Leaving the Farm

playingWe have sold our farm and are moving back into the city.

It’s the end of a dream that Katie and I had had since the beginning of our marriage. We wanted to have land, grow food, raise animals, and hopefully build a Catholic community in an agrarian setting.

Why Leave?

A few months ago I told Katie: “I can do two out of three things well:

1. Provide for my family well
2. Be a good husband and father
3. Be a good farmer

But I can’t do all three well, so which two do we choose?”

The farm requires constant work. I still have eight big oak trees we had to fell last summer that need bucking with the chainsaw, hauling, then splitting. I never got to it. We had nine cows by the end of our time, which require more grass than our land produces, so I needed to buy and get hay to feed them. Also every other day I would move them to a new paddock of grass…thirty minutes to do that right there.

Berms need building, plants need watering, trees need bucking, barn needs fixing, cow needs milking, weeds need shredding, the list goes on forever. But with a full-time job as a software developer, I did not have time to get to everything. Along the way, I injured my lower back, and then re-injured it two months ago. That put into sharp focus whether the farm, which produced very little for us, should be jeopardizing my ability to provide for my family in my regular job.

Providence

God made things easy: after fourteen years He made it clear I needed to leave my current company and find a new job. That was an unexpected change in direction. My old job had allowed me to work from home three days per week, enabling us to live far out in the country. My new job was flexible but not that flexible. So suddenly I was faced with a daily commute of an hour each way, decreasing the time I could spend with my children. Unacceptable.

This is usually the way God works in my life: He guides events to where the next step is clear, even if it was completely unexpected just a few days ago. When I got the offer from my new company, Katie and I discussed what we should do for just one day before deciding we would sell our farm immediately and move into town.

Sadness?

I am not sad at all about this, because I believe we are following our Lord’s direction. Sure, we thought we were being called to be new agrarians and build a rural Catholic community. And maybe we will be one day. But that day is not today. We will go back to being suburban middle-class people again. Not so bad.

The truth is that the culture of rural areas has been gutted. Read some of Wendell Berry’s fiction and non-fiction books and you’ll understand how it happened. We drive by all the fields on the way into town: GMO corn, sprayed with herbicides, fields of pure grass stands attained through constant application of Grazon (broad leaf herbicide), no rotational grazing of cows at all, slow desertification happening before our eyes. I don’t say global warming is happening; I say global desertification is happening, and deserts are hotter in the summer/daytime and colder at night and in the winter. Less vegetation and cover are there to stabilize the weather from extremes.

The rural culture is in shambles, because its root is agri-culture, and as I just described agriculture is in a sad place. We met some good friends out in the country, friends we plan to keep in touch with, but nothing near enough to begin to build a Catholic community. Our efforts to invite traditional Catholic religious orders to the diocese all came to naught as well.

Writing

I didn’t have time to write the past year and a half, out on the farm. My book came out, but that was because my editor and I had already finished it over the previous year. Blog posts have been scarce, not because I don’t have anything to write, but because I have had higher priorities to take care of. I thought those would settle down at some point, but I realized that out on the farm they would never settle down. It would be one thing if I could have earned a living from the farm, but that is hard to do and was never one of my goals in any case.

I look forward to being back in town, going to the coffee shop an evening each week and writing. I signed another book contract with Catholic Answers; the first draft of the manuscript I wrote three years ago, but life has been so full that I have only now had time to talk with Catholic Answers and agree on doing the book together.

It has been nice, though, not having time to write. I’ve watched with interest and concern as the blogosphere and social media worlds have changed over the past year or two. I see less of a need for my voice to chime in on most issues–others are handling it fine, or the din is so loud no one is listening anyway. Best to focus on the few things that I can offer real insight into and write about those things.

The Family

We had ten-plus acres of land out here, but our children are small and can’t just wander about on their own (we have rattlesnakes and copperheads in the area). So ironically the only thing our children will miss in the big pile of dirt we had by the pond after our friend cleaned it up. They just loved to climb on it and run down it and throw dirt clods off it, simple stuff. In our new place we are going to have several cubic yards of dirt delivered and dumped in the back yard just to simulate the farm dirt mound.

So our children won’t miss it too much. Edmund has grown in his knowledge of nature and critters and will continue in that. I’ll take him hunting and camping and things like that. He already knows more than most grown-ups and can name trees or plants on sight. No lie, ask his God-father who took him on a train ride and said he named everything they passed, flora and fauna.

Katie, for her part, is especially ready to move back into town. We are moving into the same neighborhood as our parish, St. William’s, which is one of the best ones in the entire Austin diocese. Friends live nearby; we can go to adoration and daily Mass easily; my commute will be cut in half.

I hope to get involved in the parish and teach classes, give talks, etc. I also hope to give talks at local parishes, and to do so for free. Our Lord has provided for us generously through my regular work so I am able to do this.

The next chapter is opening up! We don’t know where it will lead, but we grateful to Christ and hopeful for the future.

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Posted in Catholic Life, Family Life, Grapevines and Nature, Masculine Spirituality | Tagged | 17 Comments

Seventh Day Adventism vs. Catholicism

curiouserLong delay since last post. We are selling our farm, buying a house in town, and I just changed jobs after 14 years! Oh, and I hurt my lower back again so sitting and writing at the computer has been painful.

In the meantime, I received this email challenge from a Seventh Day Adventist. Very respectful tone. I told him I probably would not have time to respond on my blog but would follow his posts on his website.

Devin,

Briefly by way of introduction, since you may not know about me, I am a layman Seventh-day Adventist, 63, retired from the U.S. Air Force, that was raised as a Lutheran but became Adventist in 1993 after being introduced to what the Bible really teaches, while attending a Daniel and Revelation prophecy seminar, presented in Hawaii by an Adventist pastor. That was indeed an eye opening experience that has had me studying the Bible very deeply ever since. My web site Biblelight.net was the method I choose to share and explain what I have learned since becoming Adventist. I have had no formal theological training from either university or seminary, I am just a layman, yet I submit to you the following open invitation that will soon be posted on my web site:

I have only just this evening become aware of your web site St. Joseph’s Vanguard | Catholic Apologetics and Agrarianism and your book The Protestant’s Dilemma: How the Reformation’s Shocking Consequences Point to the Truth of Catholicism which, on the face of it, is a very interesting premise. Other than that intriguing title, I don’t have any further information regarding the 30+ tenets of Protestantism that you follow to what you claim to be their logical conclusion, i.e., the truth of Roman Catholicism.

So, with that in mind, I propose to discuss with you via email, the 30+ Protestant tenets (which again, are as yet sight unseen by me), in an open, public discussion that will be posted on both our web sites. Through the scriptures I will present, it will be amply evident that your conclusion is in error, that Roman Catholicism is not the truth that you suppose it is. This will be done respectfully, in a decent, scholarly and orderly manner, by letting the Bible interpret itself, so that the truth will be readily apparent to those who seek it. The Bible will clearly reveal that Roman Catholicism is in fact, the very antipode of truth. That it alone is identified specifically and beyond any doubt, to be the apostate persecuting harlot church of Revelation 12 and 17, and that the papacy (the entire papal dynasty) is none other than the little horn of Daniel, the man of lawlessness, the beast of Revelation 13, the antichrist.

So, I await either your courageous acceptance of this invitation to defend and stand for what you think to be true in an open public discussion, or your declination. In any case, it is my intent to address your book soon on my web site, as stated above, with or without your participation.

– Michael

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How We Can Know Premarital Sex Is Wrong

Funky fresh

Funky fresh

I need to apologize. My post last week with the sensational title about the Bible being silent on premarital sex took my playing Confused Millennial Protestant Advocate too far.

As several readers pointed out in the comments, there are passages that, when properly understood, forbid premarital sex. While there is no explicit prooftext that says, “premarital sex is sinful,” most Protestants don’t require such prooftexts, being willing to take the preponderance of the evidence of the Scriptures as a whole as making a compelling case against premarital sex.

Knowing From the Natural Law

I’ll get back to that idea in a minute. But another argument made in the comments was also important: Brent brought up that the natural law itself reveals to us that premarital sex is wrong. I find this argument interesting for a few reasons. First, even when I was an atheist I believed sex was best saved for marriage. Second, if the natural law argument holds, it means that even without divine revelation in the Scriptures and Tradition we can know premarital sex is wrong.

Catholics (and some Protestants) accept natural law theory. God has written certain truths upon our hearts, and we can know them apart from revelation. Murder and stealing are wrong, for example.

One problem comes from the fact that many Protestants do not know or believe in the natural law. Instead, they hold to a sort of divine positivism where the only thing that is true is what is explicitly found in the Scriptures themselves.

Scripture and Tradition

The comments include various passages that can be connected and plausibly interpreted to forbid premarital sex. As a Protestant, I found these compelling. I think the Scriptural case against premarital sex is much stronger than the one for it, which mainly trades on ambiguities with word usages. Solid exegesis tips the scales heavily in favor of the traditional belief.

That said, the Scriptures are never interpreted in a vacuum. The person interpreting them is always bringing a tradition to the table: a lens or paradigm through which he interprets the meaning of the passages. The prevailing tradition, both Catholic and Protestant, on the question of premarital sex, has been firmly on the sex-within-marriage-only side.

So far, so good. But enter the millennials. The Christian principles which have undergirded our society’s culture have eroded away to a substantial degree. Those of us who grew up in the preceding generations did so in a milieu where traditional mores and norms were still widely accepted as right (even if people rebelled against them–they at least knew that they were rebelling). Millennials are growing up in a different environment. Those old ties are weaker. The power of the conservative Protestant denominations has waned, and affiliations with mainline and major Evangelical denominations has fallen by the wayside.

The pervasive Protestant paradigm that interpreted the Scriptures as forbidding premarital sex is beginning to lose its force. That is the cultural shift we are seeing, exemplified by young adults like my friend Brandan, who wrote the original article toying with the idea that sex before marriage is okay in some situations.

Those Darn Catholics

Why do the Catholics always have to be right? Good question. It’s enough to know they are. The best way back to sanity for Protestants is to consider the Catholic Church’s claims. She makes a multi-tiered appeal for traditional sexual morality: Natural Law plus Scripture & Tradition.

The correct lens for interpreting the Scriptures is the one that God Himself provides: sacred Tradition as authoritatively understood by the Magisterium of the Church. There is no ambiguity or question. And the Church goes on the offensive as well. Not only is premarital sex denounced, but the beautiful, amazing, incredible truth of why sex should be within marriage is unveiled. St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is a powerful explanation of this truth. Notably, he drew from the philosophy of Natural Law, Scripture, and Tradition to make his arguments.

The Slope Really Is Slippery

I was a conservative/traditional Evangelical Protestant. So were all my friends at the time. So it would have been hard for me to fathom a Protestant like Brandan making an argument for premarital sex. Surely he is just off the deep end?

Yet, in the years since becoming Catholic I have been dismayed by even conservative Protestants arguing for all sorts of things: Contraception, sterilization, divorce and remarriage, and even masturbation. These are sola Scriptura Protestants who take the Scriptures seriously. Once sacred Tradition is jettisoned, and a faulty, human tradition put in place, the slope is greased up for a fast slide into sin and error.

Opportunity

The great thing is that, with Protestantism’s traditional and denominational ties loosening, Protestants like Brandan are becoming open to the Catholic Church. They don’t have the age-old grudges against the Church, and when they start to read the wisdom of the Church: the Catechism, lives of the Saints, the Church Fathers, the Councils, and so on, they are dumbstruck by its depth and beauty. God draws them to full communion.

So we as Catholics have the opportunity to invite them to read and listen to this wisdom, praying they will be able to see what we have seen, and that God wants them to see. The Church needs their gifts and energy to spread the Kingdom and become great saints.

As for the post from last week, mea culpa. I have a moderately large responsibility as a public writer to be careful in what I say. I got sloppy on that post and stretched the case against perspicuity too far.

When writing that post, I had Brandan’s new paradigm in mind more so than the old Protestant one, because Brandan’s world is the future of Protestantism. The two worlds have changed in hermeneutics.  The “old” model is more interested in the model of “interpret Scripture with Scripture” (which is how pornea’s use is rightly understood by the old Protestant traditions–the Greek most plausibly denotes “fornication” to include premarital sex), and the new model is more enamored by explicit proof-texts (which hinders Brandan’s paradigm from realizing that the Bible forbids premarital sex).

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Posted in Faith and Reason, Masculine Spirituality, Theology of the Body | Tagged , , | 18 Comments