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I have a Google Alert set up for a number of phrases: Micro-Farming, Vegetable Garden, Farmers Market, Emergent Church, Missional, and Organic Farming.  Throughout each day Google sends me an email for each Alert with links to news articles and blogs that were written in the past day about each of these topics.  Most of the info I stumble upon because of this service is helpful, however there is quite a bit of information that is poorly thought out and trite.  This is the internet after all.  For the past month or so I’ve become a bit annoyed with some of the “news articles” that come across the wire.  Most of them have this title:

Organic Farming Can’t Feed the World

I’m not really arguing whether or not this is true.  I don’t know whether or not organic farming can feed the world.  What bothers me is that conventional farming (farming using chemical pesticides and herbicides) isn’t feeding the world either.  When this news articles is written is comes across as though conventional farming is doing well to feed the current global population, but it isn’t.  People are still dying because of lack of food.

The truth is that an organic farming does need more land to cultivate the same amount of food as a conventional farm, but there are so many factors that go into that statement that sit below the surface.  Primarily, organic farming believes in building up the soil so that the next season the soil will be healthier than the previous.  This is not a concern with conventional farming.  Aslo, and perhaps the biggest factor, the Western Diet is not sustainable because of the waste associated with it.  Westerner’s throw away an incredible amount of food to support our way of eating.  Rare is it to find someone who saves food from the night before to actually eat in the future.  It is more likely to put some left-overs into a Tupperware only to throw them out in the future.  This is just one example.  If we learned to cook only what we were going to eat.  And buy only what we will eat.  And be conscious of what we are buying.  Not only would our grocery bills go down, but so would are trash piles.  There is another factor in this, too.  We Westerner’s eat more than we need to. Which seems to beg the question:  If we didn’t live on a diet larger than we needed, could organic farming feed the world?

Any thoughts out there?


Not too long ago I stepped away from being a pastor to a small group of people.  It was a very significant thing for me to do.  I have felt the call of pastoral ministry on my life for almost ten years and to step away was an identity-shaking decision.  The past months have been filled with questions and doubts about my role as a pastor.  I question whether or not I am really “called” by God into that type of role.  I doubt that I might have the character to pastor people.

I see so much about the American church that I don’t understand or believe is rooted in historical Christianity, yet I feel drawn to the church nonetheless.  When I think about the possibility or probability of working for a church again I find myself shaking my head or throwing up my hands in confusion.  I have lost hope in the church lately.

I have thought that my calling to ministry was not to a particular age group or city, but to the work of reconciling the church to the people who have left — working with broken and bruised churches to seek forgiveness from the people who they have hurt.  This isn’t the type of language that is in most ministerial job descriptions.  I have felt awkward and out of place lately as I have contemplated going back to a ministry position.

But when I read Eugene Peterson I am reminded of the hope that I have lost.

I’m close to finishing “Under the Unpredictable Plant.”  I’m not going to explain the book or try to tell you whether or not you should read it.  There are plenty of qualified people to do that for you.  I will say this:  When I read Peterson’s pastoral books I dream of being a pastor again.

Peterson writes about people.  The people behind the pulpit and the people in the congregation and the people who want nothing to do with church.  He warns the pastor of becoming consumed with “pastoring” to the point of losing sight of the people that he should be pastoring.  This is such a strong encouragement to me.  Without people, the gospel is not the gospel, and if we lose sight of the purpose of the gospel we have no right calling ourselves “pastors.”

In the middle of this book Peterson starts to borrow words from Wendell Berry.  And at this point I’m in bliss.  Peterson writes that “whenever Berry writes the word farm, I substitute parish; the sentence words for me every time.”  Then building off of a thought about “treating the land not as a resource to be cared for but as loot,” Peterson writes:

It is a prevalent attitude of pastors toward congregations, and one that I have held more often than I like to admit.  When I take up that attitude, I see the congregation as raw material to manufacture into an evangelism program, or a mission outreach, or a Christian Education learning center.  Before I know it, I’m pushing and pulling, cajoling and seducing, persuading and selling.  It would not be nearly as bad if our congregations resisted and resented and challenged us when we work out of this attitude, but they are so used to being treated this way by businesses, public relation firms, educators, medical practitioners, and politicians that they don’t see anything amiss when we also do it.  (And, in fact, when we don’t do it, or quit doing it, they wonder why we aren’t acting like a pastor anymore.)

When I read Peterson I am reminded about the work of a pastor– to be present with people, guiding them along the path of the cross as they are reconciled to Jesus, not to sit quietly in a pew and fill up the plate as it passes by.

This morning I filled 15 small, clay post with soil and a few seeds for the Justice Kitchen event next week.  I planted Freckles Romain lettuce (a French heirloom with maroon splotches on the leaves) and “Sparkler” radishes.  The pots will be take home gifts for the people who attend the event as a way to encourage people to grow some food for their selves.  What could be easier and quicker than growing radishes and lettuce?  Both vegetables have quick maturity lengths and do well in containers.  Whether you have acers to plant or a mostly sunny windowsill, these two plants are perfect.

As I filling the pots with soil I was thinking about the purpose that they would serve, and as I started to place the seeds in the soil I found myself say a short prayer for each seed, “May these seeds help us better understand the Kingdom.”  I wasn’t using this prayer as a magical formula or incantation, but I was asking God to use these seeds to draw people closer to the work of the Kingdom of God.  When I watered in the seeds I realized how dependent I am on God’s working where I cannot see.  The next five days these seeds will be germinating below the surface of the soil.  Creation will be at work where I cannot see.

May the harvest be abundant.

“I believe in agriculture,” she said.

Then she paused and nodded her head slowly while letting out a sigh.  Her presentation continued, but I was stuck in that moment.  Her statement was so simple, but it has left a lasting mark on me.  I understood her words to mean that her life has been deeply affected by agriculture.  The pause and nod were a silent reflection of the impact that has been left with her.  Her words struck me so profoundly because I think I am starting to be affected by agriculture in a deep way, too.  I feel as though my journey into agriculture is taking me down a path that is showing me familiar scenery from a different angle.  I am seeing, or perhaps, re-seeing things again in light of my understanding of agriculture.  Words and phrases that I am leaning in the context of agriculture are being applied to non-agrarian aspects of my life.

The biggest intersection has been between gardening and faith.  Words originally associated with gardening have been transplanted into my “Christian” vocabulary.  This certain isn’t unique to me.  My Christian heritage is filled with agrarian language:  The psalmist sings “the Lord is my shepherd.”  Jesus often began his parables by comparing the Kingdom of God to a man who sows seeds.  In contemporary culture  the word “organic” has become a buzzword for many churches.  I recognize that these images and phrases have been a part of my vocabulary for quite some time, but it hasn’t been until my hands were covered with the soil from my garden that I felt like I could really understand these images.

I hope that I will be able to unpack my thoughts clearly.  As I have thought about what to write for this collaboration I realized that I couldn’t/shouldn’t pack all my thoughts into one post.  I expect this post to be like preparing the soil in the bed; it’s the first step in the whole process.  In the coming weeks or months I’d like to cultivate a few ideas regarding the comparisons between gardening and church in three areas: 1. Organic vs. Conventional  2. Local vs. Global  3. Heirloom vs. Hybrid.

For this post I’d like to begin with a quote by Wendell Berry:

“We must learn to see that every problem that concerns us as conservationists always leads straight to the the question of how we live.” (Conservation is Good Work)

I think that it is important to define the word conservation before moving too far forward.  Wikipedia defines conservation as “a political, social and, to some extent, scientific movement that seeks to protect natural resources including plant and animal species as well as their habitat for the future.”  Our contemporary infatuation with sustainability is, at the core, a focus on conservation.  Conservation must attend to the needs of the future.  Conservationists recognize that our actions today affect our opportunities of tomorrow.  We cannot separate our beliefs from our actions.  I see the truth of this quote living itself out in both my understanding of gardening and of faith.

A quote by Joel Salatin:

“You know what the best kind of organic certification would be?  Make an unannounced visit to a farm and take a good long look at the farmer’s bookshelf.  Because what you’re feeding your emotions and thoughts is wht this is really all about.  The way I produce a chicken is an extension of my worldview.  You can learn more about that by seeing what’s sitting on my bookshelf then having me fill our a whole buch of forms.”

After I read this quote I went to look at my bookshelf to ask the question, “What do these books say about me?”  I haven’t been able to figure out what they say, so if anyone wants to come over and take a look let me know.  But I do agree that my worldview is shaped by the things that I read.  As I have started to buy books about gardening I have been conscious about what the books are really saying.  Beneath the surface of planting instructions you will see the worldview of the authors.  Is the author promoting actions that encourage sustainability or are they giving easy answers encouraging a regular pesticide used?  Does the author encourage the reader to look at long term plans about crop rotations?  When I look at the theological books that I have I ask the same questions.  Does the author offer a quick solution to the problems I’m facing or is there encouragement to look beyond the immediate to understand what’s going on.  Does the author recognize the seasonal cycles of growth that we go through?

My decision to tend a vegetable garden has affected most areas of my life.  It has caused me to look at the things that I had been throwing into the trash, which I now add to the compost pile, and seeing that I don’t need to be producing that much waste.  It has helped me slow down.  I am starting to see the purpose of growing vegetables is more than just recieving the harvest.  The purpose is in the harvest as much as in the planting and as much as in weeding.  I see this change of thinking in my understanding of my faith also.  I believe that the purpose of Christianity is not simply to get “butts into Heaven,” but rather about the journey with GOD.

I feel as though I’m trailing off in my thoughts.  I appologize if this is incoherent.  I hope to take some better time to work on the next three posts.

I was planning to finish my post for the Tomato Theology, but it is not going to happen tonight.  I plan to finish the post tomorrow. That is, if I don’t find something to write about at the farmers market.

I’ve been thinking about what to write for this Tomato Theology Syncroblog, but have felt as if I have been hitting a few walls.  Here are some thoughts that I wrote down two days ago.  I hope they will sustain you until I get the full post out late tonight.

As I sat down to type there was thunder in the distant and within minutes rain was pouring down.  With flashes of lightning and cracks of thunder I watched the rain fall down on parched earth.  We have had a dry summer.  I heard recently that we have had six inches of rainfall less than average this year.  That is a very considerable amount.  I have spent the summer on hands and knees in my garden and in the process I have prayed a lot.  I have found the moments when I weed to be very peaceful and a great opportunity to pray and reflect on my life.  I have found the moments when I am fertilizing and watering the plants an opportunity to pray and ask GOD to continue the growth that has been started in my life.  And I have found the moments when I am harvesting the bounty to pray and thank GOD for the food that Lauren and I have to eat.  My time in the garden this year has helped me to see, in a very physical way, that I am not in control.  With each plant I am tending I know that I can only do a small amount that needs to be done.  I can place the plant in the best possible soil, I can water and fertilize, and I can help the growth in every way I know how, but I cannot force the plant to grow.  I cannot will the plant to flower.  I cannot create a harvest.  These things are out of my control.  The more I understand this, the more I recognize that GOD is working where I cannot see.

In her book, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” Barbra Kingsolver writes about two different views toward rain.  A cashier in Arizona, angered at the thought of rain, remarks “I know that’s what they’re saying, but I don’t care.  Tomorrow’s my first day off in two weeks, and I want to wash my car.”  A waitress in Virgina responds to the same likelihood of rain, “Don’t we need it.  Let’s hope it’s a good long one, and that it’s not so hard that it washes everything out.”  After Kingsolver juxtaposes these two thoughts she writes:

It is not my intention here to lionize country wisdom over city ambition.  I only submit that children of farmers are likely to know where food comes from, and that the rest of us might do well to pay attention.  For our family, something turned over that evening in the diner: a gaspump cashier’s cures of drought was lifted by a waitress’s simple, agricultural craving for rain.  I thought to myself: “There’s hope for us.”

If there is hope to be found in rain, then I pray that we can find it.

Here’s a few quotes from Mr. Berry:

“We learn from our gardens to deal with the most urgent question of the time: How much is enough?”

“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility.  To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.”

And here is my most favorite poem from him:

Peace of the Wild Things
“When despair for the world grows in me,
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
or grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.
For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

Lauren’s parents came over today.  I really like them.  They hadn’t been up to the house since we had our New House BBQ, so there was much to see.  Wall had been painted.  Pictures hung.  Plants grown.  They both believe in us.  They are incredibly supportive.  When we made plans for them to come over for a visit I started to think about what we should have for dinner.  During the process I noticed two things.

1. It’s not that hard to have a mostly local meal.  I’ll write out the menu at the bottom, so I wont spoil anything now, but I will say this.  There was an incredible sense of satisfaction from eating a meal that was raised/grown/made locally.  I’m not a huge fan of the type of fundamentalism that has arisen from the local movement.  My approach to the meal was not to create a “local” meal, yet as I pieced things together I started to see that it was possible to have a meal that was mostly local.

2. I think I have the spiritual gift of cooking.  I don’t mean to say that I have a supernatural ability to cook.  I do mean that to prepare a meal for other people creates a spiritual connection for me.  Cooking is something that I have to offer people in the form of an act of service.  As I stood in the kitchen, preparing the meal, I found myself praying for Lauren and her parents.  It wasn’t that there was any particular thing that I thought they needed prayer for.  It just seemed like the right thing to do.  And it wasn’t so much of me praying for a specific thing to “happen.”  I prayed prayers of thankfulness for who they are in my life; recognizing that I am who I am because of their roles in my life.

On to the menu:

Rosemary Flat-bread w/ Blue Cheese
Grilled Cream Cheese and Herb stuffed Heirloom Green Peppers
Grilled Maple infused Orange Beets

Main Course:
Spring Lettuce Salad w/ Lemon Cucumbers, Radishes, Tomatoes and Carrots
Steamed Green Beans and Yellow Squash
Grilled Tomatoes with Rosemary and Basil
Maple and Mustard seared Lamb Chops

Dessert: (courtesy of my mother-in-law)
Chess Square
Razzleberry Pie

Wake up at 6am and actually feel rested.
Wash the dishes and clean the kitchen a bit.
Turn the sprinkler on in the front yard and watch the water fan back and forth.
Contemplate baking Zucchini Muffins.
Start thinking of a weekly menu for the week and items to buy from the farmers market.
Weed and meditate in the vegetable garden before it got too hot.
Enjoy a cup of coffee on the back patio while listening to the roosters.
Write a short blog post about reasons I enjoy early mornings.


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