Recently I had a day with divine handwriting all over it—like taking a half day tour of the City of God and ending with a tour of the City of Man. As you might know, several years back Jim and I de-meated our diet as a matter of conscience. I can still hear the documentaries Jim researched for an ethics class (I say hear because I didn’t have the nerve to actually watch them.). This, along with his reading on the subject, was enough to push us over the cliff that all crazies must jump off to land in the world of vegetarians. Unfortunately, we have recently discovered that our oldest, Bailey, is allergic not only to peanuts, which we have known for a while, but all related legumes, including lentils, soybeans, and peas of all sorts. So I have gone back to the drawing board a bit with regard to meal time. Since our objections are to factory farming and not carnivorousness per se, I have started seeking sources for free-range meat.
The other day the kids and I set off for a farm in the area that looked promising. I must confess to having a certain, but by no means negative, picture of the typical Indiana farmer. And since I had found this particular farm on the internet and acquired directions on the phone, I was more than a little surprised when were greeted by a strikingly Amish-looking man. He very politely showed the kids around the farm which included several horses and buggies. I am not sure of his family’s exact convictions but we had an interesting conversation concerning his misgivings of grocery stores and what it means to depend on the land. (When Jim and I “depend on the land” this means we rely on someone else’s farming and their produce for which we happily pay.) The kids had a great time trying to feed the cows, watching the chickens, and clambering over hay bales. We paid our bill and went on our way. Then, since the farm was a bit of a drive, I decided to reward the kids for their patience by taking them to Chuck E. Cheese.
Now I must confess to having a rather low opinion of this establishment which I often refer to as “Children’s Las Vegas.” Still, I had a coupon and sternly declared that we were only staying until the first wave of tokens was gone. They rushed the doors like bargain seekers in the pre-dawn hours of Black Friday. But their glee quickly receded in the face of their greed. To stretch our dollar, I made them play one game at a time, waiting until their brother or sister had finished before they could move on. Even with this torturous methodology, it wasn’t long before my pockets were mercifully empty. I told them they could play on the indoor playground for a few minutes and then we had to go. I laughed a bit to see how the whining subsided as Sam and Maggie quickly devised an imaginative game involving half the square footage of the place and absolutely no money. Andrew plopped down at one of the racing games and happily pretended to drive, though I am not sure he knew he was pretending. They were back to the kids who had so much fun slopping through the mud an hour before.
As much as I would have liked to smugly judge my children for desiring what is manufactured and hollow, I fear that would be hypocritical of me. How often does the warmth and comfort of my own personal Chuck E. Cheese win out over my higher calling? I am not talking about hitting the snooze button rather than enjoying a pre-dawn quiet time. While we are surely called to study the Word and pray, my failures are often much more personal. To me, one the greatest virtues of the farm is the interdependence that it demands—between the animals and people, the people and the land, and the people with each other. But frankly, when it comes to my own life, I often value my independence and privacy to the detriment of relationships with others. I want to be a part of the body of Christ when it means that I am saved from eternal damnation but when it means asking someone how they are really doing and being prepared to actually listen, I sometimes resent being so fused to my fellow believers.
The City of Man is like Chuck E. Cheese—sterile (minus a few snot-smeared control handles) and cold, both literally and figuratively. The frenetic atmosphere charged with a blood lust of consumerism doesn’t allow for much interpersonal connectivity. If the City of God is anything like the farms I have visited, there is a different pace of life that is warm and everything seems somehow more real. But it all comes from a great deal of sweat-inducing work (and a large quantity of poop). The City of God is substantive and it is substance that we build or rather that is built through us and for us by our great Architect.
Leaving with my ears still ringing, I saw with more clarity how the bricks of those fabled mansions are made as we connect more deeply with one another and perhaps held together at least in part with the crap of this life.