Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sugar Ants

We have ants. Sweet little sugar ants. I had to scan a dozen Google hits before finding one that did not feature (prominently) 'How to KILL' or otherwise 'get rid of'. Lord, help us when we come toe to toe with those creatures who see US .... as sugar ants.

Sheldon would be the first to tell you. "You do NOT have 'sugar ants' unless you happen to be a resident of Queensland, Australia." Stop him NOW before he drones on as only nerds can.

As I was saying, after the first dozen returns, I landed on How To Naturally Get Rid of Ants in Your House. Wow. These guys know how to trick out a landing page! BEGS me to stick around, bounce on the sofa, kick the tires; but it's Sunday, two hours out from doing church, and I'm looking at ants about whom I may tap the Great American Novel. But for now I'll settle for a decent post.

Their little corner of the InterWeb is called "Kitchen Stewardship", and the first thing to grab my eye is a snazzy-looking cookbook. Our church, Park Place Christian Church, is DOing a cookbook, but I'm not supposed to talk about that yet.

And look at THIS

'A homemade natural insecticidal spray for hand-to-hand combat... a homemade ant trap to catch them all..., and various “lines ants won’t cross” to keep them out or contained are all found here!'

Pretty as it is, it's still killing, and what's an ant or three dozen wiped out now and then, right? Wonder if anyone ever said the same thing about horny toads?

This Texas Horned Lizard courtesy Larry Snyder
and the Rolling Plains Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists
The coffee's cold, and church time is upon us. We'll pick this up later.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Baby Brother

Baby Brother
(It’s about sovereignty)
July 2016

Baby Brother, bless his heart, is about as Texan as anyone born in Missouri can be. If I had fifty cents for every time I've heard him exclaim, "TEXAS IS THE ONLY STATE IN THE UNION THAT USED TO BE AN INDEPENDENT NATION!!"
BB isn't alone. Many, if not most, Texans believe in and relish the thought of Texas sovereignty. Truth is, though, Texas isn't the "only" former independent republic. Texas wasn't even the “first”.
Bernie Sanders' Vermont was.
A history lesson from 10 years ago yet rings true today:

"Over the past 50 years, the U.S. government has grown too big, too corrupt and too aggressive toward the world, toward its own citizens and toward local democratic institutions. It has abandoned the democratic vision of its founders and eroded Americans' fundamental freedoms."

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Who is my neighbor?

Publisher's note: The following is the final rough draft of a sermon delivered July 10 at Park Place Christian Church, Wichita Falls, Texas.

Who is my neighbor?
Luke 10:25-37

In my head this morning I'm hearing Rev. Alice say, "If you care to leave your Bibles open to the passage in Luke ...."

Tuesday morning. I'm at my table. Yes, still in my underwear. Going through the morning's email and first cup of coffee. That little message box pops out of the Facebook blue in the bottom right corner of my screen. It's Rev. Alice.

"Hey, Jim, how would you like to preach for me Sunday?"

No one here is more stunned and amazed to see me standing here this morning than me. When Alice asked if I would fill in for her today, the first words I heard after “NO!” were lines from American singer/songwriter Kris Kristofferson. “Why me, Lord?” The answer...and kind of a snarky one, I thought... “Why not you?”

For the past two Sundays I have sat among you and heard Alice say: The Lord does not call the qualified. You all know the rest. He qualifies the called

This morning we shall test this hypothesis, keeping in mind the good advice offered to me by Steve Tucker: Keep politics out of it, and there is nothing wrong with a 10-minute sermon!

The 10th chapter of Luke records what is perhaps Jesus’ best-known parable, that of the good Samaritan. This story is so familiar to Christians and non-Christians alike that it is written in our DNA. How many of you here this morning are members of the Good Sam Club?

At this time of which Luke writes, Jesus is at the top of his teaching game. He is enjoying rock star status with crowds dogging him wherever he goes. Naturally, the growing popularity of this upstart, itinerant preacher does not go unnoticed by the Jewish establishment.

We see this time and time again during his brief ministry. Jesus is teaching and someone--in this case a scribe well-versed in Jewish law--stands to challenge him.

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus responds with a question of his own which shows us today that he was a masterful teacher. Answering a question with a targeted counter question is a basic tool of critical thinking called Socratic questioning after the great Greek teacher Socrates

“What is written in The Law?” Jesus asks.

The lawyer answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.”

In essence the lawyer paraphrases what is written in the Old Testament books of law, Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

Deut. 6:5: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

And from Lev. 19:17 The Lord spoke to Moses saying….

YOU SHALL not hate in your heart anyone of your kin;
YOU SHALL REPROVE your neighbour, or you will incur guilt yourself.
YOU SHALL not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but
YOU SHALL love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Here is the essence of the entire body of Jewish law.

Jesus acknowledges here that our lawyer friend has answered correctly. "You have given the right answer," Jesus says to him. "Do this, and you will live."

Here is your answer! Close the book. Offer up the benediction, and let’s all go home to catch the game on TV.

EXCEPT…..our lawyer friend had a follow-up question -- we journalists love our follow-up questions -- the question on which I wish to focus our thoughts this morning.

"And WHO is my NEIGHBOR?"

WHO is my neighbor?

Here is the question that opens the door for Jesus’ story of the good Samaritan. At a time in our country...indeed all across our entire planet… when people seem to be led by fear of “outsiders”, fear of folks we deem to be foreign or strange or in any way different from ourselves, the story of the good Samaritan never has been more relevant.

The 17-mile road from Jerusalem to Jericho had been notorious for thieves and robbers long before the time of Jesus. And so it is that a man, a solitary traveller we must assume, is found naked, badly beaten and left for dead at the side of this infamous road.

Who is this man fallen victim to bandits? We do not know and neither does the lawyer to whom this story is directed. But it would be natural for those hearing the story for the first time to assume the man was a Jew as virtually all those listening were Jews.

Two clues at first meeting help us identify -- or characterize -- someone we do not know: Their manner of dress and their manner of speech or dialect. Stripped naked and left unconscious, our unfortunate wayfaring stranger, then, is unidentifiable.

The first to happen along and find our victim is a priest, a man of God of the House of Aaron and strictly bound by Jewish law in his actions. Ironic, is it not, that the first man to come upon a stranger critically in need of help is the least likely to offer that help.

The priest cannot know if our victim is Jewish or of some other foreign nationality. If the man is not a Jew, the priest would be risking personal defilement under the law. Even more so if the man is already DEAD!

Under the law, priest were required to keep themselves ritually clean. Touching this man beside the road could mean the priest was no longer clean. Being defiled, the priest could not collect tithes from the people and his family and servants would suffer for it. Moreover, the process of restoring his priestly purity was time consuming and not cheap. He would be required to find and purchase a red heifer free of blemish and offer the cow as a burnt offering until the unfortunate cow was reduced to ashes. The entire cleansing ritual took a week to complete.

So the priest crosses to the other side of the road and hurries on his way.

Next to happen along was a Levite. Levites were of the House of Levi and served as assistants to priests. While not ranked as high as priests, they nonetheless were aware of the laws pertaining to defilement. Or perhaps the Levite feared being seen beside the dead or dying stranger and thus being accused of assaulting the man. Whatever his reasoning, the Levite, too, crosses to the other side of the road and hurries away.

Finally comes the Samaritan, to Jewish thinking no doubt the least likely of all to stop and render aid.

Animosity between Jews and Samaritans went back hundreds of years, all the way back to the eighth century B.C.E. when the northern portion of Israel was overran by the Assyrians. The conquerors took into captivity all the able-bodied to work as slaves, leaving behind only the old, the infirm, and those too young to be good laborers. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Assyrians then relocated foreign colonists onto the land of northern Israel in an attempt to ethnically cleanse the region of the remaining Jews.

In time, the Babylonians conquered the Assyrians, descendants of the captive Jews were returned to their former homeland -- now known as Samaria. The returnees considered themselves to be Jewish, but the Jews of southern Israel, or Judah, did not.

The entire affair of how the conquered Jews of northern Israel became Samaritans is clouded in hundreds of years of scarcely recorded ancient history over which Bible scholars yet debate today. As I understand it, it would be as if a foreign nation invaded the United States, occupied all territories north of the Mason-Dixon line, carted off all U.S. citizens within that territory and replaced them with alien refugees. Would we here in the South ever accept those interlopers living in the North as our neighbors?

Not very likely.

Yet it is the Samaritan who stops to render aid and in so doing saves the wayfaring stranger’s life.

Note that when Jesus asks the lawyer who of the three passers-by proved to be a neighbor to the fallen man, the lawyer could not bring himself to say “the Samaritan.” He simply replied, “the one who showed him mercy.”

“Go and do likewise,” Jesus tells him.

And yet the question remains for us today. Who is our neighbor?

In light of this past week’s tragic events in Minneapolis, Baton Rouge and Dallas, this simple, four-word question -- WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR? -- has never been more relevant...its answer, never more urgently important.

We’re all familiar with the dictionary definition of “neighbor”:

A neighbor is someone who lives next door or across the street or otherwise near to where we live. But how far does our neighborhood extend beyond our own residence?

In my early years I grew up listening to the Grand Old Opry and the Louisiana Hayride on the radio whether I wanted to or not. Some of you here today are old enough to remember radio. Some of you like myself are vintage enough to remember a huge hit written by a Texas school teacher named Arlie Duff, a little ditty called, “Y’all Come.” The opening line of “Y’all Come” said, “When you live in the country everybody is your neighbor.”

On that one thing you can rely. That right there is enough to make you want to relocate to the country, don’t it?

That line expresses the core sentiment of what we call Southern hospitality. The song was first recorded and released in 1953, the year my paternal grandmother died. When the call came that she had suffered a massive stroke, we packed up and left Wichita Falls for Tecumseh, Michigan. I was all of four years old, going on five.

Tecumseh back then was a textbook example of a village. You might think of it as Andy Griffith’s Mayberry without the hoaky accents. My grandparents’ house was on the northern edge of town, and apparently back in those days no one knew what fences were. My “backyard” easily stretched for at least three or four football field lengths with my house roughly in the middle.

Not only did the four-year-old me have the run of my block, I had the run of the north side of town!

Unthinkable today, right? Yet, there I was. And I was able to live that kind of freedom because everyone on the north side of town knew who I was and to whom I belonged and if they even suspected that I was up to no good, they would drop a dime on me in a Michigan minute!

“Uh, Mrs. Miller? Yeah, Jimmy’s here at my house. He smelled the apple pie cooling in my kitchen window, and well, he’s staying for dinner. No, ma’am, no trouble at all. I’ll send him home soon as he’s finished drying the dinner dishes.”

You see, in Tecumseh, Michigan, in 1953 practically everybody in the village was my neighbor. In so many ways those were the best two years of my life.

Our common understanding of neighbor comes down to us from old high German through old and middle English and literally means “near dweller.” The good Samaritan story, however, shows that to the Jews there was more to it than that. In the Jewish world there had to be a relationship connection for two people to be neighbors. Reduced to simplest terms, a Jew was a neighbor to all his fellow Jews but to NO ONE ELSE!

I think we can see here how deeply ingrained within the human psyche is the notion of “US”--me and my neighbors--and “THEM”--EVERYONE ELSE.

American frontiersman Daniel Boone is said to have packed up kit and kin and moved on further west whenever he could see the smoke rising from his neighbor’s cabin. The man obviously took elbow room to the extreme.

Poet Carl Sandburg cautioned, “Love your neighbor as yourself, but don’t take down the fence.”

When Franklin Roosevelt was sworn in as President of the United States in 1933, high on his national to-do list was improving relations between our country and the various countries of Central and South America. Rather than sway Latin Americans to the U.S. will by threat of military force -- somewhat like his cousin Theodore advised with his "Big Stick" policy -- we would win them over through fair trade and other mutually beneficial exchanges. This approach to dealing with our southern neighbors came to be known as the Good Neighbor Policy.

Some fifteen years and a brutally murderous world war later, the United States initiated the European Recovery Program outlined by then Secretary of State George C. Marshall in which something over twelve billion dollars -- something like 120 billion in today’s dollars -- was given to rebuild a devastated Western Europe.

That was 1948, the year I was born. You see, I grew up believing that We, The People, of the United States were good neighbors to the entire world. Certainly not perfect neighbors, no. But in the grand scheme of things, fairly decent neighbors on balance.

Seventeenth century English philosopher John Locke who all but single-handedly wrote the pillars on which American democracy was built wrote:

“To love our neighbor as ourselves is such a truth for regulating human society, that by that alone one might determine all the cases in social morality.”

In closing, I ask each of you to close your eyes for the next few moments. Close your eyes and in your mind’s eye see a tiny mote of dust barely visible in a ray of sunlight. Focus on that pale blue dot and know that this is our world as seen by the Voyager One spacecraft as it sped away from our solar system, and listen to the words of the late astrophysicist Dr. Carl Sagan."

Jesus asked the lawyer, of the three passers-by on the Jericho road, which one proved to be the injured strangers’ neighbor. The lawyer correctly answered, the one who showed mercy.

I would submit to you, my dear friends, look to the man beaten, naked and left dying beside the road. There lies our broken, battered and dying pale blue dot and every living creature who resides with us upon it.

There is our neighbor.


Friday, May 13, 2016

On Returning to Eden

Western fence line where we started
the first seeds of Eden.
Ever feel like you're running on empty? So this morning--what with a demon-possessed foster dog; six other quadrupeds mildly neurotic from living with a demon-possessed foster dog, and a sick, stubborn wife--I moved my "office" to The Garden, hoping to find some Focus (Remember Lent? Anyone??). If anyone needs me, I'll be in the backyard, and I just may stay out here until the storms chase me inside.

That was three mornings ago, and on the right is a partial view from my desk. We're still waiting for those storms. The weather people say they may be in some time this evening.

If you ever want to know where Eden is, I suggest you begin by looking in your own backyard. This patch over here, with the rustic pillars and bird feeder and Grandma Cordie's witch's cauldron; we officially christened it EDEN yesterday. This is the first garden we plotted in Brook Village.

Lazlo Turdle amongst the sunflowers
planted by a cardinal couple.
That's Lazlo Turdle, the chi-weenie baby of the household regulars. We were going for the sunflowers there behind him. The birds planted those, and while I might argue their placement choices, I've come to live with them where they are. Some three feet tall now, they have yet to bud. I don't know if they are late or I am  too soon anticipating.

Yet we have one lonely little sunflower hanging out beside the lamp post. He's showing his face already and spends the better part of every day in shade.

Sunflower, also started by the cardinals.
That's another bird placement, as well, left by our pair of resident cardinals. This patch, at the feet of a 20-foot photinia, is being reworked and is little more than a napping spot.
Luke the slumber dog guards shade.

Sunflower, photinia and lamp post share this spot with a rescue tomato, an evening primrose that followed me home and a couple of Texas bluemist flowers moved in from a sister site near the house.

That's my morning and I did not get to the blooming zucchini nor the sprawling Texas bluemist. Oh, well! 

If anyone needs me, I'll be in the backyard.