Thursday, April 30, 2009

Earth is not G Rated

I have not seen this movie, but just read Russell Moore's excellent comments upon it. You can read it here.
My favorite line:

Being reminded of the wildness of the wild kingdom can be a helpful reminder to followers of Jesus. This universe is not the way its intended to be. It is bloody, violent, and often chaotic. We do not, as the writer of Hebrews tells us, yet see all things under the feet of humanity. But, "we see him who was for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death" (Heb. 2:9).

Being a keeper of livestock and plants is a continual reminder of the cruelty and harshness of the natural World. If it is bad, sad, or horrfying, I have seen it without ever leaving the farm. The most recent example: This winter, I lost my old chief Rouen Drake (Captain Jack) to old age (The exception in nature). Subsequently, two of his sons fought for control of the flock until one was so bloody and picked over I had to destroy him last week. This among ducks, which are among the gentlest and most helpless of creatures.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Portrait by My Wife

"Any dumb SOB with a Dog and a Winchester can be a Sheepherder"
---old west cowboy proverb

Shepherd's Night Out

Tonight I attended the Annual Mercer County Sheep and Club Lamb Sale. Traditionally, the sale served two purposes, for shepherds to buy breeding stock, and a place for the 4H youngsters to buy club lambs to show for the summer fair season. Over the years, the breeding stock sale has diminished to a shadow of its former self. I believe there were only 68 head this year. I remember over 250 head for sale in the past. The breeding stock sale was over by 8:00, but in years past could go past 10:00 pm.

Some of this is reflective of declining sheep populations. Lamb consumption has declined significantly and a larger share of the lamb eaten by Americans is meat imported from Australian and New Zealand. Ironically, the number of US sheep are in decline, but sale barn prices remain pretty good. At least in my part of the World, sheep are about the last livestock that can reliable make a little profit for a small farmer in a conventional manner. If the lamb crop is OK and the shepherd watches the markets before sale day, he can make a bit of money. By comparison, cattle are like a wildly fluctuating stock market, sheep are like a low interest savings account. A flock of sheep was once common to every farm, but few farmers today seem to want the considerably greater trouble in raising them today. This can create some opportunities for the small farmer; though shepherding has its own set of troubles.

another reason for the shrinking sale is that show breeders do not get prices that meet their expectations. I am sympathetic to this,especially when I see a nice yearling ewe bring less than a market lamb. This means the breeder fed the animal for a year and got less than a 6 month old lamb. Show breeders from western Pennsylvania typically do better taking their stock to big national shows and sales in other states. I also sympathize with the attitude of the local buyer at this sale. A Ewe that might fetch $400-$500 at a big Midwest sale will still only make so many market lambs in her life, and he has to watch the dollars and cents of how much he can afford and still profit. At its worst, the show sale circuit is like the two peddlers in prison selling the same hat back and forth to each other, and inflating the price each time.

I did not go to buy anything, just to eat lamb sandwiches and visit. We live in the northern end of the Pennsylvania sheep belt, but its still a pretty small world. I saw most of the other sheep raisers I know from within a 50 mile radius. The lamb sandwiches are excellent-- $3.00 buys a big roll slathered with tender meat stewed in juice. Some people drive 80 miles just to eat there. After that I like to see what everyone is breeding, especially Cheviots, which we raise. Excuse the Cheviotcentric bias that follows on the breed commentaries.

These are some nice Cheviots from the Misty Acres flock. If I was there to buy, I would have bid on these.

A yearling Cheviot ram from the Diamond C flock. Diamond C used to be our nearest sheep raising neighbors and their adult son now carries on the tradition about a half hour north of us. Another animal worth owning.

This Diamond C Ewe wonders why I am bothering her with a camera

I am personally not a big Hampshire fan, but these are nice ones from the Clark Family's Sonshine acres near Meadville Pa

These Dorset lambs will grow to be good milkers and good mothers. We have had trouble with the breed in the past having bad feet. In my opinion, Dorsets also tend to be a little dumber than other breeds.

This skilled shepherdess shows a club type lamb, that might be bought for breeding stock or a 4H project. Note her control of the animal in the sale ring. These Suffolk type lambs are the most common breed in the US by far. They grow big but require mountains of feed. I like to cross them with Cheviots to produce bigger Cheviot type Ewe that eats less than a pure Suffolk.

This is the head of a Merino buck. The Merino was once the king of sheep in these parts, but that was when wool was worth considerably more. This guy's lambs will make wool soft enough for baby blankets.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Appleseed Project in the News

Here is a news story on last Patriot's Day from the new Appleseed you tube channel.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

St George's Day and the Christian Patriot

Today the church commemorates Saint George. Patron Saint of England. There is a good brief account of his life in the always great Ohio Anglican blog here

I always try to keep this day as best I can for two reasons. First, I am of partially English descent. Second, in certain Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox reckonings, St George is considered the patron of Agriculture. As he was a soldier martyr, I have no idea why this is the case. I do know that in Russia, this is considered the day to turn the cattle out to graze. This makes agrarian sense to me, as our grass starts to grow about this time of year.

I thought about Saint George's cross as well this year because our New England ancestors used it on some of their flags in the fight against the crown.
On one level it seemed a little incongruous that I spent the weekend remembering Lexington and Concord right down to shooting at "redcoat" targets. then four days later remember that nation's patron saint. But this brings home the fact that the Revolution was a cousins' war. I discovered this gem of an essay on Christian Patriotism today from one of those now very distant cousins. It can be found here at the comfortable words blog.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Patriot's Day Appleseed Shoot

This past weekend I attended the Patriot’s Day Appleseed shoot in Vienna Ohio. A few weeks ago I wrote about how I got involved in the program and had offered land for a DAR, Ohio, but this was my first shoot.

I am not an intuitive person. In fact, I am excessively analytical. I try not to jump into something with both feet, without thinking it out. With Appleseed I took an unusual risk. I was so moved by what I heard about the program, that I risked committing my farm, peace and privacy to make a part of it available. I made an emotional decision, rather than an analytical one.

My emotions were based upon the tender love I have for my Country, and love can be blinding. This realization makes me second-guess any emotional or intuitive decisions, especially when dealing with relative strangers. By attending the Vienna shoot, I would be able to see for real what kind of mess I might have gotten myself into.

Few things in my life exceed my expectations. This past weekend actually did. The history was presented with passion that made it relevant to today. The instructors were fantastic. The participants were from all walks of life. They ranged in age from 8 to 65. There were experienced shooters and those who never shot a rifle before. From the shoot boss to the most inexperienced shooter, they all shared a certain quality that I cannot describe except to say that these were people I tremendously enjoyed being around.

I was particularly impressed by the the safety system, which was set up to have several redundancies. Rifles remained in cars until the safety briefing. Everyone was given to understand that they were a range safety officer. Between shooting sessions, rifles remained unloaded, with safeties on, and grounded with a chamber flag inserted. Preparation for shooting was divided into a magazine loading period and a preparation period, where the unloaded rifle could be handled but not the magazine. Prior to firing, instructors walked the line and looked for any potential safety problem. I have never seen a mass shooting event where I would feel more confident in allowing an inexperienced shooter to handle a rifle.

Unlike competitive shooting, Appleseed can be shot with any safe rifle from .22 to .30 caliber. I strongly recommend a 22. About half the line was using the Ruger 10-22. I used a Marlin Model 80 bolt action 22. The variety was interesting. I saw a Ruger 77 Varmint rifle in .223, A marlin .22 lever. an FN/FAL in 308, a couple of Ar-15's and even one session shot with a Mosin Nagant 91/30. The program sort of recommends a semi auto .22 but the emphasis is on shooting skills, not choice of firearm.

The history included Lexington and Concord, a great presentation on flags of the Revolution, and I was honored to do a short demonstration with my flintlock long rifle.

All of the history was presented as it should be-the story of those who gave us this country and our obligation to keep and cherish that heritage by becoming active informed citizens.

I learned a lot in those two days. I learned about the "Massachusetts Revolution of 1774" and what it means to the concept of self government. I learned that I am not alone in getting choked up and a little teary eyed over our country's heritage. I learned a lot about speeding up target acquisition and recovering with a bolt action rifle (I need to learn more about this). I learned my decision to jump into this program with both feet was a good one.

How Did I shoot? Well, the Appleseed gold standard is 210 or better on a modified army qualification target (Expert Rifleman). Prior to going, I shot one at home and scored 185 (sharpshooter). Under the constraints of timing I had more trouble. My first target was 155 (marksman). After a cadence drill, I got up to 194. My final two targets were 203 and 205. This improvement was due to the fact that every instructor had something to offer. The instructors (orange hats) also worked with every other shooter to get their skills and scores up. A cousin who attended with me suffers from very bad knees. They worked with him to alter shooting positions to something he might be able to live with.

Riflecraft is an essential part of the agrarian life. Without my rifle, I would not have a garden or any livestock left from the numerous varmints around here. There is no better way to improve riflecraft (and just maybe save a country that is dying from lack of love) than to attend an Appleseed event.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Good Friday 2009: Locked in the Grain Shed

In my off farm job, I get a half day off for Good Friday, so I went home to do farm chores before church. Sometimes in the course of getting work done, I make more work for myself. I have a small 12X12 building to store feed grain and a few hand tools. The door was scrounged from somewhere, and sometimes blows open in high winds, so last Fall I nailed a short board beside it to keep it. About 2:00 on Good Friday, I needed a shovel. Because my cowdog was with me, and there was a litter of kittens inside, I did something I almost never do-closed the door from the inside. The minute I did, the homemade keeper on the outside swiveled into locked position.

I was stuck inside. While my dog Nipper is very bright, she is too short to reach the lock. I am not claustrophobic, but I did have things to do. My wife could not hear if I yelled. I had enough tools in the shed to break out, but anything I break, I have to fix.

In the end, I decided that the door was the most expendable part of the building. On the fourth hard kick, it broke enough for me to reach the swivel with a piece of stick. I spent part of the rest of the day fixing my own mess.

Some messes I can fix myself. My legs are strong enough to kick though a decrepit door. One mess I can't fix is the one inside me. As Mike Horton puts it, "We are all trapped in a burning elevator comprised of of our own narcissistic existence and need a rescuer". The message of good Friday and Easter is that someone comes to open a door I can't kick through. He takes the mess of my life upon himself, and ultimately kicks down the door of sin, hell, and death. This lets me out of the burning elevator.

Our Good Friday Service was an occasion of particular solemn joy because our Anglican church was joined by two Presbyterian pastors and their flocks. The church we rent from (Highland Presbyterian) joined us, as did Gateway Evangelical Presbyterian Church . The homily was delivered by Rev. Dr. T David Gordon, who is a PCA minister, also licensed to preach in our diocese.

So our 1928 Anglican prayer book service was conducted by three Presbyterians and one Anglican clergyman. I thought a lot about standing in this little church in my western Pennsylvania hometown, but also at a crossroads of Geneva and Canterbury. Presbyterians and Anglicans, like all parts of the church, have a checkered history. I remembered that Calvinists in 17th Century England used to steal the surplices from Anglican churches and throw them in outhouses. In an attempt to bring episcopal church government to Scotland, many Anglicans persecuted the Presbyterians, including drowning by chaining women out a low tide. Presbyterians hacked apart an Anglican Bishop in front of his daughter.

I know way too much shameful history to romanticize the past of any confession.From the outrageous savagery of the Byzantine empire to the brutality of the English Civil War, The church has proven it is comprised of sinners. I also know there is no better place for sinners to stand together than at the foot of the cross on Good Friday.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Words I never tire of saying or hearing

At every Communion Service of my Church we confess our sins together. The pastor then reads the words which I never get tired of hearing, known as the"comfortable words" :

ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honor and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Then shall the Priest stand up, and turning to the People, say,

ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him; Have mercy upon you; pardon and deliver you from all your sins; confirm and strengthen you in all goodness; and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Then shall the Priest say,

Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Christ saith unto all who truly turn to him.

COME unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.
St. Matt. xi. 28.
So God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. St. John iii. 16.

Hear also what Saint Paul saith.
This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1 Tim. i. 15.

Hear also what Saint John saith.
If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the Propitiation for our sins. 1 St. John ii. 1, 2.

I like this so well that I sometimes look the comfortable words up on google, and read them in different versions of the Bible or book of Common Prayer. I am grateful to God to have lived long enough to see this Internet thing. Otherwise I would never find treasures like this One Recommended reading for Holy Week.