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A conversation with Marie Mockett - S9.E6

WORLD Radio - A conversation with Marie Mockett - S9.E6

An outsider’s view of the faith sown, and harvested, in America’s Heartland



WARREN SMITH, HOST: I’m Warren Smith, and today you’re listening in on my conversation with Marie Mutsuki Mockett. Her new book is American Harvest: God, Country, and Farming in the Heartland.

MARIE MOCKETT, GUEST: [10:33] It's possible that I, I over romanticize this. People sometimes tell me that I do. But I feel like the relationships that my family built in farm country with, these relationships, were not purely transactional. They were, they were real partnerships. And I it's funny when I talk about it with friends from the city, and I hate to frame it like that. I don't know how else to frame it. But, you know, Eric would show up year after year to cut the wheat. And there was never a contract. There was no lawyer drafting a contract.

WS: Just a handshake.

MM: Yeah, just a handshake and a promise. And then my dad would get a call from Eric saying, I'm in Holyoke, and we're finishing up. And you know, I've been talking to the farmers on the ground in Nebraska, and it looks like the wheat might be ready here first. I'm going to come and look. And that was all a matter of trust. And just the assumption that this common goal of getting the wheat, you know, out of the ground, was the most important thing, and taking into account safety, and you know, all these other things, and that and that he was going to get paid at the end of it. So there was no lawyer, which is great, because you do save money. You don't have to pay a lawyer's fee. It's a very different way of life. And the other thing that I've thought about and I, you know, I don't I don't have an answer to this question, but my father was not a church-going person. Eric is. Eric said to my father at the outset that they would not cut wheat on a Sunday because he and his crew would go to church on Sunday. But this wasn't a problem, you know. It was, was a matter of respect and mutual respect. And the other farmers with whom we, you know, have a relationship are also very devout Christians. And so there was room for people to be who they were and get this work done. And I think that's so interesting, and kind of not the way that we communicate these days.

SMITH: I’ll be the first to admit that most of the conversations I have on “Listening In” are with fellow members of my evangelical tribe. Occasionally this program has been a venue for sparring matches with atheists and others antagonistic toward Christianity.

Today, though, I have a conversation with one of those rarest of writers. Marie Mockett is not a part of the evangelical world. In fact, she is someone who is still unsure what she believes about Christianity. Yet, she writes generously and graciously about evangelicals. And she has given this evangelical a helpful look at my own tribe and, in fact, this country we call the United States of America, with fresh eyes.

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WS: The Mockett side of Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s family has owned a wheat farm in Nebraska for the past 100 years, and has deep roots in the land. But Marie’s mother is Japanese, and that heritage has at different times in her life made her feel both profoundly connected to, and sometimes alien to, both Japan and America.

This insider/outsider perspective has given us a beautiful book, American Harvest, that echoes both de Tocqueville’s insightful 19th century book Democracy in America, and John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, a 20th century road trip into the heart of this country.

Marie Mockett explores America with a family of contract harvesters who are evangelical Christians, and in the process she learns a lot about the Christian faith, about the wide open spaces of the American West and the people who live there, and about herself.

WS:

Well, you know, one of the main reasons that I wanted to have this conversation with you, Marie, and we'll get to that eventually, I think, is your treatment of religion. This book is not a religious book, per se. It is not with a religious publisher. And often, whenever I encounter books that are, you know, with mainstream secular publishers, I can usually expect religion to take sort of a beating if I could put it that way.

MM: Right.

WS: But, um, but your book was very respectful. I mean, and, and asked some really deep and interesting questions. And, and I hope we can maybe get to a few of those in the course of the conversation today. But I want to start just by giving our listeners a few touchstones, a few mileposts and. And the book, if I could put it this way, is kind of, it's kind of a road story. You know, you you go on the road with a bunch of these custom harvesters. They are harvesters that you knew because your own family has a big farm, and they have been custom, they've been harvesters for your family farm for years. So let me just pause there and, and ask you to talk about your family farm and your background a little bit and define what a custom harvester is.

MM: Okay. So you are right. So I grew up, I'm what they call a coastal person, which is not even something I necessarily understood for a good portion of my life. But I did grow up on the California coast. My father, however, although he was born in California, his family returned to Nebraska when he was about seven. And they returned to their town in the Great Plains, where they have a family weed farm. And so he grew up, you know, going through the cycles of the harvest. But he was also interested in opera. And he went to Vienna, Austria and met my mother, who was from Japan. And so, when I was growing up in California, I would speak Japanese with my mother, we would go to Japan, and I've written a lot about Japan. But our summers after the trips to Japan, then usually switched over to Nebraska because the wheat harvest was ready. And I grew up hearing my father get up at six or 630 in the morning. And he would always say, well, a farmer called some farmer called. And he would, especially when I was younger, go out in the spring to see what the fields were looking like. He would go out in the fall during planting. So he knew a lot about farming. And so we have people who would work with my father and with his brother, who also lived in a city, lived in Seattle that worked on the farm. So we have people in Nebraska who had relationships with my family, and they would do planting the wheat and, you know, fertilizing it, and checking for any pests, etc. But then cutting the wheat was a different matter, required different kind of equipment, is very expensive. And so for a number of years, we hired custom harvesters whose specialty was to cut wheat in America.

WS: Well, I want to pause you there for a bit Marie, I want you to say a little bit more about the custom harvesters and just kind of the kind of a little subculture it's I think it's a part of America that a lot of folks don't know about it. I want you to say more about it. But I wanted to pause you because you've already introduced just a whole lot of ideas that that really are important to your book. Number one You said your mother was Japanese and your father was from Nebraska slash California. You were raised on the coast and you know you you talk about your own life as having a Japanese mother and an American father, as almost a metaphor for some of the great divides that you talk about in your book as well, this idea of coastal people and flyover country, the secular and the religious worldviews that show up in the in the lives of the custom harvesters. Am I getting that right? Is that of kind of a fair description that a part, that a big part of what your book is exploring this dichotomy and looking for common ground between these two extremes?

MM: I think that's right, Warren. And I will say, there's, because that's my lived experience, I was accustomed to having a Japanese mother, I was accustomed to having a father who lived in California, but very much lived and breathed the farm and exemplified a way of life that he learned growing up in the heartland. It was so normal for me, it's the only thing I knew. It's only, I think everybody goes through this, you you're born into a family, the family shows you what is normal. And then as you try to, you know, go out in the world, you realize how your family fits in or perhaps doesn't fit in. And for me, I think the process of understanding that there was this thing called ‘the divide’, that there were these huge cultural differences is something that became clearer and clearer as I grew older. It's not something we talked about in my family, to be honest with you. It's something that I've come to understand better, I think, almost by reading the media telling me that there is this thing called ‘the divide’. And then in noticing the way that perhaps my peers communicated, versus the way that I would have communicated, the way that my parents would have taught me to try to talk to strangers in the world. And it really is Eric, who's the main character in the book, the customer harvester, who said to me, when we were first talking about religion and the secular world and GMOs and creationism, he said, you know, Marie, this is really, you're asking questions about the divide. He was the one who first kind of gave it that frame. And I thought, Oh! He, you know, he could see it really even more clearly than I could when I first started to have these conversations.

WS: That's right. And what, and Eric is, I don't know if you would call him the hero of the book. But he's certainly a hero, I think of the book. And, and one of the, one of the key players in the book. Eric is the, sort of the patriarch, I guess you could say, of this custom harvester family. They're from Pennsylvania, though. They're not from the Midwest. And just describe their lives and how your family came in contact with Eric's family, the Wolgemuth family.

MM: Well, I, the book would not have been possible without the wolgemuth without the Wolgemuth family. And with Eric, without Eric being interested in all of the questions that I was asking. And, and without him, you know, trusting that I that I sincerely had an interest in examining the many things that the book explores. But every year the wheat starts to ripen in Texas, and gradually moves north, you know, roughly north at a pace of 20 miles a day, I was always told. And there are groups of people who have a number of these combine harvesters, enormous pieces of equipment that are very expensive and sophisticated. And they converge on the southern part of the United States, and are hired by farmers who own land and have grain that needs to be cut and they cut this wheat for a fee. My family has worked with custom harvesters for decades now. When I was a child, I remember the first Texan that I ever met was a guy named Henry and he was from Texas. And he would come through and he had this really heavy accent. He was so exotic, big friendly person and he would come with his machines and cut our wheat. Then Henry retired. Then another family came through with a different set of combines called the Gleaners. They were silver color, anybody who knows farm equipment knows what I'm talking about. And then one year, my father said the crew he was expecting broke down, the wheat was ripe, they needed somebody to cut it. And my dad went to the cooperative elevator, you know, most of these farming towns have that big huge storage bin that can load and unload wheat, can receive wheat from trucks and then put it on to train cars, which can take it, you know, across the United States. So my dad was down the elevator looking to see if there was anybody looking for work and he met Eric. And Eric is a very hard working person. And whenever he could fit in extra work, he looks for it. And I guess he had some room in his schedule, and they met and my father hired him to cut the wheat that year. And they got on well, and you know, Eric continued to come year after year.

WS: [12:40] I'd like to maybe pivot and talk some about the the religious dimensions of your book, because Eric talks about the divide. And of course, there are all kinds of divides. There's the there's the maybe the divide that you felt in your life between being having a Japanese mother and an American father. There's the divide of flyover country and the people who live on the coast. There's the divide between religious and non religious people, secular people and religious people. You describe your father, in fact, as an Episcopalian, but someone who probably really didn't believe in Christianity, that he had sort of a syncretistic set of values that that depended a bit on the Episcopal Church, but also on Jungian psychology and on, you know, other aspects of his life. But in Eric, and in Eric's family, you kind of ran into, you know, kind of face to face with somebody that took their Christian worldview very, very seriously. And that became an important part of your book, in kind of parsing that out, trying to find out what they believe and separating the stereotypes from the the real beliefs. And also trying to figure out whether you believed it or not.

MM: I think that's very true. And it was I we were also aided by the fact that Eric's son, Justin, who is in his 20s in the book, came along as well. And Justin was having kind of a moment of crisis of faith. And his his sense of being a Christian and his sense of God, really, I think, in many ways aligns with his father's, with Eric's. They express it very differently, though. But Justin was able to share with me the divides that exist within the Christian world, too. And of course, that makes sense if you think about the history of Christianity, if you think about Protestantism breaking off, you know, from Catholicism. I mean these are things that I sort of learned about in school. I used to say to Eric and to Justin, I really mostly thought about Protestants and Catholics in terms of art history. The Catholics made the cathedrals and the Protestants didn't have stained glass. They had a little bit, maybe, but usually not. You know, just a really weird way of understanding what that history was. And for Eric, and for Justin, it was very much a lived experience. And it was extraordinary for me to to be exposed to that.

WS: Well, in fact, you say in the book in a couple of different places in one place, you say that, for you, Christianity was a blur. I think that's the way you described it.

MM: Yes, I think that's fair. Yeah.

WS: And then another place you say that, that you know, you you're a literary person, in many ways. You're a writer, and so on. So, so you knew about the Bible, and you knew aspects of the Bible, but that you in one place, in your book, you say, what I had was an impression of the Bible, and not really an in depth understanding of what the Bible was. And, again, fair enough, is that fair? And how did that change in the over the course of your interactions with Eric and Justin? And ...

MM: No, I think that that's very fair. Now, I should say, just to be, you know, completely upfront, I did go to a private school, K through eight, and it was tied to an Episcopal Church. So particularly in the early years, we had chapel in the morning. And so I was exposed to, you know, the Psalms and to some hymns. But I didn't go to church with my family. So I did, and my father used to say, I think it's important for you to have this exposure. This is, you know, this is the foundation of our culture. And I never knew what he was talking about when he said that. So it wasn't like I had a totally secular upbringing.

WS: But I would, if I could, I don't mean to be glib here, Marie, but there is an old joke about Episcopalians, that, and I was an Episcopalian for a while, so I can say this. That, that the great thing about being an Episcopalian is that it interferes neither with one's politics nor his religion. And in some ways, you know, I mean, the even an Episcopal upbringing is a far cry, especially these days, from an evangelical upbringing, or anything like.

MM: Sure, and, and when I started working on American Harvest, I didn't understand the difference between Episcopalians and Protestants. There was a point where I said something about priest. I used the word priest, with Justin and he said, well, that's really more of a Catholic thing. You know, we say pastor. And I, and that's how basic my lack of understanding was, that I didn't understand this difference. And for people who are Protestants, it's a very real and important distinction, which I came to understand. I came to understand why, and the book does explore that. But yeah, I would say I had an impression. And I went to college, and we've read the quote, unquote, great books. And so you read the Bible as part of that, but you read it as a literary text.

WS: Yeah, and not as a devotional text.

MM: No. Not as a, not as any, not as anything that is a spiritual text. But you know, I do, but it meant that, so for example, I had been exposed to the story of the prodigal son, which is at the risk of sounding really pretentious, it's a really great ballet by George Balanchine. That's probably how I most knew the story. We also read the story in the Bible. But the prodigal son shows up, you know, in American Harvest, because I was suddenly thinking about it more in spiritual terms. Right. And I would say more recently, I've been thinking a lot about this idea of strangers. And the Good Samaritan. You know, the Good Samaritan is a story that gets brought up a lot when you talk to Christians. What, how are we supposed to treat strangers, and the Good Samaritan is often brought up is as an example. And, and it's really, you know, on the one hand, you could say, well, this is a story about how you're supposed to be good. But it's a really profound, it's a profound exploration of what it means to be a human being out in the world meeting people for the first time. And so I came to really think the Bible was amazing. And I thought, well, you know, of course, people saved these stories. You know, you think about what people went through, right to to save the stories that are in the Bible, and to translate them and to protect them. Um, and I think this is not in the book. But a number of years ago, when I was, I was doing edits, and I did a lot of my editing. And in Denver, there was an exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls that was going through Denver. And my my cousin, and I went to see it. And I remember thinking, wow, this, I find this so profound, to get to see fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. And I if I, if this were a decade ago, I would have thought, oh, what an interesting archaeological exhibit. You know, it wouldn't have the same meaning. And when you think now about somebody taking the time to copy this and preserve it and save it, that's really extraordinary. So this is somebody that this is like the essence of what it means to be a person and what we should be aspiring to. I, it just meant a great deal more to me than it than it would have. It's one of the great gifts of getting to work on this.

WS: Marie, we cannot explore every detail of your book. It's beauty, it's a beautifully written book and very rich. And let's just stipulate for the record to all of our listeners, go get the book. Go read the book, and go ahead and get that out of the way. But I do want to move along in our conversation because as I said in the beginning, the book is a like, you might say, a road trip. You start off with these harvesters with the Wolgemuth family. You started in Texas. Twenty, the wheat ripens at 20 miles a day going north. And so you you continue to go north. And you are with them for some months. But as you've also mentioned, on Sundays, you go to church. And that also becomes part of the journey. Not only is it a literal road trip, but there is a kind of a spiritual journey that Eric and the family takes you on but also that you go on by exploring these different churches. You you encounter cowboy church, for example. You encounter some, you know, some small country churches that are not cowboy churches that you know, that are like rooted in the community. You, y'all end up, you and Justin, ended up taking a side trip. I believe it's into Oklahoma City and visit Craig Groeschel's church, who is one of the great church, mega past, mega church pastors in this country.

MM: And then we got a house church, or at least I go to a house church at one point.

WS: That's right. Yeah, that's right. So um, talk a little bit about that part of the journey. Was that awkward for you? Was that comfortable for you? Was that something that you wanted to do? Or something that they kind of pushed you into?

MM: Oh, no, it was definitely something I wanted to do. I knew that it was, it was, you know, was part of the deal. I think the thing, initially, in the in the book does spend time with this, the thing that was most surprising to me, Warren, was, I would go to church and not understand a thing. I would, I would go in and I mean, this still happens because I will still go to churches. I went to a, like an old order Mennonite Church, and thought, Gosh, I don't understand anything that's happening. It's all in English. And the joke was, the books that I had written before require that I use Japanese, my Japanese language skills. And that was very taxing because I was constantly learning new vocabulary to make sure I understood what was happening. So I thought, I'll write a book that's set in the United States, and that'll be easier, because it'll all be in English. But then I would go to church and walk out and think I have no idea what just happened.

WS: Right? Reminds me of Churchill's saying about, you know, the British and the Americans are two people separated by a common language. And in some ways that, I think is sec is secular America's encounter with evangelical America.

MM: Oh, yeah, I think that that's, I think that's very true. So true. And that's one of the reasons why in the book, when when Justin and I go to, I think it's Life Church in Oklahoma City, I walk out incredibly moved, because, but part of it is I understood what was happening. You know, it was really clear. He, the pastor was conveying this understanding that people are in pain, and that there's a way out of pain. And I thought, Gosh, all of this is completely intelligible. And there was this amazing soundtrack and visuals. But I think over time, one of the things that I came to understand for me personally, is that there was this difference for me, between pastors who were motivating us to have an experience of God by scaring us, and those who were trying to ask us to open up our hearts. And then as you, as I spoke anyway, to individual Christians along the way, this seemed to be a very real experience that people had, people who were afraid. And people who were really confident of love. And it's almost like a different personality. And then I realized that Oh, that's one of the great kind of, I mean, this is an oversimplification, I realize, but it is one of the divides, even within the Christian world, within the evangelical world of how people talk about, about God and maybe even more specifically about Jesus. And there are even you know, there's a moment in the book where Justin says, Jesus never said we have to go to church, why do we have to go to church, you know, that's a big question, but that's and that's, of course, a very scary question. Because so much of life is organized around going to church. Well, if you don't need to go to church, then what role does the church play? So it's very kind of threatening idea. And yet I heard, I did hear an awful lot of people bring that up. And so all of that was, I mean, it's just so illuminating, and it's so human, I think.

WS: Well, let's talk, as we sort of move towards the end of our conversation, Marie, sort of the, let's talk about that illumination a little bit. I don't know if you view this as the climax of the book, but it is certainly a climax of the book, is this solar eclipse that takes place near the end of the book. Can you kind of describe what you were wanting to get at by describing that scene there?

MM: Um, I don't know, if I was there was anything specific. It just, I think we had so many conversations about the the fact that the solar eclipse was coming. And I have on my, in my family we have a lot of scientists, very, very rational people, you know, who trust completely in scientists, equations and predictions for the trajectory of the sun, etc. And every now and then Eric would say like, wouldn't it be funny, if they were off by a degree? And my family would say, they're not going to be off by a degree, the scientists have everything calculated, you know. And there's this sort of science versus God tension. You know, maybe God would quote unquote, perform a miracle and move the sun. And uh and this difference between science and religion is is kind of one of the tensions within within the book. And they, in the end, excuse me, the the eclipse was precisely where the scientists said it was going to be, but it was also an just such an awesome thing to witness. There's a, you know, for for days, Eric had been saying he wanted me to be able to see the Grand Tetons, but it was only when we were in a full Eclipse, suddenly the Tetons are illuminated on the horizon. And it was just, you know, majestic. That's I don't know that there was a main point that I was trying to make.

WS: Well, let me, maybe I'm reading too much into it, Marie, but I, what I, what I found very moving about that, that about that part of the book was that the scientists were right. The the scientists, you know, nailed it. You know, that you they predicted the eclipse, you know, I mean, probably they've been predicting it for decades, or even centuries. They could predict, you know, we've had the ability to predict when eclipses will occur. And yet, they were also like, all wrong. They, you know, the, the awe, the wonder of, of sort of being fully in that moment, um, is not something that you can really put a calculation, a scientific, a mathematical calculation on.

MM: Oh, no, I think that that I do. You're right. I do. I do try to, that's true. When I talk about the sort of the Tetons revealing themselves to us. I mean, sure there are mathematical predictions, science can do a lot. Science cannot predict everything. I feel like it's just such a false tension, that you either have to believe in science or you have to believe in God. The world is full of mystery, and the world continues to be full of mystery. The nature of matter isn't fully understood. That's a point that the book makes, too. You know, my, my father's brother, and my uncle was a particle physicist. And so we had lots of conversations about particle physics. And he was, he would say, we're going to understand the nature of matter. And of course, here we are, and they finally find the Higgs-Boson particle. And now we don't fully understand the nature of matter. We don't understand the quantum universe. The mysteries are far greater than what we see in front of us. And it's interesting, the first time I ever heard anybody use the term materialist was Justin, Eric son, who wanted to be a pastor, decided not to become a pastor. And he would say to me, but he didn't want to turn his back on God or on Christianity. He would say, well, I just don't think I can be a materialist. And I thought, what does that mean? Well, it means, and I hear this word used much more frequently. That reality isn't everything that we see in front of us, you know, just things I can touch and feel. That's my immediate reality. But whatever the nature of reality is, it's greater than that. And we know that. And, you know, I mean, that's, I think, that's a religious attitude too. I really, I just don't think it's fair that these things have been pitted against each other. And if you're talking about, you know, who's in control of funding, then it may be worth somebody's time to try to claim that they have the answers to these questions. But a person considering the nature of reality. The scientists are honest, they they don't have it, they don't have it all. And it's from wonder and curiosity and, you know, these things are giving me the chills when I think about them. That's where the questions arise. And, and this position of being humble and knowing that we don't actually have the answer to everything is I mean, that's just a fact.

WS: Yeah, I wish I could remember who said this, Marie, and I'm gonna, I'm gonna butcher the quote a little bit. But it's, it's someone once said, something along these lines: The first sip of science that you take often makes you an atheist. But if you drink deeply, you start believing in God again.

MM: That's interesting. Well, and of course, if you look through the Bible, Jesus doesn't say, PS, you should listen to me and not listen to scientists. That's not what his ministry was about. And that, again, is one of the big things that was really revealed to me in the course of working on American Harvest. Jesus isn't talking about dismissing scientists, or the trajectory of the sun and an eclipse. Jesus is concerned about, you know, our interactions with each other and strangers and the difficulty we have of working with our brothers and healing the sick. And, you know, that's the stuff he right he talks about. It's not about dismissing the eclipse.

WS: That's right. Marie, I'd like to kind of bring our conversation will close by just kind of doing a lightning round of I don't know, where are they now? You're, the book came out. It's 21? It came out in 20. Is that is that right?

MM: It came out in April of 2020, yep.

WS: Yeah, yeah. So, and I'm sure you were writing it for a couple of years before that. Some of the probably some of the scenes in the, what what year did you actually go on the harvest?

MM: So I was on the road in 2017.

WS: Yeah, so that's about four years ago now. So um, where's the Wolgumuth family now? Are they still doing the harvesting?

MM: I just saw them. I was just out for a quick harvest in July. Our harvest was just a little bit late this year. Emily is still...

WS: Emily is Eric's wife.

MM: Eric's wife. And Eric was out. Justin is, hasn't been on harvest in a couple years. He is training to become a counselor. He's getting a master's in social work, still through a Christian university. But he's very interested in this question of first generation college students like himself transitioning out of farming communities into the quote unquote, knowledge world, you know.

WS: What do they think of the book?

MM: It depends. I think Eric and Justin are enormously proud of the book. Eric is something of a celebrity. He parked his trailer outside our conference, and somebody showed up and asked him to sign their book in Nebraska.

WS: That's great.

MM: I think a number of the crew haven't read the book. I think that some of the crew, I've heard, you know, have read it, started to read it but didn't finish it because it didn't align with their recollections, which is fair. This is my subjective experience. And Eric really makes the point, you know, it was a very unusual harvest for that crew. And he says, you know, everybody was young. And we will all have been changed by this experience. And I think that that's fair. And you know, a very generous view of it.

WS: Yeah. Well, Eric certainly, in my view, came off as a real hero of the book. And so did Justin, by the way, in fact, everyone on the crew that, you know, that I sort of got to know a little bit. I came away with just enormous respect for them and their family and their culture of hard work.

MM: And yes, I think that's fair, I think that's, I think they are wonderful people. I agree.

WS: I think the final, you know, where are they now question I would like to ask Marie would be about you. I mean, where where are you with? Towards the end of the book, you do talk about maybe a bit of an epiphany, a bit of a turning towards Jesus. Um, where are you right now in your spiritual walk?

MM: Um, I was thinking about this because I knew you would ask me. I mean, I think I don't, No, it's okay. I don't, I'm not baptized. I don't go to church regularly. You know, it's funny, Justin and some of his friends always say like, I'm a Jesus guy. And I always think if I say I'm a Jesus guy, that's not accurate. Cuz I'm not a, you know, I'm not a, I'm not a guy. But I think I don't know that anybody I mean, I really wonder who he was. I mean, he told us who he was. I think he still told us what we're supposed to do. And a lot of us are still not doing it. And I think he was kind of pretty much right about everything. I think, you know, I think the gospels are extraordinary. I think our work is very clearly laid out for us. And, you know, I believe all that. I think that's true. I mean, I don't, I don't know that anybody ever said anything as clearly as he did. One of the things that Eric always says to me, and he always says, to me, Jesus didn't make any mistakes. He says, you can't - and I think that's so interesting, because there's so many phenomenal people in history. And you sort of pick apart their lives. And there's, you know, you have to accept the things that they gave to humanity, which are wonderful, like a work of art or a piece of music. And then maybe there's something that you sort of have to set aside. Eric says, you know, you don't have that with Jesus. And I turn that over and over in my mind, and I think that's really interesting.

WS: It sounds to me that you are very close to saying, I am a Christian, but you're not quite there yet. Is that fair?

MM: I think that's fair. I feel like to say, Well, you know, in this, I feel like to say if I were to say, I'm a Christian, I think that that would require baptism and going to church, not with everybody, but with some people it would. And I wouldn't want to give the impression that that's something that I'm doing. But in terms of being somebody who had no understanding of Christianity, or would have just thought - one of the terms that's used in secular world is oh, you know, those Christians, they believe in the sky fairy. Yeah, that's, I'm very far away from from thinking in that way.


That brings to a close my conversation with Marie Mutsuki Mockett. Her new book is American Harvest: God, Country, and Farming in the Heartland. Marie Mockett is a visiting writer in the MFA program of St. Mary’s College in California. She lives in San Francisco.

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