The Long-Haul Goodness of Community


“So, how’s the commune?” asks the man with floppy brown hair. I can tell by his smile he thinks he’s being original.

“It’s great,” I answer. “But it’s not a commune. It’s a community.”

He laughs. “Can’t fool me. Lots of people. Organic gardens. Shared living spaces. Sauna. You’re a commune.”

We’re not! I want to protest. And then I wonder, Why am I feeling so defensive? Why do I so NOT want to be identified as a commune?

I’m sure it has something to do with the most popular caricatures of communes. First, the hippie variety: places roiling with free-love, utopian ideals and hairy-legged women. Or, second, the fundamentalist variety: places rife with rules, head-coverings and dour expressions.

Happily, Kingfisher Farm, my home and the home of 24 others, fits neither of these stereotypes.

Here’s the backstory: About five and a half years ago my husband and I gathered some friends, a few of whom we barely knew, and asked them if they wanted to buy a farm together. (A farm that had formerly served as the A Rocha Environmental Centre we helped start.) It’s a big decision–buying a farm—and even bigger when you’re doing it with people with whom you share no blood ties and, in some cases, very little history. Therefore, we met as a group bi-weekly for about five months to discern. Together we explored if a) we liked each other well enough to live together b) Shared enough vision and values to make this place more than a glorified playground for our kids and c) did we have enough money to make it work.

On one particular rainy night, we discussed our creation care values. A man in the group (we’ll call him Ralph) argued for environmental standards for our little farm. He chose dish soap as his case study. We would all need to agree to use bio-degradable, earth-friendly dish soap, no exceptions. A few of us balked. We had nothing against biodegradable dish soap per se, we just didn’t want our kitchens legislated.

Ralph was flummoxed.

Rick (his real name), gave voice to what the rest of us were trying to articulate. “What the world needs,” said Rick in a thoughtful tone of voice, “is not people who can live united to a high standard. What the world needs is a group of people who can get along, despite their differences.”

Ralph left the conversation disappointed. So disappointed, we later learned, that he hardly slept that night. At our next meeting he announced that his family would be pulling out of the process. They were sorry, it was a very hard decision, but they needed firmer standards. The soap conversation was, evidently, just the tip of the iceberg.

“Peace takes time,” wrote Stanley Hauerwas.

This is why I live in community. There’s no walking away from an annoying friend when his signature is scrawled next to yours on the mortgage documents! A commitment to my 24 farm mates over the long haul has created a stability that has opened possibilities to grow in love and forgiveness. We have indeed held each other to our higher ideals, but not in a preachy, finger-pointing way. I have been encouraged, for example, to resist North America’s dominate narrative of consumerism and individualism because I’ve watched my farm mates shop at Value Village and volunteer with refugee claimants and grow vegetables without pesticides or herbicides....

Read the rest over at Shelovesmagazine by clicking here.

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My Fall Reading List





THE SACRED YEAR: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice – How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Faith, by Michael Yankoski (Thomas Nelson): This book isn’t shown in my stack because it’s just coming out this week and I’m still awaiting my copy, but I did take a gander at the pre-publication manuscript and am excited to dig in again. Yankoski first hit the book scene ten years ago with the publication of UNDER THE OVERPASS, which tells the story of the four months he spent in intentional homelessness. He is a wonderful storyteller with an eye for the truth and whimsy in any situation. In his newest book he recounts his experiences of living out the Christian faith through disciplines as eclectic as contemplating an apple before eating it to mending socks on a bus. One of my favorite passages deals with his one-week solitary sojourn in a cave on Galiano Island. This is a fabulous book for those wishing to go beyond a simplistic beliefs-driven approach to Christian faith to a robust and embodied experience of the gospel. Check out www.TheSacredYear.com for more information.

CONSIDER THE BIRDS: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible, by Debbie Blue (Abingdon): I confess, I’ve already read this one as well, but have added it to this list because it was truly wonderful and I’m keeping it by my beside a little longer so I can regale my husband with interesting birdy tidbits when he’d rather be drifting off to sleep. Debbie Blue is a bird affectionado, a pastor and a preacher extraordinaire and this book is full of fascinating ornithological facts that become windows into biblical truths. Vultures, pigeons, hens, roosters, pelicans and eagles all make appearances and all show up in unexpected ways. The book jacket says it well: “Debbie Blue offers an edgy, scholarly, and shocking take on these winged messengers to reveal poignant life lessons on desire and gratitude, power and vulnerability, insignificance and importance. Taking a closer look at these unknown or unseen creatures in some of the best-known passages of the Bible, Blue provides us with profound truths about humanity, faith, and God’s mysterious grace.”

WANDERLUST: A History of Walking, by Rebecca Solnit (Penguin): I discovered Rebecca Solnit this summer and feasted on three of her books in just two short weeks. She is a remarkable writer and thinker and is the author of the now classic essay MEN TELL ME THINGS and numerous collections of essays including THE FARAWAY NEARBY which is full of jaw-droppingly gorgeous sentences that made me despair of ever writing anything ever again (why add verbal drivel to the world when Rebecca Solnit has spoken!?). WANDERLUST, says the book jacket, “draws together many histories – of anatomical evolution and city design, of treadmills and labyrinths, of walking clubs and sexual mores – to create a portrait of the range of possibilities for this most basic act…Solnit’s book finds a profound relationship between walking and thinking, walking and culture, and argues for the necessity of preserving the time and space in which to walk in a n evermore automobile-dependent and accelerated world.”

SLOW CHURCH: Cultivating Community in the Slow Way of Jesus (IVP): I’ve had a peek at this book and met one of the authors back in June and am excited by the vision Chris Smith and John Pattison propose and have lived. This vision includes, as the title implies, slowing down to make room for relationships and conversation and true care. The book is not just prescriptive vision, however, it is full of stories about how the Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis has lived out these principles of connection and availability, which transformed their neighborhood in the process.

THE ROAD IS HOW: A Prairie Pilgrimage through Nature, Desire, and Soul, by Trevor Herriot (Harper Collins): Herriot is an award-winning author and naturalist who hails from the Canadian prairies. The inside jacket says this about this acclaimed book, “Three months after a serious accident, Herriot sets out along an ordinary prairie road, to sort through the questions that rushed into the enforced stillness of healing. Unfolding over three September days, this enchanting narrative reconceives our modern map of desire, spirit, and nature. Meeting farm people who stop to talk, detouring along ralibeds and into field, sitting next to sloughs…we enter a territory where imagination and experience carry us beyond the psychological imprint of our transgressions, coming at last to the soul’s reconnection with a broken land.”

CITY OF GOD: Faith in the Streets, by Sara Miles (Jericho Books): If you read Miles’ earlier books TAKE AND EAT and JESUS FREAK then you know what a wonderful and iconoclastic storyteller she is. CITY OF GOD tells the story of one particular day – Ash Wednesday, 2012 -- when Miles and her fellow parishioners at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco hit the streets of the city’s Mission District to distribute ashes to any and all they meet. “CITY OF GOD narrates the events of that Ash Wednesday in vivid detail, exploring the profound implications of touching strangers with a reminder of common mortality. As the story unfolds, Sara also reflects on life in her city over the last two decades, where the people of God suffer and rejoice, building community amid the grit and beauty of the streets.”

BETTER OFF: Two People, One Year, Zero Watts, Flipping the Switch on Technology, by Eric Brende (Harper Perennial): Evidently, living without technology has become an extreme sport, at least that’s what is implied when extreme sportier Jon Krakauer reviews your book on said topic. He writes, “Deftly steering clear of dogma, never sounding like a sanctimonious scold, Eric Brende makes a persuasive case that most of us would enjoy life more by radically minimizing our reliance on modern technology. Better Off is a buoyant, thought-provoking, and very entertaining read.” Good enough for me.

THE THING WITH FEATHERS: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human, by Noah Strycker (Riverhead Books). Sort of like Debbie Blue’s A Provocative look at Birds of the Bible without the Bible. Stycker is an ornithologist who weaves his personal encounters and vast knowledge of birds into highly readable prose (no small thing for a scientist). Through careful observation of the habits and personalities of birds like the albatross, the penguin, and the bower bird, Strycker ponders everything from the nature of memory and relationships to game theory and intelligence.

DOING GOOD WITHOUT GIVING UP, by Ben Lowe (IVP): Ben is the author of GREEN REVOLUTION and has been at the forefront of the Christian environmental movement for the past ten years. In this book he asks, “How do we [who want to make the world a better place] persevere when the novelty wears off and our enthusiasm runs out?” His answer: faithfulness born out of “key postures and practices for sustaining faithful social action.” Sounds like something anyone in the trenches of social change would do well to read. Check out https://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=3679.
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Margaret Atwood and the Matt Damon Syndrome

credit: Sandra Vander Schaaf
It became know as the “Matt Damon Syndrome.” About a year ago a friend attended a BBQ on Bowen Island. It was a small affair consisting of the host family, my friend Peter and the hosts’ guests who happened to be none other than the Oscar-winning actor Matt Damon and his family. In the weeks following the BBQ Peter regaled all within earshot on the wonders of Matt Damon. Pete’s eyes would fix somewhere over his listener’s left shoulder, his voice would take on an airy quality, and this big, normally reserved and quiet man suddenly spouted a fountain of superlatives befitting a besotted teenage girl. It got so bad that his business partner and fellow renovation expert perfected a wonderful impersonation of Peter, “Matt Damon, OOOH, Matt Damon, he’s soooo fabulous, he’s soooo down to earth, he’s sooo…blah, blah, blah…(exaggerated rolling of the eyes)…blah, blah, blah...”

At the risk of falling into the Matt Damon Syndrome, can I share with you, my blog chums, my latest encounter with Margaret Atwood (because, well, she’s sooo fabulous and soooo down to earth and …)?

Yes? Well, if you insist.

Here's the link: Margaret Atwood & Leah Kostamo at the Green Gala

You can watch it now.  I'll wait.  

Tra la la, tum tum, tiddily tum....

The video was filmed at A Rocha’s Green Gala fundraiser about three weeks ago where I had the privilege of participating in an onstage “conversation” with Ms. Atwood. It was truly so very, very fun (which came as a great relief since, no joke, I had been waking every morning for the previous two weeks in a cold sweat, dismayed that I had agreed to interview this literary icon and uber smart woman in front of 300 people – what had I been thinking!? )

Highlights by category, from my vantage point:

Historical: Margaret’s musings on her childhood in Northern Quebec – a childhood spent, during her father’s field work seasons, without indoor plumbing, electricity, roads or schools, and with lots of time outdoors – a childhood that laid the foundation for her lifetime love of the natural world.

Humorous: Margaret’s rendition of The Mole Day Hymn (If you watch nothing else, watch this 2 minute sequence; you’ll find it at 12 minutes). Her adorable singing is preceded by her “outing” of my tone-deafness for the entire world to see. I think Margaret Atwood actually laughed at me. Oh well, she’s sooo great and soooo down to earth… And, truth be told, I am so very Piglet-like in my singing. I console myself with Richard Rohr encouragement to pray for at least one daily humiliation as a means of character formation -- this was mine for May 22, 2014… But I digress.

Profound: Margaret’s reflections on the stories we are writing and living that are environmentally dangerous and those that are environmentally helpful and hopeful. I think she just might have mentioned my book in the latter category. Can’t be sure, maybe I should go watch it again…

Lowlight: Actually, I won’t poison the well. You can decide for yourself what bit I found minorly mortifying (hint: not my tone-deafness, but something voice – my voice – related, which served as my daily humiliation when I watched it for the first time last week. But, hey, whatever, I didn’t trip and fall on the way up to the stage, and I didn’t do the deer-in-the-headlights routine which I was verily afraid I might do, and Margaret was sooo brilliant and sooo funny and sooo very articulate and ….
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A Sucker for Easter

credit: Brooke McAllister
In these days drawing near to Easter I am mindful of Christ’s work of redemption – of His design to reconcile “all things” to Himself, as Paul says in Colossians. His work of redemption not only transforms human lives, but all of creation as we participate with him in his reconciling work. Allow me to illustrate.

I was strolling across the lawn at A Rocha’s Brooksdale Environmental Centre when one of our summer interns came scurrying by carrying a bucket. When I asked what it held she showed me a grey, wide-lipped fish swimming in a few inches of water. Her voice betrayed her excitement as she related that she was off to the program office to identify it.

Turns out it was a Salish Sucker -- an endangered species. Not seen in our watershed sine the 1970’s, this species had been considered “extripritated” in the Little Campbell River system. Needless to say, her find was a very big deal!

When I asked later about the experience of discovering an endangered species, she told me the story of the day. Upon waking she had felt like God was saying to her, “I have a surprise for you today.” She went about her day, doing interny things, wondering all the while when the “surprise” was going to show up. Near the end of the afternoon, she toured some visitors around the A Rocha property and down to the pond where she could check a fish trap which was being used as part of an invasive species monitoring project. In fact, this was to be her last “check” of the season. As she bent to pull the trap out of the water she felt God saying, “Here’s your surprise.”

Her eyes brightened as she told me how she lifted the wire cage and found, not a Pumpkinseed fish or one of the other invasive species she’d been catching all summer, but a strange fish that looked too big to even fit through the opening of the trap. She knew immediately that it was something special.

I grinned widely. “Wow! Amazing!” I said. “How fantastic!” And, in the inner sanctum of my mind, I thought, What a whacko!

I thought this even though the week before someone had prayed for me and I had crumpled to the ground like a deflating accordion, awash in the presence of God. I thought this even though I’d been practicing contemplative prayer for the previous two years and often sensed God’s voice speaking to me uniquely. I thought this even though I believe wholeheartedly in God’s care for all of his creation.

In hindsight I think I viewed this fish-finding intern as a whacko for two reasons:

a) To “hear” God speaking so directly is weird. How presumptuous! But my own knee-buckling episode and my experiences in contemplative prayer had demonstrated that God is quite capable of interacting on a very personal level. Funny how God’s interactions seem so bizarre in other people’s lives but not in one’s own.

b) To assume that God cares about a sucker fish is weird. Sure, I believe, as that old song goes, that “His eye is on the sparrow.” And when it comes to endangered species I am easily convinced that His eye is on the Panda, and the Sumatran Tiger, and even the Vancouver Island Marmot. But on the Salish Sucker? A bottom-feeding, wide-mouthed fish with big lips? His eye is on such an ignoble, unattractive creature? That’s weird.

And so I’m left with the question, who’s the whacko? Maybe God’s the whacko – a God who risks his reputation to earnest interns and middle-aged contemplatives. A God who fixes his eye on the humble, the overlooked, the ugly. A God who’s eye is on the Sucker.

A portion of this post was adapted from Planted, a Story of Creation, Calling, and Community, published by Cascade Books.
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This Just in from the Pope


Actually, the following pontifical sound bites are not “just in," but I did just discovered these morsels of environmental wisdom from Pope Francis this morning. Having a bit of a crush said pontiff (yes, I’m that ecumenical and that much of a religious nerd!), I was trolling around on the internet looking for the Pope's latest wise and pithy musings, as one does, and I came upon his address in celebration of the UN’s World Environment Day, which rolls around each June 5th – so old news, but new to me. True to his track record, what Pope Francis had to say was wise, compassionate and convicting:

Addressing a crowd of visitors and pilgrims in St. Peter’s square, the pontiff said, "When we talk about the environment, about creation, my thoughts turn to the first pages of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, which states that God placed man and woman on earth to cultivate and care for it. And the question comes to my mind: What does cultivating and caring for the earth mean? Are we truly cultivating and caring for creation? Or are we exploiting and neglecting it?”

Moving from the theological to practical, the Pope framed the environmental issue of waste in the context of justice and the needs of the poor:

"We should all remember, however, that throwing food away is like stealing from the tables of the the poor, the hungry! I encourage everyone to reflect on the problem of thrown away and wasted food to identify ways and means that, by seriously addressing this issue, are a vehicle of solidarity and sharing with the needy.”

Of course, this sort of statement is liable to remind us all of those childhood meals when we refused to finish our peas and our mothers harrangued us with guilt laden words like, "Don't you know there are children starving in Africa who would love to eat those peas?!" Which, of course, leaves us completely off the hook because, really, we can't package those peas and FedX them to Somalia.

But we can start to buy only what we need. We can use up what's in our veggetable cripser drawers. We can eat less meat and avoid industrially farmed meat, which requires far more grain and energy calories than it delivers to the eater. We can grow a bit more of our own food and share it with others. With the money we save on meat and wasted veggies we can give to organizations like FH Canada and World Vision who support farmers in developing countries.

We can see our eating as an act of solidarity.
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HomeBrewed Christianity Goes Green



Hello Blog Chums!

I want to make you all aware of a wonderful creation care podcast series that has just come online this week. It’s hosted by a wonderful website called HomeBrewed Christianity (think theology, beer and winsome dialogue).

Yours truly lead off the series on all things Planted and A Rocha. The podcasts are about 50 minutes each and are free for your listening enjoyment (just scroll down until you see the little play button).

Go to http://homebrewedchristianity.com/

Here’s an outline of the series. Enjoy!

Episode 1: Leah Kostamo author of Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community

Episode 2: Matthew Sleeth author of Serve God Save The Planet , The Gospel According to the Earth & 24/6

Episode 3: Jennifer Butler is part of the new Christian Earthkeeping emphasis at George Fox Seminary. She is co-author of the upcoming book On Earth As In Heaven due out in November.

Episode 4: Randy Woodley with Shalom and the Community of Creation: an Indigenous Vision

Episode 5: John Cobb rang the alarm bell back in 1972 and has recently returned to the theme with Spiritual Bankruptcy: a prophetic call to action.

Episode 6: is a special surprise from new Elder Micky Jones and friend.

Episode 7: is specifically food related. How do get food on the table? What issues are related to feeding a family?

Episode 8: at the the end of each episode, we ask our guest the same 5 questions. Tripp and I are dedicating a TNT to interacting with their answers to the those 5 questions. It will be in the same format that we did the Brueggemann-Fretheim Bible Bash.
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No Books, Please!

credit: Darkwood67
“I prefer not to read things printed on a dead tree.”

So said a young environmentalist when I offered her a copy of my environmentally themed book, Planted. Because I looked at her so blankly and still held my book out like a limp hand waiting to be grasped, she eventually accepted it, I assume to save me embarrassment. It took a few minutes for her comment to sift through the grey matter of my brain before I realised that this woman didn’t read books. No books! At least not books that involve paper -- she later told me she reads everything on her Kindle.

It would be easy to dismiss her as a fringe fanatic. I mean, who doesn’t love books!? (Truth be told, I have rubbed the covers of new books on my face like one would with a swath of silk or toddler’s hand.) Aesthetics aside, I appreciate her conviction, even if the cynic in me wants to ask if she lives in a house made out of dead trees, or if she is sure the heavy metals in her Kindle were ethically sourced, or if her car serves primarily as a means of transportation or is really just a really big pink planter (a la the photo).

But I digress… as I said, I appreciate her conviction. She has made a choice based on her values and is living them out – no dead trees as a means of communication, period, the end.

I applaud her choice because living with an ecological consciousness means making decisions. Some of these decisions will be inconsistent with others, some will look radical, some will look silly. But without them we are left with only an empty ideology.

So, going back to my Kindle-loving Enviro friend -- here’s the main thing I admire about this woman. She still took the book. She told me her opinion, but she saved me embarrassment. She recognised that we’re all on a journey. She didn’t lecture me. She put our newly established relationship first. And because of her graciousness I haven’t been able to dismiss her conviction. It has stuck with me and made me think harder about what decisions I can make that will help me live lighter on the planet today.
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Holy Ground

credit: Betsy Jean
When Moses stood at the burning bush God told him to take off his shoes because the place where he was standing was holy ground.

Holy Ground.

What made it holy, of course, was the presence of God, manifested in flaming shrubbery. But what if God, being everywhere (as Christian doctrine teaches us), makes every place holy? What if every bush dances with the flames of God’s presence, but our eyes are just not calibrated to see it?

And...

What if that mud Jesus caked a blind man’s eyes with somehow aided his prayer for healing?

And...

What if the name “Adam” which comes from the Hebrew word meaning “red clay” isn't just an interesting literary device?

Adam – Mud Man. Earth Child. Earthling.

Biologist Hayman Hartman claims that the reason there is life on earth, and not, say, on the moon or mars, is the existence of clay. His claims are complicated, having to do with iron and organic compounds and crystal structures, but in essence, he claims it’s clay that holds the blueprint for life. Isn’t that interesting?

Look down.

You are standing on holy ground.
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All Things New


According to the World Health Organization, 300,000 will die annually due to the effects of climate change by the year 2030. The UN Refugee Agency warns that by mid-century 200 million refugees will be on the move because of environmental degredation. The IUCN estimates current extinction rates to be up to 1,000 times the normal background rate.

If statistics had the power to change behaviour then such sound bites would likely have us running hell bent through the streets toward some constructive environmental action -- like trading in our SUVs for Schwinns and our Happy Meals for hemp seed smoothies. But statistics, because they play on flash-in-the-pan emotions of fear and guilt, are short lived in their power to change long-term behaviour. In my experience as a Christian, it is theological truth, grounded in scripture and inculcated into life, which sustains new ways of living.

Paul’s words in Colossians have the power to change the way live in relation to creation.

 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 

It’s a theological meaty passage that links creation and humanity’s redemption in the person of Jesus. Through Christ all things were created; he sustains (or holds together) all things and then through his resurrection he reconciles all things. Where might all things end? Does it stop with people? This is how I used to read it in my tract-toting days. But the radical point this passage seems to be making is that creation itself participates in redemption. Biblical scholar N.T. Wright suggests that “redemption is not simply making creation a bit better, as the optimistic evolutionist would suggest. Nor is it rescuing souls from an evil material world, as the Gnostic would say. It is the remaking of creation.”

This text then has serious implications for our motivation for caring for creation. We do not try to save the world: rather, we join in the saving work God has already begun. We become God’s co-labourers, co-operating with the Spirit in making all things new.


Author's note:  Adapted from an article I contributed to the Citizen's for Public Justice book, Living Ecological Justice: A Biblical Response to the Environmental Crisis, edited by Dr. Mishka Lysack and Karri Munn-Venn -- a great resource for churches and small groups.  Go to www.cpj.ca for more information.
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Swimwear for Earthkeepers

credit: Leopostal

My mother-in-law wears a bikini.

She is seventy years old and decades of gravity have done their work. But she wears a bikini nonetheless, with a devil-may-care nonchalance to what others her age are more inclined to cover in sarongs, ruffles and cruise-wear.

She’s my hero.

Her okay-ness with her body has a two-fold source. First, she’s Finnish. Do you know any Finns? Untouched by Puritanical prudishness, Finns share a continental European lack of modesty concerning the body, but to the extreme. While other Europeans are going topless on the warm and sunny beaches of the French Rivera, the Finns are flinging themselves buck naked from their saunas into the SNOW. There’s a reason to take off your shirt in the south of France—it’s hot! But why subject your whole bare self to the crunch and scrape of ice in the dead of winter? Whatever the reason, the point is, Finns are a people profoundly okay with their bodies.

How does this relate to faith and caring for creation?

My mother-in-law is also a devout Christian and I think her embrace of the bikini as her swimwear of choice goes beyond her Finnish heritage to her biblical understanding of creation. She understands that when it says in the Bible that Adam was formed out of the dirt (adama in Hebrew) that she too is a human formed out of humus and that humus is good. She actually believes that when it says, “God saw all that he had made and it was good,” that means her body as well. It also means mountains and trees and iguanas, but one’s body is a great place to start.

Theologically, the idea that the material world is good makes sense—after all, God wouldn’t have taken on a human body if flesh were inherently evil. Christians believe Jesus was fully man and fully God. Yes, he came to redeem the world, but he did so eating and drinking, walking and sleeping. And working. Jesus was a carpenter, for goodness sake—he worked with wood, with callused hands and with sweat in his eyes. Jesus’ full participation in the material world sheds a holy light on all manner of “earthy” jobs, from ditch digging to diaper changing to gardening to fish and frog studying.

This grounding in the goodness of creation has inspired our work with A Rocha (arocha.ca) these past twelve years. While our theological understanding of creation’s goodness has not demanded that any of us don bikinis on a regular basis, it has compelled us to restore salmon streams, grow organic vegetables, and open the wonder of creation to children on field trips. It has also inspired us to pay attention to the world around us, reverently acknowledging the goodness of creation and the Creator who made it.

(Adapted from Planted, Cascade Books, 2013, and used with permission of the author's mother-in-law.)
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Gardening with the Least of These


Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many... The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” ... On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
 (I Cor. 12)

It’s easy to be romantic about gardening – red, ripe tomatoes dangling from the vine, shiny green cucumbers, crisp and fresh. In our promotional material for A Rocha’s Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) project, we certainly capitalize on this sort of romanticism, both in recruiting consumers to eat all those lovely organic tomatoes and cucumbers, and also in our recruiting of interns to plant, grown and harvest those beautiful veggies. And usually the romanticism holds. CSA members relish every last bean and brussel sprout, and interns enjoy the soul-nourishing activity of digging in the dirt and falling into bed with sore muscles and the satisfying knowledge that they have provided for the most essential of human needs – food – and they have done so in a way that cares for the earth. Therefore we were a bit surprised by a young intern from Cambodia who came to work in our CSA project. Though he had signed up to serve as a “Sustainable Agriculture Intern,” he was not very keen on digging, planting, weeding or harvesting. He was a lovely fellow, so were puzzled by his work ethic and reluctance to embrace what he had signed up to do. Turns out, farming is peasant work in Cambodia and this guy had a university degree. Once you’ve escaped the drudgery of farming in Cambodia you don’t go back. Farming is what the poor and uneducated do.

It’s easy to be critical of this sort of stance, but upon reflection it hits awfully close to home for those of us born and raised in the privileged North. Very often we’ve relegated the sweaty, backbreaking, daily and dismal tasks of everyday life (whether that be washing dishing, cars, carrots or babies’ bottoms) to those economically desperate enough to do these “thankless” jobs. We have, in fact, reserved the “less honorable” tasks to the “least of these.” The injustice of this sort of hierarchy of labor can be seen in all its starkness in the migrant farm workers who can’t afford to eat the fresh produce that they grow, choosing instead the affordability and convenience of fast food (and therefore unwittingly choosing the array of health problems, from diabetes to heart disease, that go along with that sort of diet). In a word, these workers suffer. But, if we are take seriously the words of Apostle Paul, if one part suffers, the whole body suffers.

An acknowledgment of that suffering and an act of solidarity with those on the bottom rungs of the agribusiness ladder, might be to plant a garden: stand with the least of these, if not literally, then figuratively, under a common sky. Get our hands dirty, break a sweat, grow some food. Such an act not only has the power to create empathy and solidarity, it has the power to ground us, literally, in and on the earth as we become aware of the cycles of seasons and weather; as we slow down and give thanks for the gifts of rain and sun and good soil; as we acknowledge the generous hand who provides it all. If done intentionally, gardening can become an experientially bridge not only between us and the Creator, but also between those for whom growing food is a romantic hobby and those for whom it is a grinding way of life. Sore muscles and callused hands can become a prompt that leads us to remember and pray for our less fortunate brothers and sisters. By planting a garden we proclaim that we are part of a bigger human community – a bigger body – as we give honour to those who appear least.
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Dancing Deformed

Credit: Mikey O.

     I taught at an international college in Lithuania. My students were lovely. Most had been about twelve years old when the Baltic republics succeeded from the Soviet Union. And most had stood in the human chain which stretched hand from grasped hand from Vilnius in Lithuania, through Riga in Latvia and north to Tallinn in Estonia – 600 kilometres of solidarity and peaceful resistance. Thanks to the drama and suffering they had survived nearly every student was an old soul and a survivor.

     One of my favourite classes was Oral Communications – a.k.a., How to Give a Speech. I taught my students to make eye contact, to speak in a moderate but varied tone and to use simple, but efficacious hand gestures. As they gave their speeches I scribbled comments on a sheet of paper and graded them on the spot. I made helpful suggestions like, “Make sure to look at your whole audience and not just the cute girl in the corner,” and “Bring a glass of water with you next time for that tickle in your throat.” On one occasion, mid-way through the semester, I wrote, “Hey, Laura, where’s your other arm!?” I thought I was being so jocular, cleverly drawing this student’s attention to the fact that she had given her entire speech with one arm tucked firmly behind her back, leaving her free hand the sole responsibility of making all the gestures. I docked her a few points for this bizarre oversight.

     I passed out my comments and grades at the end of that day’s speeches and traipsed off to my suite in the student dormitory. But the image of Laura standing at the front of room, one arm doing all the gesturing, stayed with me, so much so that I started to piece together a “portrait” of Laura in that class. Long, thick blond hair always cascading over her shoulders. A winter coat always draped over those same shoulders like a shawl. A shy and demure spirit. And as this portrait formed in my mind a sense of mortification grew within me. I slithered down the hall and found my friend Natasha.

     “How many arms does Laura have?” I blurted as soon as I saw her.

     “Well, one.” She replied as if everybody knew this, as if this was the dumbest question she’d ever heard.

     I collapsed into the nearest chair. “One, only one!? Are you sure!?” I buried my face in my hands and groaned.

     Natasha hurried on. “Yeah, she was born with only one arm. She’s really self conscious about it.” She paused. “That’s why she always wears her jacket over her shoulders.”

     I thought I might throw up. I had never felt like such a jerk. Hey, where’s your other arm?! I had jeered like a snot-nosed schoolyard bully. Ten points off for the missing limb, you freak!

     So I wrote a very long, very grovely note to Laura, apologising profusely, explaining my ignorance of her one-armedness, awarding extra points for bravery and begging her forgiveness for my incredibly insensitive comment. I might even have included a small sketch of a sparrow. (“Look! I drew you a picture!”)

     I learned something important that day. We are all disfigured. Some people’s disfigurement is more obvious (whether in body because they are missing a limb or whether in character because they mock those who are missing a limb). But we are, each one, disfigured. And therefore we journey imperfectly with moments of sheer knee-buckling insecurity or, worse, moments of self-aggrandising narcissism. But, never mind; we hobble on toward the good goals of kindness, of justice, of creation care and godliness. We are a mixed bag. But the point is to keep showing up, keep dancing, keep grasping the hand nearest and giving the speech.
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The Easter Pattern

I am an identical twin. Like many twins, my sister and I have lived strangely parallel lives. We both married men with odd names (Marrku and Bernd respectively). We both worked in campus ministry in the Pacific Northwest and in the former Soviet Union. And we both are now employed in vocational fields from which others occasionally recoil. My sister is a hospital chaplain. When she tells people what she does – that she sits with the dying -- a good percent of her conversation partners take a literal step backwards, as if she is a carrier of the condition of her clients, as if cancer were communicable. I work in the environmental field. Because I live in Canada where “the environment” is hip, few people are physically repulsed by my vocational admission, but I have had those who stare at me as if I have something green hanging out of my nose or who change the subject so abruptly that you can hear the tires of their mind screeching.

The offensiveness of our vocations lies in their affront to status quo. The environment is just so gritty and inconvenient. Spend too much time in it and you’ll likely get dirt on your pants and sweat on your brow. Death is so messy and just plain sad. It always comes at such a bad time.

But life is born out of the messiness off death. This is the pattern of creation. The log rots, nourishing the soil, and the sapling thrives. The salmon spawns, flopping exhausted on the river’s edge, and the eagle feasts. It’s the pattern of life -- a pattern played out in creation’s never ending integration of the shadows of life and death.

credit: mrjorgen
This integration is like a Japanese art form. The rot, the darkness, the suffering, and the life that brings a good death get folded in and over and around and become an integrated whole. It’s the pattern of Easter over and over, folded into a life that hangs like a delicate origami crane, weightless and wonderful for all the world to see.

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Easter Hope

credit:  Brooke McAllister




              For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

    Colossians 1:18-20



This is a passage that roots us in Easter hope—a hope that someday, somehow, someway, redemption is possible for all things. Redemption, as understood by Paul and other biblical writers, has more to do with re-creation than a whisking away of souls to heaven. Through Christ all things were created; he sustains (or holds together) all things and then through his resurrection he reconciles all things. Where might all things stop, do you think? Does it stop with people? That is how I used to read it. But the radical point this passage seems to be making is that creation itself participates in redemption. It is our anthropocentric view of the world that causes us to read all things as all people.

This widening of the scope of redemption has serious implications for our motivation to “save the planet." We do not try to save the world: rather, we join in the saving work God has already begun. We cooperate with the Spirit in making all things new. We work from a place a hope—a hope centred on God’s ultimate care for what God has made that allows us to “be joyful though we have considered all the facts,” as Wendell Berry says. Because hope, if it is true, runs deep with taproots nourished by a subterranean grace that flows strong and swift despite outer circumstances.



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