Watson: Love the land together

Nov 7, 2016 by

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Recently, in an endless Facebook scroll, I saw the phrase “reintegration of Trump voters.” The phrase, now lost to the annals of endless scrolls, stuck with me. On Nov. 9, the “yuge” year-plus fact-check of culture and politics will have run its electoral course. We will be left trying to live together in peace.

Hillary Watson


A post-campaign peace defies expertise. How do we integrate two large ideological factions in an otherwise prosperous society with freedom of movement and expression? There is no isolated act of violence (as of this writing) to be restored from. What does political peace-building in a liberal democratic two-party system mean, especially when we don’t expect this to be the end of conflict?

When I consider it, the wheels of my mind spin out. It’s hard to imagine a future with less hatred, and 2020 is just around the corner.

The challenge of reintegration is that it implies space-sharing. Putting Democrats and Republicans in the same physical communities . . . that boat left a long time ago. Our nation, in its infinite mobility, spent decades sorting liberals into cities — or, sometimes, college towns — and conservatives into secluded suburbs or rural regions. The idea of “reintegrating” American politics hinges on bridging the gap between communities.

How do we unsort the self-sorting? We can’t return people to their home watersheds. In spite (or because) of my Christian hope, the thought of unsorting leads me to minor-prophet-thinking — forecasts of plagues, sins and famines and our flawed protagonist of a nation crushed underfoot and exiled. Our God said, “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured” (Isaiah 1:19-20).

But my Christian hope also recalls another prophetic parable. As the Babylonian military ravaged Judah, the Lord told the prophet Jeremiah to buy land. Not any land, but the family land none of the other relatives wanted to buy.

Jeremiah buys the land as an act of hope.

Hope for our own time, too, hinges on love of the land. It’s not a strong hope. But there is small hope in learning to love the land, deeply and theologically. The great political sorting comes from the great commodification of land. In the American myth, any plot of land is just as good and useful and wifi-enabled as any other. Wendell Berry calls it the gospel of the “itinerant professional vandal,” who has no sense of stewardship for land or community.

Vandalizing the land has vandalized our capacity to disagree and live together. Healthy, well-adjusted, peacefully disagreeing communities share a compassion and love of land, even in disagreement. A healthy community tracks the seasons, knows their natural landmarks, the names of birds instead of fast-food joints.

There’s no undoing this shift, not en masse. But as a Christian witness, we can affirm the symbiosis of the rural and urban communities.

Affirm the young Mennonites who return to, or stay on, their families’ land. Affirm the youth who were raised in the city and stay there. Acknowledge that the farmer is exploited by the same system that creates food deserts in urban communities of color. Proclaim that liberation from racism and sexism comes alongside liberation of the farmer and food system. Transform decaying spaces in the country, in the city, in the suburbs. Reintegration may be beyond us. But mutual affirmation and transformation is something I will continue to hope for.

Hillary Watson pastors at Lombard Mennonite Church in suburban Chicago. She blogs at gatheringthestones.com.

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