Sunday, September 30, 2018

It Is Always Better To Be Alive

(If you think this is"realistically depressing", try reading Ecclesiastes.  The Vikings had nothing on the ancient Hebrews on the contemplation of death).

Saturday, September 29, 2018

A Few Words from...Matthew Henry

“What think we of Christ? Is He altogether glorious in our eyes, and precious to our hearts? May Christ be our joy, our confidence, our all. May we daily be made more like to Him, and more devoted to His service.”

(Hat Tip:  Survival Blog)

Friday, September 28, 2018

Living Artists

In an age of the disposable and mass produced and mass culture, remember those who produce the handmade and the fragile, the craftsmen and women who base part or all of their livelihood on what they are able to create with their hands or minds.  Support them too.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Collapse: Letter IV

May 17, 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

Yes yes, I had promised you my moving story. I had forgotten your tenacity when promised something, however.

You remember “The Old Days”, where one simply rented a truck (or contracted someone to do so) and just loaded up and moved – as I remember, we both did this for each other at least one time, if not more. The world no longer works that way, my friend.

My house, as you may recall, was sold and I had a fixed time – 60 days – to leave. The last few years had been a time of material purging, so there were a great many fewer things in my home than used to be there – but were still many, no doubt. No problem, I thought to myself, I will merely procure a truck, load up, and travel on.

Alas, this too had quietly changed.

You may remember the time we suffered through Mr. A______'s high school civics class about the ability of an individual to move freely between states. That right still holds, but the actual process to move yourself permanently between two states has become a great deal harder.

There is a fee now, of course: the Interstate Relocation Recovery Fee (called something different in your locale but similar in nature) charged by the rental companies to cover the cost charged by the local or state government for an individual “selfishly” leaving their current location and reinvesting their resources where they have lived – as if all those years one was a net drain on the system (the fact that you are escaping the local death tax is probably the primary motivator). The fee is graded based on the scale of the truck you are attempting to rent and seems cross referenced (somehow) with someone's idea of your net worth – for me to rent a truck with a 4 meter long bed would have been prohibitively expensive. Even a trailer would have been a quarter year's salary.

I have my small truck of course, with a bed. And so I had some room. But not enough for everything in the house. And so I purged again. I sold things at seemingly ridiculous prices (strangely enough, at that time no-one had thought to tax the individual sale market. But I am sure that loophole is closed as well at this point).

None of the good things were sold, of course. Our photos stayed. My books, of course – can you imagine me without books? Clothing and such – but the whole “casual business attire” I had for 30 years all went to charity as that need was now long gone. And of course, the bits and pieces of the things that I love to do, the hobbies and interests that add zest to life.

I reduced my possessions so greatly that by the time I was done I had a simple truckload of items to be taken, tarped down against the potential for inclement weather and a full cab with the rabbits in the passenger's seat. Almost 60 years of living, and my life had become compressed to this.

If I were a melancholy man, this would have struck me as depressingly sad. My life in a single truck with only a small amount of things waiting for me at the other end. Some things had gained and then lost meaning, others were utilitarian in value and had filled there purpose – but all the pieces and parts of my life that were non-essential were gone. Only the core remained.

Shutting down the utilities remained the last thing to do – and yes, it was as difficult as you think. Everyone “demanded” a forwarding address on the grounds that I might still owe them. Fortunately I do not have a new mailing address and so I gave them an e-mail account as the only contact point – having left the geographical area, I had no intention on allowing them to track me.

And so, one glorious morning in August, the rabbits and I left early and hit the road. It was almost 20 years to the day we had all moved here in the first place. A lone cardinal chirped away as we left – as far as I could tell, there was no other sign or presence that noticed our going.

- Seneca

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

On "Time" and Money

A recent discussion over at Five Acres and A Dream (if you are not following Leigh and Dan, you really should be.  No. Really.  Go over there and bookmark them now) has got me thinking (again) about the economics of our lives both now and in the not all so distant future.

At the moment we are in a bit of an unusual situation for us:  Our income has never been higher, but neither have our expenses (with Nighean Gheal in her second year of college and Nighean Bhean getting ready to go away next year).  It means that in some things we are making great progress, but I realize that it also means that this is not a long term sustainable solution (in the sense that I really do not care to work the hours I have been working for the next 9 years to get everyone through school).   This whole situation is also based on the real fact that I have a job at the moment - but given my industry, it could realistically end within a year.

But I am also a realist. The very thing that permits me to make my money now - my experience (and therefore my age) is the same thing that will eventually ensure that I do not get the next job, or the one after that or the one after that.  In other words, this train will not run forever.  At best there are nine to fifteen years left - at worst, one.

How does one plan for such a thing?

All the normal things of course - debt reduction, rainy day funding, savings - and to a greater or lesser extent, we are working on that.  But what comes very significantly to my mind is simply changing the very nature of how we live.

Modern life - at least a great deal of people's modern life - is built on specialization and convenience.  I am specialized in what I do and so I exchange that specialization for goods produced by other people their specialization.  These goods are easily accessible - more so than ever.  When I was growing up there were maybe 10 options for eating out in my little town.  There are probably 60 options for me now within a 5 mile radius.

But all of this comes at a cost:  a cost in money and a cost in how I view things and the world.

The cost in money is, I assume, fairly transparent.  But the cost in view?  I have changed my view from money and independence being the most important thing to "time" being the most important thing (I have not fully, of course - but let us play along for the sake of argument).

For me to fully right this ship, I need to change my view about "time" - now I view it as time I am not spending doing other things but the time I have to work to do this things is not figured into that calculation as it should be.  An example:  an average dinner for a family of four will cost me between 0.5 and 2.5 hours of labor at my current job.  The dinner lasts maybe an a hour and we have not had to invest the time to prepare the meal or clean up - but was it worth the time at work it took to have that dinner?

What I am trying to propose, in a perhaps broken way, is that my concept of time has influenced my concept of value of money.  For me to right this - to begin thinking correctly about it - I need to see my spending in terms of what I having to give up to make it happen.

Gene Logsdon of The Contrary Fame was an expert at this. Constantly in his writings he would reflect on the cost of what he was doing in the real world if he was paying for it - but as it was part of his lifestyle, the cost had transmuted itself into value.  He had escaped the black hole of time and money.

A new book at the Big Book Seller will cost me 0.5 to 0.75 hours of labor.  Alternatively I can wait until I find it used and it will cost me 0.05 hours of labor.  A little patience and effort makes my money go farther.

I am not quite as far on this path as I would like to be.  But I am also starting to get farther than I expected as well.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Divisions Or Strength?

Last week a pretty amazing article came out from Victor David Hanson (if you are not familiar with him, you should be.  His book on the Peloponnesian War, A War Like No Other, should be required reading in high schools.  It would revolutionize Ancient History) called "Are We On The Verge of Civil War?"  The line in question that struck me the most was actually from the end of the article:

"Every day we will either treat each other as fellow Americans, with far more uniting than dividing us, or we will continue on the present path that eventually ends in something like a hate-filled Iraq, Rwanda, or the Balkans."

Strength is not inherently generated through dividing ourselves based on opinion or any other physical, social, or philosophical aspect.  Diversity - divisions based on such things - can be a source of strength, if it is undergirded by a core shared belief.  An example:  The rabbit shelter I volunteer at is a very widely mixed group of individuals that have united around a shared cause, that of saving the bunnies.  We draw on different backgrounds and experiences, but those are used in pursuit of helping towards doing the things to help the rabbits. 

But allow division, this diversity of whatever, to become the most important thing - the thing that is more important than the shared value - and fault lines will inevitably appear, as individuals follow their divisions more quickly than they do the thing the are supposedly uniting around.

The best example I can think of for the latter is the American Church as a whole.  In theory, we all share a common goals around core religious beliefs (except when we do not, of course).  The ideal is that - at least if you read Scripture - if one part of the Body hurts, the whole body hurts and is wounded.  We have turned this all around, of course, arguing that diversity of beliefs and practices within Christianity is a more important virtue - thus when parts of the church are oppressed and target, the other side merely cheers or feels smugly that they are in the right.  The Body bleeding, it seems, has become less important than believing one's self to be in the right.

What is true of the Church is true of politics itself, and indeed every other aspect of civil life:  we are either uniting together around some common goals or beliefs that make us one or we are separating along fault lines that will inevitably tear us apart.  Which is where Hanson seems to put his thumb precisely on the problem.  We currently have made an entire cottage industry of splitting ourselves apart.  If not corrected, it is only a matter of time before the inevitable breakup occurs.

Monday, September 24, 2018

On The Pruning Of Our Lives

"I am the vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and ever branch that bears fruit He prunes that it may bear more fruit." - John 15:1-2 (NKJV)

This verse, one of the ones used for the sermon yesterday, got me to thinking about pruning in our lives - or rather, having our lives pruned.

There are plenty of descriptions, in books and on the InterWeb, about the practice and nature and reasons behind the pruning of grapevines (outside of sheep and field practices of the early 1st century, it may be the best well known point of agriculture of the Bible) - in short, it increases yield by removing all but the most necessary parts of the vines.  A good vinedresser can do this quickly and effortlessly, an inexperienced one less so and with greater potential harm to the plan.

The word "pruning" struck me for some reason as it was mentioned this morning - perhaps because as I look over the few years, I see the effects of God's pruning in my own life but not the results (or at least, I do not think I do).

The pruning of my own life started in earnest nine years ago, when (by a layoff) we moved halfway across the country to start a new life in a new city and state with (literally) no-one we knew within a three state radius.  All the projects and plans and even activities I had were completely removed from the agenda - and over time, some of those things began to wither and fade simply because of a lack of proximity.

Did other things and people come in to fill those gaps?  Absolutely, with some of the best activities I could have imagined (and opportunities I would not have had before).  And yet even now, I begin to sense another season of pruning is upon me.

In terms of my religious life with God?  Strangely enough, I feel like the last 9 years have moved me farther from God, not closer.  That is bothersome as I have little idea what or how to fix the situation.  I am not sure where it is stemming from - it is not as if we have attended service regularly for the last 9 years or that I feel the preaching I have had was terrible.  There is just less of a sense that I can do something meaningful within God's Kingdom.

But perhaps this, too, shall pass.  Perhaps I am simply at the end of that process well, and need only keep my eyes fixed on the vine to see that result as well.  After all, in every (literally every) other arenas our lives have become significantly better since the move (except for proximity of family, of course).  I cannot believe God would allow the rest of that to improve without the most important part of that, my relationship with Him.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Iceland Day Six: Reykjavik

For our last day, we started by taking a whale watching tour in the bay.  We did see some whales, although I was always too slow to get pictures:

Then, some last minute walking and shopping in downtown Reykjavik:

The current location of the Alþing:

The National Cathedral of Iceland:

My final picture of Iceland, and one of my favorites:  squint your eyes and you cannot see the few signs of civilization there.  What must it have looked like when the Norse first appeared in the 870's?  The picture of an unexplored land touches my imagination.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Iceland Day Five: Hraunfoss, Barnafoss, Husafell, Langjökull

Day Five in Iceland was driving north and east.

Hraunfoss - A Series of waterfalls which flow almost out of the rock.  They are fed from Langjökull glacier:

Barnafoss:  The Children's Waterfall, so named from a story that two children died by falling into it.

Husafell is the location of the Husafell stone, a 409 lbs. stone used to block the sheep pens below.  It is considered a test of strength by modern strong men.

The stone itself:  I did not try to pick it up (on advice from my strength coach) but did lift it from the ground to standing.  The greatest struggle is the fact that there is no good grip to be had.

For the last part of the day, we drove up to Langjökull glacier.  First we went through nothing but rock:

Then we went into the glacier:

The line you see is from the 2010 Eyefallajökull eruption:

Back outside:

Driving home.  The sunset was amazing: