I don’t live off the land…not in the traditional sense of farming and hunting to survive nor in a more contemporary sense of enjoying the great outdoors and trying to get back, in a hipster way, to my agrarian roots. But I am enthralled by the notion of land in our identity and theology.
In Indiana it was clear that we were surrounded by farmers who had a close identity to the land they worked. They knew the soil content and the areas that would get flooded. They knew the lay of the land from their tractors and, so I’ve been told, just picking up a handful of dirt and smelling it they could assess some of the qualities of that land and the ability to grow crops there. The land was part of who they were. And so, as I saw farms go into foreclosure and people move out of communities, the loss of the land was a real blow to their own identity–who they were. It’s like a part of themselves dying.
In Alaska, I heard similar stories about the homesteaders up here, the folks who settled in after World War II; chopping their way through the woods to the place they’d call their own, building their cabins with their own two hands, raising kids, and growing old with the same views of mountains around them, the same lakes and fish out the back door, and the same hunting grounds nearby.
Times, of course, have changed. We are much more mobile than we used to be, with persons working in communities in which they don’t live, with jobs getting transferred cross-country, with families no longer living in the same towns as they always had. We’re more “nomadic” I guess these days.
But, land, for many, is important. It gives a sense of place. It gives a sense of home. I think it can be hard not to have a place you identify as “home” for you.
And, of course, land is a big deal in the Scriptures as well. In Genesis we have the giving of land to Adam and Eve. We have the exile from the Garden and then the push to work the soil after The Fall. So much of the story of the Exodus and the Exile is tied up in the the land of Israel…to the point that the Hebrews, throughout much of the Scriptures wonder how they going to be God’s people when they are not connected to that specific tract of land in the Middle East.
After the Ascension of Christ the spread of the church sort of blows apart the traditional understanding of land because we can now find people of faith all across the world. No longer is faith dependent on a particular place–a particular tract of land. And, as witnessed in the Book of Acts, faith is no longer dependent upon one’s ethnicity.
I find all of this interesting as I try to figure out what the land means for people in Seward and Moose Pass. Much of their connection with “the land” is really a connection with “the sea.” It’s a source of business and entertainment and sustenance. Instead of having a community revolving around harvesting corn, we have a community that, in large part, is built upon harvesting fish. And this time of year I get to see just how very important that is to the folk here. This is not so say that our folk don’t love getting out in the mountains, climbing peaks, hopping on their snowmachines, and taking long hikes. There are mountains around here where there is clearly a sense of ownership of them…our biggest event in Seward is The Mount Marathon Race.