Thursday, January 28, 2010

Welcome to the Funny Farm

I love the book of Ruth. For such a relatively short story, it's a powerful telling of redemption and restoration.

It was from the book of Ruth that I first learned about the concept and origin of the word "glean". As an avid reader, there was a contextual awareness of the meaning... but Ruth gave it a different spin for me.

In biblical times, and even in the not so distant past, farmers would allow the poor and homeless to gather from their fields anything left behind by the harvesters. Little went to waste and those in need received. By gleaning the fields themselves they were, in a way, earning what they received. It wasn't simply handed to them so was not taken for granted. That's not the point of the book of Ruth, but an important detail for me personally. It is a reminder of basic kindness and personal responsibility.

It was once Jewish custom for a male family member to marry his relative's widow if an heir had not been conceived. This heir would receive the holdings of the widow's dead husband. Keeping land within the family was a vital part of providing for future generations. This was known as a Levarite marriage... an act of redemption. This redemption was for both the land and the widow. While it was the expected responsibility of a male relative, not everyone was keen to follow through. If the son produced was the only son produced to the "redeemer", then all their holdings would go to that heir as well. From a financial standpoint, it wasn't always an easy responsibility to fulfill.

Redemption is the prevalent theme in Ruth. In any monotheist faith, the understanding of God is very closely tied to redemption. Throughout old and new testament bible scripture, we are told He is close to the needy and oppressed. In fact, one of the names of God in Hebrew is GAOL. God our redeemer.

It is this aspect of God that Charlie and I are most drawn to try to represent.

Now here is where I get a little hesitant in the writing. I'm hoping to share the analogy that occurred to me this morning... not pat myself on the back for anything or seek compliments or... whatever. This is also not about defending a way of life that leads some people to question our intelligence, sanity or both. It is what it is... me putting heart to words. Questions, as usual, are always welcome.

Reconnecting with the time of morning peace we have again, the events of the last six weeks were put into perspective through the image of a farm. I once related my inner world to being like a house. In a way, you could say that house is simply one building on the farmland of my family.

We've long believed in the value of inviting those in need to glean from our fields. Figuratively, of course, though if I've got two of a plant and you have none, I'm happy to share. If someone has a need and we can help, we try to do so. On several occasions over the years, we've invited people to stay with us for a time as they get back on their feet. Most of the time, it's young people in that awkward place between physical and intellectual adulthood, who need a supportive place to grow before they step out on their own.

In every case, our motto has been a little like Olive Garden's (an American/Italian restaurant chain)... "When you're here, you're family". Whether it's for a meal, a transportation need, a place to stay or any other assistance we can provide, we strive to treat everyone as if they are family.

When you're family, you get the same benefits of family. You're prayed for, welcomed, respected, accepted, loved without condition, protected, fed, etc. You also get the teasing, the laughter, the tears, the limits, the boundaries and the accountability that come with being part of a family.

Along with the benefits of family come the practical responsibilities. You share a room and bathroom and must keep them reasonably clean. Pick up after yourself. Treat others with respect, both in word and deed. Help out around the house and yard. Share. Make an effort to think of others. Assist with the animals. Play nice. Be courteous. Accept the result of breaking the rules and respect the authority of this home.

It's been in the area of practical responsibility that Charlie and I have struggled most. First with our biological kids and even now, with our figurative kids. There's always been that desire to be the 'good guy' and to not step on toes. We finally learned that parents aren't supposed to be friends, or worse, doormats... but it took us a little longer to extend that to those we invited into the family.

A few years ago we opened our home and family to someone and allowed ourselves to be used and manipulated for the sake of a name. Was there more to it than that? Sure. Was that the lasting impact? You betcha. Was it that person's fault? Nope. We made the choices that allowed it to go on as long as it did. We chose to "keep the peace" (ie: hide from confrontation) and ended up allowing someone who couldn't manage their own life to attempt to assume the role of head of household. in essence, rather than face a fight, we handed over the farm to an unrighteous heir.

In the end, it wasn't pretty.

I changed in ways it will take time to undo. There's a hardness of heart that was not in my nature to posses. There is a cynicism that goes beyond being a realist to being outright snarky. In short, I'm far more likely to say "bite me" than pray for grace to act in love.

I am encouraged that those changes aren't forever. A couple of years ago, my response to situations similar to the last few weeks would have involved some nasty psychological warfare and more than a few creatively used f-bombs. This time around, I relied on reminding the party of the expectations of a family member and turning up my MP3 player when the arguments, attempted mind games and other such nonsense began. I vented when needed but never went on the attack. Someone said today "Thank God for small miracles." Buddy, given my natural bent when angry... that's nothing less than a huge miracle.

Don't get me wrong... I wasn't prepared to keep that up any longer. Mama bear was waking up and she was UNHAPPY. Had Charlie not explained to our visitor yesterday that he'd violated the family and the family rules for the last time, I may well have found myself trying to convince a judge I really didn't remember breaking the baseball bat over someone's knees.

We've made mistakes, had some bad experiences and learned some painful lessons... but we've also lived our marriage trying to sow the same seeds we were raised on... kindness, generosity, acceptance, respect, compassion... every once in awhile, someone invited to glean the fields mistakes it for an offer to do their gathering as well. Sometimes a person is so hungry for the grain or fruit they try to take it all for themselves. In this most recent case, someone seemed to think they owned the farm and we were the bond servants... *cough*cough* But most of the time, those who share in what we can offer, however small, find the taste pleasant enough they then seek to cultivate a harvest of their own for others.

Don't know about teaching a man to fish, but we can sure teach a man to farm.

Some crops flourish... others fail. Sometimes the storms or famines come and we barely have enough to sustain us... but any longtime homesteader or farmer will tell you. It's in the blood. As long as we have breath, we'll farm this land.