Four farmers called in to our cellar door the other day. Well more like two farmers and their wives, if that is not too sexist. I’m sure the wives worked on the farm too, but I didn’t get the feeling that their identity was tied up in farming. The blokes were farmers. Working, sleeping or on holidays, they were farmers. If you have lived on the land you will know what I mean. These are the type of people who are happy to go to any destination as long as it passes through farmland and they can check out the crops, the cows and the sheep along the way. Even better if you can catch up with a cousin or even a stranger and talk farming.
They were dairy farmers from New Zealand and had been on the road for a couple of weeks. They had visited their share of art galleries, museums and shopping centres and the menfolk were hungry for some farming talk. If the price of that talk was a bottle of wine, then so be it. So for about 45 minutes they drank coffee and asked me about farming life in Australia. The crops, the livestock, the fertility of the soil, the price of water and the pressures of changing community perceptions and expectations about animal welfare and pollution. The politicians were not spared, nor were the “greenies” or the press.
The wives were silent throughout the visit, but one tasted some wine and bought a bottle. Otherwise they let the men talk. When it was over they all happily hopped back in their rental car and kept going towards their destination.
I must confess that there is a lot of me in these two blokes from New Zealand. Whenever we travel, I am always asking, “What do people do for a living here?” I remember in 1979 travelling across India by train. One trip was 18 hours and the second was 36 hours. It was a wonderful experience. Travelling second class, hanging out the door with my camera, taking endless photos of this strange landscape, talking to the passengers. All the stranger because its lush paddies and crops and villages confounded my very limited and distorted understanding of India. A land I had only seen on TV and in the press when there was drought and famine. I was fortunate in that I later got to stay for three weeks in a village and get to know the locals. Ride a push-bike through the sorghum, fish in the river and eat in their homes.
Destinations seem to want to attract us by being flashy, sensational and exciting. The freeways hide the countryside from out view. We have come to expect that if life isn’t “sensational,” something must be wrong. If we are not careful, we can apply those expectations to our spiritual journey and fail to see God at work in the ordinary events of life. Most times, life isn’t fantastic, it’s just life. Life for the most part is ordinary and sometimes painful. But that is when we do the most of our living, learning and growing.
Most of the stories of Jesus happen on the road. He and his disciples are walking somewhere and they meet a woman at a well, or a beggar sits beside the road, or little man has climbed a fig tree. These ordinary moments are transformed by Jesus into memorable encounters.
If we have eyes to see, this is where we too can encounter Jesus.
This is the gospel and it’s good news.
Brian Spencer, Minister, Tatura Uniting Church.