We like to think that work is the reason we are miserable. If only we had less of it, perhaps, we would be satisfied. We romanticize the places we visit and imagine that life there is slower, more peaceful.
For a month we’ve been on sabbatical (well, I have – Will has continued to work) at Weingut Landmann, a family-run winery and farm. As far back as anyone has been able to trace, both sides of this family have produced wine, in this corner of Baden. Twelve years ago, the two sons of the family took over the business, one serving as the oenologist and the other as the business manager. They run a farm stand seven days a week during asparagus season (April – June), rent out five vacation apartments, offer wine tastings with food on arrangement, and produce 100,000 bottles of wine a year.
The irony for us is that this sabbatical on the farm in fact puts us right in the middle of a lot of very hard working people. With Spargel (asparagus) season in full swing, the tractors and work crews start heading out by at least 7 a.m. every morning, the farm stand is open by 8 and people do not shut down until sundown, which is 9 p.m. or later. Frequently there are people in the office, which is just outside our front door, until 10 or later. We are surrounded by people working very, very long hours, and mostly we feel its our duty to stay out of their way. The lush green landscape that for us is a picture of peace and tranquility must look very different through their eyes, where a good portion of the year’s profit must be removed from the ground and gotten into saleable form in a relatively short time.
Is the rural life more peaceful? Certainly one couldn’t say that if you count work hours, noise levels, or the numbers of people and vehicles coming and going. There is a sense, though, that life here is more integrated than the equivalent life would be for us back at home. When we work 60 hour weeks at home, we are away, in the office, and if at home, often barking at the children to keep their fingers off the computer. Here, three generations are all engaged in the common work, except when the children are in school. The oldest child in the family is drafted into service washing and peeling asparagus. The youngest ones may not be working, but they are very much about the place as their parents work. Three generations plus a lot of neighbors and helpers are part of the effort, from dawn until dusk. Long days, no doubt, but days in which they are together -- or at least together in a common endeavor.
David Wood of the Fund for Theological Education has argued that the pastoral life (the ministerial kind) also offers some of that same integration, though it is limited to the degree that we operate the church like a business. My children have no idea what Will does for a living (even I have difficulty understanding it sometimes), even when he’s working from home, because the projects are abstract and the communities he serves are miles away. My work, at least a good part of it, is tangible and visible. My kids see me lead, preach, sing, preside. Katie insists on going with me at 7 every Sunday morning to church and knows many members of our community by name – and nearly everyone knows their names. I do not take them to the office much, because they would be as disruptive there as in any office setting, but the public element of my ministry and its communal nature offers them an access point that few children have to the work world in urban places. Every Sunday is Take Your Children to Work Day for me. That’s a gift.