"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history." -Cardinal Francis George

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Devin Rose on the biggest obstacle on the road to back to Christendom

Devin Rose has a great post today about an obstacle on the road back to Christendom, or as he put it, getting back to the land.

What is the #1 obstacle?

(Cue pink Floyd)


I agree with him. This is perhaps the biggest obstacle for us first generation types who see the merit in a flight from cubicle to farm.
Can this obstacle be overcome? I don't think so. Don't wait around for my characteristic cheery attitude on this one. Unless a miracle happens, or someone is independently wealthy, it just ain't gonna happen folks! Still worth trying though.

More on that later.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Our imploding demographics

"Which country is presently experiencing the most rapid rate of fertility decline ever recorded in world history? I’d love to draw out the suspense, but will cut to the chase: Iran. A lot must be going on beneath the surface when the total fertility rate in this Muslim country has fallen to a very European-like 1.5 children per woman. ...

St. Augustine felt that “in order to discover the character of any people, we only have to observe what they love,” his explanation for the fall of Rome or, indeed, for any nation. Goldman offers approvingly: “peoples fail because they love the wrong things.”...

Goldman’s analysis is more than a deft admixture of statistics and geopolitical considerations. In ways that open new horizons of thought, even for those already sympathetic to his arguments, he gets to the heart of the matter: the spiritual undercurrents of population implosion."

The Fall of Rome by Thomas Cole
  These gems are from the cool site the Catholic thing in an article titled Goldman on Dying Civilizations By Matthew Hanley. He reviews a book that I would love to read. I love demographics. And I love when they are examined with religion and cultural trends in mind. The "spiritual undercurrents" at the root of the West's population implosion are something that seems so obvious to us "spiritual" types, but are rarely talked about by the culture at large. I am no wide-eyed doomsday type, but lets face it, western culture has undergone rapid and catastrophic changes in it's demographics that simply will have a huge effect withing this century. For us Catholics who obey the Church, we will be riding some wild waves in the coming century as the zombie culture around us continue to fragment and dissolve not only spiritually and culturally, but demographically.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Uplifting video from Vorris

This video makes me want to march. It makes me want to pump my fist in the air to some slogan. Or perhaps both. Vorris rocks.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Understanding Christian Education (CLAA Article)

William Michael, the founder of the CLAA (Classical Liberal Arts Academy) has a great post about education. I really like this guy. He is a Catholic agrarian/Distributist type who runs his own family farm PLUS an incredible online school. He is also a former Calvinist and convert to Catholicism who wrote curriculum for Veritas Press, which is the Reformed curriculum we used pre-Catholicism. For those interested in homeschooling, I highly recommend the CLAA. My family has used it and will be using it more in the future. Here is an excerpt from the article...

"If you’re a parent, you are responsible for providing your children with a sound Christian education. Obviously, that includes a sound faith formation program, but what about everything else? Look, for example, at the painting featured with the article. It is titled “Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas over the Heretics”, and was painted in 1490 and today adorns a Catholic chapel in Rome. Christians today would be unable to interpret the painting or identify the characters and their significance. It is foreign to us because the modern Christian mind has been divorced from the historic Christian mind. Who are the women seated beside St. Thomas? Who are the men standing before him, or the man under his feet? Why would the artist go through the effort of creating such an image? Why would this image be on display in a Catholic church? We should know the answers to these questions. Cicero said, “He who does not know what happened before he was born remains forever a child.” We need to grow up as Christians and learn our history so that we can make right decisions in life and avoid wandering around like children. After all, we have children depending on our guidance. Wise people don’t live by trial and error, but by deliberation and forethought.

The women in the painting represent..."
 You'll have to read the rest of the article on the CLAA news site if you want to find out what the women represent! ;-)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Baby Steps Towards Christendom: Step #4: Question Technology

Previous posts in this series: Introduction, Step#1: Quit Pimpin'Homeschooling, Brewing Beer.

Hat tip to Kevin Ford at the Catholic Land Movement blog for inspiring this post.
(UPDATE: Kevin has another great post on this topic. He says what I wanted to say but better)

It is true that technology for it's own sake will usually have unintended, negative consequences. The Amish are right about engines in at least one undeniable respect: They change us. And I think they are right to wait to examine those effects before allowing things into their community. This wisdom is far and away above us modern technoslaves. I watched a documentary about the Amish recently and I admit that I chuckled when I saw an engine powered hay baler on a horse drawn wagon. "how silly!" I thought. "Just get a tractor if your going to use an engine!"

But the narrator, who seemingly could hear me, pointed out that the first priority for the Amish is to keep their lifestyle intact... families, communities... people. All other considerations are secondary. From that perspective, it is not so funny to see the engine being pulled by a horse. That Amishman has determined that that level of accommodation to modernity will not change his lifestyle negatively, and so he sees no contradiction in his choice. I think his priorities are right on! He (apparently) is not being ruled by the machine, but is the ruler of it by not allowing it to change things he does not want to change. That is wisdom.

We could learn from them.

I resisted getting a cell phone for years, and when I finally did it was when I had a pregnant wife at home so she could call me in an emergency. Good reason right? Right! It truly is a valid reason. but...

It totally changed everything to carry a phone on my person all the time. For the 1 emergency every year where I think to myself "Thank God for cell phones!" There are a hundred ways in which the cell phone is a hindrance. Increased cost, reduced attention span, increased phone usage, increased detachment from people etc.

It is not that the cell phone is evil, it is just that there is no stated purpose to it. By that I mean there is no teleology to the cell phone.

It was created simply because it could be created. But that is never a good enough reason to do something. We should not do things simply because we can. We should have purpose to our actions and look ahead at how our actions may affect our life in unforeseen ways. Just because someone CAN pull a phone out of their pocket in Korea right now and talk to someone driving on the freeway in Los Angeles does not mean that it is a good thing. At it's best it is a neutral thing. At it's worse it is a dehumanizing thing that makes men into objects. The content of what is communicated is what is important, yet the medium is truly the message also. We cant get around that fact. Perhaps a message carved in a stone tablet and sent by boat, received 6 months later is more profound than a throw away text message glanced at while driving down the freeway. Which message shows the dignity of humanity more? Do we lose anything by always having a phone in our pocket? Shouldn't we examine this question before we have a phone in our pocket?

This past weekend I got a new cell phone. My old one was almost 3 years old and was malfunctioning. When I took it to the store, the girl behind the counter commented on how old it was. When I looked at the available phones, I noticed that they were all bulky, expensive supercomputers. Again the questions hit me...

"WHY do we need supercomputers in our pocket? Has anyone questioned how this will affect us? Will having computers in our pockets change us for the worse or better? Has anyone even asked these questions!?"

I finally found a "flip phone" that didn't require me to pay for a data plan and didn't have all the extras. But it is getting harder and harder to do that. These new phones are being made for the new breed of humanity that feels the need to be "connected" 24/7. Why? They cant tell you. And that should scare you.

Personally I think the world would be a much better place without cell phones considering the negative effects they have had on human interaction. Have you talked to a teenager who uses Facebook recently? It is frightening how technology can be worse than hard drugs on some kids minds. Overall, I am convinced the cell phone has become a dehumanizing device. It doesn't HAVE to be that way, but as a result of our lack of vision it is. The cell phone is another "bridge to nowhere" modern man has built. He doesn't know why he did it, he doesn't know where he is going, but by golly, he sure is proud he built that big shiny bridge! He can call Korea from the freeway, but if he has nothing to say then who cares.
One final note about cell phones:
 I remember cell phones in the 80's. They were the size of  lunch box. As the 90's rolled around they got a lot smaller. In fact, they got about as small as they are today. But because we had no real teleology (purpose) in mind for them, we have just kept adding stuff to them until they are a supercomputer. When the question "why?" is asked, the answer is always "Why not!" In the 90's, I remember thinking that these phones would be the size of a credit card by the year 2010. But instead, the phones have ballooned into monstrosities with thousands of features ensuring you will never have to spend a minute away from digital oblivion. The only question we seem to be asking is if we can increase this or miniaturize that or speed this up or add feature X to it. What we need to ask is why we should do it. When that question is asked and properly answered, humanity can truly do some wonderful things.

Finally, I am struck with a question that I should have asked a decade ago when my wife was pregnant and I got a cell phone so she could get ahold of me from long distances. Perhaps I should have asked why I was so far away from my pregnant wife and my home to begin with? If I wasn't driving miles away to work in an office, I wouldn't need the phone for her to speak to me.

Update 4/10/12
My stunningly awesome wife critiqued my post and recommended I be a bit more clear on what positive steps I am suggesting people take. The baby step I am recommending here is to be deliberate. Do not simply use whatever technology our culture offers without a reason. THINK about any and all technology you are using or are thinking about using. THINK about the way in which you use it. Have a plan and stick to it. For example: As Marshall Mcluhan and Neal Postman have pointed out, television is for one thing and one thing only-- entertainment. It cannot be successfully used for anything else! So when we approach this piece of technology, we need to be deliberate about how we use it. We would never want to watch "news" on it for instance. Or if we did, we should at least be aware that we are watching news that is primarily meant to be entertainment, not informative. This is not to say the television is evil. I am simply saying that our culture is misusing it because of lack of vision. Entertainment does have a place, and I like to watch a good movie the same as the next guy. But when I look at a television screen, I am quite self consciously aware of it's purpose. It's purpose is to entertain. When I expect anything more of it, I am misusing it. The application to cell phones and the internet here is harder to pinpoint for me. Marshall Mcluhan never saw these things! The next time you see a customer in the check out line chatting on their cell phone and ignoring the clerk, take note of this obvious way in which cell phones have degraded human interaction. There are other ways as well, we just need to be vigilent in finding them.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Vote for Cardinal Dolan

Time Magazine is doing a poll about influential people. Vote for Cardinal Dolan! As they rightly point out, he is likely to be quite a thorn in Barack Hussein Obama's side this election. So this aint just a Catholic thing. It is just calling a spade a spade and saying that this man has pull.

Baby Steps Towards Christendom: Step #3: Brew Beer

Previous posts in this series: Introduction, Step#1: Quit Pimpin', and Homeschooling.

You can fill in the blank for this one, but for me beer was it. The point is this:

Make your own     X     !

This can cost some up-front money sometimes for buying tools (A.K.A. productive property), but in the long run is cheaper than buying the crap at Wall-Mart and I guarantee it is more fulfilling. This is perhaps the best positive step toward becoming more of a Distributist. And you can do small things that together will add up! Here are some examples my wife and I have implemented over the last several years:

Home brewing beer and apple cider.
Baking real artisan bread.
Making our own hand soap, lip balm, and lotion, laundry soap and even shaving soap.
Crocheting our own dish cloths, hats, mittens, and blankets.

All of these things are easy, fun, can involve the whole family, can be done in your kitchen, give the highest quality products, and have given us much joy in our life. In each case, the cost is the same or less as buying comparable products at a store, and in each case the product we make ourselves is exponentially better quality than what is available at the store. To buy comparable quality beer to my homebrew, I would spend at least $1.10 per 12oz. bottle for micro brew like Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada. For the same style homebrew beer I pay around $0.50! As the quality goes up, the price difference becomes a huge gulf. That savings adds up! 

But listen to me- talking like a big fat cat capitalist, cost savings is not the top priority. Beyond the financial considerations let’s not forget the joy of creating something wonderful with the hands God gave us. My wife’s soap and bread has a similar situation. They are of incredible quality. As a matter of fact, they are of the absolute finest quality! Period! You literally cannot buy better soap at a Target or Wall-Mart! How sad! And we make these things for a very reasonable cost. Certainly no more money than the best bread from Panera or the finest soap from a boutique store, and often way, way less. We have given beer, soap, and bread as gifts. An inexpensive gift that is memorable, high quality, and very much says “I love you!” to whoever receives it. What could be better than that? 10 cases of Coors light? A case of Ivory soap from Sam’s Club? See how the human element in creating something of quality changes the whole context? We have traded soap for bread with other families at our old ecclesial community. I have picked apples from a friends tree, made hard cider, and given them the cider for a gift. The feeling of satisfaction was amazing. That was in 2009, and I am just finishing the 10 gallons of cider now. Like almost all hand crafted things, it has gotten better with age!

Distributism is about words like human and quality. Capitalism is about words like profit and quantity. The former is fully compatible with a happy life, the latter is not. So make whatever you can reasonably make, and get a glimpse of distributism in your own home. Some things we are in the process of doing ourselves: We just bought a sewing machine and my wife is taking a class to learn sewing. Hopefully she can eventually provide much of our clothing. I anticipate this will have many “hidden” benefits as well, such as an easy availability of more modest clothing as my 5 little girls grow up, and perhaps even money savings on clothing.
The thing is to do something. Make what you like, but some things will have a bigger payoff than others.

What to make
The trick is to find something good that has been ruined by Capitalism and that you can make yourself for a small investment of resources. Almost anything consumable, and particularly food and drink, fall into this category. Capitalism takes them and turns them into a commodity which then becomes a hollow shell of its former self. The goal is quantity. The goal is a cheap price. The goal is on the business of pleasing shareholders and making "profit". The product is secondary or tertiary. This is why we have evil empires like Anheuser Busch. We went from a brewery in every town making distinctive, healthy, delicious beer, to a couple major breweries controlling the industry (from the politicians down to the supply chain) making beer from rice that is flavorless, watery, and incredibly boring. The documentary Beer Wars is a good watch which shows why our liquor stores are stocked to the rafters with swill. So beer is a good target for the wanna-be Distributist. Beer has a number of things going for it to send it to the top of my list for things to start making at home:

1. Beer has been utterly and totally ruined by Capitalism. How sad that 14th century monks were making far-and-away better beer than the yellow rice water sold by Bud or Miller! If we are so "advanced", why is this the case? I would laugh if it didn't make me cry. Beers destruction by the men in top hats creates an opportunity for us little people though. There is a vacuum in the "market". There truly is no good beer anymore. Oh sure there is good quality micro-brew out there, but because of shipping and regulations, it is expensive! Walk in to your local store and ask for a Dopplebock or Imperial Stout. Anything they show you will make you cring when you see the price, and it will most likely be imported from Europe. Top shelf beer at a miller light price is TOTALLY UNAVAILABLE on the market. The only way to get it is to make it yourself folks!

2. Beer is super easy to make. The yeast do all the work for you.

3. It is manly to make beer.

4. Most people like beer. And most of the ones that don't have never had good beer, and/or rightfully complain of the expense. What this universal love of beer means though, is that beer brings life and joy wherever it goes. Unlike making your own... horseradish sauce or something, you just cant go wrong with beer.

5. People love homebrew as a gift, and they love to be served it in your home.

6. It is cheap to make!

7. It is fun to make!

8. You can make TOP QUALITY beer if you have a stove and a small space to let it ferment. Imported Belgian beer that would cost you $6 a bottle or more is within your grasp for $0.50-$0.75. I have made Stout that rivaled Guinness for less than $0.50 for a 12oz. bottle! Recognize that that is less than $12 a case! You can't get Budweisers yellow rice water for that cheap! I will note here that personally I do not believe this is the case with wine. It is possible to make high quality wine at home, but the cost of good wine at the store (to my taste buds) is so cheap that it is not worth it to me to make wine at home. If you grow your own grapes this situation would change. But I am much more of a beer guy than a wine guy so my opinion on this is just that.
9. Your kids can help you brew, bottle and uh huhm... use the beer!

10. You wont have to explain to your wife why you wasted $15 for that 12 pack of tasty micro-brew from the local liquor store!

11. You could brew 2 cases (48-52) of beer this weekend for an initial investment of as little as $65 in equipment! And much of the equipment you might even already have, and/or you can use for other things. If you have a large (at least 3-4 gallon) stock pot, you are halfway there. Start saving your non-twist off bottles and you can re-cap them with your own beer. Or buy the larger flip-top bottles for an even easier time.

12. Beer is healthy for body and soul. After a hard days work, good beer brings forth praise to God from the drinker. Even the Puritans loved beer for goodness sake.

13. A green thumb could even grow his own hops, which would add quality and value to his beer. Heck put in a few rows of barley and you could roast and malt for yourself as well.

14. There is a specific blessing for beer that a priest can give. That is how important beer is to Catholics.

15. Beer saved the world! (link to fascinating documentary about beer)

Ok, so now that you are all excited and ready to make some beer, let me give you some tips.

1. Start with "extract" kits from a local homebrew supply store. This is WAY easier than "all-grain" brewing in terms of time and $ investment. I recommend to start with an "Irish Stout". It will be forgiving and yummy. If you brew a few right away, brew a Belgian Honey or Trappist beer. You will fall in love.
2. Stick with Ales for a while, as opposed to Lagers, which are a titch harder.
3. Use the plastic buckets at first instead of the glass carboys. Ease and cost.
4. Bottle in the biggest containers possible. I use 1 liter "flip top" bottles. Sometimes called "growlers".
5. Don't get hung up on using liquid yeast right away. Dry yeast works great.
6. If you have one of those propane turkey fryers, use it outdoors in the summer to brew your wert (pre-beer). That will keep the house cool and make you look like a freakin' stud for the neighbors. Also those are huge. A normal batch of beer is 5 gallons (48-52 12oz. bottles), although you only need to boil a minimum of a couple gallons and then add water, boiling 5 is ideal. This may be the excuse you need to get a outdoor turkey fryer from a garage sale!
7. Get the bottle filler with the spring loaded shut off valve. Don't ask, just trust me.
8. Don't forget you can use your fermenting buckets/carboys for making hard cider or other fruit wines (cider is simply apple wine remember). Press some fruit and add yeast (or not!) and let mother nature do the rest. Yum. You can even get apple juice (or american style soft "cider") on sale at the grocery store and ferment it with white wine yeast or cider yeast. Just make sure it has no preservatives. In the fall there can sometimes be super sales on apple juice/cider. Buy 5 gallons and ferment it for use the next fall! (it is well worth the wait for the increased quality) My sister's family made wine out of the dandilions on their lawn! It was no Dom Perignon, but it was quite decent.

Most metro areas should have a homebrew store. Type in your city's name with the words "home brewing" and you will find out. If not, you can order online from Midwest Supplies and it would still be worth it. My local shop, Midwest Supplies, is nationally known and a great place. They have tons of extract and all-grain kits of all types of beer. I have made 30 or so of their 5 gallon extract kits. Only one of them turned "bad" on me, and it was due to poor sanitation on my part. Of course I still drank most of it though.

So what are you waiting for?

Roll out the barrel, dudes! Ein prosit der gem├╝tlichkeit!

If the Pope drinks it by the liter, then so will I