Sunday, June 02, 2013

On Loss and Scale

John Mureiko wrote a post this weekend,  Makes Your Stomach Ache, that really spoke to me. John writes of the personal sense of loss he experienced at the devastating loss they suffered in their small vineyard. John said:

I know it may sound silly, but you truly do grow an emotional attachment to your plants, and also your livestock. It really can be a painful experience to see them sicken and ultimately die after hours and hours of labor and care.

I get that, even as new as I am to the smaller scale farming world.

When a farmer who has 5000 acres of corn planted by machine, cultivated and sprayed by machine and harvested by machine loses 100 corn plants he either doesn't notice or he files a claim for crop insurance. When a factory farm with 10,000 hogs loses half a dozen piglets it is an acceptable loss. When a man with a small operation who knows all of his animals and every plant loses one, he knows it and feels it because he is personally invested in it. You remember planting it or seeing it born. We keep a journal in our home and record when our animals are bred or eggs go into the incubator so we know how it feels when a dog gets into your baby chicks after the wind blows the barn door open and slaughters dozens and dozens, wiping out that years batch. We know what it is like to have a baby lamb rejected by mom that was just never quite right but lived in our living room for two weeks until it finally succumbed. We know what it is like to wait for months in eager anticipation for the birth of a calf only to watch in growing dismay as it becomes apparent that the birth is not going the way you hoped and saving the cow only by the heroic and messy effort of my wife to deliver the stillborn calf. These losses are painful and real, something you can't quite experience the same way as the farm gets bigger and the animals become numbers on ear tags, turning them from pigs and calves and chicks into units of production that convert x pounds of feed to y units of meat. Of course you also cannot miss the real joy of watching a lamb grow into an adult sheep and having lambs of her own or a chick that becomes a broody hen with chicks of her own hiding under her wings or enjoying the fruit of your labor with a home grown turkey for Thanksgiving or bacon from a hog your raised on your own!

As I often do, when I think of farming I also think of the church. How similar they are and this notion of the intimacy of small scale farming versus the impersonal nature of industrial agriculture is very much like the difference between small, intimate fellowships of believers versus massive event driven "church" where x units of worship convert into y units of religious output. That is not to say that all small farms are perfect, there are many that are half-hearted and even cruel just as there are small fellowships that are anything but intimate and far from faithful. Nevertheless you cannot replicate the personal investment of a small farm with a massive agribusiness enterprise and you cannot replicate authentic interpersonal community with a staged religious event no matter how polished.

Anyway, read John's post and let me know if you see the connection I am trying to draw or if I am overreaching yet again.


dle said...

Our orchard is small, but every tree mattered. We had only three pear trees out of our 21 trees, and fireblight killed two of those mature, 9-year-old trees in just one season. Sadly, the only pear left is not self-pollinating, so our pear experiment is now a total loss after seven years. Since our orchard was identified as one of the first to note the southern incursion of the formerly unknown to Ohio pest called the plum curculio, all our apple trees have been attacked by the pest, ruining the fruit no matter what I've tried (the Wikipedia entry is a lie in that regard). Will have to work extra hard to save our cherries this year, since this is the first year that we've had them in any number, and birds successfully pillaged the trees the last two years.

I was told by the Ohio State Ag office leader in my county that this is why people become doctors and lawyers instead. I told him that even doctors and lawyers have to eat. Still, this is much, much harder than it appears. Nature seems to hate us, I think.

Anonymous said...

Hi Arthur,
In my area of Canada sustainable communities is being promoted meaning communities that can provide for their own basic needs. Organic farming is gaining popularity in some places. Our local high school has built a small greenhouse, planted fruit trees, and they are now making an outdoor classroom. I like this idea or concept myself. I don't use herbicides or pesticides on my yard (to the chagrin of some of my closest neighbors). I pick the weeds out.

Can we relate farming to the church? I suppose, but then I think we can relate the church to many other types of occupations as well. Things we have invested ourselves in.
I work with children in daycare and kindergarten rooms. I invest myself into their lives.
However, Jesus is the Head of the church, we are the body. We function to the benefit of one another, but we don't bear the responsibility to make everyone happy and healthy. This is a task for God, and He certainly has the capacity for it.

We care about other believers, but we also want to see them walking in truth. This was very important for the apostle Paul. I agree that we are trusting God daily, but we do not know where this will take us necessarily. This trusting took Paul to prison. This trusting created a stoning for Stephen that took his life.

And yet, there is no doubt for me that God is our provider. I've experienced him working in my life, I've experienced him providing wisdom and knowledge when I needed it, I've experienced him providing my health and wellbeing when I could be quite sick, I've experienced him literally lift words off a page of the Bible and magnify them before my eyes, I've heard him speak, I believe that I have heard an angel speak, I believe that I have seen and experienced healing for myself and for my children.

What does this mean for our lives? That we never experience problems, conflicts, trouble? No, I don't think so. Does this mean that we are getting lessons from God when trials come? No, certainly not all the time anyway. Paul had troubles. Was God teaching him a lesson? I don't think so. Paul was experiencing the wicked world and how it responded to him preaching the Gospel.

When a flower in my pot dies, my first thought is not 'what is God teaching me by this flower dying?' I lament the dying of the flower and I either accept that, or I go out and buy another flower to plant.