It’s Groundhog Day! This is one of my favorite holidays – at least since I saw the movie. Some of you may remember Bill Murray and Groundhog Day. It’s a comedic delight with a powerful message of grace that rings true beyond the rom-com story it is. It’s also about second (and third and fourth and… well, you get the picture) chances, redemption, transformation, and grace.
The basic premise involves Bill Murray as a conceited, arrogant narcissistic weatherman who is sent off to do a story about Punxsutawney Phil, the famed groundhog that crawls out his burrow to see, or not see, his shadow thus predicting the duration of winter. Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania is far away from the big meteorologist’s job in New York that Murray’s character covets and his obnoxious attitude towards the town, its people, and its star resident is quite evident. Misogyny and cheap sex mark his initial attitude toward the female producer (Andie MacDowell) set to cover the story. Blizzard conditions force his little crew to find a hotel and stay in town until the roads are clear.
The alarm goes off the following morning and he awakens to a repeat of the day before. The same thing happens the next day and the next until his transformation is complete and, as all rom-com movies go, he wins over Andie MacDowell’s character. It’s a happy ending. It’s kind of like grace…
I guess that’s why it ranks high on my favorite movies list. I can relate. I’ve been given chance after chance to leave self-centered ego behind and become more God-centered. Believe me, I spent a long time enduring the “same day” over and over again (most addicted people can relate) until I awoke to a new day and a life filled with new possibilities. That is grace, pure and simple.
I’ve gone through many changes since that first day of waking up and receiving the grace so freely offered. I’ve come from a place of coveting pleasure, control, and wealth all the time to seeking God’s steadfast love, justice, and righteousness. I still fall woefully short many days but each new day brings a closer walk with the God of my understanding and more grace…
“but let those who boast, boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord”. Jeremiah 9.24
By the way, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, but it’s in conflict with what all the long-term forecasts say…
I grew up in a religious home just like many others. My family attended church the prerequisite three times a week for “salvation” – Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday evening. Sunday nights were rarely fun for me. Service started at the same time as “The Wonderful World of Disney”. If my parents took us to dinner with their friends afterwards then count on missing “Bonanza” too. I seemed to get sick a lot on Sunday evenings. I could even “will” myself to have a low-grade fever just so I wouldn’t miss the Sunday night TV lineup. Seriously, I learned how to drive my body temperature up just enough that Mom would stay home from church with me. I found out later they call it biofeedback…
Although I always had to sit through a service designed to create a Hyperactive Attention Deficit Disorder in children, I liked Sunday morning “Sunday School” before the worship service and Wednesday night Bible Class. It was a chance to be with my friends and there were great activities to learn all the old Bible stories. Being “Bible believing” Church of Christ members, each of stories were taught as indisputable historical truth and the Bible was how God spoke period! Such teaching became Christian “evidence” by the time I reached my teenage years so that I could certainly argue with any sane, scientific, rational person out there…
I don’t see my faith, or the Bible, the same way today. In fact, some of the things I learned were a detriment, causing all kinds of shame and self-hate. Grace was some abstract theological term that really didn’t apply to me. If personal piety is a prerequisite for heavenly salvation, then I’m so screwed. Still, I’m grateful that Mom and Dad “raised me right”, as we say in Texas. Those stories laid the foundation for the relationship I have with God today. Grace has brought healing to my human brokenness and gratitude sustains me as I walk through life today.
Just so you know… God didn’t go silent after the Bible was finished and canonized by the state church at the Council of Nicaea. He actually speaks quite regularly if I (and we) take time to listen. He still needs shout with an occasional head slap at times to get my attention, but I’m much better at hearing him than I used to be. Let me give you a recent example…
Opal’s Farm is growing (both literally and figuratively) by leaps and bounds this year. Our new partnership with Tarleton State University, the “Time Served is Not Time Wasted” program, our SSARE (part of USDA) Research Grant with TCU, serving as the flagship for urban farming here in Fort Worth, and having both an Assistant Farm Manager and part-time farm apprentice have opened new opportunities to grow as an organization and serve our community better. It’s an exciting and busy time. In addition, continuing education and serving on a couple of local committees rapidly overfills the days. I, and my Assistant Farm Manager put in many hours trying to make things happen.
However, in the midst of this work, I made a point to save more time for reading and continuing education on a personal level. I read a lot – whether it be books, fellow bloggers, or newsletters – and I began to notice a pattern slowly emerging in each of them. The words Sabbath rest repeated regularly; especially as I became more tired and honestly, cantankerous. I began to lose patience with those closest to me and became constantly restless, irritable, and discontented. Even my reading dropped off. Who has time to read AND comprehend? All the while the pattern of Sabbath rest became louder and stronger. I had too much to do to rest. I’ve always known the importance of Sabbath rest. It’s in the creation story and it’s one of the Ten Commandments. I’ve simply been extremely lax in practicing it.
In Genesis 2.2-4, it tells us that after six days of creation, God finished His work and rested from all His work. As The Message translation puts it, “God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day because on that day He rested from His work, all the creating he had done.” Later, in the Book of Exodus, at Mt. Sinai, God speaks what we call The Ten Commandments, or The Decalogue, and states that His people are to “Observe the Sabbath, and keep it holy”. He goes on to restate that even he rested on the seventh day after creating the Earth.
I never took those words at face value, but the final straw caught up to me in the form of a republished Walter Bruggeman’s “Deliver Us”. I won’t take this opportunity to expound on the text, but it caused me to see how I become a self-made slave when I forget that God is one of abundance and not scarcity that drives me (and us) to constantly seek enough.
I learned many years ago that God is “enough”. My problem though, as my friend Jim told me, is “not that I’m a slow learner, its that I’m a fast forgetter”. I subtly fall into an endless chase for “enough” – enough finances, enough savings, – and “more” – more people helped, more work at Opal’s Farm, more of (fill in the blank). It’s no wonder I become restless, irritable, and discontented…
The problem is that when you know, you know, or as my mentor would say, “Once you’re aware you can’t become unaware. I know that God is enough, and it’s been proven in my life time after time. God has spoken quite clearly. If He needs to rest maybe I should follow his lead. Maybe I should take a Sabbath rest. Maybe I need a Holy day to stop, see where I’m at, and rest in his presence. Maybe we all do…
I decided that Amber and I, as the two full-time employees at the farm, were no longer going to work seven days a week as we often do. We are going to take a “Sabbath”, not literally mind you (it doesn’t have to be the “seventh” day), but a day off where the farm is somewhere else, and we can rest and “re-create” to do what we love in the coming days with new energy and possibility.
It’s not easy. I’m sitting at my desk, writing this, and constantly reminding myself that Opal’s Farm is in good hands and fighting the urge to go and “just see how things are going”. Farming is a full-time job. New seed needs water and new beds must be ready for the rest of Spring planting. Bad weather slowed everything down through the Fall and early winter. Now unusually mild and dry weather has required daily irrigation. Volunteers are scheduled to be there on the weekends. Someone needs to be there, right?
Someone is! We’ve worked out a schedule that allows one of us to be there each day, but we each have our figurative Sabbath. Just as importantly, we each have days we can work alone. We’re both introverts by nature and need some “me” time away from other people.
I intend to stay home today and relish the day I’ve been given. I already feel better. I didn’t set the alarm clock and slept until 7:30! Sabbath rest is also about liberation. Liberation from a system of scarcity, of oppression (and depression) and basking in the freedom of “enough”.
I had coffee on the porch this morning wearing comfortable sweatpants and a t-shirt. I had to switch the sweatpants out for shorts! It’s been an up and down Fall temperature-wise. December is following the same train. The long-term forecast says I have another three to four weeks before the real winter weather hits (think second week in January y’all…) so I’ll get the row covers and the low tunnels ready. Winter is turning out to be a great season for Opal’s Farm.
The ultimate mission of Opal’s Farm and all of Unity Unlimited is to build a strong local community. Opal’s has always included the soil, the wildlife, and their habitat in that community. Just as all of God’s kids have a basic human right to the food we grow, all creation is sacred, given life by the creator. Therefore, we are stewards and custodians of a sacred gift – one that is especially holy right here in the middle of Fort Worth.
We’ve always had an abundance of wildlife frequenting the farm. Three coyotes are seen regularly early in the mornings. Great Blue Herons nest on a tree-covered sand bar on the south end of the farm. Egrets are in abundance. This time of year, we also get the many geese, ducks, and cormorants migrating towards warmer climes. The Trinity River is often covered with huge flocks of ducks, geese, and sea gulls all sitting together. Sometimes we just have to stop working and marvel at the choreography of hundreds of them taking off from the water in their assigned flight crews.
We’ve recently discovered a new visitor – a bobcat that keeps ripping the Agribon covers and leaving headless field mice (and a lot of tracks) as gifts for us each morning. We’ve also found a ton of tiny native toads where our new beds are going. We have a farm turtle named Myrtle who trudges across the fields from time to time. We have the full complement of field mice, songbirds, other small field critters, and nutrias from the river.
My favorite though is our resident Cooper’s Hawk, Ethan (it was either Ethan or Tony but since he doesn’t have a skateboard…). Ethan has become quite a fixture at the farm. He moved into the big oak tree next to the farm last year. He even brought a mate with him this Spring, although we rarely see her. Our bird problems have been minimal since Ethan’s been around.
I’ve been clearing sections of sorghum and Sudan grass with a bushwhacker/weed trimmer and Ethan has started to stand behind me and wait until my bushwacker chases field mice into the open. It’s become a great place to hunt, and he stands closer to me each day. Close enough that I backed into him the other. He does not seem to be concerned about Amber and I. I don’t wish to anthropomorphize but I’m sure he understands us when we’re talking to him.
I stop to watch Ethan hunt quite often. I’m always enthralled by his beauty and thank God that he’s allowed us to be a part of his world. He’s a constant reminder of how important being a good steward of God’s creation is. St. Francis of Assisi reminds us of how interconnected God’s world is. It’s said he preached to the animals just as he carried the gospel to people. We often fail to remember just how precious all life – the natural world with its myriad of creatures and wonders – truly is. I’m so grateful to be a part of Opal’s Farm and to commune with the Creator and the created.
“God looked over everything He had made; it was good, so very good” (Genesis 1.31)
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!
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…