Dare I Share This Photograph?

A child reminds us of the beauty of the life God has given. Photo by Rebekah.

A child reminds us of the beauty of the life God has given. Photo by Rebekah.

I can’t help but share this photograph, though I have strong reservations. Yes, I know people use their smart phones to share countless pictures every day of their precious children. But it’s also no secret that there are not-so-nice folk who misuse such images. And, yes, I know, with the help of my son-in-law, that I am a peculiar Luddite and curmudgeon. He asked me this year if there was ANYTHING modern that I liked. He was joking, and believe me, we had a good laugh together.

But, still. I use my share of technology, but I have implicit trust in none of it.

I stick by my cautious approach to technology in general, and the Internet in particular. I know technology has done and is doing wondrous things. But the easy power it puts in the palms of our hands is a power that the worst among us eagerly put to destructive use.

That said, just look at this picture! Look at this child! Her image here is so eloquent and so pure. It is hard not to see it as a symbol of an entire generation, unspoiled, fresh-faced, looking expectantly for what is coming over the horizon.

She is thinking. This world is so absolutely overflowing with big things and little things, things that are rough and things that are smooth, things that are solid and everlasting and things that are here one moment and burst away with delight the next. And the people: all sizes and shapes, and each of them full of stories that open up even more wonders. In short, “Wow! Awesome! Amazing!”

Could this beautiful emblem of a girl also be wondering, “Why would anyone want to throw even the tiniest bit of this away? Could there be people so ignorant that they exploit, spoil, waste, and destroy any of this?”

Yes, darling one, take the word of your curmudgeon of a grandfather, there are such people. And we all are them. Sometimes we just forget. Sometimes we are lazy. Sometimes we have an emptiness inside that gnaws at us until we just lash out. Sometimes we get feeling sorry for ourselves, or resentful, or fearful; and we let things rot, we misuse them, we annihilate them. And, horror of horror, we do it all to people too. Routinely we do it to fresh-faced, innocent children like you. We worry more over our right to keep guns than we do over how many children are killed by them. We love the freedom to drive fast more than we love the children in the streets. We love balanced budgets more than we love good schools. We love building prisons more than we love providing safe sidewalks for kids to walk. We are fools, sometimes, believing stupidly that hoarding stuff is a more urgent need than protecting and nourishing young souls.

Please, child, never lose your capacity to behold in wonder this miracle-filled world we live in. Look! Gaze in sweetness at it all! Share that sweet joy with others–it will help heal us all. Put some cautious hope in the virtual world of technology, but hope extravagantly for the living world of birds and bees and people.

But, above all, be prepared also to pray often for us fools, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

And know that, as you pray those words, Jesus is praying with you.

A Brother’s Death and Thoughts of Home

My big brother, Jim, died last week. So I drove, alone, to Louisville for his funeral. Connie and I couldn’t make the arrangements for the care of the animals on the farm with the storms and coyotes and a bitch in heat. And so I drove alone.

My big brother, with a big heart, Jim. Photo by John

My big brother, with a big heart, Jim. Photo by John

The rain poured and wind forced me to fight to stay in my lane, and stay safe for the six hour drive. Then I walked into the Evergreen Funeral Home on Preston Highway, and all my composure collapsed.

I was back in the loop. Hundreds of miles, a different time zone, a different world of busy concerns, and we drift. We aren’t in touch as much as we should. But cords bind tight, nonetheless. And the instant I walk in those doors where we said goodbyes three and a half years ago when Jim’s wife, Carol died, and the instant I saw Jim’s sons Jeff and Jimmy and Jason, their wives, and then my sister, Jane…the sobs just kept coming.

Hours of talking with family and friends drained me; but the next day, after a good breakfast and good coffee, I went for my usual Louisville drive—tracing the way of almost all my dreams.

First impression: Preston Highway looked old and beaten down.

Second: Madhouse traffic along the Interstate, around the airport and fairgrounds; and I could see my younger self, picking up my papers for delivery, and wondering where the hell all the people were going.

Third: No matter how many times I’ve made this pilgrimage as an adult, I’m still surprised about how small and close everything seems. I still carry that childhood perspective of this personal universe. Fayette Avenue to Fern Valley Road? So way out there! But really only a few minutes’ drive.

Fourth impression: Entering into my old neighborhood is like going through a decompression chamber—up too fast—getting the “bends,” kind of feeling. It’s not just memories—it’s the eruption to the surface of all I’ve carried with me.

Overall impression: The closer to home the more shocking the change. The streets are the same. The trees are the same. The sounds of the birds are the same. But all is different. Value City Furniture stands where my school used to be. Lots of other stores instead of the two little farms where I delivered the papers. No Doug Shirley on that corner. No Kenny Jackey in that house with the Magnolia Stone. No Butch Boblitt, or Moody kids, or Georgie Miller. No kids outside at all. No ball games. No shouting. No dogs wandering from back porch to back porch. Too many cars out front. Too many cars, nobody walking or biking or running.

A train was standing along the tracks. Okay. But the planes were obviously using a different flight path and were no longer scraping the top of our chimney as they roared overhead.

And our old house. Which one is it? And no Lynn Werst next door, or Miss Borman, or Davy Hamilton or Sarah Mary or Louis. And no Ruth Seraphine putting the sheets on the line to dry. No Dudley, smoking a cigarette in the swing and looking for the Purple Martins to come enjoy the double-decker house he had cleaned out for them.

Everything the same. Everything changed. Everything empty.

I drove back to my motel, at the Interstate intersection and on an industrial corridor. Then, at the light to turn into the service drive to the motel, a young woman stood, facing the traffic, holding up a cardboard sign that said “Homeless.”

Homeless.

It killed me to think. Asphalt, and concrete, and car exhaust, and noise, and decay, and confusion, and no retreat–no one to touch the pain, and no one to share the questions with no answers.

There are three things that abide—these three: Faith, Hope, and Love. And the greatest is Love.

But love lives in family. Not family contained by a house, but family that overflows into home—family that is fueled by an instinct that EVERYONE hungers to belong. Everyone should belong. We must be restless until everyone rests and belongs.

The Apostle Paul called all believers in cross-formed love, adelphoi. We used to translate that “brothers,” but now know to translate it “brothers and sisters.” But adelphoi live in a cross-formed family in which people believe no one belongs outside. All belong inside. And we ache as Jesus ached to see anyone homeless and family-less. Jesus thought and ached like a hen aches to gather every chick and every sheep–even those outside the fold. Even those way outside.

So, while concrete can be poured, and “progress” can whiz by and pollute and destroy, there are things that abide: Faith, hope, love, and the belonging we all hunger for.

At his funeral we were reminded by a dear friend that Jim, my big brother, presided for years over youth athletics on Louisville’s south side. He saw lots of kids who wanted to take part, but didn’t have much in the way of family. So he welcomed them into his. He gave discounts. He gave candy. He taught kids how to follow the rules that mattered, and how to break the rules that got in the way. He helped them shoot off a lot of fireworks, and eat more and more candy. Through it all he was the Good-Time Charlie for three generations. And the spirit of a cross-formed love that rippled and shaped Jim’s spirit, keeps rippling out for all the generations to come

And so, there were lots of sobs going on at Evergreen Funeral Home this week. But before they sealed Jim’s body behind the granite at the Mausoleum, there was a good-ole funeral rule-breaking song to celebrate his spirit that can’t be contained. I guess it was called “Baby Shark,” a song the grandkids and their friends knew Jim hated. But they also knew he loved to tease and to be teased, he loved to break the boundaries of family, and he loved it when people broke the rules that got in the way. And so they sang it for Jim and for all of us, so that we could cherish the things that abide.

The ripples keep on. And these things abide.

 

 

Thinking of Death Surrounded by Life

On this sixth day of May, 2019, Connie and I have just come off of hosting a four-day, Gordon Watt-led training clinic for sheepdogs, and leading two days of sheepdog demonstrations at Kline Creek Farm in DuPage County. And like Lilli Von Shtupp in “Blazing Saddles,” let’s face it, we’re pooped.

At my age, and in my condition, with knees that feel for all the world like they are much older than the rest of my body, I sometimes think about my own death. How will I handle it? What will it feel like? What will meet me on the other side? Will my faith let me down, and will there be no “other side?” Golden streets and crystal fountains do not excite me. What am I to hope for and expect?

This morning—the morning after the demonstrations, these thoughts crept into me as I was exercising the dogs around our alfalfa fields. Fields of deep green, dripping and sparkling with last week’s rain. Sky of blue. Tree leaves finally bursting from their buds. The air filled with the trills of house finches, robins, red-wing blackbirds, meadow larks, and noisy sparrows and starlings. Thinking of death, surrounded by life.

Death thoughts numbed me a bit—wetted my eyes, clenched my chest. I thought, of course, of the halo of holiness that was spun around me by mother, father, faithful pastors, noble friends, and heroes. All these things formed me, but what would happen to me after they shoveled the soil on my casket or consigned me to the flames of the crematory?

Then that organic, cosmic, bright green birthing thing that surrounded me finally seized my imagination, and I felt invited to rightfully take my place as part of the All.

I recalled the cardinal teaching of the Buddha–that striving to possess is the problem, and that “no-self” is the path to the solution. As a Christian, clinging in my particularly western way of understanding the resurrection of the Body, I used to be repelled by this idea of ultimately losing my self in death. But, if I now understand the Buddha rightly, the self is what we construct when we cling and strive to differentiate ourselves from all “other” things. The emptying of self may well be a necessary step toward living (and dying) not as islands, but as part of the sea.

But are we western Christians reading our Bibles rightly? Wasn’t the first Adam an earth creature, made of the dust of the earth, and made a living creature not by it’s own physiology, but by virtue of sharing in the breath of the Creator? Before all the “chosen people” stuff, doesn’t the Bible fix us firmly among all the people’s of the earth ala Genesis 10? Isn’t anyone chosen not chosen to bless—to heal and nurture the webwork that connects us to the All? Have we ever begun the plumb the depths of Jesus as the vine and we the branches; or of the image that “all things have been created through him and for him…[and] in him all things hold together (Colossians 1.16-17)?

And right smack dab in the middle of this “no-self” idea, funded as it is with the idea of the life of all things, and resonating as it does with Jesus the Vine and the holding together, is the glory of difference. When Connie and I demonstrate the grace of Border Collies it’s natural to stress that each dog is different. And that is a great good thing. We used our Hector for the first time in a demonstration yesterday. Excited by the crowds he reverted to his old ways of bossing the sheep around with little (or no) regard to my commands. It was a bit embarrassing to me as a so-called handler. But he was indeed showing off his amazing power over the sheep. Tired and hot with their fleeces still intact, the sheep tried to hide in the midst of the panels the farm volunteers had set up in the shape of a Maltese cross. These barriers frustrated our other, much more obedient and careful dogs; but Hector, like a little bulldozer, had little regard for the obstacles, and quickly pushed the sheep to me.

So, I explained the audience, “All dogs are different, just like people. But each has gifts to share.”

And when I compared that to the people of the world, and commented on the widespread, irrational fear of immigrants and refugees who are coming to our borders, I could see many nods of agreement.

But what about this on the cosmic scale? On the scale of eternity? What of the Buddhist, or vine-and-branches, or Holy Eucharist scale. Are we not invited to a banquet that does away with the poisonous aspects of self? Is this vision true: The “other side” is a banquet with guests from the highways, and byways, and alleyways—all those places where we relegate the in-valid ones? Will we not be seated with the people we fear and have even grown to hate?

Perhaps this loss of self is a doorway to the “abundant life” of difference! Perhaps the loss of our selves is something good. Perhaps we should have taken care of it a long time ago when we realized how our own insecurity, and competitiveness, and fear of difference were impoverishing our lives. Perhaps what awaits us on the “other side” is a dissolving for the sake of a Great Rejoining. Perhaps hope is indeed one of the things that remains; but hope not for a new hermetically sealed, resurrected body that keeps coveting and acquiring, and indulging, but a rejoining of us to the eternal birthing that surrounds us every day of our lives—something like the perfect love that casts out all fear (1 John 4.18).

 

Sheepdog Demonstrations 2019

Sheepdog demonstrations show what working dogs can do. Photo by Sandi Scott

Sheepdog demonstrations show what working dogs can do. Photo by Sandi Scott

For all of human history there has been a bond between people, land, and animals. The Creator God has given us to each other. In spite of the industrialization of agriculture we all feel the need for to feel part of this circle of belonging.

Sheepdog demonstrations are the way Connie and John try to help people get in touch, or stay in touch, with this beautiful harmony. We try to explain what a marvel it is that sheep provide people with a wonder fabric that keeps us warm, even when wet, and breathes enough to be worn comfortably in the heat of summer. We demonstrate the miracle of the Border Collie who, with a little understanding and direction from human partners, will work its heart out moving, sorting, and penning sheep with a maximum of efficiency and a minimum of stress.

We have seen thousands of people be fascinated and inspired by these demonstrations all over the western suburbs of Chicago, and into northern Illinois. This year we will make our first foray into central Illinois as we bring the dogs to work the flock at the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site south of Charleston.

Here is the calendar of our demonstrations:

  • Sunday, April 7, Naper Settlement, 523 S. Webster Street, Naperville, IL 60540, demonstrations at 1:45 and 2:45 p.m. There is an entrance fee for the Settlement, and there will be other demonstrations at this historic living museum on this day.
  • Saturday and Sunday, May 4 and 5, Kline Creek Farm (DuPage County Forest Preserve), 1N600 County Farm Road, West Chicago, IL, 60185, four demonstrations between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. each day. No entrance fee. The weekend will include sheep shearing, traditional spinning and weaving, and tours of the 1890s farm.
  • Saturday, May 25, Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, 402 S Lincoln Hwy, Lerna, IL 62440 (8 mi south of Charleston, IL). Details to be determined.
  • Saturday, June 1, St. James Farm (DuPage County Forest Preserve), 2S541 Winfield Road, Warrenville, IL 60555, four demonstrations between noon and 3:00 p.m. This is part of the Farm’s annual Family Field Day which offers a host of farm related exhibits and demonstrations.
  • Saturday, June 29, Peck Farm Park (Geneva Park District), 4038 Kaneville Road, Geneva, IL 60134, demonstrations between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. as part of the Farm’s 150th Birthday Celebration.
  • Saturday, July 20, we will do a morning demonstration at the big Lions Cllub Summerfest and Antique Tractor Show at the Lion’s Club Park in Waterman, Illinois. There’s much more than tractors at the show–something for all ages, including cowboys and old-timey baseball and a regular carnival atmosphere. The Park is at 435 S. Birch Street in Waterman.

Jesus Calls All Religions to Repent and Reform

If Christians understood Jesus as he came to us, as the One who calls all religions to reform and repentance, we would listen to and respect, and not ignore or hate, the voices of all other faiths.

Concerned citizens gathered this past week at the Islamic Center of DeKalb, Illinois, to share grief, hope, and shared humanity in the face of the massacre of Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was one more bit of evidence that people with hatred in their hearts and guns in their hands can, tragically, cause immense bloodshed; but people with respect for the infinite worth of each human life will always be victorious.

As a Christian, I take heart in the thought that respect, and even love, for all people is a quality that is cherished and espoused by the faith I live for. I believe that this quality is alive in the hearts of good people in all of our denominations. However, there is a viral ideology out there that has the power to infect and degrade universal respect of shared humanity.

That ideology is known as Christian, or evangelical Zionism. To be precise, it is neither Christian nor evangelical. Born out of a false view of biblical prophecy, this ideology leads people to think of God’s love for all the world’s peoples as being trumped by an almighty, cold chain of inevitability. This imagined “divine plan” is all about an idolatry of fate and has nothing to do with the self-giving love of a sovereign God that we see and celebrate in Lent, Holy Week and Easter. The idea that the future we hope for includes a rapture to heaven of true believers to make way for the destruction of despised and rejected infidels is an abomination, and a total distortion of the biblical witness. When Christians are fooled into searching for prophesied signs of God’s plan in the events in Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East, they inevitably look past God’s real, eternal concern: the lives of all of the peoples there—Jewish, Muslim, Christian and secular.

The most tragic effect of this is that it has caused some of the most powerful people in our nation and our world to disregard the real suffering of Palestinians, and to discount their human rights and needs in the equations of foreign affairs. Hundreds of thousands of them have languished for generations in refugee camps, hoping some day to breathe free. Meanwhile, no less a central figure in our nation’s diplomacy than Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly declares that this kind of rapture ideology and blinkered understanding steers his vision and work.

It is essential that all people of good will treasure the religion of Judaism, recoil at the horrors of the Holocaust, learn the lessons from that tragedy, and stand against all anti-Semitism. It is also essential that we support the state of Israel as a bulwark of democracy in a region with far too much brutal autocracy, and stand against terrorism as the threat against human decency that it is. But, for the sake of the respect and love for all humanity that the biblical God champions, we must also reject any ideology that causes us to think of people—real flesh and blood people—as mere pawns in a warped vision of some heavenly great game of chess.

The Letter to the Ephesians asserts that Jesus Christ, on the cross, broke down the dividing wall between peoples. In 2 Corinthians 5.17 the Apostle Paul says that in Christ there is a new creation. The impact of Christ is such because he was not the agent of any particular religion, but a power from God to call all religion to repentance and to reformation.

It is inevitable that part of the exercise of religion is to define boundaries in the hope of defining identity and belonging. “We believe this. We do thus. We live and die for these things. And this distinguishes us from them.”

But the universal restoration that Peter talks about in Jerusalem on Solomon’s Portico of the Temple in Acts 3.17-21, means that God’s aim is to break down much of those things we build up in our religion. All that divides is to be swept away. All that gathers is to be championed.

The Banquet of the Blessed and Unblessed

Reflections on the readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

 

Amy-Jill Levine has a nice Youtube presentation on Jesus’ parables of the Lost Coin, the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son (the Gospel for this Sunday in Luke 15. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIxpPZvqGdI&t=6s

Levine would rather call them the parables of the Frantic Woman, the Frantic Shepherd, and the Frantic Father – all looking for the lost. But she also, wisely, ties these together and points out that Jesus is setting us up for a twist. God is like these people who cherish and will leave no stone unturned in search of the lost coin, the lost lamb, and the lost son. But the whole thing with the son is complicated by the fact that there is another son who seems lost in the shuffle.

Levine points out that upon the return of the prodigal, there is a great banquet given, and the dutiful, stay-at-home son is left in the fields unknowing. He is so forgotten that it is only a household slave who sort of accidentally goes out to inform him that the table is set.

Levine goes on to wisely connect this story with the biblical stories that have other unblessed sons: Cain, Ishmael, and Esau. And this parable of Jesus opens a window for us to see them and to ask, what about them. Are we to think that God forgets those other sons – has God forgotten to count them?

No! No! It cannot be. The father in Jesus’ story says, “All I have is yours.” The banquet is for all these unblessed.

Yes, we must remember the unblessed. And we must lift up this coming banquet that is in all of our futures. A banquet for the scattered lost sons and daughters—the whole creation is aching and groaning and waiting for the revealing of those lost children of God, and for their gathering, and for the Great Banquet that God has promised.

And while creation waits, we who are ambassadors of the good news, have a responsibility to be part of the party of reconciliation and gathering. So says our second reading for this coming Sunday of Lent, 2 Corinthians 5.16-21:

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

In other words, we are to go out into the fields and find those unblessed of every size and shape, and to tell them the banquet is for them and for all of us.

 

Try Being Less Spiritual and More Decent

“What then should we do?”

That was the cry of the crowds who were touched by John the Baptist’s message in the region of the Jordan, that God’s ax was laid at the root of the trees, and those that produced no good fruit would be cut down (Luke 3:9).

What are those good fruits? What are we to do?

Given the reputation of John as a man made holy by his retreat into the wilderness and famously austere lifestyle, those who asked that question must have expected John to say, “Become spiritual by denying your flesh. Cut yourself off from the taint of society, and starve the impulses of your physical self. Thereby one obtains righteousness.”

But John doesn’t. He says instead, “If you find that you have surplus clothing or food, share it. If you are a civil servant, be fair and honest in your dealings with the public. If you are a soldier, with power and privilege, don’t oppress folks.”

In short, “The ‘good fruit’ God looks for is being a decent human being.” So, perhaps John is telling—even warning us—be less spiritual and more decent!

If we are looking to Christianity for a core belief—for a distinguishing doctrine—for a teaching that sets it apart among world religions—it may well be this simple, but neglected truth: God does not call us to be spiritual by being more than human, but by being good at what God made us to be in the first place.

All about us is the evidence of the destruction caused by people who are striving to climb a ladder to heaven by trying to rise above their essential human condition. Through the history of religions there has always been this disastrous strain of thought that says material stuff is bad and only the rarified, invisible dimension is good. The most common human emotions and drives are all bad, and only pure rationality, whatever that is, is good. Horrible are the results when people seek to become divine by denigrating the common stuff of everyday human life.

God wants good fruits of decency and common, domestic variety compassion. Climbing the staircase to God takes us in the opposite direction.

How many times do we have to see people preoccupied with trying to obey the Bible, or working out airtight doctrine, or suppressing their hunger for companionship or sexuality, doing things to the people around them that are heartbreaking, cruel, and even deadly, before we realize something is dreadfully wrong? Our inhumanity to one another is, so very often, engendered by our self-inflicted and wrong-headed attempt to transcend our humanity—to become some sort of super human beings. Think of the Magdalene Nurseries in Ireland, Palestinians languishing for decades in refugee camps, children abused by priests struggling to keep their vows of celibacy, and the mounting death toll of the innocent victims of terrorists all over the world–all of these things caused by those who were striving to be more godly, or to live for some “higher cause.” One church historian described this sort of religious fanaticism as people who “do what God would do if God only had all the facts.”

Ugly!

The infant Jesus lies in the manger. Let’s wake up. Let’s never forget the point! God so loved the world. The Word became flesh and dwells among us, full of grace and truth. We do not climb out of our humanity to God. We receive. God comes to inhabit our humanity—the humanity God created and blessed in the first place.

Only when we learn to love our humanity as much as God does can we learn to trust God’s forgiveness of our frailty. Only when we get comfortable with our frailty and limitations, can we learn to accept the help that we must have from one another—from other humans who are ungodly, just like us. Then things like simple sharing and fairness will look more like the noble things they truly are. They form the good fruit God is looking for in us.

Watching Dogs in the Cold—Musings on the Widow’s Mite

This past Thursday through Sunday (November 1-4), Connie and I hosted our latest dog clinic, with Gordon Watt presiding as trainer and teacher.

I’m certain some people driving by on Airport Road on Sunday, spotted our little crowd of people, sitting in lawn chairs in a wind-driven cold rain, and wondered to themselves, “What the hell are they doing there?”

Screws loose?

In fact, as for me and my house, it was our way of going “all in.”

This coming Sunday a reading in church will be from the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is nearing the end of his life, when he will go “all in” himself. He will give his life for all of us. Just before he does he has a sit down at the Temple, across from the treasury and the place where people deposit their offerings. He spies all sorts of people who have become trapped in play acting their faith for the sake of others. Honor is everything to them, as it is in many cultures, including our own. So, very possibly they started out in their faith journey with all sincerely, but soon became self-conscious about how much spiritual honor they were accruing for themselves—self-conscious thinking about how their piety might look on camera. It had the effect of poisoning their lives so that nothing of it had the ring of truth anymore. Before long all that they could give was pretend and pretense. Nothing was “all in.”

But then Jesus saw a poor widow who put into the offering all she had—her widow’s mite. If a host of cell phone cameras had been there they would have recorded nothing but chump change. But Jesus wisely noted that she gave most of all. She gave completely and honestly of herself.

A couple of weeks ago the reading was about Jesus’ healing of Blind Bartimaeus. Disciples James and John had asked Jesus for the prime seats next to Jesus in his glory. Bartimaeus asked only to see. And when Jesus healed him, Bartimaeus threw off his cloak—most likely the only thing he owned in the world, and followed Jesus, whose next stop was the cross.

Bartimaeus too went all in. He and the widow hungered for the honor of giving of themselves to others.

Of course any school child can see the logical conundrum of going “all in” if it is thought of in a crass materialistic way. If we give away all we have, the people we give to are enriched. Then they, if they are to join us in our sacrificial living, must give away what they just received from us. What a wacky circle that would be!

But the authentic widows and blind beggars of life know something of the secret of faithful living. To enjoy it we must be free from the idea of sacrifice, and we must be “all in.” It doesn’t mean losing, but gaining. Giving and receiving become one thing.  Our honor is not in what others think of us, but in what we both give and use to be a blessing to others.

It is a joy for Connie and me to look out on the green pastures, the grazing sheep, the galloping dogs, the beautiful sunsets and even the glowering clouds, wind and rain. But when we go “all in” and open our farm to others, it means infinitely more. We get it all back a hundredfold, as the Lord says.

We could make these clinics more of a business proposition. We could certainly charge more money. We barely cover our expenses. We could keep people outside or in the garage, and avoid messing up our kitchen and living room. But the joy that we get from sharing everything we have with others turns them from customers to dearest friends. The joy we get from farming and from our miraculous dogs is amplified 100-fold as we share it all so that strangers become family.

This spring we will have to sit down with our accountant. He will ask us if we have been trying to make a profit with this farm. That is an important concept for the Internal Revenue Service codes, I know. But the profit we realize is not one that can be calculated or easily explained to the authorities. Nonetheless, I believe Jesus sees us all, shivering in the cold there, with smiles on our faces–and He understands.

Handlers enjoy the crisp autumn day and each other--all prior to the cold rain and wind of the next day. Photo by John.

Handlers enjoy the crisp autumn day and each other–all prior to the cold rain and wind of the next day. Photo by John.

Oct. 31 to Nov. 3 Gordon Watt Clinic

Gordon Watt, champion sheepdog handler and popular trainer of other handlers, has been an important part of life at Heatherhope for many years. Gordon is a lifelong shepherd and dog handler, following in his father’s footsteps, so his experience and understanding run deep. He has won singles and brace championships in Ireland, England, and the World Trials. He was US Reserve Champion on his first outing in the States. So we are delighted to host his clinics here at the farm.

November and April have been good months for us with nice cool weather and lots of learning. We have a great group of regulars, but each year we gladly welcome newcomer to our group.

This Oct. 31 to Nov. 3 we will have Gordon back. Working slots fill up fairly quickly, so you might consider sending your check in to reserve your slot. A full payment of $130 for each day’s working slot guarantees it. A slot means you go out with Gordon and your dog twice. You can go with the same dog each time, or switch dogs. And you can sign up for one to four days.  We will limit ourselves to about 10 slots a day, but we can put people on the wait list and we ALWAYS have room for people to audit–that is watch and learn as others work their dogs with Gordon. Auditing fee is $45 a day.

The clinic goes through just about all of the daylight hours. We get out to the field soon after sun-up and work till just about dusk. Between the wireless microphone that we try to get Gordon to turn on as often as possible, and the debriefing time after each dog works, everyone learns a great deal–even the auditors.

If you are interested in attending this clinic, or any in the future,  please write John at heatherhopefarm@gmail.com, or phone us at 1-815-895-9736. We are sure you will enjoy the learning, the good food, and the good laughs and conversation among friends.

Gordon Watt helps dogs, sheep and handlers work together better. Photo by John

Gordon Watt helps dogs, sheep and handlers work together better. Photo by John

April 25-28, 2019 Gordon Watt Clinic

Gordon Watt will return to Heatherhope Farm for a four day, all ability level, sheepdog clinic Thursday through Sunday, April 25-28, 2019.

Gordon has been coming to Heatherhope since 2007, and we have heard nothing but praise for the great improvements he facilitates with each dog and each handler.

Kathy Farkos works with Gordon Watt. Photo by John

Kathy Farkos works with Gordon Watt. Photo by John

 

 

There will be 12 working slots each day–each working slot affords you two times out with Gordon, either with the same dog each time or with different dogs. You can sign up for any number of days you wish to be here, but we cannot guarantee your spot until you get a check in to us. That way we can be the most fair to all who want to enter.

As always we also invite people to audit. If you audit you will not run a dog in the clinic, but you can learn a great deal by observing, and by asking questions about what is happening with each of the dogs being worked.

Please write to us at heatherhopefarm@gmail.com for all the details about working slots or auditing. A daily continental breakfast, full lunch, and lots of great conversations are part of the experience.