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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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“Jim-isms”…

Rain came to North Texas last night; everywhere except here in our little cul-de-sac. We may not have gotten wet (yet) but we enjoyed the benefit of a sweet, cool morning. Margaret’s still in Oklahoma so I spent extra time reading, praying, and meditating out on the porch today. This summer is on track to become one of our hotter summers and the relief of coolness and freshness in the air is more than welcome…

I thought about this morning’s blog for quite a while and how to approach it. I am in a twelve-step recovery program and have been for many years. By nature, twelve-step programs are anonymous in nature. As such, I generally do not post or repost anything about “the program”, nor do I wear my recovery publicly. I don’t put recovery-oriented bumper stickers on my car or wear my recovery on T-shirts and such for the same reasons I choose not to put “fish” emblems, crosses, or other Christian symbols on my vehicle or person, even though I am a follower of the Teacher. When I act up, and I do on occasion, I don’t want to set a poor example. It’s not dishonest. I simply don’t want to be a stumbling block to others. I don’t want to be their excuse to miss the opportunity to discover the same joy I’ve found in a relationship with God.

Although I grew up in a home of strong Christian faith, it didn’t take with me. That is how I ended up needing a twelve-step program. It’s ironic that my relationship with God (as I understand Him), didn’t flourish until I found recovery. Over the last twenty-seven years, I’ve been blessed with the wisdom of so many people that have been where I have been and recovered from a “seemingly hopeless state of mind” that wreaked havoc on my life and the lives of everyone around me. I may not wear my recovery on my sleeve, but I’m not ashamed of it either. As my friend Jim used to say (quoting Popeye, of course) “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I am…

I was thinking about my friend Jim a lot lately. He passed on last February and, like my parents, hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about him. I hear his voice throughout the day. A few weeks ago, I joked with a mutual friend that I should write a book of “Jim-isms”: all the little sayings that were so appropriate to the various events of the day. Although I wasn’t serious at the time, that began to change over the last several weeks. I spoke with his widow and she sent a list of “Jim-isms” that an inmate in their prison ministry had compiled. Jim’s voice grew louder as a result.

Jim’s wife said that he never would’ve been comfortable calling them “Jim-isms”. He was simply repeating the things that he had been told repeatedly by his elders. I always knew that “Jim-isms weren’t original, but they were timeless words of wisdom from a man who truly believed in helping others. I won’t go into his biography here. Suffice it to say, that Jim was definitely Jim – you either loved him or hated him as he loved those around him in his often acerbic, sarcastic way.

I have many of my own stories to tell about my friendship with Jim and how he mentored me through the various stages, and often, difficult times of life. I wondered if anyone outside of twelve-step recovery, especially here in North Texas, would even be interested and if I shared them, would I be breaking the tradition of anonymity? The more I prayed and thought about it, the more I realized that Jim’s own recovery was open to anyone, whether in ‘the program’ or not. In fact, as he matured in his own faith, he helped many others beyond the rooms of recovery. He exercised the same spiritual principles no matter what he was doing. Moreover, the twelve steps of various recovery programs came from the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ and the Book of James in the New Testament. Jesus didn’t exactly seek to remain anonymous and anyway, Jim’s wife gave me permission…

“Jim-isms” apply to far more than twelve-step recovery, although that’s where I first heard them. I was hard-headed, and recovery came about over the first few years I knew Jim. When I finally got on track, I thought my name was ‘Dumb-ass” for the first year or so. After that, I was excited to become “Cowboy”. Once you begin to hear “Jim-isms” that will make perfect sense.

Now that I’ve told you about “Jim-isms” I have a request to make. I’m compiling a complete list and would appreciate it if those of my readers who have their own “Jim-isms” or stories about Jim share them with me. Leave a comment or PM me if you’d rather do that. Please give me a day or two to respond as things are a bit hectic here with a new project starting.

The greatest examples of what it is to live a spiritual and joyous life of freedom are often disguised as old gruff cowboy, ex- Marines, who “love God with all their heart and love others”. I certainly learned not to “judge a book by its cover…”

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Mud on the floors…

Margaret and I were having coffee this morning when she spied the glimmering silver lines of a enormous spider web by the tree in front of the porch. When I say enormous, I mean huge. It extended from the lower canopy of the tree all the way to the ground. Although it was so large, you had to look carefully to see it as it waved in the spring-like morning breeze. It was the perfect trap for other insects and guaranteed our little eight-legged friend a hearty meal.

What truly amazes me about spiders is the seriousness and speed with which they work. We’ve had the privilege of watching one up close every evening for the last couple of years. I don’t know if it’s one of the offspring from the previous year, but it’s always the same species as far as I can tell. Then again, I’m no etymologist and Margaret’s content to watch from her chair, which is always a safe distance away.

We are always a bit awed by how quickly the little guy can get up, down, and across what looks like nothing but air. What’s amazing is that he does this night after night and in the same spot. In the morning the web will have disappeared somehow, and he must go about his business every night. It doesn’t seem to bother him that his fastidious work is needed each evening. He seems to have the idea of ‘one day at a time’ done pat. I could learn a lot from this tiny arachnid.

I came in the study and discovered it would be necessary to mop the floor before going any further into my day. We were blessed by a pretty good rain (for July anyway) yesterday afternoon. We haven’t yet figured out how to train the dogs to wipe their feet when they come and go through the doggy door. Thank God for laminate flooring.

In the spring, I tend to complain a lot about the continual mopping that comes with three large dogs and the springs rains. I begin to grumble over and over, forgetting that the day will come when I wouldn’t mind cleaning up after them at all. Today is one of those days! We’ve gone from above-average precipitation to moderate drought and burn bans in the span of two months. When the thunderstorm came yesterday, all I could do was sit on the porch, watch it fall, and say a prayer of thanks.

One of the few things I remember from high school science class is that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. I don’t know if that’s still true. It’s been forty-plus years and many changes ago, but it has sure been my experience. My dad always called it the ‘law of sowing and reaping’ and I can get with that. I love to work in my garden. If I sow good seeds, I get a good harvest – simple as that – and every blessing comes with a responsibility. We were blessed with rain and now I need to mop the floor…

I’m learning how to plant better seeds on a personal level, but I sometimes forget that responsibility comes with blessings. In the Torah of the Hebrew Bible, God asks Abram (later called Abraham) to pick up his belongings and head for a land where God says, “I’ll make you a great nation and bless you”.

Sometimes however, I overlook the end of God’s talk with Abraham, “All of the families of the Earth will be blessed by you”. Maybe I’m stretching a bit, but what I hear is “I bless you in order to bless others”.

Blessing with responsibility. Go figure…

Sometimes the word ‘blessed’ seems so ‘churchy’ and trite. I prefer words like ‘gifted’ or ‘graced’. I’ve been on the receiving end of a multitude of gifts and I’ve come to understand that everything in my life is grace. I can’t help but ‘re-gift’ or extend the grace I’ve received. ‘Re-gifting” has somewhat of a dubious reputation at times. I guess it depends on the gift. The one I’ve been given is priceless, so I don’t feel bad about re-gifting.

It is my responsibility to pass on what I’ve been given so freely. Not only is it just responsibility, but it’s a life lesson. I get to learn the joy that comes from giving, and the freedom from the lie of scarcity that seems so prevalent today. The more I give, the better I am. Life becomes different the more responsible I become.

The irony is that I receive so much more than I could ever give away. That’s the amazing thing about grace. I guess I’ll think about it some more while I mop the floor…

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Freedom Party

The easterly winds gusted through here last night and left a bunch of fallen limbs throughout the yard. They dropped the temperature by a few degrees, even if it only fell into the eighties. This time of year, it’s much the same. It’s just plain hot, so I’m relishing in the cooler morning. I couldn’t help but notice that the Northeast is under a heat advisory since they’ll be above ninety degrees for seven days in a row. Even though heat advisories are no laughing matter, I still chuckle a bit. I guess it’s like when they laugh at us for closing school because we received a dusting of snow…

Like many of you, I’ve been watching the unfolding story of immigrant families on the border. News reports come out everyday that always seem to reflect the inhumane and confusing treatment of the people there. There were marches and protests in all fifty states over the weekend. The only positive thing I can find in all this mess is that people finally said ‘enough’ and took some action. It galvanized the public in a time of extreme divisiveness. At least we can agree on how human beings should be treated. How long it will be sustained is anyone’s guess. I hope it won’t fade away quietly when the media finds new sensational headlines.

Over the last few weeks, my time on the porch always seems to come back to the questions of ‘who are we’ and what is ‘patriotism’? I ran across a recent Gallup poll that reported only 47% of Americans feel ‘extremely proud’ of being American. That’s the first time that it’s no longer a majority since Gallup began asking the question some eighteen years ago. In looking at the polling, it seems that it’s been in a sharper decline since Trump was elected. I can understand that. I’m embarrassed at times, too…

One of my favorite recording artists is Jackson Browne. There’s a song on his 1989 release, World In Motion titled “I Am a Patriot”, and the bridge of the song sums up my ‘patriotism’, given this week’s Fourth of July holiday:

“And I ain’t no communist

And I ain’t no capitalist

And I ain’t no socialist

 

And I ain’t no democrat

And I ain’t no republican

I only know one party

And it is freedom

 

I am, I am, I am

I am a patriot

And I love my country”

Because my country is all I know”

 

‘Patriot’ is not a label many of my more conservative friends would assign to me. I’m okay with that because I believe my true citizenship transcends man-made boundaries. Yet, on this Fourth of July holiday, I feel a little patriotic when I see the polling numbers about civil embarrassment and the thousands of people that marched this weekend in support of keeping immigrant families together. Maybe others are questioning ‘who we are’, as well. I hope so.

To all of my American friends I wish you a Happy and safe Independence Day holiday.  Enjoy your day off with family and friends, eat lots of hamburgers, and enjoy the fireworks. To the rest of my friends around the world – I am truly embarrassed. Be patient with us. We’re still under construction…