We have a rail trail near our house that I love to run. During the winter I usually have the whole trail to myself. I don’t see another walker, runner or biker the entire time I am running. The trail is not very long right now – about three miles – but there are several connecting side trails, loops and spurs. The trail starts in a small town (Lititz) and heads East. An adjacent town (Ephrata) also has a trail that heads West. This year the two trails will be linked, for a total of seven miles. A fourteen mile out-and-back route where I don’t have to worry about traffic? Yes, please!
I was running on the trail last week. There was a little bit of snow on the ground. No one else was around, and on many sections of the trail, there were no footprints other than mine. I was on my way back to the parking lot, when I saw something gray streak past. This gray “something” was too big to be a squirrel. It had a canine appearance. It ran from a nearby field towards the trail about 50 feet ahead of me, where there is a scattering of trees, bushes, and weeds on a bank. I checked the tracks it left in the snow. Definitely not a squirrel.
There are coyotes in our county. It could have been a coyote. I was not sure if gray foxes exist in our area, so I just checked. They do. The Pennsylvania Game Commission states on their website that gray foxes prefer brushy areas, while red foxes prefer farmland, but both types are “very adaptable and can be found throughout the state”. Interesting fox fact: gray foxes are the only member of the dog family that can climb trees! Now as I run, I will be scanning nearby trees for foxes. One disheartening thing about finding fox information on the Game Commission’s website is the reminder that foxes can be hunted.
I was trying to decide if the area where I saw the animal (in my mind, I am already identifying it as a gray fox) was brushy or farmland. It is actually a brushy area in the middle of farmland. Kind of like a big hedgerow.
In Leviticus, God instructs farmers not to harvest to the very edge of a field. In other words, leave a hedgerow. Crops left at the edge of the field were originally meant for the poor, but hedgerows are also good environmental practice. They capture carbon and improve water infiltration. In Isaiah the Bible instructs not to “lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!” Apparently, the spaces in between are very important to God.
I live in a county where most people take religion very seriously. We have large communities of Amish, Mennonites and Brethren. Many are farmers, and they cultivate the concept of being separate from the world, separate from the rest of us. The other.
When I was growing up, I lived in a neighborhood with a lots of children. Almost every house contributed some kids to our band, and we ran barefoot through nearby yards and fields. There was one Mennonite household on our street. They were not farmers; they owned a store that sold farm machinery. I wanted to make friends with the little girl in that house who was the same age as me. We played together occasionally. The friendship was tolerated, but not encouraged by her family. As we grew up it was tolerated less. Few children from these churches attend public schools. They attend parochial schools in order to separate themselves from secular society. While they are polite and even friendly to outsiders, they have few friends outside of their own community.
Amish, Mennonites, and other members of Peace Churches are usually very socially and politically conservative. In Lancaster County they are also some of the strongest advocates for welcoming refugees and immigrants. This county has been named “America’s refugee capital”. As I said, religion is taken seriously. Verses from both the Old and New Testament advocate welcoming the stranger. The seeming paradox between conservative views and the open door to immigrants is really no paradox. While church members are strong believers in conservative values such as personal responsibility and limited government, they also preach the Christian values of renunciation of violence forgiveness and generosity. They know what it is like to be “the other”.
I tried and failed to find valid biblical references that support the anti-immigration policy espoused by so many conservatives. This is the paradox. Conservative evangelical Christians profess more conservative than Christian views when it comes to immigration. These two schools of thought are not always the same.
Christians often pray for a “hedge of protection“, which is a hilarious video, but is not actually found in the Bible. It probably refers to the verse in the Book of Job where Satan challenges God to take away the hedge that He has placed around Job to protect him, his lands and possessions. Satan’s point was – take away the hedge, let misfortune befall Job, and see if he still glorifies God. (Spoiler alert: he did). A spiritual hedge of protection is something worth asking for, but do we really want to place a physical hedge around our country? To follow the God of the spaces in between would suggest otherwise.