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Words That Pull the Trigger

Thoughts From the Porch: We sold out early at the farmer’s market Saturday. We sold much of the week’s harvest on Wednesday, so we were a bit light for Saturday’s market. Our normal crowd was a bit smaller due to the rainy morning. Even a few of our farmers took the day off for other pursuits. Hopefully, everyone enjoyed a much-needed break from summer chores. I know I did.

Our friends Melvin and Janice called Friday night to invite us up to Lake Murray for a camping weekend. It was a perfect Saturday morning to leave market early and head to Oklahoma. Cell service is almost non-existent there. Spending a couple of days unplugged from everything is a periodic necessity. A couple of days in a quiet campsite with good friends is just what the doctor ordered!

Life is full of small pleasures. My Sunday morning meeting was covered by someone else, so I slept in for a change. Upon awakening I made the coffee and headed for some serious porch time. I made the mistake of checking out my CNN app and discovered twenty-nine people had been killed in two mass shootings just hours apart: one in El Paso and the other in Dayton, Ohio. It was difficult to separate the horror and sadness I experienced from the rising fury toward the hatefulness of the crimes.

Photo by Ivandrei Pretorius on Pexels.com

 I wanted to write about it but growing older (and hopefully wiser) has allowed me to hit the pause button on such occasions lest I speak or write out of anger. I tend to say things I later regret or that are misunderstood. It makes apologies and amends to others for my emotional outburst extremely difficult. So, I’ve mulled this over for the last couple of days before sharing my thoughts.

Same story, different day…

The storyline has become all-to familiar. Another mass shooting. The news covers all the vigils held to honor the dead. Finding relatives of the fallen or hospital room interviews with survivors are a ratings bonanza. There’s an outcry against gun violence. Politicians and political pundits from both sides of the aisle pontificate on how to prevent this from happening again, just as they did the last time and the time before that. What happened Sunday will happen again today, tomorrow, and so it goes.

According to data collected by the non-profit organization, Gun Violence Archive, (as of August 4th, 2019) a mass shooting is defined as “an event where at least four people, not including the gunman, were shot”. By this definition, there have been 292 mass shootings in last 219 days of this year alone. I’m no math wizard but according to my calculations, that’s 1.3 mass shootings a day.

We simply don’t hear about most of them. It seems only a large body count is newsworthy. Maybe we’ve become numb to “average” shootings. Many occur in communities most folks ignore anyway. Sadly, if this weekend’s events are like previous mass shootings, the media will play with the story for a few days until another ratings booster comes along…

Words can kill just like bullets

The FBI is unsure as to the motive of the Dayton shooter, but are treating the El Paso event as an act of domestic terrorism based on white supremacy. The shooter’s motives were clear so he several hundred miles to carry out a planned attack on immigrants because of the “Hispanic invasion of Texas”.

The “Hispanic invasion”. “Those people”. “Go back where you came from”. All words and phrases coming from the highest office in the land. All words that spark hate, division, and most of all, fear. When asked what we can do about the problem with those people, someone shouted, “shoot them” and everyone present laughed. Except for one 21-year-old from North Texas. He took those words literally…

I don’t know what to do about gun control, red flag laws, or mental health issues and gun violence. I don’t know if the present occupant of the White House will change his words, but maybe we should hold him accountable for those words. Words kill. They accounted for at least 22 of the deaths this weekend. Hateful words, attitudes, and divisiveness pulled the trigger as much as the gunman did. Donald Trump is as complicit in the El Paso shooting as the gunman.

What I do know is to counter hateful words and actions with love and grace, despite my anger and sadness. The grace shown to me by a loving Abba will guide my actions. I’ll not allow hate and division to interfere with loving and uniting others, especially “the others”.

What I know for certain is, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke (in a letter addressed to Thomas Mercer). I won’t be quiet, nor will I sit still.

Will you?

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Shootings and Shock

Thoughts From the Porch: I stepped out on to a dark porch this morning. The Mockingbird sang his morning song, and all was peaceful. Our little cul-de-sac is far removed from the rest of the world on mornings like this. While I enjoy the respite of the porch, I’m not immune to the world around me. I know how blessed I am. Others are not so fortunate.

Photo by Ivandrei Pretorius on Pexels.com

I watched the news in horror as another hateful display of violence and white nationalism resulted in the death of 49 people and 20 others wounded in Christchurch, New Zealand. My heart goes out to our Muslim brothers and sisters who were doing nothing more than practicing their faith. It seems to be a story often repeated: Sikhs in Wisconsin, Christians in Charlottesville, Jewish worshipers in Pittsburgh. It even happened a couple of hours south of me in a small church in Texas. All mass shootings motivated by hate, racism, and insanity.

While I’m deeply saddened by what happened in Christchurch, I’m saddened far more by the fact that I feel no shock whatsoever. Mass shootings are no longer exceptions to the norm. According to www.massshootingtracker.org there have been 65 mass shootings as of March 16th in the United States alone.

Photo by Ivandrei Pretorius on Pexels.com

I was living in Denver, Colorado in April 1999 when the Columbine shooting occurred. While there had been earlier mass shootings, Columbine hit home. Maybe it was the scale of the violence or that the news coverage was so immediate, but I was completely shocked by the event. Moreover, my oldest friend had friends at Columbine. It was all-to-real.

I’ve lost count of how many mass shootings there have been since. Maybe that’s why I’m no longer shocked to hear of yet another one. I despise the fact that I’m no longer surprised. It feels like giving in and giving up. People die, it causes an uproar in the media for a couple of days, and everyone goes back to life as if nothing has happened. It’s just the way things are.

I don’t pretend to know how to fix the problem. I’m not here to debate gun control or the other policy decisions that might prevent, or at least mitigate, mass shootings. Prayers and sympathy might help but they aren’t enough. They’re usually lost in a twenty-four-hour news cycle that dulls the senses anyway…

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Bucket lists…

I haven’t posted for the last couple of days. There’s a great deal going on at our household. Mostly, it involves trying to stay cool while getting things accomplished. Our poor air conditioner is having difficulty keeping up with the heat wave we’re experiencing and I feel a bit wind-blown from all the fans in our house.

Even with the triple-digit heat, the porch has provided some respite from the heat in the early mornings. I was able to enjoy conversation and coffee with Margaret for quite a while before the perspiration beading up on our foreheads said it was time to go in. Our conversation wandered around for a bit, talking about our kids, with their unique (and sometimes frustrating) personalities and what the future holds in store. I shared a blog from another writer in Northern Ireland and the pictures he posted from Belfast this morning. I’ve had a trip to Ireland at the top of my ‘bucket list’ for many, many years. His post this morning stoked that fire once again.

I’m not a ‘travel’ kind of guy. I’m quite content to live vicariously through the photos my friends post of their travels and prefer to stay close to home. Besides, I could spend a lifetime traveling around Texas and never see the same thing twice. Aside from the mountains in Colorado, I haven’t gotten around to very many other places. Still, I would travel to Ireland in a heartbeat.

The first time I entered a drug and alcohol rehab hospital I went through an assessment with the doctor on staff. He asked me if there was any history of alcoholism or addiction in my family. I told him that I came from a very conservative Christian home and even my great-grandfather was a circuit preacher in Texas, so I didn’t think so. I wasn’t sure it made any difference anyway since I was adopted. All I know about my birth parents is that I’m Irish. Without missing a beat, the doctor looked at me and said he’d just answer yes to the history question. I’m not sure how I felt about that, except it seems awfully stereotypical and extremely politically incorrect…

I’ve often thought about trying to locate my birth mother. I’d love to know something of my ancestry, as well as the family medical history. Now that I’m pushing sixty it’s growing unlikely that it will happen. Sometimes though, I wonder if I have half-siblings out there. I guess a lot of adopted kids from ‘closed’ adoptions have the same questions. I have an adopted cousin who found her birth mother and discovered she had nine brothers and sisters! It makes me wonder…

My mother and I were driving down from Fairplay, Colorado and out of the blue, she asked me if I’d ever thought of finding my birth mother. Although I was a grown man, I was a little freaked-out by the question. It was something that had never been discussed at home. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings because she was my mother, regardless of who gave me birth. Finding my biological parent wouldn’t change that. As I paused, she immediately followed up with, “Why haven’t you? I would.”

I remember telling her that it just wasn’t a big deal to me. I may have meant it at the time but that’s not an honest answer today. The reality is that I don’t want to be disappointed. Somewhere deep inside, that feeling of abandonment that has always been present comes u8p every time I think about trying to get court records unsealed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m eternally grateful to the mother with whom I share DNA. I know somethings about her from the profile my parents gave me when I turned twenty-one. I know that she was only sixteen. In the pre-Roe v. Wade years of the Eisenhower Administration, young women who were ‘in a family way’ were often shuttled off somewhere else to avoid familial embarrassment, to have their baby, and give it up for adoption. I know it had to be difficult for her. I often wonder whether she was forced by her parents to give me up. I prefer to think of her as courageous and wise; that she made the decision to adopt out of concern for my welfare. If I can’t ever ask her that question, I never have to believe otherwise…

If I were to meet her I’d like to tell her thank you for giving me up to such a loving home. My adoptive parents wanted a child desperately and I was loved by the very best. Dad always told me that everyone else had to “take what they were given, but that I was handpicked and specially chosen” to be their son. I came to know what they meant when they brought my little sister home six years later. She’s quite the women, my sister. I’ve led a charmed life, despite my adult struggles, and I couldn’t ask for anything better. I can’t tell you how grateful I am. God is so good…

The only negative I can find in the Joel family tree is that they are English. I have a friend who reminds me that “at least they weren’t French”, but he’s British and that’s another story. I truly would like to know about where I come from and how I ended up in Fort Worth, Texas. According to immigration records, most Irish immigrants in the 19th century came through the Port of New Orleans. What we know of the defenders of the  Alamo, the holy shrine of Texas Independence, is that most who sacrificed their lives were Irish and Scottish immigrants. I wonder when, and if, that was the case for my ancestors. Do I have an extended family I don’t know about? Do I need to know, for that matter? Who knows? Maybe there’s a genetic longing taking place…

I guess I’ll just have to keep saving until I can cross Ireland off my ‘Bucket List”…

 

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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…

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Foxes and protest marches…

Disclaimer: My editor, (Margaret) is out to a late breakfast and a movie with a friend of ours. It’s really hard to edit myself so please excuse any errors. I love you Margaret and your help is greatly appreciated. I love baby…

 

I slept in this morning. It was after nine o’clock when I was finally awakened by Miss Maggie giving me my morning bath. All you pet parents will know what I mean. Please understand that Maggie is half Catahoula and half coyote. She has her “wild” moments and she’s quite the huntress, catching birds in mid-air, and bringing dead rats and possums in the house. Her eyes are different from most dogs I’ve known. You would have to see them to know what I mean, but there’s an alertness and an awareness that’s goes well beyond that of domesticated dogs. I guess that what makes our bond so special. Our other two, Jameson and Sadie, favor Margaret, but Maggie is all mine…

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The porch was unbelievably pleasant this morning even though the sun had been up for a while. I sat with my wife for a while and got to speak to our kid before she left. I was curious as to why she was up so early. Classes are out for the summer and I know she was binge-watching Jurassic Park movies with friends last night. The only reason I was up early on Saturdays when I was twenty-seven was because I had kids by then.

 

I was extremely pleased when she told me she was off to the Families Should Stay Together march in downtown Fort Worth, protesting the insane, inhumane, and immoral immigration policies of Mr. Trump and his cronies. I’d love to be there, but I’m still tethered to my little IV buddy (only until Monday!) and can’t be in the heat. Margaret wanted to go as well. Even though she’s far more conservative than I am, she’s a mom and she’s outraged that families are torn apart. We asked Gael to please raise her voice a little louder and represent us as well.

 

Our daughter has officially `come out’ as transgender. Since she posted it on Facebook I don’t have a problem with saying it (or writing it) aloud. I’m not sure what all that means. She has asked us to refer to her in the third person. As a writer I have some difficulty with that. It’s just not proper English. However, out of respect for her I’ll refer to her in the third person for the duration of this post. I’m not sure how I feel about that if I’m honest with you and with her. It doesn’t make a difference though as I love our kid no matter how `they’ identify.

 

It’s taken me a long journey to reach that point. I was raised in a very conservative religious background, so I carried a lot of baggage into adulthood. Like everything else in life, it requires a lot of conversations, a lot of prayer, and a lot of meditation. I still don’t have all the answers, but I refuse to preach drivel when I know that all of us are God’s kids. If I’m wrong, and I don’t believe I am, God accepts us where and for who we are regardless of labels and identification.

 

I must admit that I don’t often understand all the labels. I know it’s important for people who have lived with discrimination and, often hate, to come out and let everyone know that they’re one of God’s kids just like everyone else. Growing up as a socially awkward introvert, I know what it’s like to bully to fit in with the crowd and be bullied because someone is different. I’m thankful that as time goes on, we’ve become more tolerant and less judgmental as a people. We still have a long way to go. I’m grateful for those who take a stand for dignity, equality, and what is right. I’m proud of who `they’ are.

 

When Margaret and I married five-and-a-half years ago, we decided that we had no `step’ kids. They were all our children, even if they were grown. So, when Gael asked if `they’ could move in with us, so `they’ could go back to college, we invited `them’ home, and this is `their’ home.  I emphasize that because we are known to have our occasional conflicts and frustrations. The reason has more to do with the fact that she’s so much like me than anything else. Even though I didn’t come to know her until she was a young adult, she’s like me in so many ways. She’s as passionate about loving others, social equality, and injustice as I am. It’s not surprising that we but heads from time to time…

 

So, that being said, `they’ probably don’t have a clue how special this morning was to me. I’m proud that `they’ are marching today, and a heartfelt thank you out to `them’. More than that, it was when `they’ were leaving this morning, Gael went in a brought me out a cup of coffee. I know that sounds incredibly trivial and unimportant. It’s what `they’ brought in that was super special.

 

When Gael moved in, `they’ had a coffee mug that was singled out as one we couldn’t use. It was `their’ `fox’ mug and had special meaning for her. We’ve always respected `their’ wishes and we’ve never drank from it before. When Gael brought my coffee, guess what it was in! I wouldn’t have been surprised if we were short on coffee mugs, but the dishes are done and there’s no shortage in our house, believe me. I don’t know whether it was intentional or not, but Margaret tells me it’s a big deal. Heck, I was just thankful `they’ brought me a cup of coffee. I didn’t know I was getting so much more.

 

So, Gael, I’m sure it’s hot and uncomfortable downtown this morning, but thank you for being there and for simply being you. I’m proud of you and want you to know I love and appreciate you – even when I’m a stubborn old fart…

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Enough

“I woke up this morning with my mind set on freedom…” The Justice Choir, Poor People’s Campaign

What a way to start the morning! I woke up early, left my sleeping wife and dogs, and took my coffee to the porch. A little cloud cover and a slight breeze made for an excellent morning to pray and meditate in the cool of the day.

Yesterday was the culmination of the last forty days of the Poor People’s Campaign, A National Call for Moral Revival. Fifty years ago this week, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the original Poor People’s Campaign to Washington D.C. I sat and listened to the livestream of the rally in Washington and became incredibly grateful for those that continue to work for justice, peace, and a better life for all people and not a select few.

I have to tell you about a news report about James Comey, the former FBI Director. It seems he was going to Dublin, Ireland on his book tour. Upon arrival he commented to his wife that they should tell the Irish immigration officials they were Canadian. They were ashamed to be Americans in the current world situation. I understand completely. I’m embarrassed by association, but I’m reminded by the Poor Peoples Campaign of the good, decent human beings who strive daily for social and economic equality and justice. They are what I always thought the country of my birth was about.

I’m grateful for the life God has granted me. I’m under no illusions about the advantages of my birth, my family, and even my home, especially when I compare my life to the majority of the world’s population. I live better than most and I know that’s a privilege and a blessing I’ve been given – even when we struggle with health and financial issues. My son, who doesn’t share my spiritual beliefs, asked me once if being poor meant that God thought less of poor folks. It’s a legitimate question. Watch a few minutes of most televangelists and it doesn’t take long to assume that you’re out of God’s favor if you aren’t blessed financially. According to them, you’re just not praying with the right heart. God is a cosmic Santa Claus and he’ll give you everything you ask for if you ask the right way and do the right things. It’s no wonder my son questions such a God! I would, too…

I know that humans have an innate ability to make a mess of things. I know from personal experience that I can be pretty good at creating havoc in my life and the community in general. I know that power, class, and social structures are created by fallible men and I can’t blame a loving Higher Power for their, or my place in the system. However, I am obligated by my relationship with the God of my understanding to speak out against economic and social injustice in the world. I guess that’s why I enjoyed the livestream so much. It touched my spirit and invited me to live and love better.

I’ve known poverty, both in the economic and the spiritual sense. Spiritually, my Higher Power calls me to poverty. In Matthew 5:3, Jesus said, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule”. The older versions of his sermon call it being “poor in spirit”. I couldn’t get out of the way until I had nowhere else to go. In recovery programs, it’s called ‘hitting bottom’. I was so poor spiritually that I had no way out of my predicament. If there’s anything to the ‘Prosperity Gospel’, it’s that when I finally recognize my spiritual poverty, I begin to experience God’s grace – and everything is grace – and what a prosperous life it is!

Economically, my wife and I have experienced ‘enough’. We live paycheck to paycheck but there’s always ‘enough’.  That’s what poor people ask for when the march in campaigns and hold rallies. That’s what they cry for when they ask for a return to morality – to live in a society of morals and values that don’t exclude them. Men and their institutions would have us believe in scarcity of resources, time, and money. Yet, God’s kingdom, His way of living, says there’s enough for all His kids. When the Poor People’s Campaign calls for a return to some semblance of morality they are saying ‘enough’ – not only is there enough wealth and resources to go around – they’re speaking to the morals and values we claim to hold dear. They are “speaking the truth to power”.

I’m filled with hope when I see people coming together to ask for ‘enough’ – enough food, enough healthcare, enough justice, enough economic and social equality – for everyone. I’m filled with hope when people take time out of their lives to stand together and try to do what’s right. I’m filled with hope that maybe, just maybe, there’s a tiny chance that the world my grandchildren inherit will be a little better, that they’ll have ‘enough’.

It’s easy to become jaded when I peruse the news as is my daily habit. Then I read about things like the couple in California who started a Facebook campaign to raise $1500.00 to post bond for immigrant families separated by the injustice of Mr. Trump and his cronies. As of yesterday, NPR reported that they’ve raised nineteen million dollars. It’s the largest fundraiser ever on Facebook. Suddenly, I’m not quite as embarrassed by being from America. I’m reminded of Jesus’ admonition to, “Keep an open house; be generous with your lives”. Sometimes, we get it!

This morning I’m filled with hope. I’m so grateful. It’s such a blessing to have ‘enough’…