Out in the Country



Whenever I need to leave it all behind
Or feel the need to get away
I find a quiet place, far from the human race
Out in the country

Before the breathin’ air is gone
Before the sun is just a bright spot in the night-time
Out where the rivers like to run
I stand alone and take back somethin’ worth rememberin’

Whenever I feel them closing in on me
Or need a bit of room to move
When life becomes too fast, I find relief at last
Out in the country
—”Out in the Country” by Three Dog Night (lyrics by Paul Williams)

Rev-Ed over at Attention Span wrote a piece that brought tears to my eyes. That doesn’t happen too often, but as I reflect on what he says in “God Speaks in the Country” all I can say to that post is “Yes and amen!”

It will be five years this July for us in our country home. We’ve adapted to a slower pace (though it’s not that significantly slower anymore), grown our own food, put in an orchard, and dreamed big dreams about growing herbs and wine grapes using permaculture methods. Call me converted, but I agree with the new agrarians who believe that our divorce from the land has led to spiritual impoverishment. Or as Neil Peart of Rush once penned:

Sprawling on the fringes of the city
In geometric order
An insulated border
In between the bright lights
And the far unlit unknown

Growing up it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass production zone

Nowhere is the dreamer
Or the misfit so alone
—”Subdivisions” by Rush

Sadly, the country is evaporating, the sprawling “mass production zone” creeping in on us faster than we would have hoped. Field after field within ten miles of our home sports a “For Sale” sign. Last week we found out they’ll be putting in a hospital about three miles west of us. Just more lights to obliterate our starry sky. The previous hospital we used is only twenty minutes away, twelve if you speed to it, but someone decided we needed something even closer despite the fact that ten miles east of our home another medical facility is going in. The handwriting’s on the wall. Somewhere a strip mall is being blueprinted by people who never saw a Painted Lady alight on the pale blue chicory.

I look up in the night sky and every year it’s a shade lighter. The rim of the western sky glows continually now, drowning out the light of the celestial spheres, the stars obscured by wasted parking lot light tossed carelessly upward. I look at the Orion telescope catalogs we get and I wonder if I’ll ever have enough money to buy that telescope before the creeping suburbs make it out our way and render our sky the same blank slate I see in the city.

What annihilates the meadows that once teemed with butterflies and wildflowers? The aforementioned strip mall—upscale, of course, because we all know that country people like to shop at Saks. But then we realize it’s not really for the country people, it’s for those fleeing the rotting cities relegated to urban blight and violence, another gunned-down black youth a signpost leading out of town for whites looking to put some distance between themselves and the senseless hate. Meanwhile, the bright suburb of 1970 has passed into its decrepitude and its residents are no longer “our kind of people.” So some flee to the next plot of ex-farmland and create another suburban hell that thirty years from now will be in its own doddering years.

We bought an existing house, so we didn’t add to the problem. Our deed said that our property was first surveyed in 1763. Pioneering men stood at the tops of the rolling hills and scried out a plot of land that would one day hold our 13.2 acres. Almost 250 years later and the feeling in the heart of those men is the same one that captured us. To get back to the soil and coax from it the fruits of the earth. The joy of the harvest. The rich bounty of God’s provision. The connection to the life He breathed into Creation.

We’ve lost our sense of wonder in the Church. We’ve packed the Lord and His glorious Creation away in one of Bloomingdale’s Little Brown Bags and let our imaginations be filled with the perishing for no other reason than because we can. Isn’t it easier that way?

As for me and my house, we want to serve the Lord by never forgetting that the trees speak, the stars proclaim, and the rocks, rivers, and rills shout. I hear their music and never want to endure the day where my ears strain to hear their song because they are long gone. Yet too many Christians believe that their chorus has nothing to teach them. And that is one reason why we are so far from where we should be.

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
—Psalms 8:1-9 ESV

Dominion does not equal license, no matter what we think. If we pave paradise and put up a parking lot, what sense will our own hymnody make to a future generation?

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.
—”This Is My Father’s World” by Maltbie Babcock

Or, as Rev-Ed points out, how will “How Great Thou Art” survive should most people never wander a forest glade?

When we lose the country, we lose so very much. It’s where I want to be because I feel like I’m closer to God out in the forest, out in the meadow, than in any church building.

Some Christians look at me and laugh because they know it will all burn some day. But when I stand in Glory, I’ll have the confidence to say to the Lord, “Jesus, I heard the trees sing your name and I joined in their song.”

10 thoughts on “Out in the Country

  1. Ken Fields


    Although I understand your point (and agree to an extent)…and although I, like you, live in the country (and have never lived in a town larger than 50,000…and never intend to), I must respectfully differ with your conclusions on this one.

    Can’t towering skyscrapers, massive sports stadiums, and sprawling factories point us and our children to the greatness of our Creator God? A God who enables His creation to be both creative and industrious.

    I wonder what Noah’s neighbors thought about his God when they watched this immense boat floating in forty days of rain. Did not Nehemiah’s enemies fear when they witnessed the building of a pretty massive (and sprawling) wall?

    This is, in part, why I love to take my children into the city…to watch the Cardinals play at Busch Stadium…to stand at the base of the Gateway Arch and feel so small. I pray that the massive city structures give my children an idea of the massiveness of their God. I realize “the country” can accomplish this, but I believe “the city” can as well. Therefore, I believe the starlit sky and the lit-up skyscraper should cause us to stand in awe of our massive and omnipotent God!

  2. Ken,

    I think we have to be careful when we try to show that Man’s cleverness points back to the Creator. God opposed Babel for a reason and I think that many times the triumphalist attitude we display in our cities hints more at our fallen state than at God’s goodness. A quick check of history shows that Industrialism made the city, but it undid the family. Is that what God desires?

    Your biblical examples exist within a cultural framework that was still agrarian, even if it supported non-agrarian jobs. Our society is no longer agrarian, though. What ancient Palestine had and what we have today are not the same, therefore it is hard to draw any fixed conclusions about the identical nature of their city life versus ours today.

    I won’t dispute how amazing the structures can be in cities, but I will contend that Christians today who have no connection to the soil have lost something. I know what I gained by living out here, but other people think I’m a nutjob for making the move. Yet when they come out here, they start understanding.

    The country isn’t perfect. We all long for Mayberry, but in real life Mayberry dried up and blew away because there were no jobs. Because we undercut the supporting structures that made farm-life profitable, we had to look elsewhere. Even we look elsewhere. While my wife and I try to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle, we are still dependent on non-agrarian jobs.

    I believe there is a way to go back. Our children will have to find it before it’s too late. Some of us in our generation are trying, but everything fights against us. The systems we’ve setup are antithetical to sustainability, but we have to start finding ways to make them work or else the future’s going to be miserable for our children.

  3. Steve S

    Dan, this post almost brought tears to my eyes! My wife and I have been exploring the “simple life” with great fervor over the last year (ironically, it ended up being a natural outgrowth of our foray into “simple church” concepts), and we feel exactly what you are talking about.

    We’re blessed to live just outside a very small town (population is 30,000, but that includes about 16,000 in University students), but long to be even farther out. I’ve lived in some pretty big cities (Dallas/Ft Worth was about 4 million in population when I lived there from ’95-’98) and I definitely have a sense of feeling “closer to God” whenever I am able to look up and actually see stars!

    Perhaps, if you and your wife have benefitted from any particular books or thoughts with regard to your change in lifestyle, you could drop me a note personally and share some with us. (steve@worshipkeys.com is my personal email)

    steve 🙂

  4. Ray

    Hey Dan — maybe that is why we read

    And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.?

    Just a thought… 🙂

    Great post to remind us of what we are losing…

  5. Lee Anne

    The problem is, when so many folks move out to the country, it ceases to be country and becomes just as bad as the urban/suburban areas they were fleeing. Malls, roads, etc. crop up to serve the needs of the people.

  6. “We’ve lost our sense of wonder in the Church. We’ve packed the Lord and His glorious Creation away in one of Bloomingdale’s Little Brown Bags and let our imaginations be filled with the perishing for no other reason than because we can.”

    What a wonderful quote!

    Do you suppose that our man made urban environment that has eliminated his Creation from declaring the glory of God and proclaiming his handiwork lends to the overall ignorance of God we see today? (This is a rhetorical question as I ponder out loud.)

    We live in an urban environment, but here in Portland, Oregon we value open untouched space. So we I can walk just 10 feet to a wetlands that is full of God’s wonder.

  7. Lee Anne,

    When I drive through the US, the one thing that strikes me more than anything is that it’s largely uninhabited. There’s so much open space here it’s amazing.

    The world is largely unpopulated. If you gave every person on the planet a 20′ x 20′ room to live in, restricting those rooms to a single level, the amount of surface space taken would be less than an area the size of the state of Michigan. We only think we’re running out of space because we tend to pack people into certain areas. But even out by me there are huge tracts of land with no one living on them.

    We could spread out more if we wanted to and not run out of elbow room. There’s literally a quarter million square feet per person of usable land mass in the world. Since families tend not to split up, the amount per family is even greater.

    Just something to think about.

  8. étrangère

    I love the country – I feel I have to flee the city in which I’m living at least once a fortnight for the sake of my (mental) health! But if all the Christians flee the cities to live ‘closer to God’ in the country, erm… wouldn’t be great for the millions living in cities. It could be a sacrifice – you know, like being a missionary in a jungle, you now get to be a missionary in an urban jungle. Just a thought.

  9. caitriana

    This is the first time I’ve commented here, but just had to say how true this is… I grew up in one of the remoter parts of Scotland but had to leave for university & work. I love being in the city, but what frightens me sometimes is that I forget what it’s like outside – what God’s creation is like. On the rare occasions I get out of the city or head home for a holiday, it’s like drinking deep draughts of cold water, having just realised you’ve come out of the desert.

    Like étrangère said though, sometimes we do have to be missionaries in the urban jungle!

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