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Grackles and Dreamers

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s been a gray, dreary, and cold weekend here in North Texas. There were rumors of sleet around us, but here in Fort Worth it was a constant drizzle. I spent several winters in the Colorado High Country and I’ve never felt the cold like I do here. It’s the kind of bone-piercing cold that feels like thousands of tiny needles poking you all at once. Of course, I’m much older now and maybe it was simply youthful exuberance that made the cold more bearable. Today is to be warmer and it’ll be seventy in the next couple of days. I’ll quit complaining now…

I had to run to the grocery store yesterday afternoon. It wasn’t nearly as busy as usual. Everyone must have opted for Netflix binging rather than dealing with the weather. When I got home, I paused on the porch to enjoy what gray light remained of the day. I’d love to tell how I got tom enjoy the quiet at the end of a long, dismal day, but that wasn’t the case. The caterwauling of hundreds of Grackles in the surrounding trees put an end to any idea of quiet enjoyment of the porch. It was so deafening I couldn’t even hear my inner voice, much less the next-door neighbor saying hello as he walked to his vehicle.

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Some of you might be unfamiliar with Grackles, so allow me to explain. The “Great-tailed” or “Mexican” Grackle is a medium-size bird originally native to Central America. According to Wikipedia, they’ve increased their range by over 5500% and can be found through much of the United States. I’m convinced however, that the greatest concentration of them are in my trees…

I don’t wish to offend bird lovers, but I don’t like Grackles. If we lived outside the city limits, I would have no problem declaring open season with the shotgun. Don’t get me wrong. I love birds. They bring color and song to our quiet little cul-de-sac. Grackles, not so much. They are, like city pigeons, flying rats. Noisy, flying rats…

Please don’t judge me if you’ve never experienced a flock of Grackles. They are incredible foragers and they have little fear of humans. They mock efforts to shew them away. They fly together in huge flocks, often darkening the sky and even been known to interfere with traffic.

Several years ago, the Grackle problem got so bad in downtown Fort Worth that a noise cannon could be heard going off in hopes of driving them out of the city center. Sundance Square, the jewel in the crown of Downtown Cowtown, was so noisy and covered in bird droppings it was difficult to find a safe place to sit and enjoy a summer evening outdoors. The city sought to drive them away lest they deter commerce and conspicuous consumption. Unfortunately, they ended up in quiet little neighborhoods like ours. You wouldn’t believe I wash my vehicles and sidewalk regularly.

That being said, I noticed something somewhat unique to our Grackle population. They were all yelling (it can’t really be called ‘singing’) over one another creating incredible dissonance when all the sudden it was eerily quiet. I’m not talking about the noise fading out. It was as if someone yelled, “lights out” and the entire flock stopped at once. It went from a din to silence in the flick of a switch. Looking up I couldn’t see a one.

I guess I’m a bit simple. Little things really intrigue me. The Grackles may be flying rats but they’re awesome flying rats. Now I know there’s several scientific and biological reasons for their unique abilities, but to go from unbearable dissonance to complete silence in a second is pretty darn awesome. It’s not as though there were a few birds here. We’re talking about a flock of hundreds of birds acting as one. Sometimes I wish people were like that…

I sit at my newsfeed every morning, only to be greeted with all the dissonance around me. Everyone yelling at everyone else. Everyone shouting how right they are. Everyone screeching to be heard. Everyone screaming out for their self-interests. Sounds a lot like the Grackles to me.

Imagine if whole neighborhoods, whole communities, acted as one. You know, for the best interest of the ‘flock’. Imagine if my selfishness was replaced by concern for my neighbor, my community, heck, for my planet. Imagine if, instead of yelling to be heard, everyone got quiet together, changed the manner of discourse and talked to one another. I don’t really expect it to happen, but what if…

You’re right, I’m a dreamy-eyed idealist. Maybe the world needs more idealists. It tends to get beaten out of children in favor of being a practical, rational adult. It’s a little ironic that Jesus said we should “become like little children” if we really wanted to live out the Kingdom of God. Like John Lennon sang, “People say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”

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Thanks for Being Part of my Journey

“It may be true that he travels farthest who travels alone, but the goal thus reached is not worth reaching.” — Theodore Roosevelt

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One at a Time…

Thoughts From the Porch: The last few days have been a preview of Spring in North Texas. It was shorts and tee-shirt weather and even hit the eighty-degree mark. Yesterday morning was a reminder that Winter won’t be leaving for a while yet. Today was the coldest day of winter so far: a mere 25 degrees. I know my friends in Chicago and the Midwest are saying, “what a wimp”, but it drove me to the desk in rapid time so here I sit, coffee at hand and Stevie Wonder on the stereo.

February is the shortest month of the year as far as the number of days goes, but it seems like it’s unending. Regardless of what a large furry rodent says about Spring’s timing, February will last for months. That’s what February does.

The good news about this February is that the ribbon cutting for Opal’s Farm is going well. Invitations are being sent and we’ve had a great response given those who have sent their RSVP. We secured tents in the event of inclement weather (it is Texas…). Thank goodness it fell in an interminably long month. Maybe we’ll get everything done…

As I write this it’s mid-morning here in Fort Worth. I rarely sleep in and never on a work day. However, I feel into bed quite exhausted last night. Apparently, I never set the alarm. Even without the alarm I’m usually up and about by 7 AM at the latest. Today it was well after 8:00. My body said “stop” and I must have listened, at least subconsciously. It’s taken several cups of coffee to clear the fog hanging around my head, but here I sit.

Yesterday, Ms. Opal and I had the opportunity to speak to a Food Justice class at Texas Christian University. Thank you, Dr. David Aftandilian, for asking us to make a presentation about Opal’s Farm. He also works with the Tarrant County Food Policy Council and I can’t begin to tell you how much that work is appreciated. My work with Opal’s Farm has brought me in contact with so many people who work diligently to improve food justice and access for the residents of Tarrant County and North Texas.

The greatest difficulty I face when speaking about food scarcity and access is the time limits imposed by everyone else’s schedule. I easily go on for hours about these issues for hours. That’s why I’m so passionate about Opal’s Farm. I have no doubt that everybody would love to resolve hunger and food injustices, not just in Tarrant County, but everywhere. Unfortunately, that problems so big that it often seems too abstract to solve. I’m under no illusions. Opal’s Farm won’t settle the entire problem, but it will make a dent in it. It’s something tangible. It puts the face of our neighbors, people who live right here in Tarrant County. It addresses their needs one person at a time.

I have a friend who’s been in the substance abuse and recovery field for over twenty years how she managed to stay so positive when the problem can be so difficult and frustrating. She said her focus was on the one, not the many, that made her work so important. Like her, I know I can’t “fix it all”, but I can do something. Farming is the first step.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” — Mother Teresa

Ultimately, Opal’s Farm isn’t about the food it produces nor the access it provides. Those are the means to an end. The end is serving people, of transforming lives by being of service, by offering opportunity, education, and simple human dignity, but it begins with a farm…

Thank you again to TCU for inviting Ms. Opal and I to speak. Thank you to the college students eager to learn and seek solutions. Thank you to all the folks who are working to find and create solutions to food injustices, poor nutrition, and hunger for all our neighbors. Thank you to all our fellow urban farmers who work diligently to ward the solution. Thanks to all of you who jump in and donate to become “farmers” along side all of us at Opal’s Farm!

“As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people

the permission to do the same.”

— Nelson Mandela

It’s a lot longer than it looks!

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Just a Reminder

I know you’re going to get tired of hearing this – Opal’s Farm is having a ribbon cutting on February 15th! I just can’t help myself. I’m compelled to shout it from the rooftops!

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Sustainable? Not Really…

My friend Jim used to remind me that “when you point the finger at someone else, there’s always three pointing back at you”. I know exactly what he meant. I tend to be judgmental when it comes to the use of words. Take” irregardless” for instance. It gets used all the time and it drives me nuts. It’s one of my pet peeves…

That being said, I have a confession to make. I’ve been misusing the word “sustainable” for the last few months.  When I began telling everyone about Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm last year I kept talking about being “sustainable”. I’m sorry, but that’s not completely accurate. Opal’s Farm is not simply sustainable, it’s regenerative. I beg your forgiveness because the difference is huge.

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

“Sustainable” has become a popular adjective, the new buzzword, especially in marketing. Everyone wants to be “sustainable”. I jumped on the bandwagon, too. Perhaps I heard it so much that I used it over and over when writing about Opal’s Farm. I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong.

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According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of sustainable is:

“Sustainable – adjective

1: capable of being sustained

2a: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource    is not depleted or permanently damaged

//sustainable techniques

//sustainable agriculture

b: of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods

//sustainable society”

Merriam-Webster goes on to define “regeneration” as:

“Regeneration – noun

1an act or the process of regenerating the state of being regenerated

2spiritual renewal or revival

3renewal or restoration of a body, bodily part, or biological system (such as a forest) after injury or as a normal process…”

Sustainability implies that we maintain the status quo. That’s not good enough. The soil needs to be regenerated: restored to the vitality nature intended. Commercial and residential development as well as traditional agriculture has failed to address the issue of soil health. Chemical fertilizers and land overuse destroy the soil. It doesn’t need to be sustained. It needs to be regenerated. That’s what Opal’s Farm does.

Regeneration goes far beyond maintenance. It’s the process of revitalizing and rebuilding the soil, making it better and healthier than before.  

Healthy soil, built through organic methods, produces healthier plants. In turn, healthy plants produce a better harvest, both in quantity and quality. That goes on to affect the health and vitality of the neighborhoods we serve.

If I make any resolutions this year, I resolve not to use the word “sustainable”, at least when talking about the farm. What we say – whether about ourselves, our society, or even an urban farm – matters. Words matter. This year I prefer to be regenerative: to renew and revive – both personally and for Opal’s Farm. You can learn more about the farm at http://www.unityunlimited.org/opals-farm.html.

As always, we invite you to become a “farmer” and join in the work at Opal’s Farm!

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Christmas Spirit…

Thoughts from the Porch: It’s become harder to get in the Christmas spirit this year. The exact reason has proven elusive. It could be that Christmas music starts blaring the day after Halloween, but It probably has to do with the fact that Mom and Dad are both gone now. This is the second Christmas since Mom passed and the sixteen of them without Dad. You’d think I’d be past it by now, but grief is what it is. It wasn’t until this morning that the season rushed over me and my soul felt revived with Christmas spirit.

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I have a scheduled meeting every Sunday morning at 9:00AM. It’s one of the highlights of my week. I get to carry a simple message of hope to hurting people. I don’t know who benefits more – them or me. The spirit of giving tends to do that. Uncommon sense again – the more you give, the more you receive. But I digress…

I drove to my meeting yesterday morning somewhat short of my required coffee quota. I wasn’t paying attention to the radio or much else until I heard an angelic rendition of “Silent Night” come flowing from the speakers. I wish I could tell you who the vocalist was, but I had to hop out of the truck and get to my meeting before it finished. All I know is that I felt different. I was more “Christmas-ee”…

My family never celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday. Being good fundamentalists, we couldn’t celebrate something that the Bible didn’t state for certain. To most folks that sounds silly. Now that I’m older I can’t say that I disagree. Still, we celebrated Christmas as a secular holiday of giving and family. Santa Claus was alive, and Jesus’ birthday was up for debate.

Ironically, Christmas carols were always in order even if they were religious in nature. The Sunday church service before Christmas always included religious carols, and mentioned the birth of Jesus (you know, since the rest of the world was focused on it) but it was “to celebrate the season”, not the birth of our Savior. I never quite got the logic in that. Anyway…

I no longer hold to the strict religious traditions of my youth. Jesus may or may not have been born on December 25th. It makes little difference. This is the season which people have chosen to celebrate his birth. I can’t find anything wrong with that. The point is that he was born. Emmanuel – “God is with us”.

Listening to “Silent Night” this morning it hit me full force; “God is with us”, and just like us. Just like me. Just like you.

My sons may be adults now, but I can remember the day each was born as though it were yesterday. I didn’t need a manger, livestock, shepherds, or wise men to make both moments holy, just as that moment some two thousand years ago. Maybe that’s why God chose to enter in to our world the way he did. I’d like to think so.

The authors of the four Gospels tell of the man and his teachings, but they record little of Jesus’ life growing up. I’d like to believe that he wasn’t much different from my boys. I don’t know what was comparable to spaghetti in First Century Palestine, but I’m sure that most of it ended up everywhere but his mouth. Mary probably had to give many an after-dinner bath during those first couple of years.

At the risk of sounding a bit sacrilegious, I would like to think that Jesus ducked out of Hebrew school to go fishing with his buddies. After all, He had an affinity for fishing and hung out with his fishing buddies…

The only reference we have to Jesus’ young life is an incident when he was twelve years old. Instead of going home with the rest of his family he hung back in Jerusalem. I can only imagine the panic Mary and Joseph felt when they realized he was missing. I freaked out when one of the boys hid behind a clothing rack at the store…

I’m no Biblical scholar, but I’m pretty sure that Jesus was “just one of the guys” for most of his life: content to live like everyone else in his town. It’s telling that the townsfolk response to his first recorded teachings in the Gospel of Luke is “Isn’t this Joseph’s son, the one we’ve known since he was a youngster?” (Luke 4.22).

It’s easy to concentrate on Jesus as divine, as perfect, and forget that Jesus was one of us. That, above all, is the miracle of Christmas. God chose to enter His creation through Jesus, an everyman, dirty diapers and all. He lived and worked among us as an ordinary guy. He laughed and hung out with his buddies. When all was said and done, He stepped up to announce that,

                “God’s Spirit is on me;

he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor.

Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind.

To set the battered and burdened free,

To announce, “This is God’s year to act” (Luke 4.16-21 The Message)

The rest, as they say, is history.

So, I’m in a bit more of the Christmas spirit this morning. If Jesus could walk among us, “Loving God and loving others” then I’m inclined to follow in his footsteps. It isn’t always the popular thing. After all, he tended to upset the proverbial apple cart. “You’ve heard it said… but I say to you” tends to rub some people the wrong way. I guess we all tend to do that…

I’m so glad that God chose to enter the world the way he did. “Emmanuel” – God is with us.

Happy Birthday Jesus!

Merry Christmas y’all!

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Holy Moments

Thoughts from the Porch: Holy moments. If you’ve experienced them, I don’t need to explain them. You know. They are the moments when time stands still, vision and hearing sharpened, and the wonder of the universe pours over you. In a brief instant, everything fades away, but we momentarily touched eternity and saw beyond our little world.

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I’ve experienced them before. They always come on the cusp of change, as if God says, “watch this”. It happened a couple of nights ago. I stand in anticipation of what to do next…

I had finished dinner with Margaret and was cleaning up the kitchen. Terribly mundane stuff I might add. A song, “Lead Me to the Cross”, played from the other room causing me to stop what I was doing and retire to the desk to listen.

A wave of emotion rolled over me. Sometimes I forget just what grace cost the Creator and grantor of unending grace. Sometimes I forget that worship and praise for the God of my limited understanding is the only response to the miracles in my world.

The song ended, and I retreated to the porch. Darkness had fallen, yet everything appeared brighter, the stars more visible even in the city lights. I could, “a mouse pee on cotton” as Uncle Carl used to say. Yet, everything was perfectly still. I was struck by the stillness while being amazed and overcome with awe. Even in the windless, motionless quiet of the evening, everything around me was in constant motion: bound together by a mass of whirring atoms. All was well. Nothing had changed, yet everything had changed.

A holy moment can come anywhere, at any time. Ironically, they rarely happen in churches…

I’m not sure how long I sat there. Cleaning up, working on the next appeal letter or blog post, the things that make up daily living – they all faded away. There was nothing to do but stay in the moment. Maybe that is what God meant when He said to “be still and know that I am God”. I couldn’t help but be keenly aware of the holiness of this precious moment.

Slowly, the world began to spin once again. The sound of cars on the nearby freeway began to creep in. My first thought was to write about this incredible experience. I rushed to the desk and stared at the keyboard for several minutes. I realized there was absolutely nothing for me to say. To anyone who shared such an experience my explanations would only deal an injustice to the moment. To anyone who hadn’t, well, they just wouldn’t understand.

Ironically, the song that started it all, “Lead Me to the Cross” was extremely short-sighted. I’m grateful it was the impetus for my holy moment, but the path doesn’t stop at a cross. It leads to an empty tomb, a resurrection, and a new life of abundance, joy, and a whole new definition of what constitutes common sense.

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Margaret often reminds me of how blessed we are to get “to live two lives in one lifetime”. Holy moments are reminders of that. Resurrection people know what I mean. They know what it is for the self-centered ego to die and be reborn – to emerge from the tomb, so to speak.

I’d love for you to share your “holy moment” or moments. What inspires you to live better? that.