A Farmer’s Kind of Comfort

My forebears, the generations before my grandparents, were farmers. I’m not entirely certain how successful these people were as farmers, but they listed themselves as such on the census reports. My grandfathers, born on farms, made an exit toward better economic pickings, eventually making their ways to Kansas City where two of their children met and became my parents.

Why did so many people in America, from the late 1800s and into the early decades of the 1900s make that farm-to-city move? Somewhere in the 1870s, the segment of the population working on farms moved below 50% for the first time. By 1940, as the Second World War drew near, that number dropped to 18%. And the reason is fairly clear. With increasing industrialization offering steady jobs and the relative certainty and comfort of urban life, the move seems sensible.

Think about it. If you work in a steel mill, as my maternal grandfather did, you don’t need to worry much about the weather. A drought will not ruin the steel. Blast furnaces, unlike hogs or cows, don’t die, and if one does go off line, it’s not the worker’s problem so much as the company’s. When the potatoes succumbed to a disease on the farm, that typically meant not having potatoes that year. In the city, unless the problem was catastrophic, it meant that you paid more for the spuds at the market.

City dwellers didn’t have to contend with long dirt roads. Coyotes mostly chased roadrunners in cartoons rather than eating the chickens. Water, sewer service, electricity, and phones came to the city far more quickly than to the country. To this day, the broadband Internet availability in rural areas is limited. Who wouldn’t want to move from the farm to the city?

Elijah presumably didn’t want to make that move. After serving as God’s emissary to bring about a terrific drought, Elijah had to make himself scarce lest the officials make him dead. In 1 Kings 17:2-4, he is told to “hide” in the Kerith Ravine to drink from its brook and eat what ravens brought.

As a result of the drought, Elijah had to move to town in 1 Kings 17:9. Couldn’t God have kept some water running in that stream for him? He could have done so, but I don’t think God wanted Elijah to get too comfortable.

Those who remain on the farm, who move from cities back to farms, or who just have a farmer mentality understand that comfort is not something that we should always desire. We might have to tend the animals in sub-zero weather. That’s just the truth.

Moving from our comfort zone is frightening but less so when we trust that God is directing our steps. Successful farmers have a self-reliant streak, but successful Christians couple that with a God-reliant streak. Put those together and a little discomfort is just–well–a little discomfort.


The Hole in the Roof

I’d love to claim to be a true-blue agrarian and to earn all of my living selling our one cash crop, limestone, and bartering with locust pods. Such is not the case, however. Several times a week, your faithful correspondent is compelled by economic necessity to travel from the wilds of rural Lafayette County, Missouri to the suburban smoothness of Johnson County, Kansas. At times, this journey is rather like visiting another country.

As I walked into the college on Monday of this week, an unwelcome and unexpected sight greeted me. Opening the door to my office, I saw water dripping from the ceiling. After making a quick phone call to the facilities people, I cleared the papers from my office mate’s desk in case the leak spread. Then, having strategically positioned waste cans, I sat down to watch the water flow and to prepare for class.

Later in the day, I pulled file drawers out, scrounged trash bags to protect my diplomas and better books, and repositioned our printer away from the spreading trickle of rainwater. I don’t mention any of this seeking commendation as some sort of leaky-roof hero. Frankly, this sort of defensive action seemed pretty unremarkable.

My colleagues, however, seem to respond differently.  Over the past three days, I’ve heard a good bit of hand-wringing about mold. Apparently, Nathan and I are doomed to a life of emphysema and worse. Various walkers-by have opined on the great danger we face from water flowing around light fixtures. It seemed to me that the electricians who visited us might have wanted to kill the relevant breakers before they killed us, but I’m sure my English-teacher friends know better about the perils of electrical doom.

This morning, the president of the college came in and said, “We’ve got to get you out of here.” It sounded like he was about to mobilize the Coast Guard to evacuate me. Perhaps the operation will involve helicopters and hovercraft. All in all, though, it seems to me that moving out, right at the end of the semester, would be far too much of a pain to countenance.

Reflecting on these exchanges, I’m convinced that there are two basic responses to events of this sort. The rural response almost has to be a can-do, roll-with-the-punches one. When you live in the sticks, you’d better be able to pull your own vehicle out of the mud and throw tarps over a leaky roof. Helplessness simply isn’t much of an option if you don’t want to be broke or utterly devastated.

In my office, I’m seeing the can’t-do attitude that can survive in the suburban/urban world. To be fair, there are plenty of can-do people in the ‘burbs and urbs, but the can’t-dos can survive there. They can pontificate on various threats, a few of which might be real, and wait for other people to rescue them from the vicissitudes of life.

The fact is, part of me thinks the whole hole-in-the-roof episode is kind of cool. (Granted, it’s the part of me that knows he won’t have to pay the bill for fixing the thing.) While I appreciate the trained and capable people who can do the things that I can’t do, whether it be fixing my car or building the roads I drive it on, I also value the measure of self-reliance that I bring to life.  It’ll turn an inconvenience like this into an adventure. Life should be an adventure.