Read an Excerpt
Granddad's Farmhouse Porch Stories
Stories of New Beginnings, Beyond Old Endings
By DON C DAVIS
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2012 Don C Davis
All rights reserved.
Grandmother's kitchen at the farmhouse had been a favorite gathering place for the whole family many times. All members of the family were always so very welcome to come out to the farm at any time, but today was the time Granddad would tell stories just for his young-adult grandchildren.
The aroma of fresh-baked cookies filled the whole farmhouse. As each of the grandchildren arrived and after hugs and excited greetings in the den and kitchen, and sampling of the cookies, they all gravitated to the porch. Kudzu wound its way along the edge of the porch, through the banisters and decorative grids on the posts. The fragrance of the kudzu blossoms filled the air, just as Granddad had said. Granddad joined the procession out to the porch and sat down where Steve had placed a special big rocking chair at the bend of the porch for him. The grandchildren slanted their chairs toward Granddad and waited in eager anticipation.
Granddad crossed his legs at the knee, placed his hands on the rocker arms, and looked admiringly at his select little waiting audience. His mellow voice was pleasant as he began. "I am a storyteller. As much as possible I will just tell the stories, but at times I will refer to the manuscript of my book in progress. I am a teacher. I am a metaphorical philosopher. I am an adventurer. I am an explorer in the oneness of all existence. This farm, with its towering trees, open fields, winding roads, grassy meadow, and rippling branch streams, is my Walden Pond. It's here that I can see the world more clearly, gain perspective on the ongoing human story, and envision my privileged place in the story. But right now I am a granddad who is so honored by you, my grandchildren, that I can hardly believe what is happening. So, thank you, Steve, for your beginning dream that has led to this high privilege. And thanks to all of you for making this little story seminar possible by being here. This is one of the greatest honors of my life. Thank you for gathering here at this favorite place and for allowing me the privilege of telling my stories to you. It's a real challenge that I welcome. I have to jump across the years from when I told you stories as children to tell them now, not just to young adults, but to the leading-edge thinkers you have become.
Of course, I am not just a storyteller, I am a storyteller who is trying to lift our human identity to a higher level. Stories are carriers of identity through which we enter a request of life. They become a kind of parallel passage, in which we define who we plan to be and what we plan to give to life as our story. That, in turn, becomes our ongoing bargain with life. Stories allow us to create our own pathways of imagination that define who we are and how to live in our molecular age as positive explorers of Tomorrowland. We need farmhouse porches for new dreamland. It's where we put the past behind us and the future before us, where we turn old endings into new beginnings. So, while we must face realities, we must never accommodate ourselves to them so much that we lose the reality of what can happen, when we follow the possibilities generated by our dreams."
Granddad paused a moment and looked as though he were peering into a distant yesterday. Or maybe it was into tomorrow. Ending the long pause, he said, "The first story I want to tell is the Garden of Eden story, where old endings are also new beginnings.
There are thousands of views overlaid on the old Garden of Eden story, including my own. So right up front, let me tell you that I look back on the old story through glasses colored by a modern-day understanding of the molecular nature of the oneness of all existence. We humans are a very special combination of those molecules, set anew for each of us by our DNA that has been passed along to us. But one of the characteristics we inherit is the special ability to redirect our brain's signals and reprogram our lives by the way we think and the identity each of us claims as our own name tag. The stories I will tell are about what I call the new sacred. This is where I focus, again and again, on the Big Ten universal qualities that overarch the boundaries we often build in our human identity journey. What is special is that each of us gets to write our own story, along with the old Garden of Eden story, as a metaphorical backdrop for designing our own philosophy of life and identity framework.
This old farmhouse porch has heard a lot of stories. It's time for us to add some of our own. As we do, let me raise one little, but important, flag. It's so easy to reconstruct yesterday rather than create tomorrow. That becomes a serious roadblock. My hope is that together we can create tomorrow. So my stories are about identity that leads to the next level up for our place in the story.
Even as I retell classic stories, I must tell them in such a way that they align with the best science that we know, which is constantly being updated by our newest digital tools. It is necessary, therefore, to cross a great divide from an authority-based world view over to a knowledge-based paradigm. It's a transition from a transcendence base for human identity to a self-development view, where the future we envision and the choices we make are up to us and become our request of life. It's the new sacred.
Now that we are experiencing the obsolescence of traditional authority-based religion, we need to build something of even greater promise in its place. I believe it is time to build an identity rooted in a knowledge-based faith, informed by science and technology and the Big Ten universal qualities. If this framework of identity defines who we seek to become, we will build a noble future that we can be proud to claim as our own Garden of Eden story.
For some, this identity-building is paradigm shock. But we have talked enough as you were growing up that I know it is not paradigm shock for you—it's only identity upgrade. We have shared enough parallel journeys that I know that your faith paradigms are open source—that you keep adding insight. So the stories we share here on this old porch will simply be an upgrade in a faith that respects the molecular nature of the oneness of all existence and our place in an overarching infrastructure of ideas. All of this is reflected in my first story about the Garden of Eden and its representative people, Adam and Eve. And it raises a question: What if no one ever challenged assumptions?
In the dewy dawn of civilization—the awakening of human consciousness—when what we now call mythology was simply the way people saw the world—a storyteller told of how it all began. I like to retell the story as a positive metaphor for our place in the story for the greatest time in history the human family has ever known.
* * *
After God made the stars, sun, moon, and earth, he came down to earth and planted a garden in a fertile valley. He planted lots of trees, especially fruit trees. From time to time, he came to see the trees as they grew. He especially loved to come when the springtime sun had warmed the air and the fruit trees had begun to bloom and scatter their pink and white petals in the wind.
It was even more special when he came in the summer and saw the delicious figs, peaches, pears, plums, and apples, just ready to be picked. That's when he wanted to have someone like himself, with whom he could share this delightful beauty. He knew it was time to make someone to be there all the time to take care of the garden and enjoy the fruit. So he took some of the clay from the earth and made a man and a woman— Adam and Eve—and breathed into them life like his own. They could live in the Garden of Eden and be a part of its delights and wonders.
When God came to visit, he enjoyed walking along the pathways in the garden with his two new creations, smelling the flowers, listening to the birds, and eating some of the delicious fruit. Then one day God said, 'I like you to enjoy the fruit here, but there's one tree in the garden from which I don't want you to eat any fruit. It's right over there.'
'Why can't we?' Eve wanted to know.
'It's bad for you, and if you eat some of that fruit, you will die,' God responded.
'Okay,' Eve said. 'I don't know what that means, but we'll just leave that one alone. There's plenty here without it.'
But one day, as Eve walked near that tree and stood admiring its green leaves and the fruit hanging down from every limb, she heard a voice speaking. She didn't bother to look around, but just kept admiring the tree.
'Why don't you eat some of that beautiful fruit?' the little voice said.
'Oh, no,' Eve said, 'God said that if we ate any of that fruit we would die.'
'Really?' the voice said. 'You think God really meant that? Well, that's not quite the way it is. On the contrary, if you eat some of that fruit you will become wise, like God. No wonder he doesn't want you to eat any of it. Besides, he certainly wouldn't kill you himself, would he?'
Eve turned around to look. All she saw was a serpent slithering away in the grass. She turned back and just stood there looking at the tree. 'Looks good, doesn't it?' she said to Adam. 'Why don't you try some?'
Adam responded quickly, and with a coy smile. 'I'm not going to try it. You try it.'
'Well, I'll do just that, and find out what the real story is,' Eve said, as she reached up and plucked a red apple from the tree. When she took her first big bite, the sweet juice oozed from the side of her mouth. 'Oh, my,' she said. 'It's gooood. It's delicious!' She reached up and picked another one of those beautiful apples and handed it to Adam. 'Here, try it. You'll like it.'
So Adam took a big bite while Eve continued to bite into her apple in big chunks. 'Good, isn't it?' she said. 'I don't see anything wrong with these apples.'
They walked on through the garden, munching away at their apples, right down to the core. That's when they saw God walking down by the creek, and coming their way.
'God won't like it if he sees us eating fruit from the forbidden tree,' Eve said. 'Quick, throw that core away and act like nothing ever happened.'
'Better still,' Adam said, 'Let's hide in the bushes so he can't find us.'
Quickly they hid behind some bushes. But God just kept coming their way, right up to where they were. They had no choice now but to step out and say, 'Good afternoon, God. Pleasant day, isn't it?'
'Tell me,' he said. 'Have you eaten some of that fruit I warned against? You don't have to answer. I already know. And you may know how very disappointed I am. You have not been a faithful steward of the garden the way I asked you to be, so I can't let you stay here. You have to leave. Go find your own garden to take care of. You don't belong here anymore.' Then God walked away.
Immediately two angels came and led Adam and Eve out of the garden and closed the gate behind them. Adam and Eve looked back. The two angels were just standing there, guarding the gate.
Slowly Adam and Eve walked away, down the hill, and down to the valley near the creek.
'Guess we will just have to start our own garden,' Eve said. 'How about here near where this creek empties into the river? Maybe we can find some stones to put across the creek to back up the water and make it deep enough to swim in after we have been working in our new garden all day.'
'Fine with me,' Adam said. 'We'll just consider the gate that went closed behind us, to have been a gate opening before us.'
And with that, they put an old ending behind them and a new beginning before them."
Granddad looked at his grandchildren on each side. With a sneaky little smile, he said, 'And it's on that side of the gate where all of us live and work—outside Eden.
* * *
But why were Adam and Eve not supposed to eat fruit from that one tree? Was it not about the quality of the fruit at all, but rather a test of their identity—as who they really were? They had been given choices, but what did that freedom mean? Were they truly free to make choices and test results, or were they bound by authority? They could never know what that freedom of choice meant until it was tested—until they went beyond safety zones and defied needless limitations. The boundaries in their minds were limitless and they had to explore beyond old boundaries if they were ever to find who they were on new frontiers of experience and knowledge. That was the wisdom they could have—a wisdom born out of inquiry and exploration in a real world.
It was a contest between being locked in by authority, and the freedom to make choices in open-ended knowledge. So, here we are now, exploring new pathways of thought and testing who we are, not only in our respective garden valleys, but in a world where we send out instruments of exploration, beyond the borders of earth, into the expansive distances of the moon and planets, stars and galaxies. In our laboratories we have explored the components of cells and learned to make new ones. These macro and micro explorations have thrust us into a new age of enlightenment, which can be part of our gardens where we test the limits of who we are.
And here we are, today's Adam and Eve, listening to an old story, retold for new explorers who expand inquiry with leading-edge new questions about ourselves and the molecular nature of our existence. It's the ongoing spirit of Eve on new metaphorical exploration journeys.
First let's ask—metaphorically, of course—why did Eve really want to taste that fruit so much? Was it because she wanted to be wise and be like God? And does the more we learn and know make us more like God? And is that so bad—to want more understanding of how everything really works? Is that why you wanted me to tell you my stories, so we could explore together? It may be. In any case, our best perspective is not just to look back on yesterday, but to be sure we look ahead at tomorrow. That search itself is an extension of the creative spirit of Eve and deserves a place in the continuing story of the Adam and Eve that we all represent.
So look around. Look where we are. Look through the kudzu, down into the valley there. The person who tends the farm has just rolled up many big bales of grass hay. There is a little instrument on his tractor that receives digital signals from his computerized baler, telling the tractor when to stop so it can wrap the hay with string and then kick out the big new bale. It happens with just the touch of a button. This current level of digital technology represents the progression of many years of searching and exploring, advancing new technologies and engineering to new levels of usefulness.
And look at us. Even though your grandmother retired a couple of years ago from teaching in the public school, she is still teaching as a volunteer, helping children with learning disabilities learn to read—still tasting apples in new ways. I have chosen to continue teaching at the university even though it is a recurring course that springboards out of my writing. In addition, I am privileged to teach a class of young adults at church about faith and success philosophy. I've been invited to speak at an interdisciplinary conference of ministers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, and writers. And that's a real challenge. But I see all this as a chance to taste the apples of new inquiry at new levels. So maybe that's what's really going on here on this old porch where we are now—tasting apples, testing limits, and defining identity outside Eden.
But especially, look at yourselves. Look at who you are, and the ways you are tasting apples.
Steve is still in college, and working toward a degree in environmental science. Now that's tasting apples in new gardens, outside Eden. Of course, he's just now getting deeply into it as a junior.
Sue is in real estate and is the one who cherishes this farm and farmhouse most, though I am warning her, and all of you, too: You must never sell this place—keep it as one of the treasured places where any of you can gather for fun, reflection, memories, and to explore the wonders of nature. It can be a special family retreat where maybe you can invite your grandchildren and reflect on the pathways you have traveled since this day—your Walden Pond. Let it represent the better human side of our identity in an age that is increasing the techno-human aspect of our future.
Norman is a computer-systems engineer. He's the one all of us call when we are having problems with our 'digital apples.'
Mel is with UNESCO, an acronym for United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. He travels a lot, and he's the one Steve had to work with most to make this schedule fit so we could all get together here at one time.
Les teaches physics at a nearby college, where physics is only part of what they hope students will learn there. They want their students to have an understanding of where we are in our time, which overarches math and science, religion and philosophy, so that we understand the molecular oneness of all existence and, in turn, build our lives on the better side of our humanity.
Excerpted from Granddad's Farmhouse Porch Stories by DON C DAVIS. Copyright © 2012 Don C Davis. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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