Five on Friday

On Friday, I write five short items. Often there are unrelated, just five fragmented topics from my week. Considering the election news this week, today’s items may be more fragmented than usual as it reflects the jagged emotional state of our nation’s psyche.

  1. Green Beans. I ordered coffee beans from my favorite coffee growers in Honduras, Copan Coffee. However, I stumbled into the wrong section of the website, and I ordered 2 bags of green, unroasted beans. I don’t have a way to roast them conveniently, so I am going to donate them to the Abita Roasting Company, in hopes they will enjoy Copan Coffee as much as I do.
  2. Hurricane Eta. While thinking of Honduras coffee, my thoughts turned to the storm, Eta, which roared into Nicaragua as a category 4 hurricane, then managed to drag itself across Honduras over the past few days. Most of the major flooding is occurring in the northern region, especially hard-hitting the largest city in Honduras, San Pedro Sula. The airport in the city is underwater, and million of people across the region are affected by the storm.
  3. Short and Sweater Weather. It’s been cool in the evenings, hovering in the 50s most nights, and warming up to the 70s in the afternoon. It’s perfect weather for shorts and maybe a light sweater. Sometimes, our mild fall and winter weather can be a plus, especially after the intensity of our humid summers.
  4. Mixing up the Holiday Decor. I put up my Christmas tree last week. On the day after the election, I needed something to brighten up my spirits. My tree was ready, as I wrapped it last year in plastic wrap. Just a simple cut with scissors, and the wrap gave way to a tree decorated and ready. I have mums and a pumpkin on the front porch. Why not mix it up? Since we as a nation are deeply divided politically, why not let that spirit manifest itself in a mash up of holiday decor around and about the house?
  5. The Elephant in the Room. It’s rather hard to ignore the elephant (and the donkey) in the room, isn’t it? I have been regularly checking in on the election news. I was surprised that both Georgia and Pennsylvania appear to have turned blue. For some these times are very troubling. I am not particularly disturbed as I hang on to Jesus’ words, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34. In time, the election will sort itself out.

Five Things on Friday

It’s Friday once again. I am ready to start my day with Five Things on Friday. I post five short items for your online perusal.

  1. I survived Hurricane Zeta. We had a hurricane pass through the New Orleans area on Wednesday evening. Fortunately for me, the storm veered eastward after passing directly over New Orleans, narrowly missing my town, Abita Springs, which lies 45 miles north of New Orleans. It went onward toward Mississippi, so all I experienced was about an hour of somewhat gusty winds and heavy rain. However, the storm knocked out my power for 24 hours, which was a minor inconvenience. This was the quickest hurricane I have experienced. It rushed in and rushed out of Louisiana in a matter of 8 hours or less. Less time meant less rain, less wind damage. I experienced no damage whatsoever to the house or yard, just the minor inconvenience of losing power.
  2. After a tropical storm, the weather turned cooler. Zeta blasted onwards to the north and east, ushering in a cold front. For this part of the country, it feels almost cold. I woke to temps in the 50s this morning. Combined with a bit of wind and lots of cloud cover, it feels downright like winter around here. Usually, it’s impossibly hot and humid after a hurricane, and combined with no electricity and air conditioning, the conditions can be downright brutal. Not this time. It’s now sweater weather.
  3. I have lost 25 pounds and counting. I have been using a phone app, Noom, to track my weight loss since July. It’s more than a weight tracker though. I am using the app’s many resources, such as a food diary, calorie counter, daily lessons and personalized advice. This morning, I am wearing a pair of new jeans, a size smaller than normal. I have got a bit complacent in the past weeks, as I expected to be 30 lbs. lighter at this point. However, I am still glad for the 25 pound mark.
  4. A family of Guatemalans came to my neighborhood yesterday. Yesterday morning, three bucket trucks were lined up and waiting to work outside my front door. Two trucks eventually left for other parts of the neighborhood, but one truck remained at my corner with a team. It turns out the entire team were from Guatemala. In fact, four out of the five were family. I talked to a man who introduced me to his uncle, his bother, and his nephew. The outlier was not family, but was still from Guatemalan. Did they come here directly from Central America? Of course not! They were a contracted crew from Alabama. They did a thorough job of cutting trees that were blocking an electric pole. Thorough but slow. It took all day for the work to be done, and electricity restored. Central Americans are not known for their haste, and neither are Alabamans. I wanted a crew from New York, I suppose. If there’s one thing I can say I like about Yankees, it they usually work fast.
  5. It’s almost Halloween…and election time. If having a hurricane wasn’t enough, this week offers Halloween and just a few more days afterwards, Election Day. I’m ready with my Halloween decor, which was speedily taken down for Hurricane Zeta, and then put back in place immediately after the storm passed. Most people in my town took down their election signs, too, for the storm. No need for passersby to steal election signs from yards when 100 mph winds are passing by. I hope neither day, Halloween or Election Day, will be particularly frightful.
Boo to you! Enjoy your Halloween. Then vote, if you haven’t done so already.

A Body of Faithful People

During the early days of Covid-19 when we were sheltering in place, I yearned for human connection. Rather than in-person visits, I had to be content with Facebook live stream or Zoom meetings with friends. I live alone so there wasn’t someone to share the space with me during the first days of the pandemic.

One thing I changed while sheltering in place was I decided to not return to the megachurch I was attending before Covid. I am back at my small, ragamuffin, frayed a bit on the edges church where I had been attending for several years prior to my megachurch experience. It just feels right. A smaller place has been good for me. On a good day, before Covid-19, the church averaged about 80 to 100 folks. Due to the whole pandemic thing, with state restrictions on sizes of gatherings and required face masks, we are lucky to have 20 or 30 souls on a given Sunday.

One good thing about a small church is that I can look into the eyes of my pastor when he speaks. At the megachurch, it was easier to stare at the big screens on each side of the stage. Conversely, the pastor can see me from his perch at the front of the building. Am I fading out? Am I reading stuff on my smartphone rather than listening intently. (Yeah, not a good habit, but occasionally I do this.)

Another good thing about a small church is that I know the names of the people in the room. All of them, or close to all of them, anyway. And they know my name. Like the old refrain from the TV show, Cheers, it’s good to be where everyone knows your name. If I miss a Sunday, somebody is bound to run into me during the week. That somebody is likely to ask why I wasn’t there. I don’t mind. I don’t feel like they are being nosy or judgmental. They just care about me.

That brings me to the meaning of the word, church. It derives from the Greek word, ekklesia, which means an assembly of called out ones. It can be also described as a body of faithful people. That’s what each one of us needs, a body of faithful people. A friend pointed out to me the meaning of ekklesia as a body of faithful people this weekend.

Your body of faithful people may or may not be a group that you see on Sunday in a church building. It may be a group of devoted friends and family that make up your particular “tribe.” They might be Catholic (big C), as in Roman Catholic or catholic (little c) meaning the church universal. Maybe your tribe doesn’t have a particular creed that you share in common. You may just be committed to each other, not necessarily to faith in God.

I often read that loneliness is one of the most common problems in our nation today. I think that finding an ekklesia, a body of faithful people, is something that can alleviate that sense of being alone. Loneliness is not just a problem for single people. For married or single people, or divorced or in a committed relationship, loneliness can be a scourge.

Personally, I believe that being part of a church is good for me. The God element is important to me as part of my community. I want to always stay in fellowship with other Christians. However way you do it, find your ekklesia, your group of faithful people.

On the Edge of the Storm

As I write, Hurricane Laura is wreaking devastation across southwestern Louisiana. The category 4 storm made landfall last night with winds higher than any storm in Louisiana in 164 years. I am far removed from the storm, living in southeast Louisiana, very near the Mississippi state line. Our weather has been limited to a rain shower or two, as we have seen just the extreme outer bands of the storm come through our area.

I am familiar with storms and hurricanes, living most of my life in southeast Louisiana. In particular, my life has been forever influenced by Hurricane Katrina. I was living in New Orleans, Louisiana, during that storm 15 years ago. I will always live my life, as do countless others, as before Katrina/after Katrina. It was a seminal event.

Now, Hurricane Laura will punctuate the lives of residents of Cameron, Lake Charles, and other towns near the border of Louisiana and Texas. A storm of this size and intensity will forever change the topography and the shape of the communities. I recall a friend who had a large beachside vacation home in coastal Mississippi. The entire building disappeared after Katrina, leaving only posts standing tall and alone along the coastline.

Hurricane Laura will change and take lives. I recall after Katrina speaking to a man who was left homeless after the storm. He had stayed in the city for the storm. He had tried to leave his home to join a neighbor across the street after the storm had done its worst, or so he thought. As he tried to walk in knee-deep water, he reached the end of his driveway to discover the water had risen to waist deep and higher, so he clung to his mailbox, hoping to not be dragged away in the waters. Luckily, a neighbor saw him, and eventually, he was reached by someone in a boat who rescued him. His house was completely ruined by the high waters.

I hope that residents of western Louisiana remembered to take pictures or videos of their homes and neighborhoods before they evacuated. For many residents, their homes, place of businesses and other landmarks will be gone or radically altered by Hurricane Laura. I hope they find community and hope in the goodwill of their neighbors, family and volunteers as they return. I know I was encouraged by the outpouring of support from people in my neighborhood, my church, and from volunteers across the nation who helped us after Hurricane Katrina had decimated the city and the surrounding communities.

Shake Off That Snake

This morning I woke up very early. It was nearly dawn, right before six. The sky was grey. And then, while drinking my second cup of coffee, it became apparent that the sun was breaking through. For the first time in days, we had a clear morning. We’ve had daily, nearly constant rain for five days as the outer bands from Hurricane Hanna plagued us.

I knew what I needed to do. I needed to jump on my bike and get in an early morning ride. It would be the first morning in days I could get outside for exercise.

I didn’t want to do it. I was sorely tempted to fritter another hour reading the news online. Or, maybe even catch a few more winks. Then I watched a short video clip online from Christine Caine, an evangelist.

She had a plastic snake on her wrist. She threw it off behind her, just as the Apostle Paul did in the book of Acts. He was shipwrecked on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean when a viper attached himself to Paul’s arm. The Bible says that Paul shook off the snake, and he didn’t suffer any ill effects from the poisonous viper.

Paul then went on to the governor’s house, prayed for the governor’s sick father, who was then healed. While on the island of Malta, Paul healed many who were sick. There was revival in Malta. All because Paul shook off that snake.

So I got up and threw off the snake of lethargy. I threw off cynicism. The pounds aren’t melting off as fast as I want but it’s not time to throw in the towel. Not quite yet.

I biked about 40 minutes for 6 miles. Not a record. Not the best I’ve done. But it was enough to get my body moving and sweating. Because I live in Louisiana, and it was nearly 100% humidity this morning, I was soaking with sweat when I stepped off the bike. It was worth it.

I have a long way to go to get back to a normal weight again. But I’m not giving up, yet. I will throw off a snake or two if I have to, but I will keep reaching for the goal.

By the way, I hate snakes. I don’t know if I would have done the same as Paul. I probably would have jumped around, screaming, and shaking a bit too. I probably would have listened to the natives in the book of Acts who thought the snake bite was divine punishment. I am not St. Paul who did many miracles in Jesus’ name. But I can get out of bed and cycle off a few pounds.

Adventures with Shaggy

Shaggy and me around 1968.

For a four year old, there’s not much that can compare with the excitement of sitting atop a horse. In the picture above, I am posed with my older sister’s horse, Shaggy. A year or two later, I got my own horse. I can’t find a picture handy of my horse, Trixie.

Growing up in the country afforded lots of opportunity to enjoy animals. We had a menagerie of animals: cats, dogs, a bird, and two horses. I enjoyed all of them, but for me, riding a horse was an extra special event.

Even though I had a horse of my own, Trixie, I didn’t ride her very much. Trixie was a temperamental pony. She was the right size for a little girl, but she was obstinate. She had a fondness for biting her riders, too.

My memories of horses lay more with Shaggy, my sister’s horse. When I was younger, as in the picture, I was ridiculously happy to be led around the pasture as my dad held the rope to the horse. Later, I learned to take the reins on my own as I rode Shaggy at my grandfather’s place near our house. We didn’t have a fenced pasture to hold the horses, so they were housed at my grandfather’s farm. One time, I fell off the horse as Shaggy began to gallop too fast for me. I still recall the shock of being flat on my back as I looked up at a horse’s belly and hooves above me. Thankfully, I wasn’t hurt.

I remember when Shaggy spared my sister from harm. She was riding him in our yard, and she carelessly led the horse straight into the clothesline. My sister’s hair got tangled in the line. Shaggy reacted calmly, stopping patiently until my parents dislodged her head and hair. That’s when I learned that horses can be wise and gentle.

Somehow, I don’t remember the downside of having horses. My grandfather and my uncles brushed them, fed them, and housed them. My father supervised our adventures. All I did was ride when the opportunity was afforded to me.

I loved Roy Rogers and Dale Evans as a child. I think I was singing Happy Trails for this picture.

Despite the lack of care I gave to our horses, I did have other chores. Every summer, I shelled peas, snapped beans, and shucked corn.

Porch Life

Instead of writing on the blog this past week, I have been posting on Facebook. Everyday I posted a picture of a house with a porch from the town of Abita Springs, Louisiana. From comments on the posts, I have learned that my friends on Facebook share my regard for porches. Some have commented on memories they had on porches from their childhood. They wrote of spending time with their grandparents on the front porch. One recalls her grandmother sewing a quilt on the front porch. Another wrote of chatting in Cajun French on the front porch. Some lamented the lack of a porch at their grandparents’ residence.

My grandfather, Yvest, raised vegetables and melons to sell in the French Market in New Orleans. Almost every day, he took a break in the middle of the day from farm work. He would take a rest on his front porch. In fact, he was very punctual with his naps. resting at noon so regularly that he earned a nickname by the neighbors. He was called Noon. It must have been a great porch to inspire a ritual at noon everyday.

I only knew him when he was incapacitated by a stroke. Grandpa Noon in those days spent most of the day, not just noon time, on the porch in his wheelchair. Because he was there most of the day, that porch was the center of family life for my grandparents. They snapped beans, shelled peas, visited with family and friends, and of course, napped on the porch. As noted in another blog post, he taught me little snippets of Cajun French on that porch.

Today, porches are generally ornamental. Life in the South is lived inside, in the air conditioned space, in front of the television or online. However, I still love the look of a good porch. Below I am posting a few porches that I featured on Facebook. Enjoy.

The Fragile Ego

This year, I had 2 articles accepted for publication by Guideposts Magazine. The first one, based on Spooked By An Angel, was published in the March/April 2020 edition of Angels on Earth, a sister publication of Guideposts. My second article, based on Christmas Eve in Jail, is in the editing process. It’s slated to be published in a December issue of Guideposts magazine. This makes me happy.

Last year, I had another article accepted for publication by Upper Room, a devotional magazine. I haven’t heard back from Upper Room editors in over 6 months, so I think I’ll submit that article, The White Flower, to Guideposts. Thus far, I have submitted 4 articles to 2 magazines. Three have been accepted for publication. One was declined.

Writing for the blog was more rewarding when I lived in Honduras. It kept me and my readers entertained, as well as keeping others informed about my life and ministry. Now that I live in the states, I struggle to find purpose for my writing. Not only do I want a larger audience, but I want to find a greater purpose in writing.

Writing about my life in Louisiana can be rewarding at times, but the lack of readership annoys me. I barely reach 50 readers, and that’s a good week. Call it vanity if you will, but I sometimes feel like I am writing in an echo chamber. I feel like I am the only voice that I hear in response to my writing. My fragile ego is in need of a hearty backslap or some sort of affirmation.

I know that perseverance is a key to feeling better about writing, whether or not I am recognized by a greater audience. It hasn’t helped that I have started and stopped writing a few times, changed writing platforms and site names a few times. Also, blogging is not as popular as it was 10 years ago. More and more people like short and quick media posts on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Tic Tok.

I appreciate those who take the time to comment here or on Facebook. What can you suggest for writer’s doldrums? How do you, my fellow bloggers, cope with feelings that your writing seems unimportant?

Pray As You Go

When Louisiana was under a stay at home order, as was most of the United States, I found it easier to pray. After all, there was time, lots of it. There were abundant resources, as my church and other organizations were posting daily live-streaming devotional times of prayer, music and encouragement. Now, Louisiana is opening up in stages as the cases of covid-19 are tapering off. My own life is following suit. I am venturing out, returning to some, but not all, activities.

I am volunteering again at the food bank. My church has begun services in the building, but with limited seating and congregants. Last week, I went to a hair salon for a cut and color. Getting my hair done really helped bring a sense of normalcy to me. Gray hair and long locks are not for me.

With new activity, my near monastic life has been upended. Life is slowly inching back towards normal. But with it, I have less desire to pray. I just want to read a bit in the morning, mainly the news, and be on with my day.

How do I keep the sense of spirituality that I was enjoying in the quiet of quarantine? I’ve hit upon a solution. There’s a website and app called Pray As You Go. It’s a guided meditation from the Jesuits of Britain. There’s a spot of music to start, then a scripture reading, a time of reflection, and then the scripture is read again. The duration is about 5 minutes if you don’t stop the app to pray on your own.

I may have written about this site before. At one time, I used this program to wake to on my phone. It was, and still is, a great way to jump-start a prayer life that feels dormant. I recommend it, even more so, in these trying times with the ongoing racial tensions in the US, the news can be quite unsettling. Take time, if you will, each day to quiet your soul with Pray as You Go. You can find it online or download to your phone at Pray as You Go.

Thoughts on White Privilege

I have seldom thought about the incalculable privileges I enjoy as a white American. Yet, as some of our nation’s cities teeter on the edge of anarchy with rioting, burning and looting spurred by racial strife, I am considering the benefit of being white in America. I’m white. I’m educated. I live in a middle class suburb. I don’t think of it as privilege. It’s just normal.

The closest I can come to identifying with minorities is my experiences living in Mexico and Honduras. In both those cultures, I was the random white person in a sea of brown faces. Sometimes it was a disadvantage to be white although most times it was an advantage.

Being white made me a target for police harassment in both countries.  Driving while white made me a target for corrupt cops who wanted bribes. I have been stopped multiple times by traffic cops while in Guadalajara, Mexico, and Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Not once was I given a ticket or even had the semblance of one being written up. It was all about hassling a “rich” white person for a bribe.

Fortunately most of the time, being white helped me in Mexico and Honduras. Being white meant I had greater status generally speaking, especially among the poor. The vestiges of colonialism live on in subtle ways south of the border. Being white gave me status and privilege in ways I sometimes saw directly and other times, I know were just indirect from being a citizen of the most powerful and richest nation on earth.

Aside from small inconveniences of being hassled while driving, I haven’t thought much about what it means to be a racial minority. At least until I saw a video this week of a white man kneeling on the neck of a black man on a street in Minneapolis as the life drained from the victim’s body. The black man on the ground said, “I can’t breathe.” Yet, the cop appeared completely casual, looking like he was waiting for a lunch order, perfectly at ease as he squeezed the life out of a man as he knelt on his neck until he died.

It’s time that we, as white Americans, realize the truth that white privilege is real and ingrained in our society. Whites enjoy higher levels of income, higher levels of education, and better heath outcomes. We live longer than our black counterparts. Black people disproportionally fill our prisons and jails. Black persons are less likely to have a high school or college diploma. They disproportionally serve in low wage jobs. They live often in segregated neighborhoods.

When I see on social media the push back from people who resist the slogan, Black Lives Matter by countering with All Lives Matter, I get defensive. Don’t they see that until we can say without objection that Black Lives Matter, we don’t have the privilege of saying All Lives Matter? To me, it’s just another example of asserting white privilege in insisting on saying All Lives Matter rather than Black Lives Matter.

When we say All Lives Matter, aren’t we just affirming the status quo? The status quo is not good enough any longer. First, we must right the wrongs in the black community. Then we can say we are all equal.