31 May 2012

My Life as a Milkmaid

I really will try to make this the last microhomestead-related post for a while. I know some of you are getting bored. But there are a few things I want to record before I forget...in case I ever need to know them again in the future.

Also, I have been wondering: since I am married, does that make me a milkmatron instead? It really doesn't have the same ring to it, so I sort of hope not.

But first, news on the babies.

They are doing great, and both growing healthy and strong. Kelly warned me about this, and it is true: the babies will try to nurse everything.

So they try to nurse tables...

And chairs...

Thankfully, for all involved, they do eventually find their mama.

After that, they wrestle and explore.

And then they take a nap!

The first 48 hours, they slept almost all the time. Now, they are up playing King of the Mountain and generally having a good time. I am seriously in love with these little guys. Milking is fun with two little babies playing at my feet!

Learning to Milk

My husband couldn't build much
when we married, but, my, hasn't
he come a long way in 11 years!
I can't say that I had any expectations in regard to learning to milk. I knew that Reece and I were both novices, and so I was pretty much unprepared for anything. Thankfully, Si built me a stanchion, and I really don't know what I would have done to train her without a place to feed her grain...and lock her head into position so she couldn't escape!

We knew that Si would need to help me the first few times, but even so, we were surprised at what happened.

First, we had to woo her onto the table. She was curious, but resistant. Thankfully, she is the tamest, sweetest goat we've owned thus far and this really helped. Eventually, she figured out that to get the grain she wanted, she was required to jump on the stand and put her head between the slats. {The boards that are crossed in the picture are movable--they are in the locked position, but when unlocked, she can get her head in just fine.}

Second, we had to clean her up. Now, she hadn't been cleaned since her kidding, so she was extra yucky. We made a solution of warm water mixed with cider vinegar and a drizzle of dish soap. Even though it was warm, she did not think that a little bath was a good idea.

So she decided to sit down.

Apparently, the feed box is just low enough that she can eat and sit at the same time, something we didn't anticipate. She made a few choking noises, so I know this was not easy to pull off, but she did not care. Noooo....She was determined that we would not touch her.

So Si picked her up. And I washed her down. All future washing have gone quickly, but this time she was caked with debris and it took a while...which basically means she hated it.

At this point in the game, she was standing. Everything was taking so long that I added more grain to the box, just in case {smart move, that one}.

Now, it was time to milk. I barely touched her udder when...she sat down again! She left a little bit hanging out on Si's side, so he tried to get at it, but she quickly wiggled around until all of it was safely underneath her.

I think she smirked at me.

So, we did the only thing we could think of: Si picked her back up. And I milked. And let me tell you, my arms were tired because it is a motion I'm not accustomed to, but I'm sure Si's were even more tired after holding a heavy animal up in the air. He held her up; we took a break. He held her up some more; we took a break. And so on and so forth, ad nauseum.

All of that for about 3/4 cup of milk!

And the next day was about the same, except that she jumped right up on the table, and didn't fuss when we locked her in.

By the third day, things were going better. I could wash her quickly, and without a fuss. She even stood for most of the milking! And by the second milking of the third day, she stood the entire time.

Today is the sixth day, and she's doing great. I no longer need Si's help, and she is usually watching for me when I come out at about 6:15am to start the day. I'm only getting a little over half a cup of milk because the babies have usually beat me there, but I figure this first week is mostly about learning to milk and be milked. The other stuff will come in time.

It is interesting to me how my relationship with Reece is so different from my relationship with the other animals. All of this training and time spent together has caused me to really know her in a way I don't know the others, and there seems to be an understanding between us that just isn't there with, for instance, Charlotte {who really needs to have a baby to calm her down, I think--at 10 months now, she is a bit too rambunctious for my taste and I think it is from idleness}.

Kelly tells me that tomorrow {at one week old}, I can separate Reece from her kids for an hour before the evening milking--that I might get a more milk! I plan to try it and see how it goes. I've been doing the second milking around 7pm, because that is what fits our schedule, but I think it'll be easy enough to run separate them at 6pm. Thankfully, we have a little tiny cage that will do the job nicely.

And that's all. Tomorrow I will try to talk about Russell Kirk.

At least, that is the plan.

30 May 2012

Miscellaneous Musings on...Wednesday?

So I've missed the last two Mondays, and the links I've been saving are getting older by the day...so much so that I culled some of them already. So today is the day! I am still settling into life as a milkmaid, something I hope to post on soon. {I promise this is not turning into a goat blog!} If I can finish up Russell Kirk in the next couple of weeks in addition to all of this, I will consider myself a rousing success. I have completed the reading, but the posting takes time, you know?

In the {possibly ancient} news...
  • What’s Behind Illinois Stealing Local Hero’s Bee Hives? from Mercola.com. I hope you all are paying attention to the liberty issues surrounding the food battles in this country. If you think all of this is really about raw milk or bees or pastured pork, you are wrong.
    But when the 58-year apiary keeper had his hearing—three weeks after the removal of his bees without his knowledge—the state's "evidence" had disappeared, leaving more questions than answers about the raid on the beekeeper's hives.

    Some people, including the beekeeper, Terrence Ingram, suspect the raid has more to do with Ingram's 15 years of research on Monsanto's Roundup and his documented evidence that Roundup kills bees than it does about any concerns about his hives.

    Interestingly, the state's theft targeted the queen bee and hive he'd been using to conduct the research.
  • Wild Elephants gather inexplicably, mourn death of “Elephant Whisperer” by Rob Kirby. Just when we think we understand animals, something adds the mystery back into the mix.
    There are two elephant herds at Thula Thula. According to his son Dylan, both arrived at the Anthony family compound shortly after Anthony’s death.“They had not visited the house for a year and a half and it must have taken them about 12 hours to make the journey,” Dylan is quoted in various local news accounts. “The first herd arrived on Sunday and the second herd, a day later. They all hung around for about two days before making their way back into the bush.”Elephants have long been known to mourn their dead. In India, baby elephants often are raised with a boy who will be their lifelong “mahout.” The pair develop legendary bonds – and it is not uncommon for one to waste away without a will to live after the death of the other.
  • Man Builds Fairy Tale Home for $4700 by Heidi Stevenson. The irony here is that though it is nice that perhaps the poor could build something like this and create a nice home for themselves, it would be completely illegal to do so here--zoning laws considered, of course.
    Simon Dale is a family man in Wales, the western part of Great Britain. His interest in self-sustainability and an ecological awareness led him to dig out and build his own home—one of the loveliest, warmest, most inviting dwellings you could ever imagine. And it cost him only £3,000, about $4,700 American dollars!
  • Why Study Latin, Pars Secunda: Or, How Love Of Neighbor Is Our Hope by Andrew Kern.
    The neighbor, on the other hand, is a real person, located in a particular place, with particular needs, offering particular temptations. In the so-called Christian “worldview”, the neighbor is penultimate, our duty to love him second only to our duty to love God.

    “The world” is just another abstraction. Only God is able to love the world. Do not believe for a moment that you “are the world.” You are not. You are a neighbor. You are one person able to love other people as you come in contact with them through words, mind, and body.

    The more we try to change the world, the more harm we do. When we gain the wisdom to defend and run our corners of the world (meaning our kitchens, dining rooms, bedrooms, living rooms, and yards), then we might be able to bring that wisdom to our communities.
  • 7 Tips to Help Your Child Learn Without Teaching by Linda Dobson.
    Don’t automatically equate a child being put through the paces of a lesson with a child who is actually learning something. Often, learning that sticks instead of “learning” that is lost after the test is over, is a by-product of an interesting experience, as well as the opportunity to connect something new with what is already known. Many times, the most effective learning is incidental to the experience as opposed to the experience’s primary purpose. “The brain,” wrote Pat Wolfe and Ron Brandt in an Educational Leadership articled called “What Do We Know from Brain Research?” “is essentially curious and it must be to survive. It constantly seeks connections between the new and the known.” So instead of lessons, start with curiosity and interest!

And that's all for today! Share your interesting links in the comments, of course.

26 May 2012

Baby Goats: The Movie

Okay, so it's really a short little video I took with my digital camera! We have been enjoying the way the babies call to their mama, and no matter where she is, she comes running {and, frankly, looks very worried about them} to their rescue. This video is of the white baby, which we still have not named. It is a buck, and not a doe as I had first thought. He is so new that she hadn't even finished cleaning him off yet.

This buck kid seems to be weaker than his brother, so unless something changes, he is the one that will be sold around six weeks of age {and that way the new owner can deal with the decision of whether to keep him intact or not}. Hopefully, I get a buck price out of him, and not a wether price! I am trying to earn back my initial investment, even though this technically is not a business.

Anyhow, enjoy this little mama/baby moment.

25 May 2012


Wow. What a day. We keep telling our oldest that he is triplets today because today is his tenth birthday...and today Reece gave birth to twins. This was quite an education for all of us, that is for sure!

I won't go into all the gory details, but if you ever look up videos of goats giving birth {which I did yesterday so as to prepare myself} all I can say is that they are very accurate. At least, the ones I watched were!

We noticed that Reece was showing signs of labor at about 9 or 9:30 this morning, and by noon she gave birth to beautiful twin babies!

Reece and her babies are currently separated from the other two goats. {Yes, Wesley is still with us. We found a guy who said he'd build us a milking table in trade for the goat and I'm really hoping that happens.} I am a little afraid that Charlotte will try and hurt them, so we'll probably keep them separate until tomorrow. Reece and Charlotte didn't have time to finish working out their issues before the babies were born.

The brown baby was born first. I'm pretty sure this one is a buck, though I haven't investigated that thoroughly. My mom named him Rusty right after birth, and I have a feeling the name will stick.

At first, I was afraid Reece was going to reject this little white one, but she came around. I had to assist a little with the birth of this second one. She came out head-first {they usually come out front feet first, from my understanding} and then her head popped out and Mama quit trying to deliver. At first, everything was fine, but then I noticed she {see? I must think this one is a doe} was trying to breath. I had scissors handy just in case, and clipped the bag and slipped it off her nose and she coughed a cute little cough!

And then she had to just hang out there for five minutes or so until Mama decided to continue pushing! Poor baby!

They are both doing great and will be a big hit at the birthday party on Monday. {Who needs party games?}

I was going to add a video, but I'm having technical difficulties and I'm short on time to try and figure it out, so photos are all. Aren't these babies darling?

24 May 2012

I Have a Blog? And Meet Reece.

So. I didn't forget about this cozy little spot on the Internets. However, comma, we did run away from home for a few days, and that means no blogging. Here is some insight into exactly what we were doing...

We visit Morro Bay almost every year {we like to stay in Pismo Beach, but heading to Morro Bay for the day is a must}, but this year was unique. If you know the Central California Coast, then you know that Morro Bay is a very gloomy part of California, and often covered by mist or fog all the day long. This time? Well, it was perfect. The fog rolled out early on Sunday morning, and on Tuesday we never saw any at all. It was great.

We saw a few things this time that we'd never seen before, among them a bird {the name of which we are still trying to discover}. But the real treat was this:

It's probably hard to understand this photo, but I don't have a fancy camera, so that's as good as it gets. This, my friends, is a bunch of baby sea otters, laying on their backs in the sun. Their mother was playing {or fishing?} nearby. We had never seen otters in the wild before, and they were just as cute as one would expect.

Yesterday, when we were supposed to be recovering from our vacation {those of you who travel with children know what I mean}, I found a very pregnant Kinder doe for sale. Our afternoon turned into a whirlwind and we ended up buying this gal:

It's not a great photo, I know, but it's the only one I have right now. Si said she reminded him of chocolate and peanut butter and somehow she ended up being named Reece because of that.

I've never posted photos of Wesley, the get-by guy {as I called him}. When Abigail died, we bought him as a friend for Charlotte, who wasn't handling her loneliness very well. I feel a little guilty moving Wesley again as we are his third owner this year {!}, but hard choices are necessary, right? I hope we find him a good home that will appreciate him.

Here are a couple photos of Wesley that I took in order to list him for sale on Craigslist:

He's a sweet goat and very tame, but we no longer have use for him. Nor do we have space, what with babies due any day now. This all happened so suddenly, but it really does get us closer to our goal of two producing Kinder does. Reece will begin milking next week, probably, and if she has a buck kid, we'll keep him and let him breed Charlotte {and sell the babies--we are raising backyard goats, remember, and that means we are short on space}. And then, God willing, Charlotte will produce five months after that. We'll sell the buck, and have two milking does.

Mission accomplished.

Or, at least, this is the plan.

From what I've read, we should be able to milk them through for about 14 to 18 months, so that will give us time before we have to think about breeding again.

I'll have a real post up sometime soon, I hope, but for now I thought I'd share a little about our adventures.

22 May 2012

Reading Aloud: Weaving it Into the Fabric of our Lives

When I only had a couple children and I was pregnant with my third, reading aloud took up many hours in my day. I was severely nauseous, and reading aloud was {surprisingly} easier than trying to do something crazy like standing up and walking at the same time. So we did a lot of it. I find, however, that as I add more students to my day--students who cannot read things for themselves--that my time allotted to reading aloud for fun has greatly diminished.

Not that lessons aren't fun. But I think you know what I mean.

And I worry that my current three-year-old is getting the raw end of the deal. It doesn't help that said three-year-old is the most resistant-to-sitting-and-listening of all the children I've had.

an upcoming selection
My approach over the past year, then, has been to work reading aloud into my day wherever it will fit. Whereas O-Age-Three is unwilling to sit and listen for an hour, he'll usually listen fine for fifteen minutes.

I read aloud for a more extended period of time during Circle Time, but what about the rest of the day?

I grab time for reading aloud where and as I can find it. The habit of reading aloud is woven into our day in small threads rather than big ones.

Bible at breakfast is a minimum, but for most of the year we've done Circle Time, which included a chapter or two of one or two read alouds. I do the necessary Ambleside readings during the morning. Lunch finds me reading a chapter or two {sometimes even three!} as the children are finishing up their meals. I usually read a children's picture book to one or both of the littles before their naps. Sometimes we add a chapter in the afternoons. We often add three or four chapters in the evening. Daddy reads a Bible storybook at that time sometimes, too.

It never feels the same as it did way back when I used to read to my two oldest children for an hour at a stretch, but I look at today, and in addition to our Ambleside readings, we've read three chapters from three other books, and the day is only half over.

I'm satisfied with that for now, and I think the children are picking up on that habit of reading that is so important to develop.

18 May 2012

Book Club: The Roots of American Order
Chapter 11

I was hoping to finish up the book this week, but as you can see I still have one chapter left. Life, you know? It just keeps happening around here lately. I tried to stop it, but instead I have embodied Murphy's Law more than anything else.

I'm just saying.

The Roots of 
American Order
by Russell Kirk
So: Chapter 11. There were entire portions of this chapter {the discussion of the First Amendment and freedom of religion} that I was already pretty clear on, so I count this as the least remarkable chapter in the book. Of course, if you aren't familiar with the facts and ideas surrounding the First Amendment, you'd likely find it all very interesting.

I only have a few things to pull out and mention this time around: the details of the Tea Act, the relationship of the idea that "the King can do no wrong" to our society, and the difference between "government" and "state" in the minds of the Framers.

The Tea Act: Lowering the Price of Tea

Kirk tells us that there were two groups that were enraged by the Tea Act: those who loved their liberty...and tea smugglers.

Let me explain.

According to Kirk, the Tea Act actually lowered the price of tea. Even though it did impose a three cent tax on tea exported into America from Britain, it eliminated a previous twelve cent tax on tea imported into Britain. For the Americans, this was a nine cent per pound decrease in cost. Kirk points out:
The British government's only purpose in demanding a threepenny tax at American ports was to assert the right of the King in Parliament to levy such duties if he so chose.
So, as you see, the issue at hand really was about the King's authority to tax, rather than the colonists' miserly grip on their three cents.

The tea smugglers? Well, a nine cent per pound drop in tea prices threatened the profitability of smuggling, so they were definitely on board for the Boston Tea Party.

Francis Schaeffer used to call this being "co-belligerents," which is to say that two groups can work together to achieve the same ends...but for very different reasons.

What if the King Breaks the Law?

Kirk reminds us that there was a saying, "The king can do no wrong." Kirk's entire discussion reminded me of why Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, "for the healing of the nation."
"The king can do no wrong" is an English legal aphorism of long standing, reaffirmed by Blackstone. It does not mean that the occupant of the throne is incapable of sinning: rather, it signifies that because the king is the indispensable axis upon which the whole realm revolves, he cannot be punished for the acts of his government0--not if the bed of justice and the defense of the realm are to be maintained. It is the king's ministers who will be punished for encroachments upon liberty--if necessary, by impeachment and even execution; they can do wrong. So "the king can do no wrong" is a useful fiction--which does not mean that it is false...The attempt to hold King Charles I personally responsible for the acts of his government, ending in his execution, had been disastrous for the English nation.
Obviously, we do not go so far as this, for we have impeached a president more than once, and I'm sure we've attempted to impeach presidents even more than that. But I think that Ford's pardoning of Nixon was in line with the above thinking, and I also think that he was right, that a public trial of a president would have been very difficult for the nation. In other words, Ford was doing what was best for the country rather than what was best for Nixon.

"Government" ≠ "State"

If you aren't reading along, you need to know that one of the main discussions in this chapter is whether or not the American Revolution {ahem the War for Independence} had much in common with the French Revolution that took place only a few years later. Kirk answers this in the negative, and I think he builds a good case. Of course, I'm sure I'm biased because this is the conclusion I'd already come to based upon my own study.

With that said, when the Declaration asserts the right of the citizens to "alter or abolish" their government, and institute a new one, this sounds like a standing invitation to revolution to our modern ears. Kirk takes some pains to correct this impression:
One needs to note, moreover, that the Declaration's word is "government"--not "state." Eighteenth-century writers made a clear distinction between the two. "Government" implied the temporary possessors of power and their current political policies: whenever the king dismissed his ministers and chose new ones, a new "government" was formed. "State," on the other hand, meant what today we tend to call "society"--the established civil social order, permanent in character, with some sort of enduring constitution. The Declaration spoke of instituting "new Government," not of overthrowing the state itself, or the social order. That is another aspect of the moderation of the America "revolutionaries" they argued that governments might be altered or abolished, but contemplated no pulling down of fundamental institutions and ways of life.
Kirk states in other places that when the King imposed the Tea Act, he was actually changing his relationship with the colonies. It was the King, then, who was the revolutionary, in the sense that he was attempting to establish a different social order than had existed in the colonies since their advent. The Americans, in wanting to keep the established social order, when they ran out of other options, needed to change their government in order to do this.

We can easily contrast this with the French, who wanted to completely abolish their social order and create another one {about which, I might add, there was much debate--they destroyed first, and argued about a vision for rebuilding later--a big mistake}. The French were rebelling not just against the King, but also the "second sword" which governed them: the Church.

I've heard and read both conservatives and liberals assert that the Declaration encourages them to alter or abolish as they see fit, with no regard to history or precedent. Kirk explains that this is a complete misunderstanding of what the Framers meant when they used this language.

Read More:
-Buy the book and join in the conversation
-More book club posts linked at Cindy's blog

17 May 2012

Quotables: The Roots of American Order

The Roots of American Order
by Russell Kirk
Was that war fought merely to avoid payment of a threepenny duty on a pound canister of tea? If so, the Revolution would have been a bad miscalculation, economically: for material damage to Americans' property was tremendous during those years of violent conflict, and many of the men who led the resistance to Britain...lost their fortunes by the war, when not their lives. {p. 393-394}
What Whiggish America stood for was the long-established chartered right of the colonies to govern themselves. They looked upon George III as a monarch who intended to make a revolution, by subverting their old ways of self-government they protest that they, in resisting Crown and Parliament, were preventing this royal revolution. {p. 395}
[T]he American Revolution differed vastly from the French Revolution. The Americans, in essence, meant to keep their old order and defend it against external interference; but the French rising was what Edmund Burke called "a revolution of theoretic dogma," intended to bring down the Old Regime and substitute something quite new. {p. 395-396}
By the power of his pen, the obscure Gentz...rose to be the associate of kings and a designer of the concert of Europe. {p. 397}
[T]he French revolutionaries were hoping to transform utterly human society and even human nature, broke with the past, defied history, embraced theoretic dogmas, and so fell under the cruel domination of Giant Ideology. {p. 398}
"However radical the principles of the Revolution may have seemed to the rest of the world, in the minds of the colonists they were thoroughly preservative and respectful of the past...The political theory of the American Revolution, in contrast to that of the French Revolution, was not a theory designed to make the world over." --Clinton Rossiter {p. 399}
"I know of no way of judging the future buy by the past." --Patrick Henry {p. 401}
In the last sentence of the Declaration, ...the signers express reliance upon "the protection of Divine Providence"--a concept more orthodox Christian than Deistic. That affirming of trust in God's presence in the world does not appear in Jefferson's early drafts of the Declaration; it was added by the Congress, many of whose members were uneasy with Deism {p. 404}
The men of the Continental Congress, however, did not take Jefferson's equality clause as an affirmation of  literal equality in body and mind...They did subscribe to two venerable concepts of human equality: equality before the law, and equality in the judgment of God. {p. 408}
The question for the Patriots was whether George III had any right to govern them, beyond the rather vague sovereignty that English kings had asserted over the colonies from the beginning--whether he had the right to terminate the policy of salutary neglect and commence a policy of unhealthy meddling. It was George III and his ministers, the Patriots contended, who were trying to work a revolution. {p. 411}
[F]rom the earliest times in America the colonial people had been a people separate from the British people, though linked to the British by willing ties of culture and friendship, and by common allegiance to a king. Rather than pulling down a government, the Patriots were defending their own prescriptive governments against what had become an alien government. {p. 414}
The word "republic" means public concerns--the general welfare as expressed in political forms...What took form in America was a democratic republic, but not a "totalitarian democracy," or government directly and absolutely controlled by the masses. {p. 415}
[T]he Constitution became the monarch. {p. 418}
[T]he office of President really is the office of a king--the chief difference being that the American President is subject to election, at fixed terms, and that the office is not hereditary. {p. 427}
The first six presidents, from Washington to John Quincy Adams, were men of good education and a high sense of duty who deliberately restrained themselves in the use of their powers; had they been autocrats or demagogues, the executive branch of the American government might have reduced the legislative and judicial branches to insignificance. {p. 428}
The wise politician, according to Alexander Hamilton, "knows that morality overthrown {and morality must fall with religion}, the terrors of despotism can alone curb the impetuous passions of man, and confine him within the bounds of social duty." It would be better far to turn back to the gods of the Greeks, said John Adams, than to endure a government of atheists. {p. 433}
By both factions, this clause of the First Amendment was looked upon as a safeguard of religious convictions, not as an act of disavowing religious principles. {p. 436}
Now the First Amendment...[was] binding only upon the national government, not upon the states--until 1925. {p. 437}
"To hold that government may not encourage religious instruction would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups,. That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe...We find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence." --Justice William O. Douglas {p. 438}
[P]ractical government in the United States, and in every other nation, is possible only because most people in that nation accept the existence of some moral order, by which they govern their conduct--the order of the soul. {p. 439}

14 May 2012

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

I have to confide that after I wrote that post last week concerning Pajama School, I had to switch everything around and I'm still not sure how the dust will settle. You see, we had our first almost-100-degree day, and that was enough to frighten me into taking my morning walk sooner rather than later. So today we went straight from breakfast to chores, followed by walking. I intended to try some Circle Time during snack, but it didn't go well, and people disappeared before I even knew what was happening.

So: lunchtime Circle Time? Perhaps. I think tomorrow I will do Bible at the breakfast table, and then try the rest of Circle Time spread out over snack and lunch.


In the real news...

  • The frequent fliers who flew too much from The Los Angeles Times. I think it's kind of sad that these customers are being punished because American Airlines made a really bad business decision.
    Both men bought tickets that gave them unlimited first-class travel for life on American Airlines. It was almost like owning a fleet of private jets.

    Passes in hand, Rothstein and Vroom flew for business. They flew for pleasure. They flew just because they liked being on planes. They bypassed long lines, booked backup itineraries in case the weather turned, and never worried about cancellation fees. Flight crews memorized their names and favorite meals.
  • How to Miss a Childhood from Hands Free Mama. This is one of the reasons I do not have a cell phone. I really think I'd end up this way on accident!
    “I can recall a time when you were out with your children you were really with them. You engaged in a back and forth dialog even if they were pre-verbal. You said, ‘Look at the bus, see the doggie, etc.’ Now I see you on the phone, pushing your kids on the swings while distracted by your devices. You think you are spending time with them but you are not present really. When I see you pick up your kids at day care while you’re on the phone, it breaks my heart. They hear your adult conversations. What do they overhear? What is the message they receive? I am not important; I am not important.”
  • American's Crisis of Character by Peggy Noonan. Sigh.
    The reason the story is news, and actually upsetting, is not that a government agency wasted money. That is not news. The reason it’s news is that the people involved thought what they were doing was funny, and appropriate. In the past, bureaucratic misuse of taxpayer money was quiet. You needed investigators to find it, trace it, expose it. Now it’s a big public joke. They held an awards show.
  • MN Dep't of Agriculture Goes After Moms from The Common Room. Your tax dollars at work: holding folks liable for helping their friends. Am I a "store" when I let you pick something up at my house? And by the way: my raw milk was recalled by the California authorities again this past week, and so I'm highly annoyed.
    The dangerous food includes raw milk, of course, and raw milk yogurt, butter, cheese.Of course, what these moms do is not legally any different from a church food pantry, neighborhood co-ops. Tolley points out that food pantries at churches, somebody who buys food and gives it to a homeless person, people who buy groceries for their neighbors are also guilty of distributing food without a license, and gov't will go after them next.

    Melinda says they already have. A church in southern MN was providing free meals to the community and had to shut down because they did not have a 'qualified' kitchen. the price of getting one in that building and area was 180,000.

    Tolley says "It's not just the idea of raw milk... it's totalitarian control... if you are doing something outside of the way they want you to then they come after you.'
  • The Average American Infographic from Shaun Groves. Okay. REALLY? Who are these women? Where in the world are these stats from? I don't know anyone who spends money like that. I just bought shoes for the first time in two years. You know what they cost me? Less than $20 total. Know how much we spend on cable? $0. Soft drinks? I repeat: $0. I was just a bit astounded by this and doubted if it was true. If I am real, there must be someone out there guzzling $3000 worth of soda every year! Click over to see the graphic...it is so big that I don't want to display it here.
  • Free Art Instruction Videos from The Virtual Instructor. I am always on the lookout for art tutorials. I use them especially in the summers. That is my plan again this year, and I think this is what we'll be using. 
  • Ivy League school's janitor graduates with honors from Yahoo! News. {HT: KM} Inspiring!
    As a Columbia employee, he didn't have to pay for the classes he took. His favorite subject was the Roman philosopher and statesman Seneca, the janitor said during a break from his work at Lerner Hall, the student union building he cleans.

    "I love Seneca's letters because they're written in the spirit in which I was educated in my family — not to look for fame and fortune, but to have a simple, honest, honorable life," he said.
And that's all!

11 May 2012

Pajama School?

A friend showed up on our doorstep one morning awhile back, and I was still in my pajamas. "I promise I'm not usually in my PJ's this time of day!" I said. And she made a friendly comment about homeschoolers and pajamas. And we laughed.

And I've been thinking about it ever since.

I don't need to know whether your family does lessons in pajamas or not, but I will tell you that before we began doing school formally, you know, back when I knew everything because I was 24 or so, I always thought that I would never, ever, ever do school in my pajamas because I like to get up and get dressed and I feel so lazy if I still have my pajamas on {unless I'm sick of course}.

That day on the doorstep it dawned on me that we now do Circle Time in pajamas every. single. day. And I hadn't even thought about it!

Let me explain.

Once Son O. dropped his morning nap, Circle Time became Difficult. He doesn't like to sit and pay attention. He does like causing trouble in groups. Circle Time was his prime opportunity for wreaking havoc.

So I decided there was nothing left to do but reorganize and regroup. We moved Circle Time to breakfast, and added in a morning walk to wear. him. out. Desperate measures for me, these.

And it has worked.

However, comma, one unintended consequence of those decisions is that I'm teaching Circle Time in PJ's because I have always gotten dressed after breakfast.

And now breakfast lasts an hour or even more.

I don't feel lazy, as I expected. It's just part of our day--part of the routine--and we head off and get dressed afterwards without fail. Circle Time has happened this year, in spite of our Human Obstacle, so I consider it a success, PJ's or no PJ's.

All of this is to say that I thought that pajama school would never happen here because I wasn't the type. But apparently my life, for now at least, is the type.

And I'm okay with that.

10 May 2012

Books Read in April

Son E. still hasn't finished You Can Farm. He tells me he's reading it in small bites, like we do during lessons, so that he can think about the ideas before moving on. Should I tell him he's giving himself a Charlotte Mason education? I haven't yet, though I did say I thought it was a great idea.

He did, however, pick up his reading pace to a more normal {for him...certainly not for me} speed.

April Books
E.'s April Favorite
Ways of Wood Folk by William J. Long {this is the second time he's read it this year...so far}
Wilderness Ways by William J. Long
Mother Carey's Chickens by Kate Douglas Wiggins
Olive Fairy Book by Andrew Lang
The Burgess Animal Book for Children by Thornton Burgess
Juliette Low: Girlscout Founder by Cathy Morrison
Among the Farmyard People by Clara Dillingham Pearson
The Little Lame Prince by Dinah Maria Mulock
Gentle Ben by Walt Morey
The Story of Franklin D. Roosevelt by Lorena Hickock
The Story of Helen Keller by Lorena Hickok
The Story of Stephen Decatur by Iris Vinton

Looks like this month he was on a biography kick, for the most part. Some boys are turned off by biographies about women, but I've always told E.-Age-Nine that biographies are a great way to understand how things as we know them have come to be, so he's never hesitated to read a biography about...well, about anyone.

09 May 2012

Book Club: The Roots of American Order
Chapter 10

Only one week left {and, if you are like me, two chapters}! The length of this book has been a challenge for me, especially because I wanted to give it my full attention. As life has picked up its pace, this has increasingly been a challenge for me. I am so glad we did this...and I'm so glad we're about done doing it!

This chapter was fascinating to me. Kirk engaged with four minds who had great influence over the initial form and order of the United States: Montesquieu, Hume, Blackstone, and Burke. For whatever reason, it is Burke who I'm still pondering, and so it's Burke I'll be discussing today.

I see three applications for Burke's ideas, and these are: parenting teens and older children, taking a generational view, and choosing who and what to read.

Parenting Teens and Older Children

Before I write anything in this section, it should be made clear that I am completely inexperienced in this area, at least on the parenting side of it. This is not meant to be Titus-2-style older-woman advice, if you get my drift. I'm just making some connections here. I was once an older child and then, a bit later, a teen. My parents did a decent job, I think.

I'm not saying that the state/citizen relationship is the same as the parent/child relationship, but I couldn't help see some similarities as I read Burke's thoughts on what happened between Britain and her American colonists. 

I've been battling a cold this week, and I've let my preschoolers run wild. It is going to be very hard to pull them back in, and they're the worse for it because their freedom wasn't coupled with any responsibility whatsoever. There's a chance that this is why I have mothering on the brain.

Accustomed to a high degree of liberty, the Americans must be indulged in their old ways; the whole Empire would prosper by a prudent shunning of extreme doctrines.
Burke makes it clear that part of the "problem" {and to Britain, it was a very real problem} was that America went mostly ungoverned and un-meddled-with from the beginnings of her colonization up until the time of King George III. The sorts of decisions being made by the King and Parliament weren't taking this into account at all; no one considered how offensive this would be to American sensibilities.

I was thinking here about children with too much freedom. Specifically, I was thinking about my children with too much freedom. Ahem. Come what may, I'm going to have to rein them back in.

But sometimes freedom is given to older children, and then something happens and we parent-types want to take it back. At that point, we are standing on dangerous ground. Burke once said,
When you drive him hard, the boar will surely turn upon the hunters. If that sovereignty and their freedom cannot be reconciled, which will they take? They will cast your sovereignty in your face. Nobody will be argued into slavery.
We can substitute the word "authority" for the word "sovereignty" here, I think, and relate it a little to parenting. I assume that there were times in my teen years that my parents really wished they could be a little more authoritarian with me, places where {unlike Britain} the concern was even for me and my good, but where they chose to watch and pray rather than intervene because they didn't want me to be tempted to "cast their sovereignty in their face."

I like to think I wouldn't have done such a thing, but who knows? The heart is desperately wicked, after all.

Of course, parenting is all in the reverse of this situation, because the goal is not a fully submitted human being, but a responsible and independent adult, whereas with Britain the goal was {or became, at least} to dominate the Americans and bring them into subjection.

My parents were good about handing me freedom along with responsibility. So, for instance, I was free to get a job...and pay for the clothes that they were no longer going to finance. That is one memorable example. The job gave me the opportunity to become more adult, and the responsibility to provide for myself that came with it tempered much of the vice that would have come with the extra money.

If the people are given adequate liberty, Burke reasoned, they will not risk their valuable existing rights merely for the sake of trying to obtain total freedom from all authority. 
I think that this was the case with me growing up, though granted I didn't have much of a rebellious streak. I was given enough freedom at the right ages that I don't really remember chafing under the authority my parents still retained and exercised. This is a bit of wisdom I hope to keep in the back of my mind as my children grow older.

Son E. is turning ten in a couple weeks, after all.

Taking a Generational View

Burke's positions weren't always reflective of what was popular in his time.
The House of Commons voted down his first resolution by 270 to 78; but posterity voted with Burke.
Now, I'm not saying that Burke took a generational view. But I think he encourages us to take one. We can look at his work over the scope of his life, see where he did not compromise with what was then the majority view, but instead held fast to what he believed was true and right and good {a rare thing in politics, no?}, and that in the long run he was even proven right.

And he influenced the formation of an entire nation.

Not a small thing, hm?

His Reflections on the Revolution in France, and his later writings on that struggle, would turn against him many leaders in America--until the fierce course of the French Revolution, and then the tyranny of Napoleon, justified Burke's prophecies.
Prophets are never very popular inasmuch as they rarely say what people want to hear. But once again, we see that within a generation Burke was proven right.

It can be so tempting to hold our tongues because our view is not the same as that which belongs to the majority. And there is wisdom sometimes in remaining quiet. But, conversely, there is wisdom in speaking what we believe to be the truth, regardless of the scathing commentary it might receive.

Choosing Who and What to Read

So many books, so little time, am I right? I have found myself pondering my book stack more and more as we become pressed for time. How do we decide what to read? I myself have always erred on the side of old books, for a variety of reasons. There is only so much time in the day, and the less time we have, the pickier we must be. This is one reason why I cut back a lot on my book reviewing. It had given me the chance to read the newer books, to stay up with the trends and fads of Christian publishing, but this was always at the expense of reading the really good books.

I wrote far more bad reviews than I wrote good ones, and when I realized the books--as well as the writing ability of the authors--weren't likely to get much better anytime soon, I became very, very discriminating about which books {if any} I would accept for review.

Kirk quotes Burke as saying something that really hit me:
We are just on the verge of Darkness and one push drives us in--we shall all live, if we live long, to see the prophecy of the Dunciad fulfilled and the age of Ignorance come round once more...Is there no one to relieve the world from the curse of obscurity? No not one--I would therefore advise more to your reading the writings of those who have gone before us than our Contemporaries.
Read the words of the wise who have gone before us, and our time will be well spent.

Read More:
-Buy the book and join in the conversation
-More book club posts linked at Cindy's blog

08 May 2012

Quotables: The Roots of American Order

The Roots of American Order
by Russell Kirk
The American colonial people were eminently practical, and often suspicious of abstractions. Although most of them were religious, few of them were metaphysical. {p. 347}
[T]he leading public men of the age are influenced deeply by important books published during their own formative years. They read those books when they are young not long after the books have been published; a generation later, the opinions expressed in such books often are reflected in the actions of leading men who had studied them closely when, aged fifteen to twenty-five years, they were seeking for first principles. {p. 348}
Boldly anti-Christian, contemptuous of the Middle Ages, dedicated to speedy intellectual and social changes, developing their own dogmas of the perfectibility of man and society, the philosophes of the Enlightenment expected the swift transformation of civilization on purely rational principles--and meant to assist powerfully in that transmutation. {p. 348}
All of Montesquieu's writings were eagerly read, in youth, by man of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and drew up the Constitution of the United States; others absorbed Montesquieu's ideas at second hand through Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England. {p. 350}
[Montesquieu] possessed to the fullest that gift for brilliant generalization which is found more often among French men of letters than among any other people, a talent that Alexis de Tocqueville would apply to American in the next century. {p. 350}
[O]ne country's historic experience cannot be transported to a different land, and customs and habits cannot be altered by positive law--they can only be distorted. {p. 351}
For Montesquieu, the highest achievement of any country's law is the enlargement of personal freedom. {p. 353}
For political and civil laws are not abstractly ordained or agreed upon at any one moment in history: instead, laws slowly grow out of men's experience with one another--out of social customs and habits--as, one may add, the common law of England developed. {p. 354}
Forms of government arise out of complex combinations of circumstances and experiences; and governments are reflections of a nation's laws, rather than the source of laws...Montesquieu discerns three general patterns of government, nevertheless: the republic, the monarch, and the despotism. The republic is sustained by the citizens' virtue, the monarchy by the king's honor, and the despotism {like that of the Ottoman's} by the subjects' fear. {p. 354}
No man, and no political body or office, ought to possess unchecked power. For the sake of personal liberty and free community, power ought to be divided and hedged. Might this slow the actions of the state? Well, be it so, Montesquieu thought: freedom is better than haste. {p. 355}
Political virtue, Montesquieu had written, is eagerness to serve the commonwealth. {p. 358}
[T]he first form of human association is the little family group. To defend themselves from enemies, such groups league together, and the political state grows slowly out of their military necessity. {p. 363}
Historically considered, Hume continues, the notion of a social compact cannot be substantiated. {p. 355}
In the Constitution, as in the Declaration of Independence, there can indeed be found an idea of compact. But that idea is more nearly related to the Hebrew understanding of the Covenant than it is to Hobbes' or Locke's theories. {p. 364}
Revolutionaries of every description, Hume said, the civil magistrate justly puts on the same footing with common robbers. {p. 364}
From  Blackstone, most Americans with any interest in the law acquired their principal stock of knowledge of natural law, common law, equity, and "the chartered rights of Englishmen." {p. 368}
Then as now, English law was not codified, unlike the law of the Continental nations. {p. 369}
Blackstone was a champion of ancient precedent and long-sanctioned usage; had the little-schooled American lawyers not been restrained by him, much of enduring value in the tested English rule of law might have been lost through ignorance or hasty improvisation. {p. 370}
[A]lthough most Americans nowadays think of law as an enactment of a legislature, actually the basis of American law, still applied in countless cases, is the common law which began to develop in England nine hundred years ago. {p. 371}
All looked upon the common law as the nearest approach {however imperfect} to natural law, because it had grown out of the experiences and observations and consensus of many generations of wise men, and had been tested repeatedly for its conformity to natural justice. To Jefferson and his followers, however, the common law was suspect precisely because it was ancient; preferring modernity, they tried in vain to develop an alternative body of peculiarly American laws. {p. 371}
Burke's famous speech to the House of Commons on conciliation with the American colonies was studied in virtually every high school, as a model of political wisdom, logic, and rhetoric; editions of that address {1775} continue to appear. {p. 375}
By denying Americans their prescriptive liberties, Burke went on, the Crown must imperil the chartered rights of Englishmen. {p. 386}

07 May 2012

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

Well, good morning and welcome to another edition of Monday Musings, or whatever it is we call this. My husband and I celebrated our 11th anniversary this weekend! My folks kept the children overnight on Friday and so we not only went out to dinner...we went out to brunch! {I am still full.} It was nice.

But enough about us.

In the news these days...

  • What is Christian Integration? from Christian Integration. It is always striking to me how all brilliant educational ideas seem to have similarities to the work of Charlotte Mason.
    In this novel, Belloc relates how the character Myself decided one day to return to his home and on the way met up with three fellows. Grizzlebeard is a man who knows, accepts, and loves his identity. He is Tradition, and he brings purpose to the group. The Sailor is a lover of life, existence, beauty, song, and adventure. He brings humor, wonder, and common sense. The Poet is deeply spiritual, always looking beyond, and speaking of his elusive “own country.” Chronicling their songs, stories, and conversations, this lesser known work of Belloc’s is a remarkable study in human nature. Wilhelmsen found in these characters the three essential aspects of the human personality. Nourish these and you offer a fully human formation. Stunt these and you get a broken individual.
  • The Great California Exodus from The Wall Street Journal. Some friends recently told us they are leaving. "We're so tired of it all," they said. We will miss them, but we understand. Did you know there are places not far from where we live in which there is so much oil is actually bubbles up out of the ground?
    Of course, there are plenty of jobs to be had in energy, just not the type the new California regime wants. An estimated 25 billion barrels of oil are sitting untapped in the vast Monterey and Bakersfield shale deposits. "You see the great tragedy of California is that we have all this oil and gas, we won't use it," Mr. Kotkin says. "We have the richest farm land in the world, and we're trying to strangle it." He's referring to how water restrictions aimed at protecting the delta smelt fish are endangering Central Valley farmers.
  • The Loss of the Language of Virtue from Life, Books and Education.
    Unfortunately, this language has been completely lost in the culture at large and has virtually disappeared from the church as well. It has largely been replaced by the language of "rights". Though I don't have time to explore this fully, comparing the two approaches is quite revealing. Notice that the virtues are all about personal responsibility. They are the things that I should "do" and "be". "Rights" are all about what society or others owe me. Rights can be taken away and lost whereas virtue is independent of society and the actions of others.
  • The Downside of Cohabitating Before Marriage from The New York Times. Generally, I think that women who think that living together is a "step toward marriage" don't really understand men.
    WHEN researchers ask cohabitors these questions, partners often have different, unspoken — even unconscious — agendas. Women are more likely to view cohabitation as a step toward marriage, while men are more likely to see it as a way to test a relationship or postpone commitment, and this gender asymmetry is associated with negative interactions and lower levels of commitment even after the relationship progresses to marriage. One thing men and women do agree on, however, is that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than they are for a spouse.
  • Common Pesticide "Disturbs" the Brains of Children from Scientific American.
    As of now, however, the use of chlorpyrifos remains widespread in conventional agriculture. “Eating organic is a great idea, however, it is very expensive and out of reach for many average families,” such as the ones in this study, Rauh notes. It’s a “better idea to wash your apples. That would eliminate a whole variety of problems.”
  • Positive and Negative Pride by Doug Wilson. This article nicely sums up something I've been thinking about a lot lately.
    To focus your eyes on anything except the Lord Jesus is spiritually suicidal. If your attention is centered on yourself (whether you see a worm or a superstar is utterly beside the point) you are a priest in the cult of self-worship. A holy life will be God-centered, not self-centered. The antithesis of such holiness is the egocentric demand to be the Main Attraction.
  • Muscular Christianity by Michael Horton.
    [W]here did we get the idea that men are insecure jerks who can't learn anything or belong to the communion of saints as recipients of grace? And are we really ready to identify shallow sentimentalism with "feminization" of the church? Do godly women want this any more than men?
  • Communion on the Moon by Eric Metaxes.
    The background to the story is that Aldrin was an elder at his Presbyterian Church in Texas during this period in his life, and knowing that he would soon be doing something unprecedented in human history, he felt he should mark the occasion somehow, and he asked his pastor to help him. And so the pastor consecrated a communion wafer and a small vial of communion wine. And Buzz Aldrin took them with him out of the Earth’s orbit and on to the surface of the moon. 
Wow! That was quite a list! I hope you enjoy all the links. Have a great Monday, folks!

03 May 2012

Book Club: The Roots of American Order
Chapter 9

I am officially a chapter behind the other participants, from what I can tell, but I'm plugging away nonetheless. This is truly a great book, and I have decided that, unless something else comes along over the years, we'll use it as a spine for Government in high school. It just seems ideal to use it that way.

There were a couple things that stuck out to me in chapter 9, the first being characteristics of the American gentleman, and the second being Jonathan Edward's comments on the affections.

The American Gentleman

I found the qualities of what Kirk called "the American gentleman" to be fascinating. The idea is that we still have an aristocracy here in America, but it isn't an artificial one, inherited by unqualified characters. Instead, it is the natural aristocracy which occurs when we compare one man with another. As Kirk said,
The Roots of American Order
by Russell Kirk
[O]ne man is not as good as another, and a society without sound social distinctions is a miserable society, and a republic requires leaders with a sense of honor.
The gentleman, then, was the best sort of man. He was the embodiment of the ideal, in many ways. I decided I'd draw up a bullet list of his qualities, and share them later with my son:

  • Good breeding: good and tasteful manners
  • Honorable: would not lie or cheat
  • Valorous: would not flee before enemies
  • Dutiful: would serve as a representative of his king or country as required
  • Charitable: good steward of his wealth, using it for the common good
  • Not prideful: especially about his inheritance, if he has one
  • Diligent student: at the university level (meaning uncommon achievement, I think)
  • Knowledge of laws: studied the law
  • Rides his horse well: What would be the modern equivalent of this, do you think?
  • Accepts public office: if given to him (it has always been interesting to me how many of the Founders seemed to serve their country out of duty rather than desire--a far cry from the modern politician!)
  • Severe but just: judged meditatively, but acted swiftly when the matter was clear
  • Prepared: used peacetime to prepare for war (didn't waste his time, prepared well for the future)
  • Known: his generosity, his dress, and his companions are remarkable
  • Courteous: well mannered, flexible, truly generous in attitude toward others
The concept of the gentleman is not dead, but I would hardly call it a goal that most families work toward with their sons!
"The word 'gentleman' has a positive and limited signification. it means one elevated above the mass of society by his birth, manners, attainments, character and social condition. As no civilized society can exist without these social differences, nothing is gained by denying the use of the term.

Jonathan Edwards on the Affections

My husband and I were in a conversation with some others about sin awhile back. In the conversation, sin was characterized as chocolate cake. So the line of reasoning was that the desire for the cake is overpowering before salvation, but after salvation, we are free from our bondage to said chocolate cake {which is bad for us}, and we can deny its power over us and go eat our vegetables {which are good for us}.

Or something.

In the context of the conversation, it all made perfect sense, and yet I couldn't help myself. If you've been reading here very long, you can probably guess how I felt about this.

I said that I think that it is more this way. Before we are Christians, sin appears to be chocolate cake, promising us the fulfillment of our desires. But then we eat it, and it's nothing but sawdust. It looked like a great thing, but it really wasn't. Once we are saved, we begin to be sanctified, and as this process continues, our affections are ordered. We begin to see things accurately, as if the wool has come away from our eyes. Suddenly, sin looks exactly like the pile of sawdust {or worse than that!} that it is.

And Goodness? Beauty? Virtue?

Turns out those things are the chocolate cake we've always wanted. And not just a Betty Crocker cake mix from a box! No. They are the best chocolate cake.


With the best frosting, I might add.

Lots of it.

I believe that over time we can grow to love what is good and pure and true and beautiful and virtuous. All the good stuff can become chocolate cake for us, because God is making all things new, including us.

All of this is to say that I loved this quote from Edwards:
True religion in a great measure consists in holy affections. A love of divine things, for the beauty and sweetness of their moral excellency, is the spring of all holy affections.

Read More:
-Buy the book and join in the conversation
-More book club posts linked at Cindy's blog

02 May 2012

Quotables: The Roots of American Order

The Roots of American Order
by Russell Kirk
[T]he Thirteen Colonies, only of minor significance in England's growing political and mercantile ascendancy throughout the world, were left to their own devices ordinarily. Accustomed from the first to virtual autonomy, the colonists developed their character as a people and their social institutions under England's protection, but without England's express direction. {p. 303}
[N]early all the permanent settlers began as relatively or absolutely poor emigrants... Economic advantage, rather than political freedom, was their first object. Freedom, nevertheless, grew out of Britain's "salutary neglect" of those hardscrabble territories. {p. 304}
To the challenge of the harsh environment, they responded courageously: American health and longevity soon exceeded English health and longevity. Their birth-rate became phenomenal, higher than any rate ever before attained by any European people...The life of the large majority of Americans remained austere...and even the upper classes usually worked hard and rarely accumulated fortunes that would have made much show in Britain. {p. 304}
The first black slaves were sold to Virginians in 1619...Thus began the troubling paradox of chattel slavery in a land politically free was England, and in most ways closer to social equality than any European country of those times. {p. 305}
[The] ready availability of land worked against the growth of cities, or even of large towns...The individual farm and the hamlet became the common patter of early American society. {p. 306}
Full civil liberty, even-handed justice, and broad toleration are the exception, rather than the rule, in human societies...Colonial American needs to be judged by it successes, rather than its failures, in these concerns. {p. 309}
[T]he colonial society was neither a particularly harsh nor a particularly violent society, in the light of seventeenth and eighteenth-century practice...[T]he desire to live by the rule of law was genuine. {p. 309}
until George III's reign, the British government did not attempt to impose taxes upon the Americans. {p. 311}
[N}early all parsons came out to the colonies from England. {No clergymen were ordained in American, and few young Americans studied in England with the hope of being ordained.} {p. 312}
Democracy in American was made possible by the growth of a colonial aristocracy. That is not really a paradox, for {as Solon knew, and Aristotle} no democracy can achieve much, or even survive long, without a body of able leaders. {p. 312}
"Few men will deny that there is a natural aristocracy of virtues and talents in every nation and in every part, in every city and village." --John Adams {p. 312}
Talent tends to join itself to property, and out of that union comes aristocracy, which tends to perpetuate itself. {p. 313}
"By natural aristocracy, in general, may be understood those superiorities of influence in society which grow out of the constitution of human nature. By artificial aristocracy, those inequalities of right and superiorities of influence which are created and established by civil laws." --John Adams {p. 315}
The American gentlemen, like the common people of the colonies, desired no superimposed artificial aristocracy. {p. 315}
[T]he colonists were suspicious of political abstractions. {p. 316}
"I am an aristocrat: I love liberty, I hate equality." --John Randolph {p. 318}
"The word 'gentleman' has a positive and limited signification. It means one elevated above the mass of society by his birth, manners, attainments, character and social condition. As no civilized society can exist without these social differences, nothing is gained by denying the use of the term." --James Fenimore Cooper {p. 322}
[O]ne man is not as good as another, and a society without sound social distinctions is a miserable society, and a republic requires leaders with a sense of honor. {p. 323}
Parliament left the Thirteen Colonies so much to their own contrivances that when the Revolution was at hand, the Patriots would argue that only the king, and never the British Parliament, had any claim to sovereignty over North America. {p. 323}
"Those Viriginians who helped draft the Federal Constitution had lived under a quasi-federal system in colonial Virginia. They had seen the advantages of strongly-fortified local positions during conflicts with the king's representatives at Williamsburg."--Charles Sydnor {p. 328}
[T]he county tended to be the basic unit of government in the southern colonies and later in those states strongly influenced by the states of the southern seaboard. {p. 328}
Anti-Christian feeling was one of the forces that would explode in Paris in 1789, and thereafter would sweep across other European nations. Men must believe in something more than themselves; and if the Christian churches seemed whited sepulchres, men would seek another form of faith. So it was that during the first half of the eighteenth century, in England and America, the mode of thought called Deism made inroads upon the Christianity of the Apostles' Creed. {p. 337}
Deism was an outgrowth of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century scientific speculation. {p. 338}
For the Christian, the object of life was to know God and enjoy Him forever; for the Deist, the object of life was private happiness. {p. 337}
Although [the] aim [of John Wesley and his friends] was the ordering of souls, rather than the ordering of the state, one effect of their preaching in Britain and American was to avert in those countries the rise of a kind of pseudo-religion of fanatic politics, which would occur in France near the end of the eighteenth century. {p. 339}
"You can't turn back the clock," we are told. Yet [Jonathan] Edwards did just that...The New England mind, which had been sliding into Deism, returned under Edwards' guidance to its old Puritan cast. {p. 340}
Virtue is the beauty of moral qualities, in harmony with the being of God. Goodness consists in subjugation of one's own will to God's good-will. {p. 341}
[I]t was not in "Nature's God" that the American people generally believe, by the end of the colonial period: they believed in Jonathan Edwards' absolute God, the source of all goodness, the being of beings. {p. 343}
American Christianity said little of angels, and neglected the calendar of saints, preferring the direct relationship of the individual to the Lord. {P. 344}

01 May 2012

Aesop as Context for Matthew 7:15-23

My favorite class in graduate school was hermeneutics, which concerns itself with the proper interpretation of Scripture. One of the foundational principles for hermeneutics is that a passage must be interpreted in light of its context. First, the passage as a whole must be explored. The passage is its own context, in many ways. We start with wholes, not with parts. It is so important to get the flow of the passage in its entirety, and understand the relation of each part to the whole. Next, consider its direct context {what comes immediately before and after}, and then the context of the whole book of the Bible in which it appears, and finally the context of all of Scripture.

We used to laughingly say that a text without a context is merely a pretext.

Historical or cultural contexts {among other contexts} may also be enlisted, but they are not the primary means of interpreting Scripture, though in some circumstances {I think specifically here of some nebulous passages in Revelation}, a knowledge of geography and history and culture is almost the only way to make sense of what is said.

These were the rules back when I was in school. I hear things are a little different now, and I highly doubt that is a good thing.

But I digress.

Isolating Verses from the Passage

Matthew 7:21-23 is one of those passages often preached out of context:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’
There is a larger context than these three verses. In fact, I wouldn't call it context because these three verses are not the entire passage.

There is some debate concerning of what the entire passage does consist. Some believe it begins at verse 13, where Jesus is discussing the narrow and wide gates. Others believe that it begins at verse 15, where Jesus is warning against false prophets. Most of the Bibles I own break each passage into its own section, and there seems to be a consensus among them that verse 15 is the beginning {and 23 the end, by the way}. so that is how I'll treat it today.

The reason it is dangerous to isolate verses 21-23 is that this usually causes Christians to doubt their salvation, and with it the efficacy of Christ's work upon the Cross. Now, granted, I do agree that if one does not wish to follow Christ, he does not follow Christ. We all know the lukewarm are spit out of the mouth. So, there is a place to look inward a bit and judge our own fruit.

But that is not the lesson of this passage, and if we interpret the passage that way, we miss the lesson.

If we want to navel-gaze, we need to go elsewhere.

What Does the Entire Passage Tell Us?

The passage begins with "beware of false prophets." We must consider the entire passage in light of this introductory phrase. We are given a metaphor, in order to better understand false prophet: they are wolves which get in amongst the sheep by dressing up in sheep skin. {This is a direct reference to Aesop's The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, but we will come back to that.}

Obviously, if the wolf looks identical to the sheep, we need some guidance on how to discern what is wolf and what is sheep. We are given another metaphor for this purpose: examine the fruit. Bad fruit comes from bad trees, and good fruit comes from good trees. We will know them {not ourselves, but the false prophets} by their fruit.

Please note that I'm not saying you can't know yourself by your own fruit. That is one possible application of the principles found in the passage. But there is a difference between an application and an interpretation. We must interpret first, and apply second. The interpretation is that we can beware of false prophets by looking at their fruit, we can protect ourselves {or the flock} by being wary of self-proclaimed prophets who bear bad fruit.

The next section, then, is the famous passage from above, the "Lord, Lord," verses. This is where the false prophets receive the just compensation for their actions. They say, "Didn't we prophesy in Your name? Didn't we perform miracles in your name? Doesn't this mean we belong to your kingdom?" And the Lord answers in the negative.

Not all prophets are true prophets. False prophets do not belong to the kingdom, regardless of whose name they claim to come in.

So suddenly, the usual application is turned upon its head. Instead of being written to shake up the herd and cause them doubt over whether they are a sheep or not, or whether they will get into the kingdom, they are assured of final justice. These false prophets who, like wolves, have stolen and destroyed sheep and disrupted the flock? God will take care of them in the end. They will reap what they have sown.

Parallels with Aesop

Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
by Milo Winter
What makes me so sure that this is an entire passage is its perfect parallelism with Aesop. It is said that Aesop lived around 500 years before Christ. His fables were so powerful, they were the first principle of the progymnasmata writing and rhetoric curriculum, which we know was formalized as early as 100 BC. Because Aesop was utilized not only to instruct in wisdom, but to teach writing and storytelling, and because almost every student would have had to retell Aesop's fables, we can safely assume that this idea of a wolf in sheep's clothing had slipped into the culture and provided a frame for discourse for at least 150 years, if not half a millenia, before Christ said these words.

Please realize that He was taking a universally known cultural story, and applying it those who would hurt His sheep.

Aesop's tale of The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing has two parts. In the first part, the wolf has trouble getting any sheep to eat because the shepherds are so good at protecting them. The wolf's problems are solved when he discovers a discarded sheepskin and puts it on. Almost immediately, he manages to snag a sheep for lunch. This is the fist half.

The second half takes an interesting turn. In this half, one of the shepherds decides that he's in the mood for mutton broth for dinner, and heads out to the flock. He grabs the first sheep he finds...which just happens to be the wolf. The wolf becomes soup, not unlike the fool of Proverbs, who falls into his own pit.

Depending on your version of Aesop, you will have different morals attached {the morals were added much later}. One is: Appearances are deceptive. The other is: The evildoer often comes to harm through his own deceit. {There may be others, of which I am unaware.}

Jesus recasts the wolves as false prophets, and instructs His followers in how to pull the sheepskin off {look at the fruit}.

In the first half, Jesus covers deceptive appearances, and in the second half he covers the harm that comes to the evildoer in the end, as a result of his own choices and actions.

Just like Aesop.

Remember, this was a popular and known story, and Jesus was making clever use of it.

In Light of the Direct Context

I have neither the time nor the desire to think about this passage in light of the greater contexts of the whole book and the whole Bible {at least not today}. But I do find the direct context interesting.

Before this passage, Jesus explains the concepts of the narrow and wide gates. Only few find the narrow gate, and it opens into the way of life. The broad gate and the broad road lead to destruction. It is right after this that He launches into the "beware of false prophets" monologue, which begs the question {in my mind, at least} or whether or not false prophets are those who are trying to lead the sheep out of the narrow way and onto the broad path.

We see this sort of thing all along Christian's journey in The Pilgrim's Progress. Flatterer specifically comes to mind, for he appears in a deceptive form and actually manages to lead Christian and Hopeful out of the Way for a time.

After this passage, Jesus discusses where to build a house--on sand or rock. The rock is the firm foundation, while the sand shifts in the slightest storm. Hearing and doing Christ's words is akin to building one's house upon the rock. Hearing His words and not doing them is akin to building upon the sand.

Previously, I took this in a general sense {i.e., hearing and doing all of Christ's words}. But, given the context of the warning against false prophets, I do wonder if it isn't more that one who judges rightly between true and false prophets is the one who builds upon the rock, while the one who listens to falsehood is the one who builds upon the sand.

Reading in context is always more interesting than reading in isolation, that is for sure!

My point, though, is that in instances like this, responsible hermeneutics are imperative. We miss the entire lesson about false prophets when we isolate a few verses from the whole, and unnecessarily cast doubt among God's people as a result. The point is not that one should look within and hope and pray that on that Final Day when we cry, "Lord! Lord" we will hear the great "well done" rather than "depart from Me." The point is, rather, that we must be careful who we listen to, that we must not only test their words with the Scriptures as the faithful Bereans did, but that we must also look at the fruit of their lives.

Beware the wolves, my friends. That is the focus of the passage.

Interested in Basic Hermeneutics?
-my hermeneutics professor published a basic book called Playing with Fire
-another option is How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth
{my children will have to read both of these before I grant them a diploma}