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What Are Your Four Words?

It’s a cold, windy morning here in Cowtown. The “feels like” temperature won’t get out of the low twenties but by Tuesday we’ll be back in the seventies. The rollercoaster continues…

A friend posted a word puzzle on social media that said the first four words you saw were going to be your mantra for the new year. I’m the perpetual skeptic when it comes to things like this, but I looked anyway. I must say I’m pleased with the words I found. The order was:

The first one was love. I can’t think of a better way to begin the mantra. I strive to love better each day, but I fall woefully short sometimes. Fortunately, I have tremendous role models, mentors, and friends who help me along the way. My wife, Margaret, is my main role model. Her patience and acceptance of others is wondrous. Then there’s Ms. Opal. Maybe when I get to her age, I can love others as she does, but I have a feeling it’s something she’s been doing for a lifetime.

The second word was peace. Our home is a place of peace. We prayed over our home since we bought it eight years ago. We wanted our home to be a place where the spirit of peace abides for us and our friends. We live a predominantly drama-free life. We have our moments, but they are few and far between. I’m infinitely grateful God has blessed us with his peace.

I’m in dire need of having peace as part of my mantra when it comes to looking beyond our home. There is division and strife everywhere I turn these days. I sometime think of the words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”. It’s as simple as that, but it’s certainly not easy. I think of Jesus’ teaching, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God”. I pray that I become a peacemaker – not a peacemaker: one who exercises power over others to simply maintain order or someone who gives on everything just keep the peace.

Peacemaking is an arduous task and that brings me the mantra’s third word – strength. It’s not physical strength I need (although I might say different at the end of a long day at Opal’s Farm…), but spiritual strength to be the man God made me to be. Honestly, there are some days when my strength is completely absent and then I find the strength to do the next thing in front of me. I became acutely aware of this when my son died in 2020. God held me up then and still holds me up in many ways today I need strong emotional shoulders for others to better serve them. I need strength of character to be there for others and, to be a peacemaker.

The final word of the mantra was change. I had to think about this one for a while. Change is so difficult for folks to deal with. There was a time in my life I was sure nothing was going to change – but that had more to do with my fear, addiction, and depression – that life was a problem with no solution. I’ve learned differently since then.  

I know longer fear change (most of the time), but welcome it. My walk with God encourages me to grow, to change, and to be the special, unique man God made me to be. I look back over a lifetime and the only constant has been change – some good, some bad – but always know that the God of my understanding has walked me through each one. He always has my back, so I don’t have to fear. Maybe that’s why “Be not afraid” is mentioned so many times in the Bible…

I also pray to be an agent of change – to be part of the world around me no matter how big or small that world may be. I have a quote from Mother Theresa at the bottom of each of the emails I send, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one”. I may not be able to do for the hundred, but I can be the agent for change for one person. I may never know that I was, but each of our actions has influence and consequences. You just never know how you can change the trajectory of someone’s life.

The mantra now made complete sense. If I walk in peace, rely on God’s strength, and be an agent of change, then I will automatically love better.

“But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.” 1 Corinthians 13.13 (The Message Bible)

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Larger Than Life

While everyone can be a role model, not everyone can be larger-than-life. I think of those that are “larger” than the rest of us as the positive role models to role models. We all have larger than life heroes.

The kind of hero they are changed as I’ve grew. It was John Wayne, Superman, and John F. Kennedy when I was growing up in the sixties. My definition of a hero changed by the time I was in college in the seventies – it was more of an anti-hero. If you were against the establishment, I was with you! I even had a Che Guevarra poster in my dorm room and a “Question Authority” bumper sticker on my car (both by the way, were a burr under the saddle of the administration of the Christian college I attended for a year where piety and strict obedience were the norm).

I’m not sure who my heroes were in the eighties and nineties. Those were lost decades in many ways. I think I thought of anyone who could stay clean and sober was my hero. I sure wasn’t hanging around anyone like that. The new century brought about the recovery I’d longed for and my definition of “larger-than-life” changed once again to those that looked beyond themselves to serve the common good and make this a better place to be.

It I’d be willing to wager that we’ve all wanted to be a hero. I’ve even met folks who believe themselves to be one (a little clue – larger than life people don’t think of themselves as heroes, or even think of themselves at all, really – at least not mine…).

What is larger-than-life?

“What creates such larger-than-life people? Their altruism is hard to understand by almost any psychological definition of the human person. I believe such people have built their lives on the reality of union with God, Reality, or What Finally Is.” – Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (New York: Convergent Books, 2019), 161–162.

“Surrender is the strongest, most subversive thing you can do in this world. It takes strength to admit you are weak, bravery to show you are vulnerable, courage to ask for help.” – Holly Whitaker

“Your ordinary acts of love and hope point to the extraordinary promise that every human life is of inestimable value.” – Desmond Tutu

“Whatever that you do, you begin from the premise that you’re human together.” – Musimbi Kanyoro

“I’m not sure it even matters what the artist thought they wanted when they sat down to create the work. The art itself seems to want something, to make a change in the world. And the ability to create art like that belongs to each of us.” – Seth Godin

“If someone can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love. – Dr. Opal Lee (the Grandmother of Juneteenth)

I asked Ms. Opal if I needed to start calling her Dr. Lee. She laughed and told me Ms. Opal is fine. That’s what larger-than-life heroes do…

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The Headline I Wish It Wasn’t…

The last thing I wanted to see tonight was the news of another hero of the faith passing on. I was flying through personal email when a headline caught my eye just as I clicked “delete”. I hurriedly went to the deleted folder only to discover that Archbishop Desmond Tutu passed away today at ninety years old.

I first came to learn of Archbishop Tutu through his work to end apartheid in South Africa. He received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in 1984. When apartheid finally ended in South Africa, Archbishop Tutu went on to help start the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to bring healing to the country. His was a heart for restorative justice for the perpetrators and the victims of apartheid’s senseless violence.

He spoke to injustice anywhere regardless of color or status. In 2004, he accused post-apartheid President Mbeki of catering to the South African elites and forgetting the people he was elected to serve. He wasn’t afraid to call anyone out.

He reminded us that silence in the face of injustice was not an option. During my college years he said something that has stayed with me all these years – “If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality”. Silence may appear neutral, l but it’s really consent to the oppressor.

I could go on for pages about Archbishop Tutu’s work. He was indeed a true hero of the faith. May we follow his example. The world is a little quieter without his voice.

“Easter says to us that despite everything to the contrary, his will for us will prevail, love will prevail over hate, justice over injustice and oppression, peace over exploitation and bitterness.”

– Desmond Tutu
courtesy of CNN
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Heroes…

One of the best things about working at the farm is the time I have for prayer. It’s been a difficult season for me. Christmas wasn’t the same after my father passed in 2002. Dad was our family’s Christmas spirit. Then Mom passed in 2017. My sister and her husband live in Georgia so there wasn’t much family left. I had Jeremy and the grandkids but negotiating holidays with different families often meant a quiet Christmas with my son Adrian. When Jeremy died last year, I decided the best thing about Christmas was December 26th

My family never celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday. I was told that if Jesus’ birthday wasn’t mentioned by date, then we had nothing to celebrate. It was that old “we have the line on the truth” thing that the Church of Christ was known for. We didn’t celebrate Easter either even though the dates are obvious – even if it is on the Jewish calendar – but that’s another story. I feel a little cheated to be honest. Presents are nice but it wasn’t the same…

Anyway, I’ve grown and changed over the years. I may not have much Christmas spirit – the whole tree, family, and presents thing – but I feel a deep gratitude and joy over the birth of a Savior. I’m especially fond of Advent. It was thoughts of anticipation of Immanuel – “God with us” – that stayed in the fore front of my mind today as I worked and prayed.

My thoughts turned to the “heroes of the faith” – at least my faith. I thought of Ms. Opal (she said I don’t have to call her Dr. Lee…) and all the years of service as not only a civil rights activist, but as a Deaconess in her church. I thought of her mantra – “If someone can be taught to hate they can be taught to love”.

I thought about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker – “It would be foolish to pretend that it is always easy to remember [that Christ is present in the ordinary stranger] … If Mary had appeared in Bethlehem clothed, as St. John says, with the sun, a crown of twelve stars on her head, and the moon under her feet [Revelation 12:1], then people would have fought to make room for her. But that was not God’s way for her, nor is it Christ’s way for Himself, now when He is disguised under every type of humanity that treads the earth.”

– Dorothy Day, “Room for Christ,” Selected Writings: By Little and by Little, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Orbis Books: 1992), 96.

I thought of Father Daniel Berrigan. I had the privilege of being arrested with Father Berrigan at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Facility at a Plowshares demonstration. I don’t know why I thought of that: especially since I came to be very ashamed of all the times I went to jail for reasons I’d rather not recall – addiction sucks…

He was on my mind when I got home and went through email and found this in my inbox:

“So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ — the life of the world.”- Daniel Berrigan, “Advent

I may lack Christmas spirit this year, but I’m not confused by the gift given to God’s kids on that night a little over two thousand years ago. I’m waiting in quiet anticipation for the birthday of Jesus Christ – “the life of the world.

May you all be filled with the joy and peace of Jesus. May the new year bring justice and peace for us all.