Birthdays, Children, Christianity, Christmas, Community, Coronavirus, COVID-19 Blues, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Food Justice, Friendship, Gifts, Grace, Gratitude, Grief, Hope, Juneteenth, Listening, Neighbors, Opal's Farm, Pandemics, Peace, Prayer, Racism, Relationships, Service to Others, Social Justice, Spirituality, The Holidays, Thoughts From the Porch, Trust, Unity Unlimited, Inc.

It’s Almost over

Monday marked the official beginning of winter – the winter solstice. The first day of winter was sunny and seventy degrees. It doesn’t look like a White Christmas is in the plan. The winter solstice is also the longest night of the year. That sums up the whole year – one long, dark winter night.

In January there were reports of a new virus spreading in China. On March 11th, the World Health Organization declared it a global pandemic that’s taken almost two million lives since then. The economy shut down in March. Even when states began reopening economic recovery remained questionable at best. To top it all off, people lost all sense of sanity and decency over simple masks. Apparently, the right to go without one and violate common sense precautions trumps (yes, folks – pun intended…) everyone else’s right to health and safety. Don’t get me started. I have friends who have lost fathers, mothers, aunts, and uncles – many times in rapid succession. Please folks – this is serious so please be kind enough to respect your neighbors…

In February, the primary election season started. By August, candidates had been nominated and the real dogfight began. We were constantly bombarded with negative ads, blatant lies, bitter division, and juvenile behavior. We prayed for November 3rd to finally shut it all down, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. Donald Trump threw a hissy fit over his loss like a petulant child. His insanity and inability to deal with reality continue to stoke divisiveness and hate. Sometimes it feels as if we’re on a downward spiral that never ends.

In May, George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis Police officer, who stood on his neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds setting off a summer of mass protests. Black people, especially Black men, are killed all too frequently by white police officers. The growing list of people of color who died at the hands of white officers has often faded in public awareness as the news cycle changes to something shiny and new. Although there have been many media reports in the past about police killings and people of color, this one was different. The video showing Floyd’s murder was particularly heinous. It got everyone’s attention. Summer of 2020 came to be known as the summer of “racial reckoning. We can only hope…

Opal’s Farm lost one of its best friends on September 7th. Chuck Briant, or “Food Truck Chuck” as many called him passed away suddenly and left a void in the hearts of all of us at Opal’s Farm. His passion for feeding people and healthy eating was contagious. He brought more people to the farm than anyone could have hoped. He was one of our biggest fans and a friend of mine. I miss him and can’t help but get a little teary-eyed when I’m watering the farm. That was Chuck’s job. It’s hard to picture Chuck without a water hose in his hand.

Personal tragedy hit on May 29th, 2020. My son Jeremy was found dead in his apartment. This has been the darkest five months of my life. Jeremy’s was born on Christmas Day in 1982. My holiday spirit is understandably lacking. There are days when the grief seems too much to bear. I get to spend a lot more alone time at the farm during the winter. Most days are sans volunteers. That’s both good and bad emotionally. The winter solstice reminds me of the “long, dark night of the soul” St. John of the Cross wrote about.

Today is a new day. The winter solstice has passed. The light will stick around a little longer with each passing day; at least for the next six months. Then the cycle will begin all over after the summer solstice in June. That’s the way it is with the seasons and it’s that way it is with life – up and down, round and round…

I don’t know what 2021 has in store, but I have faith that, like the day after the winter solstice, the light will last longer with each passing day. COVID vaccines recently became available and perhaps they will help end, or at least diminish the destruction of the pandemic. Maybe we learned a few things over the last few months. We might even discover a better “normal” when all is said and done. We can certainly hope…

On January 20th, a new Administration will begin and maybe some civility will return to our socio-political discourse. I’m not overly optimistic but anything is an improvement over the last four years, even Washington as usual. The faces change but the song remains the same…

The racial protests of this summer start real conversations that lead to real changes. The Juneteenth caravan this summer was a diverse group of people celebrating Juneteenth. Onlookers – white people – held signs “We are listening”. Listening, not simply hearing, real listening and building new diverse relationships is the beginning of change. My friend Jim always told me that “once you’re aware you can’t become unaware”. I pray the solstice has come and the light will get longer and brighter on our struggle to build a just society.

I know I’m not the only parent to lose a child (and yes, Jeremy may have been 37 but he’ll always be my kid). I’ve joined “a club that no one wants to be a part of”, as my friend Edgar says. Grief doesn’t have an expiration date. 2021 will not be “better”. It will be “different”. I’m blessed and tremendously grateful for the friends I have today – friends who have allowed me the space to grieve and are still there to offer love and support. Some people are left to grieve in isolation. No one should have to do that.

Christmas and New Year’s will be emotionally onerous this year, but it doesn’t take away what Christmas represents – the birth of Immanuel, “God with us”. Each time I think of the gift God gave us I find hope. Despite all the hardships this year I know God is with us. He hasn’t given up on His kids. After all, the winter solstice reminds us of the light – the light that’s always there.

To each of you I wish a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Photo by Marissa Daeger on Unsplash
Citizenship, Class, Community, Culture, Donations, Faith, Freedom, Gratitude, Heroes, Hope, Juneteenth, Listening, Non-Profits, Opal's Farm, Practice, Public Policy, Racism, Relationships, Role Models, Service Organizations, Service to Others, Social Justice, Spirituality, Thoughts From the Porch, Unity Unlimited, Inc., What Can I Do

What’s a “Black” Holiday?

I love being part of Cowtown Farmers Market. Market mornings are the high point of my week. I get to spend time with our regular customers and the vendors who have helped me so much along the way. All the division and strife our country is experiencing seems to disappear for a few hours.

We work hard to keep politics out of the market. However, I have a couple of bumper stickers on my truck that clearly define my personal political and spiritual stance. Usually, if any of our customers make a political comment, it’s folks who tell me they like my bumper stickers. It’s nice to know there are other Christians and Progressives out there in Fort Worth. Texas is not exactly known for social justice Christians and progressive politics.

I was setting up at Cowtown Farmers Market a couple of weeks ago. I was running a bit behind that Saturday. Customers tend to come earlier than the posted 8 AM start time. The market “old timers” – the regulars who have shopped there for years – get there early to get first pick on everything. The Covid crisis has also brought many new shoppers to Cowtown. The shortages at the beginning of the pandemic caused people to take a renewed interest in where their food comes from. Plus, outside markets are an excuse to get out and see others. Covid has isolated so many folks.

I was placing the week’s produce on the table when I heard someone remark “I don’t know if I can buy from someone who has a Bernie sticker on their truck”.

I looked up. A couple about my age stood there staring at me as if they were ready to pounce on any possible response I might say. I smiled, said “okay”, and went about my business.

Apparently, I didn’t give the anticipated response. The man declared, “That guy’s a socialist. Is that what you want?”

Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have even responded to begin with. Some people don’t want to discuss an issue. They only want to argue – no discussion involved. Unfortunately, I nibbled on the hook a bit. “How’d you get here this morning?”

“I drove”.

“On a public road?”, I asked.

“Yes, but my taxes paid for that” he retorted. His speech was becoming louder and more antagonistic.

I tried to de-escalate the conversation. I casually remarked, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I just know Bernie to be a good man. His was the only campaign to reach out and help our namesake, Ms. Opal with making Juneteenth a federal holiday”. I was praying they would move on. 

“What?”, the man asked.

His wife chimed in, “You know what Juneteenth is. It’s that black holiday.”

He grumbled, “Great. Just what we need – another black day off we’ll have to pay for”.

That’s when he set the hook. I bit down hard and wasn’t letting this one go. “You know buddy, I’ll make this easy for you. I don’t sell to racist Trump supporters.”

I guess he wasn’t expecting that. He gasped and hurriedly walked away.

I immediately felt guilty about my retort. Market is no place for such behavior (although I shared this with a couple of the other vendors and received big thanks). I take my job seriously. I represent Opal’s Farm to the community. I never want to cast the farm in a negative light. Moreover, as a non-profit we refrain from political endorsement and don’t identify as left, right, or middle on the political spectrum. Our main mission is to provide “educational activities and resources to people, young and old, to foster unity and harmony within the community, the city, the state, the nation and the world regardless of race, culture or denomination.” My reply to our visitor at market didn’t exactly reflect our mission.

When I told Ms. Opal about the interchange she replied, “Now you know what I’ve been facing all my life”. Her words have stuck with me since that day.

I wish I could see that couple again and have a real discussion, not an argument. That seems impossible in our country currently. If I’m honest, there was a time in my life when I might have thought of Juneteenth as a “black” holiday. Celebrating the freedom of a whole people is cause for celebration but it simply didn’t apply to me. There was no way to understand its importance because I didn’t share in the experience. At least I didn’t think so.

Part of the Juneteenth Caravan

It has been my privilege and honor to be a part of Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. When I became the Farm Manager and part of Unity, I began to spend a lot of time with Ms. Opal. Although she retired from teaching in the Fort Worth Independent School District, she hasn’t stopped teaching. I’ve learned more about my community and myself in the last two years that I ever did in all my years at school and the education continues…

Ms. Opal

Opal Lee has spent a lifetime as an educator, activist, and advocate for making Juneteenth a Federal holiday. She always tells everyone that it’s a unifier – for everyone regardless of color. Today I get it. Juneteenth is not only a celebration of emancipation for black slaves – it’s emancipation for everyone.

It’s emancipation from old ideas and social constructs. I always leaned far to the left in socio-political matters. However, being “liberal” is its own brand of white (or class) supremacy as well intentioned as it may be. Liberal white folks and the privilege afforded them does not in any way mean they know what’s best for others, especially people of color and other cultures.

Juneteenth allowed me to begin the honest self-examination that shed new light on old ideas. It freed me to acknowledge my own privilege and prejudices. Juneteenth corrected my vision and allowed me to love and serve others in a new, better way. It facilitated spiritual growth in ways I cannot put into words. It also freed me to make living amends for my well-intentioned failures by freeing me to be an ally for others and not having to have all the answers for them or myself.

Ultimately, it freed me to have deep, meaningful relationships and grow my community. That is the end result of true emancipation – a broad all-encompassing community that serves and supports one another. That’s something for everyone to celebrate and something we need now more than ever…

To learn more about Juneteenth, Ms. Opal Lee, Opal’s Walk to DC, Unity Unlimited Inc., and making Juneteenth a National Holiday please go to:

www.opalswalk2dc.com

www.unityunlimited.org

www.juneteenthftw.com

www.juneteenth.com

Connection, Emotional Health, Gifts, Gratitude, John Prine, Listening, Music, Quotes, Songwriters, Stories, Uncategorized

Hello In There

People don’t listen to Rock FM radio much these days. It’s become outdated by the plethora of streaming services, satellite radio, and internet radio. However, it wasn’t always that way. There was a day when FM was the Wild West of rock and roll radio. Casting aside the mono pop radio of the AM bandwidth, stations popped up across the FM dial. It was perfect for rock and roll – they refused to follow convention, shunned playlists, and introduced new artist regardless of their spot on the Billboard Top 100.

By the time I started high school in the early seventies much of rock FM radio was listed as Adult Oriented Rock (AOR) and had begun to develop playlists for said genre. Still, there were the musical rebels that played all the albums (yes Virginia, there is such a thing as vinyl recordings) and tracks not found on the AOR stations. They tended to be somewhat obscure – hidden on the dial by their limited range and smaller broadcast wattage. When I found one it was a true treasure. It’s where I discovered everything from Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention to Bob Marley or Jackson Browne. It’s also where I discovered John Prine.

I was driving down the highway in my ’67 Chevy Impala SS, listening to one of those maverick stations when I heard “Hello In There” for the first time. It was by this guy named John Prine and honestly, it brought tears to my eyes. If it could elicit that kind of emotional response, I had to check this guy out. I bought his debut album the next day. It started a relationship with his music that still goes on today and I still say “Hello In There”.

Fast forward to 2020 – FM radio is a stereo version of AM pop music and vile talk radio. What’s now considered “classic” rock is anything but classic. It was commercially successful among Baby Boomers back then and lacks any of the substance of FM radio’s glory days. The hidden treasures I once valued died an ignominious death at the hands of corporate media giants.

Sadly, not only is FM radio gone, but the world lost another treasure – John Prine. He died of complications from COVID-19 last Tuesday. I was in my truck on the way back from the farm when I heard the news. I still listen to FM radio, but I’ve traded the commercial crap for National Public Radio and some local Red Dirt radio (if I need to explain, you wouldn’t understand…).

I, like so many others, have spent the week listening to tributes, old interviews, and a constant stream of a lifetime of John Prine music. The songs took me back to the first time I heard “Illegal Smile” and knew exactly what he was talking about. That smile faded as I became older and began to identify with his classic “Sam Stone”. Originally titled “Great Society Conflict Veterans Blues” it became one of his greatest protest songs. For me, it became too real. “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes…”

Thank you, John Prine, for a lifetime of sarcasm, wit, reality, and truth. That’s why he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. That’s why he’s an American treasure. That’s why I miss him…

Awe, Christianity, Connection, Creation, Emotional Health, Faith, Gifts, Gratitude, Hope, Listening, Mockingbirds, Peace, Prayer, Seasons, Serenity, Songs, Spirituality, Spring, Texas, Thoughts From the Porch, Writing

Songs About Spring

Thoughts From the Porch: A stunning late winter sunrise started my morning. I drank my first cup of coffee to the varied songs of our resident Mockingbird. Nesting season has begun and my little friend sings once again, reminding me that spring in almost here. He brightened my morning even more that the rising sun.

Sometimes I can’t offer anything more than a simple thank you in my morning prayers. I see mornings like this, and I hear God speaking quite clearly. It’s time to just sit here and listen, to bask in His glory and miraculous creation.

The Mockingbird fell silent around the time of our first early frost. I’ve missed my little friend who greeted me in song each day as I set abut my porch time. This winter has been mild – eighty-degree days in January – and I would’ve thought he’d come by now and then, but his internal timing told him to wait until now. He saved his melodies for me and this very morning. Thank you my little friend…