01 Apr Folks, This Ain’t Normal

My title for this post is borrowed from a book by Joel Salatin which bears the same name. This is a book that I am currently reading through. Joel has some amazing insights into many of the current problems we are facing as a society within agriculture and food production, and beyond.

Joel begins with a bit of an introduction and briefly explains his life story. I want to share with you the conclusion of this introduction as well as what I think is the thesis statement of this book. It’s a bit of a long quote but it has some profound insights and gives a lot of food for thought. So here we go…

“Our four generations living on the farm is perhaps my single greatest blessing. Surrounded by this emerald farm in God’s creative crown, surrounded by abundance in the fields, the gardens, and the basement larder, feasting on compost-grown, pasture raised food minimally prepared in our home kitchen, communing with family – this is normal. The is connection, foundation, heritage, tradition.

And yet most modern Americans can’t conceive of living like this.

The United States now has too few farmers to merit counting on the national census form. As a culture, we don’t cook at home. We don’t have a larder. We’ve tuned in, plugged in, addicted to electronic gadgetry to the exclusion of a whippoorwill’s midsummer song or a herd of cows lying down contently on the leeward side of a slope indicating a thunderstorm in the offing. Most modern Americans can’t conceive of a time without supermarkets, without refrigeration, stainless steel, plastic, bar codes, and potato chips.

Ours is certainly not an old culture. Yet in recent decades we’ve used more energy, destroyed more soil, created more pathogenicity (temporarily stopped some too, for sure), mutated more bacteria, and dumped more toxicity on the planet than all cultures before us – combined. I love the United States, but I am not blind to the wrongs…I’d like us to think broadly and deeply about how to restore normalcy, to reincorporate those foundations that sustain cultures – by using what we know and what we have in ways that honour and respect those upon whose shoulders we stand.”

That is a long quote but my reason for sharing this is that it, for me, highlights how abnormal our situation is. This quote draws a contrast between two ways of life. Joel and his family live according to traditions and customs that have been practiced for centuries. They are connected to the land and the animals on a deep level. They strive to live in accord with nature instead of dominating it and destroying it. Contrast this with the average American family who live in cities surrounded by concrete far away from family, animals, plants, and the traditions and heritage which are the foundation of our country. We are constantly tuned in to social media and have all the latest electronic gadgets.

I feel the struggle between the artificial world we have created and the natural God created for mankind. As anyone who knows me can attest, I love technology. I like to play around with computers and any gadget I can get my hands on, but the illusion has begun to dissipate. When I reflect on how I feel when I use all these gadgets or ask what value they bring to my life, I realize how empty I feel inside. I can spend all day on the computer and feel like I have accomplished nothing, but when I step outside and do some physical labour, cut firewood, build something, etc. I can see what I have accomplished and it gives a sense of satisfaction, because I have made a contribution to the world outside myself that others can benefit from. I think that is what Joel feels when he is working on his farm. He is at peace and loves being surrounded by the abundance and wonder of the natural world. He spends his days raising plants and animals that will nourish his family and many others. There is a sense of satisfaction knowing that what we are doing will benefit others and the world around us. It is this feeling of satisfaction that is missing when we spend so much time with our gadgets. A computer is a tool and can be very helpful, even necessary at times, but ultimately we need to remember that it is just a tool and will never compare with the beauty, tranquility, and intricacies of the natural world. We will not get the same satisfaction from our computers and TVs that we can find in the natural world. Our creations will always fall short of God’s creation.

One of the goals of the John Paul II Cultural Centre is to help people to encounter God through the natural world. We want to create a space to get away from all our modern gadgets and distractions so that we can experience the beauty of what God has given us. Taking a walk through the forest is so peaceful. There are times when I forget where I am. There is just a peace that comes to me and I am able to think and pray more deeply. It is an amazing experience.

If you get the chance I would encourage you to read Joel Salatin’s book Folks, This Ain’t Normal. I have just started reading it and it is absolutely incredible. Joel is a philosophy who thinks deeply about the issues facing us as a society and he believes the answer is to follow the wisdom and traditions of those who came before us. We cannot cut ourselves off from the past. As Edmund Burke said “Those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it.”