Right Now

April 30, 2007

Thank you all for reading and commenting and generally joining me on this little spiritual journey.  As I endeavor to seek and get to know Truth, each of you have made very real contributions whether I particularly like it or agree or not.  Christian Husband’s contributions have been extensive, not just in comments here, but writings on his own blog that he posted back in January before I knew I was going to end up in this position.


And what exactly is my position?


A year ago I was grousing about the state of my marriage but was otherwise lulled into a state of spiritual complacency.  I was teaching Sunday School and even though I knew the Methodists were forever veering away from scriptural truth, I figured I was making some difference.  I could have been mistaken.


Arwyn’s rebellion has lead me into a spiritual wilderness.  I went back to my old Sunday school this morning and was greeted warmly.  But it felt very odd to me.  I felt a bit like a visitor, which is still how I feel at Saddleback East.  As I told one of my friends, I’m going to feel like that almost everywhere I go.  At least at the Methodist church we are all known quantities with some relationship history.


Arwyn and I have had some discussions about this.  Funnily enough we are both looking for something similar.


Her and I met while we were involved in the church singles group.  I was holding the office of president (again) of our little group of 20 or so singles and we were a close knit group.  It was also very transient and mobile.  People would come once or twice and we’d never see them again.  But those of us who stuck around grew very close.  And really Arwyn and I both admitted that this type of closeness was what we really and truly wanted.  We wanted some degree of intimacy with other people and with Christ.


Of course there was this giant elephant in the room that was obscuring our vision.  Basically the fact that she exhibits a desire for deep intimacy but only of a most superficial sort.  She wants things to be real but not too real.   She wants guidance but only in the direction that she is comfortable traveling, and only according to her own pace and comfort level.


But I find myself swung and slung in a direction I never would have anticipated.   My personal theology is being challenged.  I am having to look at things from outside the established box.  And now things look different.


The church, as an institution, is corrupt.  It always has been and it always will be.  Jesus did not come to establish another institution.  He recognized the problems with the old institutions and pointed them out much to the chagrin of the establishment of His day.  However, while Christ spoke out against those leaders and their corrupt institutions, He did not come to abolish them.  He did foretell the demise of the temple, which would be destroyed within the next generation, but allowed it and even participated in it.  But he continually said, “Don’t be like those guys.  Don’t do what they do.”


It was while researching the Church Growth Movement (CGM) that I stumbled on to a movement that is exactly the opposite of CGM.  I would not say it is a reaction to CGM as much as a reaction against the whole over-bloated institutional approach to doing all things church related.  All churches say it’s not about the buildings, money and numbers but once you get to a certain point, it most certainly does seem to be about those things!  Suddenly ministering to such a large group becomes an exercise in crunching numbers and marketing.


Christian Husband pointed this out once and came up with a ratio of one pastor for every 25 members in order to effectively shepherd the flock.  Or was it every 25 families?  The problem is in financing the minister and the increasing demands of an ever-growing physical plant.  Most churches are lucky if 10% of their budget goes towards missions.  Looking at this through the eyes of the corporate business model, more efficiency can be achieved by increasing the scale of operations and increasing the number of specializations.  The problem is that it becomes easier and easier for people to just sit back and do nothing and this is just what happens.


The model for church growth and evangelism has been oriented toward the “bigger is better” mentality.  I hear people who want Christian unity, but it will never happen as long as huge, giant institutions are squared off against each other.


I’m rambling a bit and throwing off some steam.  But this is where I am at.  I am sick and tired of the institutional system that strains out a gnat while swallowing a camel! 


I’m going to address leadership and authority in a separate post at some point, I promise.  But today Arwyn told me about the celebration Sunday they had today as a culmination of their building campaign.  They have pledges of about $2.4 million.  Not bad, except their building is going to cost $8 million.  But it’s worse than I thought.  They still have $7 million in unpaid debt from the last building campaign! 


This is the vision given to these pastors and elders by God, according to Rick Junior.  The flock is dutifully falling in line and are engaging in sacrificial giving.  They are being obedient and submissive to authority, right?


They are being loons.


The debtor is a slave to the creditor!  I think they are being totally irresponsible!  Where does the Bible say that His people are to keep going deeper and deeper into debt in order to finance bigger and bigger worship centers? 


But Rick junior says that he is unwilling to stop the growth, to shut the doors, to say “enough is enough” and therefore damn thousands of people to Hell.  He says he is committed to doing God’s will and that means building the City on a Hill.  He wants to have room for everyone.


So where is the Truth?


There is no voting, here.  The leaders decide and everyone else either follows along or stays out of the way, which would be exactly be in line with XH’s model of doing business.  At least they’ll have a bigger food court, so that’s something.


The Methodists have their own money problems.  They had a 2 year renovation project of the building that was once used as a hospital during Sherman’s march to the sea.  The cost was $800,000, and they had about $300,000 on hand.  They financed the other $500,000 and have managed to pay almost half of it off.  But they are still struggling to make ends meet and their budgetary shortfall can be traced directly to the interest payment of $2,000/month.   There was some voting on this project, which may have prevented overzealous leaders from having some “vision” and further committing the people to pay for paving over more green space for more parking and creating a new worship center.   At least the building looks nice and white on the outside, now.





April 27, 2007

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want
He makes me down to lie
Through pastures green He leadeth me the silent waters by.
With bright knives He releaseth my soul.
He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places.
He converteth me to lamb cutlets,
For lo, He hath great power, and great hunger.
When cometh the day we lowly ones,
Through quiet reflection, and great dedication
Master the art of karate,
Lo, we shall rise up,
And then we’ll make the bugger’s eyes water.


From the song “Sheep”

From Pink Floyd’s Animals Album 1977



Jesus often referred to Himself as the good shepherd and his followers as the flock.  At the end of the Gospel of John, Peter is reinstated by Jesus telling him to “Feed my sheep.”


In a comment below by Christian Husband he makes reference to the importance of having a pastor to act as a shepherd for the flock, thus fulfilling the commission Jesus gave to Peter.  This got me to thinking; what’s the difference between the sheep and the shepherd?  How does one get to be a shepherd?  If a person is a sheep, are they sheep forever?


Let’s talk a bit about sheep.  From my animal science 114 class, I learned that sheep are similar to cattle that have a stomach with multiple compartments.  Rumen, abomasum, omasum and reticulum, if you’re curious.  The rumen is the powerhouse enabling the cattle and sheep to break down cellulose into digestible components through bacterial action.  These creatures produce tons of methane gas, and there you have the basis for XH’s stinky reference.  Lot‘s of greenhouse gas emissions are made by these animals.  So your burgers are as responsible for global warming as your car if you follow that line of thinking.


As XH said, sheep are amazingly stupid.  My neighbor raises sheep, and he describes them as “animals just looking for an excuse to die.”  They are vulnerable to bad weather, bad terrain, bad feed, bad dogs, coyotes, lions and wolves.  When threatened or excited, they bunch up and bleat and just look dumb.  They are extremely gregarious.  In fact this is what makes them relatively easy to herd as opposed to cattle or chickens of cats.  They like to stick together and if you want to get sheep to go somewhere you get a couple of them and take them where you want the others to go, and the flock usually follows.  The male sheep (rams) can be a bit aggressive sometimes, but they don’t compare to their goat cousins. 


When it comes to protecting sheep, shepherds and farmers have used a variety of strategies over the years.  Normally, it’s not rocket science.  Even a young boy can take care of a decent sized flock which is what David was doing while his brothers were doing more important things like fighting for the king.    However there were times when it was difficult as in cold weather, storms or in David’s case having to fight off a lion.  As long as animals or rustlers weren’t threatening, it was a very boring and lonely job.


Today, farmers and ranchers in the eastern part of the country raise sheep in smaller spaces so protection is easier.  But there are still threats from wild dogs and coyotes around these parts.  But my neighbor discovered the perfect protector for his sheep.  It’s not a shepherd.  It’s not a dog.  It’s not a duck.


It’s a donkey.


That’s right.  The donkey is the best protector for his flock because a donkey will fearlessly, stubbornly and ferociously attack any dogs or coyotes foolish enough to enter the sheep pen.  And that might say something about modern day pastors.  You too can protect the flock if you’re a big enough ass!


XH also mused about how such stupid animals could have ever survived in the wild.  The answer is that they would not have.  The reason why these animals are so stupid and helpless is because humans made them that way!  The way you create a stupid animal that can’t survive in the wild is to domesticate them to the point where they are totally helpless without constant human intervention protection and support.  We do that because we don’t want them running off.  We want them to stay with us and to rely on us.  In the process we create dependent animals.  Most dogs have been domesticated into perpetual adolescence and stupidity the same way and for the same reason.  Through selective breeding we have been able to de-evolve these animals to make them less intelligent and we’ve purposefully designed them to serve our needs.   As farmers and ranchers we’ve been pretty much playing god and have become the ones who decide almost every significant aspect of a sheep’s life.  The sheep are the way they are because that’s the way we want it.  How easy do you think it would be to shear a sheep if it wasn’t docile, passive and stupid?  In return for that, we provide all the food and protection for them.


Is this the sort of dependent relationship that Jesus was referring to?   And did He expect the sheep to remain sheep perpetually?


I think there will always be people who will prefer the role of sheep.  After all, the shepherd assumes all of the responsibility.  All the sheep really have to do is provide for themselves and the shepherd and in many churches this is the way it is.  The people pay their money and expect the clergy to do the rest.  As sheep, there aren’t all that many expectations fit to be put on them.


In churches today, people are kept in a state of perpetual domestication because it suits the shepherd.  What choice does he have?  If he lets the flock run wild, he will not be able to control them.  And the more sheep a shepherd has in his flock, the better off he is materially as well as in reputation.  If he divides the flock with another shepherd, that’s so much less money and prestige for himself.  So it’s in his best interest to keep the sheep relatively domesticated.  But is this all we are to aspire to?


I keep thinking of this scene in that old movie Porky’s II where the minister and his congregation are in the school office: 


Reverend Flavel: Blaspehmy! Shakespeare must go! So sayeth the Shepherd!
The Flock Members: SO SAYETH THE FLOCK!
Reverend Flavel: And what sayeth you, Mr. Carter?
Carter: [very angry at this point] Get the Flock out of here!
[the students all start cheering]
Reverend Flavel: This means war! HOLY WAR! Flock! FOLLOW!


I’ll never understand why that movie didn’t get an academy award nomination.


I want you to think about a couple of things.  First, Jesus really only recognized one church office in Matthew 23, and it was that of the Pharisee.  (The scribes and Pharisees are almost always linked together, and Paul in his former life was linked to both.  This is in effect a single office)  Read the entire chapter to see the views of Jesus on Pharisees.   And this is really how the modern day clergy function today in the authoritarian Christian sects that Christian Husband speaks of.  The Pharisees came into being in order to protect the Jewish people from heresy during and after their exile.  They were ministers, leaders of worship and evangelists.  They were the professional clergy, the shepherds and the authorities in the prevailing religious culture.  Not many pastors would embrace the title of Pharisee nowadays, but that is, in fact, how many (most) function.


The last thing is this: what about the Holy Spirit?  In the Old Testament, God’s spirit rested on select members of the people.  But with Pentecost there was an outpouring of the spirit and this was presumed to be available to all believers.  And yet today we see a very few who are actually exercising their gifts.  Could the professional clergy as it exists today be squelching the Holy Spirit by accident or design?


I’m not singling out the Church Growth Churches, here.  Too see that, you’ll have to visit my other blog.




April 24, 2007

Think about that word for a minute.  There’s lots of ways that it could be used.  There’s the service that you do for someone else.  Maybe a service you do to someone else!  Then there is a service rendered to you or done to you.  Sometimes it is a service that is done to your car or your house.   In the economic sense, a service relates to a particular skill or ability that is rendered to or for someone else, as opposed to goods which are tangible products.


In the case of church, it is often referred to as a “service” as in “We attended the 11 a.m. service.”  In a church service, who is doing the serving and who or Who is being served?  In reading the gospels and the epistles, we are repeatedly enjoined to serve one another.  “One another” is used over and over in the New Testament, where it is much less common in the Old Testament.  I’m getting back at the theme of my last post, where I was musing about what church should be like and I’m still thinking about the “one-another-ness” that should be part of the body of Christ.


Last week, I had a chance to visit what this church’s version of “Celebrate Recovery.”  Celebrate Recovery (CR) is their version of a 12 step program.  Arwyn goes to a step group on Tuesday nights and then on Thursday night they have a special service.  There is also a service on Wednesday night, which I haven’t attended, yet.  Last week they had some baptisms during the CR service, and I’ll admit that it was handled much better than it was when Arwyn was baptized.   However it was otherwise identical to a regular Sunday service only this was a somewhat smaller group.  The pastor in this case was a different guy than I’ve seen on Sunday and had the virtue of not being as long winded as the senior pastor.


Arwyn and another guy have been trying to start a small group, which would be closer to the type of experience that I might be looking for.  However this group is geared towards parents of children with disabilities.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this, except I get a bit weary living and breathing disability all the time.  Parents want to create a place where they and their children can feel comfortable and welcome, and this is certainly a pivotal factor in Arwyn’s decision to switch churches.  This church seems to be able to handle things a bit better for these kids.  However, there is still some friction as pastors are unsure how to proceed and so have put off any programming in this area.  At least until after the building program is underway.


This past Sunday, we had a second small group meeting.  It was quite small with two other families plus one other guy who was just interested in seeing what we were about.  While we ate and our children ran amuck around the church building we talked about all the stuff every group of parents talk about when they get together.  IEPs, the failure of the school to provide services, threatening the county director with due process, teachers who don’t know how to teach, doctors who don’t listen, special treatments, medications etc.  You know, just regular stuff.  What…you all don’t spend the whole time talking about disabilities?  Neither did we, because I kicked the topic back in bounds and basically said I didn’t want to be part of a group so hyper-focused on disabilities that Jesus had no place.  I’m also not into thinking all negative and getting into a woe-is-me mindset.  Yes, it is hard.  But it is not impossible or unbearable.  We can help each other, but perhaps being more helpful and being less needy might be a direction to shoot for.


There were organizational issues that came up as with any new group.  There were going to be some challenges ahead, for sure.  I came into the meeting not sure I wanted to be there and left feeling about the same way.  However during the get together I simply couldn’t stand to watch everyone drift around and drown so tried to give some tips on some baby steps to take and just a very brief bit of some of my concerns and ideas.  I have done some things similar to this before in the way of starting and organizing groups from virtually nothing except the desire to hang out.  My vision now is a bit more radical than it was even in earlier years of my faith.  But I’m reluctant to just lead a group right on into it without more thought and guidance.  I’m even reluctant to even launch straight into it here.  I prefer to set the stage, voice some concerns and see what comes out.  Are there others who would arrive at my conclusions?  Are my own thoughts too far afield?


We’ll see.  I’ve just finished the last and final bit of my LL series on Unsolicited Advice: WordPress and then I’m going to jump right off into it.  Some of the work has already been started on the UA Blogger site and I’m going to continue that on WordPress because Blogger has proven itself to be of the devil! 


But after attending more functions here at Saddleback East my unease has grown and increased.  It’s not just Saddleback East as pretty much every church service follows the same template and formula.  This one just happens to lack even the minimal substance that I had found at the Methodist church.  It’s not just about the emotional experience as much as the worship experience of connecting with and learning about God.  It has an appearance of Godliness but none of the power.  What is up with that?




April 20, 2007


I’m anxiously trying to finish up my little series on my other blog because I have other issues requiring the space and it really is time to move on.  But I suppose I’ll go ahead and use this space since I don’t have much else to put here.


Regular readers will remember that I’ve been having issues with the church my wife has been attending for the past 6 months.  When I first started going, I was actually kind of hoping that it would be a bit more orthodox than the Methodist church that I had been attending.  And in some ways it is.  But in other ways, it is really pretty shallow.  And in still other ways it has similarities with the Methodist church, most of which are the most annoying aspects.


Having said this, it has been a productive experience in one sense.  It has made me think about church.  What is church?  What is the purpose of it?  What should church look like?  Why do people go?  Why don’t some people go?  What should people do when they go to church? 


The Bible clearly states that believers should meet together regularly.  It’s from the scriptures that we should derive our view of what a church was like in the days of the apostles.  How closely does worship in the 21st century resemble that in the 1st?  Is what we’re doing today productive?  Is it what Jesus had in mind?  Does this stuff we do every week resemble what Paul was doing as he went from city to city?  What would Timothy think about our modern churches and the way that we do what we do?


For the majority of evangelical church-going people, church consists of getting up early on Sunday morning, getting themselves and the kids ready to go, getting in the car and then driving to a fairly large building.  They walk in, say hello and shake hands with neighbors and friends, make some small-talk and then move to a sanctuary.  The sanctuary might have pews if it is a fairly old denominational church.  More contemporary churches eschew the pews and favor chairs which are only slightly more comfortable.  All seating is oriented towards the alter/stage from where all of the action is directed.  Newer churches actually have spotlights, projection screens and advanced sound systems to enhance the experience.  It’s almost like being there.  In all cases, there is music by the organist or a band.  The singing can be done by either the choir or the praise team.  There are prayers spoken by a leader/preacher/minister/priest from the stage.  There will be some singing, and sometimes the congregation sings along.  Sometimes they don’t.  Communion is done and involves a wafer, a speck of bread, a small cracker and a bit of grape juice or wine.  I heard it referred by one kid as “God’s Holy snack.”  It’s hardly anything resembling a meal.  Then there is the high light of the service: the collection of the money and the passing of the plate.  After this, there is the message from the clergy or sermon mixed in with some scripture reading.  It’s at this point that people start looking at their watches.  After 30-45 minutes (or more) there is a final singing and a final prayer/benediction and people go home or out to eat.


This is the common experience that we think of as church.  We go to church.  We DO church.  Church is an experience that is mostly passive and is directed by professional clergy.  Even Sunday school classes, workshops, group meetings and other educational functions that happen during the week will have a similar theme.  People will go, they will listen and they will go home. 


What would happen if a person from the congregation stood up right after a scripture reading, addressed the clergy person and said “Excuse me, brother, but I have an important message from God.  Do you mind?”  Would the clergy person step aside?  Would the prepared message be pre-empted?  How would such an act be received? 


Contemporary services differ in their music and their style of dress and sometimes in their watered-down message, but essentially follow the same formula that has been done for generations.  The Rick Warren church will have small groups which somewhat resemble the adult Sunday School we have in the Methodist church.  They will usually meet at another time per week and often have social events and partake in service projects.  There’s some autonomy involved, but all are organs of the mother church and the primary worship is always oriented toward a Sunday morning experience. 


I’m going to admit to some degree of ignorance concerning present-day Catholic traditions, but I do know that the clergy definitely occupies the center function of each and every service.  The administration of communion and other sacraments alone separates them from the laity.  Is this what Jesus had in mind?  Is this the way God planned to reconcile people to Him?  Is this what the crucifixion and resurrection are all about?  Can we go to mass or a church service once or twice a week and say, “I’m good.  I’m done.”?   Are these productions actually changing lives?  Can we justify the outlandish sums of money poured into buildings, building maintenance and restoration, staff, sound systems, lighting, a music director, decorations and the acres of land devoted just for parking?


These are the questions that I’m asking.  These are the things that I’m considering.  There is a lot of internal conflict where I suddenly feel like I don’t want to do church anymore.  Not this way. 





April 17, 2007

I was trying to think about how to follow-up on the farm post and decided this was a good time to get into some meatier back-story. 

After all, it *is* back-story month around here.


Dad was born and raised on a farm, the oldest of 4 children.  His heart has always been tied to the land, which is true of anyone raised thus.  He did do one year of college, but decided he’d rather work.  So he worked at a bakery for awhile until he met a gal who was an operator for the phone company.  They got married and he began working for another guy on a farm before Grandpa helped him get one of his own.  I vaguely remember those days in the beginning.  Dad actually worked for John Deere for a few years while getting started in the farm business.  I can’t remember how old I was, but was very young when he finally started farming full-time.  He, his next younger brother and his dad sort of farmed a mini-empire together.  This is the way farms grew in prosperity and stature in those days as families would pool their resources and gradually expand ever-further.  So you see how having lots of kids was a real asset is the agricultural world. 


Grandad and his boys were able to share machinery and assist each other for working, planting and harvesting.  However, there were tensions as there always is in even the best of families.  Grandpa was into grain and beef cattle.  Dad wanted to try milking cows and Grandpa was dead set against it.  Dad decided to do it anyway, and converted an old chicken house into a stantion milk barn. 


Tensions were also present between Grandma and her daughter-in-laws as there were no women good enough for her sons.  And this carried over to tensions amongst everyone as everyone is always in each other’s business.  So Dad decided to strike out on his own, with no small encouragement from mom.  They wanted to make their own way without the interference of the in-laws.


So when I was 10, we moved about 80 miles northeast into dairy country. 


Dad was always a hard worker, and that was one of his defining characteristics.  He was not afraid of hard work and in fact might often be accused of always choosing to do things the hard way.  But a good question might be; what drove him to work so hard?


It wasn’t necessarily money.  A body does have to make a living but he could have done better working at John Deere.  Was it building a legacy?  Possibly.  I think he did have visions of farming with his sons early on.  And while I do feel the call of the earth to plant something every spring and I do feel a sort of connection it is not as strong as it is for him.  And it is that attraction and that calling which I think drove him and still drives him to farm to this day.  He and his land are one, that way.


Dad was generally easy going, although he was also very hard in, many ways.  There was no backtalk and very little negotiation with him.  He was king of his house and of the farm. 


In those days, sex roles were very strictly defined.  He ran everything outside the house, and Mom ran the inside.  I only remember seeing him cook once and I don’t think he’s ever done a load of laundry.  The one time I remember him cooking was when Mom left for a few days.


Dad was definitely an avoider when it came to conflict.  The farm was a very handy and convenient avenue for escape, since there was always something to do.  From dawn to dusk, and even after dark, he was out there working.  Once we moved away from the rest of the Jones family, Mom had to help out more with the farm work and chores.  This was actually a selling point for her wanting this move, because she wanted to be more of an equal in the farming.  I’m thinking she might have regretted that, later.  Dad was not an easy person to work for.  He expected everyone else to work as hard as he did and to his high standards.  Or higher.  When mom would make a mistake, Dad had a tendency to cuss her out, which was not at all the sensitive thing to do.  Mom tolerated it to a certain extent, but had her limits.  Sometimes she’d cuss him right back, which would result in him laughing at her which made her even angrier.


Mom would occasional nag at him when she got irritated at him about something he would laugh at her…for a good while.  But she would sometimes keep at him and keep at him and keep at him until he’d get mad.  Then she instantly regretted it.  Dad could tolerate a lot and let much roll off his back.  But once he got angry, it was like an atomic blast.  He never hit Mom, but you could tell he was barely controlling his anger. 


I didn’t see them fight often, but it did happen on occasion.  Again, it mostly involved Mom needling at him and then him finally getting pissed.  Mom was not the sort to hold a lot inside, But Dad definitely was.  He actually had a habit of visualizing and reliving or rehearsing things to the point where you could see him talk to himself or laugh to himself.  One might actually believe he was talking to imaginary people like the Russel Crowe character in A Beautiful Mind.   But these were real things or imaginary scenarios based on real people.   I know this because I inherited a lot of the same sort of thing.  Writing is actually an alternative outlet for me that he never had, so while I can spend as much time as him living in other places and times, it doesn’t look quite as odd.  But there were times when we were both milking cows that we were doing things so automatically we were both in alternative  places and acting it out.  It was probably comical to watch.


While my avoidance is similar to Dads, my temper is between his and Mom’s.  I can take a lot but eventually I can get into a red zone.  But I could never vent as terribly as he did.  My brother got that one.


Dad was not terribly demonstrative with his affection for Mom but there were moments.  He would sometimes flirt with her and grab her bottom, which she seemed to like.  But that was as graphic as it got.


 I have no idea where he and Mom were libido-wise.  Mom seemed to have a libido as high as his or perhaps even higher.  I remember 10 years or so ago she moved out of the house in one of their fights and she wrote to me that she was missing the sex.  That was kind of weird hearing something like that from my mother.   I suspect that they alternated highs and lows as Dad was often working to the point of exhaustion and many of their fights were about him working too much or too long and him not knowing how to take a day off.  On the other hand, I know us kids were a handful and we often drove her absolutely batty.  The cooking, laundry, cleaning, canning, and chores represented a lot of drudgery for her.  But her back-story is for another time.


My relationship with Dad went through its own ups and downs.  As a kid, I was scared of him.  He gave me a whipping exactly one time when I was 2 or 3 and I never ever forgot it.  I had embarrassed him at church.


As a teen I still had a healthy respect  for the power and authority he represented but began to mightily resent him being the dictator over our lives.  I began to feel a bit like a slave when in reality he gave me quite a lot of free time to wander, explore and be a kid.  He never stood in the way if I wanted to be in an activity in high school.  And I quickly discovered that being active in high school = not having to do chores at home.  I was voted most active in my graduating class!  I was in 4-H, FFA, football, wrestling, basketball, track, speech and drama.  Basically everything nonmusical our small high school offered.   My sister and bother were in the band and chorus as well as sports for many of the same reasons as me.  Mainly we got a pass from chores for school events.


The downside was that Dad was rarely at any of these things because he had to do chores.  He never came to any of my sporting events, not that I was that good or anything.  The 4-H events he got involved in somewhat because these were always scheduled around chore times of the families in the area.  He was always there when I showed my cattle and made the FFA awards banquets.  Part of this might have been that he didn’t want to be the one father who didn’t show up.


Dad was an immensely proud man in the old school sense of the term.  He would make  his own way before relying on anyone else.  He would not think about accepting charity if he could at all help it.  I never have seen him cry.  Ever.  At the funerals of his father and mother, he did get quite choked up, but held his composure.  And this was and still is the way of the men in this family.  Be rugged, tough and strong.


As I got older and more independent as a teen, I of course saw my dad as a fool and an idiot who had no idea what the hell he was doing.  He looked like a buffoon sometimes.  And it is true that his own social skills are not at all overly polished which is true of many of us who spent so long in desolate places alone. 


I also began to develop my own ideas about how to run a farm.  I’m sure this is the same sort of thing that happened with his own dad and I’ve seen it replayed more than once in the lives of classmates who were trying to follow in their father’s footsteps.  The father maintains his control, independence and supremacy (especially after having had to fight his own father for it) and clashes with the next generation who has new and sometimes foolish ideas and notions.


Dad got increasingly physical when it came to me not wanting to get out of bed or when making mistakes.  And I made more and more mistakes as I was given more and more responsibility.  Like driving the tractor too fast and going through a fence.  Or the time I turned to sharp with the rake, and wrapped it around a tractor tire.  Or the time I ripped the roof of the barn roof off because I had the loader bucket too high.  Or the time the cattle destroyed a field of corn because I forgot to shut a gate.  Or the time I flooded the barnyard because I forgot to shut the water off.  Or the time he got shocked by the electric fence because I turned it on without telling him. 


We can laugh at most of these things now, but back then they were sometimes very costly mistakes, costing thousands of dollars.  Dad wouldn’t hit me, per se, but he would shove me to the ground.  If I tried to run, I’d just get a boot up my ass.


The biggest fight we ever had was about the #1 contention everyone in the family had about the way he ran things, namely with chore time.


Unless there was some special occasion, Dad would not start milking cows until 7:00 p.m.  This meant that we did not finish until 9:30-10:00 which meant that the entire evening was shot.  Every other neighbor who milked cows was starting at 5-5:30 and was finishing at the time Dad was starting.  The older I got (and the more of a social life I had/wanted) the more this vexed me.  I never saw a prime time TV show because I was milking cows.  My friends were all talking about Welcome Back Kotter and I was stuck in the barn!


It was the summer after my sophomore year of college and Dad and I had been battling about schedules and running things all summer long.  I wanted to work from 5 a.m. until 7 p.m. and then have fun at night.  Dad was not seeing it this way.  I was old enough by this point that I could milk the cows alone and I had on a number of occasions before while he did farm work late or when he actually did take a vacation a couple of times.  I told him that I was not working after 7 p.m. anymore.  Period.  I told him I was willing to do whatever chores before, and do them alone if necessary, but my days of working into the night were over.  This was after basic training, and after other Army training.  I had a mind of my own and asserted it.  I defied Dad.


At this point, his pride kicked in as well as that hidden drama he did within his own head.  He went out to the barn at 7 and I refused to go.  He fumed the entire time.  My brother said, “I don’t think you should have done that!”  I didn’t care.  And I had anticipated my father’s response.  


The next morning, I got up early and went outside as Dad was feeding the cattle before milking.  I asked him if he wanted me to rake the hay in the back 40.


He responded, “You know what I think?  I think you should get in your car and get the hell out of here!”


And that’s exactly what I did.  I already had packed it up with all my stuff the night before while he was milking cows.  I pretty much knew what his options were, and my insubordination was not to be tolerated.


Of course this drama happened without Mom’s knowledge.  She was not at all happy he had kicked me out, especially without consulting her.  I stayed with a friend and helped him do his chores for the few remaining weeks before college restarted in the fall.   My mom contacted his mom to let me know I could come home if I wanted, plus I had an Army reserve check to pick up.  So I did and Mom and I talked it out.  But Dad and I never talked about it.  Neither of us ever apologized or brought it up.  Things were awkward for quite awhile but we got over it.  The next time I worked for him, the terms were strictly defined ahead of time, including hours and rate of pay. 


A few years later, when I did work for him again I let cattle into a pasture where he didn’t think the fence was built well enough.  He got pissed and hurled all sorts of insults at me.  I was stone silent, contemplating getting in the truck and driving off right then.  I held my tongue and then he came about the closest he has ever come to an apology.  He called me his best hired hand.  I can’t recall him ever complimenting me before.  So it was no small thing.


Later that year, my therapist suggested that most of my psychological baggage was because of my relationship with my father or rather the lack thereof.  Mayhaps it is and mayhap it isn’t but I knew I had zero chance of getting him into a therapist’s office and it was about then the counselor said I needed no further treatment.


Over the years, our relationship has improved.  Dad has softened up in his old age.  Plus, in my middle age, I see more of him within myself.  I understand him better than anyone else, perhaps even better than Mom.  I get him because so much of what he is, I have also become.  I have many of the same strengths as well as most of his weaknesses.  I’ve actually helped Mom understand him and his thinking at times, because I have more verbal tools at my disposal than he does. 


After living in Georgia for several years, we were all going out to dinner one night.  Arwyn and I got dressed downstairs while Mom and Dad got dressed upstairs.  We met in the living room and we all burst out laughing.


Dad and I were wearing the exact same shirt.  This wasn’t a plain pastel shirt, either.  It was an unusual color and pattern.


We had each bought the same shirt at Wal-Mart in two different states and had independently chosen to wear it at the same time amongst all the other shirts we had.  It pretty much crystallized for me how remarkably similar he and I really are.  At one time this would have terrified me to no end, but the older I get, the less awful the old guy looks.  In fact, he looks better, wiser and smarter the older I get!


BTW, he did change his shirt before we went out that night. 





Farming Backstory

April 12, 2007

April must be back story month or something.  I’m a collector of stories, so this has been a good and rich time to be reading blogs around our little blogtown.


I’ve already littered the place with bits of my back story, but there surely must be some stories that I haven’t told yet, right?  Oh yeah.  Reading Xi Summit (hoping I spelled that right) brought back a memory or two of the farm.  Oh yes, the farm.  Summit‘s accounts make it sound pretty fun, and like him I do like gardening quite a lot.  It is a source of therapy for me to get out and do something productive on my own patch of red Georgia clay.  People like to romanticize the rural life, and to be sure many of the ills we suffer as a society are a result of its urbanization.


While I do have some very fond memories of the farm, there’s a very good reason why people moved off in droves for the city life.  In the city, you actually can almost satisfy whatever wants you have almost instantly.  On the farm, you could almost never get what you wanted instantly. 


Growing up in a rural community, poverty was a relative thing.  The guy with the new pickup and big machinery looked rich.  But within a few years, one might see all of it up on the auction block and him and his family taking a job in town.  In fact, it is still pretty rare to see any farm families that do not have at least one income stream coming from town.


300 acres was not a big operation when I was growing up, and even in Iowa it was difficult to support a family simply by growing crops.  So Dad started milking cows when I was about 7 in a chicken coop he renovated and then we moved to a place that had a real milking parlor when I was about 10.


Milking parlor.  It sounds so lovely and quaint.  But in reality it was a cinder block dungeon.  At 10, I remember asking my Dad if I could help him milk cows.  He was like, “Wellll, I don’t know…”  I begged.  I pleaded.


“Oh, alright.”


After about a week of helping every night, I decided I didn’t want to do it anymore.  I might as well have told them I was leaving to join the circus.  It became my Job.  Every single night.  There are no 5-day-a-week cows.  They never take a holiday.  And neither did we.  For the next decade, we never traveled as a family more than a few hours away from home, because we always had to be back in time to do chores.  Every.  Single.  Night.


Christmas day, we would visit my grandparents for a giant family get-together.  We would exchange gifts, and eat entirely too much. 

And stay too long.  Then we would make the two hour ride home, and I would fall asleep in the car.  While my sister and brother were put to bed, I was putting on boots, coats and a hat and would be doing chores for the next 2-3 hours.


Milking cows late at night or early in the morning in Iowa during the winter in a “milking parlor” was hell on earth.  In a typical stantion barn, almost the entire herd is in the barn and you simply move machines from one cow to the next until all are milked.  You may have to let some out to make room, but there is a minimum of contact with the elements.  The price one paid for this was having to bend and squat down endlessly to get to the parts of the cows that required tending to in order to milk them.


In a parlor, the milkers stand in a pit, and the cows go in and out 3-5 at a time.  We had a double 3 arrangement, meaning we only had 6 cows in at a time, 3 on each side.  In Germany, I milked in a double 4, with a total of 8 cattle.  In Germany, the barn was nicer, as the cattle came into the parlor from inside and left into another part of the barn.  And Germany was not as cold as Iowa.


In our parlor, the cattle went from the inside of the barn, got milked, and then went straight outside.  And sometimes it was so cold they didn’t want to go.  We had to convince them to get the hell out so we could shut the door!  So imagine trying to get cattle out, the door wide open and the bitter cold slicing into our exposed skin.  Our wet exposed skin.  We were always wet, as we thoroughly washed the cattle off before milking them.  If you sell Grade A milk, cleanliness IS next to godliness!  So we were exposed to that cold over and over and despite having a heater, we would get cold every time the door opened which was after every 3 cows were finished being milked.


I know this is boring, unglamorous stuff.  Milking cows is boring and unglamorous.  You got pissed on all the time.  A shitty tail would hit you square in the mouth, what do you do?  You get over it.  One does not grow up in such a place without learning perseverance and without acquiring some amount of toughness. To this day I get bruises and scratches and have no idea how I got them, as pain does not register as readily for me as it does the city folk.   I learned to work through pain.  That doesn’t mean I liked it, though.


The reason for milking cows is the steady income stream.  We got a check every two weeks as the cows never took a break so neither did the income.  With government subsidies, the price of milk remained fairly constant.  Our neighbors who only raised and sold grain would have to have a good year every year because if you had a bad harvest you had no opportunity to compensate until the next year and there might be NO income.  This is why family farms diversified into grain and livestock.  Even if the grain prices slid or if the harvest was meager, livestock could live off grass.  And you could eat chickens, their eggs, pork and beef.  You wouldn’t starve.  But farming is a tremendously risky business subject to a myriad of forces beyond a person’s control.  That freezing weather may have wiped out some peach orchards in the south and is certainly pushing back the planting schedule up north.  You’ll pay for it in the grocery store, but not much because the farmer’s cut is relatively small in any food you buy.


Milking cows and farming was a very slow life.  And for a kid in high school, exceedingly boring.  And lonely.  In fact, loneliness leads to more rural depression than the elements and the risks.  This is why church is such a central part of rural America, because it was a central gathering place.  Rural folk are inherently more religious because we are so much more intimately subject to the elements and the forces of nature.  It’s only good business to pay respects to the Almighty, in Whose hands our entire livelihood depends.  Among the people who grow food, there are no atheists.  We know that we must contend with a Being who can sometimes be generous and sometime capricious.  But when one is in the center of creation, you learn to respect the Creator.


In the arctic blasts of winter, the cattle still had to be fed and watered.  Equipment would freeze and break down and the only way to repair it was to take off your gloves and make and make an adjustment.  It was a fight to keep roads open, the power on and the water flowing during such times.  Several feet of snow might fall followed by a bitter blast from winter, sending temperatures dipping well below zero.  This last February, I visited and it was 20 degrees below zero!


Global warming my ass. 

Al Gore never milked cows in 30 below weather.  Al Gore needs to spend a few mornings and nights doing chores in such weather and maybe he’ll shut his gob about the global warming.  Which is why he scheduled no Global Warming concerts in February in Iowa. 


Chores typically took 2-3 hours in the morning and 2-3 hours at night.  In between, there was real work to be done.  We raised our own grain and hay.  We also burned wood for heat, which meant cutting and splitting wood.  There were also fences to build and fix.  There was always something to do and something that needed to be done. 


The farm made children a much more tangible asset than exists in cities and suburbs today.  We were all part of the workforce, and we all were expected to contribute.  It was a good day when my brother got old enough to milk cows!  Now, I didn’t have to milk every night, as we switched to alternate weeks between us. 


All of us kids learned about life and sacrifice living the harsh lifestyle that we did.  But there was a price my parents paid for their use of us.  As soon as we were able, we each left and moved about as far as we could from that life.  My brother, sister and I all live in milder climates.  None of us farm.  I was actually the last hope as I at least pursued an agrriculture degree 20 years ago.  But once I moved south, 1000 miles away that put an end to that.  Dad had hoped he might be able to pass the farm on to at least one of his sons but that was not to be.


I have often contemplated returning to that life.  It is a much more manageable pace than the hectic pace most of us endure in the ‘burbs.  My kids will not fully know and appreciate how seasons and the passage of time, life and death truly work together like I did.  They will not know sacrifice, but only grow up with entitlement.  Arwyn has made it abundantly clear that she is totally unwilling to consider a life on a farm.  She has not the strength for that sort of life that involves a lot of hardship in the short run in order to enjoy a harvest later.  The concept of sowing a reaping is so totally foreign to the cosmopolitan populations of today.


So, like Xi Summit, I have my garden and use it as a teaching tool for my kids, hoping they’ll be able to learn just a few of the lessons that can be drawn from tilling the soil.  Fortunately I don’t have to rely on my backyard to meet our nutritional or material needs which makes it an enjoyable hobby.  And those agronomy classes have occasionally come in handy as I know my sweet corn will easily bounce back from the freezing setback of last week since the growing point is still underground.  The beans, OTOH, that got pinched below the cotyledons are done for and will have to be replanted.





How do you live with someone who doesn’t find you attractive?

April 6, 2007

I remember reading something in 2amsomewhere’s blog that resonnated with me. Lots of what he write resonnates, but this was particularly powerful.

He said he simply could not be with someone who found him so unattractive. Or something like that.

Being made to feel disgusting and unattractive has been a major theme of my marriage and I’ve seen it in others as well. The train wrecks that I collect in my blogroll are almost all suffering from this dynamic in some way. C-Marie has been one of the most long-suffering of all the female bloggers I know. But I’ve seen some of her pictures and she is VERY attractive! She’s apparently hooked up with someone who is either blind, gay or has a serious mental disorder.

Guys are routinely seen as the less attractive sex because its sort of true. We can sort of joke about it, but deep inside we long to be attractive to at least ONE person. Preferably our spouse. We would like them to be able to just look at us and feel love. We would like them to undress us with their eyes like we do them. We would like our touch to set their passions aflame. We want to be wanted and desired in this very basic way. To many women this sort of desire seems shallow and superficial. Being a sex object isn’t the end all and be all, but being treated as a sexual leper or worse, a sexual joke, is enormously hurtful. And wearying.

I admire FTN for his dedication, his imagination and his humor. But most of all, he has demonstrated amazing resiliancy in the face of being repeatedly subjected to the disappointment of not being desired in that way. His wife may say he’s attractive, but this is not how she acts. Touching him and being touched by him in intimate ways requires the same sort of advanced appointment and notice that one would need for a doctor’s appointment or a dental cleaning. FTN, to his credit, puts a good face and a positive spin on it. And perhaps he has found a way to make it work for him.

But thinking about 2amsomewhere’s statement, I’m closer to where he is than FTN. Sometimes I say mean things to Arwyn. I’ve been less than enthusiastic about going places with her and the boys on family outings. I enjoy spending time with the boys, but not necessarily with her. In her world, family outings represent quality time. I can handle it in moderate doses; once or twice a week. Arwyn would do this almost every day/night if she could. But it is a strain spending time with someone who is obviously not attracted to me and is probably repulsed by me. I’m attracted to her, but the reverse is not true.

A couple weeks ago, Arwyn declared she wanted a new beginning. My hope was bit more tentative than expressed in some comments that were posted then. One can hope, but my expectations were still relatively low. Since that night, we have been friendly and I’ve tried to be positive and attentive and supportive.

But there’s been no more passion or physical intimacy. This morning I thought I might just at least partake a bit in something physical. And I pushed the limits just a bit by trying to hug and touch a breast. And I was promptly pushed away. So much for that aspect of starting over. It is too much of a burden to try to live with someone who is so obviously turned off and repulsed by me.

The above was written a week ago, and no changes from that as far as where we are. I just sat on it sort of hoping I could just sort of let it all go, but no dice.

But at least this is more on-topic than a high speed internet binge!