“What’s That Smell?” (Or, The Case Of The Unidentifiable Odor)

“What’s that smell?” our 2 ½ years old granddaughter asked as I carried her out the door of the church building last Wednesday night.

We were visiting our family in Wisconsin. The church building sits at the edge of a grain field owned by a dairy farmer. The dairy farmer had recently cleaned out his manure pit and scattered the organic matter on the field surrounding the meeting house. A swift wind blew across the field, carrying the odor directly toward us.

I laughed, because the smell brought back memories of my years on our family farm. But then I became a little sad. It saddened me that our granddaughter had heretofore never experienced this acrid smell. The odor was a natural part of life when I grew up. By age 2 1/2, almost every child in our rural area could have identified it because almost every farm served as home to a small dairy operation. It saddened me to realize that my granddaughter will not know so many of the wonderful experiences I knew as a child.

Our world is rapidly changing. The rural landscape and the face of agriculture is swiftly becoming totally unlike that which so many of us have known and loved.

One of the brethren who exited the building with us remarked concerning the smell, “That’s Wisconsin!” Wisconsin is known as the dairy state. Much of the state has relied upon all aspects of the dairy industry for its economy. For the residents of the small villages and townships which dot the rural landscape, the pungent odor of cow manure is like the smell of fish on a wharf. It is life and a natural part of making a living. That too is changing. I couldn’t help but wonder how much longer, “That’s Wisconsin!” would make sense, even to its residents.

It saddened me to ponder these rapidly changing situations and to contemplate the lost memories for my granddaughter’s generation.

But then I began to realize that experiencing certain lifestyles and reminiscing about old memories are not the most important things one can pass down to his grandchildren. On this night, my granddaughter learned her most important lessons inside the church building, not outside it. Inside, she had been taught the importance of faith in God. Inside the building, she had been taught the importance of studying God’s word, of worship, and of prayer. Inside, she had experienced the value of a loving fellowship with people of like faith.

There are many wonderful lessons every grandparent needs to teach his/her grandchild; lessons about how to make a living, how to work with his hands, and how to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation. But the most important lessons a grandparent can pass down to his/her grandchildren are the lessons about faith, love for God’s Word, and love for God’s family. Christian faith has well served peoples of every generation for 2000 years, regardless of the most recent contemporary culture or lifestyle.

Christianity, in all its beauty and love, was applicable when nearly every farm served as home for a dairy operation. It is also applicable now, even in the face of a swiftly changing agriculture. And Christian faith will be just as applicable if in the future, one of my descendants never experiences that “sweet smelling” odor wafting on the wind, prompting him to ask, “What’s that smell?”

“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” (Deuteronomy 4:9)

“1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! 2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, 3 things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” (Psalm 78:1-4)

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