Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Simple Life and Celebration of Discipline

This last couple of months on Sunday evenings, we had a small group reading Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. Foster has a chapter on “Simplicity.” It should be obvious that it is a discipline to live simply. Many things in our culture conspire against a simple life. Many things in human nature conspire against living simply. I myself frequently cannot decide if I want my beat up old Ford Ranger to drive around, or if I want a ‘34 Ford Sedan hot rod with flames and lots of chrome. Do I want to live in an uber-practical home built into the earth, or do I want to live in a fancy Victorian? Both are equally appealing to me. A librarian’s salary keeps me pretty practical for now.

One of my comments was about those who use their simple life as a source of pride. Many of the “crunchy-granola” types are just as much into consumerism as any Lexus driver, they have just chosen a different type of consumerism. My wife was looking at Mother Earth News and decided she isn’t green enough, at least green with cash, to do or buy a lot of what is considered “the simple life” by them.

Americans forget what anti-consumerism really looks like. For example, the movie American Beauty is called an anti-consumerism movie. Kevin Spacey’s character rejects suburban values, but he spends $2000 per ounce for marijuana and buys the 1972 Pontiac Firebird of his dreams. Yes, in many ways he simplifies; works minimum wage, doesn’t care about the $4000 sofa, etc, but what he does buy is solely for recreation.

At our house we do many of the things that Crunchy Cons do; recycle, compost, garden, homeschool, conservation, want solar panels, avoid buying stuff, are pro-small community, anti-big business (to a degree). However, we don’t get all worked up about any of these items and don’t get onto others for not doing them.

We had a family living across from us that had two children. We have four. Every week when the trash went out to the curb they had an overflowing trash can, ours is usually only half full. I wondered how that could be. I think we just buy less stuff in addition to the recycling. I can very easily get proud about our simple lifestyle, but I do what I do because it’s the right thing to do, or it’s what I want to do, not because of anyone else around me. Indeed, one of my shortcomings is probably that I don’t give a hang what anyone other than my wife thinks. This too can be overdone.

My wife is on a healthy eating kick. “As long as it tastes good,” I say to her. She claims she doesn’t feel well and this will help. Between all the conflicting ideas; “Canola oil is good for you” “Never use canola oil,” “Lard is bad for you,” “Lard is natural so your body can process it,” and the price of eating healthy, I’m not sure how much we can do, but every little bit helps. And as our homesteading homeschooling all-natural friends assure us, just start with a few things, then you can add more later. Don’t try to do it all at once.
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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Solomon, the First Existentialist

Solomon, the first Existentialist. Ecclesiastes is a book for the weary, the hopeless, those with a bleak outlook on life. James W. Sire in his book The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog claims that Existentialism builds from Naturalism which, with its denial of any higher purpose than ourselves, leads either to Hedonism (the worship of pleasure), or to Nihilism (the denial of purpose) which if one has the guts to go on, leads to Existentialism. Existentialism seeks meaning in “Authenticity” of the self and the choices one makes. Existentialism's focus is Doing and Subjective understanding of truth. Hence, many aspects/elements of Postmodernism are just Existentialism writ large.

Solomon was despondent. He looked for meaning in "this miserable life" and found none in the several things that he searched for, all idols, workaholism, hedonism (my personal favorite), power, wealth, and its relative, materialism. All things that we also turn to instead of God for our comfort, our meaning, and all are just as empty today. Without God, what sort of purpose would make sense? The reason I say Solomon was an Existentialist, is that even when he gave it all up to God, there is still a pervading sense of melancholy and fatalism about it.

Do you know why he was so down? 300 wives. Add to that, 700 concubines. 1000 women. I can't even imagine. Sure, his flesh was happy but his soul was empty. Something happened between Song of Solomon, his passionate, explicit letter to his first love, and the end of his life with 1000 women. I can't help but think that if he had stuck with that one, life would have been fulfilling for him. One special person to share his burdens, to know him intimately, to meet his needs, to grow with him. I cannot express how wonderful marriage can be. To share a life with one other person and to grow together.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Kids Say the Darndest Things

My seven-year-old was in the room while my lovely wife and I were talking, and the lovely wife said the word "enthusiastically." The seven-year-old perked up and said, "That's a book of the Bible!"

He was thinking of Ecclesiastes.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Homeschool Stereotypes

I get an email from Books and Culture. Editor John Wilson writes some personal notes to begin each week and this week he wrote this:

On Saturday, before Joel left for the airport, I asked him if he had something good to read on the flight home. He told me he'd been reading in the Founding era, and he was struck by the frequent references to Locke, so he was reading Locke's treatises on civil government. Joel is homeschooled, which means among other things that he's currently (in what would be his senior year of high school) taking classes at a junior college in the Houston area (and tutoring students there and in high school in math and physics). Spending time with him made me think again about the absurd caricatures of homeschooling and homeschooled kids that many people accept at face value.

I thought that was quite nice.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Disappearance of Shop Class

Here are two interesting articles on "The Disappearance of Shop Class" and how we are made to handle things, fix things and create things. In our disposable culture we are missing this very important "agency" of who we are. Boy, don't I know it. I get really frustrated with guys who sit impotent claiming they can't fix things or work on the car, or the house, or whatever. I take everything apart to see if I can fix it before I decide to buy something new. I don't always do a perfect job, many times (every time?) a professional would do a much better job, but I believe it is worthwhile to my self-image for me to try. Plus it saves money. Although, I will admit, I've pretty much given up on plumbing. I say that, but just this week I replaced the dishwasher (after taking the old one apart) and the kitchen faucet (after taking the old one apart) and neither one leaked! On the dishwasher, the circuit board was bad after 5 years of 2 or 3 loads a day, and the thing never worked well anyway. You get what you pay for. The faucet leaked from the factory seal where the pipe goes into the unit and the new one was given to me by someone who got a fancier one given to him.

The original article is "Shop Class as Soulcraft" by Matthew B. Crawford. Here is an interview with Matthew Crawford in PDF. Starts on page 8. Both are very good. If you want a short intro to the idea, read the interview. The New Atlantis essay is long. I would say this should be required reading for all young men and those training boys to be men.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Vacation Part II

Jamestown is a great place to visit. If you are a homeschooler, your family can get in part of it free. There are two parts of Jamestown, the National Parks Service side, which is the original location, and a part run by the Jamestowne/Yorktown group. The NPS side is free to school groups and homeschools. Check the guidelines on the website. Basically you have to write a letter stating who you are, and how many you have. As a side note, when we went, the guy who takes the money or letters didn’t seem to want to give us the map or pamphlet that he had just given the cash paying man in front of me. I guess you can come with your own information, but we didn’t haul our books and website printouts with us from Kansas to Virginia. Besides, we wanted some keepsakes in addition to the information.

The NPS park has a live archeological dig going on, and a museum with a lot the stuff they discovered, including some skeletons. Other than that, they have a few cannon, some statues, and the church, but mostly it’s just “this is where they really were.”

The other side of Jamestown is right next to the NPS site. It has recreations of the Jamestown fort, a Powhattan village, and the three ships that brought over the original settlers; The Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery. You will not believe how small the ships are. Though, as one of the “actors” said when my kids said something about the diminutive ships, “The Titanic sunk.” The Indian village was pretty cool. Out here all we ever see are teepees, so to see more permanent structures of wood and skin was pretty cool.

In the fort, by boys were mostly impressed with the armory, where all the weapons were kept; pikes, swords, shields, and of course, matchlock guns (don’t call them rifles). There was armor just inside the gate that kids could put on, and every child did.

Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. was really something. We only had one day there (I know, bad planning, we thought we would have two, still not enough), and tried to see the monuments. When I talked to people before we went, they kept saying “You have to see suchandsuch, it’s right off the Mall.” I couldn’t see how everything could be “right off the Mall.” Now that I’ve been there, I know how. The Mall is HUGE. Don’t think you are going to walk it with small kids. And the Jefferson Memorial is way off to the side. About one hour walking with kids. That’s just for the Jefferson and the FDR memorials. It was beautiful however. The whole mall area is. I couldn’t even feel the corruption in the air. There were lots of people jogging. I mean lots. They were everywhere, all day long. It was amazing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Jamestown part 2

How do some people post every day? I had this great plan for a three-part series on our trip to Virginia and Washington D.C., but here it is, one month later, and I haven't even got part two written yet. Here are some pictures. Hope this works.

Slideshow: Click on the picture to be taken to photo album.

Monticello, Virginia

A photo album:
Image hosted by
by poncho58

Another slide show: Which way do you prefer?

Wahington D.C.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Families going on Vacation

We took our tax return this year and spent it on our first real family vacation. A good friend from high school and college lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, and a cousin lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. We went to Monticello, Jamestown, and Washington, D.C. I’m going to post several tips for families planning a trip.

We rented a minivan. Our 10 year old van has a few problems for such a long trip (Kansas to the East Coast – about 20 hours each way). We couldn’t get an affordable price locally, so we had to pick one up at the Kansas City International Airport. This was a few hours out of our way, but near the In-laws, so we could drop-off our van and not pay the airport fees, and they fed us lunch. TIP The best price we could get was through They sent us to Hertz. I’m not sure why Hertz didn’t give us the same or better deal themselves without the middleman, but there you have it. We will NEVER rent from Enterprise. They ripped off a friend of ours so badly, even the cynic I am, I was amazed. I don’t know if it was just the Joplin, MO store, or if it’s company wide, but they will NEVER get my business. I should blog about it sometime. If there was a chance Hotwire would send us to Enterprise, we wouldn’t use them either. One note about Hotwire, they only have locations in very large cities. More on the minivan later. It was great.

We planned on spending the night in Frankfort, Kentucky. That seemed about halfway. Daniel Boone’s grave is there. We booked for two adults and 4 children. When we got to the hotel (really a motel) there were only two beds in the room. So I had to go ask for a cot and get all that straightened out. The gal was very friendly and helpful, but she told me it was best to call the hotel directly to make reservations. This is good for two reasons. One, things are more likely to be done right, and two, the full amount goes to the local hotel and part of it is not siphoned off to some conglomerate somewhere else. TIP So search the internet to find the best price, then find the phone number of the local hotel that you want and talk to them directly.

Also, because I stay in hotels once a year or so for conferences, I am member of something called Trip Rewards. This is because, at one hotel, the person said “If you join today you can save 10% on your room.” So I said “OK,” figuring I would never use it again. It works at Days Inn, Ramada, Super 8, and several other hotels as well as airlines and travel things. I forgot about it for a while and probably could have used it when I flew for the first time in 20 years last year. As you use your membership, you add up points that you can eventually redeem for a free (romantic?) night stay in a hotel, free CDs, charitable donations, etc. It’s going to take us forever before we have enough points to amount to anything, but so what? It doesn’t cost anything to join, all I have to do is give my Trip Rewards number when making a reservation. I don’t think you can use Trip Rewards if you use Hotwire, so we couldn’t use it for the van rental.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Lost Sheep and Answered Prayer

This is something my wife wrote and sent out in an email.


Over a month ago we lost Mr. Ellie, Seth's favorite, beloved stuffed elephant who is 'well-loved,' and VERY 'real.' (If you've ever read the Velveteen Rabbit, you'll know what I mean by 'real,' loved so much and so heartily you are not so good looking any more.) Seth has been very sad about this and has refused to sleep with a replacement animal.

Yesterday we were reading the Bible story about Jesus going after the one lost sheep and that brought to mind Mr. Ellie. We talked about how sad we were that he was lost and how we had looked everywhere we could think of but still hadn't been able to find him. Tears welled up in Seth and Isaac's eyes. Then it occurred to me to ask him if he had prayed to find the elephant. (I wonder where that thought came from? Ha!)

He said he had not and I told him, "Why don't we pray now that the God who loves to find the lost would help us." So we did. They could not pray because they were choked up so I prayed for us all.

A little while later, it occurred to me to look in our bin that holds coats, hats, etc. that we were getting ready to put away, wondering if he might have been thrown in there by mistake. (I wonder where that thought came from? Ha!) I had no natural reason to look there.

Well I forgot to look right away...

So later, when I was talking to Robert, the thought came to me again to look in the bin. (I wonder where that thought came from? Ha!) So I started emptying it out and lo and behold, THERE WAS MR. ELLIE!!! You should have seen me. I was ecstatic! Such a tender and obvious answer to our prayer.

When Seth saw that elephant, JOY was written all over his face. He hugged that elephant like he would NEVER let it go again. Tears were in his eyes (and would be off and on for quite awhile). We talked about, with much praise and rejoicing, how Jesus had helped us to find our 'lost sheep,' just like the Bible story that morning. I know this memory will imprint that story and the Lord's love for us and the lost indelibly on my mind. (And I pray that it will also be stored in the hearts of my 2 small children who witnessed this answer to prayer.) That He cares enough to help us find a lost stuffed elephant speaks volumes since, in the eternal scheme of things, stuffed animals are low in priority I would imagine!

So I send out this story as an offering of praise to a wonderful Holy God who cares about the minute details of my life and my family's lives. To the God Who cared enough to send His only Son, Jesus, to die for sins of all (including mine) so the lost could be saved if they would believe in Him! Thank Father and Jesus for the sacrifice You made on our behalf.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved!" John 3:16-17

May God treat you as tenderly today as He treats me!


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Chip Ingram on Parenting

As I’ve said before, there isn’t just one person or philosophy that we follow. So what follows is not an uncritical endorsement, it’s just info. No, I'm not making any money if you buy from clicking on these links, they are just there for your convenience.

Lately in our Sunday School class we have been listening to this guy Chip Ingram from Walk Through The Bible. My wife says he looks a lot like me. That may be true except his teeth look like they are filed off smooth while mine look like they were placed by a drunk (my wife didn’t say that). First we listened to a CD set House or Home on parenting and marriage and now we are watched a DVD set called Effective Parenting in a Defective World. I like a lot of what he says, but you can tell he is preaching to yuppies, and sometimes I think he softsells to them. Though actually he hits quite hard on several things that many of us as Americans, Westerners, whateverers, Parents, struggle with.

Anyway, the best thing he says that too many people parent out of fear. I know I see this a lot, and I think these are the kids that get out and have trouble, rebel, whatever. It’s best when parents have a focus, a target, a positive that they are shooting for, not a negative that they are cowering from. The kids from the positive focus grow strong and confident and go out in the world strong and confident for God. The kids from the fear families are unsure and as a result waver.

BTW that “focus” or “target” is holiness and godliness, not excellence in sports, or academics, or perfection in church attendance, etc. Ingram does caution against holiness without fun. There is a balance. He talked about how they would once a week, as a family, share prayer requests, pray, and then go out for ice cream. Make it a celebration! YEAH! GOD IS FUN!

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Put Parents In Control Of School

This Christianity Today article is what I've been saying for a long time. The ACLU has no business telling a local school what to do. Give back local control, within reason. Or take your kids out and homeschool. It's not easy, but it's not as hard as so many people seem to think. Plus, it's what's BEST for the kids. Have we forgotten that we are to do what is best for the kids and not what's convenient for us?

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Monday, January 08, 2007

How to talk to your kids about sex

Well, I had "the talk" or "the sex talk" with my oldest boy. He’s 11. His 18 year-old unmarried cousin just had a baby. "How can that happen?" he asks. Other things have been happening and I knew it was time. We went out for coffee (decaf for him) and pie and a talk. It was a good talk, he didn’t quite understand it all, but we were both comfortable and it opened communication on the topic and I think that is the most important thing at this point. I say "the talk," but I believe it is the beginning of an education that will continue.

Here is an outline of what we covered:

The physical act: This blew his mind and I kinda backed off. "Just don’t get naked with a girl until you are married."

If you father a child, you are responsible for that child. That's why you are supposed to be married to have sex. That means marrying the girl if you aren't. Don’t have sex if you don’t want to marry her.

Sex is more than physical, there are a lot of emotions that go on, and it gets complicated, that's why we have divorces, broken hearts, etc.

Temptations: If you go to a friends house and a magazine or movie shows naked women, don’t look at it. If you give in to a temptation at a young age, it’s like you bend your own armor. What happens to metal when you bend it? It’s never the same and it’s weak. Satan will know this weak spot and use it against you your entire life. Not just this temptation, but any sin (anger, lying, etc).

We talked about more, but this is a good outline.

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