Dateline: 2 September 2006
“Dad, how come my cheeseburger doesn’t look like that one?” my son said to me one day, pointing to the enlarged photograph of a perfect burger on the menu board behind the order counter. We were “dining” at a McDonalds or a Wendys or some such fast food joint that we try to avoid but occasionally succumb to (it is admittedly fast and convenient when you’re away from home).
The question was a good opportunity for me to point out that there is often a significant difference between perception and reality. That picture of the perfect cheeseburger was very carefully assembled and arranged and photographed in some studio by people who are well-paid to make such things look as wonderful and appealing as they can possibly be.
One way those people make the burger look so good is to show only the best examples. You aren’t going to see a crushed bun. The lettuce won’t be wilted. The tomato slice will be of even thickness and appealingly red. The cheese will be melted just so.
The same principle of showing only the best examples applies when I write in this blog or post pictures. If my house is visible in a photograph, I make sure the best side is showing— the side with the siding all in place and nicely painted, and with shutters by the windows. I don’t want anyone to see the opposite side of the house where there has been no siding for over twenty years—the tarpaper shredded off long ago and the exposed plywood is weathered and streaked with black.
The same goes for the inside of the house. You’ll never see a photo of our upstairs bedrooms or, worse yet, the bathroom which desperately needs remodeling. I wouldn’t want anyone to see the unfinished drywall, the piles of books, and other clutter. Or, if I did show a picture, it would be carefully taken so as to not reveal the disturbing reality of the whole area around it.
I’ll tell you about Marlene’s wonderful homemade breads and the handcrafted soaps she sells, but I don’t tell you about the discouraging and never-ending struggles she goes through to try and stay ahead on the laundry and dishes and housework.
I speak glowingly of my boys and their adventures and achievements, but I don’t tell you about their shortcomings and how they, at times, disappoint me.
And I sure don’t tell you about my faults and foibles and shortcomings and how, at times, I disappoint my children and my wife. No. We aren’t going there.
When I show you a picture of my grapes on the vine, there are perfect and beautiful, I don’t show you the less than perfect examples on either side. If I showed you some of the giant carrots I grew this year in my garden, I would not also show you the smaller ones or the ones damaged by root worms. I don’t show molting chickens. And if my children all got head lice (which they did once when they were little) I would never write about that.
The point is, if you read this blog, or my recently published agrarian book, and that is all you ever knew about me and my family, you would think ours is a perfect little family and our agrarian life is nothing but beauty and sweetness.
In so thinking, you might look at your own life situation and compare your reality to the agrarian perception you have of my life. And, in so comparing, you may think you are coming up short of the agrarian ideal that you so desire but can’t seem to attain. That, my dear reader, would be a mistake—a very serious mistake.
I say that because the perception and the imagined ideal that could grow from it is not reality. The picture-perfect cheeseburger does not exist and the picture perfect agrarian life does not exist either, at least it does not in my experience and I’m quite certain it doesn’t in anyone else’s experience either.
Nevertheless, I maintain that this is still “the good life” I live here and I’m going to use another illustration to further explain what I mean...
Have you ever seen those Got Milk? advertisements that show famous people with a white milk mustache? Well, I’ve got news for you—that’s not milk on their upper lips. It’s Elmer’s glue. The same goes for any advertisement showing a photograph of a bowl of cereal with milk in it. Corn flakes don’t get soggy in white glue.
I’m speaking of what the French call trompe l’oeil, which means, literally, “deceive the eye.” We all know that seeing is believing but, more often than you may realize, what you think you see in a picture is not the true story.
Take, for example, a movie scene of a boxer working out in a gym. Perspiration is pouring down his face and his gray t-shirt is sweat drenched. Our eye tells us the man is wet as the result of a long period of physical exertion. But, in reality, the man was calm and relaxed and sipping a refreshing drink only moments before. When it came time to shoot the scene, someone on the movie set spritzed his face and clothing with a spray bottle. The simulated sweat is a visual deception. If the deception was presented in the form of written words, it would be called a lie.
Now, having pointed that out, I want to make it perfectly clear that when we chug down a glass of milk in my family, we get real, unpasteurized, unhomogenized, whole milk mustaches. In other words, the things I’ve told you about my life and my family, and the pictures I’ve posted here have been completely true. Yes, I’ve left out some things and my family is not perfect, but I’ve come to realize we have something special here. It is not completely rare—many other families I know experience it—but it is, nevertheless, remarkable in this day and age.
A genuine and deep love permeates this little family of mine. We care for each other, we sacrifice for each other, we forgive each other, and we are committed to each other. With three boys, two of whom are teenagers, it is not always peaceful around our house, but the commotion is not due to rebellion and family strife. There is an underlying spirit of peace and kindness here. We are not the best example of a Christian family, but our Christian faith is central and integral to the way we live and to the blessings we enjoy. Our home is not always beautiful to the eye, but it is still a haven in the midst of a dark secular culture that is at war against the knowledge of God.
This God-centered and family-centered life we live is made all the richer because we live it in an agrarian setting and we are actively involved in the agrarian experience. I can not imagine any other paradigm (framework) for living that supports such family closeness and strengthens family bonds.
That is the reality of the life we live here on our little 1.5 acre homestead. It is not always pretty and it is rarely easy, but not a day goes by that we do not experience the joy and satisfaction that this life brings. And not a day goes by that I do not acknowledge Jesus Christ, He who so willingly took the punishment for my sins on the cross, as my Lord, my source of strength, my source of hope, my source of peace, and the source of all the blessings I enjoy in this life. This is, after all, Christian agrarianism I’m speaking of here.
With that in mind, I hope you, my friend, will never mistake the ruminations you read here as pridefull expressions. On the contrary, they are the humble expressions of an insignificant and imperfect man who, for reasons he can not fully understand, has been blessed by the sovereign, holy God of all creation. I am, frankly, in awe at the wonder of His creation, which includes not only the natural world around me but the family around me too.
The whole point is, the whole reality is, that the ultimate beauty found in this Christian agrarian “good life” that I experience comes from within, not without. It comes when individual lives are surrendered to Jesus Christ. It comes to any who sincerely seek it. He gives a whole new perspective, a whole new purpose, a whole new life. And with that new life comes new responsibilities, new desires, new goals. When this new life happens, faith and family becomes central, and livin’ the good life is just natural.