Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
The old phrase, “You can’t tell a book by its cover” is especially true when it comes to people! I’m learning that it is difficult to tell much about a person just from looking at them on the outside. As you know, I was born and raised in Chicago. But what you do not know is I also have country and rural connections from my childhood on my grandmother’s farm in Port Arthur, Texas. My earliest memory of being on the farm is the smell of milk as it hits the bucket under a cow’s udder. I remember the smell and connect it the taste of Corn Flakes I eat for breakfast. Grandma had more of a house with farm animals than a farm! She had a few cows and chickens on her 5 acres. There may have even been a pig waddling around somewhere. Granddad (Who was really my step-grandfather. My real grandfather died when my father was a teenager) always wore coveralls and smelled of sweat from the Texas heat.
When I married Marilyn, I learned another level of country and farm living. My first time going to my father-in-law’s farm in Bowling Green, Missouri became a deep dive into the country. We arrived at night and the darkness was overwhelming. I’d never seen so many stars in the sky. I called it “dark dark!” I came to understand the self-sufficiency of farming. Anything my father-in-law needed could be made on the 1500 acre farm. I listened as this independent minded man in blue jeans and a plaid flannel shirt shared his in-depth knowledge of land, animals, and weather. He would then just as easily talk about insurance, the economy, and social events. The notion of the dumb farmer is quickly dismissed in conversations with my father-in-law.
As a person raised in Chicago, I have country and rural roots. As a farmer in Bowling Green, my father-in-law is current on what is happening in metro St. Louis. He and I have come to know and appreciate one another because we have conversations.
As I do the work of the presbytery in rural communities, I experience a lot of assumptions regarding values and understanding of different cultures. There are several dichotomies including country versus city and fancy versus simple. These assumptions play into our politics (liberal versus conservative) and our values (Biblical versus biblical). Not to mention assumptions about race and ignorance regarding the capacity and potential of people because of the color of their skin.
But these dichotomies are often proven false when we sit and talk with one another. While talking and listening to one another (preferably over a meal!) we may learn that we have more in common than we assume. Ask Dardenne Presbyterian and Third Presbyterian Church’s men’s groups. Through conversations they learned to appreciate and respect one another. Even though many come from different racial and economic backgrounds.
I find that people usually love their families, want what is best for their children, want work that is meaningful and significant, honor their heritage, and really do care about the environment. Most people have experienced hardship either personally or with a family member, and they want a better life for their grandchildren. If we can listen to one another and find points of connection with common values and suffering, we may find that we are not so different after all.
Rev. Craig Howard