Here in southwest Wisconsin, spring has finally arrived. It took a while to get out into the garden due to rain falling every other day or so for weeks, but we were finally blessed with a dry stretch that made it possible to prepare the soil. As soon as I could, I started meticulously shaping raised rows in an east-west orientation, amending the soil with rich compost and organic fertilizer, then leveling and grooming the surface of each 30-inch-wide bed. The wind blew consistently and strongly from the south, bringing unusually warm temperatures with it. The dairy cows across the road watched me with what seemed like amusement as I labored joyfully in the hot sun. It was tiring, peaceful, gratifying work.
One of my favorite early crops is sugar snap peas. They do best when trellised, and it sure makes it easier to pick the peas, too! I used a heavy pounder to drive tall metal posts into the center of the bed I wanted to plant them in, but then I came to an impasse. How to move a 16-foot-long x 50-inch-high cattle panel (a type of fencing with a large square grid) onto the tidy bed alone? There was no easy way. While they aren’t very heavy, trying to wrangle something that long and awkward by myself surely would have damaged the bed and the one next to it to boot, and wiring the panel to the posts without someone to hold it in place would have been a challenge, as well.
Fortunately, the answer lives next door in the person of a kind, hardworking man named Eric who does justice to the label of “neighbor.” I sent him a text asking if he could give me a hand. He was more than happy to help, and with the two of us, it was a piece of cake—done in 5 minutes and with the beds no worse for the wear. We discussed how to position the panel, deciding together how it would work best.
Did I mention that Eric and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, and that in terms of life history, we share almost no similarities? But over time, we have developed a friendship based on what we DO have in common—a love of God and of being out in nature, a passion for growing things and for birdwatching, consternation at some of the problems of the day (even if we don’t agree about how to solve them), a fondness (okay, an obsession) with the Green Bay Packers, and a willingness to see past our differences.
Putting up a cattle panel together was a minor thing—no big deal, right? But as Fr Richard Rohr is fond of saying “How you do anything is how you do everything.” Following that logic, this simple example of collaboration—joining with another to accomplish something—inclines our hearts and hones our skills for bigger efforts. Collaboration, be it big or small, requires humility and a commitment to working at relationships. It means being willing to ask for help and sometimes putting the needs of others ahead of our own agenda. We need grace, courage and trust to give up power or control. We have to be present enough to see that our commonalities as children of God are infinitely more important than any labels, politics, or experiences that might divide us.
Scripture makes it clear that God is a fan of collaboration. Remember, it was not good that the man should be alone (Genesis 2), he sent them out two-by-two (Luke 10; Mark 6), and we are all brothers (and sisters) and we have but one Father (who is, mysteriously, THREE in ONE!)(Matthew 23).
So, the next time you work together with someone, don’t downplay its significance. Thank the Holy Spirit for leading you there. The more we practice and encourage daily collaborations, being neighborly despite our differences and “reaching across the aisle,” the better prepared we’ll be to take on issues that are too big for any one person or organization. Problems like hunger, violence, human trafficking and climate change can only be dealt with collaboratively and cooperatively—Together.
It’s not news that this past year was tough for lots of people. Symbolic though it may be, I’ve never been so happy to recycle my old calendar and hang up a new one! I’ve always been an optimist—a glass half-full person. Perhaps that’s partially why this last...