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Happy Holidays? Eh…

I always celebrate Thanksgiving with mixed emotions. If I look at the real history of the holiday it leaves little to celebrate. I’m sure that when the Wampanoag People feasted with the pilgrim colonists, saving them from a dreadful winter of starvation (because that’s what human beings do for one another) they had no idea what lay ahead. I’ve sure the pilgrims were thinking “thanks for the food. Next year we kill your women and children and steal your land.” It’s no wonder Thanksgiving is a day of mourning for my Indigenous brothers. True history is usually hard to celebrate.

However, I grew up in a middle-class, white, suburban, and fundamentalist Christian home in Texas. That’s not the Thanksgiving story I was told. Mine was much more pleasant than the reality and had a white supremacy spin put on the whole thing, but that another story. Thanksgiving became a holiday to be celebrated with too much food, family, friends, and Dallas Cowboy football. My Dad was transferred to Denver in 1969. Coloradoans didn’t take to Texans moving there (after skiing with them I understand why…) so all my parents’ friends (mostly ex-patriate Texans and mostly from church) got together each Thanksgiving to feast together and watch the Dallas Cowboys.

We communally held our breath as Clint Longley threw his “Hail Mary” pass to Drew Pearson to win the game against the hated Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving 1974. Clint was the son of one of our church members and big brother to one of my friends. He’d also graduated from Abilene Christian College which is where all of most of our friend’s children either went or would go. We all watched the number one moment in Thanksgiving history. I’ve never seen such excitement, and given what professional football has become, may never see again. I’m quite sure Jerry Jones is the anti-Christ…

Years have passed and many Thanksgivings have drifted in and out of my memory. Grown kids and grandkids make planning Thanksgiving difficult. This year I’ll put a smile on my face and hope January 2nd comes quickly. The holidays have become a difficult time for me. My son Jeremy died two years ago. He was born on Christmas Day during the Denver “Blizzard of ‘82” so the holidays bring a lot of melancholy with them. I miss my son. Grief is a bitch…

Last year, Margaret and I celebrated Thanksgiving with my “birth” family in Kentucky. It was amazing to be with so many people that looked like me. That helped me through so many difficult days. This year I got a phone call from Momma that took the wind out of whatever sails I had – the cancer has returned, and the prognosis is not good (Momma was quick to remind me not to count her out yet. They’ve said that before.) I’ll be spending Christmas in Kentucky this year, making new memories with my people, my Momma. Sometimes I think that Jeremy’s behind all this. I don’t think he wants this to be a depressing time of year for his family. I know Momma doesn’t. Maybe the new memories will make a difference. I hope so.

I’ve often thought Thanksgiving was more of a commercialized greeting card holiday. I strive to be grateful each and every day, not just on the fourth Thursday of November. Thanksgiving may be a special day to say thanks for the many blessings we have, but gratitude is something to be exercised all the time – 365 days a year. Gratitude is a verb, it’s action. Gratitude is taking care of the things we’ve been given – our world, our families, and each other.

We spent this Thanksgiving with friends, many of whom I haven’t seen in a couple of years (thanks to COVID). Our host reminded me that we were celebrating with our family of choice. It made me smile. It also reminded me to show my gratitude for the wonderful friends I have by being more accessible. I’m not going to wait for New Years to start on that resolution.

I hope that all of you had a blessed, peaceful Thanksgiving and the holidays bring you cheer, peace, and appreciation for all that’s been given each of you. I do appreciate so very much those of you who take a couple of minutes out of your busy day to read the ramblings of some old guy in Fort Worth, Texas!

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Whatever Happened to the Golden Rule?

Webster’s Dictionary defines nostalgia as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” I usually associate nostalgia with the old guys who long for the good old days when there was little question of white supremacy, where anyone who wasn’t a white male knew their place, and women had no rights over their own bodies. This is not nostalgia. That’s called right-wing conservatism. Thus, I tried to avoid waxing nostalgic.  Besides, I was born at the end of the fifties and I’ve drawn a blank on much of the sixties and seventies…

Fortunately, I found the real definition was much closer to the way I’ve been feeling lately and that folks, is nostalgic. It hasn’t been a longing for my college days or the party life I enjoyed as a young person (which I try NOT to think of, by the way). It’s been something far more trivial in the grand scheme of things. I long for the days when people drove with some degree of civility.

I know that sounds silly, but when I learned how to drive, I was taught to “drive friendly”. That meant acknowledging someone coming the opposite way with a small hand wave, particularly in the neighborhood. It included things like letting people in on the freeway or pulling over to let them pass on a two-lane road (that happened a lot in the country) and thanking them when they did the same for me by waving appreciation. It also meant staying out of the fast lane if I wasn’t passing other vehicles. Fast lanes were “fast” lanes. Don’t slow them down. I don’t know if this was just a Texas thing or not, but civility seems to decline in direct proportion to the influx of new Texas residents moving here each year.

I was coming home from the farm the other day. Traffic was abnormally heavy, and people were more impatient than most days. They’re always impatient – got to get one car link in front of anyone else as if one car link is the difference between life and death. I’m the one who’s often impatient if truth be known. However, this day the Golden Rule popped into my head, and I found myself becoming more patient and at ease.

Most everyone is familiar with “The Golden Rule” – “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the prophets” (Matthew 7.12 – NIV). If you’re my age, we even learned it in school. That simple phrase was a guide for living that somehow came to mean do unto others only like they do unto you. I thought about how that had manifested in my own life and realized how such a misinterpretation made me angry and resentful. I’m at the point in life I really don’t have the time nor the desire to be like that.

I got home and pulled out my Message version of the Bible I like the simple “umph” that comes from a translation closer to the “umph”) of old Aramaic. “Here is a simple rule of thumb guide for behavior. Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get.” (Matthew 7.12 – The Message Bible).

I thought about that over and over. I was looking for some kind of caveat or exception, but I didn’t see one there. It was up to me to treat people the way I wished to be treated no matter what they did. I simply had to act how I wished others would. It’s rocket science. It’s my responsibility and no one else’s.

Ms. Opal always reminds everyone to be a “committee of one” because one person can be the catalyst for change and an example to others. I understand and do that in many areas of life, but I can’t manage it in even the simplest things like driving (Yes, I’ve been guilty of laying on the horn and flying a one finger salute…). It’s the simple things that make the more difficult things go easier. I decided then and there I’d start exercising this simple rule of thumb when I got behind the wheel. If I’m nostalgic for the “good old days” then maybe I can act like it.

An amazing thing has happened over the last few days. I’ve noticed that there are others who drive friendly – the Texas Way – and even appreciate me when I do the same. That makes me feel happy and much more at ease. Maybe it does the same for them.

If you’re new here – welcome. Hopefully, we can show you how to drive friendly too…

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What’s Plan B?

A researcher from the City of Austin called me a couple of years ago to ask some questions about having an urban farm on a floodplain similar to Opal’s. The city had recently bought out a thousand homes because of flooding on Williamson and Onion Creek. They wanted to build an urban farm on the property and much like governments do, they had to do a study first. Not that it’s a negative mind you. One should “count the cost” before jumping in, but the city was overthinking the whole project. That tends to happen a lot…

Anyway, this nice grad student from the University of Texas called to pick my brain and had a very long list of questions to be answered. Our conversation went well. Yes, there are challenges to urban farming and no, they’re not that big a deal. Farming teaches us how to work with nature and not against it. Moreover, it’s always a risk since nature tends to win no matter what we do. That’s just the way it is. Resilience must be a core value.

She asked me a question I’d never thought of before: what is your Plan B if it floods? It took me back a bit. “What do you mean by Plan B?”

She went on to explain that they were on a twenty-five-year flood plain and they needed a Plan B if it flooded there. I had to laugh and then remember I was talking to a researcher for the city. Cities have a need to put everything in a plan. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t work like that. I guess that’s why I love it so much. There’s never a dull moment.

I informed her that we had no “Plan B”. If it floods, we rebuild the beds and replant. What else is there to do? Maybe that’s a tad easier for me to say since we are on a hundred-year floodplain and have never had to deal with flooding – at least until this week.

The local media is calling this week’s rain historic. We received a month’s rainfall in a day – fifteen inches at Opal’s Farm. The Trinity River breached a section of the levee and flooded the back half of the farm. I was finally able to drive down there by Wednesday. Walking the beds and negotiating some of the still standing water I was surprised to find the back road covered in dead fish – hundreds of them. The levee is slightly lower on the south end of the farm and had washed over that section and when it receded, it left our finned friends high and dry. It was a first for us.

Needless to say…

We spent the rest of the week on “Plan B” – clean up, rebuild, and replant. We were unable to make Cowtown Farmers Market this week, but we should be there next week. We didn’t lose any of our existing crops although everything was covered in mud. The rain and the cooler nights have led the tomatoes to bloom in force and begin setting tomatoes again. Everything is a vibrant green on the farm once more. The dead fish have been added to the compost pile, so I assume we don’t have to spend anything on fish emulsion. The rain brought us down for “Extreme Drought” stage to “Severe Drought” stage. After all, resilience is one of our core values…

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A Prayer For Today

“Love won’t be real or tested unless we somehow live close to the disadvantaged, who frankly teach us that we know very little about love.” – Fr. Richard Rohr

The was first thing I read this morning. It pierced my heart with its truth.

Opal’s Farm is close to the homeless missions and camps in Fort Worth. If I don’t make the light at Riverside and Lancaster Avenues, I’m going to have to deal with someone panhandling on the corner. I usually don’t carry cash and I feel bad that I can’t throw some money their way. I know what it’s like to be hungry. People say it just goes to drugs and alcohol, but that’s not always true. I’ve seen folks immediately walk to the convenience store across the street and come out with food instead of beer. Besides, I know what it is to need a fix, get sick without it, and be out of resources or credit.

I try to acknowledge the various characters I see while stopped at the light on most days. I know what it’s like to feel unseen and written off as inconsequential, to somehow be sub-human because of my status in the social hierarchy.  A pastor friend once told me that homeless folks told him over and over that they’d just like to be seen – to be acknowledged – to feel human.

Sometimes a simple “I’m sorry but I don’t have anything to give” can lead to some eye-opening conversations in the two minutes it takes for the light to change. A life story can be told in those two minutes. I’ve even found a couple of folks who I save a little cash for just so I can brighten their day a bit just as they have brightened mine. To paraphrase Ms. Opal, I can’t help everyone, but I can help someone.

Sometimes that same “I don’t have anything” can turn into an aggressive confrontation. The streets are ripe with mental illness and substance abuse that often leads to strange and threatening behavior from the street denizens. I find myself becoming jaded and cynical toward the very people with whom I had compassion for a moment ago. Fear does that. It’s times like these that remind me that I have a long way to go in loving others. It reminds me that love is a verb, an action word reflected in the things I do and not what I say.

I was always told that the opposite of fear was faith. I’m sure today that fear is not the opposite of faith – I can be fearful and still have an albeit small degree of faith. Fear is really the opposite of love when it comes down to it. Sometimes it keeps me from loving those that need to be loved the most. Maybe that’s why “Don’t be afraid” is found so many times throughout the Bible.

“Perfect love casts put all fear…”

When I remember the promise, it makes it easier to see people for who they are. Humans created in the image of a loving God, the image of love itself. I have so far to go but this has always been the starting point – trying to remember that there is no “other”, that we’re each a reflection of God- the imago dei. I can begin to escape the judgment, the separation, and the self-righteousness of the old tapes that play in my head.

Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up. If we love each other enough, we will bear with each other’s faults and burdens. If we love enough, we are going to light that fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much.”

– Dorothy Day, House of Hospitality

Just for today, just for this moment, God please help me to see you in everyone I’ll meet today. Let me learn how to love with the same abandon as you. I’ll be leaving for the farm soon. I’ll be stopping at the light at Riverside and Lancaster. Help me be the light today…   

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