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

The Power of Small Moments

I have often blogged on the importance of making a difference by thinking small, or rather, local.  Meaning, if you want to change the world, start by changing yourself.  Gandhi’s “BE the change you want to see” is the universal starting point.  Failing to do so has delivered to us a shallow culture of hypocrisy and deeply ingrained corruption from the highest levels of boardrooms to the shop floor, from congress and the presidency to the local planning commission or school board.  Epidemic corruption makes for profound distrust, breeding systemic, deeply ingrained cynicism.

The longing for Values and Integrity is why many Friends of Sewanee Creek have told me they are drawn to the dream of living in a community of people who genuinely care for one another, hard-working people of strong, traditional core values, people who are civil and respectful to each other even, or especially, when they don’t agree or have conflicting interests.  That dream can only be realized when each of us commits to be the shining example of the community we want to be in.

That starts with me.  As the obviously imperfect founder of the Village, the self-imposed burden of self-examination can be daunting.  The worst kind of cynicism can be the loss of trust or self-respect that comes from failing to meet one’s own standards to perfection.  And . . . nobody wants to hang out with cynics.

While each of us does our best to live to high standards and values, it is important to think SMALL as well as local.  We need to recognize that it is often the small acts of kindness or civility that can make the biggest difference.

This morning, I ran across an article titled, “The Power of Small Moments”. It got me thinking of the huge task I have set for myself of building a culture of goodness in the Village, let alone the daunting task of being a shining example of what I want to see.  I found it oddly comforting.  I hope you enjoy this article as much as I did.

Christian Values

It’s been quiet on this blog. Son, Jonathan and I have been flat out finishing the carport that the Village framed more than a week ago. I’ll post pix later.

My early morning hours are usually spent reading and meditating. This morning I ran across this great blog, “the recovering legalist”. I ended up posting a long comment there under my nom de plum, 1stVillager, expressing some of my values and beliefs. This one deals with food and drink and our tendency toward “legalism” and judgmentalism, modeled for us by New Testament Pharisees.

Well worth a click: Christian Liberty or License

Truth

Truth may be viewed clearly only when seen through the lens of distilled, true principles.

Facts, on the other hand, are not necessarily true. Facts change with understanding. Truth does not.

Therefore, seek true principles ahead of facts. Only then will you begin to know whether facts are true, important or even relevant.

In Grandpa Mode at Last

I think I finally turned the corner last week when my daughter and family came for a visit. It’s taken a long time, but I am now officially just a Grandpa, nothing more or less.
Maybe it’s partly about letting go of all other pretentious aspirations. Maybe, the recognition that I have no career left. The “friends” I knew from 30+ years in business are long gone. What remains is my family. The fresh, young and renewing part of my life is in my kids and grand kids.

Tire Swing

What a joyous time we had,
  • Wrestling on the living room floor,
  • Piling all of us onto our king sized bed,
  • Enjoying the new tire swing, dubbed the “grandpa swing”
  • Sharing the kid’s beaming smiles from the sense of power and accomplishment each one got doing some real work with the skid-steer, moving and smoothing dirt and digging up stumps.

    Moving the Earth

  • Its fun and so easy to impress little ones with little things like showing off the bees without a bee suit, knowing that I’m fairly safe from being stung because I’ve done it before and the bees are usually very gentle.

Fearless Grandpa, bees and helpers

  • Then there were the simple one-on-one moments when we rode out together on the 4-wheeler, then sat on each child’s special spot, their own lookout point perched above the majestic canyon. No profound insights shared or expected. No grandfatherly wisdom or advice given.  Not even a photo taken because our spot is a secret.  Just two people joined in the bond of family, enjoying God’s grand creations, together.
  • Even the harder moments like trying to console an inconsolable grandson after a painful yellow jacket sting, knowing that where I was failing, my sweet daughter and son-in-law would make up the difference and, in the end, everything would be fine, an unforgettable memory in the life of a brave little boy.

I can tell you now, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

Yeah, I guess I’m just a slow learner. I still struggle with the question of whether I’m actually retired or not. It’s taken a long time to settle into my true calling in life.   Maybe I’ll print up some new calling cards with the title, “Grandpa”.

I have the solution to mankind’s problems

Notice the Japanese character on the screen next to Mr. Gamble? It’s pronounced ai (or I) as in the word aikido, the martial art that uses an opponent’s energy to defeat him. Interesting that, by itself, it means “to meet” and is also part of the word for community. Then, there is its homonym, another character pronounced ai, that means love. Kind of cool that Ai have the solution to all of mankind’s problems, isn’t it?

the Village on Sewanee Creek

For almost six years now, my wife and I have labored to build a community called the Village on Sewanee Creek.  I’ve documented our journey towards self-sustaining community on this blog.  It’s been a fertile time for such an endeavor.

The world seems to be falling apart at the seams.  The poor and middle class get poorer while the rich (1%) get richer and more powerful.  Global economies are in disarray.  There is rioting in the streets of London, Cairo, Paris…  Never mind.  It’s easier to ask what major cities don’t have riots or mass demonstrations.  The world grows more polluted or depleted.  Inflation for basic commodities like food and energy is up while the value of houses and 401k’s is down.  Food is GMO, with less nutrition but more antibiotics, chemicals and other questionable stuff.  Overhead, there are chem trails.  People worry about nuclear radiation from Fukushima.  9/11…

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The fruit (and vegetables) of Sharing

Several years ago, I built a 2,000 square foot greenhouse on our land so we could grow food for our family all winter long.   We had gardened successfully on the same spot in prior years.  Greenhouse gardening was new to us.  It took a while to figure out what to grow and how to grow it in the winter season, but last winter we determined to fill it with cold tolerant vegetables and not heat it at all other than the free solar daytime heat.  We knew it would have too much capacity for us to use, so we invited other Villagers to share in the work and the produce.   We dined all winter long on fresh cabbage, carrots, kale, spinach, beets, lettuce, radishes, onions, broccoli and cauliflower.   We worked together in the greenhouse and later making sauerkraut from the bumper crop of cabbages.  Delicious.  But the best payoff was in relationships.

I want to share an email that my wife, Becky, just received from Judy (cc to me).
It gladdened my heart to see the fruits of sharing.  Sharing:

  • Transforms relationships.
  • Demonstrates trust and love.
  • Stimulates generosity in return.

The Bible teaches,

“Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.”   Ecclesiastes 11:1

When I was a child, I used to wonder, “so who wants soggy bread?”    🙂

Here’s the answer:

Hi Becky,
 
I finished filling my kraut-bucket with cabbage today, and wanted to say thank you for sharing the produce from your greenhouse.  Although we spent a few hours there planting/thinning/weeding, our reward has been greater than effort expended.  Not to mention that it is your greenhouse, your seed, your water…  
 
I’ve been wondering how you determine what is fair when it comes to sharing the fruits of our labors.  I don’t want you to feel that we are taking too much advantage of a good thing!
 
My concern is that things not go to waste because there isn’t time or energy to harvest what was planted.  I am willing to help you put up the vegetables–as an additional ‘payment’ for what we receive.  For example, I’ll chop your cabbage and bottle it (you provide the jars); the finished product is yours. Maybe I can help get the last of the beets bottled…  I know you have MANY other things that could be occupying your time.
 
Please don’t hesitate to let me know what I–and Tom–can do to best help keep things moving along!
 
-judy.

Thank you Becky and Judy and Tom and George for your example to us all.

The Christian Prepper’s Dilemma

Once again sharing portions of a dialog from the Village’s private board, “Friends of Sewanee Creek”.  Commenter, John (name changed), is a friend of the Village, but not yet a Villager.

Grant Miller shared an article on 01/31/2012 10:57:49 am.
I don’t like labels, but I guess I’m a prepper. My parents were preppers before there was such a word. Back then, they just called it frugal, hard-working, forward thinking and innovative. I’ve been a prepper all of my life, but really got intense about it 6 years ago when I started this project. Being intense always risks burnout, so this blog hit home. You can read the original here.

______________________________________________________________________________
Avoiding Prepper Burnout

Ever look at your efforts in preparedness and think to yourself – “Self, is this all just a waste of time?” Ever think about the hours spent reading blogs, visiting preparedness forums, and making plans and consider that all of that time could have been spent doing something more “important?” I mean – that awesome AR-15 that you finally got off of layaway could have afforded the family a nice vacation to the beach.

Is it really worth it?
If you think this way, guess what? Your human and not alone. It’s OK. It’s called “prepper burnout” and it happens to the best of us.

Prepper Burnout can arrive for several reasons:
1st – Nothing happens. That’s right – all your planning and food storage and the world around you just seems to not collapse. Of course that is good. It is absolutely fortunate however it gives non-preppers a lot of ammunition to poke fun and insinuate that your preps are a waste of time.

2nd – Money. Maybe would better stated as “Not enough money”. So many of us are struggling to not just pay bills, put food on our plates and gas in our cars – but we are also trying to stock up on preparedness supplies at the same time. When times are especially tough it is easy to redirect priorities and the corresponding funds to other things and say, “screw preparedness”.

3rd – Lack of Time. In many peoples lives so many activities and distractions take up valuable time and challenge many to find more time to spend on “prepping”. For many of us – prepping is easy to push to the bottom of the priority list and sweep under the rug.

There are many more reasons why some people just get sick (and tired) of prepping.

So what can be done about it? Take a break!! Yes – just take a break from prepping for a week or two – the world won’t come to an end (at least we hope not). Spend time with the family. Do something fun like bowling or go to a couple movies. If you have a hobby that maybe you have not had done in a while – go for it. If possible, have a family meeting and ask everyone else what they would like to do. Money does not have to be spent to relax and have a good time. Visit a park and bring a picnic lunch. Make Saturday a “vegetable day” – meaning that you will become a couch potato and watch movies all day. Invite some friends over and have a cookout. Whatever is chosen – have fun and forget about prepping for a bit.

Preparedness Goals?

Often while taking a break from prepping your mind will start to come back around and preparedness goals will begin to come into sight. It is at that time to throw in your favorite apocalyptic movie – get out a pad of paper – and write. Write some preparedness goals that you want to accomplish. Possibly you may think about getting ready for spring gardening. Start a list of gardening “things to do” to start in early spring. Get it out of your head and on paper.

If money is short do some things that are inexpensive or free. Go to your local dollar store and stock up on some really inexpensive but valuable preparedness supplies. Spend a day scouring the Internet for good info and maybe print some out to place in a “survival information binder”. Ask a friend who has a particular skill that you want to have teach you. Maybe even perform a complete inventory of your stockpile and enter everything in a spreadsheet.

We all get burnt out sometimes. Just realize that it is OK and take steps to refresh, reload, and regenerate. Often you will come back re-energized and better focused on your preparedness goals.

Take care all –
Rourke

_______________________________________________________________________

John – 01/31/2012 10:04:35 pm

Prepping is a bit like subscribing to same type of logic that underlies Pascal’s wager on the existence of God. From what I have read on this forum though, prepping has become an opportunity for exploration and discovery. Sounds exciting to me…not a reason for burnout.

I have seen a lot of prepper shows on TV as well as websites and I wanted to ask a question related to something you wrote above, Grant.

“that awesome AR-15 that you finally got off of layaway could have afforded the family a nice vacation to the beach. ”

A large proportion of preppers seem to be people of faith. On this site I have come across Christian references so I assume that many in the community take Jesus as their lord and savior. I also have noticed that the majority of preppers are well armed and are prepared to protect themselves and their families from any potential dangers that might confront them.

But, what is the plan if a prepper community is not confronted by a band of marauding ne’er do wells, but rather a large group of starving families? Would these Christian preppers unleash the hounds and machine guns on a refugee population of starving children to save their food stores? What would Jesus or the values of the New Testament suggest the appropriate plan of action be?

There is a concerning amount of violent undercurrent which pervades many prepper networks and communities that is of great concern to me. There is almost a perverse desire in certain cases to welcome the coming of the apocalypse, or so called cleansing.

In my opinion, what many prepper communities are doing (especially the undertakings that I read about on this blog) should be a model for the greater country as I believe that they are directly confronting the issues of sustainability which in my mind will be the most pressing issues of our lifetime. The image of preppers should be more open arms and smiles and less AK-47’s and land mines.

At the end of the day, I don’t know if I would be able to reply to a legitimate and honest cry for help with the cold response of a machine gun round.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Grant Miller – 02/01/2012 07:31:24 am

John, as usual, you go to the heart of the matter.

First, let me clarify. I didn’t write this piece. I shared it from another blog, so I don’t own it. Having said that, I would be dishonest if I did not admit to having invested in self-defense measures.

But, underlying a genuine and realistic need to be prepared to defend oneself against evil forces, there is, as you say, a deeper need to prepare to be a part of the solution for those who are genuinely in need. The answers to this dilemma are not easy.

On one hand, no amount of preparation and industriousness (putting back food and water, growing food, becoming energy self-sufficient, etc) would be adequate if the community is over-run by people in need. Years of work and preparation to feed one’s own family could potentially be wiped out in a day, as would one’s ability to assist others in need through a desire to lovingly share.

On the other hand, there is no indication that Christ was a “prepper”. He lived day-to-day, grateful for His daily bread. Having little in the way of material goods, He and his disciples gave what they could to the poor, which was probably also very little even though it was much relative to what they had. The Bible says that Judas was the keeper of the purse and there are a few references to discussions about giving to the poor. One such comes to mind when the controversy arose about Christ being anointed with expensive ointment prior to his crucifixion. Jesus, in defense of this extravagance replied, the poor are always with you.   Mark 14  It would seem from this that Christ recognized that there are inexhaustible physical needs that are beyond our ability to satisfy and that one must choose wisely how to allocate physical resources. But the allocation of physical resources was not at the core of Christ’s teachings. He repeatedly stated that His Kingdom was not of this world, not physical in nature. The abundance of what He had to offer was spiritual and far more important than the physical. It was the healing of the spirit and the body.

It is difficult to visualize all scenarios a prepper or a Christian might be faced with. I certainly want to be among those who would generously share with those in need. From discussions I have had, I am confident that all others who are invested in the Village feel the same. But I also want to protect and provide for the ones I love most. So, I suppose that, in a dooms day scenario where there is mass starvation, I would try to carefully choose between those who are non-violent and in need and those who are out to pillage. An armed mob bent on taking what I have diligently put back would be met with the best defense I could muster. But I would do my best to “give this day, of our daily bread” to the extent that I do not endanger the welfare of those in my personal stewardship.

My favorite play is Les Miserable, based on Victor Hugo’s monumental novel. The pivotal moment that sets the stage for everything else in the story is when the Priest gives all of the Church’s silver to Jean Valjean who has stolen a portion of it. Through this singular act of charity, the convict Valjean is transformed to a Christian life of giving. This example of Christian charity would seem to contradict my rationale of distinguishing beneficiaries by their intent or level of violence. But there are differences. Silver is not sustenance. It was ornamentation for the Church. It could be yielded up without threatening starvation to the priests and nuns. More importantly, the priest had spent the prior evening feeding and, one could assume, plumbing the depths of Valjean’s soul in conversation. I would imagine that the priest gave the silver for a higher cause than feeding Valjean a few more meals. He sensed the goodness there and that giving the silver would be a wise investment in the well-being of many. How many others had visited the convent prior to Valjean in similar circumstances? How many others had depleted all the silver in the Church? Apparently, Valjean was a special case.

Similarly, it is difficult to say what should be the appropriate response to all future scenarios that we face in life.

Being armed and prepared allows me to make that difficult choice in the moment and under real and specific circumstances. I am not Christ and don’t share His mission nor His ability to lay down my life as a Savior for all mankind. I may be called upon to lay down my life for some within my sphere of influence, though. If such difficult choices must be made, I just pray that I will be spiritually prepared to discern and choose as Christ would have.  Like Him, I hope that my choices will transcend the physical and the consequences of those choices will yield spiritual and therefore eternal benefits.

This is why, for preppers, the most important preparation is spiritual.

Matthew 16
19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

26  For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

I would love to hear more thoughts on this topic from friends and members of the Village.

How to Save the World from Itself

Brace Yourself:

Below is the full text of a long post  followed by 1stVillager commentary.  It’s a great article and well worth the time.

Is deception no longer an adaptive human strategy?

by Kurt Cobb

“A lie is as good as the truth if you can get somebody to believe it.” So goes the cynical maxim. Naturally, it contradicts the accepted public morality embodied in the saying: “Honesty is the best policy.” That saying is attributed to Miguel de Cervantes though it has been repeated by many others. I rather think that the ancient Roman satirist Juvenal had it right when he wrote: “Honesty is praised and starves.”

The way to understand these contradictory statements is in the context of evolutionary success. Animals bear deceptive markings and patterns to camouflage themselves from predators. And, animals have been known to act out lies to deceive their fellow animals. William Catton Jr. relates such a story in his book Bottleneck: Humanity’s Impending Impasse:

One of the chimpanzees at the Gombe Field station provided a modern demonstration of this. He had acquired an ability to open locked banana boxes. But he seemed to know it was unwise for him to do so in the presence of other more socially dominant apes who might attack him and take the bananas. To solve the problem this ape perfected the acted lie. By striding purposefully away from camp as if on his way to a good food source, he tricked other apes who would amble after him for a few hundred yards. By doubling back alone to the then deserted camp, he could open a banana box and peacefully enjoy its contents in the absence of the other chimps who, having seen there was no food in the camp other than what was confined to boxes they could not open, did not return with him.

It’s no surprise that humans have also found deception to be a useful survival skill. Certainly, it is useful in hunting animals. Even today we use the duck blind to conceal the position of the hunter. But deception as an adaptive behavior finds its true test in relations between humans in warfare, in sports, and even in commercial activities. We are more likely to deceive those whom we consider part of the out-group since they represent a possible source of resources for the in-group to which we belong and whose survivability we want to enhance. My in-group, however, is constantly shifting. Is it my family? Does it include my friends? How about my community? My nation? Those whom we consider appropriate targets for our cons depend on what group we place ourselves in at any moment.

All of this was brought to mind by the recent failure of the Harper administration in Canada to overturn a law which prohibits lying on news broadcasts. The change was sought to enable a Canadian upstart cable news channel dubbed Sun TV News to adopt the same style as the Fox News Channel in the United States. Apparently, lying is part of the format and not being able to lie would prevent Sun TV News from fulfilling its proper role in the world of Canadian media.

Does that mean Canadians are getting the truth elsewhere? Well, not lying is not always the equivalent of telling the truth. If you lie, it means by definition that you are saying something you know to be false or at least should have known to be false. But if you are simply mistaken, then people don’t call you a liar. They usually try to correct you.

So, there are two kinds of misinformation which we are subjected to every day in human affairs. The first is merely incorrect information. It may very well be the best estimate of the truth by the teller. If we detect the error, we call it an honest mistake. If we don’t detect the error, it may have the same effect as a deliberate lie would have on our actions.

For example, it is passed off as more or less incontrovertible that the human economy can grow indefinitely without either running out of resources or destroying the climate. The argument is that high prices for any scarce resource will lead to the discovery of more of that resource or to substitutes for it. All of this will happen in time to avert any catastrophic collapse of human industrial society.

Even among some who accept the reality of climate change, there is a belief that the offending emissions can be brought under control through technology alone, that alternative carbon-free energy sources can be deployed rapidly and in sufficient capacity to replace our current level of energy production from fossil fuels, and that geoengineering projects can be constructed if need be to alter the incoming amount of sunlight or absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. We will thereby save ourselves from civilization-destroying climate change while continuing to live pretty much as we do and with economic growth intact.

People who make these claims are, in my view, simply mistaken about the extent of the challenges. We cannot know for certain whether such people are wrong. But we can judge their chances of being right to be slight based on the evidence. The results of believing such information if it is false can be just as serious as believing intentional falsehoods.

This brings us to another kind of communication that is constructed of outright lies. Claims by industry-funded think tanks include that the Earth is not warming; that if it is, human activity is not responsible; and that such warming will somehow be beneficial to humans on balance. All these claims can and have been shown to be false by the actual scientific evidence. Another demonstrably false assertion is that there is no consensus among climate scientists that humans are changing the climate through their actions.

Catton explains in Bottleneck that the purpose of deception is to create a “false or misleading definition of the situation.” The ability to deceive depends on two things, the skills of the deceiver and a situation in which the deceiver’s words or actions will be interpreted as truthful. The generally rising prosperity of the last 150 years leads most people to conclude that the future will be more or less like the recent past, namely, continued economic growth with few constraints. So, claims of continuous growth fall on fertile ground.

Those who attempt to deceive the population about climate change also have experience as their ally. Catastrophic consequences tied definitively to climate change are difficult to demonstrate. And, most people have not been touched by frequently cited examples: Hurricane Katrina, the record 2010 floods in Pakistan, the shrinking Arctic icecap. Their experience tells them that at most climate change is benign.

The trends revealed by scientific research are far more troubling than the average person’s experience. While the scientific community has endeavored mightily to communicate these trends, the task has proven difficult because of the abstract nature of much of the scientific knowledge which must be communicated. This has made it fairly easy for the fossil fuel industry to muddy the waters with misleading and outright false information skillfully planted in major media outlets.

In the past deception may have been an adaptive behavior for the human species. But, as with any trait, changed circumstances can render previously adaptive behaviors maladaptive. The changed circumstance is that humans are now so numerous and so powerful through their technology that they are are able to undermine the very biosphere which supports their survival.

And, since humans coordinate their activities primarily through language, it stands to reason that if that language is now used most effectively to create a false or misleading definition of the actual situation, then the human community will not be able to act appropriately to ensure its continued survival in the face of multiple threats such as climate change, fossil fuel depletion, soil erosion, water pollution and so on. The ability to deceive then has become so counterproductive that it threatens humans with extinction.

Could this trait be somehow moderated to allow a more realistic assessment of our situation? Partly this would require a new definition of who is included in our community. If the definition remains narrow–for example, my climate-change denying friends in the fossil fuel industry–then there is little hope for change. If the definition can expand to all of humanity, then the need for deception is diminished. I no longer consider people halfway across the globe as part of an out-group who can be regarded as enemies and may be deceived without moral concern.

But overcoming deception will also require the inclusion of scientific information and observations not normally incorporated into what most humans call their experience. Of the two tasks I’ve outlined, this second one seems the more difficult.

It is discouraging to conclude that a human behavior which has been selected for by nature to enhance our survival has now turned against us. But in this way, language–which is perhaps the highest achievement of humankind–could become our undoing.

Kurt Cobb is the author of the peak-oil-themed thriller, Prelude, and a columnist for the Paris-based science news site Scitizen. His work has also been featured on Energy Bulletin, The Oil Drum, 321energy, Common Dreams, Le Monde Diplomatique, EV World, and many other sites. He maintains a blog called Resource Insights.

Original article available here

My Turn:

One level below the practical implications of this debate is a disturbing conflict for Christians.
Said Christ, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  When challenged, “who is my neighbor?”, he declared my neighbor is all humanity.

Yet, common sense and experience teach that at the survival level, “Honesty is praised and starves.”  My experience building an intentional community based on a combination of the golden rule and a self-sufficiency work ethic teaches me that with few exceptions, the world functions on the level of base self-interest.  People crying out for a return to Christian principles regularly engage in deception that is harmful to others simply because it works.  In its most cynical form, the preachers of many organized religions are exposed as the greatest hypocrites, calling for mutual love while plundering the gullible under the cover of religious piety.  So, even the advocates of “pure religion” are among the least trusted.

The call for mankind to unite under the banner of enlightened self-interest assumes a confidence in universal enlightenment that is more quixotic than Christ’s call to love all mankind equally.  In the disinformation age, truth ubiquitously couched in half-truths, smothers any possibility of getting to ultimate truth.  As noted, the modern religion called science is equally compromised by special interests.  It has come to the point where one must do “primary research” in order to trust the conclusions.  Secondary or second-hand science is no longer trusted.

“And, since humans coordinate their activities primarily through language, it stands to reason that if that language is now used most effectively to create a false or misleading definition of the actual situation, then the human community will not be able to act appropriately to ensure its continued survival in the face of multiple threats … “

One could infer from this that language is the problem.  But the problem goes much deeper than language.  Language is but a tool of deception, perhaps the singular tool in a devil’s tool chest that distinguishes humans from lower animals.  But the author’s final sentence clarifies,

“The ability to deceive then has become so counterproductive that it threatens humans with extinction.”

This nugget approaches the truth.  Language is not the root of the problem.  The problem is fundamental morality.  But to clarify, the root is not the ability to deceive, but deception itself, the common assumption that “Honesty starves” and survival depends on deception.  That takes us back to Christ’s call to love ALL others as yourself, not just pretend to love others as yourself.

The fog of the disinformation war is penetrated by appealing directly to an ultimate source of truth.  In science, primary research, done by a competent, meticulous scientist can yield truth to that scientist.  Once public, having left the scientist’s hands and forced through the sieve of special interests, it becomes suspect.  The same can be said of religion.  Some still cling to an older notion that the ultimate source of truth is God.  As with the newer religion of science, personal revelation (the spiritual equivalent of primary research) is the only sure way to knowledge of the truth.

I am hopeful that mankind will come to its collective senses, taking a higher road that leads somewhere other than death and destruction.  There seem to be two potential paths leading to salvation.  One is the path of universal enlightened self-interest through education, logic and scientific inquiry leading to enlightened choices.  The other path embrace Jesus Christ’s call to morality, rejecting petty self-interest in favor of the Golden Rule.  Ironically, the destination of both paths is enlightened self-interest where people love others as themselves.  Many believe there is a fork in the high road forcing us to choose a mutually exclusive secular or spiritual option.  There is no such fork.  Truth is truth, whether revealed through either the rigor of scientific or spiritual inquiry.  Both paths require rigor.  If forced to bet on one path over the other, I bet that the spiritual path has been historically more successful in elevating human behavior than the path of universal scientific inquiry.  For me, no such choice is required.  In the face of man’s power to annihilate himself and evidence that he is well down that path, we must take up Don Quixote’s challenge to “dream the impossible dream”.  But I can’t get my head around that dream unless equipped with more than a lance.  Mankind must do the right thing not only because it is logically in his selfish interest, but also because it is right and moral.  He will get there when armed with truth discovered both through scientific and spiritual inquiry.  Thinking such a quest is possible while equipped with only half the tool-chest is worse than quixotic.  It is foolish.

Full disclosure, I am a Christian and a Mormon with the spirit of Don Quixote.

Be the Meaning of Christmas

Every year at this time we struggle through strident calls to recognize the true meaning of Christmas.  There are protests of non-Christians and atheists against creches in public places and equally enraged protests of Christians defending the traditions of a Christian nation.   Strident? Protests? Enraged?  Is this the new, true meaning of Christmas?  Have we reached a new low, below crass commercialism?   To all of that I say, “Bah Humbug”.

It’s December 25, but my family isn’t celebrating with our Christmas traditions today, although we did start the day with a reading of this special Christmas story.    We decided to wait another week until our son (who works at Best Buy in another State) can join us after the Christmas retail rush.  How nice!  A little extra time to relax and enjoy the season without the hoopla.

This little story isn’t mine.  But it inspires me.  I hope it will inspire you to think of Christmas differently, whether you are Christian, religious, spiritual . . .  or not.

My advice:  Don’t argue about what Christmas should mean.  BE the meaning of Christmas.  And, if you are reading this too late to plan to do something really nice this Christmas of 2011, don’t worry.  You can be the meaning of Christmas today too.  There is absolutely nothing stopping any of us from celebrating our very own spirit of Christmas today . . . or any day, just like our family decided to celebrate on a day other than the one everyone else is.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

It’s just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree.  No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past ten years or so.

It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas- oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it- overspending, the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma, the gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else.
Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.

Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended; and shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church.  These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.  As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without head gear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears.
It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford. Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn’t acknowledge defeat.

Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, “I wish just one of them could have won,” he said. “They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.” Mike loved kids – all kids – and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That’s when the idea for his present came.

That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling head gear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition, one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.

The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.

As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure. The story doesn’t end there.
You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more.

Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing to take down the envelope.

Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit will always be with us.

Editor’s Note: This true story was originally published in the December 14,1982 issue of Woman’s Day magazine. It was the first place winner out of thousands of entries in the magazine’s “My Most Moving Holiday Tradition” contest in which readers were asked to share their favorite holiday tradition and the story behind it.

One week later, Still in Thanksgiving mode

This year the thanksgiving holiday (and feelings that go with it) have been extended more than usual as I have focused on the blessing of being married for 25 years to an angel.

But I think it is difficult to stay in a thanksgiving mindset these days, not because times are hard, but because we still have so much (although perhaps less than we had a few years ago).   As blogged elsewhere, the abundant life is more a state of mind than a state of having lots of material stuff.  Now comes more rigorous thought from economists on why that is the case. Do you remember those boring lectures in Econ 101 about the theory of utility?  Basically, the theory says with each additional (or marginal) thing we get, its marginal utility decreases. And with decreasing utility, so goes our thankfulness for it.

Here is the article that discusses “Thanksgiving and Marginal Utility.”

So Thoreau was right. The formula for optimizing thankfulness and therefore, Joy, is to minimize excess stuff and live in a state of mild deprivation.

Hmmm, deprivation. that sounds kind of bad doesn’t it?  I have found that deprivation, in itself, doesn’t necessarily produce gratitude or joy any more than our greenhouse always produces the best vegetables.  There are plenty of miserable poor people to attest to that and it takes more than just solar heat in the daytime to grow good produce.   But, like the greenhouse, maintaining the right environment is important where, with some additional care and tending, the fruits of thankfulness and joy can be most rewarding.

I know this advice is falling on a lot of deaf ears.  “Mild deprivation” doesn’t sound very appealing even with some quasi-scientific/Economic justification.  OK, so try a dare based on the more traditional Biblical justification found in Proverbs 30:7-9.

Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die:
Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:
Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.

Economic theory confirmed in Scripture or the other way around?  All I know is that this week, as I have focused my attention on being thankful for the simple, non-material things of value in my life, I have felt a deeper, lasting sense of peace.  That feels pretty valuable right now.

How to Celebrate your Silver Wedding Anniversary

Yesterday was a very special day for me.
Twenty-five years ago, I married the most wonderful girl in the world.
For 25 years, she has proved how wonderful she is by putting up with me through thick and thin, wealth and poverty, births and bereavements.

Five years ago she followed me into the wilderness to begin a totally new adventure, building a self-sustaining community. In that time, she has quietly raised the gardens, canned the fruit and veggies, ground the grain and baked the bread, fed the rabbits and chickens and scooped their poop, finished raising our kids, hosted numerous preparedness fairs and Village events, braved a cold winter while our house was built with four of us packed into our little fifth wheel trailer, helped build our house, handled the bills, served in the local food bank and church leadership, started a business making and selling women’s purses, researched hundreds of ways to become more self-sufficient, and cheerfully supported me in my crazy dreams and grouchy moods through it all.

If that’s not love I don’t know what is.

Several days ago I blogged about thanksgiving and gratitude.  There is nothing and no one in this world I am more thankful for than my dear, eternal companion. She has literally saved my life, repeatedly. Day before yesterday, we sat down together to list 25 top memories commemorating our 25 years together.  More than 100 recorded memories later, the pace slowed as we cuddled before the fire. The sun set through the trees.  Darkness fell as we listened to the wind outside, the rain on the roof and the swelling creek. We realized that we had barely scratched the surface and agreed that this was the best way to celebrate an anniversary whether on a tight budget – or not.

As a follow-up to our exercise in reminiscing, we did some of the more traditional things too.  We found a highly rated Thai restaurant in Chattanooga and relived, with our taste buds, one of our favorite memories.  That was a fun one.  In our second year together, she accompanied me on a business trip to Thailand when I was working on the business plan to develop 7-Eleven there.  She was 7 months pregnant with our first child.  I was busy all day every day, buried in spreadsheets, so she bravely set out by herself to explore Bangkok sites and traffic on a noisy, smelly tuk-tuk.  Over spicy Thai dinners, we shared her adventures.

So we resolved to spend our anniversary and whatever other time it takes, expanding the list, filling in the details and sequencing it by year. When finished, it will be a gift to our children. It’s time for them to know more about our love affair and why they turned out so well.

Twenty five years has been but an eye blink compared to the eternity we plan to be together. But it’s an important milestone on the path where my love for this goddess of patience, kindness and quiet perseverance increases with each year.  I am forever in her debt.

Fitting that our anniversary falls every year right after Thanksgiving, don’t you think?

Gratitude: Links to Faith, Love and Joy


The abundant life starts and ends with gratitude enabled by faith.
This day, Thanksgiving, has its foundation in traditions begun by the Pilgrims.

The occasion was a successful harvest after months of extreme hardship and deprivation. The Mayflower survivors invited the Indian king Massasoit to their celebration, and he came with ninety-some of his men. The Pilgrims provided waterfowl and turkey; the Indians added five deer. There were games and athletic contests, and even a joint militia drill. The celebration lasted three days. But they did not call the feast “Thanksgiving,” and the record does not mention prayers of thanks or any kind of worship service. Some historians question whether this “first Thanksgiving” was a religious celebration at all. But that’s because they don’t know the Pilgrims and what they really believed.

The pilgrims were children of the reformation, Christians seeking to live according to their best understanding of Christ’s teachings. They understood that God graciously declares guilty sinners righteous on the basis of Christ’s perfect obedience and his death, substituting his perfection for our imperfection, paying our debt by proxy and overcoming both spiritual and physical death for us.  This gift of legally transferred righteousness is received by faith and such faith is itself the gift of a sovereign God. But they also knew that grace doesn’t end there. They, no less than the Reformers, had faced the obvious questions: “Why then should believers do good works?  Doesn’t the doctrine of justification by faith, a free gift, lead to sloth and lawlessness?”  Isn’t it OK to simply declare your faith, then enjoy a free ride?

The Pilgrim answer, and the answer of Scripture, involves the nature of saving faith and the work of the Spirit who grants it. To the extent that one comprehends and accepts Christ’s infinite gift of redemption, won through unfathomable pain, one cannot help but feel gratitude.  Gratitude changes one’s heart. The depth of one’s gratitude determines the depth of one’s joy.  The video that introduces this post shows how we can cultivate a sense of gratitude by noticing and focusing on the goodness of the gifts (blessings) we receive and how gratitude is inseparably connected with joy.

This is the very nature of joy. When we enjoy a thing, we are thankful for it. We praise the gift to the giver and so enjoy both.

  •   “Thank you for this ring!  It’s magnificent!”
  •   “What a fantastic dinner!  It was the best ever. Thank you.”

When we find joy in another human being, we show our joy and gratitude with words and actions. We praise and magnify the one we love. We are thankful to love and to be loved.

  • “I’m proud of you, son. You’re the best.”
  • “I thank God for you every day. My life wouldn’t be the same without you.”
  • “There’s no one else like you!  I love you so much!”

Joy finds its fulfillment in thankfulness, in praise and thanksgiving. Silent joy is a contradiction. Mute appreciation isn’t really thanks. God requires our thanksgiving and our love so that our joy may be full. Shakespeare said it well, “They do not love that do not show their love.”

The spirit of thankfulness and joy are gifts that are cultivated by the Holy Spirit, who also gifts us with faith.  These four gifts (faith, gratitude, love and joy) are inseparable, and they begin with faith.  They work together.  The fruit of true gratitude is a desire to give back in some meaningful way, not only in words of gratitude but also in deeds.  The Holy Spirit gives the converted sinner a delight in serving God.  And so, the circle is complete.  Motivated by these gifts, one’s desire to work toward perfection, which is the love of God, increases.  Long before Shakespeare, James said the same thing about the interconnected nature of faith, gratitude, love, and works, “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.”  James 2:18

There is a perennial debate over whether salvation comes of faith or works.  That debate introduces a needless semantic division amongst believers in Christ that is easily resolved with an understanding of the inseparability of the gifts from the natural consequences of those gifts truly appreciated and received.  The core question is not whether we are saved by faith.  It is, what is the quality of our faith? . . . or is my faith sufficient for salvation?

If it is true that the natural and inevitable consequences of true faith in Christ are gratitude, joy and a desire to serve, then it should be easy to measure the strength of one’s own faith to salvation.  I am careful here to say, “one’s own faith” as feelings and desires are matters of the heart, known only to oneself and God.  Each of us acts on those feelings in different ways that we believe will be the best ways to serve and may not be apparent to others.  Hence, the command that we withhold judgment of others.

As I celebrate this day designated for Thanksgiving, I am prompted to evaluate the quality of my gifts. “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift?  Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.” (D&C 88:33)  Here is the test of whether I have actually received the gift . . . (the gift of salvation through faith):
1.  Is my heart overflowing with thankfulness for my gifts?
2.  Is my gratitude evidenced by deep, abiding joy that transcends the fear, pain and difficulties of this day?
3.  Am I filled with a joyful desire to show my gratitude through returning obedience and service to God by serving my fellow man?

If the answer to any of these questions is questionable, then the question remains, “have I received the gift of salvation through faith if gratitude, joy and love are obviously lacking?”  If not, as Shakespeare might have said it, they have not faith who do not show their faith.

Comfort and Joy
That gift of joy and comfort was not meant to be enjoyed only after this life is over.  This life is hard, often painful.  But Christ promised, “…my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matt 11:30       That is the promise of joy and comfort now.

The Pilgrims and Puritans are almost always portrayed as obsessive killjoys and miserable downers. There’s little truth in that image. Joy wasn’t an afterthought for our Pilgrim forefathers. For them, joy stood at the beginning, in the center, and at the end as a natural product of faith. For them, God was joy, even when they were hungry and that same joy expressed itself in thankfulness. For the Pilgrims, a day of rejoicing is necessarily a day of thanksgiving. And throughout Scripture that sort of rejoicing means feasting, fellowship, and worship. The Pilgrims were deeply committed Christians who had braved an ocean and a wilderness to seek and serve God. When they rejoiced together, it would not–could not–be other than a time of thanksgiving to their Lord and Savior. Yes, the Pilgrims gave thanks to God and so should all of us.

On this day of thanksgiving, my wish for all is that our burdens will be light and easy, that our joy and gratitude will be full as we contemplate the eternal blessings that are our gifts from God and that we will feel compelled to share that joy, love and gratitude with others.

Quarter Horse Parable

Many of you who have visited the Village, if you were lucky, got to meet Joe.   He’s a local who does a lot of work here.   Joe is an expert with horses as well as an expert trader. A few days ago, knowing nothing about horses myself, Joe told me a little about his favorite, the quarter horse.
According to Joe:
The Quarter horse is a powerful, sensitive breed. They respond only to the lightest touch on the reigns, but are among the most brilliant, agile performers. They are the breed used in rodeos, barrel racing, cattle roping, all activities that need precision and power.  Joe buys and sells lots of junk horses. Most cycle through rapidly. He has one that just keeps coming back. With each trade, Joe makes a little money. Ironically, this one is his favorite.  It’s a keeper and it’s a quarter horse.  He sells it and then re-buys it for a lower price when the new owner discovers that it is un-ridable. That’s because people who are used to less sensitive and responsive animals tend to horse them around – meaning that they use gross, rough jerks on the reigns and gouge with their feet. Quarter horses respond to rough treatment with an equally rough ride.

It takes me a while to process information like that. This morning I awoke with a lovely thought. Good people are a lot like a good quarter horse. They are bright, sensitive, hard-working, responsive to a light touch, but may buck under a rough hand. Because I sometimes view myself as ineffective, an unskilled horseman, I often feel that people don’t understand what I’m saying or respond as I would like.  When I feel that way, the tendency is to be less sensitive myself, to tug on the reigns too hard or dig in with the spurs. Almost inevitably, that brings on a rough ride.

That thought reminded me of Christ, quietly writing in the dirt.  A gentle suggestion, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”.  The accusers who were ready to stone the adulterous woman melt away.  He turns to the woman and gently asks, “where are your accusers?” Then, I can imagine he said lovingly, almost in a whisper, “I don’t condemn you either. Go your way and sin no more”.

Good people are like a good quarter horse and the adulterous woman. Imperfect, sinful, like everyone else, but humble and sensitive, ready to respond to a gentle touch with power and grace. It’s a lesson I struggle with over and over. Today, I will try to remember Joe’s parable of the quarter horse and live with a lighter touch.

I am so thankful that I live with a constant, perfect example of the gentle touch, my dear wife, Becky.

Moving toward something good

1967 U.S. postage stamp honoring Henry David T...

Image via Wikipedia

I recently had an inspiring conversation with someone who has had a long-standing interest in the Village. We talked about how fragile our world is on almost every front, from climate changes to economic melt-downs to rioting in the cities like London and Birmingham, to corruption in politics and big business. You all know the list.

Then the conversation turned to preparation. Why do we want a self-sufficient lifestyle? We both agreed that it is totally impossible to prepare for every doomsday scenario. We do our best to be pragmatic about our preparations. We keep our eyes wide open. We try not to be in denial, but also not in hiding. In the end, none of us know what challenges may come our way or when.  Meanwhile, we don’t want to over-react.
Fear can ruin your life.  It’s important that we continuously move towards something good, not just away from the things we fear may be bad.

I often think of the life Henry David Thoreau, the great poet and philosopher, described in his landmark book, Walden Pond. He moved there, not to flee anything, but to move toward a more simple, peaceful, self-assured life. He wanted the freedom that comes from stripping away the bonds that come with having too many possessions. They tend to own you, rather than the other way around. He wanted the peace that comes from knowing that your life is not dependent on the whims of someone else, a job or the economy, or … whatever. And he proved it possible IF you strip away the unnecessary.

Life without many of the things we had come to think of as necessities is actually pretty good. I no longer carry a cell phone. After realizing that we hadn’t turned on the TV for a couple of months, but were paying about $80 per month in satellite fees, we cut it off and haven’t missed it much for a couple of years. Life is slower now even though the seasons and years seem to be rushing by at an increasing pace. When I was a young executive on the fast track my greatest fear was being unemployed. Now I can’t imagine going back.

Reflecting on all the people who have visited us over the years, most of them at some time said how much they aspired to this simpler, freer lifestyle. Yet such a small percentage act on those desires. I think it’s all about how we deal with fear and desire. I think most people who look into the self-sufficient lifestyle are initially motivated by fear.  Unfortunately for them, it’s the same fear that keeps them from making a major change in their lives because everyone fears the unknown and big changes.

Hopefully, the people who do make the change are the ones who have made the mental commitment to move toward things they desire in life and let the things they are moving away from gently recede into the background.

Aftermath of 9/11 – Hope, Peace, Power

Victor Guzman survived 9/11 from the 85th floor of the World Trade Center  Watch this video to see how he lived to tell how 9/11 changed his life in a positive way.
In a strange way, his story is my story.

I was on the opposite coast that dreadful morning, but the impact was no less devastating.  I had celebrated my 50th birthday 12 days earlier by being downsized from the best, most lucrative position of my career as International Division President of Allied Domecq (Baskin-Robbins and Dunkin’ Donuts).  I almost never watch TV, but for some reason that morning I flipped on the news a few seconds before the image of the first plane hitting the first tower seared itself into my consciousness.  I believe the impulse to turn on the TV at that moment was not an accident.  I called my family together and remember telling them that I didn’t know what it meant, but it was hugely significant and the world would never be the same from that moment forward.

Newly emancipated from my career at its peak, I was still full of confidence.  I decided to take advantage of that moment of freedom and reward my dear wife, who had faithfully followed me across the world as we climbed the ladder.  We abruptly sold our California house, moved to Atlanta and built our 5,000 square foot dream house where we could be near her family.

What followed was four years of unemployment.  It was a period when, like Mr. Guzman in this video, I had the time to be intensely involved with my family.  We enjoyed precious moments working, playing and studying the scriptures together.  It was also a time of grief and depression.  My oldest son, stricken with the disease of schizophrenia took his life.  The first five years following 9/11 was punctuated by some consulting work and one year as International Division Managing Director (President equivalent) at Papa John’s International.  In that year, my performance exceeded all the targets I was given, but within one year to the day, I was fired by a boss who had never intended to fill that position and knew it would be vacant again one year from filling it.  I had sold our Atlanta home and relocated to a place we didn’t want to be.  Success meeting my objectives at Papa John’s had refreshed my confidence, but this time I was done with living inside the matrix, the corporate life.

It had been just over five years since 9/11 and my departure from Allied Domecq.  The second 5-year phase of post 9/11 life began.  Always supportive, Becky followed me as I threw what was left of our life savings and all of my energy into building a community where we could live free and independent, surrounded by honest, supportive, creative and hard-working people of like mind, good people who care about their fellow-man as Christ taught.  This second 5-year segment has not been easy, nor financially profitable. Today, I have more questions than I have answered.  But, of the things that are important, I am blessed.  My children are now all independent – two in college, two married with children.  I had time to be with them in their formative years, building and enjoying them. I live in a place of immense natural beauty.  My personal land and home are debt free.  I have time to think and have spent a much of my time meditating, reading and writing.  My wife has thrown herself into raising a garden that feeds us.  We have a secure, private supply of clean, pure, life-giving water.  Our efforts have yielded a core group of trusted, beloved friends.

So, you can see, 9/11 has a great deal of significance to me.  You could say it was the beginning of a ten-year journey through tumult, failure, sadness, depression, blessings, hope, peace and empowerment.  The journey has just begun.

In this moment of reflection, I am impressed to tell you that
the outcome of the next years will depend on whether we sink into confused despair or realize that we are individually and collectively powerful.  With God’s guidance, we can create a world of hope, peace and power.

Top Ten Rules for Self-Governance in a Self-Sufficient Community

On SewaneeCreek.com, my blog and preamble to the Village Covenants I have stated that the only rule of great import in the Village should be the “golden rule”. I also recognize that this rule may be the most difficult of all commandments to live in its fullness.

Some time ago, I recorded in my journal that for the past several mornings, our family spent our morning hour considering Christ’s monumental Sermon on the Mount. I marveled how he wove together sometimes seemingly contradictory concepts, presented back-to-back, not only achieving complete harmony between them, but a richness, depth and texture only seen or felt when the tapestry is viewed as a whole, stretched out on the wall and illuminated. One such observation was his comments on being non-judgemental, immediately followed by a caution not to cast our sacred pearls before swine. At face value, the determination of who qualifies as “swine” requires judgment. But stepping back from the tapestry, I was stunned to behold the picture of a supremely wise, quiet and untrammelled person who sees no need to judge others for their shortcomings because he is so focused on overcoming his own. With such a focus, he is so much at peace that he also feels no compulsion to share (or foist) his wisdom upon others who may not understand or appreciate the subtleties of truths he holds dear, having learned them by the hard knocks of personal struggle and knowing that without similar struggle, understanding does not follow. He walks his path at peace with himself, caring about others and prepared to love and uplift them without judging and without compulsion.

With this beautiful tapestry in full view, my heart-felt at peace. I wanted only to understand and emulate the words of the master.

Recently in reading Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography, I observed this same great spirit of peaceful wisdom. Gandhi commented that Christ was his greatest example and that Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is the best example of how we should live. Yet, he commented, the people who least understand or practice Christ’s teachings are Christians. Whether that is true or not, I do not know. But I do know that mature wisdom dictates that we follow the principles laid out in this supernal sermon and lay aside our petty tendencies to judge, to exercise compulsion or to arrogantly consider ourselves above any other of God’s creations, our brothers and sisters.

Although I hold myself as a flawed, yet sincere disciple of Christ, I have discovered nuggets of great truth among all peoples and all spiritual traditions of the world. I hope that, just as the great Gandhi, a Hindu, was able to recognize the wisdom of Christ’s teachings, we can open ourselves to truth wherever it is found, meditate upon it, personally adopt and emulate it and become people of deep and abiding wisdom, faith, hope, and love for one another.

Can that happen in a world so full of strife? Are the principles taught in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount really practical to live? Though many would dismiss it as impossible in our modern, complex and competitive world, I submit that it is no more difficult, no less possible than it was in Christ’s time. And if we are to find peace in this life, the ONLY way.

The Spirit of Self-Sufficiency

There seems to be a general consensus among people that times are hard and will likely get harder.  People are fearful and dissatisfied.  Some who are awake to the fragile nature of our world are frantically provisioning for all sorts of real and imagined calamities.  While it’s good to prepare, our best preparations are not in things.  They are in us.

This is illustrated in a book I finished just last evening.  Unbroken is the true story of Louie Zamperini–a juvenile delinquent-turned-Olympic runner-turned-Army hero.  It tells of his horrendous suffering as a castaway on the Pacific and in Japanese POW camps, of deprivation, hatred, redemption and his resilient, unbroken spirit.  I awoke peacefully this morning thinking of a journal entry I made several years ago.  I had completely forgotten and was surprised to find a second notation about a dream I had where I too was an Olympic runner.  Funny how much the subconscious mind remembers and connects when all is lost to the conscious mind.  Here are some excerpts from my journal.

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3/24/2009 – Journal Entry

I have a new favorite scripture.

Philippians 4: 11-13
Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

As our family read this passage, I was inspired by Paul’s strength and courage in a Roman prison – for 5 years.
We had a wonderful discussion about what it was that made Paul so strong in the face of deprivation of everything that normal people hold dear – especially his freedom. It strikes me that the last verse holds a key.
Paul asserts with infinite confidence that he can do all things. What caught my attention was the why and how of that strength. I noticed that in the King James Version it does not say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Instead, it says which strengthens me.  The antecedent that which refers to is doing through Christ.  By doing His will, acting on His eternally wise counsel, we are strengthened. Paul emphasizes an important part of that counsel when he says he has learned to be content in whatever state he finds himself.  In modern terms, “happiness is not in having what you want, it’s in wanting what you have”.

I am filled with His Spirit, His strength and His peace most, not when I am on my knees begging for it, but rather when I am doing my best to do and be as He counsels…. then I am strong, capable and confident that I can do, be and withstand all things. In those moments, a deep sense of peace distills upon me and I am happy regardless of what is going on around me.

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Some one hundred years ago it was determined that the average American had about 70 wants, things he desired to have. A similar survey was taken of his grandson and he had nearly 500 wants on his list and today, I’m sure that number is even higher. Why? Because people are not content in what they have!
(Joe Guglielmo)

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10/9/2009 – Journal Entry

In the past few months I haven’t thought much about this scripture.
Last night I had a strange, vivid, unusually coherent and powerful dream that seemed to last most of the night. I dreamed I was in the Olympics as a sprinter and surprisingly (as I dislike running and have no talent for it) won a medal. After the race, there was a great deal of pomp and confusion.  We were dressed in regal clothes with lots of patriotic emblems and medals representing our athletic accomplishments.  We were taken to special stores where we could buy more commemorative stuff and shuttled about for photo op’s and interviews. At one point the whole group was asked to think hard and come up with 100 short quips about goal setting that could inspire others.
In my dream, I came up with only one statement. It was “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me”.

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Paul was right.  Self-Sufficiency is not about physical preparation as much as it is about spiritual and mental preparation.  We must learn to be at peace, strong, contented in whatever state we find ourselves.   A wise man once said, “If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear”.  Prepare your state of mind by wanting less.

Why We Tip

Some time ago, Fred posted a somewhat inscrutable comment that said something like the things we are embarrassed about can be the glue of like-mindedness.  Fred’s comments are usually thought-provoking and I have thought about it frequently since then.  Apologies in advance if I misinterpret embarrassment as guilt, but it’s a good segue, so I’m going for it.

I received a link to this NPR piece on Why We Tip from an old food-service website subscription.  It piqued my interest.  Its conclusion is that most people tip out of generalized guilt.

Despite that I spent my entire career in food service, with the accompanying social tipping pressures, I am an inconsistent tipper at best.  I have been told that I’m just plain cheap.  I choose to call it frugal, but that’s not the real reason or the point.

I believe deeply in the effectiveness and goodness of clear rewards and consequences for behavior.  If there is anything in my life that was successful and I am proud of, it is my children.  My approach to fathering was to let natural consequences be the primary teacher.  I chose to be a poor buffer and a good mirror.  It worked fabulously.  My kids were and are wonderful, exceeding me and my expectations in every way.

Apply that philosophy to tipping.  It is nothing less than a metaphor for life.  Early in my food service career, I was taught and completely bought into the story that tipping began in medieval rough-and-tumble road houses as an incentive for good service.  Simple and straight forward.  Get the food to me from the cook before it gets cold or spoils.  I will pay you for your extra trouble.

When I get poor, inattentive, surly service I often respond with either no tip or a penny to send a clear message.  I feel no guilt because I have done the right thing.  My intentional action has the potential to result in a positive change that could make the world a little nicer place, at least  for the next patron…. Or not…  At that point it’s out of my hands and rests firmly with the server who will either change the behavior for better tips or become more surly and angry at me.  Their move, but at least I have provoked a conscious choice.

On the other hand, when I get really good service, I take genuine pleasure in rewarding the server with a generous tip.  I often go out of my way to clarify the message by commenting to them and/or the on-duty manager what a pleasure it was for our paths to have crossed.  I don’t need one of those impersonal, anonymous comment cards.

I was once told that what we are building here at the Village is an “intentional community”.  It occurs to me that I have been trying to live all my life out of intention.  That is, I think, the opposite of living out of unthinking, guilt-based, or unexplored and poorly understood traditions.

To be clear, I am no saint and no stranger to feelings of guilt.  But as I look back on my life, I find that the things I did that worked and I am proud of, almost always came from a positive, intentional motive.  Actions starting from guilt often lead nowhere but to more guilt with unintended results.  As a motive for quitting a bad or ineffective behavior, I like natural consequences a lot better than nagging, amorphous, brooding guilt.

I am consciously working to build a culture at the Village  on Sewanee Creek  that is intentional and therefore positive.  A place of continuous learning, endless creativity, openness to exploring and recognizing the beauties of this world in their stark, truthful and sometimes harsh natural reality.  Nature is a great teacher.  I guess a certain amount of guilt is sometimes useful, but I hope that the glue of our like-mindedness will be made mostly of intention.