Preparing the Fields

Preparing the Fields

They’re preparing the fields for planting here in Iowa, where I spent most of yesterday driving straight up through the middle of the state on I-35, past farming communities with idyllic names like Garden Grove, Winterset, Swaledale and Woolstock. The tidy patchwork fields that cover the gently rolling hills have been mowed, plowed or raked, some with farm implements powered by Amish muleteams, others with bright red or green or blue tractors. The dead stubble of last autumn’s corn has been churned under. In its place, arrow-straight furrows of rich black earth point to red and white barns, round silver grain silos glinting in the sun, weathered wood outbuildings and neat farmhouses.

In some places in the Midwest and Southwest, they prepare the earth for planting through “controlled burns” – setting fire to the dead stalks, brush and weeds that cover the ground. Jerry and Becky Baile Crouse explained the burn process when I stayed at their home in Warrensburg, Missouri this weekend. They mow the perimeter around the area they want to burn, and soak it thoroughly with water, to create a fire-break. They rake loose stalks, brush and other materials into a pile in the middle, to consolidate the main fire in a small area. They carefully and lightly sprinkle the burn area with a mix of kerosene and gas, then ignite it. People are stationed around the perimeter, with special tools they can use to quickly smother any wayward flames. It’s a risky, smoky, exhausting process. It requires preparation and great care. It requires the support of a whole team of people. But, as Jerry said, “There’s something about a burn that lets the wildflowers and grasses come back even stronger and more beautiful afterward.”

Jerry and Becky also shared some of their congregation’s journey from faltering and near extinction to the thriving, lively, diverse community of faith they have now. The Warrensburg COB congregation was one of the most friendly, hospitable, welcoming groups I’ve ever visited. But they also shared that getting to this point has been a struggle, with lots of stops and starts along the way. And Jerry and Becky and their family had to start from near-scratch themselves, to establish a life for themselves here, to adjust, after returning to the US from years in the Dominican Republic. “It was hard,” Becky admitted. Their kids agreed.

Making way for new growth in our own lives and in the world is a scary, messy, risky business. We may have to prune, pluck, mow down or till under old ideas, perceptions, feelings or ways of doing things before something new can grow in our lives. We may even need a “controlled burn,” with the help of special tools and a team of people around us to offer support.

I’ve seen this often in the mediations I’ve facilitated. Each party comes to mediation with their own views of what “really” happened, of how things “are” and what “should” be done. Yet, often through the process of dialogue, of hearing how the other party sees things, of truly seeing the other person, a shift occurs – sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic – and new growth can happen, for each party and for their relationship.

Victim offender mediations are an even more difficult and delicate process of shedding old feelings and perceptions before new growth can occur. For many offenders, in order to be truly accountable, they must be able to churn under their pride and fear, often even their image of who they are. To offer an apology requires making oneself vulnerable, potentially open to attack from a still-angry victim. For victims, if they feel ready to forgive, they need to set aside old feelings, desires for revenge or retaliation to allow for healing and to make it possible to move on. They need to shed thoughts of the offender as “that monster who did this to me” to see and acknowledge the offender’s humanity, in spite of what they’ve done. As with “controlled burns,” it’s risky, messy and scary. But truly miraculous healing and new growth can come out of this process, for individuals, for relationships and for the community.

As a society, in order to get to a justice system that is truly “just,” there’s much that we will need to do to prune away the old approaches of punishment and retribution to offer opportunities for redemption and healing brokenness, to offer a form of justice that is truly restorative.

Getting rid of the old to make way for something new. It can be a painful, scary, messy, risky business. But the promise IS new life, better, stronger, more whole and more beautiful than what came before. And that’s the ultimate story, and the ultimate promise, of this holy Easter season.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: What might need to be pruned, plucked, mowed, plowed, tilled under or even subjected to a “controlled burn” in your own life, to make way for new growth?

See my Iowa farm photos here.

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: grace goes to prison restorative justice book tour

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