It Takes Grace

Antony said to Poemen, “Our great work is to lay the blame for our sins upon ourselves before God, and to expect to be tempted to our last breath.” (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 15:2).

Humility provides us with two essentials in the spiritual life: personal accountability (vs. blaming others) and the awareness that Satan will never give up trying to defeat us. Both elements keep the ego in its place, and both require grace to achieve them.

Love Wins



I recently read a history of American agriculture and I liked the following paragraph so much I decided to share it here.  Discussing the differences between the large factory farms of today and the traditional family farm, the author wrote:

Such huge operations do not match nostalgic memories of family farms, where livestock played an indispensible role.  Then, the ties between animals and family members were close, in a sense personal.  Cows had names.  Chickens flocked around the wife who scattered the cracked corn.  Against all expert advice, local farmers in my boyhood community insisted on keeping roosters for the pleasure of the hens and thus sold fertilized eggs and, in some cases, would eat no other.  After a year, hogs that had been lovingly fed and cared for faced a necessary slaughter.  But in my community no one would do what was best for the meat–stun a hog, hang it by its hind legs, and cut the jugular artery in the throat to let the beating heart effectively remove the blood.  That seemed too cruel.  Instead they shot the hog in the head to minimize its suffering, and only then slit the throat.  In my home, my sister and I cried when we heard the shots, and my father could not bring himself to do the shooting.  He hired someone to do it.  It is this type of farming on a small, human scale that many people identify with the true “family farm.”  They see it as more a way of life than just a means to gain profits, or as a form of artful engagement, rather than a job. 

Paul Conkin, A Revolution Down on the Farm, p. 152.


Love Wins


Babies are born and babies grow up.

Yesterday we celebrated the birth of our first-born, 22 years ago.  Now he’s on the verge of graduating college.  All grown up.  It honestly seems to have flashed by.  It was great to be able to spend part of the day with him yesterday.

Then last evening, after I locked the chickens up for the night and was heading back toward the house, I heard a goat kid crying and a lot of fuss from our guard dog Joey.  Suspecting he’d gone a little nuts again, I went out to the pasture to find that our nanny Missy had kidded and Joey was keeping her away from the kid.  I wish I knew why that dog gets his wires crossed like that sometime.  Cherie and I managed to get the mama and her kid (a little doeling we’ve named Jennifer) to a barn stall and away from Joey.  When I checked on everyone later Joey was laying in the hay fast asleep.  Most of the time he’s completely indifferent to the birth of kids.  But sometimes he gets freaky.  If we take him away coyotes will eat the kids so for now we’ll just have to continue keeping a close eye on things during kidding season. 

Farm life.

Love Wins

Presidential Christmas

I’ve mentioned before how it frustrates and annoys me to receive forwarded emails filled with lies about politicians.  I often get these kind of emails from good people who just choose to shut down their brains when the subject is some politician they dislike.  In that case they’re not only willing to believe just about any lie, no matter how outrageous, but they even feel the need to forward the nonsense along to all their friends, to help spread it.

I’ve received emails saying President Obama is a Muslim, is not an American citizen, is cancelling the National Day of Prayer and similar assorted baloney.  Last week I got an email saying that President Obama has forbidden the use of the words “Christmas tree” and requires instead that the National Christmas tree be called a “holiday tree.”

Please y’all, if you get an email like this, check out the facts to make sure it’s true before sending it off to all your friends.  If the email is false, respond to it and tell the person who sent it that it isn’t true.  This is the only way we’ll be able to stop the kind of foolishness.

For the record, here are President Obama’s remarks at this year’s lighting of the National CHRISTMAS tree:

THE PRESIDENT:  It’s nice having your own band.  Please have a seat, everyone.  Merry Christmas!  Merry Christmas!

        Thank you, Secretary Salazar, for that introduction and for your hard work to preserve and protect our land and our water and our wildlife.  I also want to thank Minister Rogers for the beautiful invocation, as well as Neil Mulholland and everyone at the National Park Foundation and the National Park Service who helped put this outstanding event together.  I’d like to thank Carson Daly and Big Time Rush, and all of tonight’s performers for joining us to kick off the holiday season here at the White House.

For 89 years, Presidents and Americans have come together to light the National Christmas Tree. And this year is a special one. This year, we have a brand new tree. The last one stood here for more than 30 years — until we lost it in a storm earlier this year. But we all know that this tradition is much larger than any single tree. And tonight, once again, we gather here not simply to light some decorations, but to honor a story that lights the world.

More than 2,000 years ago, a child was born to two faithful travelers
who could find rest only in a stable, among the cattle and the sheep. But this was not just any child. Christ’s birth made the angels rejoice and attracted shepherds and kings from afar. He was a manifestation of God’s love for us. And He grew up to become a leader with a servant’s heart who taught us a message as simple as it is powerful: that we should love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

That teaching has come to encircle the globe. It has endured for
generations. And today, it lies at the heart of my Christian faith and that of millions of Americans. No matter who we are, or where we come from, or how we worship, it’s a message that can unite all of us on this holiday season.

So long as the gifts and the parties are happening, it’s important for us
to keep in mind the central message of this season, and keep Christ’s words not only in our thoughts, but also in our deeds. In this season of hope, let’s help those who need it most –- the homeless, the hungry, the sick and shut in. In this season of plenty, let’s reach out to those who struggle to find work or provide for their families. In this season of generosity, let’s give thanks and honor to our troops and our veterans, and their families who’ve sacrificed so much for us. And let’s welcome all those who are happily coming home. (Applause.)

And this holiday season, let us reaffirm our commitment
to each other, as family members, as neighbors, as Americans, regardless of our color or creed or faith. Let us remember that we are one, and we are a family.

So on behalf of Malia and Sasha and Michelle and our grandmother-in-chief, Marian — (laughter) — I wish you all the happiest holiday season, the merriest of Christmases.  God bless you all, and may God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

        And with that, I’m going to invite the entire Obama clan up here to light the Christmas tree.  I need some help, and there’s a lot of technical aspects to this.  (Laughter.)  Come on, guys.  (Applause.)  All right.  

        Okay, we’re going to start counting down here.  We’ve got the switch right here.

        MRS. OBAMA:  All right, come on.

        THE PRESIDENT:  Everybody ready?  And this is the new tree.  I know it’s not quite as big as the old tree, but it’s going to take time to grow.  But we’re going to fill it up with some  spirit and start a new tradition right now.

        All right, everybody ready?  We’re going to start counting down.  Five, four, three, two, one — (applause.)  There you go.  That’s a good-looking tree.  Thank you, everyone.

Love Wins


The Marshmallow Test

I recently heard about a study that seems to confirm the importance of self control.  Australian researchers offered a children a marshmallow, telling them they could eat it immediately or wait a few minutes.  If they waited, they’d get a second marshmallow. 

The researchers then left the room and observed the children’s behavior on camera.

As would be expected, some just ate the marshmallow.   Some tried to wait, but couldn’t resist long enough.    Some put the marshmallow aside and diverted their attention to other things until the researchers returned with a second marshmallow.

Years later the researchers followed up on how the kids in the experiment had done in life.  They found that those who were able to excercise self control and resist eating the marshmallow immediately had been more successful in school and had more stable, happy lives.

Unsurprising, but interesting to know this kind of research supports the fundamental truth that it is important to exercise some self control.

Since self control seems so rare in our society these days, and the absence of self-control is so harmful to our society, we can only wish there were more kids out there who would wait for the second marshmallow.

Love Wins


The following is a letter to the editor Wendell Berry wrote in response to an article advocating a shorter work week.  I hope y’all will take a few minutes to read it.

From Utne:  This article is printed here courtesy of The Progressive, where it originally appeared as a letter to the editor in response to the article Less Work, More Life.

The Progressive, in the September issue, both in Matthew Rothschild’s “Editor’s Note” and in the article by John de Graaf (“Less Work, More Life”), offers “less work” and a 30-hour workweek as needs that are as indisputable as the need to eat.

Though I would support the idea of a 30-hour workweek in some circumstances, I see nothing absolute or indisputable about it. It can be proposed as a universal need only after abandonment of any respect for vocation and the replacement of discourse by slogans.

It is true that the industrialization of virtually all forms of production and service has filled the world with “jobs” that are meaningless, demeaning, and boring—as well as inherently destructive. I don’t think there is a good argument for the existence of such work, and I wish for its elimination, but even its reduction calls for economic changes not yet defined, let alone advocated, by the “left” or the “right.” Neither side, so far as I know, has produced a reliable distinction between good work and bad work. To shorten the “official workweek” while consenting to the continuation of bad work is not much of a solution.

The old and honorable idea of “vocation” is simply that we each are called, by God, or by our gifts, or by our preference, to a kind of good work for which we are particularly fitted. Implicit in this idea is the evidently startling possibility that we might work willingly, and that there is no necessary contradiction between work and happiness or satisfaction.

Only in the absence of any viable idea of vocation or good work can one make the distinction implied in such phrases as “less work, more life” or “work-life balance,” as if one commutes daily from life here to work there.

But aren’t we living even when we are most miserably and harmfully at work?

And isn’t that exactly why we object (when we do object) to bad work?

And if you are called to music or farming or carpentry or healing, if you make your living by your calling, if you use your skills well and to a good purpose and therefore are happy or satisfied in your work, why should you necessarily do less of it?

More important, why should you think of your life as distinct from it?

And why should you not be affronted by some official decree that you should do less of it?

A useful discourse on the subject of work would raise a number of questions that Mr. de Graaf has neglected to ask:

What work are we talking about?

Did you choose your work, or are you doing it under compulsion as the way to earn money?

How much of your intelligence, your affection, your skill, and your pride is employed in your work?

Do you respect the product or the service that is the result of your work?

For whom do you work: a manager, a boss, or yourself?

What are the ecological and social costs of your work?

If such questions are not asked, then we have no way of seeing or proceeding beyond the assumptions of Mr. de Graaf and his work-life experts: that all work is bad work; that all workers are unhappily and even helplessly dependent on employers; that work and life are irreconcilable; and that the only solution to bad work is to shorten the workweek and thus divide the badness among more people.

I don’t think anybody can honorably object to the proposition, in theory, that it is better “to reduce hours rather than lay off workers.” But this raises the likelihood of reduced income and therefore of less “life.” As a remedy for this, Mr. de Graaf can offer only “unemployment benefits,” one of the industrial economy’s more fragile “safety nets.”

And what are people going to do with the “more life” that is understood to be the result of “less work”? Mr. de Graaf says that they “will exercise more, sleep more, garden more, spend more time with friends and family, and drive less.” This happy vision descends from the proposition, popular not so long ago, that in the spare time gained by the purchase of “labor-saving devices,” people would patronize libraries, museums, and symphony orchestras.

But what if the liberated workers drive more?

What if they recreate themselves with off-road vehicles, fast motorboats, fast food, computer games, television, electronic “communication,” and the various genres of pornography?

Well, that’ll be “life,” supposedly, and anything beats work.

Mr. de Graaf makes the further doubtful assumption that work is a static quantity, dependably available, and divisible into dependably sufficient portions. This supposes that one of the purposes of the industrial economy is to provide employment to workers. On the contrary, one of the purposes of this economy has always been to transform independent farmers, shopkeepers, and tradespeople into employees, and then to use the employees as cheaply as possible, and then to replace them as soon as possible with technological substitutes.

So there could be fewer working hours to divide, more workers among whom to divide them, and fewer unemployment benefits to take up the slack.

On the other hand, there is a lot of work needing to be done—ecosystem and watershed restoration, improved transportation networks, healthier and safer food production, soil conservation, etc.—that nobody yet is willing to pay for. Sooner or later, such work will have to be done.

We may end up working longer workdays in order not to “live,” but to survive.

Wendell Berry
Port Royal, Kentucky

Love Wins

A beautiful day

It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon as I write this.  Taking a short break for lunch (eggplant casserole, mustard greens and fried potatoes with onions and peppers–all from the farm) and a blog entry.

The big news of the morning is the addition of 7 new hens that I bought from a neighbor.  They’re black leghorns, which make great layers but are flighty and hard to keep calm.  Right now they’re cooling out in the henhouse.  I’ll open the door on their cage tonight and hopefully within a day or so they’ll be acclimated to the their new digs.  Of course we can’t hatch or brood chicks in the winter so these birds are young hens who have just started laying.  We’re happy to have them in the family, to replace the hens who were killed earlier this fall by stray hunting dogs.

I spent the morning in the woods sorta deer hunting.  I wasn’t really serious about it and didn’t try to shoot at the two I saw.  I love seeing the sunrise through the woods.  I was also fortunate to see blue birds, bluejays and a beautiful cardinal.

I also checked on all our goats and found them doing well.  That’s Nellie in the photo, enjoying the morning.  She’s the alpha nanny on our farm and she seems to appreciate the role.

Time to head back out into a beautiful day.  Feeling blessed to be able to experience it.

Love Wins