It’s Texas. It’s July. It’s Hot…(not the good kind of hot, either!)

(from the 2006 FirstMorning newsletter)

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It’s July in Texas. The heat is like a horsehair blanket laid across the land- it has its own disabling and dense weight; it slows us down to a ragged crawl as we make our way through it, when we must. It even itches like a blanket; the heat penetrates our skin, our eyes, our hair. We feel like we are in the first stages of the ancient Chinese torture “Death by a Thousand Cuts.” We are slowly cooking, like slices of beef turning into jerky, drying up from the outside, inward.

The grass turns crisp- the color of fried pork rinds. The leaves of trees and even weeds, droop in derisive mockery of our own sagging shoulders and squinting, downcast eyes. It’s too hot under this immovable blanket even to breathe without the heat clawing its way down our throats and into our chests. The only sounds against the stillness outside are the cicadas, high in the treetops, hotly buzzing their reproductive siren songs. Even they, though, despite their newly uncurled wings and their few days of freedom to fly before dying, stay strangely still on their tiny branch landscapes, unwilling to move any more than they must to to effect their own perpetuating instincts.

Each year at this time, I ask myself why, how..why for God’s sake, how in God’s name.. did people dismount from their horses, their wagons, their stage coaches or railroad cars and, setting down their bags, say to themselves, “Let’s live here”? Perhaps when the artificially cooled air of air conditioning was not a possible-to-consider option; perhaps because the horses themselves were too exhausted to take a single step more; perhaps because they had heard about and believed the stories of deep, undisturbed topsoil covered by springtime’s flowers; perhaps those were among the reasons they stopped here to plant and establish homes.

Perhaps.

Or maybe they were just absolutely, flat-out nuts.

clip_image004I must admit there is- despite the obliterating, withering, relentless nature of Texas in July- there is a certain shared community charm to this place which metamorphosizes from a Garden of Eden every April into a summer hell. The heat holds all of us in its grip; it respects nothing about our bank accounts, skin color, age, status, politics, or our need to breathe. The climate has a universal, non-discriminatory grasp on us. None of us is able to stand up oak-like to it; we are all pansies against its onslaught.

The heat slows us down. To walk fast through this heat is to increase the abrasive friction of hot oxygen against flesh. Walking slowly allows a perfect balance to be achieved between the production of sweat and the evaporation of same, thus allowing one to stay alive. Moving slowly also makes it possible to perceive, so slightly, the tiny breezes that waft our way, however intermittently, however weakly. Summertime, and the living is all in sloooooow motion. Lest we die.

I remember when I lived in Ohio. Every summer, some local Youngstown reporter would, on one of the many slow summer news days, crack an egg on the sidewalk so we could watch it fry in the day’s “bristling” 85° heat. It never did. Here in Texas, in July, I could fry that same egg on my head. I made the mistake of leaning against a metal flagpole yesterday and branded myself.

I know some preachers would use this description of the heat to crank the discussion up a notch or two and begin warning about the fiery bowels of eternal hell. Let them. It’s too hot to think about hell right now. There is already something worse than July in Texas to think about, anyway:

August.

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Advice from a Local Preacher..

Here’s the handout for a talk I’m giving today to the Senior High School graduates..

5 Pieces of Advice You Didn’t Ask Me For, Didn’t Know You Needed, and Can Dump the Moment You Leave Here, or..

you can kind of listen to them, stick them in a drawer somewhere, run across them someday, and then say, “hmmm..who was the guy that said these really good things?”

Our Town, TX, June 6, 2008

 1.  Never stop asking questions. Be curious, be amazed, daydream, get lost on purpose, and wonder “Why?” every chance you get.

2.  Live in love, not fear. Those are your only two choices. Hold onto someone’s hand during the scary parts, and respect rattlesnakes, angry people, and tornados. But don’t let anyone or anything make you so frightened that you live a half life.

3.  Look around right now. Now is where we live. Now is where we are breathing, sitting, and experiencing. You can throw Now away by regretting yesterday, or feeling anxious about tomorrow. Or you can be alive- right now. Now is the Main Thing. In a little while, it will be something else.

4.  Make your circles bigger. Discover that those people at the edges are really interesting!  Go out of your way to meet someone who is a different race, speaks a different language, who is lost, or afraid, is younger/older, richer/poorer, attractive/repulsive.  Then listen. Ask those questions! See the world in colors you haven’t seen yet!

5.  Realize- know, believe, understand, and accept- that YOU are a vital part of God’s Continuing Creation. We’re not here to take, we are here to give. Takers rarely experience happiness. Givers are swimming in it. Give God a kiss every day- our human survival depends on it!

Circus

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The circus was in town today. They set up in a little field beside the VFW. There was a tent, two bobtail trucks, a couple of campers and a pickup truck. I watched for awhile.

I knew that once they started unloading whatever bedraggled, tired, and elderly animals they might have with them, that I would be so depressed that the rest of the day would be difficult. I chose the easy way out- I drove away.

I don’t think e.e. cummings would have stuck around for this one, either.

Death.. A Finch Takes Flight

When I went out front to get the paper and watch the sunrise this morning, I discovered this:

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It’s a golden finch, frozen in lifelessness on the back of a lawn chair. Sometime yesterday afternoon or evening, it landed there, and died. It was not frozen to the back of the chair; it could have, had it chosen or been able to, gone elsewhere. But here, looking toward a live oak tree and a pile of firewood underneath, is where it landed, went to sleep, and died.

Yesterday, an unusual snowy day in this part of North Texas, was a feeding frenzy for finches in the front and back yards. I spread almost 25 lb. of sunflower seeds out during the day and all of it is gone this morning. The finches were joined by several cardinals in their hunger and inability to get at their usual fares of wild grass and thistle seeds, and the occasional mockingbird stopped by, too, though they prefer their meals warm and wiggly.

This is the first time I’ve seen a finch, or any bird, die this way. Had it been warmer, it may have landed, died, but then fallen to the ground in the grasp of gravity. But here, frozen in place, this one remains, eyes still open, stiff and posed in the posture of sleep.

I’m thinking, as I looked closely at it this morning: “What a great way to go!” I have no idea about the consciousness of death which a bird, or any animal, might have. I think we humans make the mistake of assuming that all animals besides ourselves go through their lives in a dull litany of pre-programmed instinctual behaviors that they have no control over, on their way to a death of which they are utterly unaware. Those assumptions, of course, are born in the prevailing human attitude that the universe, from microbes to galaxies, is a mechanistic, unthinking set of interrelated parts, adding up to a whole for the benefit of humans. Our own instinctual behaviors, in that worldview, are “negligible” in light of our “superior” abilities to evaluate, rationalize, and choose.

But I think, without a shred of scientific or spiritual data to back me up, that finches know a lot more about what they’re doing than we may have the calibrated instruments or divine revelations to even begin to understand. They certainly do not process, share, or make as many choices within that finch knowledge as our brains enable us to make. But their brains, like ours, have adequately developed for their needs now, in this particular epoch of relational life on earth. After all, this is the fourth spring in a row where some finches- not all of them!- have chosen to stop for awhile on their way north from Mexico, in this backyard, in this little town, on this little acre among the kabillion others in North Texas. Grandma and Grandpa finch must have had some information which they somehow passed along!?

And while finches may not have the ability to reflect on their own consciousness, they probably don’t spend an ink dot of time reflecting on the finitude of their lives either. Certainly, they do not live their lives in the obsessive dread of death that many of us do. Still, though, this finch chose to stay perched, on this chair, and wait in a way that it had never waited before. Without a single step to the left or right, it landed, sat still, slept, and died.

What did the finch know and when did it know?

What finch memories began to fade as the hours (or minutes) passed?

Is there a place within its flock that today is noticed by its absence?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I will come back to them for days. Join me in that speculation, if you’d like. Take a look once more at the pictures of that finch. In very real ways, I believe, it has taken flight once more.

And is flying around us all, right now.

A Respite from the Muck and Mire of Fundamentalism

I find the whole subject of fundamentalism tortuous. But I also know that one of the best ways to eradicate bacteria and mold is to expose them to the Light. So I will continue doing that, but I needed a break, and Graciel offered me one today with “What Do You Love?”at her blog, Evenstar Art, which everyone should go read frequently. It’s an antidote for many things. She writes:

“Today, I want you to quiet your monkey-mind. The part of your mind that swings wildly from one illusion to another. From one worry to another. From one judgement to another. I want you to practice focusing the part of your mind that leads you into made-up trouble on something positive. Practice focusing for one minute. Yes, just one minute. I want you to think about what you love. Not who you love. That’s another minute. This minute, I want you to think about what you love. Because it takes a bit of concentration and the monkey-mind must come to a rest while thinking positive thoughts.”

So here is my own one minute (or so) list of things I love:

*the golden finches which devour the sunflower seeds I put out for them this time of year

*the two soaring pines in the neighbor’s yard and the two single-note wind chimes that hang from them

*Wednesday nights

*the vultures at the lake, so crazily beautiful in their bigness and boldness

*sitting outside when the coyotes across the highway begin their howling

*the house in Ohio where I grew up. I walk through it frequently in memory

*Salem and Lola (OK, I’m cheating- they are both who’s to me, but since they are dogs I’m passing them off here as what’s)

*pick a beach, any one where salt water is lapping will do

*van Gogh’s “Starry Night”

*Madonna singing “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” (Yes, I know, odd. Deal with it.)

*thinking about and writing Sunday messages

*listening to stories that have never been told before

*Rumi

*the Moon, as it rises between those same two pine trees

*reading (again) Matthew 5- 7, and 25; John 1, 14, and 15; Genesis; and Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Revelation (the latter three because it’s just so strange for them to be in the Bible)

Yes, that took me more than a minute. You have my (and, I think, Graciel’s) permission to take more than a minute with your own list, too.

Texas Youth Livestock Auction

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

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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.