place: a field
I am standing on the edge of this field. In these morning hours, I sense a great distance to cross. I see no one else around me. I am alone. Yet, I am not. Sky above, ground below, air all around; somewhere God you are in my world. Help me to see the most basic things I’m missing. I send my Amen to you. My carpenter friend from Nazareth, please send an Amen to me.
I live in rural North Carolina. I was born and raised here. I know Thanksgiving is a time for family discussions and catching up on the world around you. If you’re in the rural south (or anywhere really) let me offer these awkward topics for discussion at your Thanksgiving table. These are guaranteed to enliven any celebration. Use them at your own risk.
1. So Mom, is the upstairs bedroom ready for the refugees?
2. Have you read those Biblical verses about welcoming widows and orphans?
3. I’ve just enrolled in a new class in Sharia law. They make some super points.
4. You know, there are parts of the Bible which are just as brutal as the Quran.
5. What Would Jesus Do?
6. Are you going to eat the drumstick?
7. So I hear you’re supporting this podiatrist Ben Carson?
8. Allah is the basic Arabic word for God. We could substitute God with Allah when we bless our food.
9. Why did you make so few deviled eggs? You know I like deviled eggs. Someone ate more eggs than they were allotted by the Thanksgiving High Council.
10. Praying five times a day, formally, as mandated by some holy book. Who could get any work done? You spend all day long in prayer? Am I right?
The First Time Saw I a Cow Die
The first time saw I a cow die,
Surrounded in the rolling Tyrone fields,
By the un-milked leather worn eyes,
Those forced to live by the farmer’s yield,
I was riding in my dying German Irish car,
Towards the church down the road not far,
To preach a sermon about the sin of lying,
In the pastures and grass they were sighing,
What will we do on your corner without you?
No one slaps at flies or ponders the creation of dew,
You chew with such amiable ferocity and trust,
Who will replace you by the fence that rusts?
These questions they ask as the cows gather to pray
And I travel to preach on a usual Methodist Sunday,
To speak about Lamentations in a two-legged world,
But should I be preaching in a spot where our noses might curl,
Down in the pasture, with the deceased, and nature unfurled.
Wendell Berry is an American poet, novelist, literary critic, and farmer from the state of Kentucky. A gifted storyteller, he has always been a voice for those who have been pushed to the margins of society, those who make their living from the land. What wisdom can he share with leaders today?
1. How much is enough? It is the question of our time, says Berry. We learn it from our gardens and farms. How much is enough soil, fertilizer, food, and yield? ? As leaders, how much is enough? How much do we need in order to do our jobs effectively? How much fertilizer should we use to grow and empower other leaders in the fields that surround us? When do we realize that one crop isn’t working, we’ve had enough of this attempt to grow this vegetable and we should move on and try to plant something else? How much is enough time worked in one area, enough money spent in on a single project, before we decide to find a new field to plow or new crops to plant?
2. Others teach us how to be better people. We don’t learn from ourselves, he tells us, to be better than we are, we learn from other people. We are simply not objective enough with our own lives, faults, and short-comings-no matter how hard we may try. We may have a general idea but it takes other people (hopefully loved ones or people who care about you) to move you along the path to becoming better today than you were yesterday.
3. Be interested in people and how they work together. Berry talked about this in terms of food. You can’t be interested in food and yet have no interest in food production. Leaders can’t claim to care about people and then show no interest in how people are the way they are, what makes them tick, where they come from, their families, and how people best work together. Being a leader is a holistic task.