30 June 2008

Environmentalism v. Taking Dominion {Part VI}

Since my computer has been temperamental the last week or so, I've had plenty to time to think about the comments being left around here at Afterthoughts. Of course, I also haven't been able to respond! I haven't gotten any complaints from anyone, so I'm thinking it is my setup here. I'd call the cable company except, last time I checked, we are moving soon, and usually things go wrong with the modem and such during a move, so I figure we will move and deal with all of our problems at once.

Anyhow, this post is really a long-winded "comment" for Part V. And it is a bit of a collection of scattered thoughts and reflections at that.

The comments went in a direction I didn't expect, that of factory farming. I am truly undecided on the factory farming issue. I understand the concerns about animal cruelty. I also understand the issues concerning health. I had forgotten that a certain number of vegans have made their food choices based on the idea that it is the only sure way to avoid being party to animal cruelty.

Are We Weak?

One commenter mentioned that some of this comes from all of us being overly influenced by Disney movies in our youth, and I can't say I entirely disagree. This is not to say that mistreatment of God's creation is ever okay, because it isn't.

However, comma...

I do think that our society has gotten soft. I am reminded of a post The Deliberate Agrarian wrote in defense of his recent chicken harvest. If anyone's chickens live the good life, it's Herrick Kimball's. And yet, in the end, some folks are uncomfortable that these chickens are a crop. They're uncomfortable that his son helps him with the harvest.

In the end, they are uncomfortable with the death of an animal, even an animal raised well, and for the express purpose of being consumed later on.

I often jokingly call folks like this "city folk," though it doesn't really seem to matter where they live geographically. The disconnection from nature seems so prevalent in our society seems to have resulted in some strange beliefs and reactions. I mean, if you've ever watched a feisty Western Scrub Jay dive bomb a nest of perfectly good eggs, you begin to realize you're not the only creature out there that likes the taste of an egg.

I see all of this as connected to the fact that many in our society are far more comfortable with a woman showing more than enough cleavage than they are with a woman discreetly nursing in a restaurant. Things that are actually quite natural are no longer seen as such.

Now, let me come full circle and say that I do not endorse animal cruelty. I think that the heart of a man is revealed in many ways, one of which is how he treats the creation under his direct influence.

Meat-Eating: Not a Sin

I think Nate did a good job mending the different directions of this conversation when he wrote:
Christians who oppose factory farming are often branded "Darwinist" or associated with some other label that they would reject. So I think it's important to note that such Christians often explicitly reject the following claims:
  1. Humans are merely animals, and are no more morally valuable than non-human animals.
  2. Suffering is the only morally relevant factor in choosing to eat / not eat meat.
  3. It is intrinsically wrong to eat meat or kill animals.
Some people who are against factory farming endorse these claims, but they are not essential to the case against that practice. In fact, to focus on these claims is to detract attention from arguments which begin with a premise to which everyone agrees: suffering is a bad thing {unless it is essentially linked to some good which outweighs it}.

On the flip side, it is important to note that many Christians who oppose factory farming explicitly ENDORSE claims like the following:
  1. Because they are made in the image of God, humans are immeasurably more morally valuable than non-human animals.
  2. Eating meat is morally permissible when it is necessary for human health.
  3. Eating meat is morally permissible even when it is NOT necessary for human health, provided that the meat comes from humanely raised animals.
When I read this, I was immediately struck by the fact that I have mostly met very different folks from Nate. And I was encouraged to hear that there are Christians out there who have made personal food choices without branding meat-eating a sin. When I wrote the post, I was thinking specifically of Christians who avoid meat-eating because they believe it to be sinful. I've encountered a lot of this as we've been studying up for the micro-homestead project. And many of these Christians fall back on Scriptural passages that I believe they are misinterpreting {like Daniel choosing to eat only vegetables, or that meat eating is a sign of sin from the days of the flood, and so there is a belief that vegetarianism is a restoration of creation}. These Christians also fall back on what I consider to be Darwinian reasoning, even though they don't believe in evolution. For instance, there is a discussion about whether or not we humans actually have the teeth "necessary" for meat eating, which overlooks the fact that we are a separate creation which is capable of making tools and using fire, and our teeth are somewhat incidental to whether or not we can {or should} eat something.

Meat-eating and Building Community

I'm kind of wandering here, so I think I'll bring it back to one of my original thoughts and concerns, which was that eating meat or not eating meat is something that Scripture warns us can break the community. We are to be very careful not to condemn each other. I am reminded of the fact that when Jesus sent out the 72, he told them to simply eat what was before them. The work they had been sent to do was more important than the food and what was or wasn't in it. This is so striking because it occurs before Jesus completely overturns the Jewish dietary restrictions.

However, these instructions are repeated in I Corinthians, where believers aren't to raise questions about the food when they are eating with unbelievers.

As the mother of two allergic children, I can testify to how food restrictions {even restrictions based on health} can harm community. When we visit family, it is extremely stressful. Grandma can't use her cookie recipe, her spaghetti recipe, or whatever family favorite she always dreamed of serving at the holidays. When friends invite us over {or, even worse, new acquaintances}, I am always faced with the dilemma: do I ask what they are serving and risk sounding impertinent? Do I just show up with my own food and risk offending the chef? Do I inform the family in advance that I'm bringing my own food and end up spending half an hour explaining what is wrong with my children?

And maybe I'm seeing vegetarianism through my own problems, but I see it as potentially destructive to the work of ministry. The kingdom of God which we are to be advancing does not consist of eating and drinking. How we eat in our own homes is one thing. I think each man should be convinced in his own mind in this regard. But when we get to the point where food becomes an issue, and where people need to worry what to serve a guest, I think we need to ask ourselves whether our priorities have gotten out of order.

One Last Thought on Factory Farming

I don't think factory farming is an ideal by any measure of the imagination. And I'm an idealist, so I take this fact seriously. I often romanticize the old days where man was more connected to the land. I am very grateful for Laura Ingalls Wilder, who showed me how near-to-death that lifestyle could get and how I can't even begin to imagine the struggle of living in a pre-Industrial society. I think I am probably not tough enough to have made it back then.

One of the questions raised in the comments was whether or not factory farming really fed the poor, or whether it was even efficient. I am going to surprise you now and say that I think the answer to that is probably "yes," even though I will also say that factory farming is not the only, nor even the best, way to be efficient in the raising of food.

I say this based on experience and absolutely no research, so I am more than willing to be corrected here. One of my daughters seems to have an enzyme deficiency. This means that her body does well with raw milk, but cannot digest pasteurized. Raw milk here in our valley is raised using the Old Ways, with the cows grazing on green grass. It is truly some of the healthiest stuff around. Butter from those cows, if made in the spring, could practically raise the dead.

However, comma...

The milk is over nine dollars per gallon. Last time I checked, the butter was $16 per pound. Raw goat's milk is technically illegal here, though it can be obtained and used for "pet milk." We do not actually buy it, but it was $14 per gallon last fall. The raw goat cheese goes for over $20 per pound.

I could talk a lot about the economic factors which cause these high prices, but the fact remains that dairy products raised in a more ideal manner are extremely expensive. Our family is "too poor" to afford to regularly provide our children with these products, even though we are not actually poor. We are simply a normal one-income family.

I shop at a grocery store that is patronized by a lot of "poor" people. Or, at least, some of them look poor to me. Some of the men look like day laborers, and the women, if they work, probably earn minimum wage. Their baskets are piled high with factory-farmed meat and vegetables. Certainly, it isn't as healthy as the grass-fed dairy I mentioned above. The factory-raised beef doesn't live the Good Life, wandering on a pasture. But the poor man is able to hold up his head and feed his family with his own, hard-earned money. He is a hard enough worker to raise his own food, for sure, but I doubt he could ever afford the land to do so. {It currently runs $100,000 for a vacant half-acre zoned ag in our zip code.}

All of this to say that though I fully admit that factory farming is not ideal, I think it probably is the most efficient means of feeding the poor in our current, post-Industrial society, especially if by "feeding the poor" we mean allowing them enough dignity to actually be feeding themselves.

Homesteading Might Be the Answer

The old saying is that if you want something done right, you need to do it yourself. Hence our family's coming micro-homestead project. We aren't jumping into the deep end here, so it'll be many years until it begins to produce as we like it, but we're hoping for our own organic eggs, fruit, vegetables, and maybe even goat's milk. We're excited about the future, and we hope to become somewhat self-sustaining, less dependent on others for our own survival.

Intimate knowledge of how our food is raised is the only way to be sure that it is raised in a way with which we are comfortable. However, homesteading on any level requires a lot of sacrifice once you add in animals. Ducks need to be grazed and cleaned up after. They need fresh water. Goats need this, and also to be milked. You can't skip a day or week and go on a vacation because they'll dry up. Food needs to be harvested exactly when its ready, and then the abundance needs to be stored and preserved so as not to waste it.

Homesteading solves one problem, while creating another for a world that lives more in their cars than they do at home. Elevating home life, staying home more, and learning to do things for ourselves is, in my view, more of a long-term solution than simply skipping on the meat in the produce aisle.

27 June 2008

The Fruits of My Labor

The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to GOD.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

-T.S. Eliot in Choruses from 'The Rock'
I can't think about much other than school since I planned most of it yesterday and I plan to spend today doing the final finishing touches. I am eating, breathing, living school right now. And I am so excited! I can see how the children will flourish with a new year of reading, thinking, and living together as we pursue the Good Life.

I quote Eliot above because I think he is a good reminder as we approach the school year. In our school, we hope to grow souls rather than acquire an impressive list of things that our children know and can rattle off to impress others. In this age of teaching to the test, it is easy to think that acquiring knowledge is equal to acquiring wisdom, but it is not. In fact, the Greeks knew well that a child without poetic grounding and a natural awe of the created order was nothing but Hubris growing towards violence.

On that delightful note, I thought I'd share the rough outline of my plans, knowing full well that my plans will likely change. I share them because I love it when other mommies share. I get so inspired by it. For instance, there was an older, more experienced Ambleside mom who shared her plans for the Artist Study this term. She explained what her students would do as they studied each piece. Even though her children are so much older than mine that her ideas hardly applied, she was like a springboard for me in planning to study an artist {Sandro Botticelli} with whom I am almost wholly unfamiliar.

Sharing good plans is sometimes like iron sharpening iron, I think.

What I am about to share is a schedule that I put together a few times a year. I call it my Average Day Chart. I like to call it a chart to emphasize that we are not slaves to it, but rather it is a tool to aid us in our diligence. The Bible tells us to make the most of our time. Some folks are very productive on their own, but I happen to need a planning session and a chart to be consistent. Otherwise, I would disintegrate into drinking coffee and reading {alone} while my children ran wild.

I remind myself that sloth is a grave sin.


This morning, I had a little conference with E. and A. and tried to explain what I thought our first month would look like. Then I warned them that we would take a break, O. would be born, and I have no idea how things will look after that because I don't know what sort of baby O. will be.

One of the themes I am bringing into our mornings for the first time is "work before play." This is new, and only applies fully to our oldest, but I think that getting serious about chores and such will get our mornings on the right track. And it'll get Mommy on the right track, too!

Another thing I am trying to incorporate is the idea of varying the work. I know that Charlotte Mason was big on stopping a task before a child's brain became weary of it. Our son struggles most with writing, so I am making sure that copywork and math are separated by at least a couple of hours.

So here is my Average Day Chart. At least, I think this is it. Who knows? After two failed days, I might throw the whole thing out and begin again! I post this with our oldest in mind since he is the only one required by law to have a "full day" of school.
  • 6:45am-Wake. Dress. Copywork.
  • 7:10am-Family breakfast.
  • 7:45-Morning chores.
  • 8:30am-Circle Time.
  • 9:30-E. math, A. preschool.
  • 10:00am-Ambleside Time.
  • 11:15am-Recess.
  • 12:15pm-Lunch.
  • 1:30-3:30pm-Quiet Time.
  • 3:30pm-Afternoon snack and chores.
  • 4:15pm-Outdoor playtime.
  • 5:30pm-Family dinner.

Copywork is something I create myself using a font that I purchased. It consists of copying a short passage of well written literature. We do not learn formal grammar at this age, but we believe that children will pick up the art and mastery of language by recreating it through copywork, narration, and the like.

Circle Time is new this year. I wrote about it once before. I decided each weekday will have a special emphasis. I planned for Mondays to focus on manners lessons, Tuesdays on singing songs {learning one hymn and one folk song at a time}, Wednesdays on the artist we are studying, Thursdays on formal Bible lessons, and Fridays on the composer we are studying. I am trying to infuse Scripture in every subject, so there will be passages read aloud daily even though we only have one "formal" Bible day.

Preschool will be a time for A. and I to work on letter and number identification. She informed me that I need to teach her, so I take that as a sign that she is ready.

Ambleside Time is where we work through the weekly reading schedule from the Ambleside curriculum. During this time, I read aloud to E. and then he narrates back to me. The Ambleside reading list is rich with literature concerning nature, fairy tales, legends, and history. It is a wonderful way to expose a child to their heritage as a free-born citizen. We call the liberal arts liberal because they are suited to free people. We call the humanities such because they humanize {or rather, make human}. I love that Ambleside understands this.

Quiet Time is for all of us. We all need a break from each other. E. doesn't need a nap daily, but he still needs one on occasion. We have also stocked his desk with art supplies, building/construction toys, and learning games. We did this over time, knowing that the day was coming when he would have time to himself to experiment. He may also work in his garden if he is feeling especially energetic.

I didn't detail our evenings, but there is much reading in our home in the evenings as well. We also read on the way to the grocery store and other errands! Once we have a piano, we plan to incorporate extra singing. And evenings might also be spent learning construction and landscaping skills. One of the things we were looking for in a new home was a good backyard project. Projects like the one we are acquiring provide ample learning opportunities for the whole family.

So there it is. It looks like a lot when I write it all down, but I was struck by the simplicity of it all. And then I realized that education really is simple. Sure, it takes time and discipline. But children are born with a natural desire to learn and grow. Regular watering, sunlight, feeding, and weeding in the appropriate seasons is, in many ways, what I think it takes in the early years.

What are you doing for school this year?

26 June 2008

This and That

Today is one of my favorite days of the year. I don't mean June 26th precisely, but rather what this day is set apart for: finalizing school plans. This will be the second year in a row that Gran {my children's great-grandma} comes to referee while I bury myself in the office and finish what I started.

Everything is ready. The books have been bought. The schedules have been downloaded. The curriculum I wrote myself {because I couldn't find what I wanted} is almost finished. I even spent last night reading more of Poetic Knowledge. This book is right up there with Charlotte Mason's works in terms of influencing my own thinking on education.

I also spent some time reading poetry. It was T.S. Eliot, of course. He's one of my favorite poets of all time, though half the time I don't know what he is talking about. It doesn't matter. I love the rhythm of his works, and what I do understand I appreciate.

I find that reading and learning and making sure my own soul is at rest is imperative if I am to plan a good year for school. I know I've only done this twice, but I think this goes for making any sort of major plans. Having a soul that is settled and content {not always an easy task} eases the planning process and helps me see clearly.

Love One Another

Another exciting development around the house lately has been a growing affection for one another that I'm seeing among the children. This is encouraging to me as they recently went through a time where they weren't very good to each other at all and not only was this tiring, but it was discouraging.

It isn't that I expect a perfect home, but constant bickering surely isn't the culture the Lord would have us build.

But I've seen the love in the little things. Like E. having his special morning time with Q. She waits outside his door while he dresses, sometimes lightly knocking {in case he forgot she is there}. When he's done, he lets her in and closes the door behind them. I spied on them to find out what was going on. It turns out that he brings her all his special trucks hidden away in the corners of his room {the ones he hates to share}. He lets her play with them while he makes his bed and tidies his room.

It is a short period of time, but I can tell that Q. is growing in affection for him as well. She now likes to run up to him and give him a big hug and a kiss.

The girls have had their own struggles. A. was so little when Q. was born, and sometimes she treated Q. more like a doll than a person. I don't know if she hurt her on purpose or if she was just immature and therefore rough, but there were many, many months where the two of them could not be alone together in a room. Q. still flinches a little when A. comes running toward her, and this has definitely strained their relationship.

But on Monday night, Q. began to cry on the way home. It was late and she was hungry for a snack. I looked back, thinking I needed to comfort here, and there was A. with her hand on Q.'s arm, patting her gently and telling her she'd be okay. Q. calmed down, and that night they stayed up late giggling together.

Sometimes, it is the little things.

The Move

Our house is officially "sale pending," and we are making great plans. I was pleased to discover that my cupboards and drawers do not require lining. However, the house, being a foreclosure that sat there for many months, is definitely covered in a fine layer of dust. I can't wait to attack it with my beautiful vacuum.

We are hoping to push the sale through as quickly as possible so that we can get the keys and have time to do some work before we actually move in. Tasks like painting are much easier sans children and furniture, wouldn't you agree?

New With You?

So, readers, anything new I should know about? Ellen has a pretty new template. Kansas Mom really should have had that baby by now. What else?

23 June 2008

Environmentalism v. Taking Dominion {Part V}

I mentioned before that environmentalism is beginning to put pressure on the way people eat. I used the Eat Local movement as an example {while also pointing out that I think eating local has many benefits}.

Corresponding to the Eat Local movement is another movement, that of "compassionate eating," which involves vegetarianism or veganism. At a secular level, this is usually rooted in Darwinism, where, as Ingrid Newkirk, co-founder of PETA once explained,
a rat is a pig is a boy is a dog.
Si discussed this in his class on Sunday. If we all come from the same primordial ooze, we all have the same amount of value. We are all equal.

There is also still the vague impression I always get from the environmental movement that human beings just don't belong. When we think about it, "eating compassionately" is applying a double-standard. After all, other animals are carnivorous. But somehow, it can be said that it is "wrong" for a human {who, by the way, produces all the enzymes necessary for digesting meat} to eat an animal.

There are always fringe groups out there defining their own morality. What concerns me more is the Christian vegetarian/vegan movement.

But before I go on, please let me clarify that I do not think it is morally wrong to be vegetarian or vegan. I don't want to be misunderstood. In the New Testament, there were lots of eating battles. Two cultures were attempting to merge into one Church {Jews and Gentiles were both believing in Jesus}. There were debates about clean and unclean meats and the place of the old Jewish dietary laws. There were also debates about meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Some folks' consciences couldn't handle the idea that their food had been given to some false god. One of the key passages concerning vegetarianism is in Romans 14:2-3:
One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.
Here was the perfect opportunity for Scripture to condemn vegetarianism, and yet it never does. Because of this, I have no right to condemn it myself. This passage makes it very clear that we are to seek peace rather than fight about how we eat. In fact, Paul says in I Corinthians 8:13
Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.
I would connect these two passages and say that since vegetarianism is a sign of "weak faith" {other versions just say the person is simply weak, which might be a sign of having a sensitive spirit?}, we carnivores might need to defer at times. Most vegetarians I have met are very emotional and compassionate people. Our God is tender towards His people, and so we should be tender toward each other. We should protect those with weaker spirits; that is always the job of the strong.

However, comma...

There is now a full-fledged Christian vegan movement that will need to be checked in the next decade or so. After all, Romans 14 applies to both groups in that neither is to look down on the other. The Bible is clear that we are not to wound each other's consciences {i.e., I Corinthians 8:12, I Corinthians 10:27}. If the strong are to protect the weak, it logically follows that the weak should not be making attempts to bring down the strong.

The strong are in a unique position, a position which calls for a lot more wisdom. I can relate to the weak since my family has its own "dietary laws" brought on by food allergies. Allergies make a family legalistic about food--there are "good" foods and "bad" foods and, if the allergy is severe, there are no exceptions. But the strong make choices. For instance, there is moderation. Strong drink is acceptable, and so is meat, but the wisdom of Proverbs reminds us
Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine,
Or with gluttonous eaters of meat...
As mentioned above, the strong also have to consider who they are eating with. If they are with someone particularly weak, or in an area where meat has been sacrificed to false gods, they must eat with extreme caution and perhaps abstain.

Strength without wisdom is detrimental to the community and threatens the conscience of the weak. This is sometimes inconvenient, but it is part of the responsibility that comes with being strong. However, weakness, supported by secular fads, can threaten the strong and invent a new morality in the process. The weak will need to be gently reminded that the kingdom of God is not concerned with eating and drinking. However, while we are here on this earth {just as in eternity}, the most important thing is God's glory:
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
{I Corinthians 10:31}

21 June 2008

Weekend Reviews

I got out of the habit of doing weekend reviews. Part of that is because the movies we've been watching were such that I didn't have much to say about them. There wasn't anything particularly wrong with them {nor particularly right, I suppose}. They just weren't very thoughtfully done, and so they weren't very thought-provoking, either.

And then there is the book issue. Apparently, I am turning into my mother and it now takes me approximately a year to finish a book. And Si hasn't been finishing books, either. He has a better excuse than I do, as he is spending much of his spare time preparing for the class he is teaching at the church.

So I feel a bit triumphant that there is anything to review today!

Let's get going.

The Book

Hand That Rocks the Cradle:
400 Classic Books for Children

4.5 out of 5 stars

I rarely buy books about books, but I made an exception for this one, and I'm glad I did. One of the "problems" in our home is that our son is an avid reader. I call it a problem only because I have trouble keeping up with him. We are careful about what we expose him to, and yet it is hard for me to screen everything he wants to read because he reads so fast. Growing up, I read primarily "girls' books" and so I am unfamiliar with books that are traditionally boyish, which means there are lots and lots of books that I need to screen. Add into this the fact that I don't want to waste money or PBS credits on "bad" books, and you can see my dilemma.

Enter Hand That Rocks the Cradle.

There are 400 children's books listed in this reference. Each listing contains a brief synopsis. They are also coded by age-appropriateness. And then there are handy details, such as when the book was written, what era of history the story takes place in, and even where {geographically speaking} the book takes place.

This book is really helping me compile a list of potential additions to the family library. For instance, I know that our children enjoy the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder. So I'm thinking of adding a book by Elsa Falk called Winter Journey, which also tells of a family's adventure on their way to Minnesota Territory. Likewise, our son is interested in American Indians. Sterling North's Captured by the Mohawks sounds like a good fit for him.

See how helpful this book is? I highly recommend it for parents like me who sometimes feel at a loss over where to go next in their library-building process.

The Movie

5 out of 5 stars

What can I say? I fell in love with this movie. I had read some positive reviews, but I was holding out for my own chance to see it. It wasn't just that this was a good movie, it was that it was good on so many levels.

First, there are the basics of film. Finally, we see here a low budget film with good acting. A good script. A good story. It was artfully done without being overdone. The director had a sense of subtlety, and I always appreciate this, especially considering how many directors are of the in-your-face variety.

At the next level, we have the fact that this movie is good in a moral sense. It admits that there is evil in the world, that people are lost and in pain, without ever validating evil. The film is full of compassion. It seems to understand why people are tempted to do the wrong things they do without becoming tarnished by these wrong things.

The third level is what caused this movie to steal my heart. Many folks have proclaimed this movie to be "anti-abortion." In one sense, this is true. Obviously, when a mother chooses life {and it is a choice grappled with in this movie}, she has chosen against abortion. But this movie is so much more than that.

**Spoilers ahead! Procees at your own risk!**

This movie is really about a man named José who affirms the lives of everyone around him. He is contrasted repeatedly with others throughout the film. José carries with him the burden of accidently killing an innocent child. He ran over her with his car on a day that was supposed to be the beginning of his success in life. This accident plays out through the film, and we learn that José spent time in jail for involuntary manslaughter. What we also see is that José is contrasted with his manager, who was also in the car, and told him the only way to get out of the situation was to flee the scene.

José refuses. We don't see this until near the end of the film, but he instead runs to the child's body, and cries along with the child's mother. José affirms life.

Incidently, the film begins with José affirming the life of children. He is a newly-signed soccer star with a $2.2 million dollar contract. And yet he stops to dance with a little girl, to play soccer with a crowd of little boys, to autograph the soccer ball, and so on. His manager, on the other hand, blows these children off. This is the first time we see that José affirms life.

And this happens again and again in the movie.

José is contrasted with his brother, Manny, who owns the restaurant where José is the head chef {and Nina, the pregnant girl in the movie, is a waitress}. Manny doesn't really know the people who work for him. He wants José to feed them "rice tacos" for their daily meeting. {José makes them quail, which Manny contends is so extravagent it "could have been a special."} Again and again it becomes evident that while Manny cares about money and the success of his business, José cares about the people with whom his life intersects at work. José affirms life.

José takes the day off to spend it with Nina, who Manny fires for being late. We learn early on that she has just discovered she is pregnant. And she doesn't intend to be a mother. José doesn't preach at her, but he does spend the day reaching out to her. We learn to see Nina through José's eyes, as a person with a very sad life. José at one point suggests adoption, and Nina recoils at the thought, but his suggestion plays out nicely when we all learn how José became the man he is. José takes Nina to his home. She is able to see a real family, filled with love and joy. She learns that Manny, their firstborn, is adopted and yet the only difference between him and their other sons is "how he came to them."

Day turns to night. By morning, we see José, back in the restaurant with Manny, lean over and whisper in Manny's ear. We later learn that José intends to adopt Nina's unborn child. There is a sense of penance here, that though José could not undo the tragedy resulting from killing the little girl years before, he would be able to rescue this current little girl whose life hangs in the balance.

Thankfully, this movie doesn't fill in every detail. But we see José in the end, eyes sparkling as he watches his little daughter Bella tease ocean waves at the shore. We know, because of our earlier exposure to José's family, that she is loved and cared for as she deserves.

The real crux of this movie is not being anti-abortion. It is the power of man who affirms life at every turn.

20 June 2008

Gas Prices Driving You Crazy?

I don't drive much. I drive a Suburban, which has always been expensive to fill up, even when gas was back in the two-dollar range. But now? Now, I find that I am limiting my travel even more. Last week, for instance, we tried to stock up at one of our regular errand spots. This week, we were able to skip that weekly errand.

This errand is to a store that is 11.6 miles round trip from our home. My Suburban gets approximately 12 miles to the gallon on city streets. This means that running this errand costs our family $4.35. It is worth it to me to try to skip it every other week in hopes of saving that money.

Especially when everything is adding up that way.

It costs Si almost $5 to drive to work and back each day. It costs $2.40 for all of us to take the Suburban to the grocery store. Sometimes it feels like dollars are flying out of our checking account at great speed.

So I ask you, have you started doing the math? Are gas prices changing how you live your life?

That trip to an out-of-town friend's house I was hoping to take? $77. The annual day-trip to the beach? Approximately $81. Driving to great-grandma's for a swim? $8.40. Driving to our favorite park? $4.28.

I make it no secret that we run a tight ship around here. We do this out of necessity, not because frugality is something I find particularly exciting {at least not to the extent that we practice it}.

So I ask you again, have you started doing the math?

I realized when gas was in the $3 range that it was no longer profitable for me to visit second-hand clothing stores that were away from home. I actually save more money watching sales at Kohl's.

And can you do the math? Here is the equation, in case you need it:

D x P/M


D=distance, the number of miles {round-trip} that you will be driving
P=the price per gallon of gas {it's $4.50 here and rising}
M=miles per gallon of the car you are driving

Here is an example:

D=Your grocery store is 5 miles away, round-trip {2.5 miles each way}, on city streets
P=You are lucky and you're paying $4.25 per gallon
M=You drive a compact that gets 21 MPG on city streets


5 x $4.25/21= $1.01

Lucky you! It only costs you a buck to get to the grocery store and back.

What are you paying to drive your car?

19 June 2008

Culture Makers Update: Where We Are Now

My husband's book has been out for a few months now. We had be told by many that first-time authors have a slow start and that perseverence and creativity are key to long-term success. So we have been approaching this as we do many other ventures: step by step, piece by piece, a little here, a little there...you get the picture.

I thought it'd be fun to do a little update. We have no idea how many books have been sold due to the fact that it is being sold through so many different venues. Success, however, isn't just measured in book sales. And writing this book never was about the sales.

One of the things I keep telling my husband about his book is that I think he has made an attempt to reach people other authors don't consider reaching: beginners. After all, there are some wonderful, deep worldview books out there. But we constantly encounter people who would be totally overwhelmed if you asked them to read, for instance, Total Truth. It isn't because these folks are of inferior intelligence. It is just that beginners in any subject need an introductory text.

Okay. I could go on and on, especially since I am biased. He he.

What I really wanted to talk about was the progress of the book so far.
  • Bookstores. It's harder than we thought, in this age of online booksales, to get the book in an actual bookstore. But so far, the book is selling at Berean, and was also placed in an independent bookstore called Russo's.

  • Book signing. This is coming up. If you are local and want to drop by Russo's at the Marketplace, there is a Culture Makers booksigning starting at 1pm. Come by and say hello! If you have an unsigned copy of the book and want to remedy the situation, bring it by. If you haven't bought the book yet, this is a chance to do so. And if you don't read, but want to chat, that is fine, too.

  • Online reviews. We are still expecting more of these, but there are a couple that went live in the early weeks. The first was from Jennie at Foundations. The second was from Kansas Mom at Our Home on the Range.

  • Christian school curriculum. This was something that took us by surprise, because Si didn't pursue this. Sean McDowell, who wrote the Culture Makers foreward, is also designing a Bible class for a Southern California Christian school. Si's book will be required reading for the course, and will be covered thoroughly over roughly eight weeks. This was truly a blessing we didn't expect.

  • Class in session. Si is midway through teaching his annual Christian Worldview course at our church. As his wife, it has been interesting to watch him improve with each year. He is doing an amazing job. But what I wanted to highlight in this update is actually that this is the first time the class has been a family activity. Previously, there was a large age span within the class, but no family brought their children. This year, we have a number of folks bringing their teenaged sons. This class has been a particular encouragement for a variety of reasons, but seeing families learn together is exciting. We know from our own experience how learning together can also bind hearts together.

Well, that is all I can think of for now. I don't know where exactly Si expected to be in this process, but I think he's done pretty well for not having any experience, working a full time day job, and having a busy family with almost four children under the age of seven. What is most exciting is hearing reports of folks beginning to see the world for what it is, make distinctions, and seek to live Christianly in the world. That is what makes it all worth it.

18 June 2008

An Inconvenient Bird

Dear Mrs. Killdeer,

You and I have known each other for, what, approximately three years now? I remember vividly when we first met. I had no idea who you were. My brother-in-law called you "that little roadrunner-type bird" because you were so quick on your feet. You nested in our backyard which was, at the time, an untamed wilderness even though our landlord had promised it would be otherwise.


You nested, but your babies did not survive.

However, you returned the following year, and repeated your folly. We watched with amusement as you scolded our children {and every other living creature who came near you}). Sometimes, your husband joined you in your great noisemaking, and the sound was deafening. We never did believe you when you pretended to have a broken wing, though the children sometimes did.

This year, however, we decided things were going to be different. And, really, this was for your own good. After all, you are no match for three small children filled with curiosity. I mean, it would be one thing if you had the sense to nest in a tree like most other birds. But no! You insist on digging a hole right smack in the middle of the yard and laying your eggs there. Is there no end to your foolishness? We are amazed that you have survived these thousands of years.

And you can't take a hint. Every time you dug your little hole, we instructed our son to fill it in. Don't let her nest there! we told him. We were attempting to save you from yourself.

But you took advantage of our absence. We were gone only three days, and yet in that time you dug a nest and laid yourself three eggs. I saw you sitting there upon our return and rushed out to stop you, but the little eggs were already there. I sighed.

And as if to add insult to injury, you laid a fourth egg the following day.

And now you have the audacity to complain about your situation. You were offended, for instance, when the six-year-old squirted you with a water gun. Don't you know that one of the reasons he delights in it is because you are so dramatic in your response? Calm down, lady. Get a grip! And then it upset you when the three-year-old was touching your eggs. Your eggs are speckled. When we questioned her, she told us she thought they were dirty and she was cleaning them. We are sorry, but perhaps you should keep things more tidy on the homefront.

And then there is the way you treat our baby. You yell and scream and curse her from the moment she walks out the back door. It was she we were trying to protect you from. She has no idea that there are eggs in your nest. She cannot fathom why you sit hour after hour in the middle of the backyard in one hundred degree heat and no shade. All she knows is that you are cute and you move when she does and it is so very fun to chase moving objects.

We warned you. We filled in your early nests twice. But you insisted that you belonged here, and now that your eggs have arrived, we feel obligated to protect you a bit until your gestating is done.

However, comma...

If you spend one more night up squawking at who knows what, keeping me from precious sleep, I only have one word for you, Lady:


The Lady of the House

17 June 2008

The Darndest Things: Separation Anxiety

After a day like today, I need some comic relief. Or at least a distraction from things that I cannot change. Children are wonderful for comic relief. Their lives are very simple, and with the simplicity comes much delight.

Yesterday, for instance, my older daughter A. made a trip with Granmama to visit her great grandparents, whom she had been missing lately. This is the first time I can think of that she has made a visit alone. She was so excited.

E., however, was nonplussed. In fact, he was ticked. I had expected Jealousy to rear its ugly head. After all, he is the oldest and so he has been making solo trips for a few years now. He feels entitled to be the one to go. He hasn't yet learned that there are years ahead of him in which he will be taking turns.

So, as I said, he was upset. He grunted. He groaned. He made sure that I knew how unfair this was.

I told him we'd do some Big People work while she was gone. So we spent the morning outside slaving away vacuuming out and washing the Suburban and dead-heading the geraniums. Q. was sleeping, so it was just the two of us, working and chatting together.

Frankly, I enjoyed it. And I think he did, too, though he didn't want to admit it.

But at lunch, he discovered that A. would not be coming home for nap time. He was astounded. Astonished. Offended. I was watching him with interest through all of this internal commotion that he didn't quite contain.

And then he surprised me.

"But who will I play with after nap?" he cried.

"Q. is here," I suggested.

"But I always play with A. She has to be here!" he was visibly upset.

And then it dawned on me that he was missing her. A good mommy would have offered comfort, but I have to admit that I am sometimes more of an impish mom than anything else.

So naturally I teased him.

"Wait. You mean to tell me you miss her?"

He looked at me with surprise. "No!" he denied his guilt.

I was not deterred. "Admit it!" I said. "You like her. She's your friend!"

"No she's not!" He was flustered. "Family can't be friends! Friends are people outside the family. She is not my friend."

"But you miss her and you want to play with her."

"That doesn't make her my friend."

"It's okay to be friends with family, you know. Daddy and I are friends. Ask Daddy who his best friend is. He'll tell you that it's me!" I smiled triumphantly.

"He will not!" E. insisted. "You and Daddy are not friends. And A. is not my friend. I just want someone to play with."

I decided to let it go at that, but I was laughing inside. Some days, those two can't seem to get along. And part of me wonders why in the world God gave them to each other. And then I am reminded that they are perfect matches for each other, and for the whole family.

What a blessing it is to find that our children have become friends along the way.

16 June 2008

Environmentalism v. Taking Dominion {Part IV}

Yesterday in the class Si is teaching at our church, he said, "We must be Christians first." It's a simple concept, really, but it is one that a lot of us miss. Many of us can get really caught up in being, for example, a conservative. Or, to speak more in the vein of my current topic, an environmentalist or conservationist or whatever we wish to call it.

If we are Christians first, then we make sure that our other interests and passions {like the environment, perhaps} are in submission to the Lord. Among other things, this means that our beliefs about something must match up with reality as it is explained in the Bible.

The environmental issue I want to discuss today is the concept of eating locally. This is a big portion of today's environmental movement, and part of the popular appeal is definitely financial. As the cost of gas is rising, there is now a monetary incentive for keeping the produce close to home. If you live near farms, this is most likely beneficial to you. If you live in the city, you can expect your food bill to rise, I think.

There are also folks out there promoting the 100 Foot Diet. The concept is loosely based on the old World War II Victory Gardens, but today's "enemies" are global warming and deforestation.

As an aside I thought I'd mention that many say one of the reasons the Soviets didn't starve to death during the reign of Communism is because they knew how to grow some of their own food. Supplementing their rations was necessary for survival. How many people in our country today would know how to do that if needed?

Another great reason for growing your own food is that, from what I have read, it really is the healthiest option. Homegrown foods are much less likely to be contaminated {as long as you don't botch your compost or use it before it is ripe}. Homegrown foods can also be picked at their peak, which maximizes vitamin and mineral content. And, of course, there are the transcendant benefits like character development that come from working the soil.

So as you can see, I am far from being against eating local.

However, comma...

Some folks within the Eat Local movement have taken it to an extreme. Instead of suggesting it as a helpful and practical option, there is a corresponding condemnation of people who choose to go to the grocery store and buy their food. In order to make grocery store patrons feel guilty, the Eat Local folks will wax eloquent about how much bigger is the carbon footprint of the grocery store folks. They will talk about food miles until they are blue in the face.

So let me ask you Christian, is this another instance of allowing the environmentalists to redefine sin?

In regard to the virtuous woman {the kind of woman every son should seek out and marry}, the Bible says this:
She is like merchant ships;
She brings her food from afar.
Proverbs 31:14
Now, this doesn't mean that this wonderful lady is merely a consumer. Throughout the passage, we see her producing in many ways, from making thread and fabric and clothes, to weaving belts, to planting a vineyard {also known as "Eating Local"}. However, she doesn't just go to the grocery store. She imports her food on ships.

Talk about food miles.

As much as I like the idea of gardening, and as much as we are going to try to make some significant strides toward production in our home in the coming year, I actually import a fair amount of our family's food. As you know, my children have severe food allergies. Eating local doesn't cut it when your children do better eating teff grain from Ethiopia and buckwheat from Montana. I belong to a co-op where I purchase our grains {in whole form} in gigantic 25 pound bags. We have had grain come from all over the world, and we feel very grateful that modern-day merchant ships are available to folks like us with special dietary needs.

I understand that many families are only interested in consumption. Frankly, I am concerned for them not because of their perceived "eco-crimes," but because of the lack of character that such things often {but not always} reveal.

However, comma...

Part of what it means to become conformed to the likeness of Christ is to approve the things the Father approves while also disapproving of the things of which He disapproves. It is having our definitions of transgression and virtue align with Scripture.

In many ways, I think that environmentalism has become a red herring, a way of distracting ourselves from the real problems of our day. A way of overlooking real sins while still maintaining an appearance of morality. Let us not be distracted.

Let us govern the garden while serving the Lord.

13 June 2008

Environmentalism v. Taking Dominion {Part III}

Oooh, I had the urge to change the title of this series. But that would get confusing, so I'll just stick with it. That's what I get for naming things before the ball even begins to get rolling!

The environmental issue I want to dig through today is anthropological at its core. There are debates about overpopulation, I am sure you are aware. In the end, what is at stake is the Biblical view of man.

Secular environmentalists reveal themselves to believe that man somehow doesn't belong here on this planet. This sort of self-loathing is everywhere, and you will see it if you look hard enough.

Almost a year ago, we spent a little over a week at the central California coast. One of our trips was to the natural history museum in Morro Bay. Approximately 85% of this museum was, in my opinion, political rather than scientific in nature. And almost anytime mankind was mentioned, there was a certain animosity toward him.

Take, for instance, the idea of soil erosion. The displays were overtly biased. When erosion was described in such a way that it took place through inhuman causes {wind, rain, storm, waves, etc.} it was literally said to "present a challenge" to the animals living the Morro Bay area. It was implied that this "challenge" made them stronger. However, any erosion caused by people moving to the area, driving around, or farming was presented as an evil danger to the animals.

In fact, wind, rain, and other such weather activity were "normal" while human activity was implied to be abnormal and/or inappropriate.

This goes back to what I wrote about before, the clash of ideas. Remember: secular environmentalists believe that we should pay homage to a living planet in a way that smacks of idolatry, while Christians taking dominion believe they have an authority over the planet given to them by God.

God created a garden. The rest of the earth was not yet tame. Genesis is very clear. Man's duty was to maintain the garden, and also expand it. Man is not only natural {in the sense that he is a created being in his rightful home}, but it is necessary. The creation needs a master, and Man fills this position.

It is because man is viewed as unnatural and out-of-place that we have the population debates. An unnatural creature that is "in the way" of natural creatures must take care not to intrude in this world. And so secular environmentalists encourage one and all to limit their reproduction.

I am about to start calling my children the Little Carbon Footprints since that is how folks see them. Did you know that some people actually view reproduction as an environmental trespass?
But to the interest of parents, a new study was published yesterday that says the cheapest and most effective personal strategy for tackling global climate change was stopping at two children. The study claims that having excessively large families should be considered an "eco-crime" and that adding a third child to a family increases that family's carbon footprint by the equivalent of 620 round-trip flights between London and New York.


Even back in 1990, Debra Lynn Dadd wrote:
Contraception is an important environmental issue because it is vital that we keep our population within the limits defined by the resources of the Earth

Biblically, the picture is quite different. In fact, reproducing and ruling were tied together. Reproduction is mentioned using three phrases in Genesis 1 alone: be fruitful {that's one}, multiply {that's two}, and fill the earth {that's three}. After they do these things, they have the responsibility to subdue the earth {what is often called "taking dominion"}.

In this post-Industrial culture, it is hard for folks to imagine that these two things are very connected, but I assure you they are. For thousands of years, families worked together to tame the garden. They planted, they harvested, they composted and manured. They tended the land and their flocks. The saying many hands make light work is based on the idea of sharing the burden. When the family works together, the act of taking dominion becomes more pleasant, more fulfilling, and {most importantly} easier.

The problem is not that there are too many people. The problem is that there are too few Christians. There are too few living righteously.

It's true. In some locales, there are crowded streets. Humans have a strange tendency to live close together. I don't pretend to understand this as having my nearest neighbor ten feet away is not something I find terribly appealing. But we do collect ourselves in cities. People in cities are much more likely to believe in overcrowding because they are constantly in close quarters. Come to my house and let me take you for a drive in the country. Perhaps then you will understand that even much of California is actually empty.

It's true. In some locales, there are food shortages and droughts. Africa is most famous for these sorts of problems, and many times the media talks about Africa as if most of its problems weren't avoidable. Africa is plagued by HIV as a result of horrendous promiscuity {this is not to say that every victim is promiscuous, but that promiscuity is what has spread the epidemic}. Africa is dominated by evil governments that often confiscate imports, steal land from farmers, and murder their opponents. Africa is not a safe place to live, and the land suffers.

This reminds me of one of the opening scenes of The Black Arrow in which the peasant women mourn what war will do to the land. They cry out that they will all end up eating roots. Did you know that potatoes and other roots are typically the only vegetables capable of surviving a battle?

War. Sin. Crime. These things hurt our ability to provide food for all. Overpopulation is not the real root of the issue. Sin is.

But environmentalism has a way of turning sin on its head. Instead of discussing how murder, war, and promiscuity are causing turmoil in Africa, the accusing finger is pointed at families like the Duggars, who dare to have numerous children. Today, the crime isn't promiscuity. It is being pregnant {even if you are married} with a third child.

Christians must remain true to Scripture. All of Scripture. The Bible only speaks of children in the negative when said children are undisciplined and foolish. As Christians bring up godly offspring, the environment should benefit, rather than suffer.

12 June 2008

Homestead Binder: Step by Step

Whenever we start a binder {we did a couple last year, one was our English Language Binder and the other was our Birding Binder}, I try to make it into a craft project. I find that this is a great way to get my son invested in the project. It also keeps him busy. I am always looking for productive ways to channel his energy.

The binders I buy are basic. Actually, this time, I didn't even buy them. When we visited my father-in-law, he let me pillage his office supplies {he's preparing for a move and is trying to pare down}. So I grabbed up seven of those white binders with plastic covers {in which you can slip a title page}, along with lots of other cool stuff, and other not-so-cool stuff that he slipped in when I wasn't looking!


So we are currently in binder heaven. My thought is that, really, most people have extra binders they'd like to get rid of. We shouldn't need to pay full price unless it's an absolute emergency. If you need a binder, ask your friends and family before you buy!

Other supplies I use for building the basic school binder are:
  • White, 8.5x11" cardstock
  • 3-hole puncher
  • Hole reinforcements
  • Art supplies like markers and colored pencils
  • Computer-generated titles
  • Post-it brand index tabs
  • My favorite pen (by the way, gel pens smear on the index tabs)
  • Scissors
  • Glue or tape
My son is a very independent worker. My oldest daughter? Well, let's just say that I can imagine her at age six, and it involves a lot more supervision for this sort of project than it does for him. But perhaps she will surprise me in time. Either way, I am sure the level of supervision will vary according to the child's maturity level.

Here is what we do. First, I go type up every possible section I can think of for the binder. If I think we might study it, I create a section. I like to try to get this all done at once. So, for the homestead binder, each section I mentioned here got a title. I typed them up in a large-size font that was in outline mode. This is because my son likes to color in the letters using colors that remind him of the section. For instance, the word "berries" was colored in shades of red and blue, the color of berries.

I gather up one sheet of cardstock per title. These sheets will be the dividers for the binder. I do not buy dividers. I find them to be flimsy, and I like the flexibility using the Post-It tabs provides. I have also learned that this method tends to cost less than half of what it costs to buy dividers, plus there is enough left to build future binders, and leftover cardstock can be used for every project under the sun.

By the way, buying these supplies during back-to-school sales is a sure way to make these projects as inexpensive as possible.

At this point in the project, I hand my son the cardstock and the titles. He takes them to the desk in his room, which is stocked with art supplies. He colors the titles, cuts them out, adheres them to the cardstock, and then decorates the cardstock with his own drawings. This is good practice, since he is very weak in drawing. We actually got a great picture of a duck sitting on a pond out of this, and I was thrilled!

Once the decorating is finished, he returns his work to me. I hole-punch it and reinforce the holes. I write the title on the index tabs. I affix the tabs in their proper place. And then I show my son how to install his handmade dividers into the binder.

To finish, we decorate one more sheet of cardstock to go on the front of the binder, and also a thin strip for the side so that we can identify the binder when it is on a shelf.

And that's all.

At this point, everything is organized and ready to go. Now, all I will be doing is printing off or cutting out articles as I see them. I'll be able to hole-punch them and hand them to my son. After we've read the information, I'll teach him to file away the articles in their proper places.

This is, I think, a great way to build beginning research and organizational skills while encouraging a child's interests.

11 June 2008

Environmentalism v. Taking Dominion {Part II}

We have the right to rid our house of ants; but what we have no right to do is to forget to honor the ant as God made it, out in the place where God made the ant to be. When we meet the ant on the sidewalk, we step over him. He is a creature, like ourselves; not made in the image of God, it is true, but equal with man as far as creation is concerned.

Francis Schaeffer

Like any subject, it's probably best to try to think of the First Things. What I mean is, what are at the roots of the environmental movement? What are the primary ideas involved? How do those ideas compare with Scripture?

Now that I have asked these questions, I intend not to answer them. He he. At least not all of them. I want today to focus on only one of environmentalism's First Things, an underlying assumption that is primary, I believe, to understanding the movement.

It is encapsulated in the phrase for the planet. Sometimes, I hear it termed for the earth. I've come across this sort of thinking in much of my gardening research. Typically the author will not just say that something is better for the earth, but that they are straining to do something for the good of the earth or the planet.

Why does this raise a red flag?

Don't worry, that was a rhetorical question.

I see this sort of reasoning as being antithetical to the idea of taking dominion. And now I will do my best to explain why.

Once upon a time, in the late 1980s, I was introduced to the idea of Gaia worship as a foundation of environmentalism. I have noticed ever since that the earth, or more rightly Earth, is often personified within the movement. Sometimes it is subtle, sometimes it is overt. But often, it is there, this hovering sense that the Earth is living in a spiritual sense. It must not only be saved; it must be served. And we exist to pay her homage.

The blogger Mark, the Multifarious Modernist wrote a post on Gaia Theory back in January. In it, he mused:
…if we, conscious organisms, are indeed just an extension of Gaia {and the Universe as a whole}, then could ’she’ not be said to be conscious, on some level, through us? …if Gaia does indeed exist, then does not our short sighted, self-serving exploitation of ‘her’ not resemble that of a cancer or harmful parasite, methodically killing it’s host and hence ultimately itself?

This theory now has an increasingly strong following among many Scientists, Futurists and Environmentalists; the main criticisms concerning the quasi-religious connotations of the word Gaia and the fact that some Gaia theorists imply that the Planet will literally ‘get revenge’ if we continue abusing it.

For some scientists, Gaia Theory is purely metaphorical. The name was taken from an ancient pagan deity, also known as the Mother Goddess. This is akin to naming the theory Mother Nature Theory {to use a term from our own culture}. For others, however, there is a religious nature involved. For instance, we see shades of Hinduism in the form of a goddess, Buddhism in the form of all of us being not just connected, but "one."

By the way, Gaia Theory is actually a pagan interpretation of something that is mentioned in Scripture. Think of the overwhelming symbiosis of it all. Everything is held together. Dissimilar organisms live in harmony and are mutually beneficial. From the tiniest atom, to the farthest corners of the universe, the created world looks as if it should fall apart into chaos, and yet it never does. Colossians 1:7 explains that our Lord was before all things and holds them all together. It is His will and purpose that Gaia Theory is attempting to explain.

Christians start from a very different point when thinking about these issues. Sure, we believe the earth is to be cherished. And, sure, we think it is our job to do so. It is the why we think these things that sets us apart in dramatic fashion.

When we head to the earliest chapters of Genesis and the creation account, we see, first of all, that the earth was planned, sculpted, created by the Lord we serve. That is a good enough reason to cherish and respect it. It is other than us, and yet created for us as the perfect place for us to live and build culture. However, the Bible elaborates and tells us that God created male and female and gave them the job of tending the garden. He commands them to have dominion over all the creatures and over the earth itself. The original Mr. Webster defined dominion as
Sovereign or supreme authority; the power of governing and controlling.
Supreme authority means we have the right to do as we wish. However, being that we are created in God's image, and that He so tenderly crafted this world, there is, I think, an assumption that we, too, would be caring and loving in our actions toward creation.

Genesis also reveals the source of difficulty, the Fall of Man. When Man is cast out of the garden, it is said that, instead of tending a preexisting garden that is perfect in every way, and expanding it over time as they are fruitful and increase in number, they must work the ground outside of the garden. Here enters toil, sweat, and also failure. Man may slave over the ground, but it will not always yield to him. Crops may fail. Droughts may plague. Floods may destroy. The Man given the supreme authority becomes, in one sense, powerless.

Going through all of us helps us understand a few things. It is made obvious Whom we are to serve and what we are to govern. We are created to be in authority over the earth and its inhabitants while being in subservience to the Creator. More importantly, the account of the Fall shows us that it is we, and not the planet, who are in need of saving.

I try to take these distinctions to heart and make sure that what I am doing is being done within a Biblical mindset. This means that, if I conserve water, I am not doing something "for the earth" {which implies that I am doing something in its service}. Rather, as one who has dominion over one small plot of land, I am making the types of decisions a responsible steward should make. I live in a desert, so I am making sure there is also enough water for my neighbors by not using more than is necessary. Because I care about the things that God has made, I will shun waste {which was considered sinful by Christians until the early 1900s}. But all of this flows from the idea that I govern the garden while serving the Lord.

Many of environmentalism's pet causes have a panic mindset to them. Global warming is the most obvious, with the outlook for all of creation being quite dour. Ted Turner recently revealed the extent of the alarmism:
We’ll be eight degrees hotter in ten, not ten but 30 or 40 years and basically none of the crops will grow. Most of the people will have died and the rest of us will be cannibals. Civilization will have broken down. The few people left will be living in a failed state — like Somalia or Sudan — and living conditions will be intolerable. The droughts will be so bad there’ll be no more corn grown.
I am not interested in debating global warming. What I am interested in is seeing Christians feel empowered to rise to their position in the created order. They do not need to worry or be reactionary. Rather, they are free to live out God's calling. They can seek wisdom and tend the garden responsibly. And they can know that, in the end, it matters that they served God well and took their dominion seriously. We can also rest in the fact that it is our Lord, and not us, who holds all created things together. These underlying assumptions, which differentiate us from secular environmentalists, also allow us to maintain the peaceful demeanor which Scripture so often attributes to believers. Internal peace is best generated by resting in actual truth.

10 June 2008

Environmentalism v. Taking Dominion {Part I}

I've been immersed in environmentalism ever since I was a small child. Schooled by the government, the "science" portion of my education consisted primarily of propaganda from the global warming movement. I was never taught much {at school anyhow} about anything real and accessible until I was in college. My biology classes, in all thirteen years of my government education, consisted of animal-rights activism, musings about endangered species, and anything else both politically correct and environmentally "green." In my last two years, I was introduced to both chemistry and physics. Because I had no working knowledge of the real, concrete things the items in the lab were supposed to represent, I remember nothing other than the details surrounding finding my senior prom date in physics class.

So needless to say, I am not a scientist by any scope of the imagination.

I am finding myself immersed in environmentalism once again, this time as I am researching materials and articles for our Homestead Binder. After all, many of the best places to research biodynamic farming methods make clear that their alliance lies with Mother Earth, and in opposition to all those evil Big Ag folks everywhere.

And I find myself looking at this not through the lens of science, but that of Scripture. Like everything else, much of this is a battle of ideas. One might even say it is, in some senses, a battle of theologies.

I want to spend some time off and on to consider this battle of ideas, and how I see Scripture at times agreeing with the Green Movement, as I'll be calling it. At these times, I think it is best to see ourselves as cobelligerents. That's what Frances Schaeffer would have termed it. At other times, Scripture stands in direct opposition, if not to methods, then certainly to the presuppositions. And these deceptive philosophies should not be allowed to take our minds captive.

I think perhaps the best question that can be asked is why we do what we do. In this case, it would be why we "fight climate change" or perform whatever other environmentally conscious act is heralded in our day. And I don't mean some sort of superficial rationale. I mean really, deep down, what philosophy is behind this sort of thing. What are we acting on? Or reacting to? And does the Bible have something to say about it? That is what I hope to explore in this series.

Home Sweet Home?

Well. We won. At least, it looks like we won. In these sorts of auctions, the bank has a right to rescind, so technically there is a waiting period that we are currently in. But our understanding is that the banks accept 85% of the highest bids, and since everyone there seemed to have the same budget we did, I don't see any reason for them to come back with a negative.

So it looks like it is ours, or will be once we close escrow.

And all I can say is wow. We "bought" a house in less than sixty seconds by waving a card with a red number on it. How strange is that?

I will tell you exactly what I told family when I emailed them last night:
It was so overwhelming to be in a real auction {put on by Texans, nonetheless}. It was like listening to music. Really fast music. Thankfully, there were two pages of homes to be sold before ours came up. This gave us plenty of time to prepare and learn the ropes.

Si did a wonderful job, and the auction worker in our section was an advocate for us. He tried to coach Si a bit, too, which was nice. We couldn't believe how fast the auction went. The price on the house we wanted skyrocketed quicker than any other property. We think this is because, in comparison with the other properties {which were investments}, this was a house people actually wanted to live in themselves!

At one point, my heart just sunk. I thought the price was going up too fast and we would be priced out. In the bidding, Si finally hit our highest price. We'll call it x. I think our advocate friend realized this. Bidding had slowed down, and our friend tried to get the caller to lower the gavel and give us the price. But the caller egged on a woman in the crowd and got her to bid x+$1000. My heart sunk. Si look at me and said he wasn't going to let $2000 stop us. He'd up the price a tiny bit, and then that would be it. He bid x+$2000.

And we won!

So it was $2000 more than we had planned to pay, but it is ours, and we are thrilled.

The photo above is of the actual house. It isn't that clear, since I snagged it from the online MLS listing. But it gives you the idea. It's a basic tract house. I never thought I'd buy a white house, and I couldn't believe how clean it looked considering the color. I discovered its secret: rain gutters. Wow does that make a difference! No yucky splashing stains all over the paint. Very nice.

A couple other perks worth bragging about {with photos, of course}:

This might not look like much, but I am already thanking the Lord for it. This, my friends, is a tankless water heater. Or, as I like to call it, the magic box. Water goes in cold and comes out hot. It is energy efficient, partially because it never heats water unless you're actually using it. But with six {and possibly seven if Si's sister really moves in} of us trying to shower, wash dishes, and do laundry, it'll be nice having this baby take care of us.

This is the view from the farthest corner of the backyard:

I'm not sure what the baseball-diamond looking thing is. Someone tried to do something out there. It'll be yanked out, though we might use the wood for something if it is worth salvaging. The property is slightly shy of 19,000 square feet, which makes it just under half an acre. We figure the backyard comes out to be about 16,000 square feet. This back corner is where I hope to put our fruit orchard {in time...we mustn't hurry good plans or they become merely okay plans, I think}.

So that's it. I told Si that, since we are starting from scratch here, especially with the landscaping, we will have to document everything in photos so that we can see how it changes over the years. I'll try to show before and after shots as things progress.

But for now, I thank you all for your prayers. We feel tremendously blessed. And this morning, I also feel a tiny awareness of how unworthy we really are. My prayer is that we are good stewards of these new things the Lord appears to have given us.

09 June 2008

Homeschooling: Year One Special Project

I've alluded to our desire to grow some of our own food, to hide chickens in our backyard, and perhaps a goat. We've been reading the Little House books, and become quite aware of our own incompetence when it comes to self-sufficiency. After all, in By the Shores of Silver Lake, Pa digs his own well.

In time for lunch.


So it is clear that I know nothing about anything when it comes to survival or even perhaps keeping a potted plant alive.

Enter the Year One Special Project, known to my son and I as the Homestead Binder. My son is always asking questions about farming {he says he wants to be a farmer, and we will see what happens in time}. He wants to know what chickens eat, how to know when the corn is ready to harvest, and how to keep bugs off his zucchini plants. Most of what he wants to know is information that is readily available on the Internet.

Now, I'm not about to let my six-year-old start surfing the Internet. However, the idea of learning what we can is the skill of a lifetime. He is already an avid reader, and he is the son of an avid researcher.

Enter the Homestead Binder.

Basically, I am going to begin printing off articles whenever I see them. I'm going to invite family to send us little snippets as they come across them. Short, simple articles are what I will choose {he's not exactly ready to read Logsdon's All Flesh Is Grass or Phillips' The Apple Grower yet!}, and hopefully they will focus on one specific topic {like raising chickens or something}. I'm going to teach him how to highlight or underline important things he wants to remember. Like many other skills, we will do it together until he proves he is ready to go out on his own a bit.

I've already come up with a variety of divider titles. After all, he has shown desire for both breadth and depth of knowledge, so I plan to feed him in both directions. Here are the subject areas I have so far:
  • Ducks
  • Chickens
  • Goats
  • Vegetables
  • Herbs
  • Fruiting Trees
  • Berries
  • Composting
  • Grasses
  • Flowers
  • Beneficials
  • Preserving the Harvest
  • Tools of the Trade

We can always add more areas if we find we have an interest in something. I know this seems like a big list, but I figure we will build this binder the way we do everything else, step by step, one little bite at a time, over many months and months.

As I was thinking about this project, it dawned on me I could do something like this with any of my children {once they can read} concerning any subject they are interested in. Does my daughter want to learn to sew? We could build a binder over time as we study stitches, fabrics, patterns, and the like. I have a feeling that this is a great way to teach the children that they can learn about anything they are interested in.

Of course, the ultimate way to learn about farming would be to meet real-life farmers. A friend and I have already discussed a possible field trip to the urban homestead in Pasadena, whose owners grow over 75% of their own food using organic/biodynamic methods. As we find bits of inspiration around us, and meet the experts in our path, we'll be sure to interrogate learn from them whenever we can.

And, finally, the binder, like everything else, will be preparation for real life. We will try and implement whatever we can that we learn {again, in small steps and over time}. We'll improve our tomato-raising abilities. Maybe we'll get a pet Khaki Campbell duck. We'll try to act on what we learn, which will lead not just to knowledge, but to wisdom {or, some would say, skill}.

And I'm finding myself romanticizing homeschooling once again. Sure, it is hard work. Some days, I'd really like to ship the little ones off to an institution and have successive cups of coffee and reading time. But nothing can compare with the time we get to spend, living, learning, and growing together. It is the little things that tie our hearts together, the willingness to say that if something is interesting to you, there must be something there worth loving and knowing and why don't we learn together? It's not just filling heads, it is binding lives and growing souls.

07 June 2008

Our Housing Saga

I failed to mention that, on my birthday last month, Si made a very valiant attempt to buy me a house. I had joked with him {when he asked what I wanted as a gift} that he could either buy me a house or an anteater because I wasn't going to tolerate these ants much longer.

He went for the house! That just goes to show that he is learning to read my mind.

We arranged with our realtor to visit said house on my birthday. We liked it so much, we called my parents and asked them to drive over and give us a second {and third} pair of eyes. And since the house met with our approval, as well as my father's {he has good taste}, we made an offer that very day.

Before I go on, I suppose I should mention that our offer was for one hundred thousand dollars less than the listing price. However, we felt confident that our offer was fair. The house had been sitting there for many months. It had been put up for auction at least once, but no one even showed up to bid on it. It had sat there ever since, listed with a traditional real estate agent, and no one had made an offer. And when we looked at the comps in the neighborhood {similar houses and what they sold for}, our offer was a little under the average, but nothing extreme.

It was important that we not pay too much for the house because it sits on half an acre {almost} and is not landscaped. No sprinklers. No flower. No grass. Nada.

The fact that the lot was practically vacant was a huge selling point for us. We have always had this dream of having a small fruit orchard, but many of the landscaped lots are set up in such a way that watering and caring for a number of trees would be inefficient at best or impossible at worst {at least without tearing out a lot of perfectly good plants}. The blank slate appealed to us.

And the house itself was fine. Nothing fancy, really. About the same size as our current rental. Same number of bedrooms, one less living area. But it had this little nook area. It was tiny, but there was room to put an office. This was important because we have been hoping to have Si's 21-year-old younger sister move in with us, and a place to put our office means there will be bedroom space for his sister.

All of this was to say that it seemed perfect. And the fact that the house had been sitting there without offers seemed to scream that it was waiting for us.

So imagine our surprise when we learned we were not the only offer that weekend! This was coupled with the fact that the house was again being prepared for auction.

We went back and forth. It seemed clear that we were the better buyers, but not the highest offer. The bank {it's a foreclosure...isn't everything these days?} asked for our best and highest offer. We felt we could afford to up our offer by about $10,000. They came back asking for another $22,000. To which we politely said no, and didn't they realized they already asked for our best and highest? We do not play games. We were quite serious about this, and we are quite careful with our finances.

The bank said no, that our offer was too low.

We assumed they would go with the other buyers {whoever they were}, but a week or two later, the house was still sitting there and not in escrow, so we asked our agent to make contact again. Again we offered our best and highest, and again we were rejected.

The house entered escrow.

Then, less than a week later, the house fell out of escrow.

Our agent again made contact. And the bank, though unable to successfully sell the house at the higher price, insisted that our offer was too low.

And perhaps it is a little low. We have knowledge that other houses in the neighborhood are currently pending. If these houses complete escrow and close sale, they will lower the neighborhood prices significantly. However, for now, our offer does look slightly low. And the bank considers the land an asset, while we consider it a liability since it represents a lot of cash that we will have to spend to make it function as a yard, a garden, and hopefully an orchard.

{Did I mention we hope for contraband chickens?}

And then there is the fact that, to some extent, it doesn't matter what the house is worth. That is what got everyone into trouble in the first place. We offered on a house that no one seemed to want, which we wanted, and we offered the price that we could afford. What it is worth doesn't matter. What we can afford does. At least, that is what matters when it comes to the value of our offer. And it seemed to us that taking the house off of the bank's hands was better than having it sit there for them to pay even more electric and gas bills for, and eventually property taxes as well.

The saga continues. The fellow at the auction company emailed our agent this week to let her know that the home is up for auction on Monday. Yes. This coming Monday. As in two days.

At the last auction, no one even bid on this house. So, we are going with our agent to the auction in our next attempt to secure this house. Part of me is hoping we are able to get it cheaper than our original best and highest offer, as this would leave us more cash for putting in the yard, garden, orchard, and picket fence that is totally unnecessary but I stay up nights dreaming about because that is the sort of thing Americans dream about, right?

But I digress.

There is a reason I never blogged about this. I had this feeling it could turn into a roller coaster, and I didn't want to take Afterthoughts along for the ride. We made an offer. We were rejected. We made another offer later. We were rejected again. Someone else bought it. Someone else failed to buy it. We made an offer. We were rejected again. We are told we might be able to pick it up at auction. We spend today preparing for said auction. We spend the next 48 hours biting our nails praying.


You see why I kept it to myself?

But now, if you have actually read this to the end, I ask for your prayers. We have, as all this has gone on, continued to look for houses, using both the Internet and real, live visits to homes. Nothing has felt like home the way this house did. Nothing had the potential for even beginning to fulfill our gardening dreams {which, by the way, are a way of cultivating our son's obvious gift for all things green and growing}. If the Lord says no, we are willing to accept it, but we hope very much that He says yes.