Reflections on mowing the lawn (and bioethics)

The other day I was mowing our lawn and since mowing doesn’t require a lot of thought I had some free time to think. My wife says it isn’t normal, but when I have time to think I commonly think about why things are the way they are or why I do the things I do. So since I was mowing and thinking I began to think about why I mow the yard. I decided that I had a biblical foundation for lawn mowing which was found in Matthew 5:9 in which Jesus says “blessed are the peacemakers.” As I probed my deepest motivations for lawn mowing I realized that I do it primarily for my neighbors with whom I desire to maintain peace. If I had no neighbors or if they all placed lawn mowing as low on their list of priorities as I would if left to myself, my lawn would suffer. But in every place my wife and I have lived we have had at least one neighbor who saw lawn care differently. The very first house we lived in had a neighbor across the street whose lawn was so well manicured that the maple seeds stood up vertically when they fell so he could pick them out by hand. As I reflected further I realized that those neighbors have a different biblical foundation for the care they give to their lawns. It is found in Genesis 1:28 in which God blessed the first humans and charged them with being the stewards of the earth. They manifest human dominion over the earth in the property around their home. I mow so they don’t rescind the welcome we received when we moved into the neighborhood. We have different motivations, but we accomplish the same task (almost).

Those who have read this far may be wondering what this has to do with bioethics, but I wasn’t finished mowing or thinking. Before I had gone out to mow I was grading assignments for an online bioethics class I teach. One of the case studies involves the ethical dilemma faced by a couple that I knew in which the wife discovered she had breast cancer early in a pregnancy and had to decide whether to abort the fetus to be able to receive the most effective treatment for her cancer or to limit the treatment to what could be done without harm to the fetus, but lessen her own chance to survive. I ask the students to reflect on what they would do in her situation and why. I get a number of different responses with a number of reasons for why they have made their choice. For those who say they would choose as our friend did to limit treatment to allow her daughter to be born unharmed, there are two primary reasons. One fits the way I think and tend to teach, which is to analyze the ethical issues and find the moral principles involved to decide which of the options is morally permissible and which is not. The other simply says “my love for my unborn child would be so great that I could never do anything to harm her.” Their response helps me remember that God has not made us all to think the same way. My wife says that our living together for 37 years should have taught me that by now.

God knows how he has made us and the variety he has in his creation. He knows how to communicate his moral truth to us in that variety. Just as my neighbor and I have different reasons for why we mow our lawns, we can have different ways to get to the same moral truth that is grounded in the nature of our God who is good.

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