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...