Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Why the Ashland Stove

I have a new wood cook stove. I pondered this decision for a long time. In the process of building our tiny house, I realized that I couldn't fit in a wood heating stove and a regular electric or gas stove and oven. I had to choose one or the other. Since I like to be warm in the winter, I chose the wood cook stove.

Why the Ashland? I am sure there are many good cook stoves on the market. It so happened that Michael and I were visiting an Amish home in the fall and I mentioned to Mrs. Yoder that I would like to get a wood cook stove. She took me into the house and showed me her Ashland stove. It had the feature I wanted: a switch-over apparatus that made the heat go around the bottom and up the side and then out the stove pipe, thus heating from the bottom. There are some other stoves that do this, but they are too large for my little cottage. I fell in love with Mrs. Yoder's cook stove.

We drove all the way to Jamesport, Missouri to buy it. You gotta hand it to the Amish - they've been doing this off-grid thing for a long time and they have learned to make it as convenient as possible. Mr. Ropp spent 2 hours explaining everything to us and helping us to get all the pieces necessary for the stove pipe set-up. He was so kind and offered to give us advice any time we needed it. He advised me, "Now don't go cook your husband's birthday cake first thing in the oven. Try some biscuits first." We sat and fellowshipped a while, discussing everything from religion to politics.

One thing about Missouri is that there are many Amish communities. They are a treasure in our midst. Michael told one Amish fellow who was working for a local farmer, "One day people will come to you asking you to show them how to live as you do." "They will?" asked the shocked young man. Yes, they will. People like us, people who want to change the way they live, to slow down, to eat well, to enjoy friendships and communities.

I look forward to having folks over to eat meals cooked on our Ashland cook stove. But first I have to bake those biscuits!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Home at Last

On Friday, December 10th, we finally moved into our tiny cottage. It took twice as long to build, cost two or three times more than we thought, and it was a lot harder than we expected. We will need to add on before too long probably.

Since we moved in on a Friday evening just in time for Shabbat, I suggested we call the little house "Sabbath Rest". Michael commented that it had been anything but a rest for him, working full time and house building full time. Time for some winter hibernation!

We celebrated by going into town to see the new Narnia movie, "The Dawn Treader". Why is it that the book is always better than the movie? It wasn't too bad, though the change up in the story flow and the overdone sea serpent were a little distracting. I wonder what C.S. Lewis would think.

Now that we are in our tiny cottage, and out of the apartment in the consignment shop, we are breathing a sigh of relief. We have downsized significantly - from a 4-bedroom villa near the Mediterranean, to a one-room house with a loft on the prairie. Needless to say, there is a storage room a few miles away with most of our household goods! Still, it is an adventure and a joy to set out on the agrarian road.

Thinking through our goals for the next 3 to 5 years, we realize that it will take a good while to get a barn built, animals added, fences mended, our own water supply, some form of off grid energy, and so on. The key is to prioritize and to be frugal in every way.

I must say we are thankful for the amazing Christians we have met here in our area. They have been helpful, and have shared their wisdom with us in so many ways. One men's Bible study group even met out here and helped us move in our Ashland wood cook stove one evening. That thing was so heavy! But we are sitting here enjoying its warmth, and thinking back on the dear folks who have been so kind to us, strangers in their midst.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Back to the Blog

Hello again. It's been a long time. I want to catch up on all the events of the past few months. We have been busy to say the least.

We left Cyprus in May this year. We traveled to the United States before TSA got weird. After visiting with relatives in Texas and Louisiana for a few weeks, our household goods shipment finally arrived and we were able to make the long drive to Missouri. We arrived in Kirksville on June 19th, and started the long process of moving to our land.

First we camped in Thousand Hills State Park. It was lovely, but two weeks was a long camping trip! We met some great people, even a Russian woman from Kyrgyzstan. We were waiting for our water line and our electric service to be installed. This took a couple of weeks.

On July the 1st, we finally moved our tents to the land. Happy day!!! We were still camping, but we were on our own place. July 4th was our day for pouring the footings for our cabin. We wrote Scriptures on all the big posts, and prayed for God's blessing on our little home.

All went well until the second half of July. Michael began to feel sick and was in a lot of pain in his stomach area. He rested and he worked, until he couldn't stand it anymore. We went to a doctor, and he sent Michael to a surgeon. It happened to be a bad gall bladder that was about to burst. Since we had no insurance, we were floored by the cost the hospital quoted. We wondered if it were better to die than to be in debt for years. The doctor insisted that if the gall bladder wasn't removed immediately it could burst and cause gangrene and Michael's life would end much too early.

We went through with the operation, and then we had to check into a budget motel for a week to recover. Our cabin was put on hold. We lost two weeks of work time, but it was August and terribly hot.

One day while in town I stopped at a friend's store and told her about this new development. She said we should just move into the apartment on the upstairs floor of her store until Michael was on his feet and the cabin was finished. So we did. It is a consignment shop right downtown. This has been an interesting journey.

Meanwhile, back at the land, we were stuck since we needed help in a major way to put on the roof. One Saturday I went shopping at the local downtown farmer's market and met an Amish looking lady who told me her husband did handyman work. I told her we needed help. They went to their church group and the whole bunch decided to come out and help. We had a roof raising, and they also got the sheathing on the outside. What an incredible blessing!

I will post again soon and continue this saga. For now, we are humbled by the process.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Agricultural Tyranny

Tyranny requires people to sustain the system that exploits them. The 'system' may be the brainchild of a person, a government (military or political), or an infrastructure. But regardless of the source of the tyranny it can only be managed through intimidation and deceit. Where people are afraid they invariably yield to exploitation. Where people are deceived they tolerate tyranny (whatever its ilk) for as long as they remain deceived about the alleged benefits of the tyrannical system.

Whether intentional or not, the tyranny against local agricultural autonomy has two forms -- urbanization and industrialization. Where house is joined to house, so that the land can no longer sustain its inhabitants, agriculture becomes the slave of luxury. Everyone needs to eat but not everyone wants to work to grow the food they need to survive. That 'odious' task is relegated to those seen as 'less sophisticated laborers' -- in other words, to family farmers. By default, urbanization tyrannizes local agriculture.

To avoid the distasteful stigma of human agricultural exploitation (and to turn a healthy tax-profit in the process), governments usually promote agricultural industrialization. In this way, rather than exploiting their fellow man, they are able to exploit the efficiency of machines and the fertility of the land. However, the long-term productivity of the land is better served when tended personally by the smallholder rather than by industry. Of course, it may be legitimately argued, this effort neither makes one extravagantly wealthy nor is it industrially efficient. But is that really important in the epic scheme of things?

It is true that more men will have to sacrifice more time and personal effort to make the smallholder's land 'fruitful' than under the management of a centralized industrial regime. Yet, at the very least, these personal efforts at local cultivation will feed one's family if not the nation, resulting in one less family on the government dole. Farming will also keep one's children out of trouble while engaging them in meaningful labor that promotes a healthy work ethic, good nutrition, and strong bodies (assets to any nation).

Where there are many houses, there is no land left to tend and land that is no longer tended cannot sustain the luxury of the people living on it. For, ultimately, the rich are sustained by the fruitfulness of the land and even the wealthy perish where the land is made barren. But the industrial solution, since it wears out the land through its relentless exploitation, offers little long-term hope for resolving this dilemma. For where the land is cultivated more by industry than by families it quickly loses its long-term fertility.

What is the lesson to be learned here? Agriculture cannot sustain industry. It was never meant to. It cannot sustain that which exploits it to death and all industry (in some measure) exploits agriculture as reliably as the wealthy exploit the poor. Poverty is always the wholesale price of extravagance and greed. Luxury both causes and becomes the eventual victim of its own exploitation.

Thus, the tyranny of luxury that further impoverishes the poor also eventually erodes the foundations of a nation's health and wealth. This is the fruit of agricultural tyranny -- that a people who can no longer provide for themselves bankrupt the nanny state they've created to serve them. Under such duress, the government's options are few -- revolution, repentance, or war. In the current social venue, where an expedient solution will only compound the problem, the right choice rests on the courage and humility of a nation's leaders.

Michael Hennen

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Valiant for Truth

Lies are rooted in fear and unbelief -- the truth in faith and love. It takes courage to tell the truth. Those who fear justice will never speak it. Those that walk in love can speak nothing else, for love is always just. It cannot be otherwise. But because justice is always unpopular with those whom it convicts of sin, love and truth require great courage.

Truth and justice are as inseparable as lies and injustice. Truth and love are as inseparable as lies and fear. We speak the truth to those we love. We lie to those whom we do not esteem or to those whom we fear do not esteem us. And in so doing, we plant seeds of injustice in the soil of fear and reap a harvest of war, suspicion, and hate.

Because they fear justice, liars cannot afford to speak the truth. But those that love God and their neighbors cannot afford to speak lies. Truth is the root of justice and love is the root of truth. As our love grows cold, so does our passion for truth. As truth perishes, so does justice. But love is always just and justice is built on truth. Love speaks truth for the sake of justice. Justice requires truth for the sake of love. Truth and love are of the Lord.

But because we have bent our tongues toward deceit, we cannot recognize the Lord. We proceed from evil to evil because we are not valiant for truth. We walk with slanderers and deceive our neighbors because we have taught our tongues to speak lies. We dwell in the midst of deceit and weary ourselves to commit iniquity and, through our tolerance of deceit, we refuse to know the Lord (Jeremiah 9:3-6).

Being valiant for truth in the midst of a sinful world requires more than social outrage, it requires a commitment to suffering for righteousness sake. It requires a willingness to suffer the scourge of unpopularity and the cross of persecution. These are not something we seek, as if suffering, unpopularity, and persecution were priceless treasures. Rather, they are something we cannot avoid if we love the truth.

It is the truth that sets us free and it is lies that bind us. Those we love, we seek to liberate from the bondage of deceit. But lies proliferate wherever our love has grown cold. Love cools wherever things are valued above relationships. Being valiant for truth is not only about justice, it is about love. To their destruction, we allow those whom we do not love to continue in their deception. But to their salvation, we valiantly proclaim truth to those whom we love.

This is what God did for us and what He expects us to do for our fellow man. In a world bent on deceit and greed, in love, we are to be valiant for truth. If this were easy, it would not require courage. Regardless of the love that is in our hearts for our fellow man, we can expect severe resistance to the truth, for it will always convict men of their sin and those that love their sin more than they love truth will hate both truth and its messengers.

They will lie to conceal the truth and commit acts of violence to silence the witnesses that testify against their injustice. But nothing can silence the truth, for when the lies have run their course the truth will remain, and those that have been valiant for truth will shine like the stars in the heavens.

Michael Hennen

Friday, February 19, 2010

God's Will - My Desire

My wife recently asked a question that went something like this, "Is it possible that God would write His will into certain redemptive desires that just won't go away?" I would say that not only is it possible, it's probable!

God's will for a man is written into every fiber of his being -- how he is built, how he thinks, how he feels. That is not to say that a man is limited to certain work because of the way he is built, only that he is more suited to some work than to others. And that is not to say that everything a man thinks is from God, only that the way he thinks about things is primarily rooted in the life God breathed into him. And that is not to say that everything a man feels is from God, only that the way he feels indicates the will of God for a man's life -- the direction in which God has oriented his soul.

The battle of every man is to discern his purpose -- that endeavor for which his life was formed and which, ultimately, will be the most satisfying to him. In that search, there are many sounds vying for our attention -- sounds that urge us to prop up the vision of other men or sounds that tempt us to ignore the captive song of God that so longs to break forth from our heart and life. But until we sing the song that our instrument was made to declare, there will remain in our lives an emptiness that cannot be quenched by external comforts or ulterior pursuits.

Sound is vibration and all vibration is sound. In this respect, every action of mankind is enjoined either in harmony or in discord with the God-ordained purpose of a man's life. Where our actions are in harmony with this purpose, this resonance is our worship of God, the Creator who breathed life into our souls. Where our actions are discordant, this is sin -- rebellion against the redemptive purposes of God for our lives.

The goal of every man, woman, and child ought to be to intone the song in their heart that best worships God. That song is unique to the instrument for which the instrument was made. No one else can intone this song exactly as God intended it. Others can echo it and mimic it, but its melody belongs exclusively to one man or woman whose unique glory the song expresses -- a glory that reflects the glory of God like no other instrument can.

Is it possible that God would write His will into the desires of our lives? Yes! But we must also understand that what God wants most from mankind is a symphony, not a solo. Every man is formed to participate in a holy symphony that reflects the love and truth and life and character of God. We can never enjoin this symphony by quenching the sounds of other instruments. But neither can we enjoin this symphony by denying to sound the song that is uniquely ours, the song that is in our hearts.

The symphony of God on earth is intoned through vessels that are willing to worship Him together in spirit and in truth. The spirit and truth, in harmony with God's will, are always redemptive. It is only in making ample room for these redemptive desires in our personal lives and in concert with our community that we may enjoy the fullest measure of God's pleasure in the purpose for which we were created. In this, God's will is my desire.

Michael Hennen

Monday, January 4, 2010

Tyranny of Convenience

It seems the whole world is falling apart at once but that is only because one tyranny is always built upon another. If you pay for something 'manufactured', as opposed to growing or building it yourself, you pay the manufacturer a certain profit margin. What you are actually paying for is not necessarily 'value added' but convenience. You don't have to learn the process, gather the material, use the time, or put forth the effort to make it yourself. Because you're in a hurry, you've accepted the point of view that such labor is a waste of your time. Yet, if it were really a waste of time, it wouldn't be profitable to the manufacturer either.

The manufacturer is not as interested in your convenience as much as in his profit. So he cuts corners, using inferior materials or designs that require you to buy more of what is convenient sooner and more often than you'd like. The manufacturer uses propaganda to make you think his inferior product is somehow superior to all others and, therefore, exactly what you need. He tells you, "It will make you feel better" implying that if you don't buy it, you'll feel worse.

The basis of all convenience is time. We're deceived into thinking the way we use our time (our work) robs us of the better use of time. So we pay someone else to do what we could and should do ourselves so that we can use our time more efficiently. Our laborsaving devices, for which we pay so handsomely and for which we often go into debt, are supposed to give us time for recreation, time to watch TV, and time with family. But what we fail to realize is that they engender hidden liabilities.

Having someone else to 'do it for us', we lose our minds and the ability to think creatively or logically about the value of the process. Having someone else gather the material for us, we become ignorant of its source and its real value in human effort. Having someone else use their time and effort, we engorge ourselves on more sedentary 'recreational' pursuits and then handsomely pay the gym or the doctor to help us regain the fitness we could have maintained through simple manual labor. In our great industrial hurry and by our lack of effort, we allow ourselves to become fat, broke, and ignorant and then wonder why we are so consistently unhappy.

Eventually, in order to pay off our debts, to de-stress our lives, and to cover the medical bills resulting from our lack of diligence, we concede to labor longer hours for less real benefit. What we fail to realize, under the weight of the accompanying liability, is that our wisdom, our understanding, our discernment, our health, our prosperity, our relationships, and our joy all suffer.

Health depends on nutrition and exercise. Nutrition and exercise depend on agriculture. Modern agriculture depends on industry. Industry depends on profit. Profit depends on efficiency and propaganda. Efficiency, which is the timely use of resources, and propaganda depend on exploitation. Exploitation depends on ignorance. Ignorance depends on education. Education depends on government agendas. Government agendas are generally built on its lust for power. The lust for power always results in tyranny.

At its core, tyranny is always based on ignorance, deceit, greed, and force. But it is the tyranny of convenience that allows these vices entrance into our personal lives. We allow ignorance because we want a quick education. We allow deceit because we do not want to put forth the effort to research facts, evaluate truth, or exercise discernment for ourselves. We succumb to greed because we hope that it can somehow redeem our efforts, making them either more profitable or less unbearable. We tolerate force because we do not want to suffer the inconvenience of doing what is right.

Tyranny begins in the hearts of lazy men and women who do not want to earn what they gain with honest labor. It is the offspring of the convenience to which we become accustomed and eventually addicted. If we continue at this pace, when the mechanism that provides these conveniences for us becomes prohibitively expensive, mankind shall either succumb to the tyranny of slavery or to the tyranny of death.

The only alternative to the tyranny of convenience and its lethal consequences is the redemption of our work ethic and of our relationship to God and our fellow man. In my view, the best venue for such redemption is on the family farm. That is not to say that there is no room for industry or specialization, only that its responsible pursuit is more family-sized than factory-sized. Genuine community is rarely built by industry. Rather, it is built by families who have chosen to reject the tyranny of convenience in favor of the blessings of working together.

Michael Hennen