Saturday, February 6, 2010

Chasing, Catching, Growing, Grazing

Seth Grodin's blog opened up a wellspring of ideas for me. I'm immensely interested in each new post that he puts up and all the insight within. Recently, I tweeted a question: Are you a farmer or a hunter? It was a question inspired by this post.

Like all my tweeted questions, I get very few responses. One of my friends responded by saying "Of course, you and I are hunters!" It's not that I disagree, it's that I question the particular tone of the post. Are hunters just better than farmers?

A certain mystique and romanticism envelops the hunter. He's a rugged loner, living out in the wild, battling nature, surviving with his ingenuity and ability, he doesn't need community, he doesn't need help. Self-sufficient, stoic and strong, this is the hunter. He eats what he kills and kills what he eats. This isn't a salad eating city-slicker or a corn-bred hayseed, this is a man as pure as God had ever made him.

Or so you might believe if you swallow the "Wild At Heart" type of Christian anthropology. I did not drink that Kool-Aid (or coffee, black, and ground with gunpowder).

For a long time now, I've looked at that strain of thought as childish, immature, poorly conceived because it's poorly informed, overly romantic and sentimental. Hollywood does not work in real life. The only kind of hunting that most of these braggadocio-poisoned types have ever done is hunt for a nature-y DVD to watch on family night. As someone who's done a multi-day hike in the mountains, extremely pampered by tour groups, I can just barely glimpse what a true ancient hunter's life would be like. Hollywood does not show insects nesting inside your rectum, the stench of exertion without bathing, the fear that accompanies every sip of open water for who knows what bear just shat in it or what underground mineral may be in it. Hollywood makes the hours and days of waiting pass by in a clean and composed 15 second montage followed by a frenzied, shaking-camera action scene. Being a hunter is not glamorous. It is what it is.

More than that, consider the fact that the hunter represents such a minuscule portion of man's potential, while the farmer represents a good deal more. Let me break away from speaking of hunters and farmers specifically and use them instead as archetypes. Consider the soldier, representing the hunter archetype and the scientist, representing the farmer archetype. And actually when I say soldier, I mean to include fire fighters, patrolmen, soldiers and other romantic figures. There's a long, long history of how lauded these action hero roles are. There are chanson du'gestes about gallant knights rescuing princesses from sorcerers, dragons and of course, Muslim heathens ululating and waving menacing scimitars, but where is the song of the wise diplomat who negotiated a mutually beneficial arrangement and averted war? Or how about an intelligent inventor who created a security system so that the princess wasn't kidnapped in the first place? How many lives does a firefighter save over the course of his career? Quite a number, I imagine. Perhaps it's the amazing physique or the risk to his life but why is he lauded as a hero while the quiet kid in the back who majors in chemistry and figures out a protein sequence that helps to end a pandemic, why does he receive derision?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not demeaning soldiers, hunters and rescue workers in any way. Without them, we would be in chains, starving and dying. They deserve praise. I am writing to ask why it is that farmer types don't get the respect that they deserve, when they are doing so very much more.

A Christian example. The people in my life who understand what a pastor does and who I am have never suggested that I go into ministry and pastor a church. The people in my life whose opinions I use to clean myself in the toilet, they are the ones who suggest that I be a pastor. And by pastor, it's a very specific view of pastor. It's not, as the word suggests, the care of a flock. It's public speaking, at a pulpit, and it's shiny, the target of much praise, some criticism and a proof of much piety. I have had many friends who see that the highest aim and aspiration of the Christian is to be an evangelist who speaks and millions are held rapt (by who? The Holy Spirit or the speaker?), one who asks you to make a decision, and God-damn-it, you are going to make that decision. A joke results in 30,000 peals of laughter, or 60,000 if you're preaching at Yankee Stadium like Billy Graham or the Pope, or 100,000 if you're in South Korea or Nigeria.

But what about the small time pastor who takes the word seriously and finds that his goal is to shepherd, guide, disciple, teach? I've heard a missionary from French Africa describe the state of Christianity in Africa as a mile wide and an inch deep. There are many professing folk, but what do they profess? A prosperity Gospel. Jesus came, suffered and died on the cross, and in 3 days was raised from the dead to make me wealthy and healthy, to give me a good husband and fine young children. There's the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda which uses children as instruments of terror and war. There were Christian soldiers raping Muslim women in the Balkans, committing genocide against the heathen. Colonialism. Imperialism. Salem. Jerusalem. This will ruffle feathers but why do so many count the salvation of one soul as more valuable than the progress of a million, a thousand, a hundred or ten souls? Is it really better work to save one soul than to teach Joe, a recent convert, to stop beating his wife, and to love her gently, to repent, to seek forgiveness and to undo the patterns of sin that he's lived in all his life?

Preaching, oftentimes, is so deeply focused on the hunt-like moment of the Decision. Discipleship rarely ever happens in a moment. Long, patient sowing of seed, cultivation of spirit and deep, deep prayer.

The reason I'm thinking about it this morning is because in my heart, though I fall into the hunter category, there are certainly a ton of things that I'm trying to learn from farmers. My discipline, to be honest, is rather poor. I wish I had their steady commitment and ability to work patiently on tedious tasks for a long period of time. I don't like rehabbing. It feels like a cowardly, false workout. I'm not moving fast, I'm not breathing hard. I want to run! But I know I'll only worsen the situation by doing so. I envy the farmers for being able to analyze the data so much better than I.

So I write in appreciation of all that they contribute to society.

Finally, I'd like to tell you about Norman Borlaug. Uncommon name? He's saved, according to some sources, ten times more people than the total number of deaths in World War 2. The awards section on his Wikipedia page is longer than most articles on war heroes, but despite that you'd be hard-pressed to get a ping on his name from those outside of the hard sciences. The work that he did was so mind-numbingly boring that he said he almost went insane from it. Going back to something I said earlier regarding human potential. How many people could a hunter provide for? Maybe 10? Maybe 20 if he's really good. With dedication, patience and hard work, someone that most hunters might have picked on preserved the lives of over a billion people.

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