Texas Youth Livestock Auction

This could be called “Yet Another Reason I Love Texas.”


The local livestock auction for young people of this county is being held today. The winners in the various categories (swine, beef, and goats) get to auction their animals off to local banks, car dealerships, oil drilling companies, and other companies which bid BIG for the winning animals.

Now livestock auctions are being held somewhere in America every day of the week. And, yes, I know (and even agree with) some of the criticism of the livestock and meat-packing industry. But this auction has a whole different flavor (pun intended) than many of those other ones. This auction is one of those places where the spotlights and attention are young people doing well. And, while there is a difficult reality to be faced by these young men and women as they say “good-bye” to their animals, they are also learning about relationships in life, and being an integral part of a community that is vital to this area.

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These animals have been raised for meat production since they were calves, kids, and piglets. They have been tended to daily by their young owners, and handled often so that they would “show” well when their time in the ring finally came. The animals are as clean and spiffy as their owners.

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You’ll note that there’s not a lot of jubilation evident in these faces of these youngsters, despite the fact that they are walking away with a whole lot more money than they spent on the raising of their animals. They’ve experienced that it is possible- impossible not to– love an animal. But they are also learning about the purpose and hard work involved in raising their livestock. The ones who continue in ranching will never lose that tension between the care of their animals and the purpose of their being raised in the first place. Some of the gentlest, kindest people I know are ranchers who discovered that dilemma early on, and continue to face it daily.

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Another thing I love about this Youth Auction is that the organizers realize that people really do like to eat other foods besides meat! So the opportunity exists for cookies, cakes, and pies to be a part of the judging and auctioning process, too. This little boy just sold a $750 cake to a local bank!

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These are the kids who ride horses, have dogs and cats, grow up understanding and respecting the land, and who get to spend part of each day hoping for rain or shading their eyes against a sunset. They will never eat a hamburg in blissful ignorance of where it came from or be able to tolerate the intentional abuse of any animal.

Or any other person. Just watch them as they grow up and you’ll see what I mean. The lessons you see being learned in these pictures don’t end today. They are part of lives now and those lessons will will benefit all of us.

Christmas Presents

You cannot buy happiness. For anyone- not yourself, your spouse, your children, or your boss. You can buy a brief period of satisfaction. How brief? Watch the kids tearing into the next present..and adult attention spans aren’t that much longer.

The GREAT LIE in America is that happiness (as defined by television script writers) is available to anyone whose means and desires coincide. And advertisers keep the sweet carrots dangling just a little bit beyond everyone’s reach, so that no one is ever quite there, where X marks the spot that happiness, true happiness, will finally begin. (Even Lottery winners get the blues: there are many sad stories in that chapter of the New American Dream.)

Last week, I stood in line at the local Fred’s behind a couple who were juggling two credit cards to buy what looked Round One of their Christmas gift orgy. Among the items was a battery operated model of Bill Clinton playing a saxophone. Here’s what it looks like:

Yeah, that’s all it does. How quickly will Uncle Bill tire of that thing? That thing will be in someone’s yard sale by April. Along with probably 25% of December’s Gross National Product, which is quickly becoming China’s Very Gross National Profit. How many gallons of foreign oil were used in this year’s manufacture of those Bill Clinton saxophone toys? And, how much landfill space will they still be occupying 30,000 years from now when the plastic in them finally begins to break down?

So here’s my point: There are alternatives– places where you can spend money and affect the future in positive ways for generations to come. Here are three:


Kiva is a micro-lender. You can make loans to small business people in places around the world. Your $25, $50, or $100 is added to similar amounts from other lenders to finance the $500 to $1500 loans being requested. The payback rate is close to 100%, and when your money is paid back, you can either get it back or re-invest in someone else’s business.  Some people on my list this year are getting KIVA gift certificates so they can experience the same fun I’ve had giving six women and three men on four continents a real hand up in their lives.


The SEVA Foundation is also in the business of fighting poverty and disease through self-help projects. And the array of those projects is fascinating. Last year, my wife received a gift from me, given in her name, which enabled two Mayan women in Mexico to be trained as mid wives.


The Heifer Project is an elder statesman in the world of really good places to share your resources. Last year, each of my three children received a flock of ducks, going to Cambodia. Others received from me a flock of chickens, a goat, and some trees. All of these things are given to the recipients with the understanding that they will use the gifts for both food and income, and that they will give away some of the new chicks, kids, and saplings that result from their work. They are gifts that keep on giving for real.

Two years ago, I received from friends a llama in Ecuador and part of a community water well in South Africa. I’ve never seen either of those gifts, but they are the ones from that Christmas that I remember best. They are making a continuing difference in the lives of people, as they continue to make a difference in my own.

It’s a pretty cool bandwagon. Jump aboard! We’ll meet there at the X where real happiness is always waiting.

The Cicada’s Silence..

So soon to die

you can hardly tell it

by the cicada’s voice

 ~Matsuo Basho (1690)

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I will miss their song. The cicada’s season in the sun and on the branches of trees, is coming to an end now. Each day, there are fewer and fewer of the long, vibrating drones- one cicada signaling another of their procreative nearness, of their one, only, and final desire for the companionship of another.

Yet, even now, the final cicada songs are being sounded with vigor and enthusiasm: they are songs of LIFE. There are no beginnings to be heard in those songs, and certainly no endings: only the purest of be-ing. It is an awareness without the encumbrances of memory or imagination, no regrets or hope. It, simply, is.

I dare to call it, in my own human complexities, an enviable state of being. It is that place where the humans we admire most (think about it) spend the majority of their moments. When you are with them, they are with you; you do not perceive them to be remembering who you were yesterday, or what you are becoming tomorrow. They hear you, now. They see you, now. You are these moments to them.

That’s what the cicada’s song reminds me of each year. Being is better than remembering, though remembering is good and precious. Being is better than planning, though planning is necessary and enhancing to our lives. Being is certainly better than regretting what is past, or being anxious about what is to come.

Being allows us to not only hear and see what is around us, but to be part, a vibrant part, of that place we are in, that person we are with, those circumstances in which we find ourselves. It allows us to breathe and renew and to be nourished and active. Our Being is our affirmation, if we allow it to be, of all of Life which preceded us yet is still a part of us (no beginnings) and of all of Life which will come after us, and which we will have influenced for eternity (no endings).

It is our song, a song which can be heard in gratitude by others and sung in celebration by us. It is the harmonious chorus we sing with the cicadas, and with all else that lives.

God Damn Dog Fighting

(That’s a prayer, by the way..)

It looks like Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick will feel the revulsion of the NFL for his off-the-field pastime of dog fighting, as Commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to announce Vick’s suspension this week for the 07-08 season.

Hopefully, Nike and other members of Vick’s endorsement gravy train will follow suit.

Any doubts about what the NFL is doing to Vick? This should eliminate any thoughts of “unfairness” someone might still be harboring:


That’s what a human fingerprint looks like, gouged into a pit bull’s face. If it’s nauseating, that’s my point. It is meant to be.

It is almost unfathomable at times what humans are capable of doing to animals. Dog fighting, cock fighting, exotic animal hunting, and even rattlesnake round ups are systemic manifestations of the religiously chauvinistic attitude that humans are at top of the food chain and, therefore, “have dominion..over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Genesis 1: 28) That single biblical phrase, twisted in the minds of men who measure their virility by the blood they can cause to flow from other living beings, or by the neglect they have institutionalized under the agenda of economic development, puts us- this generation- directly in the path of what has been called the Sixth Great Extinction.

440 million years ago, 85% of marine animals were wiped out in the First Great Extinction. 367 million years ago, many fish and 70% of marine invertebrates met their doom. 245 million years ago, 95% of all animal species died. 208 million years ago, another extinction of sea animals primarily, but also some land animals took place. And 65 million years ago, 3/4 of all species, including the dinosaurs, were eliminated.

All of these five great extinctions occurred because of volcanic eruptions, meteorite strikes, and changing climates. This sixth great extinction is one we are able to witness and one which we are largely the cause of. (Statistics from Earth Policy Institute)

It is estimated that 10 million species inhabit the earth with humans. And each year, 1000s of these species, including microrganisms, are lost forever. Deforestation, mining, urbanization, and ocean pollution and over harvesting are the primary reasons.

How do the attitudes and actions of Michael Vick fit into this dismal picture?


As long as our human and predominate worldview is one which regards everything outside of ourselves as, well, outside of ourselves, then the abuse and death of pit bulls behind barns in the Virginia countryside, as well as the poaching deaths of Mountain Gorillas in the Congo, will continue. As long we crush our natural empathetic response to other living beings, with the mechanistic attitude that we’re in control of the toolbox, then it will continue to be easy to regard other species as things– in our way, expendable, toys for our amusement, even trash.

Imagine the outcome of a democratic vote by the world’s species on which species should be next in line for extinction?





Walking out of ourselves..


“When you walk into a forest, learn to tremble with the magnitude of what you are about, and you will never walk out. There will no longer be that self that approached the forest, for you will be new, you will bear the presence of the forest with you. Forests are alive with music on all sorts of hidden levels, and when you hear this music you will know that forest has permeated every cell of your body. Sip a cup of coffee the next morning, and all the fir trees will grow warm. The natural, human, and divine worlds flow together into our feelings. You need no teacher. The universe is your teacher, the forests are your teachers. You will know when you fail to learn, for failure is punished with boredom. If you develop the least flicker of sensitivity, the universe will come alive in you.”

(from The Universe is a Green Dragon by Brian Swimme)


In truth the forest hears each sound                                                 Each blade of grass as it lies down.
The world requires no   audience,                                                                                                    No witnesses, no witnesses..

~Conor Oberst, from “I Must Belong Somewhere”

I walk across the top of an earthen dam. To my right is a lake, carved from the carboniferous remains of two hundred million year old forests. To my left, and below (I am higher than the treetops there), there is a green field of coastal grass, surrounded by woods of native pecan, oak, hemlock, and various evergreens. Half a mile ahead, there is a shale hill, a once lush swampland on the shoreline of an ancient ocean.

Grasshoppers and mayflies crisscross my path. Some land on me, others nearby, and all are only momentarily distracted by my presence past them. The occasional black swallowtail butterfly lands briefly on a sunflower or coneflower, then is gone, to another, and another, and away.

A fish jumps from the water. I hear it, but only see the rings of water where it was. The woods below are filled with the July chorus of cicadas, by the thousands. Doves, somewhere, call to each other. And the clicking of the grasshoppers is ever present.

I am irrelevant to the great, furious, and quiet bursting-forth of life all around me. I am irrelevant to all of it, but I am in love with all of it. I am irrelevant to all of it yet, at the same time, I am loved, too.

I am attracted to this place; just as the mayflies are, and exactly as the evergreens. The yellow sunflower sirens beckon me; the same sun-yellow that calls the butterflies to their pollen-filled centers calls me to their random, scattered beauty. I rise like the trees, without thought, without intentionality, to the noonday light which encompasses us (all of us) and nurtures us (all of us). My seventy/eighty years on this planet and the twenty-four hour life spans of the mayflies on this shore pale in their dissimilarities against the rock forms of sixty-five million year old ammonites and coral and clams beneath us all in the shale formations.

I am a witness here, and nothing more. I am able to overhear and see bits of the world in this place, for a little while, and nothing less.

The allure, the calling to me of the grasses, trees, insects, and flowers is the same seductive attraction with which all things call to others of their kind and to that which enhances their life symbiotically. The same magenta which calls the swallowtail butterflies to the coneflower, calls me to kneel down beside it and imagine its photosynthetic singing. The same breeze which guides the grasshoppers to succulent bluegrass stems, guides me to watch their clicking flight. The same black rich earth which absorbed the hard shell of pecan seeds and fed the tiny green germ within, is the same earth which caused men and women crossing these prairies to stop here, build here, plant here, and raise their children here. The earth here called them, attracted them, loved them.

And now, I am here, too.

I am here, too, and in love with and loved by that which I cannot embrace with my arms. I cannot kiss it on the cheek, squeeze its hand, or whisper anything that could be understood as exclamations of my devotion. I can only feel the sweet but benign acceptance of my witness. I can only lose myself in the green glorious seas of grass and trees and in the tiny waves of other living things washing through them. I can only imagine telling them that my words are wholly inadequate to describe their sensuality and their beauty.

“I love you,” I say to them, anyway.

And I hear them in return and I smile.

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Snakes in Church 2

I found a video on another blog about snake handling in church. Add this to my previous comments on this strange practice, found here:

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I love these people’s passion and faith..but there are some gimmicks apparent here.

Repetitive, bass-heavy music, is always, anywhere in the world and in whoever’s name it is being played, conducive to a achieving a minor “high.” And spinning in circles is every four year old’s first taste of altered consciousness. This is part of that whole strain of Christianity that says one’s faith in Jesus must be evidenced by signs and wonders, of one sort or another. And if they’re not forthcoming, go get them.

I guess.


The most consistently moving and poignant website- to me- is postsecrets.

In it, people anonymously are able to share their deepest secrets. Often, it is that One Secret that has has defined her or his life, that a person is able to share for the very first time. These secrets are shared on a postcard of the secret-sharer’s own design, and sent to an address in Maryland. Looking at the way these secrets are presented visually is sometimes even more difficult than reading the words of the secrets themselves.


A new collection is posted each Sunday. One of them this week is among the saddest I have ever read there because it represents, I’m afraid, the tip of an enormous iceberg of isolation and loneliness, being experienced by many, many people.


Years ago, at a prison ministry weekend event, at a point when the residents of the institution were relaxed enough to feel comfortable sharing real feelings, I heard a man named Monty say this (I am reconstructing this from notes I took quickly as he spoke, because I knew I was hearing something profound):

“All my life, I thought everyone was having a good time, except for me. When I was in the army, we’d go to bars and everyone was laughing. I’d laugh, too, even though I didn’t feel like laughing. I’d make jokes about women that I didn’t believe, because I thought they were what the guys wanted to hear. People liked me, but it was the pretend-me. It wasn’t me.

“It wasn’t until I’d been in here for several years, and finally made some real friends, that I found out that everybody in that bar felt that way. People feel that way everywhere. I was envying everybody, and everybody was envying me, and we were all laughing and none of us had a goddam friend in the world. Hell, that’s why we were in the army in the first place!”

In prison, irony of ironies, Monty had found a real group of friends. Their shared circumstances, and Monty’s own abilities to be vulnerable and honest, were the foundations of his new relationships. (Which would, because of the crime which landed Monty there, need to last a lifetime.)

Loneliness is a plague of the most widespread and severe sort. It is a plague born, in large part, by the viral cultural environment in which almost all of us live. We learn early on that it is our own bootstraps we must be pulling on, that the point of everything is winning, and that fun- good times- is the reason for living.

Our models in life are the two dimensional beings we see on television or at the movies who seem to have to have mastered those three ‘truths.” They’re happy like I wannabe, but can’t be. They’re on top, like I wannabe, but won’t ever be. They’ve got lots of friends, and I just want one.

The assumptions that most people begin to make, from the time they sit in front of a TV and are able to comprehend, are that there must be something wrong with them if they cannot be like everybody else. Insidiously, a solution to that personal assessment follows almost immediately: a person can buy their way out of their apartness. Thirty thousand scripted commercials into life, and the five year old knows exactly what kind of cereal, toys, soda pop, and clothing will make them happy, “like those kids.” (the two dimensional ones) Over the next 15 years, or so, they will learn that the thrill of purchased “victory” is either unattainable (poverty) or short-lived (there is always a new and better thing, looming). But by that time, the dies of American consumerism have been set, and the 20 year old begins his or her life as a continuing cog in the American Gross National Product.

The only real fulfilling relationships in life are with life. My personal circles of inclusion are almost crazily without boundaries, so what I say may be skewed for you, but I think all living things have the capacity to ground us as individuals in that which is fulfilling, meaningful, and satisfying. All living things offer us the opportunity to belong, “to be a part of something.”

And belonging really is the point. (“Let us make humankind in our image.”) It takes vulnerability to be able to say, out loud, even in secret, “I need to belong” because false bravado and superficial happiness are sub-strains of the infections of American individualism and consumerism.

Here are some living things to which persons can belong. I’m mentioning only a few, as keys to unlock what everyone already knows, but which is often buried under an avalanche of advertising and other cultural bullsh*t:

Belong to the forest, the ocean, a field of wildflowers. They are as alive as you, they will listen to you, and they will sing to you in return. Don’t go to them with any expectations. Listen. Stand still. And listen some more. (I learned from a local rancher- bless him- that if you sit very still for about 25 minutes, the animals- birds, rabbits, deer- will start coming near again. They were watching you; now you can watch them trusting you. It feels good.)

Belong to a living God. God’s not stuck in a book like many of God’s followers. God is still creating. Plant some trees, some tomatoes; learn how, if you don’t know how today. Help God do what God does! There are fellowships of people all over the place who are talking about God, often without even using God’s name. Garden clubs, rose societies, shoot- even cemetery auxiliaries maintain what is often the beautiful place in town. Clean the yard of the old lady across the street who can’t. Call the local Senior Center and find who needs a ride. Re-present God to someone who needs it!

Belong to animals. There are thousands of dogs and cats within a hundred miles of anyone that need adopted, taken care of, or whose cages at their shelters need cleaned. A dog’s love is unique (my personal prejudice) and I’ll shout for the rest of my life that a person can learn as much about God’s love from a dog as anywhere else. But I’ve got two cats I’m fond of, too, and I’ve heard that some people do, against all odds, prefer them over dogs. IMPORTANT: There is NO NEED to buy a name brand pet! In fact, please DON’T! Pick the goofy hound/shepherd cross that licks you through the cage at the pound..you belonged to him before he was born. And you know that.

Belong to people. Big Brother/Big Sister. Mentoring. Downtown Soup Kitchens. Habitat for Humanity. Et al., et al., et al. You will develop relationships in those endeavors, over time. You will belong. It may take a few weeks, even months, and those relationships may lead elsewhere besides the places you thought or falsely hoped they would at one time in your life, but you will be doing vital, necessary, important work. You can even be doing revolutionary work as a volunteer, by demonstrating to others that it is possible to jump off and stay off the treadmills others have designed for us to spend our lives on.


I know you do. Or will. Monty figured it out. I figured it out. If we did, then there is loads of hope for you.





Killing for Jesus..

I’m not a hunter, just so you know. But I occasionally fish and willingly accept the packages of meat hunter friends give to me. If you’re going to eat it, and it’s not endangered, or it runs across the kitchen floor on six legs, have at it. That’s not what this little rant is about.

Here’s what it is about:


This is Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth. He likes to kill animals- lots of them, the kind you can’t eat, but which you can call “trophies.” His Southwestern profile page used to contain many pictures of the tons of formerly live, free, usually African animals which have now had their hides stretched over styrofoam forms with glass eyes replacing their real ones. Apparently, others were as aghast as I was over the slaughter of God’s other creatures, because those pictures are long gone from the site.

Patterson’s not alone in his desire to see elephants, giraffes, lions, and cheetahs dead so he can lean in against them while they are still warm and bleeding. There are any number of Christian and non-Christian organizations dedicated to the extermination of exotic animals. I just happen to find the ones doing it in the name of Jesus particularly repugnant.


(What is that little animal toward the front there? A lion cub? The family dog gotten old and useless? A lamb?)

Patterson sponsors special gatherings around the United States for fathers and sons called Sportsman Safaris. Here’s what he stated at a recent safari in Arkansas as being the Numero Uno problem in America today:

“That problem, is a war against boys and the establishment of laws to prevent men from hunting and owning guns..it has produced a generation of fathers disconnected from their sons,” he said. The article, posted at Southwestern’s website, goes on:

“But Patterson said he believes dads can still give boys what they need, and that when fathers provide for their sons the nation is strengthened. Little boys, he said, need three things: a dog, a gun and a dad.

“Every little boy needs a dog,” Patterson said, “and not a little yip dog, but a big dog that he can be proud of.”

This is the stuff of Christianity in America, 2007. Read it and weep, or laugh, or join me in feeling like I need to vomit.

Suzuki..a reflection

Page 3, The Essence of Wisdom

Shunryu Suzuki: “Our ‘original mind’ includes everything within itself. It is always rich and sufficient within itself. You should not lose your self-sufficient state of mind. This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Imagine: My dogs, both Labs, are Lola and Salem, and I want to teach them to be more like me. For days now, I have given each of them two bowls- one containing dry dogfood and the other filled with greasy, chopped chicken meat. Today, I served only the dry dogfood and they both stood, looking up at me with pleading in their eyes. I rewarded each of them for their newly found desires with a slice of pizza.

Imagine: I bought Lola and Salem each new rubber squeak toys, the kind they love. I’ve kept them inside one small room of the house all week and played with them constantly. I’d throw a ball across the room, and Lola would run for it. I played Tug the Rope with Salem, over and over. It was exhausting for me, but they loved it. I was their total source of inspiration and stimulation and they loved it. Today, I snuck out of the house for a few hours, but left the back door open so they could go outside and play if they wanted to. When I returned, they were both asleep in their special room, so I closed the outside door, and woke them, with another piece of well-earned pizza.

Imagine: Our two cats, which the dogs formerly adored, have been sticking their conniving, suspicious noses into our special room. The first few days they did that, the dogs would go over to greet them- to touch noses, just like they used to do a hundred times a day. This week, I gave each of the dogs a sharp smack on their backs with a flyswatter every time they did that. “Cats? Cats? You don’t need no stinkin’ cats,” I’d yell at them. By yesterday, when the cats came near, all I had to do was wave the flyswatter in the cat’s direction and the dogs backed off. Today, I didn’t even need to do that. Salem growled when he saw the cats, and Lola followed his example. I gave them each another piece of pizza and lots of loving. “Good, Lola. Good, Salem..”

Imagine the implicit human cruelty in me if such scenes were true. Imagine how awful it would be for me to have manipulated all the natural tendencies and instincts of the dogs in such a way! The dry dogfood is healthy for them and they don’t overeat it, and it actually duplicates what canines would eat raw and naturally in the wild better than fried, greasy chicken ever could. It would be horrible of me to feed them “people food” exclusively just because the dry dogfood repulses me.

Left to play outside, both Salem and Lola will play fight with each for hours a day. They will chase after sticks on the ground, and squirrels in a tree with endless gusto and abandon. They enjoy it when I play with them for awhile, but they can- bottom line- take me or leave me for much of the day. The yard, the wind, the birds, and each other are what makes them dogs just as much as their specie’s biology. How dare I artificially take away their natural desire and ability to be dogs.

And dogs love their packs; packs are a big part of what makes them be dogs. Salem and Lola, complicatedly and consistently, like any dogs, try to make every other animal that comes near them, a part of their pack. The cats, other dogs, my wife and me, friends, visitors- everyone gets nudged, smelled thoroughly, licked, played with, and watched until their place in the pack is determined. But I can also make the dogs hate anything. Give me week (well maybe two) and I could make Salem and Lola hate each other. I could, with a little work, plenty of pizza, and a circumcised soul, make them both into growling, cat-hating, neuroses-filled extensions of my own suspicious self.

Now, re-read Suzuki’s quote again, and this time think of a child, a human child- maybe one you have influence over as an adult. Think about the cruel imaginings I undertook with the dogs, and imagine similar training being applied to that child.

Imagine it.

That’s all.