Several years back there was a lot of talk about “peak oil.” I don’t hear much about it these days, the concept being that we’ve found the maximum amount of oil the planet has to offer and it’s downhill from that point on. Just the other day I read that the United States was set to become the largest oil producer in the world. Which only proves that what we “know” today is subject to revision tomorrow. I’ve always thought fossil fuel conservation and the search for and development of alternative energy sources simply made good sense not because we were running out of fossil fuel so much as the use of fossil fuels will always be accompanied by pollution of one sort or another. I’m also sympathetic to the argument that the draft horse still has a place on the farm of the future. My Amish and Mennonite friends prove this point every year; Wendell Berry fans note the great author of our times continues to farm with horses. Horses make such incredible sense on the farm – they are used to grow their own fuel, they set the pace of the day at a reasonable level, and they reproduce themselves. Have you ever seen a John Deere have a baby John Deere tractor?

I tried my hand a using draft horses years ago. Really didn’t know what I was doing, but that has seldom stopped me. In the end, I gave it up. It’s a club one must either be born into or be close enough to card-carrying members to ensure things don’t go sideways. I had a lot of things go sideways…

During the “peak oil” talk, another concept got floated in the alternative agriculture circles where I travel. “Peak water.” First off, I believe climate change is real, that human activity has sped it along it’s way, and that it’s possible to reverse it’s effects through regenerative agriculture. Yes, that’s a lot to get ahold of. Right now, I want to focus on water. With it, there is life; without it, death. The very first thing my kids learned about when helping on the farm was the importance of water. Animals can go hungry and be okay for a while; they’ll die quick in the middle of the summer without water. Part of having “eyes” on the farm is checking water levels in the dozen or so water troughs we have, regardless of whether it’s chore time or not.

As climate change continues to make wild swings in our weather patterns the need to secure water on the farm increases. Joel Salatin wrote an excellent article this month in The Stockman GrassFarmer on this theme. Joel wrote about the “commons” in relationship to water, the “commons” being those sources of water which we all share and how important it is not to deprive our neighbors of these water sources. This includes streams, springs, and aquifers. These are the things we all depended on to survive. It has been a battle for years to get farmers to stop watering their livestock in the streams and creeks. Despite all the best efforts of the USDA/NRCS, some still do.

Salatin focused on capturing surface runoff, building ponds and the like to hold water in reserve for times of need. Keyline farming is another concept along the same lines, following the topographical outlay of a field to plow in hold spots at the subsoil level, allowing water to be held in the soil rather than running off the land. Capturing all the water is one of the key concepts of Permaculture. It is also one of the critical issues for this farm as I move into this new phase of ownership/partnership. I look at my tenancy here as a partnership with this good land, this farm my family has owned for over 300 years. Like anything else, I will receive at the level I invest…


I woke this morning to the sound of…nothing.  Well, not quite nothing.  The wind was howling, but I expected that.  The region had been warned days in advance this wind storm would move thru – secure light objects, put weights on small pets, etc.  The standard stuff.  It also warned of power outages, the root of my nothingness.  A tree had taken out the power lines less than a mile away.

I didn’t mind the house being a bit cold.  Though I always make a hot breakfast, I wasn’t too concerned there either; granola is a good enough fill-in.  What really irked me was the cold coffee.  I drink it hot, no matter the temperature outside.  I’ll do ice coffee if it’s over 90F.  Today was definitely not going to be one of those days.  However, even cold coffee beats no coffee:  I sipped in the silence of my house, contemplating my morning work, wondering how the day would unfold.

I don’t much care for wind.  It tears stuff (substitute that other word) up. I’ve seen it tear the top off a barn, blow over trees, tilt barns over, and move chicken houses to the next field (I still wonder how the chicken house literally hopped the fence…).  My house occupies the high point off the Patuxent River.  At 160 feet above sea level, with few trees around to break the wind, this little hill I sit on can really get it.  The barns are situated in such a way as to create wind tunnels.  This time of year, the strong winter winds always blow out of the northwest and will nearly always follow a period of moisture.

The shingles from my house litter the yard.  The gutter on one of the barns has partially blown off.  The roof on the hay shed is peeling off piece by piece, flapping in the wind till all the tin has been ripped loose from the nails holding it to the sheathing.  Once one piece goes, it’s like a domino effect.  Pieces of roofing litter the field; the sheep keep their distance.

I’d covered the front end of the henhouse in plywood earlier this fall.  It now lies broken near the tree line.  The chickens will be alright, but we’ll use the back door to enter the house this evening for feeding.  All in all, I’ve lost a day’s work, in addition to the aforementioned damage.  And so I write.

My computer doesn’t always like the way I say things.  It is busy telling me I didn’t quite pay attention in Ms. Phillips’ English class.  Tough.  A farmer is only going to be so proper anyway.  I’m writing about wind, for crying out loud –  it’s not an orderly subject.

It will eventually die down; dry spells only last so long, flood waters eventually recede.  And we’re left with the clean-up.  As a country person, I do nearly all my own work – what I can’t do often gets left undone.  It is a defect, I know. The worst will always come first.

Eventually, I’ll walk thru my forest.  Trees will be down, firewood and lumber prospects.  I have a couple buddies with sawmills now.  Repair projects await.  If there is anything I’ve learned in this life, it’s the unpredictability of it.  I love this farming life, no matter the obstacles.


Time flies until it does not.  And today, the past folded into the present with a glance at the calendar.  Thirty years is a long time.  The pain and shock of that day have settled into a dull ache, mostly unnoticed.  I live in a house full of her memories.  The hardest part of my tenure here has been how to pack those memories up, and then, what to do with them?  What in the world shall I do with her dolls, crocheted blankets, pictures; the wedding dress?  The ache is now present with me and tears fill my eyes.

We fell apart after you left us.  Thirty years is a long time to live in the weeds.  Dad never recovered; Mom still pines for you in the secret recesses of her now dimmed memories.  We picked up the pieces over the years and moved on as best we could.  There’s a part of me that’ll always go back to that day, a part that always shudders at the expected unexpected phone call.  I can’t grind corn for feed without remembering Mom coming out to get Dad and me.  We made it to the hospital as fast as we could.  They were still working on you, or were they?

We prayed.  Oh God, how we prayed.  Only to hear two doctors leave the unit saying something about how it was bound to happen sometime.  We came in after they’d straightened you up.  That strange mixture of grief and relief, knowing that the though the treatment had killed you, you’d been spared a much crueler fate.  Cancer doesn’t care who you are…

You were loved by so many people.  We all stood under your shadow a bit.  Your sister has done so well for herself.  You’d be so proud.  I’m saddened my girls never got the chance to know you.  I’ve decided to neatly leave your physical memories for them to deal with in time.  It will be easier for them.  I can’t cross that bridge.

I must finish this.  The present needs my attention.  Like so many other people who have lost people dear to them, especially in an untimely fashion, I can remember the events of thirty years past as though they happened yesterday.  How I got home that night to find Lou had already fed the cattle for me.  The kindness of so many people, of Rudy bringing bacon from the butcher shop, grabbing Dad by the shoulder, telling him there were no words.  There still isn’t, but I’m trying.

Brenda Bourne Stair

Dec. 6, 1965 – Feb. 1, 1988

Rest In Peace

Lambing Day

The fog was thick, as the warm air met the frozen ground, still covered with a thin layer of snow.  Though it was after sunrise, the sun itself had yet to make an appearance.  Today held promise, however.  The first day in over a week to get above freezing.  I got up, still sick from the exposure and exhaustion of the past week.  Regardless, the sheep must be checked and fed, the hogs as well.  But my attention is on the lambs.

As I go about my chores, opening hay bales and setting them in place, I notice one ewe off by herself under a cedar tree bordering the sheep lot.  For the last week, I’ve kept the sheep up in the corral area adjacent to their feeding lot.  Easier to take care of.  Everyday I’ve gone down to the lot to feed hay, break ice in the water trough, tend the newborn lambs in the stalls, and check the ewes to see who might be next to birth.

Freckles’ daughter had had her lambs this morning, picking a dry spot under the cedar tree, two nice white lambs with brown spots, covered in dirt, struggled to get to their hooves.  “FD” cleaned them off, licking the afterbirth from each lambing, thereby forever knowing the scent and the sound of her lambs.  Nineteen and twenty had made it into the world without my help.  The day was going to be warm, so there’d be no need to put them under the warming lamps in the stall.  Dixie, the amazing border collie, and I returned to the house.  Coffee had yet to be made.

Hannah came over a bit later.  She’d been taking care of the night checks  since I’d come down with the crud.  Coffee, sausage, oatmeal, eggs, cheese toast.  Breakfast is eaten like a king here.  We talk about the farm, what today’s work will look like, prospects for the future. I take and make several phone calls, all part of keeping this farm running.  These days I live for the emails to arrive with the week’s orders attached.  Finally warmed up, it’s now time to go outside.

We check the tractor, and it is what I feared; the radiator is empty and the crankcase has coolant in it.  The extreme cold has cracked the block on the engine.  This is fatal.  I do get the tractor started and move it to another location where I can work on it.  Hannah and I discuss the alternatives.  I simply need a tractor with a front end loader.  It’ll be a challenge to replace this.

Walking back to the barn where the sheep are, I notice a ewe in labor.  We go on about our business.  An hour later, I check back – no progress.  Something is wrong.  Hannah gets the nitrile gloves from the shed, and we set about to get this ewe, A16, up in the stall where it’ll be dry and reasonably clean to work on her.  We ended up tackling her in the corral, Hannah going face first into the fence, as A16 was doing everything should could to disrupt our plans.

A quick examination revealed the issue at hand; the lamb was breech and upside down.  I told Hannah this was not going to end well.  I worked on the lamb nearly a half hour with very little success.  I could get the hind legs out, but couldn’t rotate its body. The lamb was dead.  The issue now was to save the ewe, and it didn’t look promising.  Hannah asked to switch, as she’d been holding A16 down and comforting her.  And so Hannah took over.

It’s an amazing thing to see your child function as an adult.  Hannah stayed working on the lamb for over an hour.  With her small hands, she could partially rotate the lamb’s torso and move it gingerly past all the sticking points.  Finally, it was out.  The body was a mess. They are simply not supposed to be born that way. But it was out.  The ewe would live.

We put A16 in the stall she’d been so reluctant to go in only two hours before.  She needed warmth; she was in shock.  We needed a shower, clean clothes, and lunch.  By this point, Dixie needed a bath, for she’d been frolicking in the gully while we worked the ewe.  We relaxed around the table.  Pasta from our good friend Gianni – a combination of sausage tortellini and pansoti.

We began the afternoon feeding and egg gathering.  Hannah will be 20 this year.  She has worked with me nearly all her life.  She knows how I think, she’s not afraid of hard work, and she’ll nicely tell me when I’m full of crap.  I return the favor.

As I’m feeding the sheep, I notice another ewe in labor, but not progressing.  Hannah and I both recognize the ewe – Henrietta’s daughter.  A slight chill runs up and down our backs as we consider dealing with the psychotic offspring of the most skittish sheep in the fold.  I half -jokingly ask Hannah if I should simply get the gun now.  We both envisioned another horrible ordeal, this time multiplied by a ewe with an attitude.

This time, we’d try to at least tackle her on dry ground.  And we did.  I got hold of a hind leg, Hannah grabbed a front, and we flipped her over on her side.  I gloved and probed in – front hooves!  I worked the head and soon the baby was out and breathing.  I went back in to check for a twin, and trouble awaited me.  The second lamb was feet first, but the head was slung back over its shoulder.  The ewe’s hip had it pinched.  I worked the lamb back, created just enough room, and could move the head around into the correct positon.  In short order, the second lamb was out, the mother up and licking them, and soon they too were up in the stall (You might wonder why it’s easier to get the ewe in the stall after the lambs are born.  The ewe will follow the lambs.  I pick the lambs up, and just like a carrot in front of a horse, lead the ewe where I need her to go).

I’m not sure the last time I took two showers during the work day.  I’ve also done more laundry today than usual.  I love what I do.  I love the heartaches as well as the triumphs because it is all part of the tapestry of life on this farm.  There’s simply nowhere I’d rather be.  And Dixie got her bath.

James Bourne

Jan. 9, 2018

PS:  Hannah did the 10pm check and found “HD” (the last ewe in our story) had prolapsed her uterus.  She was in full contractions attempting to push it out.  I called our vet who confirmed my suspicion; recovery was unlikely.  She was suffering with no reasonable hope of recovery and so I put her down.  Hannah took her two lambs and is now engaged in bottle feeding them – in her bedroom.  I still love this life, but damn, it’s hard on your heart.

Home Comfort

Growing up on the family farm, I’d often go over to my grandparents’ house, a mere 200 feet away (somehow, my mother never objected to living this close to her mother-in-law).  One of the fixtures in their house was the kitchen stove.  The “Home Comfort” was an old fashion wood cook stove, complete with oven, cooktop, warming boxes, and hot water heater.  This stove continued to be used into the 1970’s, my father dutifully splitting wood and carrying it into the wood, box, which sat on the back porch.

I learned a bit about splitting wood from my father.  How to drive a wedge, use a maul and an axe, and about working with the tree’s grain.  Oak splits great and burns well; while gum may burn well, you’ll be all day splitting it.  Poplar isn’t worth the trouble unless you need a quick fire and are willing to deal with a lot of ash.  Hickory’s reputation is well earned.

When the energy crisis occurred in the seventies, Dad gave up on the electric baseboard heat in our brick rancher and put in a fireplace insert.  He cut a lot of wood and we wore a lot of sweaters.  For some reason, the house never felt warm that winter.  I don’t know whether it was the wood or the stove, but there was a bit of grumbling among the ranks that season.

These many years later, I still heat primarily with wood.  I have a wood burning forced air furnace in the basement, several excellent chainsaws (one of which I found at the county dump), and now, a brand-new log splitter.  This is the second one I’ve owned – I literally wore the first one out.  I’d replaced the engine years ago, put a new pump on it, the works.  And it worked well.  For twenty years, I’d used it.  Some years more, some years less.  The last five years I’ve been using wood pellets.  Convenient, but there’s really no romance there.  There is romance in a forest.

I love wood.  I love my woods.  All eighty acres of them.  I’ve worked in them most of my adult life.  Hunted in them, escaped to them, found respite because of them.  For firewood, I harvest the trees that are dying or otherwise not healthy.  Trees overgrow the edges into the fields, conspiring with sinister forces to pull me off the tractor as I cut hay.

I enjoy using a chainsaw.  Because I work in the woods on a regular basis, I’ve no need of rollercoasters and the like.  Running from a tree doing the unexpected is the best near death experience you can have.  Cutting a tree almost thru and having it settle back on the stump and pinch the chainsaw – priceless.  “Why did I leave the felling wedges at the barn?!”

I figure the cost incurred in a new log splitter is offset by the savings in my electric bill, as well as the good exercise I get. No need for a gym membership here.  Twenty degrees outside? Just about right to split firewood.  And right now – I’m figuring out a way to open some windows to get a bit of the heat from the fire out of the house.  Home comfort…


Jan. 3, 2018


The sheep have sheltered themselves under the bank barn, chewing their cuds, waiting for the rain to pass before they head out to begin the cycle again.  Most of June and July was dry; by the time the rains came 10 days ago, the pastures were looking rough.  But the rains came, 4.25 inches over a two-day period.  And they’ve come again, just after I thought yesterday how nice it would be for a little rain to come our way again.


I concern myself with the weather; my fortunes are tied to it.  Too much rain can be every bit as disastrous as not enough.  We soon learn that average rainfall is simply the means of the extremes – there are seldom perfectly average years.  Several years back, during a particularly long dry spell, I was commiserating the weather with an Amish friend.  “An old man told me once there hasn’t been a dry spell yet that hasn’t been broken up by a rain.”  And so, it is.  As in so many things in life, timing is everything.

“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.”  So, Jesus’ words recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.  I’ve thought a lot about this saying lately.  I’ve started to write this piece any number of times, only to back off and wait. I’m not quite sure why, so let’s just say things are still percolating.

Growing up in the environment I was born into, it was easy to come away with the idea that good things happen to good people because they were good.  And its necessary corollary that bad people have bad things happen to them.  The latter was never explicitly said, simply implied by the positive statement.  Yet, we know that is not true.  There are plenty of good people who have rotten things happen to them for no reason and there are evil people who seem to prosper.

All this point back to the problem of pain in a theistic world view.  If there is an all-loving, all-powerful god, why do good people suffer; why do good people suffer at the hands of evil people?  It is a perplexing question with no great answers.  Yes, the biblically literate will point to the book of Job; it does give some insights, yet in the end Job’s riches and status are restored, the only answer given to his plight is that the Almighty is the Almighty and keeps his council to himself.  And perhaps that is the key to understanding the variances of life.

Sometimes, things just happen.  Rain stops falling at the most inopportune times; or the flood sweeps things and lives away in an instant.  We are constantly reminded how little control we have over our lives.  I endured a customer on Saturday who went on about how he refused to contribute to the United Methodist Church’s fund for illegal immigrants; how his parents did it the right way, etc.  I wondered what his tune would be had his parents been undocumented?  He is fortunate and blessed, through no effort of his own – he was simply born well.  And others?

I know full well that even on my hardest days, I was born into an incredible situation, given an opportunity I never earned.  I get to worry about the weather!  What a blessing!  I have the opportunity to raise good food for people to eat!  I get to see incredible things and never need to travel off my farm to enjoy them. Love and life is all around me, even on the dark days, the days with too much rain; the days with too much dust.  I am surrounded by grace.

The rain continues to fall, heavy at times.  I’ll pick up close to an inch today.  The sheep are still under the bank barn, content to watch the rain fall – they live in the moment.  Not a bad place to hang out.

All In

Dixie is sitting at my feet, chewing on a real bone from a roast that was probably served 20 years ago.  I have no idea where she found the bone, but I’m not questioning anything.  When you have a five-month old border collie, peace and quiet is very suspicious and rare.  I think she wants to be a woodworker of some type when she grows up; perhaps then she can replace the chairs she’s chewed through.  All in all, she’s been a great puppy.  I’m still waiting for her to get old enough to read the training books I purchased for her.

If you follow me on FB, you might remember Chaney, the little lamb abandoned by her mother.  She is doing great, and is best friends with Dixie.  I’m not sure if this will create an identity crisis at some point with Dixie, whether she’ll be plagued with conflicting loyalties at some point in the future.  Probably not – she’s smarter than most humans I know.

Chaney started off life with Dixie barking at her, since they were both in the house, separated only by a screen door.  Chaney now hangs out with the other lambs that are in the special care unit.  These lambs need a little extra help, close attention and care.  They are doing fine, though many were near death when I brought them in.  Parasites are the bane of the shepherd.  And there’s also that thing of sheep looking for ways to die.  Believe me when I tell you they’re resourceful in that department.

Right now, I’m working on the basics with Dixie, like “come,” “sit,” “stay,” and “would you cut that out!”  She’s smarter than I am.  Those of you who really know me realize that’s not a high level of attainment.  About two weeks ago, I realized how well she had trained me to play hide and go seek.  At 3am.  She’s also a superior litigator – “did you really mean ‘no?’”

Today’s the Fourth of July.  We have a lot to be thankful for as citizens of this nation.  Right now, we seem very divided about a lot of things, but that’s not that unusual.  A good reading of our history will show that we’ve rarely had consensus.  We are a nation of people born of other cultures.  We value different things, and in so doing, those values will clash from time to time.  However, there’s nothing wrong with a good debate, if only to get some things out in the open.  Harm is done when neither side is willing to listen to the other.  A little humility can go a long way….

Dixie is learning to listen…and come.  And I’m learning that an old dog like me can still learn a few things too.  I know so much less now that I’m in my fifties than I did when I was in my twenties.  I hope to know even less in a few years.  It’ll only mean that my world has grown.  And by that time, Dixie will be taking care of the sheep.

Sunday Wanderings

I woke to the gentle sound of rain this morning. I had slept in, exhausted from weeks worth of work, struggles, and all the obligations that come with being an adult working through mid-life. Not a crisis. I’m done with that. Rather putting the pieces back together after I’d realized they’d been falling apart for years. There’s a certain joy in that, like a voyage of discovery.


I made the coffee. Italian roast in a French press. If you need to be a snob about something, coffee’s not a bad place to let it rest. A quick text chat with my daughter, a short conversation with a farming friend (raining there, too) and I ventured out to my Sunday on the farm.

Quiet. I can usually hear road noises, even though I’m over a mile from the main road. But not today, not on a Sunday. I was greeted by a group of laying hens that have decided they’d rather take their chances with the foxes at night than go up into the safety of the henhouse. These girls came to the farm a couple weeks back. I purchased 300 hens from John Y. as part of my effort to meet this season’s egg demands. For financial reasons, I’d not gotten in a batch of new pullets this spring and was relying on my 450 older hens to carry me thru. It was no surprise when the warm weather knocked their egg production. I brought the new hens home and integrated them into one of my flocks.

Chickens have incredible homing instincts, provided, of course, that they know where “home” is. I kept these hens up in the henhouse for several days before letting them venture out to forage. And then it happened. I was late getting home one evening. The henhouse door had blown shut. The chickens were huddled outside the door. It took a good half-hour to get everyone back inside. In the meantime, about 75 decided they could do just fine staying outside, hanging around the barns. I’ve yet to find where they lay their eggs…


The recent rains have made a mess of the farm roads. Actually, they’re not roads anymore. More like slopes and gullies with frequent ponds and moats. I made my way out to check on the feeder hogs in the field. Sleeping in – just like I was. I watered them and checked their self-feeder (it will hold 2 tons). The broiler chickens are a few yards away from them, so I walked over. They are ready to be butchered, but not today. I’ve solved their recent predator problem with the application of judicious shot placement. A decent marksman has no need of an assault rifle.

I’ve a sow nearly ready to farrow, so I gave her some extra attention. Birthing in hot weather is particularly problematic for a hog. They have no way of cooling themselves except by bathing in mud (they don’t sweat). A 700lb. sow is a lot to cool off. I’ve lost them this time of year; it’s a tricky business full of the unexpected. There are days when one’s humor is sorely tried.

The piglets from the two sows that gave birth in May followed me around the barns. They usually roam free until the neighbors call to complain about their impromptu landscaping adventures. They are destructive little things. They kept trying to nibble at me. Taste testing, I assume.

Blessings. The whole time I’m walking/driving around, taking care of what needs to be taken care of and planning for the coming week, I’m counting my blessings. There was a time I believed that one had to be busy with church stuff on Sunday. What I’ve found now is that Sunday is a great time to wander about, rest, relax, count the blessings, be thankful.

I’m thankful for the Creator, the Almighty. I’m thankful for this incredible gift of life, my own and the lives of my animals. I’m thankful for the lives of the people in my life, especially those who’ve shown up and have been present in my life this past year.

I said “goodbye” to two long-time customers/friends yesterday. They’ve been with me since the beginning of my farmers market venture in Alexandria – 16 years ago. Chip and Diana are moving to Hawaii for work. They needed a home for their fig tree. I wanted another fig tree. Friendship.

I am incredibly blessed. I live on an amazing piece of land that my family has owned for over 300 years. I was raised by decent parents who worked hard and taught me to “put my back into it.” I have work that is fulfilling, friends who are dear, and an optimism about the future. I have decent children who were raised well – their future is now in their hands. And no matter the severity of the storm, a rainbow always follows. That is the perspective that mid-life will give you, if you let it.

From my writing perch, I see the sheep have made it out of the shed and into the pasture. They slept in, too.



Just Plain Old Amazing

I don’t care how many times I’m witness to it, the birth of life on my farm gives me the “joys.” Sorry, I know that’s not a proper term, but maybe it should be. Whether it’s the spinach in the greenhouse just popping it’s dicot leaves thru the soil, a sow birthing a litter of piglets, or a ewe in labor with a lamb, new life is just plain old amazing.

Because I am surrounded by life, I’m also familiar with its partner, death. My father once remarked that I handled the death of livestock better than he could have at my age. I think I was ten or eleven at the time. I know how resilient life can be; I know just how fragile it really is. There’s just no telling how something will ultimately turn out, but turn out it will, for better or worse. That’s why they call life a circle.

Today I was getting ready to gather eggs in one of the henhouses. I noticed one of the sheep calling out, and decided to take a walk to check them. Sheep being sheep, there’s no telling what might be up. My daughter Hannah snuck up behind me, stalking me like a little fox. We embraced and laughed. We chatted for a bit and then I turned my attention to the sheep while she continued her walk out to the forest.

In the time Hannah and I had talked, a ewe had had her lamb. Still wet with afterbirth, the mother steadily licking it and giving it soft mutterings of encouragement. The little lamb struggled to get up, fell, splayed out, and then tried again. A strong lamb will begin nursing in the first half hour after birth. Though we’ve had to bottle feed all kinds of animals over the years, momma is always best.

And so another life takes shape on my farm. I am richer for it, not just because of the financial aspect, but because I was witness to new life, the hard evidence that where it exists, there will always be hope.



My Friend, Thomas

If you attend a church and it happens to use a set pattern of readings from Scripture, you more than likely would have heard the story of Thomas, the Doubter. The Second Sunday of Easter is his day each year when the clergy encourages us to put our doubts aside and simply have faith.


The attribute of doubt gets a pretty bad rap these days – our sports teams call for true believers, our political candidates seek the unwavering followers, and our religious leaders call to us to get rid of all doubt and simply have faith. Years ago when it was revealed that Mother Teresa had expressed doubt in God, the media treated it like a small scandal. Of all people, Mother Teresa would never be expected to have doubts about God. Yet she did.

I think anyone who’s read the Bible honestly is going to walk away with some doubts. It alleges some pretty incredible things, after all. The Hebrew Scriptures (“Old Testament”) are particularly hairy. How are we supposed to read that thing anyhow? Literally, and we end up advocating a pretty narrow view of life (are we sure we want to approve of genocide?). Figuratively gives the reader some maneuvering room, but what do the figures represent? Or are we reading the chronicle of a people dealing with a Higher Power and how they progressively comprehended it?

There’s been a lot of ink shed on how and when each book of the Bible was written. I personally tend to the higher critical method in Old Testament studies, but no matter. Eventually we must deal with the words themselves and what they convey to us in the twenty-first century. The fact that the prophets are constantly correcting the temple cult worship of the day should shed a little light on how we’re to look at things.

There are people who believe in only reading the words of Jesus (the words “in red”). But have you ever really read them? They’re not particularly easy to comprehend, let alone practice. My Amish friends believe in living by Matthew chapters 5-7. I do as well, but with a completely different take on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Instead being the new lawgiver and telling his followers to live by his new standards, I believe Jesus is driving home to his hearers the impossibility of living by rules. In fact, Jesus goes so far as to tell his followers to stop judging other people and turn their attention to mercy instead of obedience. Yep, I just hit a nerve with some of you, didn’t I?

And then there are the miracles. There’re a lot of them in the Bible, and especially associated with Jesus. And that’s where my friend, Thomas, comes in. Thomas has the attitude of a modern man set in first century Jerusalem. He wasn’t going to believe anything he couldn’t prove. So when he heard the stories of Jesus being alive – raised from the dead – well, he just wasn’t going to fall for that without checking it out himself. “Unless I can see and touch for myself, I’ll not believe.” Thomas is us; Thomas is me.

Jesus says see, touch, and believe. I think He still comes to us, to me, with those words. There’s a lot about organized religion to put people off – lots of obedience, little mercy. The hypocrisy in the ranks of religious professionals runs deep. If the credibility of the gospel rested on the lifestyles of many of its most ardent adherents, well, it would be in for a tough go of it.

I “see” because I believe. It’s just that simple. And part of my belief comes with a heavy dose of skepticism these days. I’ve become convinced that doubt is not, nor has ever been the enemy of faith. Fear is. Fear is paralyzing, draining life away from everything it touches. On the other hand, doubt can be quite healthy and is certainly normal. The only danger in doubt is that we fail to resolve it. That doesn’t mean I have to have all my questions answered. Just enough will do.