Monday, August 28, 2006

Agrarian basics, part 2a
My answers to Eleanor's questions in the previous post in this series got so long I decided to follow the Valerie Principle: make a new blog post. :-) Eleanor's questions and comments are italicized and mine are plain.

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My first thought is that the word 'agrarian' is simply too limited a word for this idea. It invites misunderstanding. Can you change it to something else?

I really don't think I can, since too many folks are already using it the same way I am, and have been since at least the 1930s.

But really, since the dictionary lists the first definition as "relating to land, land tenure, or the division of landed property," I think this is decent. I've seen it referred to variously as Biblical agrarianism, covenant agrarianism, and Christian agrarianism, but it all refers to the duty of stewarship over the land.

My second thought is that I lost you right around where you said that the eye provides for its own needs just as the foot does, while serving a larger Body. I'm not sure how you mean that. The eye cannot provide for itself at all-- it needs liquid and nutrition via a blood supply...of course a foot cannot see and an eye cannot walk...I think I'm not getting your gist here.

I'm sorry if that wasn't a helpful analogy, but let me try to explain. In the analogy, the "body" is meant to represent all of humanity, with the different "members" representing different individual people or families. When I was thinking about the way the body works, I noticed that, because each body part functions in a very similar way at the cellular level, there is a sense in which even though they have different functions within the body, in some ways they function the same on a personal, or individual level.

Now, when I mentioned the cells providing for themselves, I was trying to point out that even though epithelial cells, for instance, are different from skeletal muscle cells, which are different from neurons, they all have certain functions in common, cellular respiration and reproduction, for two examples. Of course, I didn't mean to imply that each member can provide for itself in complete independence from its environment and from the body as a whole.

I was hoping that the reader would deduce from this that, in a healthy community, each family would have direct access to the earth - the blood supply - so that they could provide some of their own needs, even while they are working together to supply the needs of the larger community.

Thirdly, the world is fallen, and we must live in it and preach to it using words, not just actions. We must show forth the Kingdom. Certainly one method of evangelism is our love for one another, but we also have a mandate to share the Gospel. Sometimes it sounds like you're advocating seperating yourself from the world in favor of being only with Christians. I don't see this model exemplified by the Apostles at all. On the contrary, they seem to have used their vocations to reach out to the world in every corner where God has placed them. I see our occupations and economics as of lesser importance to the calling we have to go out and make disciples of all nations. I DON'T think you're disagreeing with that, but I can see some overzealous person trying to go there.

Well, you're right, I'm not advocating this. Maybe this tidbit I wrote elsewhere will help explain my views of radical independence in this context. And, forgive me if I seem callous, but overzealous people will always be finding some way to take something to an extreme, so I don't see how I can protect them from that. I do hope that in the course of this series I'll be able to explain my thoughts fully enough that at least I won't be thought misguided. :-)

Also, I think I need to point out again, that what I'm talking about here is not Christians going off and living only with other Christians. My main point is that the agrarian calling is Mankind's calling, Christian and heathen alike. So all the stuff I'm writing ought to be of particular interest to Christians, because we know our creator, but it really applies to everyone. So no, I'm not talking about some cult-like separation from the world. What I'm talking about is actually living in close contact with the creation - dirt, plants, animals, and people.

Fourthly, I also see an overzealous person taking this idea and getting in trouble with it by deeming himself more righteous than another merely by virtue of his economic outlook and ability to be 'productive'. It stands to make the less capable person feel less righteous rather than obligate the more capable to greater humility in service....

You're right about this and I've seen it myself. It is a great failing and ought to be repented of. However, to be fair, I've also seen plenty of "New Urbanists" who have the same disdainful attitude toward those on the other side of the fence that you describe here. It's really not a weakness that's particular to agrarians.

... I know a woman who has MS. She trusts the Lord in a severe stage of illness (confined to a wheelchair and paralysed from the waist down, as well as having many other health issues.)but cannot help anyone but herself-- it takes all her energy to try to stay in her own home. Her husband left her. Her parents are ill. Only our church provides free help to her. What about the elderly and infirm who cannot give but must only take? What of the plight of those outside the Body?

The Body of Christ is absolutely obligated to provide for the needy. I really think that in the agrarian model they'll be better provided for than they are now, simply because people would then be living in real communities where they actually knew their neighbors and interacted with them on a daily basis. The other huge advantage I see to this model is that everyone has a place, from the youngest to the oldest, including the physically and mentally disabled. In our current culture most of these people - most of our weakest and most needy - are institutionalized for most of their waking hours, if not for their whole lives. I truly believe that we need weak people so we can learn to serve them in humility, and sometimes each of us needs to be the weak person, so we can learn to be served in humility. And in a truly agrarian society, there would be no need for institutions as the community would be able to minister directly to each other. Do you know much about how the Amish function? They are one of the few communities that I know of that has a truly integrated society.

In summary, I can buy a good deal of this idea, but there are some really nasty pitfalls I see that could really derail a Christian Body that is primarily urgently called to reach out actively to this world, not merely take care of its own self. How do active, verbal evangelism and works of charity towards the fallen world factor into your scenario?

Wow, that's a big question. I can only say that people have to find their own place in the Body of Christ, in whatever kind of society they live in. There will always be some called to be evangelists, and there will always be families who take meals to the sick neighbor next door.

Maybe it would help me if you could tell me what you think would happen if my scenario were true. What if most people lived in villages, instead of in the suburbs, and worked all day right near their own and their neighbor's homes instead of driving off to the commerical or industrial disticts? What do you perceive as going wrong? I honestly don't understand what you're seeing as a potential pitfall.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Travelling with little ones

Summer's nearly over, but one of the fringe benefits of homeschooling is being able to travel during the off season. We've made many road trips over the years, and consider ourselves seasoned pros, but then in our case we've done it because we've had to and not generally because we were on vacation. We moved from south Georgia to upstate NY with 5, 3, and 1 year olds; from NY to Alabama with 6, 4, and 2 year olds and a 5 month old; from AL to VA... well, you get the picture. And of course any time we've wanted to visit grandparents over the years, we've had to drive anywhere from 2 to 22 hours.

But if you're not used to travelling with little ones it can seem pretty daunting, so I'd like to offer suggestions based on things that have worked for us over the years.

We generally stop every three to four hours.

Probably the first thing you'll want to consider when planning a long trip is how often to stop, so you'll need to be aware of your kids' level of endurance. Are they used to spending an hour or two in the car on occasion? If so, how well do they handle it? If your kids aren't used to travelling you may have to stop every hour and a half to two hours. Do you have a daily quiet rest time at home? What about devotions? If they're used to sitting still for an extended period of time this will help their ability to sit still while travelling.

Because we're not usually "on vacation" when we're on the road, we're almost always pressed for time, so we don't usually stop to eat - that is, we usually eat in the van. This of course, is messy, and not for everyone. When we do have time to stop for a meal, we try to stop at a rest area and eat a picnic lunch, but even then, the kids usually run around the whole time we're stopped and they don't eat much until we get back in the van. If we can't bring a picnic along with us, we try to stop somewhere that has a play area, or at least a bit of grass near the parking lot for the kids to run around on.

Try to combine as many activities as you can into each stop - that is, buying gas and food, and visiting the bathrooms. Every time you stop, make everyone visit the bathroom, even if they say they don't have to go. Unless we're having a picnic, our stops are usually less than a half an hour long, but this frenzied pace may not be conducive to the relaxation you're looking for on vacation. Actually, it doesn't feel frenzied to us, since we're used to it, and the kids know that they only have so much time to visit the bathroom and run around. If you're making a longish stop, take everyone to the bathroom the very first thing after you stop, and the very last thing before you leave. I can't stress enough the importance of properly regulated bathroom breaks. Having to stop every 45 minutes because you have five different bladders filling up on five different schedules will wreck your trip.

Passing the time

My kids have a running game of "Bug" they play every time we're in the car - even little ones can play that. Of course, counting things like horses and cows is fun, or if that's too complicated, keep on the lookout for something special, like a white horse.

Singing. Bring your hymnals along, or if your kids are too young to read, bring one, so Mom can lead hymn-singing.

Stories. Mom can read while Dad's driving and vice versa, or you can get stories on tape to listen to. We usually do this when it's nap time.

Let each child bring a small bag with a few items in it to play with while you're in the car. You can use a diaper bag or backpack or canvas tote, or even a plastic grocery bag or a shoebox. You'll want to limit the amount of small things that they can bring and help them pick out a suitable range of things - like one doll, one book, one notebook and a few crayons, and two matchbox cars.

We don't have a TV in our van, and don't feel the need for one. We bring along music and sermon CDs to listen to on occasion, but I find that I don't like to have anything playing more than a fourth of the time we're travelling. It will limit conversation (the best thing about travelling is getting to sit next to Mike and talk with him for hours on end!), and sometimes just sitting still and being quiet is good for everyone.


If you'll be stopping at a hotel along the way, pack an overnight bag that has pajamas, toothbrushes, and fresh underwear for everyone, so you'll only have one suitcase to take in. I'll bring a fresh blouse for myself and a fresh shirt for Mike, but I'll wear the same skirt and he'll wear the same jeans, and I usually don't pack a change of clothes for the kids in the overnight bag. You just don't get dirty travelling, unless there's an accident. In case there's an accident, you'll want your suitcase with the rest of your clothes in a handy location so you don't have to unpack your whole car to get a clean shirt for a kid who spilled his drink all over himself. Most of our trips are to visit grandparents, and this only requires us to make one overnight stop on the way, but if you're going to be making multiple overnight stops and need to minimize the amount of luggage you carry in to each hotel, check out the Deputy Headmistress's ingenious method.


We always bring a cooler with fresh fruit, already washed, and cheese sticks, and snacky things that we can pass out as needed. We also make sure everyone has a very small cup with a very small amount of water in it. We try to ration the water so we don't have full bladders when it's not time to stop. It's also for this reason that we pack lots of fresh fruit and veggies and only a little cheese, and no crackers at all. You don't want the kids getting thirsty and drinking a large amount and then having to go to the bathroom right away.

We also bring a roll or two of paper towels, some wet wipes, and a couple of boxes of tissue to take care of spills, messy hands, and runny noses. It might be a good idea to bring a few bath towels in case of large spills, and I know at least one family who always brings "travel sickness" supplies - a large trash bag, a gallon of water, plus paper towels and a bath towel, just in case.

Don't give your kids sugar while you're travelling, and this includes fruit juices. At meals we offer them milk or water. Nothing else. The driver and navigator get to drink caffiene if they desire.

The Deputy Headmistress is also a former military wife with seven children, and has even more experience with this than I have. She posted a six part series on this topic back in February, which you can read here: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Agrarian basics, part 2
The nature of corporate calling

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

For the body is not one member, but many.

If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?

But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.

(I Corinthians 12:12-18)

Just as the Body of Christ is one body with one calling, and each particular member has his own particular calling, so it is with the corporate agrarian calling of mankind. Which is to say, not everyone has to be a farmer.

For the purposes of this discussion I want to offer a definition of farmer as one whose primary occupation is that of producing food by way of cultivating the earth or animal husbandry, in order to provide for all of his family's needs, and with a view of producing a surplus that can be exchanged for the family's needs that aren't produced at home.

This definition is very specific and is different from the more general way I've sometimes used the word to refer to people who garden extensively, but don't do it to provide a majority of their family's needs. So if you've discussed this with me before, especially in the context of my descriptions of my ancestors' occupations, many of whom weren't farmer according to this strict definition, I just want to be sure that my narrow use of it in this series isn't confused with my more general use of the term elsewhere.

In the comments to the previous post, Eleanor wrote a lovely description of what I had in mind when I started this post, so I'm going to quote her.
...God has given us this earth, put us on it, and requires us to use it and steward it in some way that is best suited to the talents we have and the place where we are. For some that means contributing a knowledge of chemistry in order to rpduce medicines. For others it means a knoledge of metallurgy to produce tools. For others it means a knowledge of music to produce music, or a knowledge of light, color and form to produce art. It seems to me, in light of the way the tabernacle was first built, that everyone should be producing something to the glory of God, and that not all will be producing bread or raising sacrificial animals, but that some will be producing goods. Still others will be teaching others to be able to do these things, and not necessarily within the family only. Isn't this what the Body should look like, after all? We are made to be together, and interdependent, some doing this and some doing that, not only for themselves but for others.

This illustrates what I mean when I say that agrarianism is a corporate calling. We are all called to accomplish the same goal, be we don't all have the same "job" or the same way of contributing to that greater end. There is unity in our calling as mankind, but diversity in the way each us helps fulfill that calling. And, as Eleanor suggested, the particular work we are called to do is not only for the glory of God, but also for the blessing of the rest of the Body. I believe it's true that our particular gifts are not even primarily for our own benefit, though we can get a lot of pleasure out of them.

Now, we see that each member has its own particular gift to contribute to the body, or its own particular function to fulfill in the life of the body, but when we look closer at each particular member, we also see that at the individual level, the members all have certain functions in common. For instance, each cell in the eye has chromosomes which contain the blueprint for the whole body, but which also enable the cell to reproduce; each cell in the eye has mitochondria, which convert food into energy; and each cell in the eye has a membrane which serves in part to regulate the passage of materials in and out of the cell - food in, waste out, so to speak.

The interesting thing about this is that, even though the eye's particular calling, it's particular contribution to the body, is very different from that of the foot, the eye provides for itself in exactly the same way as the foot provides for itself. That is, when it comes to meeting its own needs, the eye functions in just the same way as the foot, but when it comes to meeting the needs of the body as a whole, it has a unique role to play.

So we have the unity of the body and the diversity of the members, but we also have a very striking smilarity between the cells in the way they function.

I want to propose that Mankind as a race is patterned after the Body of Christ. We have a unity of purpose - this corporate calling that I've been talking about in stewarding the earth - and we have the rich diversity of contributions that various members make in order that the body as a whole may fulfill its calling. But in a healthy body we should also see a remarkable consistency in the way each member goes about providing for its own individual needs.

I say "in a healthy body," because obviously the "body" we are talking about right now is very far from being healthy. It's true that this body will never be perfectly healthy until the New Heavens and the New Earth. But it's also true that we Christians will never be perfect even as our father in heaven is perfect, and yet Christ still exhorted us with this standard of perfection, because that is the goal which we are to be working toward.

It is the nature of corporate body-ness in a fallen world that oftentimes an individual will find himself in a bad situation that is not of his own making, or possibly his situation is the result of foolish decisions in the past. A soldier may find himself fighting on the wrong side of an unjust war for many reasons. Maybe he enlisted under a godly king who has since become corrupt. Maybe he ignorantly or foolishly enlisted under an ungoldy king. Or maybe he was impressed into service against his will. However it happened, there he is, and he is not free to make amends for the situation by deserting his post. He must continue to serve in his position, but in a godly manner. If he is given an evil order he must refuse to obey it, and be prepared to take the consequences in the same way that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were willing to suffer for their godly defiance of Nebuchadnezzer's evil commandment.

And if he is given a righteous way of escape, he must take it.

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Part 1 found here.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Agrarian basics
The Biblical foundation

These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,

And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.

But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.

And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads....

And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.
(Genesis 2:4-10,15)

The first thing to understand about agrarianism is that man's original calling was to steward the earth, and that was not changed by the fall, or the flood, or the great commission, or Pentecost, or the industrial revolution, or the invention of computers, or anything. Agrarianism simply IS the way the world works, just as male headship is the way the family works. When the Lord said that the husband is the head of the wife, he wasn't making a suggestion, he was stating a fact, and as Doug Wilson says, a husband may be a good head or he may be a bad head, but he cannot be a non-head.

So, each of us sitting here is an agrarian. You may be a bad agrarian or you may be a good agrarian, but you can't be a non-agrarian. The Lord has given each of us some place that we are to cultivate and guard.