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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…

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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…