Mowing the Wide World

Powell Gardens, outside Kansas City, covers some 970 acres. Tanner, a teenage worker there, set out to mow the whole thing–with a push mower. Perhaps that’s not completely accurate, but yesterday, when Penny and I visited this lovely place for our 37th anniversary, we saw this young man (who might have been named Tanner) mowing a wide border of grass around a large swath of vegetable rows. Given the rain that Kansas City has enjoyed in recent weeks, the grass was thick and tall. Tanner would have plenty of mowing to keep him busy all day.

I stood and watched Tanner for a couple of minutes. He shoved his mower into the tall grass. You could hear the engine start to struggle. After a couple of steps, the grass would bunch up and stop the blade, killing the engine. Tanner’s shoulders rose and fell as he drew a heavy breath. Then, without even pulling the mower back to get away from the problem, he began jerking on the starter rope.

When, after several difficult pulls, he succeeded in restarting the mower, he’d repeat this process. As I stood there, I saw him clog and start at least four times, having covered perhaps 15 feet of grass.

I wanted to offer Tanner some advice, suggesting that he only cut a narrow swath with each pass, that he set the wheels to maximum height and then move them to mow it again lower, or at least that he only mow in the direction that threw the cut grass away from the uncut.

Of course all of these strategies would have involved much more walking. Instead, Tanner opted to rely on his own strength and endless pulls on the starter rope. He might still be there this morning, mowing the grass six feet at a go.

Sometimes the best way to do things is a way that makes no sense to us in our flesh. All those things Jesus teaches about turning the other cheek, loving your neighbor, and going the second mile seem to fly in the face of logic. Then try out this instruction from Exodus 23:11-12:

Sow your land for six years and gather its produce. But during the seventh year you are to let it rest and leave it uncultivated, so that the poor among your people may eat from it and the wild animals may consume what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.

So God is telling an agricultural people to willingly give up more than 14% of the productivity of their land. You might as well ask Apple to only sell iPhones six years out of seven. When you have a productive asset, you want to use it! But God’s way, perhaps especially when it runs against human sense, is the best way.

I wouldn’t suggest that my mowing advice for Tanner was God’s way, but don’t we all behave like Tanner now and again. We might hear the counsel of God, but we know that our own way is more efficient, more effective. Instead of following God’s plan, we shove our mower into the tall grass and rely on our own strength. Yes, we sometimes get the job done that way, but what other opportunities do we miss when we mow like Tanner?



¡No Va! La Segunda Parte

How many Internet Trolls does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Forty-seven. One to screw in the lightbulb and forty-six to opine about the various conspiracy theories that explain the lightbulb. (Yeah, I just made that up. Sue me.)

A few days ago, I mentioned, in passing, the old Chevy Nova story, about how the cars apparently didn’t sell in Spanish-speaking countries because the name means “Doesn’t go.” I also mentioned that this story, although reproduced in any number of places, is a complete fabrication, probably an invention of disgruntled Ford executives.

It has shown up in marketing texts to emphasize the perils of not knowing your audience. It has been used to underscore the hubris of American corporate types. It has been used to show the danger of cultural ignorance. Finally, it pops up as a joke without any motivation beyond laughter. Probably no vehicle ever built has gotten better mileage than this false story. Like the old Energizer Bunny, it just keeps going and going.

I don’t believe that the original motivation behind the Nova Conspiracy can be known, but I can point to a host of people who have helped to keep it alive and spreading, most of them not people who wanted to attack Chevrolet. How many untrue stories (or true but unhelpful ones) circulate in our churches with the vigor of dandelions in an untended lawn?

People start rumors for various reasons. They might want to seem more important or to inflict harm on someone else. We can’t stop people from starting the next Nova Conspiracy; however, we don’t have to help the story to spread.

In Exodus 23:1, we read

You must not spread a false report. Do not join the wicked to be a malicious witness.

It’s the first half of this that I want to zoom in on. The second half suggests that a person might spread a  lie for potential gain, but the first half is absolute. Do not spread a false report, regardless of your motivation.

“But I didn’t know it wasn’t true!” you protest. If we’re taking Exodus seriously, then ignorance is no excuse. If you don’t know it to be true, then you don’t spread the thing. The more potentially hurtful that the story might be, the more we need to cling to this prohibition on spreading false reports. If the report is “I think Laney likes cats,” then it is probably not too important, but if the report is “I think Laney eats cats . . .” You get the difference. And of course, which sorts of questionable stories do we like to repeat?

In the long run, I don’t think the Nova Conspiracy did any harm to anybody, but the spread of false reports–of Fake News–can cause harm within families, within communities, within churches, and within the nation.

Loose lips sink ships, the old posters said. They can sink relationships and trust and organizations just as readily. That’s why we need to determine that regardless of where the story began, it will not go beyond us. ¡No va!