Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?
He said to him, Yes, Lord;
you know that I love you.
He said to him, feed my lambs.
An Old Friend
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
In the fall of 2003 my mentor and friend at Michigan State University, professor Glenn L. Johnson, broke his hip removing a fallen tree from his back yard. Glenn knew me as well as anyone having served on my doctoral committee, attended the same church, and become a close friend during my student years. When I heard of his injury, he was in physical therapy and I called to check on my friend.
Among agricultural economists, Glenn was known for his work on the asset-fixity problem. This problem arises because, once investments in real capital are made, they cannot be reallocated without suffering a capital loss. Having invested, farmers often continue producing at a loss, which, in the aggregate, led to further price declines and worse losses. The asset-fixity problem provides a theoretical justification for farm policy intervention, which made Glenn ‘s work famous.
Behind the asset-fixity problem is the stark reality of farm policy—modern agriculture produces too much food. The world food problem that motivated me to enter agricultural economics proved to be more politics than reality. When farmers in the developed countries produce too much food, low food prices force farmers in developing countries into poverty. When I realized that the world food problem was a myth, I also realized that agricultural economics could not be my ultimate call as a Christian.
Professionals face the same asset-fixity problem when they invest years of work in a particular field, only to find their work ignored and their career stalled. For both the farmer and the professional, the problem of getting stuck is best solved by investing in new skills and activities during slow periods. As the saying goes, you need to know when to cut bait and when to go fishing.
During my conversation with Glenn, we talked about my work at OCC on agricultural banking, but I also regaled him with details of a sermon that I spent weeks preparing. On and on I went about this sermon, getting more excited by the minute.
Glenn listened patiently but pretty soon, like every good Illinois farm boy, he had reached his limit and blurted out: “Stephen, you really seem to enjoy preaching, why don’t you go to seminary?”
His seminary comment puzzled me, but I sensed that I had bored him long enough. I thanked him and excused myself.
Several months passed. I then heard through the grapevine that Glenn passed away the week after I spoke with him. The last words I heard from my mentor of 20 years was: “Stephen…why don’t you go to seminary? Stephen…why don’t you go to seminary?” For me, Glenn’s words sounded like Jesus’ last words to Peter (John 21:15).
Also see: Looking Back
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