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.


Merton on Humility

I came across this short paragraph on humility by Thomas Merton, and thought I'd share.
I finally picked up my first book of Merton's writings, convinced that I need to expand my circle of theological/literary influence - so far no regrets :)

A humble man can do great things with an uncommon perfection because he is no longer concerned about incidentals, like his own interests and his own reputation, and therefore he no longer needs to waste his efforts in defending them.
For a humble man is not afraid of failure. In fact, he is not afraid of anything; even himself, since perfect humility implies perfect confidence in the power of God before Whom no other power has any meaning and for Whom there is no such thing as an obstacle.
Humility is the surest sign of strength.

Oh that we would carry humble hearts, confident only in the surpassing power of the Father!


Apple Seeds - Week #11

Well, friends, there has been some exponential growth in the past couple weeks :) I'll keep things short because I'm still in the Upper Peninsula, and internet connection is limited.
It really is incredible that so much biomass can accumulate out of the simple raw materials of dirt, water, and sunshine. Here is the photographic evidence...


Apple Seeds - Week #9

Can you believe it has been so long? Time for an update...

Last week I moved. It was a somewhat difficult, emotional move - saying goodbye to Chicago after six years...truly some of the greatest years I've yet had; full of growth and precious friendships.

In the midst of preparing to move I kept eyeing my apple seeds, thinking - 'geez I should just throw those away.' For two months they were just hanging out in the refrigerator, seemingly doing nothing. A few days before the move I surveyed the refrigerator to see what was mine...I pulled the seeds out, and yet again there were no signs of growth. Frustrated, I put them back in and decided I'd make the final call to throw them away later.

Well, moving day rolled around...I opened the refrigerator to gather my things and looked longingly at the bag of seeds. I picked them up to toss them but gave the bag a glance...the seeds SPROUTED!!!!!

I can't tell you how much it meant to me. With this move feeling pretty daunting and emotional, somehow the seeds sprouting felt like a tender affirmation that everything is going to be ok.
So, I potted 4 of the sprouts. I'm spending this whole month in the Upper Peninsula, and I couldn't bear the thought of leaving all of the 'young hopefuls' under another's care, so I brought one with me.

More progress reports forthcoming.


Apple Seeds - Day #1

I like to eat apples - generally, I eat the whole apple, core and all. Well, not all. I don't eat the seeds. After doing a little research, I discovered that the seeds have low levels of arsenic in them and if you eat too many they can yield digestive woes. Beyond that, they aren't terribly tasty.

Nonetheless, I always pause and feel a little bummed as I throw away my apple seeds. Nearly every time I think to myself, 'I should plant these.' (I usually eat an apple each day, so this thought occurs pretty regularly - and I have kept the doctor away for quite some time, ha!)

Its exciting to think on the potential of a seed. To think that such a small thing can become a large tree that bears fruit year after year is pretty amazing. Its no wonder that Jesus describes the Gospel as a seed (Matt. 13), and James describes God's word as a seed that has been planted in believers (James 1:21). There is something mysterious and wonderful about how seeds seem so inert, yet when planted and cared for yield amazing life.

All this to say, today as I ate an apple I reached a tipping point. Usually, I toss my seeds away under the rationale that even if I did plant them and begin to grow a fledgling tree, I would not have a place to plant it once it was time to put it in the ground. This afternoon that thought hit a nerve. I'll be honest, most days I long for a sense of home. I've been a nomadic apartment dweller for the past 6 years since college, never living in one place for more than 2 years. Something about reaching the late 20's has stirred in me the desire for a sense of permanency. I desire to stay in one place and 'throw down roots.' I regularly ask God about this - is this something I selfishly want or something he is stirring in me?

So, today I did it. I saved those little seeds and resolved to plant them. I did a little internet research, and as it turns out you don't just stick them in some soil and hope for the best - I was slightly disenchanted considering the ease of all the Johnny Appleseed myths that make it seem like he just dropped them around like breadcrumbs. Currently, my wonderful, potential-filled seeds are chilling (figuratively and literally) in the refrigerator in a damp napkin and ziploc bag. They'll need to stay there for approximately 6 weeks until they begin to sprout. I'm hoping they will be overachievers and not take so long.

I'll keep you all posted on their progress - mostly because its fun to track progress, but maybe also partially to poke fun at the ever-so-prevalent 'baby bump' pictures that all my pregnant friends post, ha! The progress shall certainly be slower and less life changing than a pregnancy. Nonetheless, I find myself hopeful that when the time comes for this fledgling tree to find a permanent place in the ground, that perhaps we will be able to throw down our roots together.



Reading a friend's writing recently got me thinking about what it means to surrender.

I love hanging out with my nephew, Miles - I assure you, he's the coolest 4-year-old around. Nonetheless, around lunchtime just before his nap, he can be a bit of a handful. He gets crabby and is so overtly in need of rest that its almost laughable how strongly he resists. The longer he puts off the dreaded nap time the more whiney he becomes. He struggles and strives to stay awake and keep going, much to his own detriment. And then in what seems like a moment, he lets go. He gives in. His little body thankfully receives rest - the last thing he wanted but the fulfillment of his most urgent need.

At 27 (nearly 28!) I too often find myself in the same predicament as my sweet little nephew. I struggle; I strive; I plead with the Lord for what I want. I try to keep going, confident that I know what I need, what will make me happy. All the while, I'm exhausted - so gripped by what I want, yet oblivious to what I need. I hope the Lord lets out a good natured laugh as He invites me to rest. And so I wonder if this is what it means to surrender - to let go of my hopes and dreams and enter into rest, confident that what the Lord gives is far better than what I can grasp for myself.

Letting go. Giving in. Surrendering. For Miles that decision comes just after lunch each day - I wish I had it that easy. In this season, it seems to be a moment-by-moment need - though a challenge, I'm grateful for all that I'm learning about trust and dependency upon the Father. It helps me understand Jesus' admonition that we come to him as little children - aware of our weakness and need; not ashamed to be dependent. I'm hopeful that this weakness might serve as a window to put on display the surpassing strength, power, and beauty of our loving Father.

Psalm 131
O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
From this time forth and forever.


Hold Me Near

This song by Karla Adolphe has been a blessing this week...

Hold me near when I'm restless
Hold me near when I'm bitter
Hold me near when I"m rebellious
Hold me near until the end

Hold me near when my heart is broken
Hold me near when I'm ignorant
Hold me near when I am jealous
Hold me near until the end

But as for me my feet almost gave out
I nearly sold my heart
It's good to be held by my Father
It's good to be where you are


Wholeness - An Inseparable Unity of Parts

Much of my reading and thinking lately has returned me to the idea of wholeness. As we follow cultural models of compartmentalizing life, we seem to believe that one area of life can be thriving while other areas lie in ruins, without one having too much effect on the other. I can make a myriad of analogies here from nature and agriculture about how all of life is created to be interwoven and interdependent, but I'll spare you...
The thought actually surfaced while I was running the other day. It was a beautiful day - 50 degree weather, very little wind but a lot of sunshine. I dare say, perfect running weather. I ended up running 5 1/2 miles along the lakefront, further than I would have guessed I had been up for after a winter of, well, not much physical activity. As I felt the aches and pains, there was something really good about it - good to feel aware of my body. Maybe you're thinking this is sounds a little weird. I'm going somewhere...
The run got me thinking about how God created us as whole people - spirit, mind, and body. Our personhood depends upon their inseparable unity. My wandering mind, running body and stirred spirit got to thinking about God himself, how the Trinity is our perfect picture of inseparable unity, of wholeness.
When I was young, my mom used to braid my hair; she would braid it really tight and sometimes it hurt. But I learned that a good braid is pretty simple - all three parts that you are weaving together need to be the same size and they need to be tightly bound.
I won't put forward that a braid is the ideal representation of the Trinity - of course all our pictures fall short of so great a mystery - yet there are helpful truths to be gleaned. If we have two big pieces of hair (Father & Son) and one smaller piece (Spirit), we're going to end up with a weak braid. And of course we see this within many parts of the American church - without a whole view of who God is as He has made himself known, we are left pretty weak and lifeless. We can't have a healthy, right understanding of the Father and Son if our view of the Spirit is incorrect.
Hang in there, that's not my main point, ha! Back to the wholeness of our personhood - spirit, mind, body. If these same principles cross over, then my 'braid' is weakened when my theology only includes the health of my spirit and mind, but ignores my body. And yet obesity rates within the church mirror the culture at large, and care for the body seems to be optional. If indeed we are whole people, how can one be healthy, self-controlled, and disciplined in his or her spirit and thoughts while ignoring those same standards for his or her body? Is that person experiencing wholeness?
I also got to thinking about readiness - that throughout scripture we are called to be ready. Ready for Christ's return, but also ready to follow wherever the Lord would lead us. To be faithful to this calling we must be ready spirit, mind, and body. I can be willing, mentally prepared, but physically incapable and thus hindered. Am I stewarding my body well so that I am found ready when the Lord calls me to go? Of course, I'm not arguing for a pursuit of 'the perfect body' or a pursuit of worldly beauty, but rather a sense of stewardship, discipline, self-control and care.
I really enjoy running. I particularly make a point to 'unplug' when I run - no music, no pedometer, no watch - I enjoy the space to pray and contemplate things the Lord has been stirring in me. In many ways it is an activity that exposes for me the interweaving of my spirit, mind, and body - the inseparable braided wholeness.


The Redwood Forrest

The Redwood Forrest

Shall we dwell together?
Can our roots intertwine?
Knit together, we ascend to the heights.

Shall we grow tall together?
The humble find refuge under our canopy.
The fire sweeps through our community,
Fear not, we are clothed in protection.
Our heartwood flows with living water.

My friend, we are beautifully braided together,
We extend our branches heavenward,
Long life is ours.
We cannot make it alone,
Shall we dwell together?



Call me crazy, but I think I might give it a try!

Here are my thoughts ...
1. Eating a plant-based diet is much healthier than eating processed foods, meat, and dairy
2. Whether we like it or not, there are enormous issues of injustice connected to our food choices - the further removed we become from the growing/harvesting of plants and the raising/slaughter of animals the more we lose touch with the ethical questions associated with our food choices.
3. As we corporately wake up and realize that we live on a limited planet with limited resources, we need to ask questions of sustainability; the amount of animal products that we eat is not sustainable (in order for me to eat beef, a cow must have eaten a lot of plants vs. me just eating plants - so I, then, 'eat lower on the foodchain' when I eat a plant-based diet)
**Fun fact** "If everyone ate the diet of an average U.S. citizen, the earth could feed 2.5 billion people well. Italians use about half the grain we do, and if everyone ate like Italians, the earth could sustain 5 billion people well. If we all ate the way they do in India, the world could feed 10 billion people well. Our current world population is 6.8 billion."
Interpretation: In the U.S. we eat very differently from the rest of the world currently and throughout history. Our abuse of resources effects our global neighbors. Loving our neighbor as ourself demands that we understand how our passive involvement in a broken system directly effects our neighbor.
4. As Christians, we can't ignore the ethical and justice issues that surround food choices.
5. As Christians, we have to engage with the biblical mandate to steward the earth - how are we honoring God with the way we care for creation? What are we leaving for future generations?
6. God's creative handiwork is seen in the variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, oats, rice, etc. There is so much to enjoy - who needs chemically processed/engineered food? :)

Goodness - hope y'all don't think I'm turning into too much of a hippie.


A Hopeful Endurance

I've been struggling with some heaviness and discouragement that has been tough to shake. The Lord is faithful to remind me of truth, but sometimes in weakness it is tough to reach out for the peace and comfort that is ours in Christ.

In the midst of these times, I'm reminded to be grateful for the Spirit, the Word, community, and some old theologians that feel as though they've become dear friends. One of those being Thomas a Kempis - below is a writing of his that brought me much hope and joy today.


Grievous Things Endured

My son, be not wearied by the labors which you have undertaken for my sake, nor let tribulations cast you down. But let My promise strengthen and comfort you under every circumstance. I am well able to reward you, above all measure and degree.

You shall not long toil here, nor always be oppressed with griefs. Wait a little while, and you shall see a speedy end of your evils. There will come an hour when all labor and tumult shall cease. Poor and brief is all that which passes away with time.

Do in earnest what you do; labor faithfully in My vineyard (Matt. 20:7); I will be your recompense. Write, read, chant, mourn, keep silence, pray, endure crosses manfully. Life everlasting is worth all these battles, and greater than these. Peace shall come in one day which is known unto the Lord, and there shall be "not day, nor night" (Zech. 14:7) (that is, of this present time), but unceasing light, infinite brightness, steadfast peace, and secure rest. Then you shall not say: "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom. 7:24); nor cry, "Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech" (Ps. 120:5). For death shall be cast down headlong, and there shall be salvation which can never fail, no more anxiety, blessed joy, companionship sweet and noble.

Oh, if you had seen the everlasting crowns of the saints in Heaven, and with what great glory they now rejoice, who once were esteemed by this world as contemptible, and in a manner unworthy of life itself! Truly you would humble yourself even to the earth, and would rather seek to be under all than to have command even over one. Neither would you long for this life's pleasant days, but rather would rejoice to suffer affliction for God, and esteem it your greatest gain to be reputed as nothing among men. Oh, if these things had a sweet savor to you, and pierced to the bottom of your heart, how could you dare so much as once to complain!

Lift up your face therefore to Heaven. Behold, I and all My saints with Me, who in this world had great conflict, do now rejoice, now are comforted, now secure, now at rest, and shall remain with Me everlastingly in the kingdom of My Father!


Truths for Today

Here are some truths I feel inclined to cling to today...simple, but needed:

God is good.
He is in control.
He is completely trustworthy.
He sees me.
He knows me.
He delights in loving me.
He loves me perfectly.

Praise God!


Small, fragile lights in the dark

In the past few months I've been doing a lot of reading on the implications of the Industrial Revolution - particularly as it relates to agriculture. In the Industrial Revolution we began to mechanize processes in order to increase efficiency and production. The result being a greater quantity of lower quality products. That, of course, is a drastic oversimplification, but it is a sufficient base for all that follows, ha ha.
These readings and thoughts have surfaced for me a lot of really interesting insights and parallels with the way we go about church and ministry. The result has been some major shifts in my philosophy of ministry and ecclesiology. I've been working on writing out all my thoughts in a comprehensible way, but I thought I'd share a little bit of what has influenced some of my thinking along the way...

The following are some excerpts from Wendell Berry's collection of essays, "Another Turn of the Crank."

The world of efficiency ignores both earthly and divine love, because by definition it must reduce experience to computation, particularity to abstraction, and mystery to a small comprehensibility...

Yet love obstinately answers that no loved one is standardized. A body, love insists, is neither a spirit nor a machine; it is not a picture, a diagram, a chart, a graph, an anatomy; it is not an explanation; it is not a law. It is precisely and uniquely what it is. It belongs to the world of love, which is a world of living creatures, natural orders and cycles, many small, fragile lights in the dark...

Of his experience witnessing his brother recovering from a stroke in the hospital:

It was impossible then not to see that the breathing of a machine, like all machine work, is unvarying, an oblivious regularity, whereas the breathing of a creature is ever changing, exquisitely responsive to events both inside and outside the body, to thoughts and emotions. A machine makes breaths as a machine makes buttons, all the same, but every breath of a creature is itself a creature, like no other, inestimably precious...

Any man's death diminishes me...The world of love does not admit the interchangeability of parts.


You're welcome just as long as you will stay.

During a recent trip to an antique store, I purchased a Nature Magazine from 1956 and have thoroughly enjoyed reading through it. It has a lot of great pictures and illustrations, interesting commentary on how humans interact compassionately with nature, and many articles that seem to engage nature with an eye for faith - way cool, right?
There is also a lot of nature-related poetry scattered throughout, and there was one poem I really loved.

Purple Heart Award

A bit of ham-fat in a shiny pan
(That once contained a little frozen pie)
Attracted one small warbler, come to scan
Our shrubbery for insects. Quick and shy,
He landed on the window feeding-tray
Then sat as weightlessly as a cotton fluff
Upon the pan's edge, where he pecked away
Until the jealous linnets drove him off.
"Coward!" I whispered as he fluttered down
And later wished the epithet unspoken:
He came again, alone. One foot hung down
And then I saw his tiny leg was broken.

Little wounded soldier, hear me say
"Your welcome just as long as you will stay."

- Ruth Seymour Vesely



Ran across this today, and it stirred some helpful thought and processing...
An excerpt from Henry Nouwen's The Wounded Healer:

But the more I think about loneliness, the more I think that the wound of loneliness is like the Grand Canyon - a deep incision in the surface of our existence which has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and self-understanding.

Therefore I would like to voice loudly and clearly what might seem unpopular and maybe even disturbing: The Christian way of life does not take away our loneliness; it protects and cherishes it as a precious gift. Sometimes it seems as if we do everything possible to avoid the painful confrontation with our basic human loneliness and allow ourselves to be trapped by false gods promising immediate satisfaction and quick relief. But perhaps the painful awareness of loneliness is an invitation to transcend our limitations and look beyond the boundaries of our existence. The awareness of loneliness might be a gift we must protect and guard, because our loneliness reveals to us an inner emptiness that can be destructive when misunderstood, but filled with promise for the one who can tolerate its sweet pain.