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What’s the Difference Between “Us” and “Them” (Part One)

Before I proceed with today’s post I want to wish my bride a very Happy Anniversary! I am one of the most blessed men in the world. When I was single, I didn’t think life could get much better. I was happy and content. My life was full, it was good, but it changed for the better on March 2nd, 2013. I love you, Margaret!

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This morning I’m awaiting what hopefully will be the last hard freeze of the winter. I’m enjoying the forty-degree weather in anticipation of the arrival of our Arctic neighbor sometime this evening with its accompanying wind chills in single digits. It looks like coveralls and wool hats are the proper attire for the next couple of days.

I try to stay away from my newsfeed on the weekend. It’s often difficult given my news addiction. I’ve tried to practice moderation in viewing such things, but I always look despite my best efforts. I feel like the rubber-neckers on the freeway when there’s an especially bad accident. I just have to look.

My friend Jim used to tell me that, “when you get hit by a train it’s not the caboose that kills you”. My newsfeeds a bit like that train. Usually it’s one of those positive stories like people being kind toward strangers or animals that draws me in and then BAM! I’m confronted with the chaos that makes up the news. After all, I live in Trump’s America. Enough said.

What really puzzles me is that, first, he actually won the election and two, that some people actually believe him. It got me thinking about human nature and an interview I heard the other day about animal consciousness and self-awareness. You’re probably wondering how we got here from news addiction, but stick with me…

I’ve often pondered what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. I’ve heard all the theories – free will, self-awareness, etc. – and seen them cast aside by new evidence. Now I’m no expert or scientist, but I often wonder if the main difference is that humans can believe a lie, especially one about themselves. Hear me out here…

It began at the dawn in human history, at least that what the creation story tells us. It seems that God, the great cosmic artist, was extra busy one week (at least in His concept of time) and started creating this thing called a universe. There were stars and galaxies, planets and moons, and all kinds of beauty in the heavens. The cherubim and seraphim oohed and aahed at the artistry, but He wasn’t done yet.

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He picked one particular planet (that we know of anyway) to make oceans and mountains, savannahs and thick forests, all kinds of unique plants and animals. The angelic hosts were astounded by the majesty of the blue whales, the brilliance of the reef fish, and cunning of the sea otters. They laughed at the giraffes and the platypus and wondered what lit this creative fire in the Big Guy. After a few days of sculpting God announced that the grand finale would be tomorrow, and He wouldn’t disappoint.

The dawn of the sixth day broke. All the heavenly host gathered round. A hush fell over the crowd as God reached down and grabbed a handful of dirt. He spit on the mound of dirt and slowly began shaping and turning the wet pile. After some time, He closed his hand, cleared his throat, and addressed the assembly.

 “Can I have your attention please? I decided to create a creature in our image, one to love and take care of the rest of creation, and I’d like you all to help him out. Can you do that?”. Heads nodded in agreement and the anticipation was overwhelming.

God slowly opened His hand. “Behold, Homo Sapiens”!

A collective gasp resounded through the crowd. Some of the less reverent Cheribum snickered, wondering if this was another of the Boss’ jokes. Everywhere else there was stunned silence. The Archangel Gabriel leaned over to his cohort Michael and whispered, “He must’ve been working too hard. What was He thinking? This thing is next to worthless. Look at it, it doesn’t have claws or fangs and it obviously can’t run fast with just two legs. How will it survive out there?”

Even Jesus was heard to remark, “I don’t get it but if Dad asked me to die for them I would”.

Now I’m no theologian, but I think it’s at this point Satan turned in his keys to the executive heavenly washroom and stormed off mumbling “I’d rather be a snake in the grass than help those things out”. More on that later…

God leaned back on his heavenly throne and pronounced His creation was finished and it was good, not perfect, but good.

Fast forward a bit and God decides it isn’t good for His man Adam to be alone, so He knocks him out, takes a rib, and forms a woman for him to hang out with. Then He puts them in a garden, so they have a great place to live and all their needs are met.

Now if I’m Adam, I have it pretty good. I get to frolic around naked with this gorgeous woman called Eve and hang out with God in the evenings. There’s no such thing as shame or guilt. I can pretty much do anything I want to except eat off this one tree. Talk about paradise…

Everything is going long fine. Adam’s off doing whatever Adam did back then. Eve’s lounging in the shade when a snake slithers up and strikes up a conversation. Now a talking snake might have set of warning lights for most folks, but Eve didn’t think anything about it.

“S-s-s-o Eve, how do you like the garden?”, the serpent asked.

“This place is pure heaven”, she replied. “Every day is a new adventure.”

“I-m s-s-s-sure it is”, he hissed. “Well, I best be on my way”.

“Wait, snake. Are you hungry? Want to join me in a little snack?”

“What are we having?”, he asked as he turned back toward Eve.

“I don’t know. There’s so much to choose from. What’s your favorite?”

“How about some of that fruit there?” he asked excitedly.

“Oh, not that one. God said we can eat anything except fruit from that tree”, Eve replied innocently.

“I’m not s-s-s-surprised”, said the serpent. “It’s just like God to keep you away from that one. He doesn’t want any competition”.

“Competition. What do you mean?” Eve was puzzled.

“It’s obvious isn’t it? That fruit will make you like God. No wonder he made it off limits. Oh well, I got to go”, and he slithered off into the underbrush.

Eve pondered his words and a frown came on her face and an irritability she hadn’t experienced before. She wasn’t happy and it probably had something with being told no. She looked at the fruit and turned to look for Adam. She was overcome with desire and indecision.

Please understand I’m not here to expound on ‘original sin’, assign blame to Eve, or any of that stuff, but I have a pretty good idea what happened next. Adam came back and wondered why Eve looked so different. He wasn’t sure what to think, but he somehow knew he had to fix it. Men have been trying to ‘fix’ things ever since.

To make a long story short, they discussed what the snake had said and made a decision to “just take a bite” and see what happened. Man has been trying to be “God” all through history.

I don’t know which was worse – eating the forbidden fruit or believing they could become like gods. In either case, the results are the same: paradise is lost, living in the real world is often difficult, and the human possess the ability to believe in something that just isn’t true. I’m just saying…

(Part Two tomorrow)

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A Day for Grace

“grace”

(Entry 1 of 2)

1a: unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification

b: a virtue coming from God

c: a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance

2a: APPROVALFAVOR stayed in his good graces

B archaic : MERCYPARDON

c: a special favor : PRIVILEGE each in his place, by right, not grace, shall rule his heritage— Rudyard Kipling

d: disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency

e: a temporary exemption: REPRIEVE

3a: a charming or attractive trait or characteristic”

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

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Grace. Do I really believe it’s possible to receive “unmerited divine assistance”? Do I really believe that I’ve been granted “approval, favor, mercy, and pardon”; that somehow, I’ve received “a special favor”? Do I show a “disposition to kindness, courtesy, or clemency”? Is grace the “attractive trait or characteristic” of my life?

Have a grace-filled day!

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Grackles and Dreamers

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s been a gray, dreary, and cold weekend here in North Texas. There were rumors of sleet around us, but here in Fort Worth it was a constant drizzle. I spent several winters in the Colorado High Country and I’ve never felt the cold like I do here. It’s the kind of bone-piercing cold that feels like thousands of tiny needles poking you all at once. Of course, I’m much older now and maybe it was simply youthful exuberance that made the cold more bearable. Today is to be warmer and it’ll be seventy in the next couple of days. I’ll quit complaining now…

I had to run to the grocery store yesterday afternoon. It wasn’t nearly as busy as usual. Everyone must have opted for Netflix binging rather than dealing with the weather. When I got home, I paused on the porch to enjoy what gray light remained of the day. I’d love to tell how I got tom enjoy the quiet at the end of a long, dismal day, but that wasn’t the case. The caterwauling of hundreds of Grackles in the surrounding trees put an end to any idea of quiet enjoyment of the porch. It was so deafening I couldn’t even hear my inner voice, much less the next-door neighbor saying hello as he walked to his vehicle.

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Some of you might be unfamiliar with Grackles, so allow me to explain. The “Great-tailed” or “Mexican” Grackle is a medium-size bird originally native to Central America. According to Wikipedia, they’ve increased their range by over 5500% and can be found through much of the United States. I’m convinced however, that the greatest concentration of them are in my trees…

I don’t wish to offend bird lovers, but I don’t like Grackles. If we lived outside the city limits, I would have no problem declaring open season with the shotgun. Don’t get me wrong. I love birds. They bring color and song to our quiet little cul-de-sac. Grackles, not so much. They are, like city pigeons, flying rats. Noisy, flying rats…

Please don’t judge me if you’ve never experienced a flock of Grackles. They are incredible foragers and they have little fear of humans. They mock efforts to shew them away. They fly together in huge flocks, often darkening the sky and even been known to interfere with traffic.

Several years ago, the Grackle problem got so bad in downtown Fort Worth that a noise cannon could be heard going off in hopes of driving them out of the city center. Sundance Square, the jewel in the crown of Downtown Cowtown, was so noisy and covered in bird droppings it was difficult to find a safe place to sit and enjoy a summer evening outdoors. The city sought to drive them away lest they deter commerce and conspicuous consumption. Unfortunately, they ended up in quiet little neighborhoods like ours. You wouldn’t believe I wash my vehicles and sidewalk regularly.

That being said, I noticed something somewhat unique to our Grackle population. They were all yelling (it can’t really be called ‘singing’) over one another creating incredible dissonance when all the sudden it was eerily quiet. I’m not talking about the noise fading out. It was as if someone yelled, “lights out” and the entire flock stopped at once. It went from a din to silence in the flick of a switch. Looking up I couldn’t see a one.

I guess I’m a bit simple. Little things really intrigue me. The Grackles may be flying rats but they’re awesome flying rats. Now I know there’s several scientific and biological reasons for their unique abilities, but to go from unbearable dissonance to complete silence in a second is pretty darn awesome. It’s not as though there were a few birds here. We’re talking about a flock of hundreds of birds acting as one. Sometimes I wish people were like that…

I sit at my newsfeed every morning, only to be greeted with all the dissonance around me. Everyone yelling at everyone else. Everyone shouting how right they are. Everyone screeching to be heard. Everyone screaming out for their self-interests. Sounds a lot like the Grackles to me.

Imagine if whole neighborhoods, whole communities, acted as one. You know, for the best interest of the ‘flock’. Imagine if my selfishness was replaced by concern for my neighbor, my community, heck, for my planet. Imagine if, instead of yelling to be heard, everyone got quiet together, changed the manner of discourse and talked to one another. I don’t really expect it to happen, but what if…

You’re right, I’m a dreamy-eyed idealist. Maybe the world needs more idealists. It tends to get beaten out of children in favor of being a practical, rational adult. It’s a little ironic that Jesus said we should “become like little children” if we really wanted to live out the Kingdom of God. Like John Lennon sang, “People say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”

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Beat up Bibles…

Thoughts From the Porch: I try to avoid writing on Saturdays. I really do. I try to avoid anything having to do with work or sitting in front of the computer so I can tinker about the house. I believe in “Sabbath” rest. Ironically, rest seems more work at the time. I’m not good at it yet…

Here in Fort Worth, the Stock Show and Rodeo is going into its second week. I was coming home from the farm on Interstate 30 and saw the long line of trucks and livestock trailers waiting to exit and set up shop. Most of the trailers were marked with various Future Farmers of America (FFA) signs from various small towns in the area. Someone unfamiliar with rural life won’t appreciate it the way many of us in Cowtown do.

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Every time the Stock Show comes around, I spend more time than usual thinking about Mom and Dad. After Dad died, my brother-in-law finally accepted a job promotion in Atlanta. My sister’s family moved off to Georgia and I don’t get to see her as much as I’d like. He’s since retired, and they built a house on some acreage outside a small rural town near the Alabama-Georgia state line. I’m so thankful for cell phones and email even if their reception is sometimes spotty.

She emailed me a song a few days ago that really hit home, especially now. “Beat up Bible” must have been written about Mom and Dad. I wanted to share the link https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JvPBUH65EzI. I hope it brings the same joy, the same sweet memories to you.

No family is perfect. I butted heads with Mom and Dad often. I had to work through some resentments I had held onto over silliness on my part. I’m so grateful that those things were worked out when Mom passed. They weren’t when Dad died in 2002. Grief changes us, at least it did me. I’ve since come to a place of peace. My heart is refreshed by knowing my father was the best example of God’s love here in this place. Walking through my grief has left me with only the wonderful memories of the parents I love so much.

In his latter years, Dad would sit on the back porch with me and share about our family. He grew up without a father in his life. I think that’s why my own failed marriage worried him so much. He missed having his dad there. Maybe that’s why he was so good at loving my sister and me. I’d like to think so…

My sister and I are both adopted. Mom and Dad never ceased to remind us of how special and how loved we were. We were wanted desperately. I know today that I was blessed far beyond anything I could imagine having the parents I did. That isn’t always the case for everyone…

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the song. I hope it brings back happy memories. If it doesn’t, I hope it helps you make happy memories for your kids. Happy Saturday everyone!

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Remnants…

Thoughts from the Porch: We had another Arctic visitor yesterday. It’s the time of the year for frequent, though thankfully short-lived, visitations from our far northern neighbors. I awoke to a chill in the house. When the wind chill drops the thermometer, our heater takes a while to catch up in the morning. Jumping out of a cozy, warm bed to shut off the alarm is a bit of a shock on days like these. Such is January in North Texas…

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This week was one of the few Wednesday’s I missed my Fort Worth Development Group meeting. Ms. Opal and I had a meeting causing a time conflict. The good news is that I got to spend the drive time with one of my heroes for two days in a row. That doesn’t happen often enough for me. Sometimes I just need “Ms. Opal time”.

We were able to spend some time together yesterday discussing business and having good conversation. I brag about Ms. Opal only because she lives the kind of life that I hope to lead: one full of love and service for others. It’s one of the main reasons I’m so passionate about Opal’s Farm. It’s a reflection of the loving service of Ms. Opal and the realization of a dream and doing something tangible for the community.

We were speaking about the events of Martin Luther King Day. It’s not simply a commemoration of Dr. King, but a National Day of Service as well. She told me that, according to the Fort Worth Star Telegram, over 800 people showed up at her small church to meet prior to going out and serving various non-profits throughout Tarrant County. Over 800 people giving up their day off to serve others!

Many of you know that I’m a bit of a politics junkie. I usually spend some time on the newsfeed after my morning quiet time. Sometimes I’m not sure why I do. It’s a long string of cultural insanity, full of stories of human suffering, violence, and hatefulness, particularly as it pertains to our current administration in Washington, D.C. While it usually spurs me on to action, it’s often overwhelming and leaves me feeling a bit hopeless. The future is bleak at times. But…

Then I read or hear things like 800 people that gave their time to serve others. Despite all the negativity that bombards us about society, there is an amazing amount of goodness out there. I forget that sometimes…

It reminds me of the biblical story of the prophet Elijah in I Kings 19. It seems that speaking the truth to a corrupt King wasn’t a good idea, even if it was the right thing to do. In fact, the King was so angry he put a price on Elijah’s head. Poor Elijah ran for his life until he was hiding out in a cave, crying out to God that he was the only good guy left in the world.

I get it. Doing the right thing can be tiring at times and it can feel terribly lonely. Frustration keeps me from seeing any good in the world. Fortunately, that wasn’t the end of the story for old Elijah. You see, God answered him in a still quiet voice, assuring him there was still a remnant of good, godly people in Israel: seven thousand to be exact. He wasn’t alone. It just felt that way.

That isn’t the end of the story for me, either. I guess that’s why I love my “Ms. Opal Time” so much. She reminds me of the goodness in people. God hasn’t spoken to me in a cave (at least not yet), but He always sends me someone like Ms. Opal. I’m not alone. I know of at least 800 other folks working to make our little world a better place…

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Steppin’ out….

Thoughts From the Porch:

“When you come to the end of all the light you know, and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things will happen: Either you will be given something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly.” — Edward Teller

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One of my favorite scenes from the “Indiana Jones” movies where Harrison Ford’s character must step out in faith over a giant chasm in order to reach the Holy Grail. With his nemesis holding him and the people he loves at gunpoint, he’s at wit’s end and out of options. He steps out into the darkness of the abyss. As he takes the first step a narrow bridge begins to come into view. Unfortunately, it can only be seen with each successive step, one step at a time. Each step requires more courage, more faith, than the one before. I can’t recall how many steps it took to get across the dark abyss, but I’d like to think it was twelve. I can relate…

That scene’s been on my mind a lot lately. Margaret and I are experiencing some difficulties as late. Finances have been tough since my hospital stay earlier this year. Business has been slower than projected. Opal’s Farm still has a way to go before all the start-up costs are in hand and planting is scheduled for February 15th. How are we going to do this? It’s a little overwhelming at times (OK, a lot overwhelming…) The chasm looks awfully vast at times…

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If I get honest, I’m a lot like Indiana Jones (well, except for the whole “dashing adventure hero” thing…). I usually need to be backed into a corner with no options or solutions in sight. I know there’s absolutely no way I can get out of the situation before I’m willing to step out into the darkness. I forget the fact that in looking back, a path has always been carved through the darkness and it’s always illuminated. If the path isn’t clear, I learn to fly before I crash into the bottom of the abyss. Always! Though I usually don’t see it until later…

You’d think that with such a proven track record I’d push right through whatever obstacle was in my way. It doesn’t always work like that. Taking that first step into the abyss isn’t my first choice. I temporarily forget God’s faithfulness. As my friend Edgar likes to remind me, “I’m not a slow learner, just a fast forgetter”.

“Trials are not enemies of faith but are opportunities to prove God’s faithfulness.” — Author Unknown

Ironically, my memory gets sharper as I grow older: at least in matters of faith (in other areas, yeah, not so much…) It doesn’t take as long to remember God’s faithfulness even when mine is absent. One of my favorite reminders is Psalms 119.105: “Your word for my feet and a lamp for my path”. The funny thing about a lamp is that it only shows what’s immediately ahead. I can only see the path if I keep stepping out, one step at a time…

I’ve spent far too much time stressed out about things beyond my control, so I’m stepping out. Whether I’ll be walking or flying, I’m not sure yet. What I do know is that I’ll see you on the other side…

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Christmas Spirit…

Thoughts from the Porch: It’s become harder to get in the Christmas spirit this year. The exact reason has proven elusive. It could be that Christmas music starts blaring the day after Halloween, but It probably has to do with the fact that Mom and Dad are both gone now. This is the second Christmas since Mom passed and the sixteen of them without Dad. You’d think I’d be past it by now, but grief is what it is. It wasn’t until this morning that the season rushed over me and my soul felt revived with Christmas spirit.

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I have a scheduled meeting every Sunday morning at 9:00AM. It’s one of the highlights of my week. I get to carry a simple message of hope to hurting people. I don’t know who benefits more – them or me. The spirit of giving tends to do that. Uncommon sense again – the more you give, the more you receive. But I digress…

I drove to my meeting yesterday morning somewhat short of my required coffee quota. I wasn’t paying attention to the radio or much else until I heard an angelic rendition of “Silent Night” come flowing from the speakers. I wish I could tell you who the vocalist was, but I had to hop out of the truck and get to my meeting before it finished. All I know is that I felt different. I was more “Christmas-ee”…

My family never celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday. Being good fundamentalists, we couldn’t celebrate something that the Bible didn’t state for certain. To most folks that sounds silly. Now that I’m older I can’t say that I disagree. Still, we celebrated Christmas as a secular holiday of giving and family. Santa Claus was alive, and Jesus’ birthday was up for debate.

Ironically, Christmas carols were always in order even if they were religious in nature. The Sunday church service before Christmas always included religious carols, and mentioned the birth of Jesus (you know, since the rest of the world was focused on it) but it was “to celebrate the season”, not the birth of our Savior. I never quite got the logic in that. Anyway…

I no longer hold to the strict religious traditions of my youth. Jesus may or may not have been born on December 25th. It makes little difference. This is the season which people have chosen to celebrate his birth. I can’t find anything wrong with that. The point is that he was born. Emmanuel – “God is with us”.

Listening to “Silent Night” this morning it hit me full force; “God is with us”, and just like us. Just like me. Just like you.

My sons may be adults now, but I can remember the day each was born as though it were yesterday. I didn’t need a manger, livestock, shepherds, or wise men to make both moments holy, just as that moment some two thousand years ago. Maybe that’s why God chose to enter in to our world the way he did. I’d like to think so.

The authors of the four Gospels tell of the man and his teachings, but they record little of Jesus’ life growing up. I’d like to believe that he wasn’t much different from my boys. I don’t know what was comparable to spaghetti in First Century Palestine, but I’m sure that most of it ended up everywhere but his mouth. Mary probably had to give many an after-dinner bath during those first couple of years.

At the risk of sounding a bit sacrilegious, I would like to think that Jesus ducked out of Hebrew school to go fishing with his buddies. After all, He had an affinity for fishing and hung out with his fishing buddies…

The only reference we have to Jesus’ young life is an incident when he was twelve years old. Instead of going home with the rest of his family he hung back in Jerusalem. I can only imagine the panic Mary and Joseph felt when they realized he was missing. I freaked out when one of the boys hid behind a clothing rack at the store…

I’m no Biblical scholar, but I’m pretty sure that Jesus was “just one of the guys” for most of his life: content to live like everyone else in his town. It’s telling that the townsfolk response to his first recorded teachings in the Gospel of Luke is “Isn’t this Joseph’s son, the one we’ve known since he was a youngster?” (Luke 4.22).

It’s easy to concentrate on Jesus as divine, as perfect, and forget that Jesus was one of us. That, above all, is the miracle of Christmas. God chose to enter His creation through Jesus, an everyman, dirty diapers and all. He lived and worked among us as an ordinary guy. He laughed and hung out with his buddies. When all was said and done, He stepped up to announce that,

                “God’s Spirit is on me;

he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor.

Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind.

To set the battered and burdened free,

To announce, “This is God’s year to act” (Luke 4.16-21 The Message)

The rest, as they say, is history.

So, I’m in a bit more of the Christmas spirit this morning. If Jesus could walk among us, “Loving God and loving others” then I’m inclined to follow in his footsteps. It isn’t always the popular thing. After all, he tended to upset the proverbial apple cart. “You’ve heard it said… but I say to you” tends to rub some people the wrong way. I guess we all tend to do that…

I’m so glad that God chose to enter the world the way he did. “Emmanuel” – God is with us.

Happy Birthday Jesus!

Merry Christmas y’all!