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“It is possible to become discouraged about the injustice we see everywhere. But God did not promise us that the world would be humane and just. [God] gives us the gift of life and allows us to choose the way we will use our limited time on this earth. It is an awesome opportunity.”- Cesar Chavez, “Statement by Cesar Chavez at the end of his 24-day fast for justice” (1972)

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Life Symbols

I was looking for something else when I found this article I wrote four years ago before I was blogging on WordPress. The days mentioned may be a bit off. Time moves the dates to the past but the feelings are still the same…

Thoughts From the Porch: Tomorrow is the astronomical first day of Spring. It’s the unofficial birth certificate for a new season of green grass, new blooms, and, if you live here in Texas, the coming of the bluebonnets. I keep hearing the tender voice of the Teacher saying “behold, I make all things new”. I love Spring…

Today started slowly for me. Not because it’s the dreaded “Monday morning” mind you. Today begged for a slow awakening with the coos of the morning doves and the chatter of the mockingbird on the streetlight across the way. I lingered on the porch a little longer than usual and reveled in the day. Spring Break is over here in Fort Worth. Kids are back in school. I could hear the Star-Spangled Banner and morning announcements playing over the speakers from the school down the street. I may have a long “to-do” list today, but I lingered anyway.

I suppose it’s because Easter will soon be here, the celebration of resurrection came to mind. It’s ironic that the cross became the dominant symbol in Christianity. Historically, it’s based on the vision of the cross that Emperor Constantine claimed led him to victory; and thus, led to conversion and Christianity as the state religion of Rome. That’s probably more information than you needed but suffice it to say that early Christians didn’t focus too much on it. Just saying…

I’m not saying crosses are bad. They make an attractive piece of jewelry and great art. They’re a good reminder of how much God loves us and the sacrifice Jesus made for us. Yet, I wonder if folks concentrate on the wrong symbol. I’d much rather concentrate on life than death. Maybe I should have a stone necklace or empty tombs as artwork on the wall. You know, to remind me I’ve been reborn: that I don’t have to live like I used to; bound up in a self-made prison of resentments and fears. Still, I guess stones around my neck would be too heavy and empty tombs would leave holes in the wall.

It’s easier to remember the crucifixion than the resurrection. I choose to remember resurrection today. I celebrate new life today. Maybe that’s why I’m out on the porch so long today. It’s a pause for the quiet celebration. This morning is a reminder of grace.

I probably harp on grace and its natural outcome, gratitude, far too much. The more I experience God’s grace, the more I experience gratitude, and the more I want to share that grace. So please bear with me, gentle reader, but I can’t help it. Besides, life seems so much simpler when experienced with grace and gratitude. Simple things for simple people…

I guess I’ve come to see different symbols of grace in my life today. The empty tomb of Easter morning is more indicative of my life today than a cross. I want to be a “resurrection person” today. I want to be full of the joy and freedom that comes with this new life. I want to “have life abundantly”. I believe it’s possible.

My prayer this morning is that because I’ve received this new life, this grace, I will in turn become more “grace-full”: less judgmental and more forgiving, less sarcastic and more affirming, less fearful and more vulnerable.

I’m not going to wait to celebrate Easter. I think I’ll start today…

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Why I Celebrate Black History Month

Margaret and I went to our grandson’s birthday party last year (he turned the big 1 year old!). After the excitement of cake and opening gifts he went down for a nap and left his father, big sister, my brother-in-law, and his wife to watch television with Margaret and me. I’m not much of a TV kind of guy so

I wasn’t particularly paying attention to much attention to the television – that is, until a commercial came on for Black History Month. That’s when I heard my brother-in-law ask out loud, “Why don’t they have a White History Month?”

My stepson chimed in, “Yep, my daughter and I have had several discussions about that. They don’t honor us with a month. What’s up with that?”

“Why do they have a special month for Black people?” my granddaughter asked. About the same time, I heard my sister-in-law mutter something about tearing down all our Confederate monuments. I was steaming mad and extremely hurt.

I love and appreciate my in-laws (most of them anyway, but I digress…). Where our children are concerned, both Margaret and I decided when we married that we didn’t have “step” kids, just “our” kids. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised by my brother-laws response nor by his wife’s opinion. But… when it comes to the kids that’s a different story. I can accept political differences – they’re extremely conservative and I’m not – but to remain silent in the face of blatant racism is, as Dr. King aptly said, is complicity and acceptance. I cannot be quiet.

I stepped outside, taking a moment to breathe, and be as loving as possible with my response. They were, after all, family. I wanted them to hear why it is important to have a month dedicated to Black History and to see people of color through a lens unclouded by white supremacy and stereotypes. By the time I had calmed down enough to speak with some degree of respect, my in-laws were leaving. My stepson came out on the porch to see them off and remained there with Margaret and me. I spoke up.

“You know the reason we have Black History Month and not a White History Month is because every day is white history day. White people wrote the history. They were able to include or omit anything they wanted to. They only tell of the history they want to tell, and everything is subject to a White view of the world.”

“But…” he started.

I cut him off. “Let me finish. Take Juneteenth for instance. I never learned about it in school. It wasn’t until I was an adult and heard somebody say ‘there was going to be trouble in Como (an old African-American neighborhood here in Fort Worth) since it’s Juneteenth. They trash it every year.’ All I could say is what’s Juneteenth?” I’d never heard of it.”

“Pick your word – the master, the victor, the oppressor – writes the history. It’s no wonder everything else gets left out. That’s really sad. The more I learn of Black history, the more I feel robbed in my youth of a vibrant story, particularly right here in Texas.”

“Over the years, and particularly the last three and a half years with Ms. Opal, I’ve learned how much Black men and women contributed to the community and the world I live in. We need to take more than just a month to recognize those things”. I won’t bore you with the details of the rest of our conversation and honestly, I don’t know if it made any difference with him, but I hope it did – especially because it influences my granddaughter’s attitudes and behavior in matters of race.

One of my favorite quotes is from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

The important thing is for those of us who want to see a more just, equitable world is to speak up. Some folks are never openminded and a conversation may never be possible, but you never know unless you speak up. Maybe, just maybe a seed will be planted; a way to see old thinking as it is – white supremacy. If that brings about an open mind and more discussion (not argument) on issues of racial justice, then I’m thrilled to have been the “Sower of seed…”. As Ms. Opal always reminds me, “If a person can be taught to love, then they can be taught to hate”.

Look for and celebrate the contributions of African-Americans in your own community and share those with others. For instance, here in Fort Worth there are many organizations, libraries, and monuments that are frequently overlooked or unknown by the White populace. Try taking a walk around Evans Plaza, where each block of pavement has a story of Black history in Texas and in Fort Worth. There’s the Lenora Rolla Heritage Center Museum in the historic Boone House (1020 East Humboldt Street – open by appointment) run by the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society. The Transform 1012 organization is working to transform what is thought to be the last standing building actually built by and for the KKK – later known as the Ellis Pecan building on North Main – into a multicultural meeting place and performance venue. There is also the Fort Worth Lynching Tour – a bicycle tour beginning in the Stockyards dedicated to telling the story of Fred Rouse, lynched by a Fort Worth mob in 1921.

There are many other organizations, sites, and museums – either existing or planned that tell the story of Black History in Fort Worth. There will soon be a new Juneteenth Museum located on the site of the old one at Evans and Rosedale. Fort Worth is also in the location and planning stages of building its own African-American History museum.

Each year, Unity Unlimited, Inc. hosts Fort Worth’s Juneteenth Celebration with a month of events and we’d love to see you there. We celebrated the signing last year with a huge festival and fireworks to mark the celebration of everyone’s freedom. As Ms. Opal says, “No one is free until everyone is free”.

Unity Unlimited, Inc, is celebrating Black History Month by hosting the Dallas Racial Healing & Transformation’s kick off in Fort Worth on February 23rd, from 6:00PM to 8:00PM at Tarrant County College South Campus, “A New Community Vision for Fort Worth”. There will be a conversation with Ms. Opal Lee and a wonderful program for all Fort Worthians to build a better community.

These are just a few of the reasons I celebrate Black History Month. If you’re in Fort Worth, please come celebrate with us’ but please celebrate wherever you are. It is something to celebrate!

http://www.unityunlimited.org

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This Year’s Nobel Peace Prize Goes to…

I spent yesterday afternoon with a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Seriously! I was delivering food boxes with Ms. Opal Lee and found out she had just been nominated for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize. In true Ms. Opal fashion, she laughed and said, “There’s thirty-two other nominees but it’s great to be one of them”. It was no big deal to her – just another of the honors this beautiful woman has received in her ninety-five years of service to her community and the world. Meanwhile, we went about delivering food boxes as she’s done for many years – just another of the ways she serves her community with love and determination.

2022 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Ms. Opal Lee

I’ve thought much of the gifts I’ve received since I began working for Unity Unlimited, Inc. in the Fall of 2018. Perhaps the greatest gift of all is knowing Ms. Opal. I wish I could talk to the Nobel Prize Committee directly; to tell them about this special woman who makes the lives of everyone she touches better. It’s not just the public things she does – and does she do a lot! I can only speak for myself, but I feel I’m not alone. She’s helped me become a better human being.

She’s quietly taught me to love and serve others better. Simply being in her orbit transforms my heart daily. People probably get tired of hearing me say, “Ms. Opal says…” but they’ll have to get over it. I’ve become adept at sharing the many things I’ve learned from her. I could not have asked for a better mentor and friend. The wisdom she has so graciously shared with me is the good news of what it means to be just another of God’s kids serving God’s other kids. I’ve learned the simple value of listening and serving.

Working for Unity Unlimited, Inc has been a Godsend. Dione Sims, her granddaughter, is our Executive Director and I get to tell everyone I work in the family business! One day a while back, I told Ms. Opal that I was jealous of Dione. When she asked why in the world was I jealous of Dione I told her that Dione got to call her Grand Dear and both my grandparents were gone. She laughed and told me some of the most precious words I could ever imagine – “Oh, son, I am your grandmother. I’m just from a different mother.”

Now I know Ms. Opal is “the grandmother of Juneteenth” and I know she’s a grandmother to multitudes of people because that’s just who she is, but I’m so proud to claim her as my own.

So… to the Nobel Prize Committee – I know there are thirty-three nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize this year. I know they are all eminently qualified to be winners. I’ve read of their work and praise them all. But… I don’t know them and they’re not my grandmother. I can’t think of anyone better to receive the honor this year than Ms. Opal Lee!

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Not Today…

Today was supposed to be the big day for my wife, Margaret. She’s dealt with severe, chronic pain in her neck and her back for quite some time. Her long awaited surgery to relieve some of the pain was supposed to take place today, but COVID reared its ugly head and has put it off once again. We got the call late last night that her pre-surgery COVID test had come back positive, and the surgery would have to be rescheduled.

This was a devasting blow to us both. The surgery was scheduled in September of last year – that’s how long it took to schedule a surgical suite. COVID pushed many “elective” surgeries off schedule – just because it isn’t life threatening means it’s elective. “Elective” loses its meaning when it comes to living in constant pain and drastically limited mobility. There’s no telling how long this will take to reschedule.

We had both prepared ourselves emotionally and physically for this surgery. All the pre-op steps were followed and now plans are again on hold. Any time we’re talking about an 8-10-hour surgery there’s some degree of emotional preparedness. It’s scary and stressful even though the hoped-for results are beneficial. All Margaret could do was cry when the call came last night.

We are mightily disappointed, but our faith has made this somewhat easier to bear. God’s timing is always perfect. We know that, but it doesn’t take away the frustration and stress the situation creates. The sad thing about all of this is that Margaret and I are fully vaccinated and boosted. I’ve tested a couple of times in the few weeks leading up to the 1st just in case. We’ve been extremely careful to wear masks and maintain social distancing. Unfortunately, we live in a place where very few people follow the CDC safety protocols maintaining that it’s their “right” to be inconsiderate of others.

I suppose that’s why I feel so angry right now – so much of the death and misery of COVID could have been prevented. Margaret could be on her way back to pain relief if simple measures could’ve been taken by us all. Vaccination, masking, and social distancing should never have been a “rights” issue. It should have never been a political issue. It should have always been a public health problem addressed by scientific fact and more than anything else, should have been a cooperative effort by our community to save lives and save us from the tyranny of the pandemic. Knowing this could have been prevented but there are those who think it’s their “right” to be selfish fools and refuse common sense and care for others infuriates me – especially when they choose to wear the moniker of Christian.

“Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of status no matter what. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and the died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that – a crucifixion.” Phillipians 2.5-8 (The Message)

What you do today doesn’t only affect you…