Monday, March 26, 2012

Chesterton 2012

"It may be said with rough accuracy that there are three stages in the life of a strong people. First, it is a small power, and fights small powers. Then it is a great power, and fights great powers. Then it is a great power, and fights small powers, but pretends that they are great powers, in order to rekindle the ashes of its ancient emotion and vanity.  After that the next step is to become a small power itself."
                      --G.K. Chesterton from Heretics

Well, here's to hoping.  Maybe if Ron Paul gained a couple of hundred pounds and stopped brushing his teeth we might get close.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Father Hunger and Patriotism

"The great gap in his mind is what may be roughly called the lack of patriotism.....He admires England, but he does not love her; for we admire things with reasons, but love them without reasons."

---G.K. Chesterton on Rudyard Kipling from Heretics

Last week I read this line and began to mull over what Chesterton means. He criticizes Kipling for not t
ruly loving his country, but only liking his country. He likes England because she has a strong military or because he likes the current prime minister. However, you don't need to give reasons for why you love your child, or spouse, or parent. Even if your child disobeys you, you still love them. However, you prove your lack of love if you give up on someone when they don't do what you like.

This being an election season, I began to see this everywhere in our current right-wing, left-wing politics. The right-wing likes America because we have a strong military, or conservative economics, or moral values. The left-wing likes America because of our democracy, or public education, or socialized medicine (in progress). Why do they argue so intensely over these platforms? And why do I always have the sneaking suspicion that although they pretend to be opposed to each other, they are really quite similar? If Chesterton is correct, then neither side shows true patriotism. They fight viciously for their platforms because they are afraid of not liking America any longer.

It is h
ard to find true patriots these days. But just like loving your family, loving your country doesn't mean that everything it does is righteous. You love your own father because he is your father, but if your father is destroying his family you have a Christian obligation to love him by pointing this out to him. The Latin root of "patriot" is literally someone who loves their father, and this country is our fatherland. Because examples of godly fatherhood in our country are rapidly disappearing, we should not be surprised that true patriotism is also hard to find. The healthy, irrational loyalty that is inspired in a family by a faithful father is the kind of loyalty we should also have for our country, which is patriotism. This is not "my country right or wrong," or "my country, as long as I get my say," but "I love my country, so she may not do that."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Government Should Stay Out of My Safeway

I recently finished reading the book The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I know this is a bit out of date, as the book came out several years ago, but that's just because I'm slow. I finally decided to read this one for two reasons: first, I had seen Pollan interviewed several times on different food documentaries. Most of these documentaries were full of fire-breathing organic-ists, but Pollan always sounded surprisingly sane. Secondly, I know some people who became fire-breathing organic-ists after reading this book, so I wanted to be able to find out how that happened.

Here is where I was coming from. "Organic" is a word that certainly doesn't mean what it really means anymore. I used to ask my students what organic meant, in my biology class, and they would answer "without chemicals," or "no pesticides." They never believed me when I told them it just meant "life" and consequently they did pretty poorly on their tests. It also makes ridiculous the idea of "inorganic food." This was probably the first thing to bias me against the organic movement. Also, although I love the way good food tastes--and usually the more local, the better--I despise the elitism that goes with words like "organic," "free-range," or "natural." Most of the elitists show disdain for the poor and lack of gratitude for the food God made.

Pollan divides his book into 4 different meals, and describes how those meals arrive at our table. His first meal is one made fully from industrial agriculture (and he visits McDonalds for dinner at the end). His second meal is what he calls "Big Organic." For this meal he buys everything from Whole Foods. His third meal is a pure, free market meal, which he calls, "Greetings from the Non-Barcode People." In this chapter he visits the farm of Joel Salatin, a well-educated, multigenerational, Baptist-preacher/farmer, and eats with his family. His last meal is the Hunter/Gatherer meal, where he hunts his own wild boar and makes the meal with things he finds in the woods or grows himself (lettuce, wild mushrooms, sourdough bread, etc.).

He actually does a wonderful job, whether he intends to or not, of demonstrating that our entire "industrial" food system is the result of government subsidies. Our government subsidizes the growing of corn. As a result, thousands of local farmers have gone out of business because they haven't been allowed to sell their product for what it is worth. Also, this has led to a surplus of corn that we need to use; which has created the feedlot-style system of raising farm animals.

God made cows to eat grass, but we feed them corn. Because their guts don't digest corn well, we need to give them antibiotics to help them fight infection. We also have to fatten them quickly, so they can be butchered before they die at a young age. Also, corn doesn't contain the correct fatty acids for their bodies, so we grind up other cattle bones and fat for them to eat--turning our cows into cannibals. This also necessitates the need for more antibiotics to guard against mad-cow disease (what happens to cows when they eat other cows). The same system is in place for feeding chickens (and yes, they feed dead chicken parts back to the chickens also).

Pollan was also surprisingly moderate on the organic movement. He does a wonderful job of attacking what he calls "Big Organic," such as the Whole Foods empire and organic regulatory groups. He does a wonderful job of describing the quaint farm picture of the free-range chickens at Whole Foods, and then he actually goes and visits that farm. It turns out that free-range chickens are no different from regular chickens--as California law only forces them to "have access to the outdoors." This means that the free-range chickens are raised in the same massive silos as the other chickens, but there is a small slit door in the bottom corner of the silo that leads out to a narrow strip of grass that runs part-way down the edge of the silo. Since these are also "organic" chickens, the chicks don't receive any antibiotics, so they are not actually allowed to even use this outside option until they're old enough to ignore it. In his visit to this particular organic, free-range chicken farm he never saw even one chicken get close to using their free-range option.

The most entertaining farmer he visited was, without a doubt, Joel Salatin. Besides the fact that I enjoyed seeing Pollan, who is a Berkley professor and liberal Jew, loving his time with this fundamentalist Baptist (he graduated from Bob Jones University), who even has a fish sign on his front door; Salatin is a really fun guy. He inherited his farm from his father, who worked on the farm over weekends and holidays, all with the goal in mind of passing it on to his son who could hopefully support his family solely by farming. He describes himself as a "Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic-Farmer," and he sees the root of all farming problems and food-price problems in our country as a result of government regulation. He does not consider himself an "organic" farmer, per se, but insists that if you understand the growth and behavior of animals and plants you don't need much pesticides, fertilizers, or other chemicals. His prices are affordable and reasonable (his chickens sell for $1.99/lb.). He also lives in West Virginia and refuses to ship his food farther than 150 miles from his home--but he insists that if the government got out of the farming business, there would be many more farmers just like him. I'm interested in reading his book called Everything I Want to do is Illegal.

Good food is a good thing. Sometimes, I believe, Christians give up the realm of tasty food to liberals, and it's not because we like food too much; it's usually because we like food too little. The Lord's Supper is bread and wine, two of the most developed tastes imaginable. The organic elitists are truly nauseating, but the realization that most of their food complaints are the results of government regulation was truly eye-opening. God gave us taste buds and a world that is edible, and the difference between a tomato we grew in our backyard and one that came on an airplane from South America a week ago (and was picked a week before that) is certainly noticeable. However, even though I was impressed at how much Pollan connected food problems in our country to government regulation, I have actually seen him in documentaries calling for more regulation as a solution. Hopefully more guys like Salatin will be able to make a living at farming, as there is certainly plenty of farmland out there (if only the government would leave it alone and let people use it)!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Who is my Neighbor?

Let's pretend, for a moment, that you have two neighbors. On one side, there is a father that you are pretty sure does a poor job supplying for his family. He calls in sick to stay home and watch ESPN, his kids are disorderly, and his wife looks like a mess. You know that one of these days he's going to get fired, and then his family could, quite possibly, starve.

Your neighbor on the other side, at this very moment, is standing in the front yard pointing a loaded rifle at his toddler.

I don't think it takes very much thought process to determine which of these two demands your immediate attention.

However, now imagine that instead of being home to see this travesty, you are away at work this morning, and a bystander is walking by on the sidewalk. He lives nearby, and has seen the messy state of the lazy neighbor's yard, and can probably figure out that the man there doesn't take care of his family. However, at this very moment, he can also see the other father in the front yard, ready to blow his son away. Now this bystander takes quite a different opinion. He thinks it's good for fathers to have the option of killing their children, and, in fact, gives money to fathers who do this sort of thing. So he puts a few dollars in the murderer's pocket and strolls on. When he comes to the lazy neighbor's yard, he decides that he's had enough. He marches right up the walk, tears open the door, and walks in, demanding that it's high time for this man to get a job or his family will starve.

Now, even though you agree with the bystander as to the state of the lazy man's home, there's still no doubt that he has some serious issues with proportion and morality. After you come home and have a talk with the police, you may be able to have a decent discussion with him about standards and the value of human life. He may be intelligent and decent, just seriously confused. Maybe he doesn't know what guns do. Maybe he doesn't know what toddlers are. However, is that the kind of man that you would elect to run your own family? How about your church? How about your country?

Now imagine this bystander is also running for office in a local election. Even though you agree with him about your lazy neighbor, and that something should be done about him, how do you trust him when he simultaneously encourages fathers to murder their own children?

Monday, March 5, 2012


My younger son has decided to make his older brother a present every day when he gets home from Kindergarten. Usually it's something clever and small, like a homemade coloring book, or a rocket made from a toilet paper roll, but today he reached a new height in gift-giving.

First, some background. My husband brings his 8th grade class to Mexico to do service work in an orphanage every spring. He usually brings back tasty Mexican candies for the boys when he returns. Several years ago he brought back lollipops that had an actual, dead scorpion encased in the sugary coating.

This was the inspiration for today's gift. Segundus found a small jar and searched out a suitable spider outside. Then, with parental assistance, asphyxiated said spider with several cotton balls soaked in fingernail paint remover. Then we mixed up a tasty concoction of orange juice, bananas, and sugar. Then we put the dead spider in a paper cup, filled it with juice, stuck a stick in it, and froze it. When big brother came home, he was welcomed with an officially original dead-spider popsicle. He did devour it and was proud of the fact that he's pretty sure one of the legs is stuck in the back of his throat.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Modesty Talk

Modesty. What comes to mind when you read that term? What other people wear? What you wear (or maybe used to)? What is popular to wear?

The dictionary definition of modesty, in fact, has very little to do with clothing. One definition I have includes "(1) Freedom from vanity, boastfulness, etc. (2) regards for decency of behavior, speech, dress, etc. (3) simplicity; moderation." Besides the short reference to dress, there is no mention of clothing.

The Bible's handling of the subject has even less to do specifically with what we would call "immodest clothing." The most famous verse on modesty, I Timothy 2:9-10, states, "in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works." If anything, "immodesty" in this context is wearing a ball dress and jewels to church! However, taken together, modesty seems to be the keeping of your behavior, manners, and dress from being vain or self-glorious.

This goes against our popular definition of modesty, which much like the word "organic," doesn't really mean what it means anymore. To talk of immodesty, we are more likely thinking of a swimsuit issue model then of someone who is boastful and vain--but what does the Bible say? Reasoning from I Timothy 2:9-10, vanity of the heart leads to vanity in dress, which means immodest clothing is a symptom of a sinful heart, not necessarily the sin itself.

If this is the case, how do we teach our daughters the value of modesty? In a big way, by leading by example, but also by teaching them the standards of modest talk and behavior at a young age to help them avoid the swimsuit issue problem at a more mature age. If our little ladies despise vanity and self-glory, they will naturally be in love with the good examples of dressing once they are old enough to understand the consequences of their dress and behavior. This is similar, in a way, to teaching sons the discipline of self-control at a young age, so they will be equipped for the temptations of adolescence. We shouldn't have to fear for our teenagers' dress, if they despise boastfulness and self-centered vainglory when they are young.

How then do we deal with immodesty in the world? If it is true that immodest dress is a symptom of a sinful heart, we should not be surprised that it is everywhere. However, this just goes to show us how much the world needs the Gospel. A scantily-clad woman, then, should be the subject of our compassion. She is a lost soul and needs Christ, and our daughters should eventually be equipped to minister to her (but their brothers can run and hide).