February has it's good points, like, for example, people get together each year in Tully New York (not far from where I live) and harvest ice, kind of like they did in the old days. I think that's cool.
But my February has been perfectly dreadful, for the exact same reason it was dreadful last year, and the year before. It is the month when I focus on getting my tax information from the previous year organized and all the numbers added up so I can hand it off to a professional tax preparer. And then he will tell me that I must write a check for a lot of money, payable to the government.
My little home business, Whizbang Books, is not nearly as little as it once was. And my workshop, roughly the size of a two-car garage, is, figuratively speaking, bursting at the seams with all kinds of Whizbang stuff. Sales from my home business have, by the grace of God, doubled each year for the last couple of years. It is not easy money. I work hard for it. And then the government demands a surprising amount of it. They say we have a tax system of “voluntary compliance.” That’s a fine example of oxymoronic doublespeak. Tax time is dreadful, and it never fails to put me in a foul mood.
Joe Stack, of Austin Texas had enough of the government plundering his hard-earned money. and he intentionally flew his airplane into an IRS office this last month. That was quite a few steps beyond just a “foul mood.”
I’ve heard radio commentators say that Mr. Stack was “crazy.” Well, I read his last words, condensed into a 6-page online diatribe, and I don’t think the man was crazy. I think he was a regular guy pushed to desperation by a combination of economic downturn, financial loss, and standard bureaucratic terrorism from the IRS.
Ten years ago, I worked one year as an assistant teacher in a public school vocational program. The job paid $12,000. I had three children and my wife did not work outside our home. Trying to support a family on that income gave me a whole new perspective. The good part was that I didn’t pay any income taxes that year. Fact is, I got a refund that was more than my employer deducted from my paychecks. In other words, the government gave me money I didn’t earn. I think this happens a lot. I don’t think it is right.
I have heard it said that only about 50% of Americans pay income taxes in this country. It has occurred to me that if the other 50% (the lower income class) were told they had to pay income taxes too (or else!), individual acts of violence against the IRS would escalate significantly. And I suspect the government knows this.
The way it looks to me, the fundamental problem with Joe Stack was that he placed way too much hope and trust in the accumulation of money and his own material success. Then, as his financial resources were ravaged by the government and the recent economic decline, his hope turned to hopelessness. When men have no hope, they are prone to despair. Men without hope have nothing to live for. In some instances, men without hope, will turn to acts of desperation. The word “desperate” is defined as, “reckless or violent because of despair.” That was Joe Stack.
I dare say, Joe Stack was just a typical American man who had placed his hope in the material things of this world. Then, when those things were taken away, he was unable to deal with the new reality he faced. Clearly, the man was not a Christian, at least not as defined by the Bible. If he was, his hope in himself and his finances would have been supplanted by the assurance and acceptance of God’s sovereignty and providence. The hope and faith of Christians does not rest on any human wisdom or institution.
Which brings to mind the familiar words of that old Edward Mote (1797-1874) hymn, My Hope is Built:
My hope is built on nothing less,
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
Christians are called to work (six days a week, according to the Fourth Commandment), and money is a necessity, but we are not called to material prosperity. In fact, we are called to the opposite—to eschew materialism. The accumulation of riches is clearly looked upon as a stumbling block to piety. (see my past essay titled, A Missive on the Prosperity-Driven Life, for more discussion on the subject of Christianity and prosperity).
The world is full of people who cling to worldly, materialistic, man-centered hopes that will, ultimately, fail them. Joe Stack was just one recent and especially sad example.
Sightings in February....
... Any thirteen-year-old blogger who describes himself as a “homeschooled, Libertarian, Christian, Confederate, Agrarian, farmer, country boy,” and who is working on a “5 Year Farm Plan” deserves a mention here. It’s my pleasure to recommend to you The Blog of Graham Donahue.
... And it’s also my pleasure to announce that Granny Miller is Back.
If you are a George Washington admirer, as I am, be sure to read Granny’s recent blog titled, Love, Sex & George Washington, in which she states: ”At 26 years of age George Washington was almost 6’3”, rich, handsome, built like Adonis and was a complete Babe Magnet – he was the strong and silent type.”
... David Farley is worship leader at the IHOP in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. No, not the International House of Pancakes— the International House of Prayer. I am particularly fond of his song titled “All Orange,” which might fall under the category of mellow, worshipful folk music. If that sounds like something you’d like to hear, go to This MySpace Music Link and click on the free song, All Orange
... I see the Bartlett family up in North Dakota now has a Bartlett Farm web site. Very nice.
An Unusual Expression of AffectionAs you well know, there is a day in February dedicated to giving expressions of affection to those we love. We are conditioned from our earliest days of government schooling to celebrate this holiday (at least, I was). Merchandizers crank out all kinds of heart-shaped boxes of candy and so on and so forth for us to buy and give, thus fulfilling our culturally-prescribed obligations.
I sincerely dislike the holiday because I dislike being pressured to conform to the expectations of the merchandizers. Nevertheless, I dare not let the day pass without an expression of affection to my wife. ;-)
In past years, a simple bar of high-quality organic chocolate, and some heartfelt spoken words, along with a hug and a kiss, has sufficed. I am, after all, a simple man and my expressions of affection are therefore simple.
This year, however, was different. This year, my expression of affection took a turn. This year I did something really out of the ordinary. This year I presented Marlene with a bottle of gin and a box of yellow raisins.
As a rule, we are not alcohol drinkers in this family. I’ve drank precious little alcohol in my life and never to excess. Same goes for Marlene. But in recent years, our family has enjoyed some hard cider or a bottle of wine at a special dinner. And I will admit to buying and consuming vodka in various homemade herbal tinctures. That is the extent of our alcohol consumption. So, as you can see, me giving gin to my wife was an oddity.
When I went to the alcohol store, I found shelves full of different gins. I told a guy who worked there that I never bought gin before, “What’s the difference?” I asked. He replied that they were all pretty much the same. I said, “So, this gin for $50 is the same as this gin for $15?”
He said, “Yeah, pretty much.” Well, either he didn’t know what he was talking about, or he wasn’t interested in educating this unsophisticated yokel and gin ignoramus....or all gin is pretty much the same. I bought the $15 bottle.
Marlene was delighted.
She has been telling me about the medicinal wonders of gin and yellow raisins for weeks. It so happens that if you soak yellow raisins in gin, then eat 9 or 10 of them a day, any physical pain you are dealing with will go away—or so they say. Marlene suffers from bouts of back pain, thus her interest in the gin & raisin cure.
You’re probably wondering if it really works. Well, Marlene is still in the early stages of treatment. Thus far, she tells me that the raisins are very good, and it’s hard to eat just nine or ten a day.
If you, or someone you know, is dealing with body pain, you can read about gin & yellow raisins as medicine (and read many testimonials) at this link: Gin Soaked Raisins For Arthritis
Speaking of Work....
The above is yours truly this past month, working at getting Planet Whizbang wheel hoe parts ready to be powder-coat painted. I introduced my Planet Whizbang hoe design just about a year ago when I posted a free internet tutorial explaining how anyone can make their own Planet Whizbang wheel hoe. Since then, I can report that I have sold over half of my first production run of hoe parts. And, to my surprise, since I started offering painted-and-assembled units a couple months ago, they have sold fairly well.
This pleases me to no end because, out of all the Whizbang products I’ve come up with, this wheel hoe is my favorite. Properly used, it is a remarkably useful gardening tool.
On another Whizbang subject: I will be introducing a brand new Whizbang idea and product here soon. This original idea (at least, I think it’s original) solves a little problem I encountered and, in so doing, presents opportunities for numerous useful and creative applications around the homestead and in the garden. How’s that for a vague description? I will give one small hint: it involves t-posts.
I am having this new product made for me and expect to have it ready to sell in time for the growing season here in the northeast. I hope to tell you more in next month’s letter.
A Fine SnowstormFebruary 26 brought us a good ol’ Central New York State snowstorm like we haven’t had in some time. I was out before sunrise with my shovel.
Before long, Robert and James and Marlene came out to help. This is the good part about a big snowfall—we were all working together as a family to get the snow out of the driveway. The other good part is that I decided to take the day off from my job.
Enjoying WinterMy son, Robert, bought himself a 2nd-hand snowmobile this last month. Another noisy machine for me to tolerate. Marlene wanted a ride....
Then she got a lesson...
And drove off on her own...
Bluebirds in Winter
I marked the calendar on February 20th. That’s when we noticed that a bluebird couple had returned from their autumn exodus. They were flying around and into one of the bluebird houses by our garden. These birds must be as anxious for spring as I am. They eluded my attempts to photograph them, but the picture above shows one of their houses on that day. It doesn't look very inviting, does it?
The picture above shows a view across my garden plot and our property line to the east. The row of grape vines is on the line. On the other side of that, for about three hundred feet, is the section of land that we have a signed purchase offer to buy. But we have been in land limbo for the last two months. I think the holdup is due to the seller’s attorney. Some days I doubt this purchase will go through. If it does not, we will start looking for another section of land (something with more acreage) in the spring and summer.
My writings here over the past years (almost five of them) have often touched upon how the industrialization of Western culture has radically changed our way of life, and this not necessarily for the better. Along with everything else, the Christian church itself—an institution that should have stood squarely against the industrial juggernaut—has allowed itself to be shaped by industrialism’s synchronistic powers, which is to say, it has compromised and strayed from the full truth and power of its foundations. One example of this is a common modern evangelical methodology employed to save souls and gain converts.
Sadly, evangelism in our modern age has, to a large degree, been reduced to a mechanical application of tactical rhetoric. And evidence of successful results in many evangelistic outreaches is measured in numbers— how many listeners were persuaded to “accept Christ” and become reborn by simply answering a few questions properly, repeating a prayer, and/or responding to an altar call. After so doing, these new converts are assured that they have eternal salvation.
“With every head bowed and every eye closed,” the modern evangelist will, using the emphatic application of emotional and psychological pressure, often with varying degrees of theatrics, implore the unsaved to come forth.
I’ve grown up in such a form of religion and this approach to evangelism has never set well with me, especially as I’ve gotten older and seen that precious few people thus “saved” progress to deep, life-changing, lifelong faith in Jesus Christ as a result of their conversion experience. It seems that, more often than not, such decisions for Christ are only for a short season—the new convert puts his or her hands to the plow briefly and then turns back.
That is not the definition of biblical salvation, and it falls short of true Christianity. Evangelism that brings a preponderance of shallow and short-lived conversions brings only temporary glory to men and their methods, not eternal glory to God.
And so it is that I have come to question the validity of using mechanistic repeat-this-prayer-and-come-forward (or vice-versa) evangelistic methods that are verifiable by accounting or statistical analysis. Some evangelists who evangelize this way are charlatans. Most are sincere but misled; they know no other way, having been shaped and molded by the modern evangelical zeitgeist.
That is how it appears to me and I recently read an online essay titled “Decisional Regeneration” by James E. Adams that discusses these errors without mocking the genuine intent of most who cleave to them. Adams’ effort is seemingly Quixotic, but necessary and important nonetheless.
It is important because, in the wake of this kind of evangelism, there are vast numbers of people who think they are right with God and who believe they are going to spend eternity with Him just because they went through some religious motions at one point in their life. “Accepting” and confessing Christ after responding to an evangelical message does not make anyone a Christian. A Christian is someone who repents of their sins and follows Jesus Christ . To “repent” means to turn away.
In his essay, Adams explains that prior to 1820 the “old fashioned altar call” was unheard of in the Christian church. It came into vogue with the preaching of Charles Finney (that's him pictured above) in the mid-1800’s, and grew from there.
Renowned evangelists of the past, like Charles Spurgeon, George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards, never implored their listeners to come to an altar. Instead, they were urged to come to Jesus Christ. There is a subtle but significant difference, and Adams makes it clear.
The “Decisional Regeneration” essay provides an example of an invitation to Christ by Spurgeon that stands in stark, stunning contrast to the typical evangelical invitation of our day. Spurgeon calls on the listeners to come to Jesus and ask Christ to do a work in them. Then he tells them to go home trusting in Jesus.
Then there is the strong opinion of the 19th century theologian, Robert Dabney. Speaking of the disillusionment and failure of so many people misled by clever evangelists, only to fall away, Dabney writes:
”...such is the fatal process of thought through which thousands have passed; until the country is sprinkled all over with infidels, who have been made such by their own experience of spurious religious excitements. They may keep their hostility to themselves in the main; because Christianity now ‘walks in her silver slippers’: but they are not the less steeled against all saving impressions of the truth.”I respect James E. Adams’ let-us-reason-together approach to this subject and invite you to read his essay in the same spirit: Decisional Regeneration
P.S. Very closely related to this topic is the subject of “What is a Christian?” which is well answered in another online essay, this one by pastor Wayne Mack. The essay begins by presenting “six opinions commonly held about the essence of Christianity.” One such opinion is as follows:
“I know I’m a Christian because when the evangelist gave the invitation I went to the front and made a decision for Christ. My counselor showed me that if I accepted Jesus as my personal Savior, I would never be lost again. I didn’t want to be lost—hell is a terrible place—so I accepted Jesus, and I know now that no matter what happens, God will never reject me. I know it because I went to the altar and professed faith in Jesus Christ.”Pastor Mack goes on to explain why that is an erroneous belief and he then presents four biblically-based characteristics of a Christian. Here’s the link: What is a Christian?
I’ve Inherited A Dictionary
The above dictionary was bequeathed to me by my aunt last month as a birthday gift. It belonged to her father, my grandfather, Dr. Herrick C. Kimball of Fort Fairfield, Maine. It is 5-1/4” thick and weighs 15.2 pounds. Things like this dictionary are special to a grandson and I’m very glad to have it.
It is a Webster’s dictionary, dated 1909. In the beginning of the volume is a picture of Noah Webster (by the way, it appears that old Noah may have had America's first pompadour, or something close to it.):
The story of Webster’s dictionary is told on the page after his picture. It so happens that Webster spent more than two decades of his life compiling his dictionary, and it was first published in 1828.
Why would he compile such a book? According to the dictionary itself it was “intended for the aid of the self-taught man from his childhood to the end of his life.” Further along it states: “What greater help to the self-education of a people than a dictionary...”
Self-education was a big thing back then. It's how most people in early America got their education. They took responsibility for their own learning. There were no mandatory government schools for children in those days. Yet, as I understand it, the literacy rate at that time was remarkably high.
Columbia University professor Lawrence Cremin, author of the book American Education: The Colonial Experience, concluded from his research that that literacy among adult white males was 70 to 100 percent in Colonial America versus 48 to 74 percent in England.
So, we were a nation of farmers, but not ignorant farmers.
Webster was a devout Christian and this comes through loud and clear in his original 1828 dictionary. In the preface, he wrote the following:
In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government ought to be instructed.... No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.I happen to own an old Webster’s Original, though it is an 1895 copy. I bought it at an Auction back in the 1980’s.
As you can see, it has just a little mouse damage. I only paid a dollar for it. Here’s part of Webster’s Original definition for the word, hope:
”confidence in a future event; the highest degree of well-founded expectation of good; such as a hope founded on God’s gracious promises.... A well-founded scriptural hope is, in our religion, the source of ineffable happiness.”The word, Christian, is defined in part as:
”A real disciple of Christ, one who believes in the truth of the Christian religion, and studies to follow the example, and obey the precepts, of Christ; a believer in Christ who is characterized by real piety.”And under the word, love, in Webster’s Original we find this:
”The love of God is the first duty of man, and this springs from just views of his attributes or excellences of character, which afford the highest delight to the sanctified heart. Esteem and reverence constitute ingredients in this affection, and a fear of offending him is its inseparable effect.”Well, you sure don’t find definitions like that in the dictionary these days, unless you buy a copy of this 1828 reprint.
The fall harvest season is when most food on our little homestead gets canned. But here in the middle of winter, Marlene canned a few batches of beans. She says winter is an ideal time to can beans because there is more time to get the job done. She cans the beans with a pressure canner as explained in the Ball Blue Book.
The picture above shows kidney beans on the left, garbanzo beans in the middle, and black beans on the right. The kidney and black beans were homegrown. Once canned, these fiber-and-nutrition-packed beans are fully cooked and ready to use in soups, chili, hummus, and salads.
Most recently, Marlene made a barley and black bean salad with cilantro, lime, olive oil, garlic, and onion. It was divine.
Jax Hamlin, Chicken Artist, UpdateAs mentioned in last month’s blog, I am in the beginning stages of what I hope will be a lifelong and satisfying career as a whimsical chicken artist. But my art will not be my own, so to speak. It will be attributed to the fictitious personage of my neighbor and friend, “Jax” Hamlin, who is a far more interesting and talented person than me.
For example, Mr. Hamlin’s middle name is Xyster (how's that for interesting?)—a word that is in my grandfather’s dictionary, and he would certainly have been familiar with it.
I feel perfectly comfortable with this duplicitous (but innocent and harmless) artistic arrangement because, after all, we artists must follow our muse, which marches to the beat of a different drummer, don’t ya know?
And I do want to say a big thank you to those readers who offered words of encouragement to this budding chicken artist last month...both of us.
That said, here is another example of Jax Hamlin’s artwork from February, 2010:
See you next month....