Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Life on the Farm: Spiritual Insights from Rural Living

“Make straight the way for the Lord.” Jn 1:23b

Mowing on mountains is dangerous. Two autumns ago I borrowed a neighbor’s tractor—a big four-wheel drive orange Kuboto monster tractor...with a lift on the front! Men who ride such beasts develop muscles (mostly around the mid-section). What phone booths do for Superman, big powerful machines, like the one I borrowed, do for farming men. “Arrrggggh!”.

Well, first, I drove it across my pasture dragging a bush hog attachment-- a heavy mower deck with two steel blades--each about 3 feet long and ½ an inch thick—able to take out two inch sapling trees like your Murray mower snips off lawn grass! I was feeling pretty “Arrrggggh!”.

After a manicure of these relatively flat fields my confidence had risen above my intelligence and I determined to take on the hill behind my house. The hill is steep. Very steep. Too steep in fact for safety, but Superman was wearing fourwheel drive orange cape with plenty of horsepower and well, the old saying about men climbing mountains nudged out a win over safety and wisdom.

A friend--who owned his own orange cape--advised me to mow up the hill in reverse and then, without turning around, mow down in forward. I cautiously backed up nearly one hundred yards on a 45 degree - at some points more!- angle. I prayed the brakes would hold. They did. I shifted back into a low forward gear and slowly crept back to the foot of the mountain. Whew. I had to lean back hard into the seat or be tossed overboard. It was nerve racking, but I became more relaxed with each completed pass.

The mowing went well. The mountainside was looking very nice and the tractor wasn’t overheating or staggering under the steady push and pull. I stopped for lunch, taking time to admire my now neatly trimmed fields and half a mountainside. I was feeling pretty satisfied and very “Arrrggggh!”.

I should have remembered that pride goes before a great ‘fall’. I didn’t, or maybe I did but disregarded it. I don’t recall exactly. I do however recall the leap of my heart into my throat. On literally the very last run up the mountain, the hill had begun to slope away steeply to one side in addition to the up and down sloping. I didn’t allow for this when I turned the tires just a little to one side so as to reach a last small area. That’s when the right rear tire lifted off the ground!

I hung in midair as my heart smacked the roof of my head. I shifted my body weight to compensate, but immediately realized it had no effect. My mind raced through a dozen escape scenarios in less than a second while the 5 ton steel death trap decided my fate.

I swore-- I mean, I promised-- I’d never try it again. Proof that the tire returned to earth before the tractor rolled is that you're getting the story via blog rather than eulogy. Had the tractor tipped I'm sure I'd have been crushed.

Level ground is much easier work than hill sides or ditches (which also produce accounts of getting stuck, breaking equipment, and bucking riders off seats).

John the baptizer appreciated the difficulties of working unleveled ground. He came proclaiming that men should make way...level paths...for the arrival of Jesus. Hard, unrepentant hearts are hillsides and ditches that impede the easy arrival of Jesus. Not that Jesus can’t climb hillsides or jump gullies. He can. It’s just that progress is difficult and ill prepared hearts are constantly at risk of falling, loosing their grip, making a faith-crushing misstep, getting stuck or being tossed. Trying to live in Christ with a divided heart is dangerous, even foolish, business-- like mowing on mountains.

When faith seems an uphill climb, it may be that you’re not leveling with the Lord in some area of your life. Be honest with yourself, and with Him. Is there sin? Sin easily entangles progress in Christ. Put it aside. Make level the way for the Lord. Your faith walk will be more secure and you'll experience true “Arrrrggggh!”

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