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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.

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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.

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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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Bluebonnets and New People

Thoughts From the Porch: I got to see the sunrise this morning. Big deal, you say? It is after several days of rain and overcast skies. I know we’ll be praying for rain in a couple of months, but I have way too much to do to stay at the desk.

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A slight chill hangs in the air as a reminder that the official start of Spring, the vernal equinox, is still a week away. Still, the birds are singing and I even saw Bluebonnets peeking through the grass. For those unfamiliar with Texas, Spring comes with an explosion of bright color along side our highways and bi-ways. I know it happens elsewhere, just not like here. Bluebonnets bring vibrant blues, followed by the orange and black of the Indian Paintbrush. Yellows and deep greens fill in the blanks and everywhere is awash with blooms. It makes up for the winter months and reminds us to truly “stop and smell the flowers”.

Facebook will soon be plastered with pictures of people sitting in fields of blue. That’s a big thing here in Fort Worth. Taking pictures of loved ones, especially kids, amongst the wildflowers is a tradition for many folks here in North Texas. Nature provides the perfect background for the best portraits. The photographs are constant reminders that life is always fresh and new, even during the coldest of winters.

Each Wednesday I attend the Fort Worth Development Group (FWDG), a business networking and development group that seeks to “Bridge the gap between Business and Ministry through cultivating meaningful relationships in the workplace.” I knew that I needed to network for my writing business even though I’m painfully shy in new situations. I picked the FWDG because of their Mission Statement and quite frankly, it was close to my house. Maybe I’d be more comfortable with like-minded folks despite my fear they would engage in “religious speak”, but hey, I didn’t have to go back, right?

What I found was a group of business people who really do seek to cultivate meaningful relationships and help each other grow. It’s not simply lip service. I’ve come to look forward to my Wednesday meeting, knowing I will leave feeling stronger in my faith and in my business. Life is fuller and richer when I step out of my comfort zone. I find new friends and new resources for living well.

My friend Edgar always reminds me that “self-sufficiency is a lie”, we need something beyond ourselves to live life well. We need each other. I’m happy to be surrounded and supported by the myriad of people God has brought into my life. What’s your circle?

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Daylight Savings and Brothers

Thoughts From the Porch: I survived the Daylight Savings time change. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this oddity a bit of history is in order. It seems that the practice came about during World War I to extend daylight in the Spring and Summer months to conserve coal for the war effort. It has remained in effect off and on in the years since. While the US and most European countries observe Daylight Savings Time, most of the rest of the world does not. I wish we’d get on board with them.

Daylight Savings Time (DST) has its benefits. I’ll be the first to admit that I enjoy the longer periods of daylight, especially working on the farm. Unfortunately, it has its drawbacks as well. I don’t simply miss an hour of sleep. I tend to lose a whole day. Maybe it’s best that it falls on a Sunday since I can always take a nap.

The Center for Sleep Medicine at the Mayo Clinic says the effects of time change last more than one day though. The effects last five to ten days. Since DST happens twice a year, almost a month is affected. It not only alters sleep patterns, it leads to memory and learning problems, increased heart attack or stroke risks, poor social interaction, and affects overall cognitive performance. If I’m having cognitive issues today, I at least have a temporary excuse. I’m not sure what I can say about the other eleven months…

Daylight Savings Time (DST) has its benefits. I’ll be the first to admit that I enjoy the longer periods of daylight, especially working on the farm. Unfortunately, it has its drawbacks as well. I don’t simply miss an hour of sleep. I tend to lose a whole day. Maybe it’s best that it falls on a Sunday since I can always take a nap. The Center for Sleep Medicine at the Mayo Clinic says the effects of time change last more than one day though. The effects last five to ten days. Since DST happens twice a year, almost a month is affected. It not only alters sleep patterns, it leads to memory and learning problems, increased heart attack or stroke risks, poor social interaction, and affects overall cognitive performance. If I’m having cognitive issues today, I at least have a temporary excuse. I’m not sure what I can say about the other eleven months…

Spring’s on the way to Opal’s Farm!

The cognitive issues were obvious this morning. I had a great morning on the porch. Margaret is still sleeping so I extended my porch time today. A lone Mockingbird serenaded me from the top of the street lamp; announcing the coming Spring in song. He (or his kids) always show up when everything gets ready to bloom and hangs around until the following Winter. I was so excited I came to write about him and my morning thoughts. I did so until I hit something on the keyboard that deleted my whole story. Definitely a cognitive issue!

Ss here I sit rewriting this morning’s post. I’m extremely aware of my occasional Attention Deficit Disorder on mornings like this. I’m not sure I remember what I wrote in the first place. “Squirrel!” Don’t laugh. Some of you know exactly what I mean. Oh, I remember now…

I got to spend some time with my brother Craig this weekend. I don’t get to do that as often as I’d like. I’m often asked why our mother would name us Craig and Greg, so let me explain.

About eleven years ago, I suffered a couple of cerebral hemorrhages that left me unable to work. Without health insurance or income, I ended up losing my house after several months and was staring at imminent homelessness. I frantically searched for housing programs for people in my position but had found nothing by move-out day. My friend Craig (he wasn’t my brother yet, but I’ll explain that in a bit) offered to let me stay at his place for a couple of weeks while I looked for housing. I left five years later…

Craig and I spent our mornings on his porch or in his workshop having coffee, praying together, and talking. After a couple of weeks, Craig asked if I wanted to be his roommate. The coming years led to so much more.

Men do not often have the kind of relationship Craig and I have. I have good friends. My parents have passed away, but I have family: my sister and her family in Georgia whom I love dearly. Still, the bond Craig and I have is beyond mere friends. I think it hit home when Craig gave me a tobacco pipe that he handmade in the shop (he’s amazingly talented with wood). I still have the note that accompanied his gift. It’s taped to my desk so it’s the first thing I see when I sit down to write. It says,

“Like David and Jonathan, you are my best friend. This pipe is a token of my love for you. Enjoy it my friend.”

Before David became the King of Israel, he had come to live in then King Saul’s house. Jonathan, the King’s son, felt an immediate bond with David and they became fast friends. King SauI and David went on to become enemies, but it never changed the friendship between David and Jonathan. Samuel 18 tells us that Jonathan was “totally committed to David. From that point on he would be David’s number-one advocate and friend.” Later, “Jonathan, out of his deep love for David, made a covenant with him. He formalized with solemn gifts: his own royal robe and weapons…”    

I know how richly I’m blessed to have my relationship with Craig. Many people, especially men, fail to foster such deep relationships with others. I won’t pretend to know all the answers why. I’m no relationship expert. Still, I’m filled with gratitude for one who has gone beyond friend to my brother. In the five years that I lived at Craig’s house , we never had a cross word with one another. Not to avoid conflicts, mind you. Peace and serenity are the natural by-products and love and respect.

My sister and I are both adopted. We know what it is to have a family desire and love you so deeply that you become part of them. I was in my fifties before I knew that I had an adopted brother. We may not share the same parents, but we share the same Spirit. I’ve got the pipe to prove it…                                                 

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Us and Them: Part Two

Thoughts From the Porch: The temperature is dropping like a rock and the wind is blowing harder here in North Texas. My office is in the coldest part of the house. Normally, this is a good thing. I tend to be hot when everyone else is merely comfortable. Today’s a bit different. I need to add the space heater next to my desk to my Gratitude List for the day.

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It doesn’t matter whether you believe in the literal creation story or if you see it as a metaphor for the beginning of human history; the end result is the same. Man, the rational animal, can act irrationally and believe things that simply aren’t true. I’m no scientist but I’m pretty sure that we’re somewhat unique in that regard.

Dad used to tell me, “Son, if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck”. Straightforward and simple, right? You see, a duck doesn’t think itself anything other than a duck. It waddles down to the pond, takes a swim to find something to eat, and quacks at the other ducks. It doesn’t bark, stalk prey, or run like a cheetah, nor does it particularly want to. It’s a duck! Anyone can see that, right?

Imagine for a moment that you’re at the duck pond, feeding the dusks, and someone walks up and says, “look at that Canadian Snow Swan”. You look around and all you see are a flock of Mallards fighting each other for a piece of bread. Intrigued and thinking the stranger a bit off his duff, you ask what he’s talking about. He points to one of the less brightly colored Mallards and says, “see, a Canadian Snow Swan”.

Now you know better. After all, you passed high school biology. This guy must be confused. You press him a bit more. He explains that Canadian Snow Swans are very similar to Mallards, but not as brilliantly colored. They tend to follow Mallard flocks as they migrate to and from, so they are often confused for Mallards. A seed of doubt was just planted.

A few days later, you’re at the same duck pond. Someone comes up and says, “Oh, look at the Mallards”. You wisely declare that they’re not all Mallards, a couple are Canadian Snow Swans. You proudly proclaim your thorough knowledge on the subject because “they” said. It doesn’t matter who “they” are, but apparently “they” are in the know. Now you one of “them”, and everyone believes a lie.

One of the first questions I ask someone when they tell me “they say that (fill in the blank) is who “they” are. Ninety-nine percent of the time the respondent has no idea who “they” are. The internet is full of “them”, experts in falsehood who proudly proclaim their version of “Truth” and it gets repeated over and over. After all, it was on the internet so it must be true…

Now the duck hasn’t changed, nor has the fact that it’s a duck, but we now believe it to be something else. Having proclaimed it a Canadian Snow Swan we now defend our position with a myriad of justifications – “plausible, but untrue” explanations of our correctness. Nobody likes being wrong, right?

One of the disastrous consequences of false belief is an equally false superiority over everyone who doesn’t believe the way we do. “They” are different rom “us”. Religion is a prime example. Talk about “us” and “them”! History is littered with the wreckage of “us” and “them”. I’ve heard it said that man can survive without a God but he cant’ live without a devil. The devil’s in “them”.

Sometimes I wonder if we can ever get past the “us” and “them” mentality, the tribalism, that keeps us from being simply one of God’s kids. That’s my own personal idealism and believe me, I’ve had plenty of people tell me I’m wrong. The good news is that I’ve met a lot of folks who share that ideal, so there’s still hope.

I may be completely wrong in all of this. I’ve never been a duck so I’m not sure what’s going on in those little duck heads. What I know for sure is that I’m capable of believing lies. I haven’t cornered the market on “truth”, so I must depend on my fellows to lead me there. Maybe that’s why God thought community so special: so that we could learn from one another and find our way to a better place.

(Part 3 tomorrow)

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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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Happy Anniversary My Dear

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s a wee bit chilly on the porch this morning. Overcast skies make for a dreary opening for the month of March. The good news is that I saw my first Robin this week. They tend to be a more accurate predictor of Spring. It may be cold but today is the unofficial beginning of Spring in my book. It’s time to get busy.

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I’ve been a bit reflective of the last six years. You see, tomorrow Margaret and I will have been married six years. It’s hard to believe. It’s sounds so cliché to say it seems like yesterday, but in a way it does. On the other hand, my life without my beautiful wife seems like eons ago. That’s a good thing. I can’t imagine life without my bride.

I love telling the story of our “whirlwind” relationship. We started dating on December 1st and got married three month later. I tend to leave out the part that we’d been friends for many years prior to dating. It’s more romantic that way.

I also tend to leave out the part about my proposal. It wasn’t so romantic. Fortunately, when you get married in your fifties, practicality has its own rewards. I debated whether I should include that part in this post, but since many of our friends know about it anyway, here goes…

Margaret and I were at my house getting ready to go out to a recovery function. We were running late so both of us were in the bathroom getting ready. We were in rather inglorious positions, she was getting ready and me shirtless, shaving away. It felt a bit like an old, married couple. I laughed to myself, looked at Margaret and said, “You want to get married?”

She looked over and said, “Are you serious?”

I looked back at her. She looked radiant, despite the awkwardness of our locale. “Yeah, I think so”. The rest my friends, is history.

She still teases me to this day about my ‘romantic’ proposal. I freely admit it wasn’t one of my stellar moments, but it was the most important question I ever asked in my life. The trajectory of my life changed in the bathroom that day and it definitely changed for the better.

There are a couple of reasons I’m sharing this story today. One is that we both had been single for many years prior to our marriage. Each of us had reached a point where we thought that’s the way it would be, and we were each okay with it. Life was good, but companionship would be great and love even greater. We were both complete human beings loving the gift of life and recovery as precious children of God. We were happy and content just the way we were. We didn’t need someone to feel whole. Had we started dating earlier (and believe me, I thought Margaret was hot and way out of my league), neither of us would have been ready for the relationship we have today. It was on God’s time and not ours.

Sometimes it feels like God’s time passes far too slowly. I always want answers to life’s questions now, but it rarely works that way. I knew how to fail in marriage, but I had no clue as to how to have a successful one. If I’m honest, the only thing I knew for sure was what I didn’t want in a relationship. Experience was a great teacher in that regard. Like Tom Petty sang, “the waiting is the hardest part”.

Looking back, I had so much to learn and it took a lot of growth, both personally and spiritually, to even be ready to meet someone special like Margaret. I had to be led through the process of “becoming”. By the time we began dating I had grown in my relationship with God and, consequentially, was ready for someone like Margaret. Patience truly is a virtue. What I’m trying to say is that Valentine’s Day may not be your favorite holiday when you’re single, but it becomes one when you learn to treat yourself as worthy of love.

Secondly, even the simplest, most awkward of times can be holy moments. I often think of how I would’ve liked to have proposed to Margaret. I really can be romantic at times. Still, I wouldn’t change a thing if it meant life would be any different. Margaret and I married eight days later. I was scheduled for a craniotomy to remove an AVM that was bleeding in my head. Even though it was to be a routine brain surgery by one of Fort Worth’s most respected neurosurgeons I couldn’t fathom the idea of passing away without Margaret being my wife. Our friends came together and planned a beautiful wedding in that time. Over a hundred of them came to our wedding and we love each them dearly.

Thinking about tomorrow I find myself wishing to shower Margaret with gifts, kisses, and thanks. I can do the wishes and the thanks, but the gifts are going to be slim. We are struggling financially right now so I can commit all my efforts to our non-profit for the farm. We prayed about it and know this is what God wants us to do. That never would have happened in my past life – the prayer that is. God orders our steps today. That’s what makes ours a wonderful marriage – God is the center of it. The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “a rope of three cords is not easily broken”. Thanks to my beautiful, thoughtful, and loving wife for making a home of three cords: God, Margaret, and I…

One of my favorite pictures