BACK IN MONTANA a few weeks ago, I thought of Eugene Peterson as I drove along Flathead Lake near Kalispell, where he and his wife live. Didn’t see him; maybe out splitting wood or throwing his dog a bone? He’s a pastor, poet, theologian, woodsman writing of such ordinary holy stuff of our lives in his books, 30 so far. A favorite is Eat This Book, where Peterson fixates on a metaphor of solid, meaty, marrow-filled relationships akin to dogs gnawing on solid, marrow-filled bones. They’re satisfying.
I COME FROM COWBOYS and Norwegian homesteaders in northeastern Montana. From Eugene Peterson and from these ordinary people–my relatives–I’ve learned the solidity of relationships, and the powerful need and desire of ‘us’ and ‘we’ in their Montana community of 200, simply to survive that harsh physical environment.
They and their homestead houses aren’t the focus of their existence, as for so many urban dwellers. There’s something bigger than themselves: it is the LAND, and they are servants to it. This reality extends to a metaphor for my relatives and me that we are part of something so much bigger, even in our losses, disappointments, and failures: whether it’s wheat crops gone bad, drowned toddlers in irrigation ditches, or marriages cut loose by divorce. Through it all we hold tight to our relationships: with the land, with one another, with God.
BUT I’M PERPLEXED. I’m back living in Seattle, a place I’ve loved for 25 years. Yet this local culture and work demand virtual relationships that seem like vapor, hugely consuming my time and energy tending to them. Yes, I’m talking Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, WordPress blogs, Digg, Tumblr, text-messaging, old-fashioned email and smartphone voicemails.
I love that technology and social media platforms allow me to be in touch with so many friends and folks world-wide, yet oddly it’s magnified my craving for in-the-flesh, face-to-face relationships. Sometimes I feel I’m breathing in and eating the steam from food cooking, rather than eating the food itself. It’s a disconnect: virtual, vapor relationships pale in comparison to the solidity of relationships, face to face: like mine in Montana, in faith, and in other realms.
How can I keep human relationships grounded—solid–in this culture of wispy, virtual relationships and–like dogs in Montana–chew on marrow-filled satisfying skulls instead of illusionary stingy scraps?
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