Some Good Things

As we close the year 2013, and enter into a new year, I find myself reflecting on what was good, what was bad, and what I want to be different in the coming year. I gave up on making resolutions, because I don’t stick to them, and then I made goals, which were inevitably too lofty – so now I decide to make attempts. I still try to do something I can measure, that I can reach, and that still challenges me to do better. So, the past few days, I have been thinking of things I want to improve on, things I am working on, and things I am already doing well (or, at least, I’m on the right track.) There are a few things I am working on that I think we all should give a try.

I’m a counselor of the Rogerian/Interpersonal/Feminist persuasion, so advice giving seems strange to me. Instead of framing it in that light, I want this list to just be a list of good things. I am a Martha Stewart fan, and on her show and in her magazine, was always a list of simple crafts, recipes, and tips she labeled as “good things.” It is in that spirit that I offer you my list of good things.

1. Eat real food.

When I was an in-home therapist, I found myself in remote areas which could definitely be classified as the “food deserts” we heard of recently. The only chance for a snack was the dollar general store or a gas station, and in the heat of the summer, packing a lunch was impossible. So, I found myself eating highly processed chemical laden substances that can hardly be classified as food. My wife and I were also depressed, and we both stayed exhausted from our jobs and never felt like cooking. Fast food became a normal routine.

After a trip to the doctor about chronic pain, and after I quit my in-home therapy job (which was insanely stressful for less money than I made at Home Depot as a cashier), I began to make some changes in my diet. We both did. My doctor challenged me to eat five vegetables AND five fruits a day. That hasn’t happened very much, but I have come close most days, and some days, I even meet or exceed that challenge.

I went to a Chinese medicine doctor for my fibromyalgia pain, and when I went, she told me something amid the acupuncture needles, the Eastern music, and the heat packs. She told me to only eat foods that had been prepared with love.

Wow. I really believe there is so much truth in that – that when we eat things made in anger and frustration, we take that energy in.

One other significant moment for me came in the form of a video – the scarecrow Chipotle ad.

I had read in magazines and articles, had watched videos. I knew what the food industry was doing. For some reason, though, I was moved to tears by this production. So, to our cage free eggs, organic non-hormone milk, we also added organic humanely raised meat, with no antibiotics or hormones. Absolutely the price is more – but we found something else is true – the taste and texture is better, and the meat is so fresh that the wrappers do not even stink up the trash. Seriously. What kinds of negative energy are we ingesting when we eat meat that comes from mistreated and “pumped up” animals? Not to mention the harmful nature of the chemicals, hormones, and antibotics.

For more on nutrition from eating real whole foods, I highly recommend http://www.westonaprice.org/.

So, eat real food. Prepare it with love. Connect with the earth and appreciate it as you enjoy your meals.

2. Compost. Compost. Compost.

As you are eating more fruits and vegetables, save your peelings. If you forget about something in the fridge, and it starts to wither, compost it. Save your coffee grounds, egg shells, newspapers, and even paper towels. All of these compost well. You can buy an inexpensive bucket with a lid to keep inside, and then, carry it out to your pile or barrel when it is full. Make sure you add leaves or paper to keep the compost from being too liquid if you are using a barrel. And turn it frequently, or stir it if you are making a ground pile. Compost is great for any garden, but it is vital to a strong lasagna garden bed.

3. Plant a garden.

Put your compost to use, and save yourself a pretty penny by growing your own organic vegetables. Make sure your seed is free of GMOs. To do that, only get your seed from companies that have signed a pledge saying they will not knowingly sell GMO seed. That list is here.

Also, do not use chemical pesticides or herbicides. They kill bees. Instead, plant flowers and herbs next to your vegetables. There is a wealth of information on herbs and flowers that attract beneficial bugs (ones that eat the pests) and bees to pollinate your vegetables. Sometimes, you may just need to remove some pests (like horn worms) by hand. Weeds should be pulled, and if you must spray – vinegar and salt work well for beginning weeds, and flame throwers are also a good non-chemical solution.

For fertilizing, just use your compost, and natural substances – no chemicals.

4. Practice peace.

Here is a biggie for me. I tend to let things get to me, and I get very anxious, depressed, and angry. But now, I am resolving to stop that bad practice. By focusing on the present, focusing on the simple things, and reducing my intake of social media, news, and controversies, I am trying to cultivate a healthier inner and outer life. I am reading books on ways to redirect stress, and focus on controlling my reaction to stressors.

Not getting caught up in controversies is easier said than done. I have a lot of words swimming around regarding the ludicrous nature of the whole de-quackle (oh I am corny.) I also have a lot of inspiring things I am feeling about Robin Roberts (You are amazing. Light Love Power Presence). I want to write about the waves of equality and how there is so much more work to be done. However, I am not going to spend my time writing and focusing on things which make me angry (chick fil a and camo, seriously?)

Instead, I am endeavoring to focus on what is in front of me, and to put things in front of me which are, as Robin put it: Light, Love, Power, Presence.

Things like my wife, our pets, making healthy meals together, planning our garden, and reading from the lectionary, and practicing the common prayers. Things like investing more in friends, watching less news, riding our bikes and hiking more. I am placing sources of peace in front of me. What a good thing.

Well, that is a small list, but a very good start. I wish for you all, a wonderful new year filled with love, faith, hope, and joy – and that we all would work and pray for peace. Here’s to 2014 being better than 2013, and to making sure we make that happen.

This year, I was struck by how much of Christmas is about a baby. I cried all through Advent service, at every song and every prayer, as it struck me at my core and reached a part of me not reached til now. A new, expected, long awaited for baby who brought so much hope, love, and change. Let’s continue to celebrate and hope for that newness being born in all of us.

Love,

C.

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Beans + Tiny Hands = Turkeys

When I was in elementary school, we made all kinds of crafts for holidays and special occasions: from the apple Christmas ornaments, to little paper groundhogs, that would come up out of Styrofoam cups via the magic of ever wonderful Popsicle sticks; I loved crafts!

One of my favorites was our Thanksgiving craft. We took a pencil and outlined our hand, and then filled in the print with glued on pinto beans, white beans, and other grains to form a turkey. I can’t wait to do this with our kids.

In my mind, these turkeys were big, but they had to be so small. I have small hands now – I know they were much smaller then.

A lot has been happening recently, and we are in the middle of a season of gratitude.My hometown has been in the midst of a fierce battle for getting equal benefits for city employees. My church participated in a gathering for local affirming congregations, and my wife and I have been very busy with our home and planning for our future as a family.

I have been thinking on our role as change agents. Sometimes it feels as though we are small. And perhaps, we aren’t sure what kind of good or beauty we have to offer. Even so, we must offer our hands and feet if we wish to see change.

We’ve been trying to do even better about recycling and composting, and even better about buying local food – and more humanely raised meat and organic vegetables & fruit (until we have our own in more quantity.) I’ve written city council members to thank them for siding with equality. We are planting our organic garlic seed this weekend.

It seems small, but right now, I am thankful that we can do that. That we can make an impact on our little plot of land by being more responsible and cultivating something good and beautiful. And that we can do it quietly and peacefully.

What about you? What relatively small acts can you do to make your own immediate environment and community better and more beautiful? What are you thankful for this season?

With love, and peace, and thankfulness,

C.

Confessional

Today’s post is an endeavor of love, expression of frustration, a call to action, and an exercise in vulnerability.

One night last week, I asked D to come outside. In the bed of my truck were pillows and a sleeping bag to keep us comfortable while we looked at the night sky, and watched for the supermoon rising.

We were sitting there, watching the lightning bugs light up in a significant dance of golden yellow flashes in the tall grass of the pasture, and the dark green-black of trees at dusk. I noticed something moving beside me. It was a honey bee.

I watched it climbing up the side of the sleeping bag, and then it fell.

The bee continued to struggle, climbing and falling. It became clear to both of us: it was dying.

I gently took a strap of the sleeping bag and used it to get the bee out of the ruts of the bed-liner and onto the ground so it wouldn’t struggle so much. I wondered what killed it. I realized we might be to blame for what we used to kill fleas behind our back porch, which were out of control. But maybe not, because that was a while ago. Either way, I felt horrible.

I am so against pesticides, but I conceded to using them when it became more convenient to me. And that is confession number one.

I have been thinking a lot this week about something that happened in my childhood, and then more recently over the past 2 days, something that happened throughout my life, instances with the same theme.

There has been so much talk about Paula Deen, and what she said. I will not dwell on her, because that is not what the post is about. What I do want to say is that it is not okay for people to say “so what.” It is okay for people to practice forgiveness and grace, but it is not okay to belittle the impact of how words do hurt, regardless of the sticks and stones nonsense many of us were taught. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words have the power to cripple our very souls when aimed at us, and to warp our light into darkness when spoken from our lips. The book of James says it well, when it warns us of the power of words.

“The N word.”

Growing up in the South, I heard it all the time when I was a kid. I heard whispered things said about black people. I didn’t go to school with anyone but white kids until middle school, and for some reason, I loved the black kids immediately. Despite what my surroundings might have dictated.

But what I want to say is that I said the N word. I was about 5 years old. I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t even use it in the context that it is said now. But I was told immediately that it is not a word that we use. My poor grandfather – to add insult to injury, when I said it, I didn’t just say it – I yelled it out of the window on a Sunday afternoon, riding by a gas station with people at it, from the inside of a school bus Pawpaw had painted and made into a church bus.

Yeah…

I never said that word again. Not only that, I was never hesitant to tell people not to use it when they did, even if it meant arguing with an adult.

And that, friends, is confession number two.

When I was about 18, I was going to a very large church in Hixson, TN. A singer I liked at the time was going to be at a night service, so I went with a friend. She sang, but she also talked a lot. I don’t remember how she brought it up, but she started talking about how Christians shouldn’t be watching “Will & Grace.” She talked about how Hollywood always made gay people look funny and like they are a lot of fun. Then, she said that if we could really see them we would:

(She placed her index finger in a rigid position, and used it to go into her mouth, which was open, and she gagged so loud and so forcefully that it startled me.)

There I was, fighting my “attractions” as I secretly referred to them to myself. I felt guilt for all the fantasies I had about having Jennifer Knapp or Natalie Portman or Lisa Ling as a girlfriend. Normal crushes, which I can still feel embarrassment and shame over – to this very day – because of the stigma I felt during the time I had them.

I felt disgusting, and like a roach which the people in the church would step on if they knew. A couple years later, I would find myself working in an office when the first rumblings of legal gay marriage came to light. My supervisor talked about how gross gay people are. She called them nasty names which had to do with sex acts. We went out for drinks. There was a lesbian couple sitting at the bar. She made fun of them by making jokes about them at our table. I laughed.

That same supervisor sent a letter to the governor of TN at the time, saying she didn’t want gay marriage there. I felt pressured. I followed.

Years later, I voted yes on one, feeling pressure from the Christian college I was going to, and I was part of putting in the constitution of TN that marriage is limited to heterosexual couples.

I acted against my conscience, and myself. Out of fear, and out of self-hatred.This is so painful to share, but it is important for me to be honest about where I have been – and where I am now. Confession number three.

I’ve talked about bees dying, racism, and hate speech toward LGBT people. It seems like a lot, I know. I also know that it doesn’t seem like it all ties together, but I believe it does.

All three of these things happen every day. All three of these things happen when we are not careful with what we are putting out, and they all come from a place within that begins with fear of something other and different.

A fear of bees leads people to swat at them, run from them, and to use pesticides.

A fear of racial differences leads people to say hateful things about a little girl in a cheerios commercial, to spew malicious words about a little boy singing the anthem, to follow and then pull the trigger of a gun aimed at a boy walking home from buying skittles and tea.

A fear of LGBT people leads people to say untrue things, such as that we destroy families or are only concerned about sex, and much worse things which I will not repeat. It leads well-meaning people to fight against human rights while making themselves and the church look like the devil and an oppressive regime. It darkens the light and reduces the love.

Love.

Love is not the opposite of hate. Love, I believe is the opposite of apathy – and it is the opposite of fear.

Perfect love casts out fear. Perfect love helps us to reach across divides, to admit our faults and wrong-doings and to begin to love our neighbor in a way that is defiant to differences and the things we may have been told – either explicitly or implicitly. Love teaches us to believe all things and hope all things – to endure, and to practice patience, peace, gentleness, joy, self-control, kindness, goodness, and real faith. To look after those who are broken, outcast, and alone. Orphans and widows. But also – nonwhites, immigrants, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people, prostitutes, people caught in addiction or trying to stay clean, people who have been ravaged or crippled by mental illness, and a variety of other people who find themselves alone. To look after these people – not to work against them.

Love is not a passive feeling. Love is acting. It requires us to do something, and that something is to help others to flourish, to be kind, gentle, patient, good, and to help them find real joy. To celebrate together, and to journey together through pain and difficulties.

It’s how we know, according to 1 John, that we are truly one with Christ. If we have really loved each other.

I often think it is sad that the church, in this pitiful act of nationalism and “we are better than you” mentality, gorged themselves on chicken sandwiches because a republican said to, the very same week that world vision announced there is a food crisis happening, and they don’t have the resources. I think it is sad that, quietly, that certain restaurant, according to tax records, has stopped giving money to the hate group they were giving to – yes a hate group, which in turn use their donations, etc to fund and promote “kill the gays bills” in other countries and spread lies and hatred about LGBT people here. I wish the restaurant would have made a statement.

I read a blog yesterday, from the pastor of that mega church I was going to, when that woman gagged about gay people – It made me sick at my stomach, the level of idolatry over the flag and the national anthem while he spewed spite about the SCOTUS strike down of DOMA, talking about the “LGBT agenda.” At least he used “LGBT?”

(I realize this has been heavy, and long, but please stay with me.)

In all of this, there are a few things that remain certain and nothing changes those.

Christ.

Christ was. Christ is. Christ will be. Christ is coming and is here.

Love.

The love of Christ is perfect.

I have seen so many friends and strangers practicing love the past few days, and celebrating love.

Love wins. Not just the “love wins” because we have rights coming our way. But love wins because when we love one another, things get accomplished and we overcome the darkness, and the world becomes a better place – more glory revealed.

D and I share an amazing love.

I was at work on Wednesday. Just before the rulings, I had sweat stains under my arms from being so nervous. I was sweating profusely, jittery, shaking. I started getting tearful, because either way – I was going to cry.

I looked at the clock and ran to the restroom for one last time. As I closed the stall door, I realized I wanted, more than anything, to be with D in that moment. I wanted to hold each other’s hand or just each other while we waited. But I also wanted to do something else that shows how nerdy and goofy we are. I looked at my ring. I wanted to do, as we have many times, especially if we are nervous about something – to make fists and to extend our arms and touch our rings to each other (in a truly Captain Planet Planeteers fashion) and to start making a noise mimicking current running through. (SHHZZZZHHHHSZZZZZ.) Then we gently twist our wrists back and forth as we are being “energized.” Then we let go in way that says we are fully charged and there is so much power, how will we ever handle it?

The love two people share in a marriage is powerful. It is holy. It is good.

Love is a powerful force for uniting us, for helping us to bring more light to the world.

In that spirit of love, I am asking for us to work together to combat racism. I see a disturbing trend of resurgence. Do you see it? What will you do about it? Will you work for more collaboration and fight the injustices?

Let us combat hatred against LGBT people. Will you? Even if you think that being in a same sex relationship is sinful? Will you not look to the example of Christ and how he lifted up those who the pharisees thought were breaking the laws? If you believe our marriages are just as holy, will you come out and say it? If you are LGBT, will you keep up your hope and momentum?

Will you care for the environment with me? More gardens, more flowers, and less pesticides as a dear friend put it. Will you consider bee keeping or at least support a local bee keeper?

I hope you will answer yes.

Because if you do, love wins.

And that, is my last confession.

Love,

C.