I recently had occasion to watch that movie, “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?” Chances are you have seen it. It is a popular movie with a famous actor named George Clooney. Him and two other men play the role of hapless, comically stupid convicts who have escaped from a chain gang in the Depression-era South. They play their roles so well that I’m sure these men must be stupid in real life.
The three escapees are in pursuit of a 1.2 million dollar treasure. Meanwhile, the law is continually on their trail.
On the one hand, this is a clever and funny movie. Like I said, the actors play their roles well and are endearing characters. And there is a lot of great, down-to-earth southern music in the soundtrack, much of it Christian.
But the movie was profoundly disappointing to me because Christianity was repeatedly made fun of. In fact, That seemed to be the focus of the whole movie. Sin is celebrated while salvation is mocked. Christianity is twisted and misconstrued. Southern culture is also misconstrued and mocked. And there is a steady stream of cussing.
But there is one notable part of this movie. Most viewers wouldn’t give this part of the movie a whole lot of thought. It could be that I am the only person in the world who has watched this movie and extrapolated from this scene what I am about to tell you...
The three stupid convicts are relaxing around a campfire at night. They are in a reflective mood, looking less like imbeciles and almost like normal humans in the light of the fire. One of the three asks the man named Delmar (Delmar O'Donnell) what he is going to do with his $400,000 share of the treasure when he gets it.
Delmar is the one in the middle of the picture at the top of this blog. He is portrayed as the dumbest of the three throughout the movie. But Delmar is clearly the smartest. It is, after all, Delmar who understands more than the others that he is a sinner in need of salvation. In one scene of the movie, Delmar runs, without hesitation, eagerly into the river, ahead of a long line of white-robed faithful, to get himself baptized.
But it is the scene around the camp fire when Delmar reveals what he will do with his treasure money that provides some real insight into Delmar. Here is what he says, as he lays on the ground, in the dancing firelight, staring off into the darkness:
”I’m gonna visit those foreclosing son-of-a-guns at the Indianola Savings & Loan, slap that money on the barrelhead and buy back the family farm. You ain’t no kind of man if you ain’t got land”
That phrase, You ain’t no kind of man if you ain’t got land, has been running through my mind. Does land, the acquisition of it, and the implied working of that land, make a man more of a man than those men who never own land and/or never work the land?
My first thought was, no, of course not. A man doesn’t need land to be a man; to know the fullness of manhood. But then I thought again....
God created Adam and showed him how to plant a garden and then entrusted the garden to him. God told Adam to care for it. That was the work that God gave man to do. And then, out of Adam’s side, he created the woman to help Adam in his work. Could Adam, the first man, the model man, have fulfilled his calling without land? Not for a second. The land, the garden, tending it, that was an integral part of what it meant to be a man... to be God's man.
God calls man to exercise “dominion” in Genesis. Dominion is another word for responsible stewardship of the land and all of creation. That is the fundamental corporate calling of all mankind. It is a clear agrarian mandate.
A mandate is "an authoritative command or instruction". Agrarian means "relating to or concerning the land and it’s ownership, cultivation, and tenure." Tenure is "the fact or condition of holding something, as real estate," which is to say, the condition of owning or being responsible for..... land.
You ain’t no kind of man if you ain’t got land
After the flood of Noah’s day, the agrarian mandate was still in effect. In Genesis 9:20 we find that Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard. “Husbandman” is an old word typically applied to farmers who practice “husbandry,” which is “the cultivation of crops and the breeding and raising of livestock; agriculture.” Another dictionary definition of husbandry is “good, careful management of resources; economy.” Therefore, husbandry is the responsible stewardship of the land. It is the dominion mandate. It is the agrarian mandate. It is all the same. It is part of what men were created to do.
I can find no place in scripture where this first, fundamental, undergirding agrarian calling for man is revoked or altered by God. If it is, someone please tell me. And if it isn’t, then Christianity, and Christian men, have strayed from God’s calling. They have been seduced and waylaid by the Industrial Siren (“siren: deceitful, seductive woman, temptress”).
You ain’t no kind of man if you ain’t got land
Please understand that Noah, a man who lived a life of obedience to God, did not construct a city, which is an anti-agrarian culture of landless men. Please note that obedient Abraham chose the agrarian life while his disobedient nephew, Lot, chose to live in the city. Please note that God delivered His people out of a centralized, urbanized Egyptian culture (where they were enslaved) and brought them to the fertile, productive land of Canaan. In order to be the men of God that they were created to be, in order to fulfill their corporate calling, those men needed land.
You ain’t no kind of man if you ain’t got land
The earth, the land, all of creation, was made to display God’s glory and men were put in the midst to glorify their creator-God by being co-creators with Him through the work of planting and tending the land. By making it fruitful. By making it beautiful. By drawing sustenance from it. All for the glory of God. All in accordance to His plan and calling. When men veer away from this God-ordained purpose, they miss something vitally important.
Our industrial culture draws men away from the land and their God-ordained purpose. Modern industrialism sees the land and creation only as something to exploit for maximum profit. The concept of Biblical husbandry is a joke to the industrial mindset. Industrialism says: “Forget the land. Let us join together to organize the means of production and increase our "standards of living." Our purpose is to pursue personal pleasure, ease, and fulfillment within in the urban/industrial paradigm. The acquisition of money and power and prestige is what men were made for. Possessions make the man. You were created to make money. The land is only important if you can use it to extract wealth to feed your temporal pleasures.”
And so we live in a world where men who build personal empires of wealth and prestige are exalted as examples of success. Men who can hit or throw or kick a ball with skill and accuracy are heroes. Men who have well sculpted muscles and great physical strength from mindless exercising and vain bodybuilding are looked upon as "real men." It is all a perversion of truth.
I’m more impressed by a man who can cultivate and hill up a patch of potatoes, with a simple hoe, in the hot sun, than I am by any Olympic athlete.
I’m more impressed by a man who can grow gorgeous tomatoes, and is married to a plain woman who can make a good meal with those tomatoes, than I am with a man of the world who has a gorgeous “trophy” wife that can’t cook anything unless it comes already half prepared from a supermarket.
I’m more impressed with a resourceful, self-reliant man who knows how to use his hands and his mind to build and craft and fix all kinds of things for himself and his family than I am by a man who knows only how to do one or two specialized things in a factory or a cubicle.
I’m more impressed with a simple man who can teach his children well, than I am with a highly educated and credentialed professor who teaches at a great university.
I’m more impressed with a man who focuses his life on caring for and responsibly managing his family, a section of land, and his livestock than I am a man who can manage a fortune 500 company.
I’m more impressed by a man who drives a 15-year-old common vehicle that he knowingly maintains himself than I am with a man who drives an expensive, fancy, new car and can’t even change his own oil or a flat tire.
I’m more impressed with a man who lives simply and within his means, “owing no other man” than I am with a man who “has it all” and is wallowing in financial debt.
I’m more impressed with a man who has work-swollen, callused hands and tattered work clothes than I am a man having soft hands and carefully trimmed fingernails, wearing a tailored suit.
All of these characteristics; these things that impress me, are common to men of the land—men who live and work close to creation. Men of the land are self reliant. They are not helpless in the world, not entirely dependent on the industrial providers for their every need. Theirs is no pseudo manhood. It is a full and difficult and rewarding manhood. Men and land and the work and hardship of working in the land go together. They were made for each other.
A Biblical worldview that ignores the agrarian mandate is unbalanced. Modern Christianity that eschews its fundamental agrarian responsibility is missing the mark. Christian men who neglect their call to be husbandmen are neglecting their responsibility as men of God.
It’s all as clear to me as a sunny day in May.
Thank you, Delmar O’Donnell.