Top 50 Songs of 2014

It’s always hard to trim down all of the great music that gets put out in a given year to a top 50. I used to try to do a top 40 but that was just too much. What follows are, what I consider to be, the 50 best songs of the past year. I would rate the first 13 songs as worthy of going on the all-time play list; however, the other 37 on this list are certainly worth keeping in the rotation.

Top 50 of 2014

1. Best Day Of My Life by American Authors

2. Riptide by Vance Joy
3. Am I Wrong by Nico & Vinz
4. Me And My Broken Heart by Rixton
5. Take Me Home (feat. Bebe Rexha) by Cash Cash
6. The Man by Aloe Blacc
7. Take Me to Church by Hozier
8. Turn Down for What by DJ Snake & Lil Jon
9. Turtles All the Way Down by Sturgill Simpson

10. The Days by Avicii
11. Come With Me Now by Kongos
12. Rather Be (feat. Jess Glynne) by Clean Bandit
13. Carousel Ride by Rubblebucket
14. She Looks So Perfect by 5 Seconds Of Summer
15. #SELFIE by The Chainsmokers
16. Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran
17. Boy by John Mark Nelson
18. A Long Day by Mally
19. Fireball by Pitbull feat. John Ryan
20. Cruel City by Augustines
21. Divisionary (Do The Right Thing) by Ages and Ages
22. On Top Of The World by Imagine Dragons
23. Timber feat. Ke$ha by Pitbull
24. Hey Brother by Avicii
25. Bitter by Atmosphere

26. I’m Not The Only One by Sam Smith
27. American Kids by Kenny Chesney
28. Rude by Magic!
29. Where I’m From by Eels

30. All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor
31. Girls Chase Boys by Ingrid Michaelson
32. Bang Data by Bang Data
33. Something About Knowing by Maria Taylor
34. Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins) by Shad
35. Let’s Be Still by The Head and the Heart
36. My Sweet Summer by Dirty Heads
37. Beachin’ by Jake Owen
38. A House Is A Home by Ben Harper

39. Gunpowder on the Letter by Cody Chesnutt
40. I Know It’s Wrong (But That’s Alright) by Hurray for the Riff Raff
41. Dirt by Florida Georgia Line
42. Song My Love Can Sing by Doug Paisley
43. Work [feat. Wale] by Iggy Azalea
44. The Walker by Fitz & The Tantrums
45. Lovely Day (Studio Rio Version) by Bill Withers & Studio Rio
46. I’m On Fire by Nico Vega
47. Flicker by Atmosphere
48. Balanca (Nao Pode Parar!) by Bossacucanova
49. Step out of the Shadows by Glen Hansard


50. Stay With Me by Sam Smith

Have a great year!

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Judges 16 – Care and Feeding Instructions For a Leader

One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her. The people of Gaza were told, “Samson is here!” So they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the city gate. They made no move during the night, saying, “At dawn we’ll kill him.” But Samson lay there only until the middle of the night. Then he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron. – Judge 16:1-3

Der geblendete Simson by Lovis Corinth (1912)

25 While they were in high spirits, they shouted, “Bring out Samson to entertain us.” So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them. When they stood him among the pillars, 26 Samson said to the servant who held his hand, “Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them.” 27 Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform. 28 Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.” 29 Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, 30 Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived. – Judges 16:25-30

***

As a kid in Sunday School they probably taught about Samson once a year. It was always a very sanitized version of the story, and I do not recall the teacher ever reading any of it out of the Bible. The lesson always revolved around Samson losing his powers when his hair was cut and then getting his powers back when he asked God. I look back in horror at the teacher who taught that Samson was analogous to Jesus in that he sacrificed himself, and the teacher that taught Samson got his powers back because the Philistines allowed time for his hair to grow back.

Samson was a horrible person who did very bad things, and that is how we should teach him. He was faithless, deceptive, arrogant, self-centered, and hot-headed (to name a few traits).

Many people are called into leadership positions. Frequently leaders use their power and authority to work in the best interest of those around them. However, there will always be leaders, like Samson, who use their position to visit prostitutes (literally or metaphorically), pick fights, and bring about destruction. These leaders may be moving the group in a desired direction; but their failures will ultimately cause harm to the group

As Christians we need to be careful in the selection and maintenance of our leaders.

  1. Follow God’s Leading – Do not pick the person you think should be your leader. Pick the person God is calling to be your leader. God knows more than you know and God knows more than I know. I have seen destructive individuals placed into leadership because people thought they knew what kind of leader they needed when in fact God was calling someone else. If you find yourself playing politics in church, then you are not following God’s leading.
  2. Pray – Pray for your leaders before you know who they are. Pray for your prospective leaders when deciding who should lead. Pray for your leaders while they are leading. Pray for your leaders after they are gone. Your relationship with your leaders does not begin when they show up and does not end when they leave. It is eternal in both directions.
  3. Require Accountability – Many leaders do not like being accountable. Some leaders will even establish policies which give the appearance of holding them accountable, but which truly exist to avoid accountability. Require that your leaders be accountable to someone. A leader either needs to choose a suitable accountability partner or be assigned one.
  4. Do Not Allow Destructive Patterns – One mistake is a data point, two mistakes is a pattern. If a leader repeats the same mistake, they should be removed from leadership.

Samson could have been a great leader. He had the abilities and gifts to be the greatest Judge the Israelites had ever known. But Samson squandered his gifts and abilities. He engaged in sinful behaviors which brought shame and destruction on Israel. Samson had no accountability and he knew it. Samson was a horrible leader and those in leadership today should learn from his example so we do not repeat it.

Application:

  • Work with the leaders in your church to establish a leadership training plan.
  • Write down all of the leaders from your past and present; then pray for each of them.
  • Write down leadership positions in your life and church; pray for the future leaders in those positions.
  • Write down the potential future leaders in your life. Do one thing this week to encourage them.

Queries:

  • Do I regularly pray for my past, present, and future leaders?
  • Do your leaders have an adequate system of accountability?
  • Have your leaders established destructive patterns?
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Sermon: The Expert, the Leader, & the Assistant

I truly appreciate every opportunity to preach that I am given. It is always an honor and a blessing to me. Below is the outline of a sermon I gave last week.

***

Scripture: Exodus 31:1-11

Big Idea: At different times in life we will all take on the roles of expert craftsman, leader, and skilled assistant. At any given time, know which role you are called to, and within that role use your skills to share the love of Jesus with your community.

 

I.                   Introduction

a.       Setting – between the exodus and the exile

                                                              i.      Practically the last of God’s instructions on Mt Sinai

                                                            ii.      Exodus 32 tells of the Golden Calf

b.      Purpose – to create a throne room for God

c.       Scripture: Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship. And behold, I Myself have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of testimony, and the mercy seat upon it, and all the furniture of the tent, the table also and its utensils, and the pure gold lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering also with all its utensils, and the laver and its stand, 10 the woven garments as well, and the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, with which to carry on their priesthood; 11 the anointing oil also, and the fragrant incense for the holy place, they are to make them according to all that I have commanded you.”

d.      In this passage are three different roles:

                                                              i.      Bezalel

1.      the expert craftsman

2.      filled by God with the spirit of God

                                                            ii.      Moses

1.      the leader

2.      Listens to God

3.      Points others in the direction God is going

                                                          iii.      Oholiab

1.      the skilled assistant

2.      Appointed by God & given skill by God

3.      But the expert responsible for completing the work

4.      A helper

5.      Just as responsible for accomplishing God’s will; but not in charge

e.       These three characters are excellent examples for us because: At different times in life we will all take on the roles of expert craftsman, leader, and skilled assistant. At any given time, know which role you are called to, and within that role use your skills to share the love of Jesus with your community.

 

II.                When we are Bezalel, the expert craftsman…

a.       Who was Bezalel

                                                              i.      Name

1.      “In the shadow of God”

2.      As if to say even the most skilled craftsman is a step behind God

                                                            ii.      Beginnings as a slave & training in Egypt

1.      Imagine humble beginnings first stone carvings

2.      Developing his skills making idols in Egypt

3.      Years in slavery and finally able to use his talents

                                                          iii.      Calling by Moses

1.      Spent his early life getting ready

2.      Only after being called by God through Moses was he unleashed (ch35-40)

                                                          iv.      Legendary candlesticks – particularly blessed

1.      Legend: The candlestick of the sanctuary was of so complicated a nature that Moses could not comprehend it, although God twice showed him a heavenly model; but when he described it to Bezalel, the latter understood immediately, and made it at once

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This Week on the Ashram – 1st Week of August 2014

It’s been a busy week down on the Ashram.

We cleaned out the first of the sweet corn beds and harvested part of the next bed. In total we harvested seven dozen ears of corn; eating a dozen and freezing the other six. The raccoon and opossums have not been as much of a problem as I was expecting. It may be that we have had a mild summer which has left plenty of food in the more secluded woods across the street.

I tried making pickle relish for the first time. It turned out perfectly fine. I don’t know that I am a fan of the flavor and I’m not quite sure how to fix it. I’ll give it another try or two before I give up. It seems to be a wonderful use for all of the cucumbers which I leave on the vine too long.

Muskmelon

I harvested the first of our cantaloupe this last week. They were both the size volleyballs and tasted fantastic. In general this is shaping up to be a great year for the melon crop. We may have more watermelon and muskmelon than we know what to do with before we’re done.

I can’t say the same for the pumpkins. It appears that our early pumpkins were attacked by vine borers. The vines are almost dead. We will get about six small (almost gourd-sized) pumpkins, but I was hoping those vines would be producing for another month or two. Meanwhile our jack-o-lantern and giant pumpkins seem to have been spared the borer, but are yet to set any fruit whatsoever.

Jalapeno

Finally, the pepper crop is just beginning to come on line. I have a nice mix of colors and flavors this year varying from red and yellow sweet lunchbox peppers to jalafuego jalapenos and red habaneros. I pickled the first batch of jalapenos and also made eight half pints of jalapeno jelly (which is delicious). My mother was always a big jelly maker, and I have only just started making my own jelly. The problem with jelly, and canning in general, is that you actually have to follow the recipe, and I would much prefer to make it up as I go along. I find jelly making to be a wonderful way to help me develop and maintain personal discipline.

Looking forward, nothing is going to get done this weekend as I will be spending my time in Chicago at my employer’s annual conference. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with a whole bunch of wonderful people. There are a number of things we need to get done next week:

  • Mow and weed the yard and gardens.
  • Plant the fall leek and broccoli starts.
  • Plant the fall flower starts.
  • Continue harvesting and processing tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, and peppers.
  • Finish threshing the winter wheat.
  • Install grape support wires on the trellis.
  • Clean the front and back porches.
  • Catchup on laundry & dishes and clean the house.

Southern Leopard Frog

On a final note, one of my goals for this year was establish habitats to attract native frogs. In particular I was hoping to attract leopard frogs. I like how leopard frogs sound and I think they are beautiful. There are three varieties of leopard frog that inhabit southeast Iowa: the plains leopard frog (most common), the northern leopard frog (common), and the southern leopard frog (rare). This last week I have seen a number of leopard frogs in our melon beds, in the cranberries, and near the lotus pond. I have yet to see the rare southern leopard frog, but I’m going to keep trying to attract them.

 

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Judges 15 – Sometimes God uses obnoxious people

on the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal in Amsterdam

When he came to Lehi, the Philistines shouted as they met him. And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily so that the ropes that were on his arms were as flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds dropped from his hands. 15 He found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, so he reached out and took it and killed a thousand men with it. 16 Then Samson said, “With the jawbone of a donkey, Heaps upon heaps, With the jawbone of a donkey I have killed a thousand men.” 17 When he had finished speaking, he threw the jawbone from his hand; and he named that place Ramath-lehi. 18 Then he became very thirsty, and he called to the LORD and said, “You have given this great deliverance by the hand of Your servant, and now shall I die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” 19 But God split the hollow place that is in Lehi so that water came out of it. When he drank, his strength returned and he revived. Therefore he named it En-hakkore, which is in Lehi to this day. – Judges 15:14-19

***

As a kid I remember the story of Sampson. As it was told to me, Sampson was a man of God who defended Israel from the Philistines who wanted to destroy Israel. His wicked wife tricked him into giving away the secret of his power, his long hair, and his enemies cut his hair and robbed him of his power. Samson then trusted in God one last time and sacrificed himself in order to destroy Israel’s enemies.

The only problem with this version of the story is that it is totally wrong. Samson was a petty, deceptive, manipulative, capricious, violent, intransigent, vindictive, foolish, womanizer.

From before he was born, Samson was set aside to be someone special. The faith of his mother caused him to be blessed by God, and set him in place to be a Judge for Israel. Over and over again God gave Samson opportunities which he squandered. Even when Samson appears to have been faithful to God’s calling he acts like a child. In the above passage Samson becomes angry with God, because after he has slaughtered “a thousand men” he is thirsty and God has not immediately provided a beverage.

No complaining! by Jean Browman

Have you met people like that in your life? People who continuously gripe and complain to God about not having something, and then it seems that God goes ahead and gives it to them anyway.

Based upon the scripture as a whole, I would say that Samson’s attitude in this passage is not to be normative; in general we should not act like Samson. However, sometimes God uses obnoxious people.

I encourage you to live a life of peace, simplicity, integrity, and humility; because, maybe then your last act won’t be to pull a house down on you and your enemies. Of course, there are no guarantees.

Application:

  • Go out of your way to bless an obnoxious person this week.
  • Write down the last time you childishly complained to God about not meeting your needs.
  • Set the goal for the next week of having a fantastic attitude; no matter what happens.

Queries:

  • Do others perceive you as obnoxious?
  • Who are the obnoxious people in your life that God seems to use and bless?
  • Why might it be better to live a life of peace, simplicity, integrity, and humility rather than living as a petty, deceptive, manipulative, capricious, violent, intransigent, vindictive, foolish, womanizer?
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Judges 14 – Samson was a bad, bad man

Samson’s Fight with the Lion – Lucas Cranach the Elder (16th c.)

Then Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came as far as the vineyards of Timnah; and behold, a young lion came roaring toward him. 6 The Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, so that he tore him as one tears a young goat though he had nothing in his hand; but he did not tell his father or mother what he had done. 7 So he went down and talked to the woman; and she looked good to Samson. 8 When he returned later to take her, he turned aside to look at the carcass of the lion; and behold, a swarm of bees and honey were in the body of the lion. 9 So he scraped the honey into his hands and went on, eating as he went. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them and they ate it; but he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey out of the body of the lion.

10 Then his father went down to the woman; and Samson made a feast there, for the young men customarily did this. 11 When they saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him. 12 Then Samson said to them, “Let me now propound a riddle to you; if you will indeed tell it to me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen wraps and thirty changes of clothes. 13 “But if you are unable to tell me, then you shall give me thirty linen wraps and thirty changes of clothes.” And they said to him, “Propound your riddle, that we may hear it.” 14 So he said to them, “Out of the eater came something to eat, And out of the strong came something sweet.” But they could not tell the riddle in three days.

15 Then it came about on the fourth day that they said to Samson’s wife, “Entice your husband, so that he will tell us the riddle, or we will burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us to impoverish us? Is this not so?” 16 Samson’s wife wept before him and said, “You only hate me, and you do not love me; you have propounded a riddle to the sons of my people, and have not told it to me.” And he said to her, “Behold, I have not told it to my father or mother; so should I tell you?” 17 However she wept before him seven days while their feast lasted. And on the seventh day he told her because she pressed him so hard. She then told the riddle to the sons of her people. 18 So the men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down, “What is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion?” And he said to them, “If you had not plowed with my heifer, You would not have found out my riddle.” 19 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of them and took their spoil and gave the changes of clothes to those who told the riddle. And his anger burned, and he went up to his father’s house. – Judges 14:5-19

***

Samson Slaying a Philistine – Giambologna (1562)

The book of Judges is the story of the downward spiral in the quality, morality, and ability of the leaders of Israel. The institute of Judge was established as an ad hoc chieftain who could lead God’s people when they face times of conflict or difficulty. A Judge would be called up by God to lead the people into war, into reformation, into repentance, and into reconstruction.

Samson was the final Judge. Before he was born he was set apart and dedicated to God. In turn, God blessed Samson with incredible strength and ability. Unfortunately, Samson was lacking in other leadership qualities.

There are two repeated phrases in this passage which bear mentioning. The first is “the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily”, and the second is “he did not tell”.

“The Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily” is first used when Samson is attached by the lion. My reading of this passage is not that Samson was suddenly energized by God, but rather that Samson used his strength and power (which he had received as a blessing from God based upon his mother’s faith) to defend himself. The phrase is used again at the end of the passage when Samson goes to Ashkelon to kill thirty people and fulfill his wager. In this case Samson is using God’s gifts to act out petty vengeance to fulfill a childish wager.

The phrase “he did not tell” is first after killing the lion. The author makes a specific point that Samson did not tell his father or mother what he had done. My reading would be that Samson was too engrossed in pursuing the Philistine woman as his bride. The second time Samson “did not tell” is when he revisits the lion carcass and eats honey found in it, sharing this honey with his parents. It may not need to be said, but eating honey from a lion’s corpse would be considered unclean (both literally and theologically). This is Samson’s second act of uncleanliness in just this passage. The first is marrying a Philistine woman, as God has instructed the Israelites not to intermarry with the neighboring clans.

by Heath Brandon

In summary, Samson pursues the sin of marrying a Philistine. He then sins by eating unclean honey and compounds his sin by sharing it with his unknowing parents causing them to sin. Finally, Samson makes fun of his sin with his riddle-wager and uses his God-given powers to cover his foolish sin.

It is far too easy to follow the example of Samson. When we see something we want, it is easier to begin pursuing that thing, rather than evaluating if it is what God wants. When we feel a need, such as hunger, it is easier to grab the nearest snack, rather than considering if this is what God wants us to put into our bodies. When we are with our friends and families we often try to push them toward the sins we are committing; it is easier to sin when we are all sinning together. When we are caught in sin it is easier to mock or flaunt the sin rather than deal with the true consequences. Finally, when we are called to pay for our sin, it is easier to make someone else suffer the consequences. Do not follow the example of Samson.

All of us have God given talents, abilities, and characteristics which we can use to either build up the kingdom of God or to pursue our own selfish (sometimes foolish) pursuits. We are called by God to make the areas in which we are blessed a blessing to others. You have some exceptional talent, ability, or characteristic; please do not follow the example of Samson; rather, use your blessings to bless others and honor God.

Application:

  • Write down your top three talents, abilities or characteristics (e.g. intelligence, beauty, charisma, needlepoint).
  • Make a plan of how you can use one of your talents, abilities, or characteristics to honor God.
  • Think of the last time you “did not tell”. Go fix that.

Queries:

  • How can I use my talents, abilities, and characteristics to bring honor to God?
  • What sin am I regularly pursuing? How can I stop?
  • How has my sin caused harm to others? How do I need to seek forgiveness from?
  • When caught in sin, do I make jokes or flaunt my behavior?
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This Week on the Ashram – 4th Week of July 2014

It’s been a busy week down on the Ashram.

The tomatoes are in full bloom. So far I am doing a fairly good job of keeping them harvested and processed. This was the first year where I tried a wide variety of heirloom tomatoes in the garden. I planted Brandywine, Moskvich, Pruden’s Purple, Cherokee Purple, and Japanese Black Trifele.

Brandywine

Moskvich

Japanese Black Trifele

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love the Moskvich. They are smaller round red tomatoes. They have all had an excellent flavor. The only downside to them this year is that they seem to have been the most susceptible to the septoria fungus which invaded our garden.

The Brandywine’s are solid (as usual). It’s always nice to have such a large meaty tomato in the garden. The Pruden’s Purple are similar to the Brandywine; however, I have found them to be less flavorful. A perfectly fine tomato, but I’m not sure I will be growing them again.

Cherokee Purple

Pruden’s Purple

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cherokee Purple have been awful. Even at an early stage the plants were stunted and sickly. At this point the plants have almost completely succumbed to the septoria (despite the organic fungicides) and the flavor of the fruit has been middling at best. The coloration of the tomatoes has also been less than I had hoped for. It is possible I got a batch of bad seeds; however, I will not be growing the Cherokee Purple again.

Finally, the Japanese Black Trifele have been very good. They have been almost as disease resistant as the Brandywine and have produced an abundance of medium sized pear shaped fruit with a very dark coloration. The Japanese Black Trifele grow in clumps of five or six which make for excellent picking and ripening. Their flavor has been excellent and mixed with the Brandywine or Moskvich, the darken up tomato sauce and salsa to a very pleasant color.

This is the first year I have planted cherry tomatoes and they have been largely disappointing. I tried Black Cherry, Indigo Rose, and Yellow Pear varieties. The Indigo Rose have failed spectacularly. They have a week flavor and fail to ripen. I have enjoyed the Yellow Pear in the past, but this year’s crop does not seem to have good flavor. The Yellow Pear was also the first of my tomatoes to be infected with Septoria. The Black Cherry have been very good with an excellent flavor. They are a little slow to ripen, but are definitely worth it.

Looking forward, there are a number of things we need to get done in the next week:

  • Pick and process the first two plantings of sweet corn.
  • Make pickle relish and jelly with the cucumbers I have neglected.
  • Weed the barley field.
  • Clean out the spring leak and broccoli beds.
  • Finish threshing the winter wheat.
  • Continue harvesting and processing the tomatoes.
  • Install grape support wires on the trellis.
  • Weed and mound potatoes.
  • Clean the front and back porches.
  • Catchup on laundry and clean the corners of the house.

On a final note, this was a rough week for the blog. The site had been having difficulty loading for a month or so. I finally got around to trying to clean up the database, and in the process destroyed it. This caused me to recreate the blog from scratch. That was entirely a bad thing, as the theme I was using was no longer being supported by WordPress (which may have been what was causing the problem). Saturday and Sunday was supposed to be my monthly writing retreat, instead it turned in to a blog reconstruction weekend (that task also spilled over into a good chunk of this week).

I think I finally have all of the important bits back up and running. Happily, the site does load more quickly now and is easier to update. Unfortunately, the time spent in the mechanics of the blog meant I neglected some of my writing for the week. I hope to be back to a nearly full blogging schedule next week, even as I clean up the last few details of the new blog’s format.

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This Week on the Ashram – 3rd Week of July 2014

It’s been a busy week down on the Ashram.

Summer canning season is in full swing. I picked the first batch of cucumbers and pickled them with some fresh dill and (nearly) fresh garlic. Those jars are sitting happily in the pantry next to the remainder of last year’s pickles (we really need to use those up). Next weekend I will probably shoot for a batch of sweet pickles.

I also had a chance to can my first batch of salsa for the season. This first batch was small because the tomatoes are just coming on. By next weekend I should have a decent crop to can some tomato sauce. The other problem with making the salsa was that neither the pepper crop nor the onion crop is in full bloom yet. Fortunately, I was able to scrounge up some bell peppers, some jalapenos, and enough white, red, and green onions to make a very passable batch of salsa (perhaps the best batch I have ever made). Next time I am going to cook down my tomatoes before adding my other veggies to try to give the salsa more texture.

I picked my first batch of tomatillos this week and I am still not quite sure what to do with them. I have a small basket of them sitting in the kitchen and they may go out to the goats if I do not find a recipe shortly. I expect they would make an excellent mincemeat and once the hot peppers come on and color up, I should be able to mix those in to make a passable salsa verde. I’m sure there are other uses, I just need to spend some time researching. The tomatillo is a truly amazing plant. It has put up with some extreme weather and the septoria (which is ravaging the tomatoes) with hardly a whimper. The plants are tall and strong and bursting with fruit. Of course, the bounty will not be useful if I cannot find something to do with them.

The barley got planted last Saturday. We even had a good rain on Tuesday to help it want to germinate. Hopefully we will begin seeing shoots today or tomorrow. It’s a 90 day crop, so the barely harvest should be right about October 23. We need to get the winter wheat in right around October 15, so that might be cutting it a little close. If we run into trouble we can always cut the barely early and feed it to the goats.

The sweet corn is in peak form. I did five succession plantings of sweet corn, each about one week apart. So we should be able to pick fresh corn through almost the end of August. Hopefully we will be able to freeze some along the way to keep for this winter. There is nothing like grilling up some steaks and sweet corn on a sub-zero night in the middle of three foot drifts of snow.

Looking forward, there are a number of things we need to get done in the next week:

  • Dead head the winter wheat and prep it for threshing.
  • Spray the tomatoes with the organic copper fungicide.
  • Install grape support wires on the trellis.
  • Harvest the rest of the carrot crop.
  • Weed and mound potatoes.
  • Clean the front and back porches.
  • Catchup on dishes and laundry.

On a final note, our Australian Shepherd Jessie got out of our backyard sometime during the day on Tuesday. She was gone when we got home from work. I spent about three hours driving around our part of town looking for her. There were some very helpful people on Facebook who told us where they had seen her earlier in the day. Unfortunately, my search was fruitless. I went home when it got too dark to keep looking and stewed on the couch for about half an hour.

Jen told me she was going to bed and I asked her to check the front yard on her way. About two minutes later Jessie came bounding down the stairs, covered in weeds, but very happy to see me. We hung out for a few hours then went to bed. I tried to put her outside, but she refused and demanded to sleep in the bedroom that night. I gave in, because I’m a softie.

It was two days later that it suddenly occurred to me that Jessie is unaltered. The gestation period for a dog is about 63 days, so we should find out about September 24 if she engaged in any extracurricular activities while she was out.

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Judges 13 – We all faith differently

Maciejowski Bible, Leaf 14: Manoah and his wife give a sacrifice.

So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering and offered it on the rock to the LORD, and He performed wonders while Manoah and his wife looked on. 20 For it came about when the flame went up from the altar toward heaven, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground. 21 Now the angel of the LORD did not appear to Manoah or his wife again. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. 22 So Manoah said to his wife, “We will surely die, for we have seen God.” 23 But his wife said to him, “If the LORD had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have let us hear things like this at this time.” 24 Then the woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson; and the child grew up and the LORD blessed him. – Judges 13:19-24 (NASB)

***

I am a big fan of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (WQ). In a nut shell, the WQ says that our faith is formed by a combination of four elements: scripture, tradition, reason, and experience (including experiences of the Holy Spirit). When I have introduced Christians to the concept of the WQ they tend to bristle at the thought of one of those elements being the foundation of their faith; but it is a different element for everyone. Some want to reject tradition, saying that instead we should abandon all tradition and go back to the first century church. Others want to reject experience, saying that our experience is fallible and should not be foundational to our faith. I, personally, have the least comfort with including reason as I have seen damaging theologies emerge from trying to “figure out” God. However, in the end, I believe all four elements are foundational to faith and I believe that our faith is formed be the interplay of all four elements.

In the sight of God by Leonardo

The story of Manoah and his wife is a wonderful example of the interplay between the different elements of the WQ. Manoah speaks from scripture a tradition. He knows that Exodus 33:20 taught that those who see God would die. He also knew of the cultural traditions around him that spoke of the dangers of interacting with a deity. The gods of the Ancient Near-East tended to be violent and capricious; a dangerous combination for anyone mortal who may encounter a deity.

Meanwhile, Manoah’s wife, unnamed in the Bible but traditionally known as Hazelelponi (“shade coming upon me”), speaks from reason and experience. He husbands yells, “we will surely die”, and she examines the situation and makes the reasonable deduction that if God had wanted to kill them, God would have done it already. Hazelelponi also has the advantage of past experience; the Angel of the Lord had first appeared to Hazelelponi alone (v3 ff). Hazelelponi had previous experience with the voice of God and so was more easily able to put this new experience into context.

Brittle Heart by Doran

Taking some time to evaluate our beliefs in the light of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral can help us to have a more fully formed faith. It can help us to overcome obstacles to our faith, and assist us as we struggle with doubts and concerns. An attitude of “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” can lead to a brittle faith. I believe that taking the time to understand faith within the context of reason, personal experiences, and the broader faith tradition is hard, but builds a more robust faith.

Application:

  • Write down the part of the quadrilateral that you struggle with the most (scripture, tradition, reason, or experience). Why is this part of the quadrilateral problematic for you?
  • Write out why others might struggle with the other three aspects of the quadrilateral.
  • This week, when you encounter someone with a different belief, consider what scriptures, traditions, experiences, or logical reasoning would cause that person to believe in that way.

Queries:

  • How has scripture influenced my faith?
  • How has my faith tradition influenced my faith?
  • How has reason influenced my faith?
  • How have my experiences influenced my faith?
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A close reading of A House Is a Home by Ben Harper

Entropy by Josh McMillan

Ben Harper was born in Pomona, California in 1969. His father was of African-American and Cherokee ancestry, his mother was of Russian-Lithuanian Jewish ancestry. Ben’s parents divorced in 1974 and he grew up with his mother and her parents. Ben’s grandparents’ owned a music store, The Folk Music Center and Museum, which was foundational to Ben’s development as a musician. Ben began his career in earnest in the early 1990s with the LP Pleasure and Pain and has since released a dozen albums.

His most recent album, Childhood Home, is a collection of duets sung with his mother, Ellen Harper. The Harper’s split the songwriting duties for the album; Ben penned 6 and Ellen the other four. The album seeks to speak to the good, bad, ugly and beautiful parts of home and family life. The lead track on the album, A House Is a Home, was written by Ben.

 

A House Is a Home written by Ben Harper, performed by Ben & Ellen Harper.

a house is a home even when it’s dark
even when the grass is overgrown in the yard
even when the dog is too old to bark
and when you’re sitting at the table trying not to starve

a house is a home
even when we’ve up and gone
even when you’re there alone
a house is a home

a house is a home even when there’s ghosts
even when you gotta run from the ones who love you most
screen door’s broken paint’s peeling from the wood
locals whisper when they gonna leave the neighborhood

a house is a home where the chores are never done
where you spend your whole life running to and from
and if the life that you live is not the life you choose
make your child a home and start anew

***

Old House by Singh

My grandparents’ house will always be a special home to me. The house I lived in when I was in elementary school will always be a special home to me. I have no idea who lives in these places now, or if these houses even still exist; but, the memories of those places will make them a home to me until the end of my days.

Rather than focusing on the nostalgia of the home, Harper focuses the first verse on the chaos that emerges when a house is no longer subject to the care that a home receives. The home that was once comforting is now filled with darkness, overgrown grass, and a dying dog. Rather than a place of plenty, this house has become a barren place, a place of want. There is no comfort in this house; yet it is still a home.

The second verse takes this idea further. No longer is the family merely struggling with want; now they are being persecuted. First by ghosts (perhaps memories of the glory days gone by), then by family and friends who once loved them, and finally by the neighbors’ gossip. What listener has not felt, or at the least imagined, a neighbor’s scornful looks and raised eyebrows at the rough edges of the house which the family has not been able to care for. The high weeds, the broken down cars, the old trash bags. Yet, even when persecuted, the house is still a place of refuge. The house is a home.

Aged by Nathaniel Zumbach

The third verse speaks to the rat race of life. The never ending line of dishes and laundry and chores. The mundane tasks that take up so much of your life that it seems there is nothing left with which you can pursue your real dreams. We are all trapped in the upkeep of our houses, of our homes, and none of us seems able to live the life we want. And so we have children, and so the cycle repeats.

The chorus comes in to emphasize the cyclical nature of the home. The house becomes a home for a time, then children grow up, parents grow old, grandparents die, and the house shutters itself up into a dark void until…the cycle repeats.

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Judges 12 – Including outsiders

The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan opposite Ephraim. And it happened when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he said, “No,” then they would say to him, “Say now, ‘Shibboleth.’” But he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it correctly. Then they seized him and slew him at the fords of the Jordan. Thus there fell at that time 42,000 of Ephraim. – Judges 12:5-6 (NASB)

***

The Battle of Lawrence

When I was six years old my family moved within six blocks of Allen Field House on the campus of the University of Kansas. I never really had a chance of being anything but a rabid fan of the Kansas Jayhawks. You can tell a Kansas basketball fan from most other fans. There is a certain amount of pride, which borders on arrogance, which seeps into any discussion of college basketball. We know our history and take pride in the history of the Kansas basketball program. And we hate Missouri. It does not matter that Missouri has left the conference and we no longer play the program to the east, we still despise Missouri. For the historical roots of this rivalry take a moment to read about Quantrill’s raid and the burning of Lawrence.

In college sports we have devised a number of systems to make sure we can separate the strangers rooting for “our” team from the strangers rooting for “their” team. Kansas fans wear blue and red, Missouri fans wear yellow and black. Kansas fans rally around our Jayhawk mascot; Missouri fans rally around their tiger. Kansas fans chant “Rock Chalk” in the closing minutes each home victory; Missouri fans have little experience in celebrating the closing minutes of a home victory. We have developed systems to know who is on our side. Whenever I see a Kansas hat or shirt at the gas station or at work, I stop and make a positive comment to my fellow Jayhawk fan.

People are very good at spotting outsiders. There is something in our brains which cause us to make a nearly instantaneous decision that a person is “one of us” or “one of them”. This tendency is not limited to our college basketball affinities. In fact this tendency has a very dark side and has been a plague on humanity resulting in genocide, holocaust, enslavement, discrimination, and all sorts of evil.

Bronze by Jenny Downing

Our first instinct should not be to look for an outward sign to know if a new person is to be included or excluded. Rather, our first instinct should be to care for the stranger and meet their needs regardless of their affiliation. It does not matter if the stranger I meet is a part of a different group. The thing that matters is that we were both formed by our creator and placed on this earth under a divine mandate that we work with God to create a new and greater world. The strangers I meet are as fully known by God as my neighbors. My enemies are as loved by God as my family.

When I look at a Missouri fan, it is important that I first recognize that they are valued by God and they are worthy of my love, respect, and assistance. It does not matter if they say Shibboleth or Sibboleth; what matters is that I have an opportunity to reflect the light of Christ into their lives.

Application:

  • Write down all of the people you walked by today without acknowledging their humanity (take your time, you’ll be surprised how many there are).
  • Make a goal for one day each week, that on that day you will not let a person go by without acknowledging their value.
  • Reach out to an individual or group you would normally exclude and be a part of their lives for one evening.

Queries:

  • Who do I exclude?
  • Do my actions truly demonstrate that I believe all people are valuable and worthy of love, honor, and respect?
  • Do I actually help people? Do I only think about helping people? Do I even think about helping people?
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This Week on the Ashram – 2nd Week of July 2014

It’s been a busy week down on the Ashram.

The break between spring planting and summer harvesting is quickly coming to a close. Cucumbers are ready to be pickled, leeks are ready to be fried, celery is ready to frozen, tomatoes are almost ready to processed, and the sweet corn is almost ready to be enjoyed.

We spent a good chunk of this last week cleaning up the yard and garden. We have had beautiful, almost fall-like, weather which was perfect for mowing and trimming the lawns and paths. Some of the corners had grown some fairly tall weeds, so it was good to knock those down with the weed eater. I also took the time to tie up the first year grape vines to encourage their upward growth.

Septoria leaf spot

This has been a horrible year for Septoria Leaf Spot on our tomatoes. I usually try to run a garden totally free of all sprays and fungicides. That was not going to work this year if I wanted to have any sort of tomato crop. I have been spraying the tomatoes with two organic fungicides. The first is a microbial fungicide called Serenade. The second is a generic organic copper fungicide. The cool temperatures and low humidity of the last week seem to have also helped control the Septoria, so I hope to have a good, but not great, tomato crop.

I think the lesson for next year is to utilize some resistant hybrid varieties of tomatoes to help slow the spread of disease, rather than grow all heirloom tomatoes.

We finished harvesting the winter wheat crop. It was our first year with winter wheat, so the harvest involved a bit of trial and error. We tried pulling the wheat by hand, tried to cut the wheat with a corn knife, tried to use the weed eater (an epic failure), and tried hand clippers. Ultimately we used a hedge-trimmer to give the wheat field a haircut. We bundled several sheaves, but must of the wheat went into a giant tub to dry. We need to thresh the wheat over the next few weeks. That seems likely to be another adventure in experimentation.

After the wheat harvest, I took the flame weeder to the weeds left in the wheat field. I intend to till the field this weekend and plant our summer barley crop.

Looking forward, there are a number of things we need to get done in the next week:

  • Pickle our first batch of cucumbers.
  • Order more organic fungicide.
  • Install grape support wires on the trellis.
  • Plant the barley.
  • Harvest the carrot crop.
  • Prepare for canning season (jars, pots, food mill, etc.).
  • Weed and mound potatoes.
  • Clean the front and back porches.
  • Catchup on dishes and laundry.

Ghost & Shadow

 

On a final note, our outdoor cats, Joey and Emily, died last fall and this spring respectively. They were both great cats and will be missed. In their absence the bird, squirrel, and rabbit populations have exploded. So we now have two new farmhands in training. Shadow and Ghost are going to be great hunters…someday.

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