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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

New England gabion house idea

Although I love straw bale houses, New England is not a big wheat producing region with lots of waste straw to bale. I'm not certain, but I think straw would have to be imported for a Connecticut house. It's a great insulating "brick" to build with, but I've been pondering what is local, and abundant and affordable to build with?

I also love earth bricks, but our soil typically needs to have clay supplemented in these parts, to make them. I have seen a Canadian rammed earth house built in a sandwich around a foam core. Rammed earth has the same needs as earth bricks and earth bags as well.

I live in Connecticut, where farms are very good at raising rocks. Literally, for centuries, New England farmers have to clear new rocks out of their fields, heaved up each winter by the freeze thaw cycle. Stone walls are everywhere around here. Like many things in these parts, glaciers get the blame. Nevertheless, stone is an abundant natural resource. Quarries are also a common site in these parts as well. Most of them are abandoned these days. There are many homes around here built from stone, both dressed (quarried) and undressed (as is), with mortar holding them together. I am really attracted to the strength of these homes.One big drawback for this climate is the lack of insulation in these stone houses. They do not resist heat flow. Nor does this climate have large temperature swings in the daytime and nighttime to that might create a temperature flywheel effect. The stone is good at retaining a constant temperature, which is a feature if it's a comfortable temperature for humans.

This is my proposal. Wire cages filled with loose stone as walls, but with spray foam on the outside. Maybe the cages are pre-filled then lifted by crane into position on the wall, like in this video.

I looks like these cages are not alternating in their vertical edges, which does not seem like a good idea to me. Regardless, the interface between the rocks and the cage seems to be an enticing habitat to creepy crawlies, both rodents and insects, as well as fungi and plant life. But a spray foam on the exterior would not only insulate, but also would deny all potential unwanted co-residents a location to move into as well as tie the structure together. The use of spray foam on the exterior is a good idea from the brilliant Corten Container advocate, Renaissance Ronin.

I think leaving the interior uncovered could be a neat look on the interior. It might be overwhelming too. Here's a link to an architect's website showing a house made of wood and gabions. The occasional internal wall of internal gabions looks really nice to me. Apparently, this house is not in climate that has to worry about winter. Wood, sheet rock, plaster, or plain are all options for interior walls. Electrical and water lines would have to stay exposed or only run through interior walls or the floor.

I have to admit that spray foam is not that environmentally friendly. It's a compromise. A short term concession for a long term payback in reduced carbon fuel usage in the long term. It also would require cladding of some sort over it. 

The interior exposed stone could help hold a steady temperature for the conditioned air space, reducing the energy requirements.

I can't help myself. I am very attracted to solid, castle-like construction. Next thing you know I will be proposing natural pools that form a moat around the house.

Monday, September 02, 2013

book response: Against the Gods by John D. Currid (2013)

When it comes to understanding the Bible, context is extremely important. Dr. Currid has provided a very distilled, but excellent introduction to the ancient Near Eastern (ANE) world that the Jewish scriptures emerged from in his book Against the Gods: The Polemical Theology of the Old Testament. Archaeologists have done tremendous work and translators, who cannot keep up with all the discoveries, are making the context better and better. Dr. Currid focuses the book on a few key stories from Genesis and Exodus. He has a chapter on the creation account, Noah's flood, Joseph and the false rape accusation, Moses and his infant escape, Moses's escape from Egypt, God's name "I am that I am", Moses's miracle rod, the parting of the Red Sea and seemingly plagiarism of Canaanite Psalms.

The book description on the back of the book is enlightening for what leading question it does not answer. "Did the Old Testament writers borrow ideas from their pagan neighbors? And if they did, was it done uncritically?" The abundant examples Currid notes from the ANE show that these Bible stories listed above did not arise de novo. This reality does not have to threaten one's faith, but it should challenge extra-Biblical presuppositions. Dr. Currid's summarizes his proposal for the borrowing of stories at the end of the book,
Polemical theology certainly does not answer every question about he relationship of the Old Testament to the ancient Near Eastern literature and life... the truth that the biblical writers often employed polemical theology as an instrument to underscore the uniqueness of the Hebrew worldview in contrast to other ancient Near Eastern conceptions of the universe and how it operates. p. 141
In other words, the polemically theological Bible story composer refashions popular stories, stripping them of polytheism and refocusing them on the one, true God, Yahweh. This is something the church has done for centuries. The New Testament writers, following Jesus Christ's own examples, took the Jewish scriptures and found in them prophecies of Jesus. The church around the world has taken popular music and changed the lyrics to worship the one, true God. Missionaries have used cultural motifs to explain the work of Jesus on their behalf. I recommend the classic book, Eternity in Their Hearts by Don Richardson, for a multitude of examples of this missionary practice.

Proverbs 27:6a says "Faithful are the wounds of a friend." Dr. Currid is a friend to evangelicals. Dr. Currid is an evangelical, a Presbyterian senior minister and Professor of Old Testament at RTS in Charlotte, North Carolina. Nevertheless, for those of us who have not taken seminary classes on the Bible's ANE milieu Dr. Currid's brief book can be shocking and potentially devastating to certain versions of evangelical faith. This book is not about simple answers. It provokes the reader to think with and like the scholars. Certainly 140 pages is not enough, but the extensive footnotes offer plenty of options to further educate oneself in the formation of the Bible. (Dr. Currid does not mention it in this book, but many proverbs have parallels in Egyptian literature as well.)

I'm extremely grateful to Crossway for providing a complimentary review copy.
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