A tractor is an engineering vehicle specifically designed to deliver at a high tractive effort (torque) at slow speeds for the purposes of hauling mechanized implements used in agriculture. The word “tractor” comes from a Latin word, trahere, which means “to pull.” Tractors, like people, come in all sizes, shapes, and colors – exuding both resilience and strength in their existence.
The Bates Steel Mule tractor was one of the most unique and oddest-looking farm machines ever built. First built in 1913, it was like a cross between a steam boiler, a garden tractor and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Bates Machine Company had the following advertisement for their Steel Mule tractor: “The only machine in the world which you can hitch up to any horse-drawn implement you now have and operate it from the same position you would your horses.” In other words, you could operate the tractor by sitting in the implement seat, not the tractor seat. The Steel Mule survived until they became one of the many victims of the Great Depression in 1937.
My grandfather (whom I never knew – he died when I was a year old) owned and operated a Steel Mule tractor (not the particular model shown above). There was once a picture of him in the local paper using his tractor (I have it packed away somewhere and am still looking for it). Grandpa was known for being the guy who would try new things and buy unique machinery – all in the quest for better farming methods.
The Steel Mule seems to represent my current state of ministry. Like Grandpa, I have a drive and a desire for improving my pastoral craft. I am open to trying new things and entering into a new way of being with the hospital patients I serve as a chaplain, as well as my peers, other staff, and really everyone I encounter throughout a day. Yet, at the same time, I stubbornly hold to the past – sitting on the implement and not quite ready to fully embrace the new era of machinery instead of horses. Which brings me to the whole point of this circuitous rambling of Tim’s Tractor Time: What holds me back? And, in so asking this question of myself, I also as it of you: What holds you back?
Yes, what does hold you and I back from taking the initiative to be vulnerable and open with our lives, instead of fearful, anxious, and hesitant? What holds us back from collaborating with others? Consulting before acting? Consulting after acting? Divulging our emotions and not just our thoughts? Speaking without always measuring and analyzing each word before we say it (or write it)? As a seasoned minister, I can plow deep furrows with my Steel Mule into others’ lives – so, why not let others do the same in my field? What is it I’m really pulling in that field?
Perhaps it is fear. When Charlie Brown came to Lucy for a bit of practical psychosocial help, Lucy spouted a litany of various fears which she wondered Charlie Brown might possess. Finally, she expressed that maybe he has “pantophobia.” “What is ‘pantophobia’?” Charlie Brown asks. Lucy responds, “The fear of everything.” To which Charlie Brown demonstratively pronounces, “That’s it!”
Could be. Could also be anger. After all, anger often lurks in the shadows our hearts with a combination of it getting expressed in an unhealthy way or becoming twisted into depression. There’s plenty of anger under the surface of the topsoil ready to get turned over and exposed. Too much of it turned inward. Certainly, it needs some plowing and cultivating, that is, processing outwardly with others… maybe… if we’re brave enough.
Then there’s this thing called liminal space – the space in-between where we can’t go back to the way things were ever again, yet, we aren’t quite where we want/need to be. It’s awkward being caught in the nexus between the past and the future. Does this hold us back? Or maybe it’s the fear of imperfection, of not doing something with utmost excellence? Are we apprehensive about opening up because we don’t understand ourselves fully, so, therefore, I won’t (like a stubborn old Steel Mule) utter half-baked ideas or fragments of thoughts or, God forbid, emotional musings? Like the Steel Mule, perhaps we are crossing over into a new era with the past very much there with it.
So, perhaps the greater question is: What are you and I really feeling, in this moment? Figures it would take me all this thinking type verbiage to get to the emotional universe of feelings. If we’re honest, we all are a diverse jumble of emotions – presently feeling overwhelmed; sad; happy; angry; hopeful; confident; scared; hungry; tired…. Oh, well, let’s just say we’re feeling everything.
Like the interlocutor in the book of Ecclesiastes, the conclusion of the matter is this: “Fear God and keep his commandments; for that is whole duty of everyone.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). I hold back because of me. You are hesitant because of you. Nobody is twisting my arm. That old enemy of our souls, the Adversary, would like nothing more than to keep us feeling weak and insecure so that he can keep us under his evil thumb.
No one is forcing you to use the Steel Mule tractor. Quite the opposite. In truth, there is nothing holding us back. Nothing is stopping us from pulling our emotions out and discovering new ways to express them with confidence in healthy redemptive ways. Nothing outside of our power to act is preventing us from the courage to do what we already know deep in our hearts we need to do…. Nothing. So, then, I’ll look for you in the next tractor advertisement doing your unique, wonderful, and amazing work which comes from the depths of your love for God and others.