Why is Freedom Important?

It is to safeguard our ability to choose and do that which is good.

To defend freedom in the name of freedom only – the right to do whatever we want because we want to – is to be morally bankrupt, destructive to the world God created for us and at odds with “natural law”.

If we commit unspeakable acts of violence and evil in the name of freedom, we have no moral basis for the defense of “freedom”. We fight not for freedom, but for personal greed and dominance.

The dirty little secret that The American people have bought into, the elephant in the room that we choose to ignore, is that the empire we support through endless wars of conquest disproportionately benefits us vs the rest of the world. As the empire crumbles and the benefits that trickle down from the elite to the masses wane, the masses will wake up, not out of righteous indignation, but out of a displaced sense of loss. The gravy train has been good. We have collectively turned a blind eye to our wars of aggression waged in the name of freedom, or as G.W. Bush euphemistically said it, “our way of life”. Is our way of life just an excuse for conquest and plunder?
These are my thoughts as I considered the following interview from The Real News.

I believe that the mission and message of our little community, the Village on Sewanee Creek, should be about freedom in its fullest and best sense – the freedom to do positive good. Not as “do-gooders”out to reform everyone else, but people quietly reforming our own lives in harmony with that which is good.
The American paradigm we live within has focused our thinking to be against or at war with almost everything. There are wars against poverty, drugs, inequality, injustice, terrorism, illegal immigration, and on and on. A war mentality breeds anger, dissension and more war.

What is the antidote for a world that is continuously at war at every level? Christ taught us to repent. Repent of your acceptance of all forms of war. Champion freedom for the sole purpose of thinking and doing positive good. Repent of your natural inclination to justify evil in the name of false, self-serving good. When we learn to focus all of our thoughts and actions on doing that which is good and productive and always rejecting that which is harmful or destructive, our lives will be full of light, joy and peace.

I write this with no personal sense of moral satisfaction, for I am as guilty as anyone of self-serving thoughts and behaviors that justify evil in the name of false good. When we stop focusing on the greed of others (Wall Street, corporations, politicians, etc.) we may begin to recognize our own complicity in a system, built from the ground up on self-interest, a nicer word for greed. Christ identified the problem in His mote/beam parable.

I desire to live among people who don’t see themselves as righteous or good, but humbly seek to become so through striving for that which is good – people who are continuously in an active process of repentance – or reaching upward for the light. I hope that being with such people, I will be inspired and strengthened to repent myself.

The world will become a better place not through conquest of others but by conquest of oneself.

Regardless of our circumstances or the political system we live within,  we are all, ALWAYS, free to do that.

Dream, Choose, Live: The Good Life

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live life deliberately.”

Henry David Thoreau

I think the first, most essential thing one must do to accomplish that is to build one’s own house as Thoreau did. He built from leftover scraps of an old shanty. We have many other choices.

 
The mere fact that when people come to the Village, they can’t buy a finished home means that every one of us shares that journey. The journey enriches each of us individually and collectively, as a community.  One’s home is the ultimate expression of self, one’s capacity to dream and do. Even if you hire a contractor and never lift a hammer, you will learn, mostly about yourself. So many choices, it can be overwhelming. In the process, you are forced to come to terms with your personal values. There is no faking it.

What is really important to me?

  • How big should my house be?
  • How much of my life, in the form of money that I have exchanged my time and effort for, should go into this house?
  • What portion should I allocate for other things that are important to me and my goals?
  • In my house, do I want to emphasize efficiency and low maintenance or esthetic beauty? What do those things mean to me? Can I have both?
  • Do I want my home to make a statement about me or is it enough that it satisfies just me?
  • If I am taking this journey with a spouse and children, how will we use this experience to bring us closer as we discover and satisfy what is uniquely us?
  • What can or should I do without to have the things I really want?
  • My home will be a refuge, but from what? From the noise of the city, or from the discomforts of nature?

The folks in this video made some highly unusual choices in an environment most people would consider extreme. Yet, their home is a creative expression of who they are and how they choose to live.  And it is beautiful.

As you watch this video, notice the many trade-offs they made. I like to think “sacrifice” is what you give up to get something better.  A deliberate life is one of conscious choice. If one knows oneself and chooses well, a personal paradise is the reward. That personal paradise is within reach of us all, but we must choose.

For those who love nature and the joy of sharing with others, the Village on Sewanee Creek has all the necessary elements to build your dream with a little help from some friends.

WE DIDN’T KNOW WE WERE POOR

How many times have you heard people who lived through the great depression say that?

shooting marbles
I have heard that phrase countless times from my parents and many of “the greatest generation”.  What a blessed state of ignorance that phrase describes. It is a state of profound and pervasive lack.

  • lack of self-judgment
  • lack of social judgment based on material wealth
  • lack of material pride
  • lack of selfishness
  • lack of spiritual depravity derived from excess
  • lack of covetousness, that nagging need to have more than someone else
  • lack of NEED

It inversely describes a state of abundance, both perceived and real. An ABUNDANCE of:

  • Friends – Real Personal Relationships, not phony, material ones
  • Mutual Good Will and Generosity
  • Confidence that your friends and neighbors, who are in the same boat, are with you, care about you and are watching your back
  • Peace and a sense of Well-Being
  • Focus on things that really count

I’m sure both lists could be extended, but you get the point.

Yesterday, around the Village Thanksgiving table, I don’t recall a single reference to Black Friday or even shopping other than for basic needs or how to do it efficiently. Maybe I just missed it.

I think there is an inverse relationship between real wealth and the preoccupation with buying more stuff. The person who perceives no need is not needy. Regardless of the number of zeros in one’s bank balance, a person who can hardly wait to go shopping for the latest ego-boosting bling, gadget or fad is the one in deep need, and therefore, poor.

That is not to infer that Villagers are financially poor. We’re not, although I’m sure some have more than others. The point is, nobody seems to care too much about who has what. A community that doesn’t continuously focus on or remind us of things we want, either vocally or by the things they flaunt, gives us spiritual space to appreciate things that matter more and that cost little.

In the things that matter, I think we’re on balance, a very wealthy bunch.

Are we blissfully ignorant of our poverty? I don’t think so. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I would rather be intensely and joyfully aware of our wealth, but maybe it’s the same thing. As I often remind students in my marketing class at the University of the South, Perception is more important than. . .       NO. . . Perception IS reality.

Declaration of InterDependence?

This video poses a compelling set of questions:
“Do we educate to strengthen our democracy or to strengthen our economy?”
“Does competition or cooperation produce better results?”
“What will students need to know?”
“Are they being educated with current reality in mind?”
“Should the people support the economy or should the economy support the people?”
Maybe we need to change the way we look at success, progress, wealth, competition, the future?

This is a collage of points made on the subject of sustainability, and a change of direction that needs to be addressed within the educational system to reflect our current reality.

Compelling images, graphics and quotes like this one tell the story, reaching interesting conclusions:
“We have reached a point where the value we add to our economy is being outweighed by the value we are removing.” Paul Hawken, author and environmentalist.
“GDP is not an indicator of a society’s well being or stability. It goes up with every instance of destructive spending too: illness, war, nuclear power plants, GMO food production, incarceration.”
“We need to come together around a new indicator of “wealth.”

I see truth in all of these questions and statements, but it’s not an either/or situation.  We need BOTH cooperation and individual initiative.  Will we achieve a world where cooperation rules and competition is eliminated.  I think not.  Competition is a powerful motivator.  Without it, where is sport?  Where is the spark that asks us to find and then surpass the limits and encourages those with a competitive spirit to surpass them?

Yet, our world IS out of balance in favor of competitiveness.  We do not need Communism – the religion of forced cooperation that enriches the few.  We DO need cooperation that comes from within – the desire to be more productive by working together, trusting serving one another and achieving things greater than the sum of their individual parts.  These things come only from a society that is disciplined in moral values – the values that Christ and other great religious leaders taught.

Ironically, interdependence is best achieved by strong, healthy, independent people.  Today, on Independence Day, we each need to make two declarations, enabled by two pledges.
First, to declare that we will live lives that are independent – hard working, self-sufficient, productive, strong and independent of government or other unnecessary support, personally responsible, reliable, trustworthy.
Second, to declare that we will live lives that are interdependent – trusting, giving, forgiving, serving, mutually productive, loving.

None of this is easy.  It takes strong, committed people of character to achieve the greatness that is the promise of America.  Our forefathers were such people of strength and towering character.  They built a nation where people were free to practice their religion that built such character, individual character that could then be put to work through productive, respectful cooperation.  Today, let us, as individuals exercising our free will, declare both our Independence and our Interdependence and rebuild America from the ground up.

Building a New Village home, a piece of cake

My mother celebrated her 90th birthday a week ago, Saturday. Building her a new home in the Village has been almost as easy as her birthday cake. The Saturday before her birthday, we visited the modular home factory at Blue Ridge Log Cabins where we ordered her a new home. To say I was impressed is an understatement. The factory is state-of-the-art and the quality of their product is outstanding.

My mother’s new home will be ready to ship in just 6 weeks from date of order, complete with everything, including appliances. It will be installed on my property about 50 feet from my brother, George’s house.

Friday before our trip to the factory, I called Jim, a friend and contractor who lives down the road, to let him know of our plans.
Monday morning, he was on site with a crew of about 8, a dozer, backhoe, trencher, bobcat and misc. other equipment. By end of day, the footings for the foundation, the pit for the septic tank and septic field lines were dug, power and water lines were stubbed out. Tuesday, the rebar-reinforced foundation was poured and the septic system finished. A week later, after the concrete had cured and rain storms had passed, the block mason laid the concrete block and baseplate for the crawl space.

I was amazed and delighted at how quickly and easily the prep work for the new house was completed. A month ahead of scheduled delivery, we are ready for installation. The prep work came in about $1,500 under the quote, no down payment, paid in cash upon completion. Years of building relationships and experience in the Village have paid off for us and those that follow in the Village.  Inquire about the Village here.

This will be the second blue-ridge log cabin for the Village, and the third modular home. In the last decade or so, modular construction has come into its own. On time, on budget with superior quality and no hassles. You can have a customized home without the dread and nightmares that normally accompany new home on-site construction.

We will actually need to ask Blue Ridge to delay delivery a bit so I can be free after the semester ends and I finish grading finals for my class at the University of the South. Then, I can be there for the install while George and Mom are in California packing for the move.

Here is the cabin, shortly after installation on the foundation.

Here is the cabin, shortly after installation on the foundation.

 

Interesting People – Rich Life

From the outset, I have made it a point to target interesting people who will become not only Village neighbors, but the fabric of a lifestyle that makes life interesting and rewarding. There are many prepper communities emerging these days. They typically aim to fill their ranks with a comprehensive list of survival skills. Welder, blacksmith, gunsmith, military tactician, plumber, electrician, mechanic, hunter/trapper, tanner represent just a few of hundreds of basic skills. Important as these may be, they address only survival. For Villagers, life is about much more than survival.

I believe we have been successful in attracting a certain type of individual who is a cut above the mundane, normal, or average. So far, our small community boasts interesting people with distinguished accomplishments from diverse backgrounds.

  • Some have advanced degrees, like Tom who has a PhD in plant genetics or George who is a bio-chemist with deep experience in water quality systems management, mycology and toxic environmental clean-up.

But intellectual capacity doesn’t always require a high level degree or formal education. Street smarts are just as valuable and interesting.

  • Jeff J. humbly acknowledges a lack of formal training, while his accomplishments as a highly sought-after Hollywood film editor are impressive. Having worked on such famous films as Star Wars and Hunger Games among many others, his experiences, instincts and observations on life have brought great pleasure and growth to me and other Villagers. Knowing my interest in movies, a residual from my days at Blockbuster, he even contributed a huge library of DVD’s to the Village to enhance our movie nights, whether at our large screen home theater or the bigger one at the amphitheater.
  • Mike and Barb are accomplished singer/songwriters who infuse their art with the values we embrace as a community. Their music strengthens both the moral and social fabric of the Village.
  • Fred is our inventor / engineer / communications expert extraordinaire. I affectionately nicknamed him Mr. Inscrutable because his intellectual and scientific prowess often makes me stretch to grasp a point he is making. Those who attend a lecture he is giving at the University of the South on Open Source Ecology this Wednesday will likewise be stretched and enriched.
  • Jim has a deep, practical history with self-sufficient living. Now retired, he is an effective investor who loves tending his garden and chickens while experimenting with all kinds of projects from alternative energy to alternative construction. Jim donated many years of Mother Earth News to the online Village Library. His soft, engaging nature makes him a natural in group dynamics where he instantly puts people at ease.
  • Jeff P. and his three sons are all Eagle Scouts.  Jeff is CFO for his company and has been a scout leader for years.  His practical knowledge of outdoor life and appreciation for nature derived from scouting contribute to our mission in many ways.
  • Micah stopped just short of completing a PhD in philosophy, and deploys his prodigious intellect and work ethic in his highly successful internet business, helping America’s best and brightest choose colleges best suited to them. In his spare time, he raises goats, cattle and chickens for home consumption and has purchased several hundred acres nearby to build a cattle ranch with his brother.

The Women in the Village contribute to the richness of daily life just as much if not more than the men.

  • My dear wife, Becky, is known for her home-making skills that range from amazingly artistic quilts to the best home-made bread ever, made from home-ground flour, to fresh veggies and eggs from her greenhouse and mini-farm.
  • Judy cans, sprouts, sews, gardens, bakes and cooks some of the finest food you will find anywhere and tutors neighborhood children in math.
  • Stephanie brings her personal brand of wisdom to the Village. She is a counselor who listens attentively and serves up help to University students, meanwhile raising her two little boys with patience and love.
  • Linnette is an accomplished artist who excels with ceramics.  She created the beautiful tile work and fired the individual tiles in her large kiln for the sign at the entrance to the Village.  Her sons include a doctor, an architect and a business man.
  • Linda is a natural organizer-leader.  She runs the Meetup group, “Provident Living and Self Reliance” out of Nashville. She was instrumental in organizing Preparedness Fairs here in the Village and many other group meetings for Villagers as well as hundreds of other Self-Reliance oriented people throughout Middle and Eastern Tennessee.

I could go on. For the sake of brevity, I will limit the list, but you get the point. Beyond specific skills and accomplishments, most Villagers are well traveled, intellectually open and, as a result, qualify as interesting people who contribute at many levels. Because they are all focused on self-sufficient living, each one also contributes to the list of survival skills and the general resilience of the Village.

The work I do to attract and woo interesting people results in tangible value to people who move here. And the longer I do it the more valuable the Village becomes. That is why the value of the product Villagers buy into is less and less about the beautiful land and more and more about a rich lifestyle built on relationships with extraordinary people. For fans of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, you might recognize the Village as a kinder and gentler Galt’s Gulch.

It isn’t enough that we have many interesting people here. It is just as important that those interesting people each desire to share their knowledge, insights, skills and talents or we are just like any other upper-income neighborhood, filled with people who are busy, successful, and isolated in social silos. So we try to select people who love people. It’s implied in our motto, in harmony with nature AND PEOPLE. I believe we have also been successful in developing a culture of sharing.

And, while attracting interesting people who want to share is the essential foundation, it is only the beginning. As we continue to weave and expand this fabric of many colors and textures into a culture of interesting people with an interesting, rich life, I think it is not enough to simply have them here. We must continuously draw people out in interesting venues and situations where all can naturally benefit from such rich natural resources. We must enhance our natural human resources through activities, processes, customs and traditions that we all embrace.

  • Our weekly “Village Project” is one such tradition that puts talents and skills to practical work while creating an atmosphere for mutual, service, positive social interaction and sharing.
  • Our Monday “Family Home Evening” gatherings are a regular place for sharing on a more intimate, sometimes more intellectual level. We teach, share stories, play games, discuss world events, books, and movies, share treats, and plan together.
  • Our Monthly potluck is a time for reaching out to Village land owners who have not yet built and relocated here. It’s less frequent and allows them to travel from Nashville or sometimes more distant locations. It’s also a time to enjoy great food and casual conversation in an unstructured environment.
  • Since I have joined the staff at the University of the South, I am much more tuned in and do a better job of sharing the abundance of culturally enriching, and mostly free activities there. Lectures, discussions, plays, concerts are plentiful to overwhelming in their availability. We try to get Villagers together to share in many of these experiences too.
  • At less frequent intervals, we have made field trips to Nashville or other outlying towns, like the trip we made to see Les Miserable or recently to Athens to learn about earth-bermed housing.

As more interesting, sharing people join us, the opportunities grow exponentially along with the need for careful tending. I take seriously the responsibility of creating value for Villagers. But, I think everybody knows that it’s a group project, not wholly dependent on me.

Frankly, I’m not satisfied with the type and quality of activities we do now. We can do more and be more. I need all of your help.
Please share your ideas and your energy to bring them to life.

To End All Wars – The Possible Dream

To End All WarsTo End All Wars is a powerful, gut-wrenching moral tale that lays bare the core dilemma of True Christians.  Starring Robert Carlyle and Kiefer Sutherland, the movie is set in the hell of a WWII Japanese POW camp in Burma, where a war rages between two factions of prisoners.  It is a philosophical war between justice and mercy, complete with the crucifixion of the leader of the mercy faction.

Since 2011, our world is at war everywhere.  By definition, the war against stateless terrorism defines the battlefield as having no boundaries.  It is, therefore, already an undeclared, unrecognized World War III on the verge of exploding into something even larger.  Every citizen of the world is now a soldier in some sense and a POW in another.

In a surprising twist, this powerful movie makes the case that the real war is not over territory or strategic resources.  It is a war over the soul of every man.

To end all wars;  It is a perennial quest and the hollow justification for all wars.  Is there a resolution, a real answer?  As with most profound questions, the answer is, “it depends on your definition”.

Here is the dilemma:
To take up arms in defense of family, freedom, justice and righteous principles?
Or,
To lay down arms and bear with unbearable courage and unconditional love, the hate of Satanic forces and by so doing, to overcome hate and evil in the only way that it can be ended?
These are the profound questions asked of each of us in this tale based on true events.

These questions are not unique to Christianity.  Gandhi based his life work on reaching a Machiavellian balance between an aggressive but non-violent war and surrender to love.  Thereby, he won India’s independence from England.  But he did not achieve a lasting peace on Earth or even for India.  The realist says such an earthly peace is beyond possible.  And that is true until the war for the soul is won for all mankind.   THAT is the only War with the potential to End All Wars.  It is a costly and intensely personal war.  Few are willing to wage it.  The sacrifices it requires can not be placed on others.

New Testament, Mark, Chapter 8:
36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

For anyone who has struggled with the question, “why do we need a Savior to atone for our sins?”,  To End All Wars offers the answer.  Because the Savior’s example of perfect, unconditional love changes us. It saves us from ourselves.  But as the movie shows, it does not work for everyone, only those who embrace the example and live it.  For these, the war for the soul has a happy and permanent ending even if the price is high.  For the rest, war may be an eternal reality.

I highly recommend this film with a warning that neither its Christian ideals nor the graphic violence or language in it are for the faint of heart.  I’m adding it to my list of the Top 100 Movies for Troubled Times.

The Village is for people who seek an end to war, specifically the war of the soul that leads to war against people and nature.  That spirit is embodied in our theme, “in harmony with nature and people”.  Gandhi would have been a welcome resident, though he was not a Christian.  If that kind of sustainable, self-sufficient neighborhood appeals to you, ask here.

Is it time to go Solar?

English: Solar panel installation at an inform...

Solar panel installation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re all about self-sufficiency and sustainability.  But, for those who don’t have money to burn, sustainability must first be applied at the individual, economic  level, avoiding debt, paying as you go, using resources wisely and demanding a good return on invested funds.   With PV panel prices over $1/watt, the ROI simply isn’t there.   And . . . when outgo exceeds income, it’s simply not sustainable.

Here is a good industry article indicating that solar panel manufacturers will go through a major consolidation this year. Shorthand:  It may finally be a good time to invest in renewable, solar energy if other fundamentals are in place.

Longhand analysis:

Consolidation is a weeding out of the smaller, less efficient manufacturers in favor of low-cost, high-volume, efficient manufacturers.  The remaining suppliers will benefit from lower supply and less intense pricing pressures.  It remains to be seen whether prices will increase in the aftermath of lower supply.  Prices may continue to decline, despite decreased market pressure, as new, more efficient technologies and manufacturing techniques are developed.  Or, consolidation may signal the bottoming out of PV panel prices. 

There seems to be some improvement in the economy, at least in some sectors.  This could release pent-up demand from homeowners who have been waiting to invest in solar out of fear over a potential job loss or from businesses waiting for better times.  If we have industry consolidation (lower supply) that coincides with higher demand, the remaining suppliers will benefit from even higher economies of scale, resulting in higher profitability and perhaps lower prices as low-cost suppliers further consolidate market-share.

By observing general trends in the silicone based high-tech sector, one could conclude that prices will continue to decline.  That is, unless there is some other major disruption in the supply chain (like war, political upheaval, etc.)  If prices begin to increase post-consolidation, this may trigger more government intervention and subsidization, which could also be an offsetting factor.  But once consolidation has occurred, companies may use subsidies to simply pad their bottom lines, further strengthening their balance sheets and staying power in the market rather than reduce prices.

Achieving self-sufficiency and sustainability is expensive.  Achieving it without bankrupting yourself requires a long-term, plodding approach.  Like Maslow’s heirarchy of needs, (remember that from college psychology or sociology classes?) one does not achieve self-actualization until the more basic needs are covered.  PV solar, is at the top of the pyramid.  Nice to be there, but not doable without a solid foundation.  First, you cover basics like food, water and shelter.  Next is energy in the form of least costly and highest efficiency.  Energy for heat and cooling falls in this category.  Passive solar or bio-mass solutions are a much better alternative.    Never try to provide these using Photo Voltaics.  That would be like trying to survive in a famine on an all-corn-fed-beef diet where it takes 15 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat.  Inefficient and unsustainable.

Industry consolidation is just one factor to consider in determining when is the right moment to invest in Solar technology.  My sense is that now is a much better time for solar PV than a few years ago.  I’m glad I waited, opting for low-tech, high ROI alternatives in the meantime.  But the question remains, should I wait longer?  The economy looks to be improving in the short term, but the world still looks extremely fragile.  This may be the perfect moment to invest in self-sufficiency, whether it is a modest amount of solar PV or a more secure location on which to place it.

If you would like to become more self-sufficient, off-grid and better prepared, consider the benefits of doing that in a community of like-minded people who will help you get there on a solid foundation.  Inquire here.

ETHOS: Left and Right are just arms and legs on the same body

Oops, too close for youtube’s comfort? Only hours after I posted this it disappeared. http://vimeo.com/24706064
Watch the video before you read the following:

“Our Ethos is all that we currently hold to be true. It is what we act upon. It governs our manners, our business and our politics.”
Howard Zinn 1922 – 2010

The left/right, liberal/conservative paradigm is meaningless. It is a smoke screen, a delusion, a diversion. I have to keep reminding myself of that because my thoughts and values are so steeped in conservative traditions. Harrelson, Zinn and others in this movie are icons of the left. Yet, here he is speaking intelligently to the same issues that have polarized the right against the left and reaching similar conclusions to mine on what to do about it.

One of the prime reasons for this Village is a reaction to a world gone berserk. 9/11 was the watershed moment that changed my world view and led ultimately to my decision to find another solution. It is a reaction to powerlessness against overwhelmingly powerful forces.

Most of the world has taken refuge in the very activities that perpetuate their surrender of freedom and meaning in life. Harrelson correctly points out that in the aftermath of 9/11, we were told the solution was to go shopping. And again, in 2008 when the economy crumbled, we were told that it was our duty to save the economy by doing what? “Go shopping”.

How ironic is it that I am now teaching “Strategic Marketing” at the University? Yet, Marketing, like the Internet, like a gun, like a drill press or a saw, is a tool, not inherently good or evil. It is simply a means of identifying and satisfying human needs and desires. Some enterprises use marketing effectively to pander to base human needs and wants. There is a BIG market for these products and services.

I do marketing to find and satisfy people who are looking for a means to improve their lives, to find meaning and joy. The product I am building is mostly intangible. It is community, harmony, security, connection to nature, creative and constructive work, a meaningful life. In this context and for this purpose, is marketing evil? Only if what I am selling is bogus or of poor quality.

Yet, while I agree with Harrelson’s prescription, it is only one element of a total solution for an empty, shackled life. “Stop shopping” or at least shop wisely. It’s positioned as an offensive weapon against an entrenched corporate enemy. Is that where it ends? In the unlikely event that this perpetual war should end, either in victory or defeat, what do we, the wounded and weary foot-soldiers, return from the battle front to? There must be something more, something meaningful to replace our culture’s obsession with consumptive living.

Sandy Hook is another 9/11 event. It is meant to polarize right and left. Masterful marketing used with malice aforethought, IMHO. Extreme polarization between left and right. Strident calls for disarmament from the left while demand for guns and ammo empties the gun stores and heavily armed and fortified communities appear in Idaho and elsewhere.

Left and right are just arms and legs on the same body.
Powers that divide, profitably conquer
while the masses, having lost their heads,
trade arms, legs, body and soul for fear and division.
– Grant Miller

In answer to this insanity, can we not respectfully explore and enjoy different perspectives and world views while we live peaceably within our means and “in Harmony with Nature and People”? That is my solution and my intent.

Walden Pond Updated – The modern “Good Life”

As a college student bout 40 years ago, I read Walden; or, Life in the Woods, by Henry David Thoreau. Like most people of my generation, I spent many years out of the woods, behind a desk, on planes, in endless meetings.  But, Thoreau’s message stuck.  From it, I learned ideas like

  • the importance of living deliberately
  • your stuff will own you, not the other way around
  • the true economics of Life
  • self-sufficiency is both possible and desirable.
  • the importance of living in and learning from nature.

After a career that paid well and exposed me to wealth and society, I have tried to live more simply and deliberately. In this excellent TED talk, Adam Baker does the best job that I’ve seen of recapturing Thoreau’s ideas for modern times. In the fragile, frenetic and uber-materialist world we live in, these ideas are more relevant than ever.

Inspiring experiences and memories are the rewards of a life well-lived. The stuff we accumulate gets in the way of real life.

If you are seeking to live “the Good Life” in the company of like-minded, well-informed, good and intelligent people, you might want to join us.  Inquire here

Making BioChar for our small farm

BioChar Ovens

BioChar Ovens

We have a weekly tradition of trading projects in the Village, where one family chooses a project and others chip in.  This week, we built biochar ovens (sometimes called kilns or retorts) out of 55-gallon steel barrels.  Using a plasma cutter, it was a breeze cutting and assembling these ovens.   Weather cooperating, we plan our first biochar making session this Saturday.  We invite Villagers and visitors from the local community to join us.

Biochar, also known as Tera Preta, was discovered in the Amazon Jungle a few years back.  Apparently biochar production and use as a soil amendment was practiced by a lost pre-Colombian civilization.  The discoverers noticed that in a patch of cleared jungle land, the rich, black soil was incredibly productive where the surrounding soil was dead.  Upon excavating, they discovered that this black soil was also amazingly deep, having been artificially manufactured over generations.

“The burning and natural decomposition of biomass and in particular agricultural waste adds large amounts of CO2 and CH4 to the atmosphere. Biochar can store large amounts of greenhouse gases in the ground; at the same time its presence in the earth can improve water quality, increase soil fertility, raise agricultural productivity and reduce pressure on old-growth forests.” – Wikipedia

Our soil tends to be acidic, so the addition of a ph raising amendment, like biochar is a big plus.  In addition to sequestration of carbon and other minerals beneficial to food crops, biochar is also noted for its tiny nooks and crannies that provide habitat for beneficial bacteria that enhance soil quality and structure.

The process of producing biochar from wood also releases clean syngas, that can be used as fuel in internal combustion engines.  We make electricity using a generator fueled by wood gas.  So many benefits from one process!

There is still much to be learned about how and why biochar works as a soil amendment.  But, as a community, we decided it’s well worth testing, contributing to the body of knowledge, reaping the benefits in our small farms and creating another source of green revenue by producing it in reasonably large quantities.

Here is a video that explains the system we built.  Have fun with this.  We are.

BTW, if you’re someone who enjoys being self-sufficient, building things, and the company of other creative, industrious folks, you might want to join us permanently.  We’re a community of interesting, accomplished people who care about each other.  Contact us here.

 

Extreme Consolidation in the Solar PV market expected this year

This is a good industry article indicating that solar panel manufacturers will go through a major consolidation this year.

Consolidation is a weeding out of the smaller, less efficient manufacturers in favor of low-cost, high-volume, efficient manufacturers.  The remaining suppliers will benefit from lower supply and less intense pricing pressures.  It remains to be seen whether, in the aftermath of lower supply, prices will increase.  They may continue to decline, despite decreased pressure on prices, as new, more efficient technologies and manufacturing techniques are developed.  Or, it may signal the bottoming out of PV panel prices.  Also, there does seem to be some improvement in the economy, at least in some sectors.  This could release pent-up demand from people who have been waiting to invest in solar out of fear over a potential job loss.  If we have industry consolidation (lower supply) that coincides with higher demand, the remaining suppliers will benefit from even higher economies of scale, resulting in higher profitability and perhaps lower prices as low-cost suppliers further consolidate market-share.

By observing general trends in the high tech sector based on silicone chips, one could conclude that prices will continue to decline.  That is, unless there is some other major disruption in the supply chain (like war, political upheaval, etc.)  If prices begin to increase post-consolidation, this may trigger more government intervention and subsidization, which could also be an offsetting factor, although generally, once consolidation has occurred, fewer companies may use subsidies to simply pad their bottom lines, further strengthening their balance sheets and staying power in the market rather than reduce prices.

Industry consolidation is just one factor to consider in determining when is the right moment to invest in Solar technology that moves us further in the direction of off-grid self-sufficiency while staying fiscally conservative.  My sense is that now is at least a much better time to invest in solar than a few years ago.  I’m glad I waited.  Cost per KWh is still higher than grid-supplied electricity.  But the question remains, should I wait longer?  The economy looks to be improving in the short term.

I consider small-scale home based Solar PV not for its economic efficiencies, but more for its insurance value. Long-term, the world still looks extremely fragile.  With the short-term improvement in the economy, this may be the perfect moment to invest in self-sufficiency, whether it is a modest amount of solar PV or a more secure location on which to place it.

Achieving self-sufficiency and sustainability without bankrupting yourself requires a long-term, plodding approach.  Like Maslow’s heirarchy of needs, (remember that from college psychology or sociology classes?) one does not achieve self-actualization until the more basic needs are covered.  PV solar, is at the top of the pyramid.  First, you cover basics like food, water, shelter, Next is energy in the form of least costly and highest efficiency.  Energy for heat and cooling falls in this category.  Passive solar or bio-mass solutions are a much better alternative.    Never try to provide these using Photo Voltaics.  That would be like trying to survive in a famine on an all-corn-fed-beef diet where it takes 15 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat.  Inefficient, unsustainable.

The Pendulum Swings

A Sunday Observation:
Discussing how difficult it is to achieve the correct balance in life:

Comment, “I wish I could just get the pendulum to hold still in the middle.
Response, “When the pendulum stops, so does the clock”

I’m thankful for our grandfather clock. It is a constant reminder of important things like this.
Another life lesson from our clock, We must rewind it regularly. A reminder that the body and soul require constant nourishment.

Most Important Lessons from Homesteading


This man tells the truth. I can’t say it any better or even as well, so here it is, unvarnished, intelligent, true.

These are the reasons I founded the Village on Sewanee Creek.  And, it’s not easy. But, as he explains, it’s worth it.  The real “safety-net” called family and community was dismantled and replaced by a false government welfare “safety net” as part of the system of broken promises he speaks of.  Working together with like-minded people makes it doable and more rewarding than going it alone.

The visuals may seem irrelevant to the words, but pay attention anyway. The video shows why it is worth it – to live “in harmony with nature and people”.

It is our mission in the Village, to make what is impossible, not only possible, but enjoyable and fulfilling, through community.

Christmas Eve – 2012 – Joseph and Mary Dinner

It’s very early, Christmas morning as I begin this.  Everyone is still asleep.  Outside it’s dark and foggy.  It’s been raining steadily for a couple of weeks.

Reflecting on 2012, it was a year of many challenges, like most years.  But, in this moment, I am filled with joy and gratitude.  My eyes fill as I think of the wondrous Christmas Eve we spent as a family last night. An old family tradition was revisited, but it came alive as never before.

We have called it the Joseph and Mary Dinner.  Our tradition has been to celebrate Christmas Eve simply, as they might have, eating the things they might have eaten, as poor travelers, quietly pondering unfolding events that they could not have understood.

Sometimes, with the best intentions, traditions wander into unintended territory and lose the essence of what they are meant to commemorate.  So it is with modern Christmas traditions that ring, not with joy and hope, but with hollowness.
There have been years when our Joseph and Mary dinner crept outside its roots, looking more like a celebration of Middle Eastern cuisine.
But last night we celebrated well.  No shepherds clothed in bathrobes, no dolls wrapped in dish towels.  It was a simple meal of dates, goat cheese, flat bread and grape juice.  Probably much more than they enjoyed that night.  But this time, the meal wasn’t the point nor the focus.  Rather than the traditional reading of the Christmas story, each family member had been challenged to bring their favorite scripture about Christ.  I think we had all struggled a bit to choose one as we stepped outside the traditional story.  But the ensuing discussion was rich and full.  We celebrated much more than a vague image of a few people from long ago in a strange and unfamiliar land, huddled around a tiny baby in a barn.

Following the sharing of scriptures and their very personal significance, we gathered around the piano to sing the sacred Christmas carols.  My voice is nearly gone, I hope only temporarily.  I could barely croak out the tunes.  But it was magical.  Instead of focusing on making lovely music with four-part harmony, we traded turns, each reading one stanza of the lyrics of all the carols in our hymn book.  The reading revealed new meaning as the poetic phrases came to life unencumbered by the rhythms of the music.

“And, at last our eyes shall see Him, through His own redeeming Love”
Once in Royal David’s City

“Shepherds, why this Jubilee? Why your joyous strains prolong?  What the gladsome tidings be which inspire your heavenly song?”
– Angels We Have Heard on High

“No more will sin and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He’ll come and make the blessings flow far as the curse was found.”
Joy to the World

I was humbled as I contrasted our family birthday celebrations with birthday cakes against God’s majesty and power in the way He celebrated the event with the brightest star ever seen in the heavens.
O Little Town of Bethlehem

Then, we sang from the heart with full meaning expressed in joyful celebration.
“Joy to the World”
“Jesus, Lord at thy birth” –  Silent Night
“Hosanna” – With Wondering Awe
“Noël” (look it up, we did) – The First Noël
“Hallelujah!” – Silent Night
“Sing in exultation”Oh, Come All Ye Faithful
Gloria in excelsis Deo – Angels we have heard on high
… and more

I will not profane the sacred experience by attempting to recount the things we spoke of.  Only this.  This has already been the best Christmas of my life.  I am overwhelmed with a sense of hope, peace, joy and gratitude to my God and Savior.  And, I look forward to 2013 and beyond with more confidence that, come what may, it will be wonderful, good and right.  Now, to hold on to that feeling throughout the year.

Merry Christmas to All
May your lives be filled with the unspeakable joy of Christmas.

Saving the World one person at a time … starting with me

“Teach them Correct Principles and they Govern Themselves”.  This is the foundation for a sustainable world.  This is my message to the world.
I was asked to give a talk to the Economics club at Sewanee, the University of the South on our independent local currency initiative, the Sewanee Dollar.  But when the sponsor, a student representing the Economics Club read my BLOG, he decided there is more to the story.

He admitted to being a closet Libertarian, an unpopular position at liberal Sewanee U.  But, he said he was having a hard time reconciling “sustainability” with some of the libertarian views I had written of on this blog.  In his mind, these were polar opposites.  To which I responded,

“I can’t imagine anything sustainable unless founded on true principles, including the freedom to act on them”.  

That led to a broader discussion of sustainability.  Sustainable extends into eternity.  It’s not just about restraining ourselves from destroying natural Eco-systems, although that is part of it.  It includes spiritual, moral, physical and economic sustainability.   It’s about being wise, good stewards.  It’s about being the change we want to see.

In other words, Saving the World one person at a time. . . starting with me.

PS:  For a list of some of the community projects referred to in the above video, see my post, Socialism Fails as Free Markets Flourish In the Village.

Flaws Emerge in Libertarian Philosophy

Sharing a thread from the Village internal bulletin board (names changed to protect privacy):

I participate on a variety of libertarian forums and lately there has been discussion of “moral relativism” and “moral universalism”. The libertarians on these boards feel that morality is something that is subjective to the individual and that no one can actually say if there is such a thing as “good or bad”.  In other words, the intense desire for freedom and independence among many libertarians seems to also be trying to throw off the shackles of any moral code as well.

To me this appears like libertarianism is descending into “nihilism”.  I was deeply disturbed to see how many libertarians subscribe to the idea that there is no “objective” way to determine right and wrong.  Following this philosophy to its logical conclusion leaves us disagreeing with murderers, rapists, etc. but without a basis on which to condemn their actions because the “goodness” or “badness” of their actions is relative to their own personal perspective.  I think this is a dangerous trend emerging among libertarians.

—- Gary —–

Gary, I share your concerns. This is one reason I think it best not to identify oneself too closely with any popular external line of reasoning, philosophy or thought. It is so easy to be branded with their follies. While there are many elements of libertarianism that are compatible with natural law and truth, there are also elements that are twisted to serve the interests of corrupt and evil men. This is true of every philosophy. Hence, I prefer to be known as an independent thinker, not a subscriber to someone else’s philosophy.

As founder of the Village, I feel an obligation to weigh in clearly on your excellent point.

There IS such a thing as absolute right, wrong, good, evil and truth. I have observed, over time that while “facts” tend to change based on men’s perceptions of truth, truth does not. While we do not require Villagers to subscribe to the fine points of any particular religious doctrine or creed, we ask that all aspire to be practitioners of Judeo-Christian or other compatible religious teachings. This is the law and the prophets: Love God and Love others as yourself. The basic ten and other scriptural commandments are only descriptors of the highest commandment.

There is a fundamental, correct libertarian notion that crimes that harm victims are the worst crimes. Crimes that harm others justify punishment and/or the use of police or military force to protect people who would otherwise be victims.

But, I hold that “victimless crimes” can also be crimes. The victim of so-called “victimless crimes” is the self.  These crimes are against natural law, God and truth. They frequently lead to harmful acts against other victims. But, victimless crime is only punishable through natural consequences and by God. When governments take it upon themselves to prosecute victimless crimes, they tread on sacred, personal ground. It leads to speech and even thought control, wars on drugs, prohibition against drinking raw milk, raising one’s own garden, harvesting rain from the sky on one’s own roof, use of natural medicinal treatments and all kinds of incursions on personal freedom of choice.

Whenever personal freedoms are abridged to this extent and the state presumes to bear all accountability for choice, a general rejection of personal accountability is the natural consequence. When there is a tear in the fabric of personal accountability, social systems fail and mankind reverts to a survival of the fittest mentality and a rejection of all law and order.

Joseph Smith made one of the simplest and wisest statements on government when he said,

“I teach men correct principles and they govern themselves”.

Clearly, within this statement is the assumption that there is a difference between correct and incorrect principles.

Lest there be any confusion over the principles under which the Village on Sewanee Creek chooses to be governed, this is it.

—- 1st Villager —

Socialism Fails as Free Markets Flourish In the Village

In 1620, the Pilgrims tried socialism – and utterly failed at it. For several years, the colony raised crops in “communal service.” It didn’t work. So Governor Bradford instituted one historic change that was to ensure the flourishing success of the colony and change American history ever afterwards. Communal agriculture was abandoned and private planting was established. Here is Bradford’s own account from the original source documents:

“This was very successful. It made all hands very industrious, so that much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could devise, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better satisfaction. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to plant corn, while before they would allege weakness and inability; and to have compelled them would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

The failure of this experiment of communal service, which was tried for several years, and by good and honest men, proves the emptiness of the theory of Plato and other ancients, applauded by some of later times–that the taking away of private property, and the possession of it in community, by a commonwealth, would make a state happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For in this instance, community of property (so far as it went) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment which would have been to the general benefit and comfort.”

This story from our American heritage explains why private property ownership is so important. Let me give you another example of how we learned the same thing that Governor Bradford did. Those who have visited my website at sewaneecreek.com have seen that we tout our community garden.  This garden was never intended to feed Villagers, but rather serve as a place for training and social relationship building. But, even on that level, I proudly admit that the “community garden” has failed. The good news is that we recognized this early on and, like Governor Bradford, changed to something better. I built a nice raised bed garden and brought in good topsoil for the community garden.  But, because everyone in the Village has enough land to raise their own crops, it’s simply more convenient to farm closer to home. That fact, combined with what the Pilgrims discovered long ago, that socialism discourages real work, doomed the community garden even though it’s still there, ready to be worked by anyone who wants to.

What works better? Letting natural law take its natural course. We began assisting one another with gardening on our own land. That practice evolved further to helping one another with other projects. The key is that there is always a project sponsor who has a vested interest in getting something done with or improving something they own. An enlightened sponsor, interested in optimizing value, getting the job done effectively and efficiently, puts extra effort into organizing in advance. By managing it well, needed tools and materials are readily available. Know-how is acquired by study in advance of execution and necessary training is given.  This happens naturally when the objective is efficient production, not just hanging out together.  Not only does value-added work get done, but leadership and management skills are developed in the process.  The tangible results?

Example 1. Last winter, three families contributed real labor in the planting, tending and harvest of crops from the greenhouse that my family owns. The productivity of our assets increased as needed labor hours were contributed. We felt good about sharing the products of our combined labor. We had an abundance of winter vegetables including cabbage, kale, lettuce, carrots, beets, broccoli and cauliflower.  At times there was much more than the three participating families could consume, and much more than our family had the prior winter, when we operated the greenhouse by ourselves.

Example 2. is actually many examples. As each family realized the benefits received when others contributed labor to THEIR sponsored/owned projects, there developed a free market of labor exchange based on trust that value given would be returned and amplified. A free market requires that kind of trust and it encourages all to give their best efforts in return SO THAT they can earn the trust and contributions of others. An essential part of FREE MARKET is FREEDOM.   No one is forced, coerced, or even made to feel guilty if they don’t opt to play in the free market. But there are natural consequences, in the form of benefits.

Here is a partial list of the products of these many small projects.

ROTATING COMMUNITY PROJECTS
(by sponsor/beneficiary – in order of arrival in Village & participation)

Family #1

  • Raised Bed Gardens Built
  • Greenhouse Built
  • Back Garden Clearing, Plowing, Planting
  • Orchard Irrigation Water Tank – overflow from RWCS
  • Deep Cycle Solar Battery Charging
  • CONEX Guest House Built
    • Insulation
    • Exterior Siding
    • Interior paint & Paneling
    • Plumbing
    • Roof
  • Power Shed
    • Concrete Foundation
    • Shed Re-Roofed
    • Lister Generator Installed
    • Wood Gasifier Installation & Training
  • Micro-Hydro-Electric Generator @ Miller’s Falls
    • drilled for Re-Bar above Waterfall for Small Dam
    • Install Weir
    • Install pen-stock

Family #2

  • Dam for Driveway and Pond Built
  • Driveway Built, Rock Surfaced
  • Outdoor Wood Furnace Installed
  • Raised Bed Gardens Built
  • Chicken Coop designed & Built
  • Rainwater Catchment Tanks installed
  • Solar PV System Installed
  • Roof Repair – Main House
  • Seed Lawn
  • Move In: Unload truck and move furniture
  • Kitchen Cabinets Finished
  • Special House Cleaning for guest visit
  • Solar Fence Installed
  • CONEX containers for shop installed,
    • Ground work, leveling
    • Windows installed
    • Trenching for electrical connection to shop

Family #3

  • Storage Shed Built
  • Raised Bed Garden Built
  • Garden Leveled and Plowed
  • Stone Retaining Wall & Garden Bed Built
  • Fallen Tree Removed
  • Chicken Coop Built
  • Installed 2 TV Antennas
  • Move In: Unload truck and move furniture
  • Rainwater Collection System Installed

Family #4

  • Put Out Large Brush Fire
  • Built Goat Shelter
  • Re-Mapped New Lot perimeter for Solar fence and Dam

Family #5

  • Raised Beds for Garden Installed
  • General Yard Clean-up during Construction

COMMUNITY PROJECTS

  • Tile Fired and Installed for Face of the Village Sign – Donated by a generous Villager
  • Planter at the Village sign, maintenance – Family #3
  • Winter Greenhouse Garden, Cabbage harvest & Kraut Processing
  • Bee Keeping
    • Monthly bee club potluck And instruction
    • Continuous learning & sharing of info re: bees
    • Hives built
    • Bees installed
    • Regular weekly rotation of bee care & feeding
  • Food Service Equipment donated for Commons, pending installation – another generous Villager

SOCIAL / CULTURAL & EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITIES

  • Weekly Monday Family Home Evening get-togethers for games, discussions, lessons, etc.
  • Pot Luck Dinners
    • Christmas, New Years and Thanksgiving
    • Monthly Village Potluck – Rotating Venue
    • Ad Hoc – too many to count
  • Preparedness Fair (with over 15 expert presentations)
  • Preparedness Workshop (with gourmet outdoor cooking demo and feast, rock climbing and rappelling and more
  • Annual July 4th Celebration (potluck, entertainment, movies, fireworks, pig roast)
  • Summer movies under the stars @ the Village Amphitheater
  • Movies @ the Miller’s Home Theater – Too many to count
  • Plays attended together
    • Les Miserable – Nashville
    • A Mid-Summer Nights Dream – U. Of South, Sewanee
    • Julius Caesar – U. Of South, Sewanee
    • Picasso at the Lapin Agile – U. Of South, Sewanee
  • Movies away from the Village
    • Defiance – U. OF South
    • Atlas Shrugged
  • Educational presentations attended in Huntsville twice
  • Many gulf hikes, cave explorations
  • Stone Fort Park Tour – Manchester
  • Local Worm Farm Tour

At the intersection of Christianity, Libertarianism and Sustainable Energy

The Solar Industry, even with unprecedented subsidies in the US and abroad,  is struggling.  In a second term Obama administration, what is the outlook for Sustainable Energy?  Read this for an industry insider’s perspective.  In closing, the writer makes this plea.

“It is absolutely critical – whether or not you have a new legislator – that you and your team introduce yourself to them,” Resch agreed. “Make sure they know they have a solar company in their district.”

It’s hard to be a libertarian purist.  As a matter of principle, a libertarian refuses to be part of the corruption, pork-barrel politics and influence-buying that is our government.  I acknowledge that is how the game is and always has been played.  Refusing to play it that way puts me at a distinct disadvantage.

There are more paradoxes.  I want to be self-sufficient.  Solar can be a source of “free”, liberating energy.  With enough innovation and scale, solar can be an economically viable solution, freeing me from the tyranny of the military- industrial-governmental complex.  I want the solar industry to succeed.  But I want it to do so in a free market without the distortions created by government meddling.

We are losing that battle.  But, as they say, “all politics is local”.

What can I do?  That which is important; Maintain my personal sense of integrity and support that which is good in the world.  How to be “in the world, but not of the world”?  John 17    Isn’t that the Christian struggle between good and evil?

Who is John Galt?  Where is Galt’s Gulch    Hint.

 

.

Post Election blues? Find security in self-sufficiency and community.

Over six years into building an intentional community called the Village on Sewanee Creek, it’s an interesting coincidence that we finished this video on election day and have just uploaded it to YouTube.  I hope it’s a comforting response to troubling times.

I actually went to bed early on election night before results started coming in.  I slept well, knowing that no matter the outcome of the election, I had done all I could or should.  I awoke early, as usual.  Like most of you, I found it fascinating to review the Facebook posts from last evening.   So divided, so extreme!

I have a few suggestions:

For those who are celebrating, partay on, dudes!

For the indifferent, get back to work.  Move along, there’s nothing to see here.

Then there are about half of the voters who are genuinely concerned about the state of the Republic, your civil rights, the economy and what happens when a President is re-elected, with no prospects or concerns for re-election and a history of trampling the constitution.  This is especially for those of you who have noticed that it doesn’t matter which party that President comes from.  For you, it’s time to take action to secure your future.  The system is broken.  When things are beyond a political solution, it’s time for a personal solution.   In this video, I speak on the foundational values of the Village on Sewanee Creek.    Self-Sufficiency, Personal Freedom, harmony between people and nature, adherence to the Golden Rule.

If you’re in the mood to reclaim a sense of peace and security in your life, you can inquire about living in the Village here.