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Tired, but Hopeful…

Spring and summer leave little time for writing. There’s planting, harvesting, replanting, and constant irrigation going that must be moved manually each hour. The heat came so early to North Texas that everything is bone dry the next day. We’re also facing severe drought here so it’s a constant battle just to keep the crops watered properly. The long string of 100-degree plus weather makes for a long day and early bedtime. Although there’s been no shortage of topics to write about, I’m a bit frazzled and brain-baked by the time evenings roll around. Such is the life of a farmer…

Opal’s Farm held a Volunteer Appreciation Cookout for the 4th of July. It was well-attended, and everyone ate their fill of burgers, hot dogs, and grilled veggies from the farm. The farm is one of the best places in Fort Worth to watch the annual fireworks show and a crowd came in from the neighborhood to watch and share in the festivities. Unfortunately, the fireworks show only lasted a couple of minutes this year. The fireworks set off huge grass fires on the banks of the Trinity River and officials cancelled the rest of the show. Some kids threw fireworks off the train trestle by our gathering, and we had to rush to put out the grass fire they started. It was an eventful evening all the way around.

The cancellation of the big Fort Worth fireworks show seemed a fitting end to the 4th of July this year. Independence Day was either a birthday party celebrating America’s birth or a funeral for American democracy. I haven’t failed to keep up with the news. A funeral is more likely. Shall we go down the list: the January 6th hearings, an attempted coup, the recent slate of restrictive Supreme Court rulings, the 300 plus mass shootings so far this year, massive voter suppression and on and on…

I’m not big on labels, especially political ones. However, I read an article by Adam Russell Taylor of Sojourners Magazine that spoke of the “exhausted majority” (https://sojo.net/articles/pastoral-letter-exhausted-majority). He pointed out the polling showing the majority of Americans feel left out and tired by the continuous division that dominates our political and civil discourse. Most Americans have “flexible views that don’t fit consistently in the Left/Right binary”.

Somebody finally put a voice to my thoughts. I get it. I’m exhausted. I dread even talking to people some days, so I just turn off the news, crank up the music, and cover my head so I don’t get hit with all the verbal and political crap flying by from both extremes. Exhaustion often leads to cynicism. I don’t like cynical people, especially when the cynic is me, so what do I do?

  • Take a break. I need to remember it’s okay to rest. Rest is necessary. It seems even God thought one should rest. He took a break after His work creating the universe and asked the Jewish nation to take a day to do the same. The Gospels tells us that Jesus often withdrew to “a lonely place” to pray, reflect, and recharge his spirit. I’m pretty sure it’s okay to do the same…
  • Pray. A lot. I’m not talking about the “God bless America” prayers of politicians and the religious right. Keep it simple. The Lord’s Prayer is a great place to start – “Your kingdom come your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven”.
  • Vote – My true citizenship lies in God’s kingdom but my participation in the political process here asks that I vote for “the least of these”. Which candidate reflects the policies that will most benefit the poor, the marginalized, and the immigrant. (Yes, I said immigrant – God constantly reminded His people to care for the immigrant – the foreigner – among them). Speak for the voiceless. (Side Note – We will be registering people to vote at upcoming markets and events. This year reflects the need to vote more than ever.)
  • Act in love – Some years ago it was fashionable among Christians to wear little bracelets that said “What Would Jesus Do, or WWJD.  The fashion trend passed but the question remains. If I’ve prayed for God’s will to be done here as it is in heaven than maybe, just maybe, I need to live a kingdom life here instead of waiting around for some mystical eternity. Maybe it means I need to see the world as Jesus as sees it, to see its people as those created in the very image of God, and to agree with the Creator – “it is good” – not perfect mind you, but good.

It’s much easier to find common ground when the Creator is evident in each of us, especially when we know how much God loves us. It becomes impossible to hold His love to ourselves. It must be shared.

Today, I’m taking a rest, enjoying the air conditioning, and asking to God to simply help me love others better. I don’t feel exhausted. I feel hopeful. There’s a lot to do…

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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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Joel Says…

It’s an exceptionally brilliant sunny morning here in Cowtown. The sun reflecting off the snow-covered lawns makes everything brighter. It won’t stick around too long as the forecast calls for a warming trend this coming week. The long-awaited precipitation is welcome news to Opal’s Farm and the rest of North Central Texas. We’re moving deeper into a drought phase, so even snow and ice are welcome (if the power stays on anyway…)

Most folks here were not looking forward to this recent cold snap. The power outages, broken pipes, water shortages, and deaths from last year’s major freeze were still too fresh. Everyone was afraid of a repeat this year. The rest of the country must’ve been watching as well. Momma called from Kentucky to make sure we were okay – North Texas made the national news. I’m somewhat embarrassed that everyone doubts Texans can survive a couple of inches of snow and freezing temperatures, but after last year I understand.

The ice and snow are on there way out and it’ll be seventy degrees by next weekend. Our family stayed warm with no power outages, broken pipes, or water shutoffs. The winter crops survived the cold and life goes on here in Cowtown. If truth be told, a couple of days of Arctic blast just aren’t that big of a deal, but I’m grateful to be inside this morning and to have time to read and write…

I reread the Book of Joel for this morning’s meditation. When I was a kid, I very proudly told everyone that our family was in the Bible. I made up a lot of stories about my heritage and who I was so I could feel some value to my schoolmates. I may not have known much about my birth family when I was a kid, so I embellished the lineage of my adopted one. That’s another story for another day…

Back to the Book of Joel…

Joel is probably one of the truly “minor” minor prophets. He doesn’t talk about exciting things like invading foreign powers or wars, you know, the big stuff. Instead, he writes about an invasion of locusts that have left the country destitute and hungry. His story would likely be buried a few pages deep in today’s newspapers. Bugs and hungry people don’t sell advertising very well, particularly when they’re somewhere “over there”. Honestly, I never paid him much mind even if we did share a name.

(Aside – As an adult I now know I’m completely unrelated to him. His father’s name was Pethuel. There is no one in my family tree by that name…)

Locust swarms aren’t a large concern here in Texas like they are in the Middle East and Africa. We had a serious bout with grasshoppers and couple of year ago – that was bad enough – but they didn’t put a huge dent in our harvests at Opal’s Farm. It was annoying to walk the rows and be hit by large, jumping grasshoppers or throw peas away because they’d been chewed on: I can’t imagine what it must be like to have swarms so big they block out the sun, hinder movement, and eat everything in sight like they do in other parts of the world.

Joel’s words echo today. Substitute climate change or social justice for the plague of locust and not much has changed in 2500 years. I watch the news – wildfires that grow bigger each year, hungry kids, systemic racism, and raging pandemics. I can easily echo Joel’s initial despair.

“God! I pray and cry out to you! The fields are burning up. The country is a dust bowl, forest and prairie fires rage unchecked. Wild animals dying of thirst, looking to you for a drink. Springs and streams are dried up. The whole country is burning up. Joel 1.19-20

“Shake the country up… A black day! A doomsday! Clouds with no silver lining!” Joel 2.1-2

It’s a bleak picture, but…

“But there’s also this, it’s not too late – God’s personal message! – ‘Come back to me and really mean it! Come fasting and weeping, sorry for your sins!’ Change your life, not just your clothes…

Fear not Earth! Be glad and celebrate! God has done great things. He’s giving you a teacher to train you how to live right” Joel 2.12-13, 21-23

“I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people… Whoever calls, Help, God! Gets help. Joel 2. 28,31 (The Message)

Joel offers choices and hope for what appears to be a bleak future. That’s what I hope to do today. Take actions that offer hope – whether it be the regenerative farming we practice at Opal’s Farm or the unity we try to build in the fight against racism and hate.

I know I’m not alone either and that’s gives me hope.

Photo by Wendy Wei on Pexels.com
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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…

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Don’t Be an A-hole

It’s cold in my office today. I left the bar up on the patio door and Sadie, our lovable, sweet dog, decided something was important enough to warrant exterior investigation. She’s incredibly bright. She can open the door if she bends her paw just right. Unfortunately, she hasn’t figured out how to close it. The door was open this morning. The overnight low was twenty-one degrees. The coffee is appreciated more than ever…

I figured I’d warm up the fingers by writing an update on what’s happening at the Joel household I finally received my COVID test results back and they were negative. I figured they would be but it’s possible to be asymptomatic and still pass it on to others. My wife is having major surgery on February 1st, so I’ve been extra careful to avoid bringing COVID home. It took almost five months to get an open surgical room. COVID would put it off again and we definitely don’t want that.

My work is not just the food. It’s ultimately about unity between all people regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual preference, gender identity, and abilities. So, I’ve weighed heavily on writing something that’s divisive. The whole of our culture is divided right now. The last thing everyone needs is another divisive rant. Sometimes loving others requires saying what needs to be heard. Even Jesus got pissed-off about the moneychangers in the Temple.

I’d like to think I’m accepting (albeit begrudgingly at times) of everyone, but that would be a lie. Lately, even begrudgingly doesn’t work anymore. Case in point: Margaret and I have had all our COVID vaccinations, I always wear a mask, and maintain social distance when I do have to go into a store (usually Home Depot – it’s been my toy store for years…). We try to do all the things recommended by doctors and epidemiologists to stop the spread of COVID – for both ourselves and others in particular.

Last night I had to go in to pick up a dinner order that we’d ordered for carry-out. It wasn’t ready and I had to wait. An unmasked gentleman (and I use the term loosely) came up behind me – right behind me mind you – I’m not sure there was even two feet between us. He was close enough to feel his breath on my shoulders. I moved over to the corner to put some space between us. When he finished ordering he also moved into the corner, crowding me again.

I’m irritated when anyone gets in my personal space even in pre-pandemic times, but even more so now. I moved again and he moved closer to speak with his son. I moved once again. So did he. That’s when I could take no more. I looked at him and said, “Sir, you need to back off”.

He looked surprised. I continued, “I need you to maintain some social distance please. My wife is having surgery and I can’t risk taking anything home”.  Everyone was looking at me. Two of the folks that had masks on and nodded approval (two people in a room full of employees and diners). His son murmured “what a dick” and they took a couple of steps back – not six feet though. My food was ready so I got out of there as quickly as I could.

My wife was watching National Geographic documentary called “The First Wave” when I got home. It’s about the first months of pandemic when New York City was the epicenter for COVID. It followed doctors and patients through overwhelmed hospitals during the first wave. We ate dinner and I continued to watch (even though I had a ton of work to do). I became both saddened and angry to watch the death rate soar while healthcare providers shared the emotions that come with helplessness and over-work. Their valiant efforts could not overcome the effects of the disease and they watched friends and patients die and the grief of loved ones who couldn’t even say goodbye. I wept at the loss and frustration.

Sadness quickly turned to anger when I thought of that yahoo at the restaurant. Two years after “The First Wave” we’re still fighting COVID because so many refuse to mask, get vaccinated, or maintain social distance – all the things that would have slowed the pandemic, saved lives, and made of everyone safer – and their refusal is based on their “right” not to do so. Right-wing politicians in many states, like our Governor “COVID” Abbott, have made mask or vaccination mandates illegal. Playing to the Republican-Trump base is more important than saving lives…

This isn’t about politics, our “rights” or “the mark of the beast” people. It’s about having some concern for the common good, for all our friends and neighbors. It’s about not being an ass-hole and “thinking of others more highly than yourself (I read that in a book somewhere). I don’t like wearing a mask, but I do – not even so much for me but for others. I don’t like having to stand back from friends that I normally hug when I see them. If I’m honest, I’m a sissy when it comes to shots. I hate them, but guess what? I’ve had ALL my vaccinations – COVID and everything else as well. Follow the science people and exercise some common courtesy…

Facts no longer change minds and there is little communication, real communication, going on between those on either side of the issue (unless yelling at each other is considered communication. Common courtesy is not that common anymore. The one hope I have is that there are many others choosing to do the right thing – the courteous, wise, and selfless thing. That’s personal choice that’s good for everyone. Remember, don’t be an a-hole

Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko on Pexels.com

A side note: The new Omnicron variant is far more infectious although early data shows it may not be as deadly – at least for the vaccinated. Many doctors are now saying it’s not if you catch the virus, it’s when.