Mow Pilgrim, Mow

By Joel Hess –

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“Pretty much by definition, a lawn is unnatural,” writes Elizabeth Kolbert in her article “Turf Wars” in The New Yorker, July 2008.

I enjoy cutting my lawn. I enjoy landscaping: carefully arranging plants, flowers, rocks into pleasing patterns.  It deeply satisfies me.

When I was younger and of course more quick to blurt out seemingly brilliant yet later unwise accusations (see sophmorism, also see Calvinism) , I scoffed at the old man tending his lawn.  Why?  Let it grow.  Do not intrude. Fit in to your surroundings like a chameleon, like an animal, like you belong there.  Why “arrange” anything.  Nature needs no help.

Andrew Jackson Downing brought the “lawn” and landscaping into the American mainstream way back in the early 19th century.  He promoted it as an almost moral act of good citizenry.  But today many “progressives” look down on the lawn.  In fact they preach that the less man touches our world, the better it will thrive and the more beautiful it can be.

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From cartoons to state run classrooms, our leaders regularly remind us that we are just animals; stop interfering.  Yet from the other side of their mouths they advise with a moral passion that humans, unlike any other animal, have been given a responsibility by “the universe” to take care of our world for the next generation.  Of course, what the hell is “responsibility” if not an abstract term that requires a belief in something? As animals, shouldn’t we follow our instincts? Be ourselves. I was born this way. You cannot approve or disapprove of me or my actions.  Animals don’t have responsibility! So throw your Mountain Dew bottle in the river.  It’s natural.  It is, by their definition, impossible to do anything un-natural!

Well, assuming you are a thinker and not a fuzz-brain knee-jerking drone who had a poster of Carl Sagan and an Ansel Adams photo in his college dorm, what is the Christian response to the lawn?

The lawn is the prime act of art, of man. Invading, rearranging nature as if to improve it.

How bold.  How presumptive of us.

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At first it seems contrary to either a pure Creationist or Evolutionist. How can you better the universe!?

Ah, but we can. We were meant to.  In fact the cutting of a lawn is not contrary to creation or nature; it is required of it. Moving earth, arranging flora, trimming grass to a pleasing uniformity and length is the most natural thing one can do.  A lawn, by definition, is natural.

In terms of Christianity, even after God said everything was good, He told Adam and Eve to manage it.  He didn’t give it to them for their own whim and pleasure.  They were instructed to take care of it: to move things, to plant things, to harvest things, to name things. Ah, God allows Adam to use his creative powers.

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Of course, not everything we touch turns to gold. Our vision is skewed, our reasoning can be unreasonable, our hands shaky, and the earth does not so easily obey us as it did before the fall.  A lawn, for many reasons, can hurt the senses and even its surroundings.  With good intentions we can damage God’s creation, and with foolish or even evil intentions our Babel towers can fall on us; our Titanics can run into icebergs.

Ironically, Andrew Jackson Downing who promoted man’s hand at improving his little piece of nature, died in a steamboat accident.

But in Christ, do not fear. Go forward, pioneer. Put your hand to the plow, icon of God, and sculpt God’s earth. Manage what He has given you and make it more beautiful.

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