I have learned invaluable lessons in my 40-year association with the family that operates the Canyon Creek Ranch in Northern California.
This suburban kid can buck a bale, pluck a chicken and chop a pile of wood. I would have never learned the true meaning of hamburger without the experience of hanging around ranchers through the cycle of their year.
Yet the most essential teachings have come from the core values of everyday life on The Ranch, which can be heard again and again, especially as elders teach their children. Consider two of the most important.
‘Put things back where you found them’
The Ten Commandments conclude with “Thou Shalt Not Covet.” It assumes the human trait that sees what another has with envy, if not lust.
On a ranch, it is essential that one share what one possesses when appropriate. This is how tools are tested and improved. How young ones learn to use them. Neighbors share essential supplies if a neighbor runs out and essential equipment when cost-effective.
One of the key rules of such an exchange is the agreement to return the property exactly where it belongs. If you can’t find the shovel when a fire breaks out, the bucket for the table scraps to feed the chickens or your cellphone when the baby is about to be born ... well, on a ranch, and it is true of any place, things often have a place related to their function.
Respecting another’s property, its place and function and returning it to its owner is the opposite of coveting. Because when you put things back where you found them, you honor the person and relationship and your own integrity in the process.
Isn’t that true for relationships as well as things?
‘Clean up your mess’
It is difficult to learn anything on a ranch without making a mess, especially the first time you try it. That’s true of baking a pie, chopping wood, stacking hay or putting a horse away after a day’s riding. It is very appropriate to make a mess as one learns one’s way. My experience of ranchers is that there is a huge code of patience and grace allowing one to do so.
What isn’t tolerated is any sense that you could walk away from your mess and expect someone else to clean it up. Taking responsibility for your actions is an essential part of learning. It is also an essential measure of human maturity.
How many relationships could be saved, how many academic careers could be advanced, how many sleepless nights could be avoided if we simply found the conviction to clean up our own messes?
What did Jesus say?
“Look at the log in your own eye before you point out the splinter in the eye of someone else.” – Matthew 7:5
The only harm in making a mess is running away from it.
The Rev. Mark S. Bollwinkel is senior pastor of Los Altos United Methodist Church, 655 Magdalena Ave. For more information, visit laumc.org.