups but has been known to take on a pit bull that made the mistake of jumping into our (more appropriately “her”) backyard. She’s sweet, gentle, and incredibly smart. The “smart” part can sometimes be a problem…
She recently discovered a space where she can jump the fence into our neighbor’s yard and escape to the front yard. She loves to explore, and our cul-de-sac offers endless opportunities. Our other two dogs, Jameson and Maggie, are bigger and I just assumed she had found a hole somewhere to crawl through. After several attempts to block any small holes she might have found, our neighbor informed me where she was jumping the fence. Our neighbor went on to explain that he didn’t want her in his yard. He has a two-year old daughter and was fearful of Sadie. I dutifully affixed a guard to prevent her from jumping in the same spot.
Did I mention Sadie was incredibly bright? She apparently
found another spot. I put her in the house and tried to figure out where she
was jumping the fence. It wasn’t long before the White Settlement Police came
knocking on my door asking about the “dog problem”.
I’m somewhat ashamed of my initial response. While I was quite friendly to our local law enforcement (who threatened us with “doggie jail”), I wasn’t so gracious thinking about our neighbor. I fantasized all the possible ways I could make his life miserable. After all, we had put up with the chaos coming from their house – the noise, the loud swearing at the kids, and the dog who stayed on our front porch rather than in their backyard (a cute little cuss who ate our cat’s food) and never said a word. They, they, they! Mouthing off to anyone who would listen (sorry Son for interfering with the hockey game), I made for a great self-righteous, pompous victim…
Self-righteous anger doesn’t serve me well. I had time to
calm down and go on to bed. Sleep is amazing. I awoke with a far calmer
attitude: that is until my morning routine was broken by having to take time to
take Sadie out on her leash. Agitation quickly returned.
I finally grabbed my coffee and greeted the morning in my usual way with morning prayer and meditation on the porch. However, thoughts of the previous evening’s police visit kept interfering with my prayers. Suddenly, I remembered Jesus’ words:
“If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you
suddenly remember a grudge a friend (or in this case, a neighbor) has against
you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make
things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.”
(Matthew 5.23-24 The Message)
I didn’t think it wise to go to my neighbor at six o’clock in the morning. I pondered the situation further. I began to look at the incident from God’s perspective, forcing me to look inward rather than outward toward my neighbor. To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with what I found.
A little back story is in order…
We live in a well-kept, older working-class neighborhood.
Most of our neighbors have lived here for years. They are either retired
military or retired Lockheed Martin employees. The only time children are
playing outside is when grandkids (or great-grandkids) come to visit, so it
tends to be quiet.
The neighborhood demographics are changing. There’s far more diversity even in the few years we’ve been here. There’s more younger people, families, and racially and culturally diverse residents. Several of the older residents on the block have passed away over the last couple of years. Their children, who already have places of their own, usually put the homes up for sale. The housing market is tight in our area, so a couple of the houses have been purchased by investors to either “flip” or keep as rental properties. There’s far more diversity even in the few years we’ve been here.
The house next door is one such property. It’s always been
bit more run down than other homes on the block. It’s been bought and sold a
couple of time in the last year and a half. The first owners did little in the
way of improvements so when the present owners began working hard to bring it
up to current building code, we were thrilled.
We watched with a degree of trepidation as the new family
moved in next door. They were loud and seemed to have a hundred people helping
them. After they settled in, we learned all the “helpers” were family members.
It turned out they had ten children and one on the way. So much for our quiet
The solitude of my evening porch time has often been broken
since they arrived; by the younger one’s screaming and crying and the parents
yelling at them with a variety of swearing and threats. The two and
three-year-old kids have repeatedly been found walking around the block without
parental supervision (or clothes). The older ones often block the street
playing basketball daring neighbor’s vehicles to interrupt them. It goes without
saying that our new neighbors are difficult to live with. No wonder I felt
justified in my anger about the dog incident.
Unfortunately, justification only goes so far. It’s a great substitute for reality. Was I mad because they called the cops on my dog or was it because I couldn’t stop Sadie from getting out? Who was I upset with? What was I afraid of? It always seems to come down to fear.
The questioning began growing deeper and deeper. The guy had told me he was concerned about his two-year old. I know Sadie wouldn’t hurt a fly, but does he? Could I not see he had a point? The deeper I looked inside the less I could point fingers at him. I hate it when that happens!
One of my favorite prayers is the “Saint Francis Prayer”,
especially when the line asking to “understand, rather than be understood”.
It’s amazing to me how quickly I forget it when things don’t go my way. While
I’m grateful my perception, my thoughts, and my actions are less self-centered
than they used to be, I still have days when the world just needs to “do as I
say”. Father may know best. I do not.
I probably won’t be running next door and apologize for my
ill thoughts. Thank God for the pause button between my thoughts and my
actions. I tend to re-act slower and think a bit more before acting these days.
I don’t appear to step on as many toes and quite frankly, making amends and
corrective action is not on my favorite list of things to do. As my friend Jim
used to say, “Crow is best eaten fresh…”
What I will do is pray to “understand, rather than be understood” and stay here on the porch enjoying my morning coffee. It’s funny how much easier it is to bask in the peace and solitude that follows a bit of understanding…
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…
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
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
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.
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
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…”