Category Archives: Reflections

cattle on new feed

Speaking the Truth in Love

Our Lord commanded his followers to, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). If you believe in Jesus Christ, and you are a member of his Body through baptism, then you have been given a great gift that you have been called to “give away,” to share with those in your life who do not know Christ or his Church.

There are many reasons, however, that we might hesitate to share this great gift, and one of the reasons is the challenge of discerning the how and when of “speaking the truth in love” (cf. Eph 4:18). This is what I believe Pope Francis demonstrated recently in his conversation with an atheist.

Allow me to digress just a bit to my farm. Jesus said to “preach the gospel to the whole creation,” and I feel this includes being a good steward of His creation. St. Paul had an amazing insight concerning the salvation of creation:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:19-23)

We are united with the creation around us in our groaning for the final fulfillment of the gospel, when all of us together will be free from the results of sin—our sin. And I particularly know this whenever our livestock start mooing for me to act on my God-given responsibility to feed them.

With Fall in full color and winter far-too-quickly approaching, the grass in our pastures is no longer replenishing itself fast enough to provide sustainable nourishment for our cattle. So, we are faced with switching them to a combination of hay and a non-GMO feed.

Right now we have whittled our herd down to six cattle: a 3-year-old Jersey who is dry now but due to calve in the Spring; two 2-year-old Angus cattle that are scheduled for a “long vacation in the freezer”; and three young Angus calves. I’ve detailed our herd to illustrate the difficulty in determining the correct balance of hay and feed to provide for them on pasture so that each of them gets their fair share. The pregnant adult milk cow needs a slightly different combination than the two adult Angus cows facing “the freezer” and the three young calves. Placing all the feed in one large trough is probably the easiest (and will probably be what I do), but unless I’m there to manage their etiquette, I can’t be sure whether the adults have controlled themselves or instead scarfed down too much, leaving the calves with too little. Ideally, I could separate them into “need” groups, and feed each accordingly, but real life makes this unlikely. So, I will probably give them the once-a-day bulk feeding, but keep a daily eye on them—especially the youngest heifer calf. She’s underweight and may need special attention. And when the Jersey gives birth, the calf and we will be sharing the daily milking duties, so the mom will need a different special feed. All of this to illustrate the symbiotic relationship between caring for and feeding our livestock.

I fully realize that most of you could care less about the conundrums of cattle feeding (and any farmers reading this know that I’ve yet to get a handle on it), but I mention this to illustrate the conundrums of evangelism. Like the mix of my herd, we are surrounded by a mix of people—of different ages, intellect, education, interest, and psychology—but we are called by Christ to reach out to each of them with the truth of the gospel.

Some think that this means dropping one canned gospel message on everyone, one condensed set of “spiritual laws,” that everyone must, therefore, accept and believe “for the sake of their salvation.” But this is what truth looks like without love.

Evangelism means “speaking the truth with love” (cf. Eph 4:1). Shoving the truth down people’s throats without befriending them first in love is “proselytizing.” Showering them with love without ever telling them about the truth of Christ, about their need to seek first His kingdom, is enabling their attachments to this world, enabling their potential destruction. It doesn’t answer the groaning call within their hearts for redemption. But by befriending them first in love we learn how much of the truth they can handle and how soon. Through love we learn what they must hear immediately, “for the sake of their salvation,” and also what we can or must hold back for now, until sufficient love has worn a passage through their mountains of resistance. And usually in the process, the first mountains that need to fall are those in our own hard hearts, the mountains of pride, fear, ignorance, and sin.

If I get tired of feeding our livestock, they will die of malnutrition. If we refuse to share our faith with those God has put into our lives, they may die spiritually; it may be that God placed us providentially in their lives to be His witness to them, and just as God doesn’t force us to love Him, He doesn’t force us to love others.

It also might be that we ourselves might be starving spiritually because we have refused to give our faith away. In the Philokalia, a book of reflections by Eastern Orthodox mystics and monks, one such writer warns of the great sin of self-esteem. He prescribes that the only cure from the sin of self-esteem is to leave the privacy of one’s cell and care for the poor. The only way to cure ourselves of the dead road of self-centeredness is to give ourselves away by “speaking the truth in love.”

I believe all of this summarizes what Pope Francis has been trying to communicate ever since he accepted the high and very visible office of “servant of servants”, seeking to imitate and model the Saint whose name he bravely chose—and this is particularly illustrated in his conversation with an atheist. Through the love of friendship, he gave only the mix that he discerned his interviewer was ready to receive, and this involved confronting the interviewer’s misconception that “conversion” is equivalent to “proselytization.” After quickly correcting this, he proceeded forward with just the right mix of love and truth.

This morning was the first day I put the new feed mix out for the cattle, and earlier this evening I went out to see whether they had discovered the new treat and eaten their fill. The trough was empty, and like most of the evangelistic efforts of the Church, our responsibility is to broadcast the truth far and wide. We are not responsible for how anyone responds, and frankly we usually don’t even know if anyone is listening, but through the love of friendship—always the first step of true evangelism—we can learn how much they have heard, and discern, through patience and prayer, how next to “speak the truth in love.”

fall photo of house

St Thomas on the Rural life (or, Why Farm?)

Whether our neighbors, coworkers, financial advisors, or all the pundits on the evening news call it this, we are all by design striving for the “good life.” God created us to seek happiness. And though this is programed into our soul to draw us toward Him (Pascal), the soup of cultural voices we swim in may distract us from this ultimate and blessed quest. And what some of us think of as the “good life” may not be “good” after all.

So what is the “good life” and how does one or should one define this? How does one attain it? Let me begin by casting aside any aspersions: there are far sharper knives in the drawer than me for this task, but given my butter-knife mentality, let me take a stab at pointing to why I (and actually St. Thomas Aquinas) believe that the rural life may be the safest haven today to attain the “good life,” particularly for souls with as weak self-discipline as me. I believe most of us fail to experience the “good life”, because we live too blindly in the soup of ease, complacency, and imitation goodness.

My family and I certainly love our rural life in the woods. Admittedly, we didn’t arrive here as the result of great wisdom, but more the result of inheritance. And it ain’t all a bed of roses. From my back porch I can easily identify dozens of tasks that need to be started let alone completed, before winter sets in. And just because it’s nice here and potentially less cluttered by distracting voices doesn’t mean that one can not attain the “good life” in the city.

So how does one aim toward attaining the “good life”? Is there any valid argument that the best place to seek and find the “good life” is in a rural setting? Or, maybe to state it boldly, why farm?

What I will share is from a book whose title boldly proclaims, “The Importance of the Rural Life,” by George Speltz, a priest of the Diocese of Winona, who built his argument “According to the Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas.”  This was his PhD dissertation for the Catholic University of America, originally published in 1944, and it sat gathering dust on seldom-perused library shelves until it was recently reissued by St. Pius X Press.

There is much in this book, and it’s well worth reading from beginning to end, but the following is a selective summary of St. Thomas’ argument in favor of the rural life and the dignified life and exalted work of the husbandman, i.e., farmer:

 1: “According to the Angelic Doctor the ‘good life’ involves other values besides the spiritual. … Man, he affirms, is composed of body as well as of soul. Accordingly, anything that helps to conserve the life of man represents a good for him. … Even though [Man] be virtuous he can yet suffer evil through the lack of bodily goods; and having fallen into this evil he will be sorrowful” (pg 2). 

Therefore, the “good life (happiness) is not only a betterment of the soul, but of body and soul, the whole person. Stoics and Gnostics, and many modern Christians, emphasize only the soul, but one cannot have a happy soul (grow in holiness) if the needs of the body are not being met.

2: “An adequate provision of material goods is necessary for the practice of virtue.” Consequently, “St. Thomas does not regard it as unbecoming for man to work with the material goods of this earth in order that they may serve the purpose for which they were created—human needs—as perfectly as possible” (3-4).

Spending many hours each day, therefore, getting our hands dirty until our muscles ache is a good thing, as long as end of our work is good.

3: “St. Thomas insures against an overemphasis of bodily goods by calling them ‘Instrumental.’ … In practice, however, modern man has become inordinately preoccupied with them” (pg. 4). 

All material goods in this world are instrumental means to the ends for which they were created. Material goods are not ends in themselves. However, in our sinfulness, we human beings “become inordinately preoccupied with them” as ends for which we dedicate our time, talents, and money to accumulate.

4: “The Thomistic synthesis provides against this disorder by pegging material goods into a fixed place within the hierarchy of man’s need. This is achieved in part, by relegating them as means to an end that is outside and above them, to an end that is fixed and capable of controlling them… [Material] goods that pertain to the conservation of an individual, i.e., those that are immediately ordered to a fundamental need of the body, as food and drink, are called goods of the body (bonum cporporis); those that are not ordered in a general way to human needs, fall into the class of external goods (bonum exterius). Such are riches (divitiae). Of these two classes of material goods, those called ‘bodily goods’ are the higher because necessary for the practice of virtue” (pg. 5). 

Not all material goods are equal instruments because the ends for which they were created are not equal: the highest goods, of course, are those which unite us with God (”divine goods”); the second highest are those that nurture our soul; the third highest are “bodily goods” which provide the needs of the body (food, drink, clothing, shelter), which enable us to reach for the higher goods; and the lowest are the rest, external goods: they do not naturally unite us with God, nurture our soul, or provide for our bodily needs. God can certainly use anything by grace to bring us to Him, but this is out of the ordinary, and we must beware of using this as an excuse for accumulating material goods.

5: “The amount of [bodily goods] necessary for the practice of virtue, and consequently for the good life, is strictly limited, a truth emphasized both by Aristotle and by Aquinas. On the other hand, external goods, namely riches, inasmuch as they are ordered only in a general manner to human needs, are not regarded as essential for ‘an act of virtue.’ Since riches are sought for their power to procure other things rather than for the direct satisfaction of some bodily need, they easily come to be desired inordinately.  … As a result of this inordinate desire for riches man is unduly preoccupied with the quest for material goods, failing to realize, as St. Thomas points out, that riches are the least among human goods” (pg. 5,6).

Comparing “bodily goods” with “exterior goods,” bodily goods are self-regulating, whereas exterior goods are not: normally we can only eat just so much, wear just so many clothes, and need only so much shelter. A person can determine how much he needs to eat in a day, a week, a month, and a year, and plan, procure, and store this. A person can also determine what kind of clothes she needs to meet the demands of the climate in which she lives, and plan, procure, and store this. And a person can determine how much he needs to shelter himself and his family, then build, and maintain it. Certainly our concupiscence can lead us to crave more food, clothing, and shelter than we need, like the man in the Gospels who tore down his old barns to build new ones, but still we always can compare what we have, or want to have, to what we really need.

With the lesser “exterior goods,” however, there is no inherent need, so essentially anything at all is over and above what we “need”. Certainly God has created and allowed these external goods for our enjoyment, but our concupiscence can convince us we “need” these things—to keep up with the Jones, or sustain our reputation in the community or state of life, or just because we have more than enough money to provide for our bodily needs. With no obvious need level, there is no limit to the amount of material goods we can justify for ourselves. We can become so attached to them that we become convinced we cannot live without them!

6: “Guided by this scale of values, St. Thomas gives an eminent place in the hierarchy of human activities to the life of the husbandman [i.e, farmer], whose work is ordered to the procuring of bodily goods for the immediate use of the household. … As a corollary of their teaching on the secondary place of external goods, both Aristotle and Aquinas warned against the practice of trading. Because of the latent greed in men, those who traded might easily fall into the practice of trading for the purpose merely of amassing external goods. Such trading would be directed to the unnatural and limitless end of amassing money, ever more money” (pg. 6,7)

Contrary to our modern culture’s view, Aquinas ranked the husbandman one of the highest occupations in the community of man, comparable to a teacher or doctor. Aquinas considered the work of the husbandman “noble in its purpose, namely, to provide the necessities of life” (16-17), which are needed for the nourishment of the soul leading to union with God. Most other occupations focus on producing, trading, or selling “external goods” that have no inherent eternal need or purpose. This does not mean these lesser things are evil or these occupations, for the technology to produce them are gifts of God’s creation, but as lesser goods with no inherent limitation, they can be desired inordinately.

7: “Since the need of any one household for natural wealth, such as food and clothing, is limited, so also the activity of the husbandman, as long as it was directed to the procuring of the bodily goods and not of eternal goods primarily, was proportionately limited and tended less to become inordinate. It was comparatively easy in the agrarian way of life advocated by Aristotle and Aquinas, for the people to retain a true evaluation of bodily goods, as opposed to external goods, the former having a fixed relation to the needs of the various households” (pg. 6).

In other words, when families lived in a rural setting, in small communities, where generally everyone was content with producing sufficient bodily goods, a farmer’s work and life were also, therefore, naturally limited. Though farm work was hard and physically demanding, he knew when his work was done. He could relax contented once he had done all that he needed to do that day to provide bodily needs for his family. As long as they lived untouched by the obsession of the outside world for lesser material goods, the simple contented farm family lived happy and content with the food, drink, clothing, shelter, and spiritual enrichment of their local parish.

But when the simplicity of the rural farm family was shattered by the lure of the city, when farm children were lured away to work in factories, or to train in colleges for leadership roles in those factories, or trading houses, or investment firms, not for the procurement of more bodily goods or spiritual enrichment, but for “wealth and what it could buy,” their lives became limitlessly driven. Or, as the post-World War 1 song taunted, “How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paris!”

And even the natural limits of bodily goods became shattered, for today, when does one ever have enough specialty foods, designer clothing, suburban sprawl homes, electronics, cars, toys, books, CDs, DVDs, games, and money? When can anyone sit back and relax content that they have produced and accumulated all the material goods they will ever need? When have we reached our “number” to know we have invested enough in our 401Ks to provide all the material goods we will need to keep us “in the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed” until we die—which today is being extended longer and longer!

8: And one last thing, though St. Thomas has much, much more! “The husbandman uses his rational faculties to direct the organic and non-organic forces of nature to the production of new things (pg. 17). … The agricultural worker is distinguished from his fellow manual laborers in this, that it is given to him to participate in this cooperation with God in a unique way. … The non-agricultural worker, on the other hand, even though he does impart greater utility and beauty to the things of earth, yet he cannot really be said to be making the earth bring forth new basic materials. This is the task of the husbandman. When he acts as an instrumental cause in God’s hands, he releases a host of natural, organic causes. He taps the fonts of productivity which God has placed in things. … The art of husbandry, which produces the fruits of the earth in cooperation with an interior principle of nature, namely, its organic powers, therefore shares in some way the dignity of the arts of teaching and medicine, and exceeds in dignity the art of carpentry” (pg. 53-55).

The farmer uniquely taps directly into the creative energies that God instilled into His Creation to provide for the bodily goods of his family, his community, and the world. When he grows vegetables or raises cattle, he is cooperating with God’s creative grace; the farmer is not doing anything but helping God’s Creation provide the food, drink, clothing, and shelter that God had already empowered His creation to produce. And though the technologies that underly all other occupations at their core emerge from the gifts that God planted in His creation, yet the use of these technologies to produce lesser material goods are not always a natural cooperation with God’s Creation, using these technologies for their intended ends. The technology to build a computer chip is a gift of God, but the Third-world factory workers in a sweat shop producing smartphones for the affluent in first-world nations are not doing anything connected to a natural process in Creation, nor are they producing anything that meets their bodily needs, nor is their work in anyway naturally limited: they will work as long as their employer demands—as many hours and days as he demands, to produce as many products as he deems necessary to produce the money he believes he needs—so they can scratch enough money to hopefully provide for the bodily needs for their families, to say nothing of any spiritual enrichment.

The problem is that we live in a culture that places its highest values on the production and lust of the lesser material goods; even the “poor” are defined by our government, not for their lack of boldly needs, but for their inability to procure the lesser material goods that our culture considers their rights in our civilized state.

Ironically, our culture has become obsessed with providing insured health care for every single person, so that everyone can live as long as possible—so they can have more time to grow in holiness and eventual union with God, or even to enjoy as long as possible a simple life contented with the basic bodily needs? No, so they can enjoy and have more and more of the lesser external goods, which have no natural limits, in full-service condominium communities with full-time nursing services near golf courses with paved pathways for their medicare financed Hover-Rounds. Lord, help us.

We live in a culture, an entire world that has it all bass ackwards. We reward and honor those who dedicate their entire lives to producing, promoting, and getting rich on the lesser materials goods of this world, all of which remain in the “box” when the lid is closed on this life (another blog). Yet we look askance at those who have chosen the simple rural life, who have dedicated their lives to providing for their families those things that are most essential.

The problem is that these values of our culture have so infiltrated every aspect of our lives, that even those dedicated to providing the basic bodily needs of our world—food, clothing, shelter, and even spiritual enrichment—are encouraged to do so primarily to accumulate more and more money, not to provide the top three levels of goodness, but to fill their lives with lesser material things. Farmers now use thousands of dollars of high-tech equipment to farm thousands of acres to provide high-yield (but often low nutrition) crops to make sufficient profit to, not only provide the food, drink, clothing, and shelter their family needs, but the external goods they deem necessary to consider themselves as progressive as the city dwellers they see portrayed on network television.

And the worst of it all is that, though you can read this and freely reflect upon it to decide whether any of this is true and applicable to your lives, I’m actually publishing this on my blog and not living it! Lord, help me!

Please pray for me, and I’ll ask Him to bless you as we consider together the reasons that we labor and the things for which we labor, and how much of this is far, far more than our bodily needs, and too often a hindrance to the enrichment of our souls and union with God.

me walking on farm

Sometimes Why is not Why

Admittedly, my interest in devoting too much of my time and energy to this “farm” has waxed and wained. I fully realize that I’m not a natural farmer, and not having grown up on a farm or around farmers is an insurmountable weakness. The FFA kids that I, as a city dweller, used to lampoon growing up have more usable knowledge about farming and living in the country in their little fingers than I will ever gain in this short life. Mea Culpa! The constant message I receive from the Communion of Saints, whenever I pray for assistance with some farm task, is “don’t give up your day job.”

plu under door

And besides, there is no place more fertile for the infestation of Murphy’s Law than the farm! Certainly we all have experienced the occasional demoralizing taunts of Murphy’s Law: carrying an armload of shirts, and a hanger always grabs a doorknob; carrying an armload of groceries in your left arm and your car keys are in your left pants pocket; moving the sweeper around the house, and the plug catches under a chair leg; the list goes on endlessly.

Well, on the farm, the list increases exponentially, at least for me, in direct proportion to the number of ambitious chores I plan: every big task requires at least three trips to Tractor Supply or Lowes; if I need a Phillips screwdriver, I can only find Flatheads (and vice versa); every plug on every piece of equipment always catches something along the way; I’m all set to cut a cord of wood and the gas can is empty; and generally I always need a third hand to get anything done when I’m alone on the back acres.

For awhile I wondered whether these demoralizing interruptions were demonic (Is this happening only to me?!!!), or were they angelic messengers from God trying to tell me I had misheard God’s call (not “farming”, but “framing”: He intended for me to work in a photo shop!).

In time, though, I think I’ve come to understand Murphy’s Law. It’s very much an active strategy of God’s desire to purge us from attitudes that prevent us from being fruitful (i.e., John 15:2). As the Author wrote in Hebrews, “the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives’” (Heb 12:7).

Now whenever I need a hammer out in the barn and realize that it’s at the house 200 yards away, or bump my 6’4” high head for the thousandth time on the 5’10” rafters in our 100 year-old sheep barn, or I can’t read the minute ingredients on a feedbag because I forgot to wear my bifocals, or I get my tractor immovably bound up on a hidden stump in the weeds, I just smile and know that this is all a sign that God loves me, and only wants me to grow in humility.

All this to say, though, that there have been many “signs” questioning whether I should or should not devote too much of my time, talents, energy, and resources to this farm.

As it became more and more obvious that our youngest son was not a “traditional learner” and probably not college bound, the question rose whether we could interest him in learning, developing, and maybe one day taking over the farm. At 16, he seemed interested, so together we decided to prepare our acreage so we could rotationally graze cattle. He and I spend several months mowing and cleaning up about 12 acres, and then dividing the acres into paddocks, each with access to water, using temporary electric fencing.

paddocks

Then with great excitement we bought six Angus-Hereford mix feeder calves, all of this, to explore whether this might be the “calling” of our youngest son.

Together, we learned what needed to be done on a daily basis to care for and move the cattle from one paddock to the next. We learned that we had become, not cattle farmers, but grass farmers: we were using the cattle to mow our fields. As the first winter approached, when other small farmers were taking their well-fed feeder calves to market, we decided together to keep them for the winter, as the start of our grass-fed herd! So, this required stocking up a barn full of hay. In the mean time, we had added to our herd a young Jersey cow, named Anastasia, and so we were back into milking daily—all of this, to explore whether this might be the “calling” of our youngest son.

gardenDuring the winter the rotational schedule ceased, but in the spring, the rotations returned, and in time we were gifted with three calves. Also, in the spring, we added 16 chickens to our menagerie, blessing us with range-fed eggs. Then, after distributing a load of our personally cultured cow manure, we planted an 80×20 garden, which flourished! All of this, to explore whether this might be the “calling” of our youngest son.

But what became mostly clear over the winter and the spring was that this was not, as far as we could tell, our youngest son’s “calling.” The onset of Murphy’s Law in his life whenever he came out to help on the farm was far more serious that mere spiritual discipline: it was downright dangerous, even life threatening. As they say, the farm is the most dangerous place in America for children (at least it used to be). It also became obvious, that he was far more hungry for social interaction and a job out with people than for the solitary self-contented life of modern small farming.

In time, the cattle became my primary chore, and my wife and I shared responsibilities for the milking, the chickens, and the garden. My son would help, if push came to shove, but it was not where his heart was, nor, frankly, his gifts. (UPDATE: I must note with joy that my son has been a great help to his Aunt down the road harvesting apples. He sometimes picks three bushels a day!)

So now winter is upon us, and I have to decide what to do with this herd of cattle. It’s hardly worth keeping a herd because it’s nearly impossible to break even at the auction barn, and if I really have no one to help, it’s hard to do my “day job” which often requires traveling.

r & me fencingSo why did God call us to expend all this time, talent, energy, and money (!) on this cattle venture? Just to test whether our youngest son was being called to become a farmer? Or maybe to see whether I had it in me to be a cattle (grass) farmer? I think it’s all akin to those experiences with Murphy’s Law. The times my son and I were out together working on fences, chasing cattle between paddocks, cleaning up fallen trees, splitting wood, stacking hay, laughing at the human expressions on the cows faces or in their moos, riding out in a storm looking for a lost calf, shoveling manure into a pile and then transferring it to our garden, repairing the chicken house, all of this was what it was about. If I focused on whether I was a profitable cattle farmer or whether our test was successful in making our son a farmer, I might conclude it was all a failure. But when I think of the experiences we have had together doing it, and continue to have, a father, a mother, and our youngest son, I can only smile and know that God loves us.

Sometimes why is not why.

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 10.21.21 AM

You’ve Got to be Kidding!

I heard something one morning last week on network news that left me flabbergasted!

Certainly there are far more important issues out there, covered masterfully by Bloggers who are “far sharper knives in the drawer” than I am. But I almost spilled my coffee in my lap when I heard what I heard.

There has been a common thread running through all of my blog posts: To what extent have we, as a culture and as individuals, become so enticed by and attached to our modern industrial, technological, progressive culture that we have become like “frogs in the pot” and blinded to how this has pulled us away from God? Have we grown to accept thousands of things as “normal” in our lives today that fifty years ago we never dreamed we’d have let alone become dependent upon. Has this changed us? Irretrievably?

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m hardly a Luddite! My life and our farm are overflowing with all the latest technologies. As the Catechism teaches, “Science and technology are precious resources when placed at the service of man and promote his integral development for the benefit of all” (2293). All of our technologies are built upon gifts within Creation that God placed there for our betterment. But, as the Catechism also teaches:

“By themselves, however, they cannot disclose the meaning of existence and of human progress. Science and technology are ordered to man, from whom they take their origin and development; hence they find in the person and in his moral values both evidence of their purpose and awareness of their limits” (2293).

The question is: Are we carefully aware of “their purpose and … limits” or blindly accepting every advancement that is placed before us for our assistance, entertainment, or absorption?

So what did I hear that was so “shocking”?

I stumbled downstairs, made coffee, and turned on the tube. The NBC Today show came on: not by choice, but because the technology had been left on that channel. There before me I had the privilege of seeing, what was being touted as an historic first: Ann Curry was interviewing the new President of Iran who was speaking out for the first time in 8 years! There he was seated in his traditional Islamic dress and across was seated Ann Curry in a black pants suit, but with her head covered with a white traditional Burqa! The head covering made sense as a respectful gesture, but the pants suit?!

Anyway, she began asking admittedly important, even confrontational questions about his plans for renewal as the new Iranian President, including his attitudes toward Israel and nuclear arms: Did he share the views of his predecessor? Did he also believe that the Holocaust was a hoax? Was he also out to exterminate Israel?

After these questions, and the optimistically positive answers from the President, she then turned to what appeared to be the most telling of her questions. This was the climax of her interview: Would he stop the government’s previous policies of censorship and allow more freedom and civil rights for his people? In summary, he answered “Yes,” essentially that the government needed to stay out of the private lives of their citizens.

Great! But then her ultimate and final question (at least as presented by NBC news). I waited “on the edge of my seat” to hear what this might be, and she asked with a look of intense deliberation: “Does that mean that you will allow your people free access to Facebook and Twitter?”

What?! I don’t remember what the President answered. My eyes had glazed over. I think he may have said something like “Yes,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was as stunned by this absurd question as I was. With all the issues of civil rights and individual freedom under attack in the world, the one “right” that has become the most tell-tale mark of progress, at least from an American perspective, is whether these people, most of whom still carry on the simply traditions of their forefathers, have free access to social networking.

Lord, help us. As I wrote in my last blog post,  ”Do you have a place in your life where you can “shut the door” away from the entanglements and enticements of modern technology, or are we so entangled that we can’t even imagine life anymore without them?”

Or as Scripture teaches, “Professing to be wise, they became fools” (Rom 1:22).

I’ll just end with these further thoughts form the Catechism: (1723)

The beatitude we are promised confronts us with decisive moral choices. It invites us to purify our hearts of bad instincts and to seek the love of God above all else. It teaches us that true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement – however beneficial it may be – such as science, technology, and art, or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love.

 

me milking

Why Milk?

Some may wonder why anyone would waste time milking a cow every morning and evening, seven days a week, twelve months a year, when one can easily go down to the local convenience store and buy all the milk, butter, cheese, and yogurt one could possibly want? Good question. I suppose I have asked myself that question many times, especially when I’m out at 6 am, at 5 below zero, trying to locate our Jersey’s teats through the mist of my breath.

Now, I could give a very idealistic and philosophical answer, but it’s really more simply answered by recognizing that, over the past 200-years especially, with the advent of every modern convenience, choices needed to be made as to whether doing something the old way was better or more satisfying or more time consuming, etc., than the new way. One doesn’t need to look very far, however, to see that, as beneficial and necessary as modern conveniences might seen, something is always lost in the move towards saving time, energy, and effort.

peter at piano

Peter at the keyboard.

It used to be that to enjoy music in the home or community, people needed to take music lessons. Millions of people could play the piano, or the accordion, violin, flute, harmonica, guitar, and even tuba. Almost every community had a band or orchestra. Sunday afternoons were spent playing in or listening to the local band, or sitting around the fire playing in the family ensemble, or sitting at the keyboard enjoying Bach, Chopin, or Beethoven. But with the advent of radio, movies, television, records, tapes, CD’s, videos, MP3s, iTunes, Garageband, etc., the number of people who play their own music has drastically dwindled. Why go to all the effort to learn how to play it ourselves when it is cheaper, less time consuming, and maybe even more relaxing to just sit back with headphones and listen to our favorite downloaded MP3?

Why learn to carve wood when anything can be bought at the local China-outlet department store? Why paint with oils and brush, or draw with straight edge and pencil, when one can do it all with Computer Aided Graphics—or with your finger on an iPad?

Why walk when one can ride or even fly? Why read when one can listen or view or even take part virtually through computer? Why sew, darn, mend, or knit when everything we could possibly need to wear can be bought for pittance around the corner?

Most of what we know about the lives of people in the past came from their diaries, but who keeps diaries anymore when every “important” event of our lives is shared with the world instantaneously on social media?

The list goes on and on. I guess the answer lies in how we choose to use and focus our time, energies, and efforts. I truly do not think, nor am I advocating, that everyone ought to return to milking their own cow, woodcarving, playing piano, or walking to work. But I am advocating what so many others have tried to tell us: that as a society we have lost something essential when we so easily justify moving on to quicker, easier, and less self-energy consuming activities.

Marilyn and lamb

Marilyn & lamb.

Over the last three days I milked the cow six times, which also involved feeding and watering the animals, I helped birth a baby goat, I made cheddar cheese, butter, buttermilk pancakes, cottage cheese, and ricotta cheese. I also enjoyed several very brisk and crisp morning walks in our woods out to the barn, I spoke often to our six sheep, Jersey cow and calf, two cats, two dogs, momma and kid goats, and our 2 chickens, and while sitting there milking, I had lots of time to pray, ponder, and grow in the virtue of patience.

For you see, the main thing we have lost as a society and as individuals, as we have unapologetically accepted the modernist belief in progress and all of its affects, is our ability to slow down, to wait on the Lord, and to listen quietly.

UPDATE:

richard an cattle

Richard communing with our cattle.

Well, I wrote the above 13 years ago, and frankly, my muscles ache just to think what I was able to do back then! That wonderful Jersey cow, named Kristina, has long since passed on to that big pasture in the sky, and our new Jersey, named Anastasia, is dried up until her next calving. Since those sheep, our pastures have seen an assortment of other critters, and now we’re down to a half-dozen angus cattle. We’re back up to 16 chickens, though, giving us a dozen or more eggs a day, and who knows how many cats and dogs we have at any given moment.

The main thing, though, is how little I myself have listened to my own words these past 13 years. Just think about how far and fast, in just this past decade, our world has descended down the modernist progressive path. How, as a culture, we are even less able to slow down, wait on the Lord, and listen quietly. How, as a culture, the freed up time, talents, and energy we have reaped from our unexamined addiction to every new technology has, instead, been redirected into such meaningless, time-consuming activities, and too often into unanticipated, often immoral choices and lifestyles. And the entanglements we have brought upon ourselves, and our families, are almost impossible to break. Just think about how much money most of us spend every month on entertainment and communication services, that 25 years ago we never even imagined having, let alone financing. Of course, for most of us, the impact of these expenditures are assuaged because we’ve set them up as automatic withdrawals—we don’t even need to expend time, energy, and effort in paying for our entanglements!

And there is something particularly significant in all this: A year ago, after a ten year hiatus, our family began milking again. We had purchased a new Jersey cow, and I quickly discovered how, even after a few weeks practice, I could not physically milk her anymore like I used to! Not just because of the beginning signs of arthritis, but because my muscles have lost their edge.

Ever try to use any of the everyday tools of yesteryear? Ever try to cut down a tree with a two-man crosscut saw rather than a chainsaw? Ever try to dig a ditch with a shovel rather than a backhoe? Ever try to go back handwriting a diary after only using a computer for 10+ years? It’s nearly impossible to go back because the necessary muscles have either atrophied or never developed at all. I believe this is also true for the spiritual, emotional, and mental muscles of our culture. Generally, when we try to simplify our lives, we give up quickly, because it requires far more effort than we’re either willing or able to give.

Consider this provocative quote:

“A brute animal cannot form an idea of a table because the idea is spiritual whereas an animal is material and nothing else. Therefore, as often as a man makes a table, a chair, a barn, or anything else, he is acting in a way that proclaims him to be more than a brute animal. He is exercising that faculty which, because it distinguishes him from a beast, is more important than his body. As a maker of things, man functions spiritually and materially. Consequently, for the ordinary man to use things continually that have been made by a machine, or to work mechanically at a task that requires no exercise of his spiritual faculty, is to deaden that faculty and to make him less a man in the very thing which proclaims him to be a man and not a beast. This point looms large in a consideration of modern industrialism.”

This statement was written by a Catholic priest in 1940 in a book entitled Rural Roads to Security (pg.54), warning about the encroaching effects of industrialism. I wonder what he would say if he could visit us today 70 years later? Does this at least partially explain why the new “moralities” of our culture are more indicative of “brute animals”?

richard in filed

So what’s the answer? Well, that’s personal, of course, and given my previous 13-year record, I’m hardly the one to give advice. But I think at least one answer can be found somewhere in our efforts to break free, so that we can once again—or maybe for the first time in ours lives—slow down, wait on the Lord, and listen to Him quietly.

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:7).

Do you have a place in your life where you can “shut the door” away from the entanglements and enticements of modern technology, or are we so entangled that we can’t even imagine life anymore without them?