In an attempt to tip-toe back from my long blogging hiatus, I'd like to share an excerpt from some of Wendell Berry's writings about his home in Port Royal, KY.

This writing got me thinking about what it means to really know a place - to be at home and at ease.  I'm a creature of habit, I find comfort and rest in routines.  The notion of letting my feet forge a well-worn path while my mind is free to wander suits me.

It also gets me  thinking about the "paths" we journey on to connect with God - those familiar motions and disciplines that free us up to contemplate the greatness of God.  We rightfully push ourselves to explore new paths, but invariably return to those places of sweet familiarity where we sense ourselves at home and at ease in God's presence.


The dog runs ahead, prancing and looking back, knowing the way we are about to go.  This is a walk well established with us - a route in our minds as well as on the ground.  There is a sort of mystery in the establishment of these ways.  Anytime one crosses a given stretch of country with some frequency, no matter how wanderingly one begins, the tendency is always toward habit.  By the third or fourth trip, without realizing it, one is following a fixed path, going the way one went before.  After that, one may still wander, but only by deliberation, and when there is reason to hurry, or when the mind wanders rather than the feet, one returns to the old route.  Familiarity has begun.  One has made a relationship with the landscape, and the form and the symbol and the enactment of the relationship is the path.  These paths of mine are seldom worn on the ground.  They are habits of mind, directions and turns.  They are as personal as old shoes.  My feet are comfortable in them.

* Taken from "A Native Hill" by Wendell Berry


What time is it?

(photo lovingly hijacked from my talented 
twin sister's photography site)
For the past several months I have kept returning to and meditating on Ecclesiastes 3.  The chapter calls on the reality that life revolves in a dance of seasons that are ever-moving, and it speaks to the wisdom of discerning what each season holds.  Having been immortalized by the Byrds, this passage is probably familiar to most, but here's a refresher....

There is an appointed time for everything.  And there is a time for every event under the sun - 
A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones  and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.

I began reading and rereading through this chapter while also making my way through Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  In this book, Kingsolver recounts her family's journey through a year of eating only what they could grow on their personal farm or purchase in their local community.  This commitment inherently required that they eat along with the seasons.  One chapter profoundly impacted me and also changed how I read and understand this section of Ecclesiastes - a chapter on the gratitude of eating seasonally.  The modern food industry allows us access to nearly all types of foods year-round - Asparagus in January?  No problem!  This has so much become our reality that the average 20-something probably couldn't tell you what produce grows when and where; these are things that were second nature to our grandparent's generation.  I digress.  Beyond the waste of fossil fuels to bring apples from New Zealand in the dead of winter, or the fact that produce picked early to be shipped across the planet actually has a lower nutritional value, OR the value of supporting your local farmers - Kingsolver speaks of the gratitude of eating only what is available locally and seasonally.  Squeezing all things on our plate year-round regardless of the cost, versus waiting patiently for a ripe strawberry - the taste of which is only heightened by the anticipation of its arrival.

Certainly you know where I'm headed; such a principle necessarily reverberates farther than the food we eat.  In broader ways in our lives we want all things on our plate at all times, and we are disappointed and angry when it isn't possible.  We live under the cultural delusion that there are no limits in life.  I keep finding my way back to this chapter of Ecclesiastes because I see more clearly what Solomon is getting at - life moves in a cycle of seasons; different seasons call for different things.  A season that calls for uprooting will inevitably crowd-out planting.  There is a unique gratitude that comes from receiving and embracing what is in season.  There is beauty in the wisdom and self-control required to honor the season God has prescribed without begging for or seeking after the 'asparagus' we are certain we need.

And so, this passage pushes me to consider biblical wisdom as well as seasons.  The concept of wisdom is exalted throughout all of Scripture - by wisdom God made all that we know, wisdom is personified and described as with God before the creation of the world, nothing is more precious or desirable than wisdom, Christ, even, is described as the perfect wisdom of God.  In short, wisdom is a big deal.  It comes from God.  God chooses to give it to us.  We are blessed as we live in the wisdom He supplies.  The book of Proverbs is the most prominent wisdom literature in the Bible - somewhat comically, the author states, The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom (4:7).  Solomon, in the wisdom God supplied him, recognized that different seasons call for different things, and we need wisdom to discern what is appropriate in each season.  Knowing this, I'm often left asking, Ok, Lord, what time is it?  I trust that God delights in giving us the wisdom required to answer that question (James 1:5).  It is by God's wisdom alone that we are able to discern that which is appropriate for each day, week, month, year.

And yet in the midst of the 'stuff' of life it can be such a challenge to both discern and accept what is in season.   There have been times when I have wanted to uproot and flee, but realized it was a season of planting and throwing down roots.  Times when I have desperately hoped and prayed that a season would include 'sewing together,' only to realize and tremblingly embrace that it was a time of 'tearing apart.'  The truth is, we don't have the luxury of choosing what is in season.  Rather, we must cling to a deep-rooted trust in the Father - a confidence that He is the giver of all good gifts and He loves us perfectly.  Only then can we experience the gratitude of what each season carries.  In this place, we also experience a sweet sense of hope and anticipation, knowing that seasons steadily change and that we have a faithful Father that walks with us through the trials and joys of each appointed time.


Quiet, Simple Solutions

I recently read The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry.  He uses the majority of the book to explain how the industrialization of American life has led to a decline in cultural values, community, and overall quality of life.  Somewhat comically, he uses the final chapter of the book to put forward solutions to the complex web of problems he has laid out.
Having spent much time thinking on the issues that the American church faces - also in large measure having to do with the philosophy and effects of industrialization - I was encouraged and intrigued by some of the parting words that Berry puts forward in this book.  As a church we face the problems of nominalism among believers, programatic structures that are impersonal and cannot account for individual needs, flashy 'seeker-sensitive' services that pat us on the back and let us know that we're ok - all the while Christ calls us to love the Lord our God with our whole self and our neighbor as ourself; to pick up our cross and follow; to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.  The solutions for the church, particularly in efforts to reach a post-modern generation are not easy...but, perhaps they are simple...

Berry concludes:
It remains for me to suggest public changes that are necessary to bring the better way to realization.  This is the most fearful part of my task, for what I have described at such length here is a big problem, and it is the overwhelming tendency of our time to assume that a big problem calls for a big solution.  I do not believe in the efficacy of big solutions.  I believe that they not only tend to prolong and complicate the problems they are meant to solve, but that they cause new problems.  On the other hand, if the solution is small, obvious, simple, and cheap, then it may quickly and permanently solve the immediate problem and many others as well.  For example, if a city-dweller walks or rides a bicycle to work, he has found the simplest solution to his transportation problem - and at the same time he is reducing pollution, reducing the waste of natural resources, reducing the public expenditure for traffic control, saving his money, and improving his health. 

What if the Church didn't have to spend so much of her time, resources, and energy on flashy programs, compelling sermons, or big buildings?  Do we trust that a growing love for God will naturally overflow into a deep love for people? What I'm getting at is that the Church's calling to love and bear witness to the Gospel is often over-complicated by an ever-expanding structure of programs and jobs.  We 'professionalize' the faith so that it is the task of the minister to show us how to contribute to the structure.  The American church has cast her net wide, consequently the mission atrophies to getting 'butts in seats' rather than walking alongside people, knowing them, and modeling what it looks like to follow after Christ in all of life.  We often don't have time for this because we are so busy maintaining our structures.  Yet our biblical model of the early church is that they were distinguished, not by their polished programs or impressive buildings, but by their radical, sacrificial love.  It is counter-cultural within the American church to slow down, narrow our scale and trust in the exponential growth of the kingdom - the mustard seed that starts so small yet slowly takes over the whole garden.

The quiet, small solution I have been exploring is to invest in a 'missional community.'  Some like to call it a house church - the jury is out on choice terminology.  We gather in a home; we share a meal; we share what the Lord is teaching us; we study the Word together; we remind one another of the Gospel as we participate in the Lord Supper; we pray; we sing.  And yet I know that church doesn't 'happen' as we gather together once a week.  Rather, we are the Church - Christ's body, laboring together unto wholeness in Christ.

And so, I put forward my simple solution: Church is an identity, not an event.


A Firm Anchor

This one goes out to all those who have called me out on my blogging leave of absence.

Truthfully, all of the major life-changes over the past 6 months have been pretty challenging for me.  I'm not sure what I expected when I left InterVarsity with no plan other than moving back to Indiana, but I do see how the Lord has used this season to teach me a lot about myself - who I am and how I respond when all the structures of my life are pulled away.  I figured it would be difficult and that I would face a lot of identity issues as I forced myself to slow down, stop 'producing,' and simply receive a season of rest.

Many have heard me say, "I just don't feel like myself," or, "I feel like major portions of who I am are lying dormant."  It has been challenging to move from leading a ministry at an academically elite university, experiencing much growth in a Christ-centered church family, and living in the most ethnically/culturally diverse neighborhood in Chicago to living in a small(ish) town in Indiana, working at a restaurant, and investing in a church family that is wonderful but extremely different (as it should be).  In the midst of this, there have been moments of feeling like my life is unrecognizable.

I recently finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy.  There is a part in the last book where the main character, Katniss Everdeen, has been through quite a bit of trauma and is mentally/emotionally unstable.  The doctors have her recite a list of simple facts about herself in order to anchor herself in reality - My name is Katniss Everdeen.  I am seventeen years old.  My home is District 12.  I was in the Hunger Games.  I escaped.  The Capitol hates me...  Her list goes on, but I'll not spoil it if you still want to read the series.  At any rate, it got me thinking about how I anchor my sense of self and reality.  My gut instinct is often to begin listing accomplishments - My name is Rachel Drolen.  I am from Indiana, but my home is Chicago.  I went to graduate school at Moody.  I worked in full-time Christian collegiate ministry.  I love to teach the Word.  I speak Spanish.  I get worked up about agriculture and sustainability. 

I have to sense the Lord's kindness in stripping away such a list.  That is not my anchor.  Trying to make that my anchor will only leave me dissatisfied and self-consumed.  Rather, the Father reminds me that my list is more along these lines - I am Rachel Drolen, a beloved daughter of the Most High God.  I am a citizen of Christ's unshakeable kingdom.  In Christ I have been cleansed, accepted, adopted into a family, and made whole.  I am perfectly loved, regardless of what I do, and I am sent to love others unto wholeness in Christ.  Whether in Chicago or Indiana, full-time ministry or waiting tables, this anchor enables me to live joyfully with a sense of meaning and purpose.

Perhaps the sweetest encouragement I have received in response to these feelings that so much of what I care about is not finding expression in my life right now,  is that perhaps those passions are resting for this season only to bear greater fruit in the future.  May it be so!


Variables or Mystery

I've been planning (and placing said plans on the back burner) to do some focused writing on philosophy of agriculture and ministry.   In the meantime, I continue to see such overt parallels between the state of industrialized agriculture and the life of the American church.

I find more and more fuel for the fire of what the Lord is stirring me toward in ministry in these unexpected places, and it has been both an affirmation and an upheaval of what I imagined ministry and life to look like. My friends, it has been quite a journey, traipsing further and further down this 'rabbit hole.' I am hopeful that all this is of the Spirit and will lead to good fruit for His glory.

Here is an excerpt from Michael Pollan:

The problem is that once science has reduced a complex phenomenon to a couple of variables, however important they may be, the natural tendency is to overlook everything else, to assume that what you can measure is all there is, or at least all that really matters. When we mistake what we can know for all there is to know, a healthy appreciation of one's ignorance in the face of a mystery like soil fertility gives way to the hubris that we can treat nature as a machine. Once that leap has been made, one input follows another, so that when the synthetic nitrogen fed to plants makes them more attractive to insects and vulnerable to disease, as we have discovered, the farmer turns to chemical pesticides to fix his broken machine...a healthy sense of all we don't know - even a sense of mystery - keeps us from reaching for oversimplifications and technological silver bullets...Plants grown in synthetically fertilized soils are less nourishing than ones grown in composted soils; such plants are more vulnerable to diseases and insect pests; polycultures are more productive and less prone to disease than monocultures; and that in fact the health of the soil, plant, animal, human, and even nation are connected along lines we can now begin to draw with empirical confidence.

As we have industrialized the agricultural process, solving only for the variables of productivity and highest yield, we have reduced the nutrition of what is grown and caused a complicated web of pollution and waste in the process. While the quantity of food is immense, there are hidden costs that can only remain veiled for so long - from a system contingent on fossil fuels rather than the historical precedent of sun-based agriculture, even to the health of our nation as a whole (it should not be a surprise that the shift in our agricultural practices back in the 50's coincided with an alarming rise in obesity, which has now been called a national epidemic).

Our food choices are one thing, but how have the same undergirding philosophies that brought about the rise of agribusiness also invaded the American church?  I appreciate Pollan's words about maintaining a healthy appreciation of our own ignorance in the face of mystery.  We don't like that in nature, and we certainly don't like that in relationship to God.  Rather than accepting that the Spirit invades our lives in a variety of ways yielding growth and opening our eyes to see the Father clearly, we create programs and curriculum that is certain to produce results - read this book, go to that conference, etc.  Certainly such things have merit and have yielded growth in the lives of many, but I wonder at times if they play a similar role to all these synthetic fertilizers that, yes, bring about amazing growth, but also create unintended problems that we need to fix with yet more artificial inputs.  What are these unintended problems? Rather than engaging with and knowing the Living God, we hide behind titles and accomplishments and pride mounts its counter attack.  We're able to go through the motions with the appearance of growth, while actually lacking substance and nourishment.  In short, we can play the system, move through the curriculum, be patted on the back - all while not actually growing in love for God and people.

To put things mildly, this is problematic for the health of the church.  So how do we move from church as agribusiness to church as the small family farm?  I suppose that's what I've been spending the past year trying to wrap my mind around.  I know it needs to involve depth of relationship and intimacy with those on the journey with you - church as the family of God living on mission together, rather than an impersonal institution.  More thoughts to come...


Raymond Park

My face is red and chapped,
But the heat, the rain, the snow –
They will not still this relentless complaint.
I must be heard.

And so I return to this place.
Daily, I pour out my complaint,
But no one listens;
I beat the air.
I preach to the wind.
I wait.

I have trampled the life around me,
This circle of dead grass is an altar to my pride.
I will not move forward until my complaint is heard,
And so I return.

Maybe tomorrow change will come;
Maybe tomorrow I’ll have my answer;
Maybe tomorrow I won’t need to return.
Where would I go?
This circle has become my home;
My complaint my closest companion.
I am tormented by the weight of it;
I am fearful of freedom;
I am ruined.


The life I want most for myself...

I was recently reading a spiritual formation book that had an exercise where you write out as a prayer the life that you want most for yourself. At this transitional moment in life, it struck me as a helpful thing to do. Really it gets at a redefining of success...here's what I came up with (I wrote in list format out of laziness - sorry!):

 The life I want most for myself is...

 - to walk in holy reverence before the Lord daily and love as Christ loves.
 - to be steadied by wisdom and filled with the joy that comes from seeing Christ clearly - the perfect wisdom of God.
- to always be found ready to serve sacrificially and be poured out on behalf of others.
- to carry traces of the kingdom into whatever context the Lord places me.
- to, in faith, see the Lord's hand at work in every circumstance and daily trust Him more.
- to be sensitive and obedient to the promptings of the Spirit.
- to actively carry others toward closer intimacy with the Father.

 I wanted to be more specific rather than conceptual, but I just couldn't bring myself to it. If my ability to be faithful and fruitful for the kingdom is bound to a circumstance or context, then I have limited the power of God who is over all and in all. As Psalm 139 states, If I ascend to the heavens, You are there. If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me and your right hand will uphold me. If I say surely the darkness will overwhelm me and the light around me will be as night. Even darkness is not dark to You and the night will shine as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.

 This, my friends, sounds like a pretty sweet life.