I am learning that what farmers like Fred are doing agriculturally, I need to do theologically and pastorally in the church. Like farmers, our lives have become disintegrated and fragmented by rapid cultural and technological change. Maybe we've imagined the whole world as little more than a medium for growing souls, pushing and pushing until we erode the fertile topsoil that's essential to our faith--justice, goodness, mercy, compassion. Imagine what might change if we thought of the earth and everything in it as part of God's redemptive plan, as an integrated process of life breaking out "on earth as it is in heaven." Maybe even our stop at the dairy aisle and our choice of flour could be fertile ground for faithfulness.
Saturday, May 04, 2013
I'm not what you might call "self-motivated." I often need external prompts to keep me going on my more mundane projects. One of those projects is gardening. So every year now (for the second year in a row!) I'm reading a book that relates in some way to the growing of food. Last year was Barbara Kingsolver's wonderful book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a gift from one of my hippie author friends, who noticed that I had read Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma (a gift from another of my hippie author friends) and assumed that I must be a hippie foodie. I'm not, but the book was great. This year's entry is Year of Plenty: One Suburban Family, Four Rules, and 365 Days of Homegrown Adventure in Pursuit of Christian Living, by Craig L. Goodwin. I met Craig at the Inhabit Conference last year, an event sponsored by the Parish Collective, a network of mostly urban and suburban hippies who want their religious life to be homegrown, organic and slow. It's a great event, if you're into that sort of thing. Craig's family spent a year living locally, and facing up to all the implications of that. They went in fairly ignorant (less ignorant, I suspect, than he likes to suggest in the book, but by no means were they stealth hippies engaging in fraudulent life experiments), and dealt with the surprises as they came. I'm now at the point where the family is running out of staples, like flour, and running in search of homegrown replacements. The family visits any number of processing plants with very little luck, until one food industry representative directs them to a "recovering conventional farmer." Fred proves to be a good match for Craig's "recovering conventional consumer"; I suspect I'll hear more from Fred as I continue to read. Anyway, Fred turns Craig on not only to local sources of flour but to the ecological logic of what has become, after a century or two of industrial progress, unconventional farming. Show concern for the sustainability of topsoil, Fred suggests, and your land will not dry up. I found this interesting: "The richness of the tropical rainforest is in the way it recycles the nutrients"--the interdependency of the soil and the plants growing in it. "Once the native vegetation disappears, so does the productive capacity of the soil." Deforestation in the Amazon, for example, won't result in more land for agricultural use; it'll result in more useless land and a starker, less stable environment. The kicker of chapter five, for me, was the surprise twist at the end, in which Craig steps way back from his search for flour and sugar and cheese, and reflects on the parallels between environmental responsibility and congregational life. He's a pastor, so he thinks that way, but I found his insight to be quite compelling, and fertile ground for the church's ongoing reformation. Here's what he wrote:
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Everybody wants to be on Martin Luther King's side, but no one wants to cross the street.Back in college one of my professors suggested that, while it was appropriate to date time from the birth of Christ, given the historical and cultural significance of that moment, the time had come to mark time differently. He proposed August 6, 1945, the day on which the U.S. government dropped a bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, and ushered in the nuclear age. That day changed history, he argued, and he was right. But the interesting thing to me about how we mark time now--according to the birth of Christ--is how unremarkable that day was to the people who were living it. It's only through the lens of history that we came to recognize its significance, only in retrospect that we know how profoundly that day changed history. So, if my professor is right and the time has come to re-mark time, I think we ought to look for something more subtle than a nuclear explosion. I might propose April 16, 1963. April 16, 1963, is the day Martin Luther King Jr. began writing his letter to white clergy, on the occasion of his arrest and imprisonment in Birmingham, Alabama, for "parading without a permit" in an effort to end legal segregation in that city. He wrote in response to an editorial, written by various white clergy, offering general support for the cause of the black person in the American South but urging patience and meekness. Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the writing of that letter, and it is as current today as it was then.
Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.For the full text of the letter (which I read once a year, every year--a practice I recommend wholeheartedly), click here.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
I found this recent episode of The Mindy Project (embedded below) wildly entertaining. Mindy meets a guy on the train and they go out on a date. She finds out that he's a Lutheran minister (he prays for dinner). She goes to his church and he dumps her because she's not selfless enough for him. She goes to prison to prove she's a good person. Hilarity ensues. The thing that strikes me as most interesting about this episode is how fascinatingly odd Mindy finds it that someone would (a) pray before eating and (b) go to church. Churchgoing is that quickly becoming exotic and unexpected. The concept of religious faith isn't pilloried by the episode, even though the show makes a mockery of contemporary worship services (Moby as liturgist?!?). Fair game, I say. But the church and the vocation of Mindy's would-be boyfriend (he's a Lutheran, probably mainly for the vestments, but he could have been a pastor in pretty much any church without a celibate clergy) are really just foils for more interesting questions:  Why do some people believe some things, and others don't?  What motivates our altruism, and are our motivations legitimate? Anyway, I liked it, and I thought you might like it too. A little harsh on people in prison, and a little blue here and there. But comedy genius. Enjoy it while it's streaming.
Monday, April 08, 2013
Before there was a cloud, there was a great cloud. We read about it in the letter to the Hebrews. It’s mentioned explicitly in chapter 12, but the heart of it is actually in chapter 11, as a kind of litany declaring what faith looks like. Guess what: It looks like a cloud.