The farmers’ hands were scrubbed clean and yet still dirty.
The creases on their palms were like dark rivers flowing through callouses and scars. Black streaks of grit and grime were permanently etched around nails.
Fingers were missing. A pinkie gone, leaving three digits alongside the thumb. Or the upper part of a ring finger ended at the knuckle. I recall a few pointing, perhaps giving directions to a neighbor’s place, but there was no index finger to aim.
Is farming the most dangerous job in America? Oh sure, others could protest that distinction. Soldiers face bullets and bombs. Who wants to be a cop or firefighter rushing into a building ablaze with angry citizens or fires or both? Loggers with chainsaws always make the danger list. Don’t forget the construction workers atop half-built skyscrapers, a stumble from experiencing gravity in a bad, bad way. Continue reading →
John 6:24-35 – The 10th Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, August 2, 2015
“Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life . . .” (John 6:35)
I can’t remember the tenth or hundredth time I served communion, but I recall the first.
Picture an immense cathedral. Add a gathering of sojourners, eagerly listening to the quiet words of preparation for the “living bread” of the Lord’s Supper. Imagine the expectation, the longing. Some awaiting the cup and bread know each other; some, until recently, were strangers. The bread, as usual, was simple. The cup, as usual, held enough for everyone.
But don’t imagine fresh bread. And please, don’t figuratively sample my memory and start tasting sweet grape juice or a spirited sip of wine. Before my first official communion as a United Methodist minister, which occurred mere days following ordination, I had to ask a critical question: Continue reading →
One last time, now nearly a decade past, I returned to the place where the cows always came home. Where, as a little kid, I watched my grandfather work wonders with the words, “Hey Boss!”
I was in awe of his power.
My cousin Nancy had organized a “trip to the farm.” And so, on a Friday, on a day that tethered the awestruck memories of yesterday’s kid to my mostly responsible adult of today, my wife and I drove to the place my mother’s parents once owned just outside Merced, California. Because of Nancy’s planning, we met several other family members. It was less a reunion and more a time of nostalgia. It would likely be the last time we’d visit the farm.
From 1953-1975 my grandparents owned 150+ acres of land where cows roamed, a walnut orchard flourished, rabbits raced hither and yon, and my grandmother grew a garden that hinted at Eden.
Growing up, I was one of the few kids in my suburban elementary school that had regular contact with a working farm. I was the kid that brought back real fresh-from-the-field cotton to display for classroom show-and-tell. I was the kid who could tell stories about my grandfather’s attempt to hoist me unto the back of a bull that suddenly, as I neared its fearsome horns, seemed larger than any imagined dinosaur. I screamed and cried and grandfather tucked me behind his body to protect me from my sudden “bullish” fear.
What a grand place it was. I think my love of the mountains began on the plowed fields of that Merced farm. My one-last-time nostalgia trip reminded me how close the Sierra Nevada foothills were; how, on clear days, you could see the rising peaks. The suburbs hid those views. I think my understanding of a creative and accessible God was nurtured on that farm. From my grandmother’s generous garden to the seasonal harvest of the walnut trees, I witnessed abundance; indeed, a sense of the Holy’s gift of a land that always gives back. Our Biblical stories make more sense on a farm, a ranch, or a stretch of mountain meadow. On soil fed by rain and sun, and parched by summer heat, there is a deeper understanding of exodus and exile, of unexpected grace and hard, faithful work.
Much has changed there. Today, it is another person’s land. Where there had been open fields, acres of pistachio trees now grow. Where there had been a garden, there is now a swimming pool. But, for a few moments, with the owner’s permission, we sauntered across the land. And, even with all the changes, I glimpsed and relished past memories, tender mercies. Continue reading →