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What’s a “Black” Holiday?

I love being part of Cowtown Farmers Market. Market mornings are the high point of my week. I get to spend time with our regular customers and the vendors who have helped me so much along the way. All the division and strife our country is experiencing seems to disappear for a few hours.

We work hard to keep politics out of the market. However, I have a couple of bumper stickers on my truck that clearly define my personal political and spiritual stance. Usually, if any of our customers make a political comment, it’s folks who tell me they like my bumper stickers. It’s nice to know there are other Christians and Progressives out there in Fort Worth. Texas is not exactly known for social justice Christians and progressive politics.

I was setting up at Cowtown Farmers Market a couple of weeks ago. I was running a bit behind that Saturday. Customers tend to come earlier than the posted 8 AM start time. The market “old timers” – the regulars who have shopped there for years – get there early to get first pick on everything. The Covid crisis has also brought many new shoppers to Cowtown. The shortages at the beginning of the pandemic caused people to take a renewed interest in where their food comes from. Plus, outside markets are an excuse to get out and see others. Covid has isolated so many folks.

I was placing the week’s produce on the table when I heard someone remark “I don’t know if I can buy from someone who has a Bernie sticker on their truck”.

I looked up. A couple about my age stood there staring at me as if they were ready to pounce on any possible response I might say. I smiled, said “okay”, and went about my business.

Apparently, I didn’t give the anticipated response. The man declared, “That guy’s a socialist. Is that what you want?”

Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have even responded to begin with. Some people don’t want to discuss an issue. They only want to argue – no discussion involved. Unfortunately, I nibbled on the hook a bit. “How’d you get here this morning?”

“I drove”.

“On a public road?”, I asked.

“Yes, but my taxes paid for that” he retorted. His speech was becoming louder and more antagonistic.

I tried to de-escalate the conversation. I casually remarked, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I just know Bernie to be a good man. His was the only campaign to reach out and help our namesake, Ms. Opal with making Juneteenth a federal holiday”. I was praying they would move on. 

“What?”, the man asked.

His wife chimed in, “You know what Juneteenth is. It’s that black holiday.”

He grumbled, “Great. Just what we need – another black day off we’ll have to pay for”.

That’s when he set the hook. I bit down hard and wasn’t letting this one go. “You know buddy, I’ll make this easy for you. I don’t sell to racist Trump supporters.”

I guess he wasn’t expecting that. He gasped and hurriedly walked away.

I immediately felt guilty about my retort. Market is no place for such behavior (although I shared this with a couple of the other vendors and received big thanks). I take my job seriously. I represent Opal’s Farm to the community. I never want to cast the farm in a negative light. Moreover, as a non-profit we refrain from political endorsement and don’t identify as left, right, or middle on the political spectrum. Our main mission is to provide “educational activities and resources to people, young and old, to foster unity and harmony within the community, the city, the state, the nation and the world regardless of race, culture or denomination.” My reply to our visitor at market didn’t exactly reflect our mission.

When I told Ms. Opal about the interchange she replied, “Now you know what I’ve been facing all my life”. Her words have stuck with me since that day.

I wish I could see that couple again and have a real discussion, not an argument. That seems impossible in our country currently. If I’m honest, there was a time in my life when I might have thought of Juneteenth as a “black” holiday. Celebrating the freedom of a whole people is cause for celebration but it simply didn’t apply to me. There was no way to understand its importance because I didn’t share in the experience. At least I didn’t think so.

Part of the Juneteenth Caravan

It has been my privilege and honor to be a part of Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. When I became the Farm Manager and part of Unity, I began to spend a lot of time with Ms. Opal. Although she retired from teaching in the Fort Worth Independent School District, she hasn’t stopped teaching. I’ve learned more about my community and myself in the last two years that I ever did in all my years at school and the education continues…

Ms. Opal

Opal Lee has spent a lifetime as an educator, activist, and advocate for making Juneteenth a Federal holiday. She always tells everyone that it’s a unifier – for everyone regardless of color. Today I get it. Juneteenth is not only a celebration of emancipation for black slaves – it’s emancipation for everyone.

It’s emancipation from old ideas and social constructs. I always leaned far to the left in socio-political matters. However, being “liberal” is its own brand of white (or class) supremacy as well intentioned as it may be. Liberal white folks and the privilege afforded them does not in any way mean they know what’s best for others, especially people of color and other cultures.

Juneteenth allowed me to begin the honest self-examination that shed new light on old ideas. It freed me to acknowledge my own privilege and prejudices. Juneteenth corrected my vision and allowed me to love and serve others in a new, better way. It facilitated spiritual growth in ways I cannot put into words. It also freed me to make living amends for my well-intentioned failures by freeing me to be an ally for others and not having to have all the answers for them or myself.

Ultimately, it freed me to have deep, meaningful relationships and grow my community. That is the end result of true emancipation – a broad all-encompassing community that serves and supports one another. That’s something for everyone to celebrate and something we need now more than ever…

To learn more about Juneteenth, Ms. Opal Lee, Opal’s Walk to DC, Unity Unlimited Inc., and making Juneteenth a National Holiday please go to:

www.opalswalk2dc.com

www.unityunlimited.org

www.juneteenthftw.com

www.juneteenth.com

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Growing and Going…

Down at the Farm – Our social media pages have been somewhat neglected over the last three weeks. Many of you know my son passed on May 29th. Thank you to the many friends of Opal’s Farm and our great volunteers for keeping the farm going during my absences and your words of condolences. The wonderful (and sometimes not so wonderful) thing about the farm is that it grows and goes despite life showing up in ways I’d prefer it not to. I’ve been so busy playing catch up that I’ve failed to update everyone. Believe me, there’s a lot happening!

First, we rode in the Juneteenth celebration and caravan on Friday. It was incredible to see the love and support for Juneteenth and for making it a Federal holiday. It was even more incredible to see the diversity of the crowd in both the caravan and along Lancaster Avenue as we followed Ms. Opal to Will Rogers Auditorium. The time for unity is now. Ms. Opal is right. Juneteenth is a unifier!       

I would love to thank each of our volunteers who participated in the caravan as well. Thanks Mike and Alexis for riding your bikes alongside Ms. Opal and those walking with her. Thanks to Stacey, Ethan, and Averie for making a lot of noise and helping hold the Opal’s Farm banner for all to see. A huge thank you to Blue Zones Project Fort Worth for making the banner possible! It now proudly hangs in our booth at each of our markets!

Tomato-palooza!

To make Juneteenth even better, Ms. Opal’s petition to make Juneteenth a Federal holiday has passed ONE MILLION signatures. We all well on our way to 1.5 million! Ms. Opal started out with the goal of 100,000 signees. I think we’ve passed it. It’s not to late to sign the petition. Please go to www.opalswalk2DC.com today!

One Million and growing…

Finally, it was announced that Senator John Cornyn of Texas will introduce a Senate Bill declaring Juneteenth a Federal holiday. NPR also reported the Representative Sheila Jackson Lee has a House Bill with over 200 co-sponsors for Juneteenth. Things are happening folks so let’s celebrate and keep pressing forward.

The farm has been coming right along this Spring. Last Saturday was Tomato-palooza at Cowtown Farmers Market (www.cowtownmarket.com) and we had some serious tomato action happening. We have produced over three hundred pounds of tomatoes so far! We didn’t have only tomatoes, of course. We had cucumbers, green beans, peppers of all kinds, squash (several varieties), onions, potatoes, carrots, and best of all, purple hull peas (and they are really coming in…).

Thanks to all our volunteers. We’ve had several new folks who signed up this last week to come work at the farm. Unfortunately (at least for them), the weather hasn’t been conducive to volunteering. We love the rain, though. Hang in there and come out when the sun comes out!

You all can find us at www.unityunlimited.org/opalsfarm to sign up or donate today. We make each donation count as we move forward into the Fall planting season! See you soon…

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A Day of Prophetic Mourning and Action

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on this day in 1968. Over fifty years later we still face the same issues he spoke and acted so passionately about. The time for a radical revolution of our morals and values has never been more needed.

#MLK taught us 50 yrs ago, what #COVID19 teaches us today: living wages, guaranteed health care for all, unemployment & labor rights are issues of right vs. wrong & life vs. death. #PoorPeoplesCampaign‬ 

‪Join us June 20, 2020: june2020.org

You can’t say you support #MLK and not support the policies he fought & died for! #EndRacism #EndPoverty #EndMilitarism #SaveTheEarth 

Join the #PoorPeoplesCampaign on June 20, 2020 for the Digital Mass Poor People’s Assembly & Moral March on Washington: june2020.org

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Listen to Your Elders

Down on the Farm

I admit I was a bit delusional after the fall harvest was over. I had this idea in my head that things around Opal’s Farm would slow down some for the winter months. The last couple of weeks have shattered such illusions. It’s going to be a race to get ready for Spring!

In spite of our busy season ahead, the last couple of days have provided both a break from farm labor and an extreme delight. I’ve been able to spend them with Ms. Opal, our namesake. On Tuesday we spent the afternoon delivering food boxes from the Community Food Bank. It’s a regular thing for her every week. She calls me to help on occasion and I’m honored she asked. I get to spend this afternoon with her as well.

Most of you know about Ms. Opal. Her “Walk to DC” to honor and request a Federal holiday for Juneteenth has been all over the media. She’s a legend in Fort Worth for her community and civil rights activism. Her image is depicted on the Black History mosaic mural at the Downtown Trinity Metro station (“I’m the little old lady in the white tennis shoes”). She holds a place in Fort Worth Independent School District’s “Wall of Honor”. She’s met with Presidents, whether it be the President of America, of various universities, or of corporations large and small, to spread her message of love, unity, and of course, Juneteenth. She lives out Dr. King’s words, “No man is free until all men are free”.

My lovely wife, Margaret, with our hero Ms. Opal
(sorry I’m a lousy photographer) at “Juneteenth: The Play”.

Yesterday, we met with Anthony Drake at the McCart WalMart (super center #2978). They have blessed Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm with incredible donations to Unity’s various programs. Yesterday, we were picked up apples and oranges for some 150 kid’s Christmas “stockings”. We had to wait some time for the extra busy store manager to come up front so we could check out. As Ms. Opal and I waited, our conversation was often interrupted when she would take off to hand out cards about her “Walk to DC”. She is the most purpose-driven lady I’ve ever known. There’s no such thing as idle time when Ms. Opal is around.

She started writing her thoughts down more formally lately under the title, “Musings of an Old Lady”. I loved what she wrote but I’m not sure about the title. Ms. Opal may be 93 but she’s certainly no “old” lady. Her endless energy and drive are hard to keep up with for anyone. I’ve never met someone who exemplifies Jesus’ teaching to “love God and love others” quite like she does.

As she told me more of her “musings” I thought what a great addition to our blog and social media. Sadly, younger people often ignore those who have been around for many years (I still don’t want to say old when Ms. Opal is involved…). I know this because my friends and I were the same way. Youth has two extremes: either “I know everything” or “why bother”. There are some are young people who are wise beyond their youth, but they’re a small minority.

Fortunately, as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to listen my elders. I wish it had been sooner but, as my Dad used to remind me, “Wish in one hand, crap in the other, and see which one gets full first…”.

Older people possess a wealth of experience and wisdom: the proper application of their accumulated knowledge. They offer things no institution of higher learning can match. Getting to spend time with Ms. Opal has unlocked the door to a whole new world of history and experience. I often feel cheated when I realize the wealth of information I never received.

It was her vision that made Opal’s Farm (and my awesome job) possible. The thread running through everything Ms. Opal does is simple: get to know one another, particularly those who aren’t like you. Knowing someone different helps dispel the fear of the “other”. It doesn’t take a grand social program to do that. We can do it ourselves every day. Are we willing?

I think “Musings of an Old Lady” would be a perfect addition to this blog. Ms. Opal will be sending me her musings periodically. I can’t wait to share them with you…

You can read more about Miss Opal’s “Walk to DC” at www.opalswalk2dc.com. To learn more about Ms. Opal or to became a financial supporter of our work at Opal’s Farm please go to www.unityunlimited.org.

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Free to Love

Thoughts from the Porch

“When men and women get their hands on religion, one of the first things they often do is turn it into an instrument for controlling others, either putting of keeping them ‘in their place’. The history of such religious manipulation and coercion is long and tedious. It is little wonder that people who have only known religion on such terms experience release or escape from it as freedom. The problem is that the freedom turns out to be short-lived.” (Eugene Patterson, The Message – Introduction to the book of Galatians)

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I often tell audiences when I’m speaking that I’m “recovering Church of Christ”. People that live here in the “Buckle of the Bible Belt” usually know exactly what I mean – a fundamentalist evangelical Christian upbringing (If you’re unsure what that means, think of Southern Baptists on steroids).One was held to certain, often impossible, moral standards and judged harshly when one strayed from the established norms of church law. It was no wonder that when I moved away from home at the ripe old age of eighteen, it wasn’t long before I found release from the constraints of my upbringing. I reveled in my newly acquired freedom.

Sadly, freedom slowly turned into a self-made prison: walls of addictions, guilt, and shame (another story for another time). In desperation I turned to the God of my youth and cried for release. Ironically, the God of my youth hadn’t changed. Only my perception of Him had. Grace, something I had only heard about in abstract theological discussions, became real.

My wife and I share a common love for the Lord even though we have denominational differences. We have the common community of recovery. While not everyone in recovery finds their Higher Power to be the God of our home, many of our friends share our Christian faith. It’s become a “church”, or community in many ways.

Her beliefs and doctrines are important to her while mine have taken a different direction. Thankfully, her denomination didn’t inflict the spiritual, of more accurately, religious abuse that fundamentalist Christianity did. It still works for her. For that I’m extremely grateful.

Over the last couple of years, she’s wanted me to explore her denominational beliefs and hopefully provide answers to some of my questions. We’ve invited a couple of young men from her church into our home each month. We’ve shared good conversation and I appreciate their energy and commitment to spread the good news Jesus brings. However, they have been unable to answer some questions I feel essential to discipleship.

Perhaps it’s their age. “Elder” typically means one of “greater age”. Their name tags may say elder, but their age says different. It doesn’t make them wrong. Their experience hasn’t led them to an answer. Besides, some of the best wisdom has come from young folks. Out of the mouth of babes, you know…

They’ve asked older members of their church to talk to me, but even they have been unable to answer my questions. What they see as divine revelation doesn’t jive with my experience. Mind you, I’m not trying to be difficult.

I appreciate the values we share – a love of God and a love for others. I don’t understand why it’s necessary to inflict a set of rules and doctrines to make one part of the “in” crowd. Before anyone thinks I’m being critical and judgmental of another denomination please know I am overjoyed by their work for the marginalized. They support family and a relationship with God. It’s just different methodologies.

That’s not what I see in Jesus. Following Jesus has led me into a life of freedom I only dreamt of. He has truly given me an abundant life. My newfound freedom comes with the responsibilities associated with “loving God with all my heart, mind, and soul and loving my neighbor as myself”. Maybe that’s why self-control is one of the fruits of the spirit…

The question they find so difficult to answer is this: Why would anyone who has found complete freedom in Christ submit to the heavy yoke of rules and regulations? Laws, doctrines, and a formula for self-proclaimed piety aren’t what make me right with God. Grace is what makes me right with God. In fact, the Apostle Paul called such people promoting the law as “contemptible” (Galatians 6.13).

Paul puts the question far more eloquently than I ever could:

“How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off top please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God… Does the God who lavishly provides you with His own presence, His own Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never (Emphasis mine) do for yourselves, does He do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust Him to do them in you?” (Galatians 3.2-3,5 The Message translation)

I wouldn’t trade the freedom I’ve found in Christ for anything. I also know that freedom brings a huge responsibility. I never want to settle for what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called ”cheap” grace – to “continue in sin so that grace may abound” (Romans 6.1 RSV). My responsibility is to love God and love others. Jesus said if I do that everything else will take care of itself. Simple, but difficult at times. Some people are simply hard to love. Do it any way…

When I live God’s way, Paul says this incredible thing happens.

“He brings gifts into our lives, much the way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like:

  • affection for others
  • exuberance about life
  • serenity
  • a willingness to stick with things
  • a sense of compassion in the heart
  • a conviction that holiness permeates things and people
  • we find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life
  • able to marshal and direct our energies wisely”

(adapted from Galatians 5. 19-21 The Message

It’s no wonder that Paul says to go on and “live creatively’ and “never tire of doing good”. I’m a simple guy. I can’t think of a simpler way to live. If my missionary friends can answer this question, then maybe I’ll give it some consideration.

Until then “live creatively”, my friends…