Worms, Baby! Another Friend Of The Self Sufficient Homestead Garden

Hey Y’all. This is a spontaneous post about the value of worms in your garden. The short version is; you want them. The more the better. Charles Darwin called them, “The soldiers of the soil”. Worms break down organic material and make it extremely nutrient rich. I have started putting worms in my self watering containers and wicking beds. And wow, what a job they’re doing.  I went down to the garden to unload some rabbit manure today and noticed lots of weeds in the wicking beds. My plan was to work on a book after cleaning the rabbit barn, but I got sidetracked by all the worms I was finding. Every time I pulled a weed,there were worms attached to the roots. I ended up weeding all seven wicking beds.

Back in the spring, I put a handful of red wiggler compost worms in 5 of the 7 beds and in a couple self watering container to see how they would do. I periodically feed the worms with manure and straw from the rabbit barn. Well…just watch this video (ignore the quality. I don’t do video much}

 

What’s been your experience with worms in the garden? Do you have your own worm beds? We’d love to hear about your experiences, or to hear your questions. After all, we’re all in this together.

The Little Turkeys That Could

Mr. Crooked Gets A Secret Meal

Mr. Crooked Gets A Secret Meal

Meet ‘Mr. Crooked’. He is one of two special needs turkeys on our farm. He was born with a deformed beak. The upper and lower portions of the beak are off set which makes it difficult for him to pick up feed or bugs or pluck off blades of grass. As a result, he is 30% smaller than all the other turkeys.

Our other misfit is ‘Janky’. Jank’s knee is deformed and he walks with a severe limp. He’s always been that way. As he has grown, his leg has increasing difficulty supporting his body. Foraging is very hard for him now and his growth rate has recently slowed.

On the whole, turkeys are a pain in the tootie. As they grow, they get into everything, including our neighbors’ gardens. They pick on the chickens and ducks and they gorge themselves on everyone else’s food.  They are, without doubt, the stupidest creatures under heaven. Their only redeeming feature is they taste great with cranberry sauce.

Farming teaches me a lot about life. Sometimes it discourages me, but often I marvel at how resilient and resourceful some of God’s creatures are. I am frequently inspired by them to be a better man.

Many animals born with physical deformities simply die. They just quit. Others, like Crooked and Janky, are made of sterner stuff and find a way to overcome. These two birds have more than impressed me with their fortitude.

Despite his challenges, Mr. Crooked roams the fields with the rest of the birds, working to gather what food he can. It’s difficult, but he never gives up. He has learned to tear off plants since he can’t pluck them like the rest of the flock. He often can’t even pick up the feed pellets we put out because his beak is so offset that he can’t grip them. He will drop ten or fifteen pellets to every one he gets, but he dives in nonetheless.

I have learned that if the pellets are in a pile, he can get more because they are easier to access, so I do my best to accommodate him.  He will follow me out to the rabbit pasture while the other turkeys and chickens are occupied with the feed I’ve scattered in a field for them.  While I’m feeding the rabbits, I will pour little piles of food for Crooked so that he can get extra nutrition. He leaves a lot of it behind because once it spreads out he can’t pick it up, but I don’t mind. Since it’s just good rabbit feed, the wild bunnies will come along and gobble it up.

Janky can’t keep up with the other birds anymore when they go out to forage.  For a while he was rather discouraged and would lay down in front of the barn and sulk. Then one day he stopped pouting and realized he didn’t have to keep up, he could just go at his own pace. He moves slowly and methodically, but he’s out foraging again. It is very impressive. Sometimes I sneak him a little extra when no one is looking.

I hate wasting feed and I would never give extra food to a lazy animal, but Crooked and Janks are the very antithesis of lazy. They work hard to overcome their challenges, so I happily assist them. I never begrudge Mr. Crooked his extra cups of expensive rabbit feed, because he has demonstrated his willingness to do his part in his own upkeep.

Similarly, Janky has earned his secret feedings by his determination to succeed.

I wish more PEOPLE would live like Crooked and Janky.  I am inspired by men and women, who, despite physical or mental challenges, refuse to give up or sink into a victim mentality, but get up and fight to fend for themselves.  I NEVER resent those individuals getting assistance or help along the way.

Sometimes, one of the other turkeys will spot me feeding Mr. Crooked and will come running to grab some of it. I will always shoo the greedy bird away. There is food everywhere for him. He doesn’t need the hand out, too.

I’m guessing the analogy is clear, just in case it isn’t; while I NEVER resent a helping hand or a safety net for those who need it, I get very perturbed at greedy takers and lazy ‘vicitms’ who want a piece of a pie they don’t deserve. If you can work, work. If you can hunt, hunt. If you can forage, forage. There is plenty for everyone.

Finally, to every man, woman and child, who refuses to be a victim; who gets up every day and joins the fray; you have earned my respect and gratitude. I honor you and you inspire me. I will work harder today because of you.

Now, it’s time to go feed the turkeys.

Loving Our Simple, Sustainable Life

logoI complain about the heat….a lot. Mostly, that’s because I don’t have a lot of other stuff to complain about.  My wife and I live on a 6.25 acre homestead in NW Georgia, with 6 dogs, 4 cats, 8 goats, 2 cows, 2 miniature donkeys, 8 ducks, 7 turkeys, 30 something rabbits, and upwards of 50 chickens. In the spirit of full disclosure, the livestock population goes up and down with the seasons and space in our freezer.

We need more shade trees for the pastures. I guess I could complain about that.

We have a garden that provides food for us and some for the animals.  We don’t have an automatic watering system, so I have to drag garden hoses around and they love to get tangled on things. Sometimes I complain about that.

Our house could use some new siding and there’s often fence to repair (weird thing about farm fences. One day there’s no hole, the next day there they are. I blame aliens).  I could complain about that.

My car has a big dent in the side where someone backed into it and just drove away. It’s not attractive.  My wife’s truck needs a new fuel filter and two of our vehicles have broken air conditioners. That’s annoying.

Yep, if we search hard enough, we can all find something to complain about. But the fact is, my wife and I have to really search to do so.  We have no mortgage at the bank. We owe nothing on our cars.  My morning commute is about 50 feet (from the back porch to the barn).  My wife has a home based business, so she has to walk 48 feet to get from the bed to her soap studio.

We didn’t have to go to the grocery store at all this week.

Our life is not always easy. The work can be very physically demanding and sometimes the bank account is running on fumes, but we love our simple, sustainable, lifestyle.  We both love what we do. My wife makes handcrafted milk soaps, scented candles and other natural body products. The business grows daily and is about to go viral. Check her out at www.yellowbarnsoap.com, or on Facebook at Yellow Barn Soap Studio.

I farm, write books, and coach other people in how to farm, garden and simplify their lives and lifestyles spiritually, financially and career wise.

As recently as three years ago, we were ‘living the American Dream’ with a big house in the suburbs, huge mortgage, and a two hour a day commute with all the trimmings.  I had a well-paying, highly stressful job in Corporate America. We had also started farming in our suburban back yard and on land we rented from a friend at Church.  I had twitches and tics from the stress. I couldn’t sleep. I went through a series of heart tests, including wearing a heart monitor 24/7 for a month.  The doctor told me my choices were either de-stress, go on antianxiety medications, or die.

Dying didn’t sound all that appealing, and I hate medication. I am way too much of a control freak to use chemicals to regulate me, so I opted for door number 3 and decided to de stress.

It took a while to decide on our priorities and create a plan, but we did it. We found a worn out Emu farm out in the country that was in foreclosure and purchased it. My wife did some renovations to the old, but livable trailer, we fixed the barn and cross fenced the property and moved in. We still have a lot of rehabbing to do on the farm, but it’s worth the effort.

We put our house on the market. It took longer that we wanted to sell it and we had to take money to the closing table, but we got out from under it. We were working our plan. We had hoped to totally unhook from the corporate drip by the end of 2015, but my company decided on some restructuring and eliminated a number of Director and VP positions. I was eliminated.

That was one of the most frightening, liberating days of my life. Did I mention I’m 57 years old, in a bad job market? We weren’t ready for the ‘arm bands’ to be removed, but here we were in the deep end and it was swim or drown.  We’re swimming.

We’re still growing, still learning, but the tics are gone, our health is better, and the biggest thing I have to complain about is August in Georgia…or a Braves losing streak. Life is good; and getting better.

What about you? What steps have you taken to simplify your life or make it more sustainable? We’d love to hear about it.  While you’re at it, please follow this blog and join the adventure. Let’s change the world together.

 

 

Books by Sam Burton

IOU NO MORE

Isitoq’s Hound

LET FREEDOM RING!

FlagThis week, America goes on a binge.  We will consume literally tons of hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs and potato salad. We will guzzle an ocean of beer. Barbecue grills will burn acres of charcoal and rivers of propane. The night sky will light up like the day from multiple billions of fireworks and sparklers as we celebrate the biggest midsummer party of them all.

Indeed, all America lets our collective hair down on July 4th as we celebrate our Independence Day, but I can’t help but wonder if the party has become only that, a gigantic party for partying’s sake.

It appears to my aging eyes and ears, that we have slowly traded the freedom so costly purchased, for something much less; the illusion of safety.  I have watched us trade liberty for laws and autonomy for regulation until not much liberty remains.

Each time we cry out for this law or that regulation we sacrifice a segment of our freedom and sell a piece of our soul. We have moved beyond jeopardizing our freedom. We have lost it. We are controlled and regulated at every turn. We have become slaves of an engorged Government bureaucracy.  Bush’s Patriot Act and Obama’s Affordable Care Act were the final nails in the coffin of liberty.

Step by step, inch by inch, brick by brick, we have lost our freedom, in part because we have not been paying attention, and in part because we’d rather not bear the individual or corporate responsibility that is the price of freedom.  “The Government should….” has become the mantra of Liberty lost.  We have become the drugged, drunken, oblivious masses who populate Panem’s Capitol and wildly cheer President Snow’s introduction of ‘The Hunger Games’.  We have exchanged freedom for opulence and decadence. We have been wooed to ‘Pleasure Island’ with Pinocchio and the other children. Soon the gates will close, and we will be enslaved as surely as were the boys who became assess in that morality tale.

We have schools, run by Government, funded by taxes, where children don’t learn and parents have no say. Our young have access to pornography in many school libraries, but Christian literature is banned. Children may wear attire that celebrates Che Guevara, but are sent home for wearing an American flag on their tee shirts. We squabble over what should be included in Government provided school lunches and send home lunches provided by parents for not being up to Government expectations. Is this the freedom our forefathers bled for?

Tens of millions live in communities where we cannot paint our own homes without the permission of the Association. We can’t build a swing set or plant a garden. In some cases we cannot fly the American flag. So much for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We traded those things for the illusion of the perfect neighborhood.  Welcome to Stepford.

Privacy is dead. We sacrificed that on the altar of technology. Every word we speak, every image we take or view, every keystroke, is captured and stored. In many cities, every step we take and mile we drive is monitored. Our utilities usage is charted, and with the advent of ‘smart meters’ may be regulated and controlled, but because for the moment, we can set our thermostats as we like them, we blithely continue our games, unaware we are sprouting tails and long ears.

We go to the supermarket and fill our carts with prepackaged poison, because it’s cheap and tasty, and assume the Government should make sure it’s safe. After all, we shouldn’t have to do that ourselves. Then, when a handful realize we’ve been duped, a cry of, “Mandatory labeling” goes up from the crowd. That is not how freedom works.

We want to ingest, inhale, imbibe whatever, whenever, however we want, then expect someone else to pay for our excesses. We wish to do whatever, whenever, with whomever, and have someone else pay for the consequences. Oh, the arrogance. George Washington weeps from his resting place.

Lately we have handed over the keys to our own health care. We are not able to choose our own doctors and they are not free to treat us. We can all get ‘insurance’ now, but we have traded that for someone else dictating the treatment, the cost, the longevity and the depth of our care. Be careful what you wish for. The borrower is slave to the lender and soon the trap will be sprung.

Our political elite, smirk as they tighten their grip, even as we party; knowing we are so inebriated that there will be no real opposition to them as they take the final vestiges of our liberty. We may grumble, but we have lost our ability to stand, to walk, to fight, so we complain, then take another hit on free stuff. Marx was wrong. Entitlements are the opiates of the masses.

But it is not too late. We have travelled far down the road to serfdom and the way back is slippery and treacherous, but we can still rise and take back what has been taken, what we surrendered in our foolishness. We are from good stock. We have a heritage of liberty. And, for now, we still have the Constitution of the United States as both a defensive and offensive weapon.

We can still rise to Liberty’s song and be the nation we were called to be. Rouse yourselves, America. Awake. Shake free of the bonds that envelope you. Fear not. Remember from where you have fallen and take back your birthright. Those ‘Republocrats’ presume upon your slumber. But we are beginning to stir. We can vote them out. We can insist on term limits. We can choose leaders instead of  elitist autocrats. We can begin again. We can raise a new generation that cherishes liberty and passes it on. The cost will be high, the work long and arduous, but the Promised Land is worth the wilderness. The future is in OUR hands.  Let Freedom Ring!

 

 

It’s Sunday Morning Again – Bah! Humbug!

Church BuildingI am a  Bible believing, Gospel Preaching, Born Again follower of Jesus Christ. I have been an ordained minister for more than 35 years. I am a returned missionary. I have preached the Good News in more than 15 countries on 4 continents, and in over half the contiguous United States of America. I’ve taught in Bible College and had my own radio show. Heck, I even tithe. The simple truth, though, is I don’t like going to Church much anymore.

For the better part of at least 6 years, I have been extremely disenchanted with Church services in American Evangelical Churches; at least the one’s I’ve visited (and that’s no small number). I have discussed this issue on multiple occasions with my wife, and have made it a frequent topic of conversation at home Bible Study groups.

During my travels, I’ve heard some life changing sermons, and a few duds, as well.  I have heard some of the greatest worship bands in the country. I’ve also heard some music so bad, the congregation will never require the assistance of a pest extermination company. I have listened to some truly exceptional Gospel Choirs, quartets and ensembles. Yet, despite the many positives, I have come away empty and disillusioned, more often than not. Most weeks, I’d rather sit among my livestock or walk a nature trail, or visit my favorite fishing hole and spend time absorbed in His Creation and be awestruck by His Majesty rather be part of what far too often makes me feel like a contrived, concocted, human focused side show, complete with clowns and dancing bears.

Yet, week after week, I continue to go; to search for that elusive ‘home’, where I won’t feel the urge to ‘forsake the assembling of yourselves together.’

Before I continue, my agitation is not directed at, or induced by a particular congregation or denomination. Truth be told, Church buildings and Church services make me want to stay away. The fellowship before, and after the service, are awesome.  The part sandwiched in between leaves me feeling like I need a sweater.

Recently, I’ve begun to understand my dis-ease.  The clarity began during a 6 week period my wife and I were attending a local Roman Catholic Church on Saturday evenings; and the fog has continued to slowly lift ever since.

Please indulge me while I process my feelings out loud. I do appreciate your patience.

The first thing I’ve realized is that I’m uncomfortable because most of the ‘Worship Centers’ are so dark.  The lights are all focused on the stage while the congregation is engulfed in blackness.  To me, that does not invite the corporate nature of worship. It doesn’t feel like it’s ‘us’ anymore, it feels like it’s about ‘them’. The design, the blacked out ceilings, the lighting all highlight the stage, the show; first, the band, then the preacher, and any special musicians, artists, speakers, etc. who take the stage. That’s fine for a concert, a play, a dance recital, but is worship to be focused on the stage?

The second thing is, I can never hear the congregation singing.  I can only hear the band.  This observation is not a knock on bands, or the song selections, although, many songs these days are not easy to sing. They are much better for listening to, than for congregational singing.

Again, let me be clear. I don’t dislike Contemporary Worship Music. I like it very much. I like Hymns, Southern Gospel, Black Gospel, and Country Music as well. That’s why I go to concerts, or listen to Pandora or iTunes.  At Church I like to sing harmony. I like the congregation blending together to present one voice in praise to the King of Kings. Most of the time, I can’t hear anyone, including myself, over the music coming from the stage. My favorite times are when a music Pastor stops the band and the congregation sings Acappela.  Suddenly, the worship becomes corporate.

When we were visiting the Catholic Church, one of the things I really liked was the stage set up. It reminded me very much of the Church services in Scotland and England during my years there.

Center stage on the platform, is the Lord’s Table.  Everything is focused on The Christ. He is the center of our gathering.  The pulpit (lectern) is to the side of the Table. The musicians are not even on the stage.

Scripture reading is a prominent part of the service. I miss that. A reading from the Old Testament, a reading from the Epistles, and one from the Gospels is a part of every service.  Members of the congregation lead the readings to ensure involvement. There is also some kind of responsive reading, inviting participation by the entire congregation to emphasize the corporate nature of the worship service.

As and aside, but not really and aside, the building where we visited was bright and cheerful, with lots of windows allowing the daylight to flood the auditorium.  It made me happy. I felt like I was with the risen Christ on Easter morning rather that with Him in the darkness of the grave on Friday night.

Even the Lord’s Supper reminded me of my days in Scotland, where the corporate nature of the event trumped the individual experience.  In Scotland and England, we literally used one loaf that we broke off pieces of as the tray went by, expressing the truth of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, that partaking of one loaf reminds us we are one body, and drinking from one cup reminds us the same thing.  And, yes, U.K. Churches frequently practice common cup communion, which took some getting used to, I assure you. We’ll discuss that further some other day. 🙂

On a related note, is the Lord’s Supper central to our gathering, or is it an addendum to be tacked on, if practiced at all?  What was the New Testament practice?

One of the most frequent reasons I hear about why people leave one Church and go to another, or just stay home is, “It didn’t meet my needs.” I don’t, and have never; gone to Church to have my needs met. Like the One I worship, I have not come to ‘be served, but to serve.”  Oddly, my discomfort with the modern Evangelical Worship Service is, I wonder if it meets HIS needs.

Carbon Dating, Camel Bones, And The Reliability Of The Bible. It’s More Interesting Than You Might Think.

camelOops, they did it again. (Apologies to Ms Spears). The media has once again grabbed hold of a ‘sensational’ (double entendre intended) story and run with it, only to find the truth has slipped through their fingers.  This time it isn’t related to life on Mars, or the military record of a politician, but rather the assumption that carbon dating of camels from the Holy Land has disproved the Bible.

Most of the time, no one gives rat’s Gluteus Maximus about carbon dating results, but when the (hasty) conclusions suggest an error in the Bible, well, Katy bar the door. Suddenly, everyone wants to publish the big news.

I mean, how much have you read about the very interesting discoveries in Jerusalem that are demonstrating that there really was a kingdom there during the time of David and Solomon? Excuse me?  You hadn’t heard that?

Ok, then, how about the digs 9 miles outside of Jerusalem that are showing strong evidence that the tiny city of Ai from the Book of Joshua really did exist right where (and when) the Bible said it did?  Sorry, what’s that?  You didn’t know?  Of course not; archaeology is boring to the Main Street Media. People don’t want to read about rocks and pottery and old bones. Journalists certainly don’t want to write about them. They want to write about murder and mayhem and politics and snowstorms in Atlanta.

If, however, something pops up that could make the Bible look bad, it’s everywhere.

Earlier this week, following the lead of an article in National Geographic, the Press went wild, reporting that carbon dating of camel bones shows that the Bible is in error when it describes Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as using camels, because camels weren’t domesticated in Canaan until a thousand years later.

The conclusion of the article was that Genesis must have been written much later than Christians and Jews claim.  Some of the ‘scholars’ quoted, condescendingly accepted that the Biblical authors did not intentionally deceive anyone. They merely assumed that the modes of transportation in their day must surely have been practiced all those centuries before.  It was an honest mistake. You know, kind of like someone today writing about Charlemagne and assuming he traveled about Europe in a Volvo.  Poor, dumb, misinformed, Biblical authors; we can’t blame them for being accidental idiots.

Well, let’s just hold our horses (since those DID exist in Canaan, er, I mean Palestine) for a minute.  Let’s dig into this a little deeper and see what the Bible actually says on the matter.  Perhaps we may find there is much ado about nothing in these stories.  I realize I was educated before Common Core, so maybe I can be excused for not wanting to jump to conclusions or following the herd, and maybe you will indulge me a few moments more.

Let us grant the 10th century dates as the earliest known domesticated camels in Palestine. The key word is ‘domesticated’ and I’ll return to it later.

All that is proven is that no earlier domesticated camels have been found.  It doesn’t PROVE there weren’t any.  Until recently, we hadn’t found evidence of Ai, now we have. New species of animals and plants are discovered every year.  Did they not exist before they were found?

Flora and fauna long thought to be extinct have reappeared. Were they extinct until they weren’t?  That’s like saying you were for something before you were against it. And, who would be that silly?

I understand that logic and reason are dying art forms, but I’m determined to employ them anyway. Please humor me.

My real basis of prosecuting my case, that Journalists have once again drawn hasty, errant conclusions about the Bible, comes from the very texts they malign. I want to show you what the Bible ACTUALLY says, rather what these articles imply it says and means.

Abraham is from the city of Ur in the Eastern Mesopotamian region.  Camels were domesticated there at least 500 years BEFORE Abraham’s time.  Abraham, his father and brothers are wealthy nomads. Is it unreasonable that they might use and even breed camels like other wealthy nomads in their region did?  I think not.  It makes perfect sense.

The first mention of Abraham and camels is in Genesis 12. Abraham, at that time still called Abram, goes down to Egypt because of a famine.  While there, out of fear for his own skin, he passes his wife off as his sister. Not one of his prouder moments.  After God warns Pharaoh not to touch Sarah (Sarai), the Egyptian king buys off Abraham with gifts (in order to appease God), including camels. Read it for yourself.

Where does this take place again? That’s right, Egypt.  Carvings and pottery have shown camels were domesticated in Egypt from at least 2500 B.C. and maybe as early as 500 years before that.  They didn’t become really popular until the time of the Persians (after 535 B.C.), but they were known and in use.

So far we have a guy from a country that has camels traveling to a foreign country that has camels. Talk about a historical scandal! Poor, dumb Biblical writers; they forgot to screw up their history….again.

Fast forward to Genesis 24 where Abraham sends his servant to go to Mesopotamia to find a wife for Isaac.  Abraham packs up some camels for the journey.  Wow, that’s odd.  Who could believe that a guy from camel country would send a few camels on a journey back to camel country?

Similarly, later in Genesis, when Jacob runs away from his brother Esau (and for good reason), he runs to his mother’s family in Mesopotamia.  While there, he picks up some camels.  Talk about far-fetched. Next, you’ll try and convince me that when Benjamin Franklin was in France, he dated French women. No one will ever buy that one either, sir!

When the book of Genesis ends, all of Jacob’s family has packed up and moved to Egypt. Everyone and everything is gone.  That would mean their camels, too.

See where I’m going with this?  Genesis describes ONE family from aplace where camels are used, settling in another camel friendly country with about 150 years in between.  It doesn’t describe a thriving camel industry in Palestine, or even a little ‘Buy here, Pay here on a street corner in Shechem.  Instead, it talks about camels in and from countries that were already known to use them. Then the one family the Bible describes as breeding them, all leave and take their herds with them.

Interestingly (to me), camel bones have been found that date from the time of the patriarchs, but the skeptics write them off as undomesticated; wild herds that occasionally passed through.  That is entirely possible. Might it also be possible that these herds were the property of a nomadic family that also passed through the region?

During the time period of Joshua and Judges, still before the carbon dated domestic camels, the Bible mentions camels again, but each time they are the possessions of invading armies from the East (where camels are known) and not as belonging to the Israelis.

The later we go in history, the more frequently the animals are mentioned, peaking during the time of the Persian domination. This is exactly what one would expect from both the carbon dating results and what we know about the spread of camels before, during and after the Persian Empire.

Just one more thing in passing; this ‘camel bones disproving Genesis’ is a tired old shoe.  I am not the first to debunk it.  I bet you hadn’t heard that, either.  After all, the truth doesn’t fit the narrative, and the truth would be VERY INCONVENIENT.

Technology, The New ‘Wrong Crowd’?

connectThis morning, I was reading I Corinthians 15, which is in my top 5 favorite chapters in the whole Bible. It’s all about Resurrection: Jesus’ resurrection, the importance of the fact of resurrection and then our own resurrections. It’s a huge YAY chapter.

Right in the middle, though, there is a ‘throwaway’ verse that in cricket parlance ‘knocked me for 6’ this morning. It won’t leave me alone, so I thought I’d process it right here with you.

Verse 33, “Do not be deceived, bad company corrupts good morals.”

Most of us, religious or not, were taught that principle as children.  We were advised to be careful of the crowd we hung around with, the people we dated, etc.  Some of us listened, some of us didn’t. And some of us managed to corrupt ourselves without any outside help at all. Yet we knew, and still know instinctively, that the principle is true, even for adults.

As a boy, about 11 or 12, there was a group of housewives in our neighborhood who got together for a weekly girls night out.  At first it was all fun and giggles as they would go bowling and have a few cocktails.  It wasn’t long, though, before one of them suggested they start going to a particular night club.  Since no one wanted to be a party pooper, they all, including the Christian women, went along with the plan.

You probably know where this is going. First it was just enjoying the music. Later they began to accept dance requests from the male frequenters of the lounge. One by one, the women began to fall into affairs with men they met at the club; each using the group as cover for their liaisons.

Eventually, one of the affairs was discovered, which began a chain reaction and the whole conspiracy unraveled. There was hurt, finger pointing, anger, threats, and some serious damage done to several families.  A few families were broken forever. Others, by grace and hard work were saved.  It was a terrible time in our neighborhood.

The same story could be told of a lot of neighborhoods and workplaces.  Court and Divorce records are loaded with stories of men who would get together after work at ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ where one thing led to another and the authorities and attorneys had to get involved. How many professional athletes have had careers and families damaged because of the crowd they hung out with after games or when the season was over.

How about those personal and relational messes that have become plot lines in a thousand Hollywood movies?  You know; the ones that start out as long lunches or lingering looks or a handshake that lasts a little too long, then moves on to working late together, private dinners and the expression of private feelings, and inevitably to a full blown affair . It sounds so very cliché, but it happens every day.

Yes, we can argue that there were other factors involved and character or relationship issues to begin with. To some degree, though, those are excuses, smokescreens to justify poor choices and bad behavior.  I know many broken men or women who, in their private moments, have mourned, “I know I shouldn’t have gone, (agreed to, said, stayed, etc.)”.

The 21st century has added a whole new, sinister level of complexity and temptation. It’s called, ‘technology’.

The crowd, or individuals, we hang out with now are virtual. Some have a living person behind them. Some are nostalgic. Some are fictitious.

We have televisions with hundreds of channels. We have the world at our fingertips on laptops, tablets, and smart phones. Gaming opens up a make believe world that can be so realistic, some lose sight of the differences.  We have all the privacy in the world and easy access to temptations that previous generations can only marvel at.

Millions upon millions, plug into private, virtual worlds, slip on headsets and watch, listen to, and  interact with sights, sounds and people we’d never have done if we thought someone (a child, a spouse, a parent) was watching.  The ‘bad company’ we are keeping is with ourselves and the World Wide Web.

Yes, yes; the web, cable TV, Pandora, and social media all have potential for good. I wouldn’t dream of disputing that. After all, I’m using several forms of technology to post this rant. But the healthy things don’t require me to be alone, watching over my shoulder, or creeping out of bed in the middle of the night, or shutting the door to my office.

By the thousands, alone with our ‘precious’ devices, we are slowly being transformed, like Sméagol, into our personal Gollums.

Cable and the internet have made the most graphic pornography instantly available to the masses, in living color, sometimes live, complete with sound and close ups.  The trail of addiction, heartbreak and despair, is wide, long, and bumper to bumper.

Video and role play games, have a long history of addiction, but have become so realistic, that people lose themselves in their avatars and forget which world is real and which is virtual.  I’ve read multiple stories of jobs lost because players couldn’t break away to get some sleep or go to work. Marriages have been ruined because gamers fell in love with avatars.  I remember one, where the gamer was male, but his ‘character’ and avatar were female. He ‘fell in love’ with her and wanted to marry her.  That’s weird by any standard.  His private, secret world drew him in until he lost touch with reality and ‘down the rabbit hole’ he went.

I probably don’t even need to remind you of the shoreline of shipwreck that is social media.  Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, discussion boards, you tube, and all the rest are loads of fun. They also have a dark side blacker than Darth Vader’s cape.

Attorneys and therapists have files fat with stories of lives and relationships shattered by social media. People connect, or reconnect, over the web and our minds go to work creating fantasies and feeding emotions that shouldn’t be fed and aren’t even real.

Pretty soon, the emails become private messages, then chats, then texts, then phone calls to our personal cell phones, then…

In St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Chapter 2, he says this in verse 8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

How does the technological ‘crowd’ we hang around with measure up to that?  The television we watch? The websites we visit? The games we play? The Pandora we listen to? Do they promote integrity, wellbeing, harmony, family life, spirituality?  Would we and our technology crowd be the kind of company our Moms would want us to hang around with?  Hey, I’m only asking…