Freedom is Being Easy in Your Harness

 

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photo by Joel deWaard

 

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photo by Joel deWaard

 

 

I find my greatest freedom on the farm.
I can be a bad farmer or a lazy farmer and it’s my own business.
A definition of freedom:
It’s being easy in your harness.

~Robert Frost in 1954, at a news conference on the eve of his 80th birthday

 

 

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photo by Joel deWaard

 

 

The past was faded like a dream; 
There come the jingling of a team, 
A ploughman’s voice, a clink of chain, 
Slow hoofs, and harness under strain. 
Up the slow slope a team came bowing, 
Old Callow at his autumn ploughing, 
Old Callow, stooped above the hales, 
Ploughing the stubble into wales. 
His grave eyes looking straight ahead, 
Shearing a long straight furrow red; 
His plough-foot high to give it earth 
To bring new food for men to birth. 

O wet red swathe of earth laid bare,
O truth, O strength, O gleaming share,
O patient eyes that watch the goal,
O ploughman of the sinner’s soul.
O Jesus, drive the coulter deep
To plough my living man from sleep…

At top of rise the plough team stopped, 
The fore-horse bent his head and cropped. 
Then the chains chack, the brasses jingle, 
The lean reins gather through the cringle, 
The figures move against the sky, 
The clay wave breaks as they go by. 
I kneeled there in the muddy fallow, 
I knew that Christ was there with Callow, 
That Christ was standing there with me, 
That Christ had taught me what to be, 
That I should plough, and as I ploughed 
My Saviour Christ would sing aloud, 
And as I drove the clods apart 
Christ would be ploughing in my heart, 
Through rest-harrow and bitter roots, 
Through all my bad life’s rotten fruits.

Lo, all my heart’s field red and torn,
And Thou wilt bring the young green corn,
And when the field is fresh and fair
Thy blessed feet shall glitter there,
And we will walk the weeded field,
And tell the golden harvest’s yield,
The corn that makes the holy bread
By which the soul of man is fed,
The holy bread, the food unpriced,
Thy everlasting mercy, Christ.
~John Masefield from The Everlasting Mercy

 

 

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photo by Joel deWaard

 

 

We shoulder much burden in the pursuit of happiness and freedom,
worth every ounce of sweat,
every sore muscle,
every drop of blood,
every tear.

Our heart land is plowed,
yielding to the plowshare
digging deep with the pull of the harness.
The furrow should be straight and narrow.

We are tread upon
yet still bloom;
we are turned upside down
yet still produce bread.

The plowing under brings freshness to the surface,
a new face upturned to the cleansing dew,
knots of worms now making fertile simple dust.

Plow deep our hearts this day of celebrating freedom, dear Lord.
May we grow what is needed
to feed your vast and hungry children
everywhere.

 

 

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photo by Joel deWaard

Thank you once again to Joel deWaard, local farmer and photographer, who graciously shares his photos of the Annual International Lynden (Washington) Plowing Match

 

Indeed I Tremble For My Country

rushmore

 

The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time:
the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.

–Thomas Jefferson, in “A Summary View of the Rights of British America”

 

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tulip20174

 

Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?

Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just:
that his justice can not sleep forever…
― Thomas Jefferson, in Notes on the State of Virginia on the need for abolition of slavery

 

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olhydrandra

 

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Would Thomas Jefferson, architect of our Declaration of Independence celebrated on July 4, tremble for his country today?

I believe he would, even considering how his views were radical in his day, his religious convictions unconventional. He wrote that foundational document even as his own home and property was managed by slaves of African descent.  He personally understood the moral quicksand on which he stood so tenuously – a conflict he felt as close as his own bedroom:  story telling may romanticize the relationship, but what liberty was there for the slave who bore their six mixed race children?

Jefferson personally recognized and mourned our abuse of our liberties secured and maintained through the blood shed by our forefathers, our brothers, sisters and descendants, no matter what color their skin.

Today we are sinking deeply in that same moral quicksand, having done no better than Jefferson at forging a personal and ethical foundation on which to firmly stand.  We need only to look at who we place in the White House and who we see in the mirror.

We have squandered our autonomy with selfishness rather than selflessness borne out of gratitude for the gift of freedom.  We strive to secure and protect what is ours before we worry in humility if others have what they need first.   We trample daily on others’ rights in the name of self-determination and freedom of choice, especially discarding the defenseless for their imperfect genetics, undesired gender or simply being ill-timed and inconvenient.

Just whose life, liberty and pursuit of happiness is at stake here?

History as recorded in the Word and elsewhere shows when everyone does as they see fit, there is no immunity from judgment and wrath:

In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
Judges 17:6

And how well is that working out for us?

It took a true servant King who sacrificed Himself to save us from destroying ourselves and each other.

He is still waiting for our response. Still waiting…

Let us remember with conviction today the only true source of our life and liberty —  His justice does not sleep.

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blueblooms

 

What else does this craving, and this helplessness,
proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness,
of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?
This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him,
seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are,
though none can help,
since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object;
in other words by God himself.
~Blaise Pascal

 

 

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His Truth is marching on…

 

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A Terrible One-Sided Accord

johnshens

What did I love about killing the chickens? Let me start
with the drive to the farm as darkness
was sinking back into the earth.
The road damp and shining like the snail’s silver
ribbon and the orchard
with its bony branches.
All eighty-eight Cornish

hens huddled in their crates. Wrapping my palms around
their white wings, lowering them into the tapered urn.
Some seemed unwitting as the world narrowed;
some cackled and fluttered; some struggled.
I gathered each one, tucked her bright feet,
drew her head through the kill cone’s sharp collar,
her keratin beak and the rumpled red vascular comb
that once kept her cool as she pecked in her mansion of grass.
I didn’t look into those stone eyes. I didn’t ask forgiveness.
I slid the blade between the feathers
and made quick crescent cuts, severing
the arteries just under the jaw. Blood like liquor
pouring out of the bottle. When I see the nub of heart later,
it’s hard to believe such a small star could flare
like that. I lifted each body, bathing it in heated water
until the scaly membrane of the shanks
sloughed off under my thumb.
And after they were tossed in the large plucking drum
I loved the newly naked birds. Sundering
the heads and feet neatly at the joints, a poor
man’s riches for golden stock. Slitting a fissure
reaching into the chamber,
freeing the organs, the spill of intestines, blue-tinged gizzard,
the small purses of lungs, the royal hearts,
easing the floppy liver, carefully, from the green gall bladder,
its bitter bile. And the fascia unfurling
like a transparent fan. When I tug the esophagus
down through the neck, I love the suck and release
as it lets go.
I’m empty as I rinse each carcass,
and this is what I love most.

It’s like when the refrigerator turns off and you hear
the silence. Even in just this one thing:
looking straight at the terrible,
one-sided accord we make with the living of this world.
At the end, we scoured the tables, hosed the dried blood,
the stain blossoming through the water.
~Ellen Bass from “What Did I Love”

cedargrove

For a number of summers, we spent most of the morning and afternoon of Fourth of July with neighbors at a farm down the road doing that most American of activities: communally butchering chickens.

There is some risk to writing about killing living creatures.  Yet, I also pull carrots, radishes and onions from the ground, dig up potatoes and weed-whack thistles in the field.

It is what farmers do. Shopping at the local farmers’ market or grocery store, we are insulated from this harsh reality, this terrible one-sided accord humans have with the land and growing things.

It is how food ends up sustaining us, supporting the next generation and the next, and these living creatures deserve our blessing of gratitude.

I grew up on a farm where we raised our own meat and my parents, who also grew up knowing the animals that would eventually be on their plate, encouraged us kids to watch and participate in the process so we understood what it meant to sacrifice an animal or a plant for our benefit.  We knew that animal from birth, we named them, looked them in the eye, we petted and held them, we fed them, cleaned up after them, and when the time came, we watched them slump to the ground, their hide or feathers stripped and their steaming carcass prepared.

I cannot take this lightly.  These creatures, who I respected and cared for, were breathing heart-beating beings just minutes before.

It has been quite a few years since we raised our own meat as a family, since those summers our children growing up also learned this relationship with the food on the table.  As a group of neighbors, we would combine our chicken butchering together on Fourth of July so we had an efficient assembly line approach to the process of putting dozens of chickens in the freezer all within a few hours.  There were catchers, holders, choppers, boilers, pluckers, gutters, rinsers and baggers. We all took turns doing different aspects of the task. There was an irreverent reverence to the day, a bit more joking and laughing than was warranted when blood is intentionally spilled.

We had to acknowledge the tight intertwine of life and death though none of us could bear to eat chicken for dinner that night. We too bore the stains of the day.

 

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mayrose516

Happiness Beyond Our Grasp

butterflythistle

July 4 is not only the birthday of our independence as the United States of America.  It is the day we declared to the world:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

No one had ever said it out loud before.  Historically there had been many a treatise written and wars won and lost about the right to live, and the right to freedom, but the right to pursue happiness?  Unprecedented– and so typically American.

Declaring it is one thing.  Making it so is quite another matter.  Happiness likes to elude our pursuit.

As the famous American author Nathaniel Hawthorne, born on July 4, wrote:

“Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

Americans pay a steep price in our noisy and pushy pursuit of happiness.  Perhaps it is the larger mortgage for a bigger house, a wider flat screen TV, the latest tech device, unlimited access to 24 hour porn sites, the best recreational substance money can buy, or the tank of gas that will carry us just a little farther down the road in our big trucks, RVs and SUVs.  We try to buy our way to happiness with our charge cards maxed out and find ourselves in a deeper debt pit, putting our life and liberty in serious jeopardy.  Even the government itself, home of the brave and the free, has never been so deep in deficit spending.

Happiness cannot be purchased with plastic, but is bought through individual personal sacrifice, making sure others have what they need before we ourselves rest easy.  It is the selfish pursuit of selflessness.  And that is exactly why it is so elusive because inalienable rights don’t come naturally–they must be fought for and preserved daily.

Much blood has been shed by Americans to guarantee Life and Liberty for others, including citizens of other countries.  If the price paid through the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of lives has resulted in more happiness, why do we still seem so unsatisfied and miserable?

Perhaps we have it backward, as Hawthorne suggests.  We can’t pursue happiness;  it will find us, like God’s grace,  when we least expect or deserve it.

Happiness certainly won’t be found in the fireworks that will be blown up today, or the food consumed, or the free flowing alcohol. It will be in a quiet moment of realization that we are truly blessed by this incredible place to live and raise our children, and that we need to work harder than ever to make it even better.   We will not be free until we stop allowing our appetites to dictate how we live our lives, but realize true freedom comes when we do what ought to be done to preserve equality, justice and liberty for future generations.

At that moment, in a public, no longer silent, prayer of thanks to the Creator addressed in our Declaration of Independence, can we know the Happiness that pursues us when we live in a forward thinking spirit of gratitude and sacrifice.

Happiness touches us, like a butterfly that lights upon us in our stillness,
in a moment of pure grace.

swallowtail2

Easy in the Harness

Freedom of Speech by Norman Rockwell

You have freedom when you’re easy in your harness.  ~Robert Frost

It takes reminding that “The Fourth of July” is “Independence Day”.  We get so caught up in the date on the calendar, the holiday atmosphere, the gatherings and food and fireworks, that the gift of freedom proclaimed boldly by our country’s forefathers and defended by each succeeding generation ends up a secondary consideration.

Yet it is primary, in every way.

Freedom from Fear by Norman Rockwell

We are a working people.  We are devoted to betterment of life for ourselves and our countrymen, as well as the citizens of the world.   We shoulder much burden in that pursuit, and it is worth every ounce of sweat, every sore muscle, every drop of blood, every tear.

To feel the blessing of the harness–that is freedom.

Freedom of Worship by Norman Rockwell

The Pursuit of Happiness

AmericanFlag

July 4 is not just the birthday of our independence as the United States of America.  It is the day we declared to the world that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  No one had ever said it out loud before.  Historically there had been many a treatise written and wars won and lost about the right to live, and the right to freedom, but the right to pursue happiness?  Unprecedented– and so typically, utterly American…

Declaring it is one thing.  Making it so is quite another matter.  Happiness eludes the pursuit for most.

As famous American author Nathaniel Hawthorne, born on July 4, wrote:

“Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

We Americans pay a steep price in our noisy and pushy pursuit of happiness.  Perhaps it is the larger mortgage for that bigger house, the wider flat screen TV, the perfect antidepressant medication or recreational substance, or the tank of gas that will carry us just a little farther down the road in our big trucks, RVs and SUVs.   We try to buy our way to happiness with our charge cards maxed out and find ourselves in a deeper debt pit, putting our life and liberty in serious jeopardy.

There can be no true happiness until we ensure all Americans, indeed all world citizens, are given their best chance at Life itself–free of disease, of starvation, of homelessness, of genocide.

There can be no true happiness until we ensure all Americans, indeed all world citizens, know the freedom of true liberty– free of tyranny, of oppression and poverty, of war and destruction.

Happiness is not purchased with plastic, but is bought through individual personal sacrifice, making sure others have what they need before we ourselves rest easy.  It is the selfish pursuit of selflessness.  And that is exactly why it is so elusive because inalienable rights don’t come naturally–they must be fought for, daily.

Much blood has been shed by Americans to guarantee Life and Liberty for others, including citizens of other countries.  Has the price paid through the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of lives resulted in more happiness for the rest of us?  Perhaps we have it backward, as Hawthorne suggests.  We can’t pursue happiness;  it will find us when we least expect it.

Happiness won’t be found in the fireworks that will be blown up today, or the food consumed, or the free flowing alcohol.    It will be in the quiet moment of realization that we are truly blessed by this incredible place to live and be free, given opportunity to raise our children in such a place, and that we need to work harder than ever to make it even better.  At that moment, in a silent prayer of thanks to the Creator addressed in our Declaration of Independence, can we know the Happiness that pursues us when we live in a spirit of gratitude and sacrifice.

It touches us, like a butterfly, in a moment of grace.

And only then, can we make it so.