Saturday, March 24, 2007

Rather Be Free

This past week has been kind of hard for me. I'm not sure if there is any one thing, or even a combination of things I can point to - it was just hard.

It is during times like this I can feel the weight of going against the flow, of choosing the path less traveled as Robert Frost would put it. Pursuing agrarianism in a corporate world can feel lonely. It is also during times like this that I can fully feel the accumulation of my 51 years (soon to be 52 next month). I am not a young buck anymore, and sometimes I wonder if all this unsettledness, this talk of moving, of change, of farm living is really worth it all.

It is also at times like this that I really need to remind myself why we even began this conversation, this journey. And so, today I remind myself of one of our goals: to be free.

One of the analogies repeated in Scripture is Freedom vs. Slavery. God delivered His people out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Christ came to set us free from the bondage of sin and Satan. "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." God wants His people to be free. "For you were called to freedom," we are told in Galatians. This makes it all the sadder that so many of us voluntarily choose bondage.

How many of us enter bondage with our eyes open? Many of us just didn't know any better. Perhaps we have never been taught any different. We were just following the examples of many others that have gone on before us. In what ways do we enter bondage? I can find three different ways in Scripture.

Spiritual Bondage
The first way, of course, is bondage to sin. Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin." But thanks be to God that through Jesus Christ we can be freed from sin and become slaves of righteousness. Most Christians are aware of this kind of bondage and realize that once we have repented of our sin and trusted in Christ for forgiveness, we are to no longer offer the members of our body as slaves to sin. And so by God's grace and power we offer ourselves as slaves to righteousness.

Financial Bondage
The second way we enter bondage, is through the door of debt. Many Christians have, I think, only a partial understanding of this form of bondage. "The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower becomes the lender’s slave." Thanks to the ministry of groups like Crown Financial Ministries, many Christians are being encouraged to get out of credit card debt and car payment debt and are experiencing a greater level of financial freedom than ever before. But when I went through their classes, I was taught an exception to this rule. It was alright to borrow for an appreciating asset. In other words, it was OK to go into debt to buy something like land or a home - mortgages were OK.

But is it? I realize that in a culture where everyone is working corporate jobs and living in homes on small lots, there may seem to be no alternative. I know when we built our home, we followed the advice of our local lender and borrowed the limit allowed by my current income. The accepted wisdom was that my salary would increase in time and that the mortgage would become more easily affordable each year.

But God's word is not nullified just because our house is worth more than our mortgage. We are the lender's slave. We choose to enter a form of bondage for the convenience, because it makes things easier. The worst thing is that we signed up for a 30 year mortgage, which means that I would be making payments past my 70th birthday. (Boy doesn't that make me feel old!)

I see this agrarian model, of working the land, of having enough to pass along to one's sons (I'm not beginning a discussion on inheritance rights here - I only have sons), as making this goal of starting a home debt free possible. It was a joy to visit the home of Dan and Sheri Salatin of Polyface Farm. A home Dan and his dad built together, using wood sawn on their own portable mill, on family land, and all debt free.

Occupational Bondage
I see the third way of entering bondage is working for someone else. We have forgotten that a man's goal used to be to "make his own way in the world." The idea was to get your own land, to build your own house, to learn a trade, to set up your own shop. The idea of working for someone else was a temporary setup, either as an apprentice to get necessary training, or until one could afford to get their own place. To always be working for someone else was to remain in perpetual adolescence. The goal was always to be the head of your own family and of your own business or farm. How far we have come from that simple idea. I think part of the problem is that most Christians don't even consider this to be a form of bondage.

And yet, at times we do get glimpses of this truth. How many sermons have we heard on Galatians 6:5ff, "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ." And each time the application is made to those who are employed by others. It is interesting that in Ephesians we have no difficulty seeing the Employer/Employee relationship in terms of Master/Slave, but when we turn to 1 Corinthians we can be sloth to make the same connection. I think we have become so accustomed to the changes brought on by the industrial revolution that we don't even see what's happened to us. We are like the fish in the water that don't even realize that they are wet.

Rather Be Free
We are reminded in 1 Corinthians that sometimes we cannot help being a slave. Those who were already slaves when they became Christians are reminded that they are the Lord's freedman, in Christ they are truly free. And those who were free when they became Christians are to remind themselves that they are Christ's slave. Whether slave or free we are all one in Christ Jesus. We are not to lose sight of the main point - we belong to Christ. So in that sense, it doesn't really matter whether we are free or not. And so we need to be careful about looking down at others, or even down at ourselves because of the station we find ourselves in.

In 1 Corinthians 7:21, God asks, "Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it;..." However, the verse doesn't end there. Before I give in to a contented apathy and get snug and comfortable in my bondage and say, "I'm just not going to worry about it." God continues the verse by saying, "but if you are able also to become free, rather do that."

If you are able, rather be free.

And so the crux of the matter is answering the question, "Are we able?" As to financial freedom, I would say yes. This will require us to move to a less expensive, rural area, and now that I've been told that I will be able to continue to work my current job remotely, I would say we are able. What about as to occupational freedom? For this one, I'm not too sure. I can easily see myself working until retirement, investing in our future land and in my sons enabling them to know a level of freedom I can now only dream of. "To be able, or not to be able…" That is the question.

If you are able, rather be free.

May we be able, Lord.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Waiting for an Announcement

As a result of my earlier post, "What Happened to Families?" I ended up renewing my correspondence with Phil Lancaster. This may lead to a big announcement in the next couple weeks or so, but I'll have to wait till the details are worked out before I can share more.

The problem is that I've been working on the announcement post, which I'll now have to put on the back burner for awhile, and I didn't realize how much time had passed since my last post.

Congratulations to the winners of the Jr. Agrarian Essay Contest! I enjoyed getting my sons to submit essays as well as reading the winning essays themselves.

Remember, our job is not done just because we have passed our vision on to our children. We need to work to pass the vision on to our children's children. I believe one of the keys to multi-generational faithfulness is to always be thinking in terms of three generations or more!

Until next time,


Friday, March 16, 2007

David or Solomon?

In one of the articles I've read by Howard King, he made a good case for the preference of an agrarian lifestyle. But then he surprised me. He didn't end with a rousing call for us to all ditch our corporate jobs and take to the hills. Instead, he talked about David and Solomon.

You see, David had a godly desire to build the Lord's temple. But God said, "No." David was not going to have that privilege. That privilege was going to go to his son, Solomon. But instead of giving up on his dream, what did David do? He spent years preparing, gathering materials, making plans; all with the purpose of making it easier for his son to fulfill that dream.

Many of us have the same dream, the same goal: to live off the land for God's glory. To work with Him to make the land fecund (that's one of those agrarian words I've learned), to be a part of the agrarian dream. But some of us may never realize that dream for ourselves. Perhaps we are too old, not physically able, too deep in debt, too deep within the corporate life that we would starve to death if we tried to feed our family through farming.

For whatever reason, we may be called to be a David. It may be our calling to prepare the way for our sons and daughters. It may be our calling to provide the land debt free, to install in their hearts the love for land and the outdoors, the love for hard work and honest toil.

I don't know whether I will get to be a Solomon or not. But if I only get to be a David, I want to be the best David I can. And by God's grace, we are making progress.

I have found out this month that I have gotten the official OK from bosses to work remotely. This means that I can keep my job after we buy a farm and move 300 miles from here. And if the Lord wills, I hope to be buying some land soon. We are considering buying some land within a small Amish community in western PA that is only a couple miles from a good church we've found. We are talking with an Amish man who owns the land and an Amish builder.

There is currently a not insignificant gap between what we think our house will sell for (minus paying off the mortgage) and what it looks like the land and house will cost. It is tempting to try to fill in the gap ourselves by borrowing, but we desire to live out our conviction that the Lord will provide for His children what He desires them to have. And so we are now looking to the Lord to close that gap by either our house being worth more than we think or that the property seller will come down in price.

We'll be sure to keep you up to date.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Life in the Trenches - Guest Blogger

I'd like to introduce you to a very special guest blogger today: my wife. The following was originally an email my wife sent to some of her friends. I hope you enjoy it!

"Musings from a mom without daughters"

Thought you might all enjoy a few thoughts from a mom who has no daughters, on what life is like on a lovely spring day that is just perfect for an afternoon "walk" with her boys:

"We're going for a walk this afternoon, " I announce to our two boys. "Yahoo!" and they're out the door before I can get on my sneakers. After forcing one son to return his bike to the garage because this is a "walk" and not a "ride," we finally get going. Before we reach the end of our lane, I must confiscate one of the two plastic baseball bats which have been brought along--to be used for sword fighting, of course. So I carry a plastic bat--for the entire walk.

"Don't pick up the garbage in that ditch." "No, don't smash that beer bottle along the edge of the road." Hmmm, this may not be as pleasant an outing as I had anticipated. We check our favorite water-filled ditch to see if the neighborhood frog has appeared yet. Nope, still too early for him.

Before we turn back onto our lane, both boys race to the intersection and climb down into a deep, cement culvert. One boy sticks his head up and "shoots" at me with the plastic baseball bat. I "shoot" back with my plastic baseball bat. I sense an idea quickly forming in their minds. When we pass our house, plastic hockey sticks are retrieved from the garage. These will make great "weapons!" (Why I didn't think to drop off the plastic baseball bat I was STILL carrying, who knows? Guess maybe I'd grown attached to it.)

As we continue down the road, two boys can be seen climbing into gulleys, jumping across water-filled ditches, hiding behind trees, sneaking behind bushes... trying to ambush each other as they yell "Bang! Bang!" at the top of their lungs. This is "trench warfare," they inform me, with big grins on their faces. I wonder what the neighbors are thinking. Oh well. The only ones who seem to be bothered are the sheep and new little lambs at the farm down the road. They decide to run into the barn after a few too many loud "BANG! BANGS!"

Still walking, I decide to call my husband on the cell phone. "I need some girls," I inform him. Girls who will just go for a sunny afternoon walk with me. Who will actually WALK with me, and carry on a conversation. My husband can hear "BANG! BANG!" in the background, so I explain that there is major trench warfare going on in our neighborhood, and he is missing it. He assures me that he will be glad to go on a walk with me, and carry on meaningful conversation, when he gets home.

In the meantime, the troops are already gathering their camouflage gear, scoping out new hiding places, and asking when they can do trench warfare, er, I mean, go for a walk, again. :-)

Such is the life of a woman without daughters. But please don't think that I am complaining. I wouldn't trade my boys for anything, and I am SO glad they enjoy being real BOYS!!! But I couldn't help smiling at their antics today, and thought you might enjoy it, too.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Whatever Happened to Families?

One of the men I owe a great deal to is Phil Lancaster. Although we have never met, and only corresponded a few times by email, his ministry through Patriarch Magazine has touched me in many ways. Although I was only able to subscribe to his magazine for about a year before Phil moved on to other things, he kept a wealth of articles on his website. I've spent hours on his website. There were articles calling men to lead their families in family worship, articles about homeschooling - even through college, and there were several agrarian articles by Howard King. A good friend of mine and I would meet for breakfast each week and discuss the different articles and talk about how we wanted to implement these things in our families. I have a filing cabinet that holds over six inches of these articles printed out. I only regret that I did not print out more before the website was taken down.

Out of all the different articles I've read there is one that stands out as having had the greatest affect on the direction my life has taken. It was one Phil wrote called, "Whatever Happened to Families?" He starts by stating that before you can decide how to get where you want to go, you must first determine where you are. He then takes us through a whirlwind tour of the past 300 years. In the 1700's men left their farms and families to work in the factories and the cities; in the 1800's the children left their homes because of state-mandated public education; and then finally in the 1900's the mothers left their homes as a result of the feminist movement. No wonder our families are in such a mess!

Reading this article kindled the fire within my heart to do whatever I could to reverse this trend. I praise God that He had already enabled us to keep our children and their mother at home. Now, by His grace, I want to come home too.

I thank Phil for graciously giving me permission to host his article, "Whatever Happened to Families?" on my website. This article became the second chapter of his book Family Man, Family Leader which I can also highly recommend.

Death of a Farm

Stone Farmhouse

We have a good friend who knows of our agrarian desires and is often passing along relevant articles and telling us about local farms for sale. Yesterday, he inadvertently told us about a farm whose days are numbered. After church, we took a detour just to drive by.

This 28 acre farm is surrounded by housing developments, the latest are full of those "luxury" homes. My boys were excited about the idea of our "saving" this farm from development. All the surrounding developments would be ideal potential customers! And so, on a whim I downloaded their information packet and I quickly found out that I was totally out of my league.

Everyone who submits a bid in this sealed bid auction is to enclose a certified or cashiers check for $100,000 which is considered to be "earnest" money (which is usually around 10% or so). This auction is definitely designed for high-end developers, farmers need not apply.

I wish I could wax eloquently about the death of this family farm that has been in the farmer's family for generations (the road it is on is the same name as the owners), but I can't. I just know that it's sad.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Building a Legacy

This evening after supper, as is our custom, I read a chapter from a book we've been reading as a family. We have a regular time of Family Worship each morning before I head off to work, so I use this time after supper for reading books about theology or Christian living.

We started several years ago with Catherine F. Vos' The Child's Story Bible, which is a great book for taking your family through the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation in more than 200 stories. We've also gone half way thorugh G.I. Williamson's The Westminster Shorter Catechism, before we took a break. Currently, we are reading through Bob Schultz' Boyhood and Beyond: Practical Wisdom for Becoming a Man, which is a great book for fathers and sons to go through together.

After reading, I lead my family in singing the Apostles' Creed. It's a wonderful arrangement I received from Rick Saenz of Cumberland Books and Dry Creek Chronicles.

Traditionally, when the Apostles' Creed is used in a church service, the minister begins with, "Christian, what do you believe?" And then the congregation responds, "I believe in God the Father..." When we first started using the Creed in our after supper time, I wanted to make it more personal. I wanted to help impress upon our boys that they are part of our covenant family and as such are to be a follower of Christ. And so I wanted to begin with, "Carneses, what do we believe?"

That's where I had a problem. You see, although I was brought up in a "church-going" home, my father repudiated Christ, and to me being a Carnes did not mean being a Christian. In a sense, I wanted to build a legacy, but I had to begin from scratch. I was laying down the first course of the foundation. And so, even though it sounded so foreign to my ears, each night I asked, "Carneses, what do we believe?" I was surprised how hard it was for me to say those words each night.

Tonight, as I have countless nights in the past, I again asked the question, "Carneses, what do we believe?" And you know what? The words didn't sound so strange anymore. As I looked around at my wife and my sons singing the words that Christians have sung for centuries, I took heart. My sons are growing into godly young men and one day they will be reading to their children around the dinner table. And when they are done they'll ask their families, "Carneses, what do we believe?" And to them, it will sound perfectly normal. Like they had been saying it all their lives.

Praise be to God!


Tuesday, March 6, 2007

One Simple Decision

It's hard to remember exactly when I first began to dream about making some radical changes in my lifestyle. Was it when I was introduced to Phil Lancaster's magazine and website The Patriarch Magazine? It was there that I read many challenging articles about being a leader in my family, about guiding them, teaching them, protecting them and providing for them.

By then, I had already begun to become comfortable questioning the status quo. I had grown up a fairly conservative thinker. Being the youngest of five children, I quickly learned how to follow. If I didn't, I'd find myself left behind. But one simple decision of ours, made over eight years ago, open the floodgates and started the process which led us to where we are now. That was the decision we made to homeschool our two boys.

The homeschool movement in the United States has grown tremendously over the past twenty years or so. There are many different reasons for making that choice for one's family. Some decide to homeschool their children for academic reasons, some for libertarian reasons, some for reasons of safety, and others for religious reasons. But regardless of the reason, they all have one thing in common. They have chosen to go against the flow. They have chosen to buck the majority, the default method of education in the civilized world today, and at great expense and inconvenience, chosen to teach their own children.

This going against the flow, in an area that touches so many aspects of our lives (just ask the non-homeschooling family how much of their daily schedule revolves around the schedule of the local school) does something to one's mind. I think it stretches it, makes it a little larger, makes it a little stronger. Just the process of following a minority opinion would tend to do that I think. And before you know it, you end up questioning other status quo ideas. After the big decision of taking your children out of the local schools, suddenly other questions begin to come up. Questions of lifestyle, priorities. And some how, I found myself more willing to entertain these other ideas. Willing to change my firmly held opinions in many areas.

This process I described, could become pretty scary, unsettling, or even dangerous. It would be easy to become a rudderless ship drifting on the ocean of ideas once one begins to question everything. The thing that saved us from going adrift like that was the firmly held belief that God has given us a revelation of who He is, what He has done, and what He requires of us. And so that we could be certain of what He really said, He had that revelation written down, in what we know today as the Bible.

The Scriptures then became our foundation. The measuring rod by which we would compare the many new (to us) ideas that we began to consider.

Until next time,

Terry - an emergent agrarian