Flourishing Inside the Global Fence

Flourishing Inside the Global Fence

[Originally published Jan. 2022]

The XIT Ranch in Texas, established in 1885, was once the largest ranch in the world enclosed by fences. Its barbed wire surrounded more than 3 million acres. Amazingly, one fence line ran 150 miles without a turn! That huge enclosure provided grazing land for enormous herds of cattle and presented equally as large challenges.

The ranch’s size required cowboys to travel long distances to protect the cattle, ward off rustlers, and extinguish grass fires. So "fast riders" would be sent to distant camps to summon help when needed. Early in the 1900s it was discovered that the barbed wire was useful for telephone transmission, so a great number of telephones were placed upon the ranch. This allowed for quick communication in emergencies, even though the service was termed to be “atrocious.” In fact, it was even discussed that cowboys could carry phones wherever they went to clip on a fence to report problems. Human ingenuity made use of emerging technology to overcome a problem!
The year 2022 has arrived, and we find ourselves fenced in by a big world with enormous numbers of people who have extraordinary needs. Technology, like the advances made on the XIT, makes it possible to address many of these needs, but there are vast numbers of humans, cities, and nations where the communication remains atrocious and the response to human need is not timely. This reality leads me to ask a question: How may Christians join their ranks at the beginning of this new year to meet global moral challenges?
A Case Study of a Desired Future
A man recently became the first person in the world to receive a heart transplant from a genetically-modified pig. The patient, prior to the surgery, summed up the operation in only eight words, “It was either die or do this transplant.” Doctors confirmed that the risky operation was a must because the man would have otherwise died. Both the man and the physicians expressed a clearly desirable future. That future was to preserve human life which is a key medical ethical principle and core human good.

Make no mistake, it took a team of doctors and an army of support staff, technicians, and researchers to save that man’s life. Communication had to be crystal clear throughout or he would have died. They also had in mind a desired future, where the 100,000 Americans who are waiting for a transplant might be able to be saved. [1] Genetically-modified pig's organs hold some promise for those needing organ transplants. There are indeed serious ethical implications of the operation, but the situation demonstrates that unified efforts can rise to meet the challenge of great human crises. [2]
Joining Ranks to Address Two Pressing Global Human Needs
Talk about a crisis. Regardless of what some politicians believe, ground zero for pandemic response is not Washington D.C., London, nor Beijing. The underdeveloped world is true ground zero and it has yet to receive sustained assistance with the pandemic. It is from these regions that new variants on COVID-19 are emerging, spreading across the globe and claiming millions of lives. Communication of this message has been woefully lacking but good efforts are underway to address the enormous global need. [3]
We are currently caught in the relentless grip of this global pandemic and, just when it seems that we may be emerging from it, we may be facing a fresh wave of infection from a new variant of COVID-19. Desperate times call for timely and effective measures. The new year begs for a fresh beginning with clear communication about the roots of the crisis. As Christians, we should lay aside our mistrust of governments and loosen our grip on conspiracy theories to join our hearts and hands to show consistent love for our global neighbors.
Next, global hunger also remains and begs for Christians to join their ranks and make a fresh beginning to help ease this perennial moral concern. There was a serious worsening of world hunger in 2020 with much of it likely related to fallout from COVID-19.

Multiple agencies have reported that a tenth of the world’s population, 811 million people, was undernourished last year. In fact, the growth of hunger outpaced population growth in the same period. The pandemic has exposed serious weaknesses in food systems and cast a shadow across the bright hope that hunger would be eliminated by 2030.

Christians may make a fresh beginning to unify their efforts in addressing this moral need. We may begin our renewed efforts by drawing the focus to a desired future that is realistic. Let me illustrate what I mean by a realistic future.
 The Heartbreak of Human Hubris
Timothy Egan, author of The Worst Hard Time, writes about the symbol of the XIT Ranch. He states: "The XIT ranch is thus a symbol of both socioeconomic change and the defeat of humanity in the face of nature. It is a land that, at various points in history, provided bison for Southwestern tribes, cattle-grazing lands for cowboys, and parcels of land to ambitious wheat farmers. No one was able to bend the land completely to their will, though each group that possessed it sought to determine the ranch land’s 'natural' use. The ranch endured several phases of civilization, none of which endured."

Many people begin each new year resolved to use of every means available to them to do that which will humanly endure. They seek to bend nature to their own designs. In contrast, a Christian fresh beginning to this new year will imagine, in a different way, a desirable future where sickness, hunger, and death are no more.

I often find myself rereading the first beginning in Genesis 1. The Hebrew text of Genesis 1:1 contains seven words, and that single verse provides us with the foundation for everything that will follow in the rest of the Bible. It illustrates how we may realistically begin the new year.

It seems especially poignant for those words and their meaning to shape our efforts to glorify God this year by unifying our hearts, and then racing to address challenges in his world. We may not eradicate the great social ills that we face, but we may desire such a future and pour ourselves into the effort. Here are two thoughts to consider.
Exchange Hubris with Humility
Let's do away with the hubris that claims we, through our own efforts, will put an end to the great social ills in our world. “In the beginning God” makes a profound claim stating that God’s authority extends over all the things that He created and over humankind, His special human creation. Christians must return to the reality that God is sovereign over His creation and that we serve as His moral agents in the world.

Unity begins with our own humility. Ranchers on the XIT knew that the real struggle for survival of the herd was with neither cattle rustlers nor grass fires but with parched grass from a lack of rain. No rain meant no grass and, eventually, no cattle. From my view, God was needed to supply the rain.

Sadly, too many Christian organizations boldly claim that they will eradicate sickness and hunger. This sort of unhealthy pride communicates the wrong message. I find it more realistic to situate ourselves within God's redemptive plan and pursue these important global goals with his provision and guidance.

We certainly should strive to help ease the burdens of sickness and hunger, even while encouraging people to prepare for the life to come (Luke 13:1-4). The ultimate issue is human sin and the need for salvation. Temporal life has its limits, but new life in Christ enables us to transcend our earthly existence.
There is a "fence" around our human existence
We may use the analogy that life has a fence around it that marks our beginning and end. The famed XIT Ranch, as large, prosperous, and as forward thinking as it was, had an end. Science, medicine, and technology are pushing ever-forward with firsts, as was mentioned above, but make no mistake, there will be a last because humans are finite. The miracle of the first heart transplant of a pig's heart into a human will certainly be followed with what is common to all humankind, death. The recipient's life will one day end, even if it is from other causes.

Unlike some within the scientific community and some global religions, the Christian faith recognizes the temporal nature of existence and its decisive impact upon the evaluation of human activities in the world. [4] The writer of Ecclesiastes succinctly states the truth: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die.” [5] As certain as there is a beginning to our lives, it is equally sure that our lives will come to an end. Then what?

Christians have hope because life in Christ will transcend this mortal sphere (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Our lives in Christ are so much more than either the past that exists no more or a future that does not yet exist. [6] Our awareness of God's purposive will in time enables us to find meaning and flourishing in the present and future (John 1:14; 14:1-3). It is precisely because we are alive in Christ that life holds promise both while we are here on earth and in the coming future (Galatians 2:20).
A Purposeful Beginning to the New Year: A Desire to Please God
Therefore, sound Christian thinking and action in 2022 will mark the new beginning with the end in mind. Hopefully, we will begin to see throughout scripture the combination of the words “beginning” and “end.” The prophets and Apostles, for example, could speak about an end in view of beginnings (Isaiah 65:17; Revelation 21:1; NAC).

This realistic view of life is enlivened by our hope and trust in a living God, so our efforts to address great moral challenges, like the pandemic and hunger, are motivated and enabled by God's power. Since we also believe that God created the world with a purpose, then, our personal life stories are included in His grand narrative. We may live purposely according to God's direction and with hope as we pursue a desired end.
Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, once wrote, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.”
“I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road. though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” [7]

Larry C. Ashlock
1. Larry C. Ashlock, "Organ Donation, Transplantation," in Pathway Ethics.
2. Jack Hunter, "Three ethical issues around pig heart transplants," (BBC).
3. See COVAX. Here is a recent report: "COVAX aims to provide at least 2 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021 and 1.8 billion doses to 92 lower income economies by early 2022."
4. Otto Piper, Christian Ethics, 84.
5. Ecclesiastes 3:1-2.
6. Piper, Christian Ethics.
7. Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, 79.