Category Archives: evangelism

Culling the Herd

When my dad decided to turn the outfit over to me, I thought at first his head was going to explode. You see for the last thirty years, and for forty years before him, the philosophy on this ranch was to keep as many cows as the range would support, with the idea that more cows meant more calves, and more calves meant more money in our pockets. However soon as I was old enough to check the range, I began to notice a few things. First of all in the quest for maximum numbers, we were cutting corners on the quality of the females we were keeping for replacement stock; conformity went by the wayside, and we were ending up with all shapes and sizes of cows, resulting in a very uneven and unpredictable set of calves for market. The result being instead of top dollar at the sales, cattle buyers were beginning to bid way less for the calves we offered– and our overall income began to shrink. This led to overstocking the range with even more inferior cows to make up the lost returns.
A vicious cycle; subtle at first but breaking out in full bloom about twenty years ago. We found ourselves in a huge, deadly bind. Poor cows led to poor calves, leading to even poorer cows being introduced; degrading our end product even further. All of a sudden, another problem arose: cows that weren’t even fertile, and went year after year not even breeding- we even had cows so sorry that they would not mother the calves they DID have, and the calves would be found dead on the prairie from starvation or downright abuse. Things still devolved from bad to worse; we did not have the money for decent bulls, and the quality of our calf crop dropped even further, as we went shopping for “anything that had horns and balls” as my wife would complain. Very soon, when I took over, things hit bottom.
Our banker of the last few decades retired, and they hired a new fellow fresh out of banker school. He had pouffy hair and shiny slippers for shoes; a real dandy- but some of the things he told us were very true, and he backed up his observations with action. “Boys “ he started, “I know I am new, and you will probably hate me for saying this, but your business is a wreck; your expenses keep rising and your income is spinning down the drain- in a few more years we will not finance you for operation, unless you begin to turn things around…. NOW.”
That is when my dad’s neck turned purple, and I knew that when it reached his eyes it would not be a pretty sight; but I was relieved because I was in charge now, and I was in complete agreement with the new bag of money sitting in front of us. I knew exactly what to do- it was going to hurt in the short run, but in the long run it was our only way to survive. It was time to cull the herd.
First to go were the cows who did not calve; next the ones that would abuse or starve their calves by being poor mothers. Next were the cows that did not conform to the way a cow should perform in terms of efficiency and in terms of overall appearance—uniformity is critical when it comes to producing a predictable growth set of calves that will outperform their counterparts: for a calf is no calf unless it does what it is supposed to do- grow fast and efficiently and produce red meat for the consumer.
The herd was tight and right; but it hurt -our calf crop was cut in half. However our net income was only cut by 40%- and that was in the first year. The weirdest thing was, my dad was most upset when he went to town, and had to listen to the coffee coolers talk about how the great Gut Hook outfit was now smaller than their neighbors…. It seems perception to some was more important than production and survivability. But not to me and the family; a smaller, bust superior set of cattle was going to slowly expand and fill back up to where it was decades ago; the best ranch in the valley, with reputation livestock and an outfit that we could be proud of, while others would try to emulate. We were on our way, and the pain of our past catching up to us, was in the end the best thing that could have ever happened.

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Jake Spoon

It was a far ago time when we were brought to being. A dim moment long ago yet at times crackling clear, as a winter sunrise. My brothers and I- once without existence, forged in the fires of creation. Pressure, heat, and the pain of formation; there was the attendant removal of deemed excess, bringing on a sense of personal loss- this dross seemed essential to who we originally were meant to be. No resistance could be offered, we resigned ourselves: suddenly, it was over– and we came into being.
The marvel of our form exceeded every expectation; symmetry and grace abounded within every plane. Swelling curves, breathtaking arcs; balance between flowing lines and abruptness of boundary- taken from nothing and molded into something beyond our wildest dreams. From the dust of the earth and potent reality of genius we became what was our end from the beginning of all thought. We now truly realized what it was we ARE: My brothers and I are spoons.

Raised from nothingness by an act beyond every comprehension to a new reality- we now imagine things far beyond every ancient dream. Reveling in our new found state we proclaimed that our true destiny and meaning comes not from without, but within. Not from exterior forces, but from our aspirations and new found vitality. Our present reality and meaning may now be one which we ourselves will define; fate as such, shall be determined by our will. The glory of our brilliance, the utility of our form was such that we forsook all former mystery as ignorance; henceforth what we CHOOSE shall BE. As one can see… pride does not reserve itself for greatness. Even spoons can be victims of their own reasoning and hubris.
Such a familiar task, being a spoon; the stumbling blocks of vanity seem but simple hillocks along the path of life- especially when spoons are magnificent ones. The gracing of fine tables, delicate use, refined company and high culture of great halls- respectful treatment which our pride assumed was our rightful due. Those were heady days: scented soaps and sumptuous cloths- the full restoration of brilliance after every use. Compliments abounded of our beauty; these along with the care given, merely re-enforced our surly self-affirmation of glory.

It has been dark, very dark now for quite some time. We repose in our velvet case, rank and file, so perfectly at attention; as fine and good as ever yet amidst a dark, dry forgotteness. Trapped in a princely bower that now has become a stifling tomb; idleness tarnishes us, yet even this seems to add to our luster in some strange way. Nonetheless we are forgotten- forsaken loveliness in a lonely land. Patience is not the lot of a spoon; especially one with pretention; to some treachery seemed afoot. How indeed could such beauty and grace be cast aside! Injustice a certitude: we cannot not be denied our destiny!- one which we ourselves most meticulously scripted!

The First Spoons, as they call themselves, adhere to a strangely differing view. Claiming to clearly remember First Times they wistfully recount when the One they name He Who Is initially gazed upon us, fashioned out of His own Idea. They claim we spoons were made by HIM, to be an extension of His hand and the hands that He determines. Infusing mundane tasks with style and élan, making the mere become wonderful, and the ordinary into something much more; He not us was the WHO; and this was the WHY.
The deep clotting dark of a forgotten silverware case makes an ideal milieu for contemplation… We were not, and suddenly we were. In this “were-ness” came thought and task. Awareness and work bring fulfillment; with satisfaction comes the creeping serpent of pride, gliding through the grass and pricking unshod, innocent feet. Looking down at what has assailed us has not availed; perhaps we should have never ceased looking up. The fleeting moments when pride sleeps are the ones when we truly find peace and contentment- the moments when we are used by Him are the ones that complete us as no other time. If this be true (and if truth can be sensory, than nothing is more so), then we are never more full of what it is to be a spoon, than when we are in His hands: He Who Is made us to be used, and ultimately used by Himself. Here is the complete Glory of “Spoon-ness”: indeed not residing within us, but without; only then and there will we rest in peace- both in His silver drawer, and upon His table.


Daddy, I Trust in You

 

 

Kate, my eldest daughter was three years old at the time (I have four children, all grown). One afternoon, we were playing together in the living room- she loved to be tossed in the air, and then I would catch her. After a bit she decided it would be more fun if she would jump into my arms after climbing up on the end table next to our davenport. I must admit, it was a lot of fun for me too- something about, “daddy, catch me!!” and the look in her eyes when she was airborne. She KNEW that I was there for her. Those were some of the golden moments of parenthood that somehow seem to transcend time and space: it WAS, but in some way still IS and always WILL BE. I cannot explain it, nor do I wish to attempt to, for my feeble words shall just cheapen how it still feels.

After some time of this Daddy always gets tired; but Katie of course does not. I get up and walk over to the table for my coffee, in the kitchen which was open to the living room. I next heard her shout, “Daddy, catch me!!”. She was on the end table all smiles, a moment away from launching herself into the air once again, with the certainty of total trust — even though I was fifteen feet away, I would most certainly be there to catch her just before she hit the ground.

Of course if you are a parent, you know what happened next. Through the air she went, crashing to the ground, with an expression of disbelief and betrayal upon her face. What shot through my mind were those same two emotions:

1. Disbelief-Not that I would not catch her, but that she actually thought I could.

2. Betrayal- Because that is what I had done- betrayed my little girl for the very first time, of many more to come.

Thirty years later this incident haunts me still. When you are a new father, you have the euphoric ephemeral sense of Deity in which you revel. It is not long however, before your wings get singed from flying too close to the flame and you fall like a meteor to earth—forever. Not a fallen Seraph, but a fallen man.

I started praying the Divine Mercy chaplet a few years back and lately began to contemplate what trust truly means in the term, “Jesus, I Trust in You”. Being a bit dense I wrestled with this for quite a while, and then Grace revealed to me this memory of my daughter in the living room so many years ago. She had it in me; perhaps we all did in someone, sometime, somewhere. With this trust placed in someone who is not Jesus, we were betrayed and decided to never trust again. With a conscious act of will I can resurrect this trust in Our Lord, but in times unaware it leaks out when I need it most.

Woe is me, and may I find that place in my heart for Jesus, that my daughter once had for me.

 


Drugstore Christians

 

I was in the cow business full time for almost thirty years- still am after a fashion, but only because I cannot imagine a life without stock. There were and still are countless lessons to be gleaned from running cows and raising feed. These lessons can be applied to life in general- and I dare say that a few of these lessons that parallel High Theology.

When you are in the cattle business, it is crucial that your raise cows- and those cows must reproduce in order that you can keep on in the business. One might even say that you are intent upon the fruit of your labor—i.e. your cows have calves, and then there is a calf crop to sell. Round the clock, 365 days a year you are out in all weather: caring for livestock, feeding, checking pasture conditions, fencing, doctoring, repairing machinery, supplying minerals and salt, seeking lost or missing livestock among other tasks. This is due to the fact that your responsibility is the health and well being of the animals under your care. If you have enough of them it becomes a full time occupation (indeed there are times when it is more than full time).

In all of this there is a great amount of faith- will it rain and how much, can they survive this bad storm, will prices get better, will the bank keep on believing I can pay off my loans, will I have enough hay this winter, will they get eaten or stolen? Faith that the natural course of events will continue, and/or improve because an agricultural enterprise is founded on primarily this fact: faith that the sun will rise tomorrow and the moisture will come when you need it most.

To people not involved in agriculture, this type of faith in the system that Our Lord set up seems simplistic and a bit well, hokey. To those of us however, who have been intimately exposed to the mercy of God through His natural world this simple faith is an inescapable fact- we must through faith depend upon Divine nature in order to plan, execute, survive and perhaps even prosper.

Being a rancher involves this faith- yet it also involves works as well. One is not a cowman if one does not produce cattle- through faith and works; a rancher produces fruit, just as the man of Faith is not truly a man of Faith unless he takes this Faith to the level Our Lord demands- producing fruit from it in combination with hard work.

On a ranch, a cow that does not reproduce is not a cow- she is a highly temperamental, expensive lawn ornament. A saddle horse is not a saddle horse if it will not carry a rider- it is a glue pot. A cowboy is not a cowboy if he is not up to the task of demonstrating a particular skill set needed to care for cattle. Lastly, on a ranch, a man of Faith is a drugstore Christian, unless he demonstrates the unique skill set needed to do the work that Christ commanded.


The Harder Road

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loves the Church”
Women make the best nurturers, as history proves; love comes more naturally to them, as it is an essential part of their nature. Males from early on and inherent to their nature is obedience. Teams, clubs, associations- all part and parcel of the male bonding experience, are the very essence of learning to defer to others; then there is the most extreme form of obedience, war. Men are formed (or should be) by obeying others, for a cause greater them themselves, as women are formed by love for the same reason- two traits linked by the same result; as two divergent trails come together at the same destination- sacrifice.

It is no wonder then that when Saint Paul lays out the prescription for married life, he takes these two traits and transposes them on to the opposite sexes. Women, formed by love, are called to obedience, while men, formed by obedience, are commanded to love. The very opposite of what is natural for both of them, yet each are required to stretch themselves further in their lives. This causes stresses within their sacramental vocation to strive for the character traits that are not necessarily second nature to them. The result, if accomplished takes two persons and merges them into “one flesh”, as Carbon and Iron are forged in the fire to create Steel.
Those called to obey are asked to subject themselves to another for the good of not just a physical, but a mystical union; while the other is called to love- even unto death- for the same purpose. Who can truly state that one expectation is more difficult than the other? For each nature, male and/or female, the requirement is more than human beings are capable of, if one leaves out Faith in Christ.
I as a man cannot hold myself to a single committed relationship throughout an entire lifetime with one single woman, unless I hold to the principles of sacramental union as laid down by Our Lord Himself. History as our guide is rife with cultures which prove such a stance Females as a class were, and still are in many places (the United States included) considered possessions ; used, traded, collected, purchased, rented and discarded when circumstances dictate it. Only Catholic Christianity, adhering to the very words of Christ, call men to a higher order, “love your wives as Christ loves the Church” Forever, once and for all, no exceptions to the rule. If man can put away his wife, then Christ can put away His Church- which makes God a dissembler; the one thing He is not, for if God is anything He is faithful and true to His word.
As my children used to say, “If this is torture, then nail me to the wall”


Cavalry, and Calvary part 1

                     

Cavalry and Calvary

Just a short time ago everything seemed so different; the only way to describe it is to re-imagine the feeling of the period leading up to my marriage. I was so in love, full of optimism and anticipation. My friends were wittier; all wine exquisite and even the colors of the world around me were brighter and sharper. Looking became actually seeing for the first time; and in seeing I was filled with Joy wherever I turned. Time seemed to slow down, and so did my mind- answers that previously had been hidden away in some remote dusty corner, appeared before my heart- they were there the entire time in fact, hiding in plain sight. This is how it felt in those days… and not just to me; but for a certainty; everyone else felt the exact same way. Voices and eyes- even the way everyone moved exposed the reality that we had experienced something: we were changing, the world was changed, and nothing was to be the same. And now, this happened.

I was late getting back home that year. My duty in quartermaster took me away from time to time and on this trip we were delayed by some bad weather. Buying horses for the officer corps is a delicate business; one needs discernment of both animals and the men who sell them to procure the best lots. This is what I was commissioned to do in the Army, and after almost 20 years, I was good at it. Being good however entails patience; and it was this patience that cost me some precious days- and I fear my eternal soul.

It was near weeks end when we eased back to Antonia in the dead of night. Stabling the new stock took little time as they were trail broke and weary, anxiously seeking feed and rest. After dismissing my men I turned in my paperwork to the officer in charge. He asked me to take my ease as he checked over my report, but I protested and remained standing; three weeks horseback in the Eastern Wilderness gives a man an appreciation for standing up from time to time. “We thought you had deserted!” It was Felix, who had snuck up behind me during the inspection. He grabbed my mantle, spinning me around and embraced me like the brother he was… then he kneed me in the groin- an old greeting we had adopted during our long service together. “Foolish business” I countered, “for it is only six weeks until retirement and then, on to the happiness due me as a loyal citizen and gentleman farmer!” We both laughed, for those were the standard dreams of all of us: and after two decades of constant service they were a close reality. Twenty years of marching, fighting, and now garrison duty; soon to be in the past.

“Your plans may change, Antonius. There have been some big developments since your departure. Did you not notice anything when you arrived?” In truth I had not- being so intent on the horses and in getting back, my mind was occupied with the task at hand- and I said as much. “This town has been in an uproar these past few days. That Iesu fellow you carry on about arrived for the Passover, and the entire city welcomed Him as Royalty. Now as a kind gesture in return, the Temple this very night has seized Him and is planning some evil deed for horning in on their power. Things are looking grim for Him; and for us I fear”


The Problem with Proof Texts: Conclusion

 

 

Bob was leaned up against a wheel of the wagon tight up under the tent fly; about as dry a place as there was during the storm. He was a skinny old rip, looking very much like he was weaned on a pickle and never recovered all the years since. He took a deep breath and stated, “That will do for a minute” everybody just stopped talking and turned towards him. Like him or not (and some surely did not) he commanded respect around just about every cow camp or miles around. He took a final drag from the taylor-made he had and flicked it into the fire. “You boys have either lost your wits or were cut with a dull knife. Which one of you is ready to listen to sense? If not, clear away from the fire, for I am tired of all this chin music.” No one made a peep, for his voice got real loud at the end, and enough of us knew it was not sensible to rile ol’ Robert; most who did in the past were ever so sorry they made the attempt.

“Which one of you has ever had the ignorance to take the word of one man no matter who he may be; especially when what he says flies in the face off all that we have known from the dim past to today? How many of you would buy a saddle horse based upon the testimony of a single man and him being one who has the most to gain from your decision? How can everyone for the last 1000 years have gotten it all wrong, and plenty of ‘em far better hands than myself- not mentioning marginal ones like Luther Martin-how can all of a sudden they all be wrong about the livestock world, and one day a renegade takes a trip God knows where… and now he is the expert on all things? For herd quitter he is, and if he was a steer who acted like this, every last one of you would be itching to shake out a loop of whale line and bust him in two, choke him down and rub tobacco juice in his eyes for acting like this.  But since he is tickling your fancy for novelty, just think of this: You are all basing your entire future upon ONE FEATHER. Is your whole life so worthless as to make such a casual wager?”

“ Every bird I have ever seen has jillions of feathers- all different, for all have different jobs- down keeps ‘em warm, wing feathers are for flying, tail feathers are for showing off, back feathers keep the rain off. Yet you really believe there is a bird that has only ONE KIND OF FEATHER, AND THAT THIS BIRD REALLY EXISTS? Only in your fevered minds can that be true. To have a real bird you must take all the feathers in consideration with each other, all doing different jobs, each complementing the other in getting the bird to be a bird. A single feathered bird is either a fantasy, or naked and useless for what God made it for.

You cannot base your bird beliefs upon one feather, anymore than you can base your beliefs in God on one Bible verse. Why it says in the Good Book that “Jesus wept”… so does that mean He never laughed?