Clean Dirt

29861Praises and curses come from the same mouth! My brothers and sisters, this should not happen. Do good and bad water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree make olives, or can a grapevine make figs? No! And a well full of salty water cannot give good water. James 3:10-12

My perception growing up was that farmers seemed to get together throughout the year to chat about all-things-farm-related, but spring was a particular busy time of buzz talking among farmers. They compared field status, progress, and projections for the year. They shared anxieties and swapped stories of yesteryear. Perhaps I noticed the community of farmers more than those isolated farmers I know must have existed simply because my own dad was social, as were most of his friends.

Gathering at the local restaurant was a common occurrence of daily life for my dad, so it was familiar to me. I joined him every now and then. I remember the settled-in grease smell, but as the spring continued, I noticed more of a settled-in dirt smell. Farmers might get a bad rap for being dirty, but the dirt on their clothes is rarely fresh dirt. Many farmers have work clothes, set aside for farm work days, just like any of us have work clothes for our specific job needs. For farmers, and particularly for those who do their laundry, as long as the clothes are clean, the stains aren’t a worry. If they’re just going to get dirty again, you might as well simply run them through the laundry and not worry about the set in stains. So farmers might look dirty but really aren’t. Because they often have a pair of less-often washed coveralls or hats when they run to town for coffee, there’s a deeply set-in rich earth smell. Some would call it dirty. Many would call it opportunity for work and income. It was as if the dirt was clean.

It’s a contradiction that didn’t bother me. It didn’t even seem like a contradiction to me. It was just part of life. There were other contradictions I noticed, such as how two farmers could see a similar circumstance in vastly different ways. One would see an afternoon of rain as a welcome relief to catch up on some machinery maintenance. Another would see it as a nearly unmanageable interruption to a tight schedule. One would see a neighbor’s emergency as an opportunity to help. Another would see it as an unwelcome distraction. More than one reaction would come out of a single situation. Responses contradict.

James 3 refers to a contradiction that comes from within. While praises and curses seem to be coming from the same mouth, James points out that when guided by God, the one true source of life, the only option springing from a follower of God will be good. A godly source cannot produce ungodly results. The two cannot coexist.

When has your life included contradictions?

Let’s be real. We’re human, and we’re going to err. Paul, the author of Romans, knew this struggle intimately: We know that the law is spiritual, but I am not spiritual since sin rules me as if I were its slave. I do not understand the things I do. I do not do what I want to do, and I do the things I hate. And if I do not want to do the hated things I do, that means I agree that the law is good. But I am not really the one who is doing these hated things; it is sin living in me that does them. Yes, I know that nothing good lives in me—I mean nothing good lives in the part of me that is earthly and sinful. I want to do the things that are good, but I do not do them. I do not do the good things I want to do, but I do the bad things I do not want to do. So if I do things I do not want to do, then I am not the one doing them. It is sin living in me that does those things.

So I have learned this rule: When I want to do good, evil is there with me. In my mind, I am happy with God’s law. But I see another law working in my body, which makes war against the law that my mind accepts. That other law working in my body is the law of sin, and it makes me its prisoner. What a miserable man I am! Who will save me from this body that brings me death? I thank God for saving me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So in my mind I am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful self I am a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:14-25)

How do you relate to Paul’s struggle?

I feel as if I’m wearing clean dirt-stained overalls.

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