A second way that The Great American Lawn is theologically instructive for Christians is related to community. While a property owner does have individual say over the state of their lawn, they are also part of a community. We Christians are right to see ourselves as part of a community. In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, Paul says this about Christians and community:
“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
Also in 2 Corinthians 2:15, Paul writes: “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.”
The way we live is the aroma of Jesus to others. Therefore, how we handle our lawn gives others an impression of Jesus. We don’t necessarily need to have a mini-Longwood Gardens around our house, but we would do well to at least consider what would be respectable to our neighbors.
Michael Pollan remarks, “Your front yard belongs to the community as much as it does to you. The conceit of the American suburb is that we’re all in a great park together. That’s what America is. [One great big park.] The front lawn symbolizes that continuity. [Our piece of the park.]
There is a togetherness about lawns. Our lawn connects us to our community. “How well you take care of your lawn,” Pollan says, “is your expression of solidarity with your neighbors. It’s a gesture toward your neighbors as much as it is to you.”
Did you ever feel that way about your neighbor’s lawn? That it affects you? As I was researching this a few weeks ago, I thought about a nearby property with a lawn with grass that had not been mowed in weeks, and the grass was now about two feet high. Driving by, you cannot miss it. The overgrown is a blight on the community. I imagine that it must feel awful to be that person’s neighbors. They must hate it.
I wonder if it affects their home values if they want to sell? Could it be a justice issue in that regard? I have wondered if the neighbors have even been so affected by that overgrown lawn that they themselves have been tempted to mow it. Or maybe they have called the Township office to complain? Then I thought, “Is that high grass in violation of a Township ordinance?”
So I contacted East Lampeter Township to learn more. The Zoning Officer pointed me to Nuisances Ordinance No. 280. Section (e) enacted in 2009, says that no person may “[permit or allow] the growth or any grass or weeds or other vegetation not edible or planted for some useful or ornamental purpose, to exceed a height of six inches, to throw off any unpleasant or noxious odor or to produce pollen”.
So what happens if someone violates this? The Ordinance goes on to say that the Zoning Officer or his assistants will serve written notice, either personally or by certified or by first class mail, asking them to remove the nuisance. If the person does not comply within 15 days after receipt of the notice, or request a hearing within such time before the Board of Supervisors, the Supervisors may remove or arrange for removal of the nuisance, and charge the person for the cost of removal and a penalty of 25%. If the person persists in not paying the fine, the Township will bring the matter before the District Magistrate or Justice which will result in a fine of $300. If the person does not pay that fine, they can be sent to Lancaster County Prison for 30 days. Of course, as you can imagine, things can escalate from there.
Think about that. Our local community has an enforceable ordinance that requires you to cut your grass. I asked the Zoning Officer how often they’ve had to enforce the ordinance. He said that in his 17 years, the Township has had to get the grass cut and then lien the property owner if they don’t pay. Most of the time, though, the people themselves receive the violation notice and then cut the grass themselves. In his 17 years, violations have never resulted in people going to jail. But it could. Think about that. A person could be jailed for not mowing their lawn.
What we see then is that your lawn has quite a significant connection to community, especially when viewed from a Christian perspective. We Christians should be law-abiding and community-oriented, when the following of laws is in line with God’s heart, which it almost always is, especially in a community and country like ours that is based on the principle of justice for all. Of course, we know that doesn’t mean all always receive justice. Therefore we are right to call laws into question if we have reason to believe they are unjust. So are there ways in which The Great American Lawn, and the cultural apparatus the sustains it, like East Lampeter Township’s Nuisance Ordinance No. 280. might be unjust or not in line with God’s heart? Think about that, pursue justice, and what it might mean for you to view your lawn as part of the community park.
In the next post we move to the shadow side of lawn care, and I’m not talking about the part of your lawn that is under a tree.