Kingdom of Ends

There's a pecan tree in my backyard that, it is estimated, is over one hundred years old. Its canopy is narrow, but its reach is tall; its branches stretch a hundred feet into the the atmosphere.  When I bought my house, it was the only tree planted on my postage-stamp lot.

Someone, at some point, took the time to construct a wooden pergola under the pecan, four simple posts in the ground supporting an open latticed roof. A banana-yellow porch swing was hung from the cross beams, shaded by the branches of the pecan. Before I moved into the vacant house, I would stop by and sit on the swing, staring up toward the heavens, wondering who had nurtured this magnificent tree that, as Robert Frost once wrote "the scythe had spared."

For the last three months -- a season -- a homeless woman has lived with me. She bears the first name of my mother and her middle name is that of my sister.

When I picked her up at the Salvation Army, a World War II veteran was there with his wife, stooped over the hatchback of a station wagon, unloading box after box of food. He pushed a flier about God into my hand and told me the words had sustained him throughout his battles. I looked at the people milling around the alley and, momentarily, saw the war he had chosen to now fight. I took the one I could carry from the battlefield, but I'm now afraid the effort was in vain. I wish I'd kept that flier.

She's from Midland. That makes really very little difference in this story except to say that she had, at one point, what I think was a chance. Now, at fifty six years old, she will return to homelessness in time to celebrate her fifty seventh birthday in two weeks. Job interviews, job fairs, jobs programs and, it seems, praying have all left these questions unanswered:

Who gets spared by the scythe? Why do some leap toward the sky in the full glory of life while others find themselves continuously cut down?

Nelson Henderson said "The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit." It sounds nice but in practice is difficult to do. It requires patience and -- this is more difficult -- faith. I'm not talking about the kind of closed-eyes faith in God in which you stare at your eyelids trying to see something there. I mean faith in believing that what you do see will someday be better. Faith in knowing that we must do things -- plant trees, help others, give ourselves -- without any expectation of enjoying the end result.

What trees are we planting in Texas? I fear none at all. We have selfish leaders making selfish legislation based on selfish desires. We shroud all of this with rhetoric like "government spending" and demand the lesser few be "cut off," while expecting the system to continue to service our own selfish needs. If Rick Perry wants a Response to his doubts of the future of our nation, here's one for him: You reap what you sow.

For my part, I've planted a ten foot elm in the back that is dwarfed by the great pecan. A hundred years from now, when I am dust or a breeze or a ray of sunlight catching, I hope the person who sits under the elm has faith and finds themselves living in a state that invests in its people instead of cutting them down.

For there is hope of a tree, If it be cut down, that it will sprout again, And that the tender branch thereof will not cease.  
Job 14:7

The Blind Response

I didn't buy it when Rick Perry pretended to shoot a coyote during the last gubernatorial campaign and I'm having a hard time believing that Rick Perry pretending to care about the nation's problems by hosting a national day of prayer is actually going to convince any of the 4.3 million Texans who live in poverty that he does. As for fasting, Rick Perry starving himself for a day isn't going to trick those in this state who go hungry for weeks on end into thinking they are full.

Wrapping up both of these ideas into a fancy website littered with platitudes isn't going to fool God, either.

We're all friends here so I'm going to let you in on a little secret: Praying is easy. A person can feign concern, close their eyes and raise their hands upward toward the heavens all without having to fix their hair.

In other words, praying is perfect for Perry.

What's not easy, and what requires a little more hair gel than quoting passages from Joel, is actual work.

Work is being homeless.

Work is walking to a bus stop every day in the 100-degree heat.

Work is teaching yourself what public schools failed to teach you.

Work is losing a job.

Work is looking for a job.

Work is waiting for food stamps.

Work is having pain but not having the resources to make it go away.

Rick Perry's right on one thing: Texas can do better. But to be better, we're going to have to work at it. Work is not closing your eyes and praying for those you don't want to see.

It is opening your eyes and helping those you can.