Archives For Christians to Know

I want to suggest that you add something a little different to your bucket list.

Before you die, be sure to attend a farm field day put on by a sustainable farmer.

Field days are usually geared for other farmers, but don’t let that scare you away. Field days are a chance to be immersed in the craft of farming with good, friendly people. You’ll see farming and the land in a new way.

This Tuesday, I made a one-day, eight-hour round trip to attend a field day at Trevor Toland’s River Oak Ranch in Macomb, Illinois that had been organized by The Pasture Project.

Despite the driving and the fact that I got home at 1:30 a.m., it was well worth it.

After some initial comments and presentations, more than 70 of us were carried around on hay wagons to different areas of Trevor Toland’s farm.  He has been converting much of his 380+ acre farm on rolling land to a rotational grazing system for a number of years. At each stop, Trevor explained how he has been managing each section and how the grazing of cattle has been part of that management system.

Rotational grazing is the grazing of large numbers of cattle for short periods of time on small sub-sections of a farm. The cattle are then rotated onto the next small sub-section.

Each grazed subsection then has at least 30 days (and often more) to recover. This mimics what buffalo and other wild ruminants have been doing for millennia. It gives cows what they naturally desire to eat – grass and flowering plants (especially legumes) – and the chance to move around outdoors. Thanks to always being covered with a variety of plants that feed the microbes underground, the soil becomes full of life. That life is made even more rich by the occasional but intense pulses of dung, urine, and even saliva coming from the cattle herd. In addition, the action of their hooves stomps plant matter into direct contact with the soil where insects and microbes can work on it.

Continually adapting exactly how and where the cattle are grazed is a key element to this approach to farming.

Dr. Allen Williams (kneeling and imitating the partial consumption of a grass by a cow) explained how grasses and other pasture plants can persist and thrive when cows are allowed to eat only 50% before being moved to another field. Grasses and other plants that persist with healthy root systems can then feed the soil microbes in the ground while also shading the ground. Healthy microbial life is the key to healthy soils that feed plants and hold water.

Trevor, seen standing in front of the small tractor, is the best of what it means to be Midwestern. He’s direct, thoughtful, humble, and honest about his challenges. I later learned that he played basketball for the University of Iowa and was a principal before becoming a farmer.

The bonus feature of the event and the main reason I drove the many miles was that Dr. Allen Williams was the featured speaker. Before we actually got out into the fields, he presented an overview of rotational grazing using high densities of cattle. While out in the fields, he added insightful commentary at a number of our stops and answered questions..

A self-described “recovering academic,” Allen farms in Mississippi and is a tireless evangelist for rotational grazing across the country. A good introduction to him and rotational grazing is the Soil Carbon Cowboy video.

What’s especially interesting is that Allen is a Christian.

His faith in our Creator God is what motivates him to do what he does.

He speaks with passion, knowledge, and conviction. He helps his audience understand the complexities of how soil and animals interact. He carries himself with both decency and strength.

Dr. Allen Williams explained that it is helpful to maintain wooded sections of a farm. Cattle can be brought to the woods to cool down during hot weather. He noted, too, that you can tell when a pasture has microbes thriving in the ground by the degree to which insects and spiders are thriving above the ground.

As Christians, we should be proud of Allen and other Christians who are advancing Creation-friendly farming method with integrity and energy.

We should also support the kind of life-affirming, God-affirming farming he practices and helps thousands of other farmers implement.

You and your church can do that by buying meat that comes from animals raised the way Trevor Toland does at River Oak Ranch.

If you’re interested in attending a field day on a farm where sustainibility is a key principle, please email me at nathan@libertyprairie.org. I can share some good resources, depending on where you live. I wrote a post earlier about the commitment a whole faith church would make to having the food for its common meals come from sustainable, well-stewarded farms. I also wrote about the care with which whole faith churches need to communicate about farming ethics. Farmers are our neighbors.

Sometimes you come upon a book or an article or even just a quotation that captures a truth or insight that you’ve long been sensing but have been unable to put your finger on exactly.

I came upon an interview with Ken Myers on The Christian Post website that did just that.

Here’s how the introductory text to the interview describes Myers: “Myers is the founder and host of MARS HILL AUDIO Journal, a bimonthly audio magazine featuring interviews with some of today’s foremost Christian thought leaders in academics, politics, and the arts. The mission: “To assist Christians who desire to move from thoughtless consumption of contemporary culture to a vantage point of thoughtful engagement.” Myers, a former NPR reporter, is himself a thoughtful social critic who thinks deeply about the interplay between the church and the larger world.”

Another good profile of Ken Myers can be found here.

Here’s one section of the interview that especially stood out:

CP: What is the biggest challenge facing the church today?

Myers: It’s not “the culture,” as we often hear, that poses the most significant challenge for the church today. It’s the culture of the church.

What I mean is, we have reduced the Gospel to an abstract message of salvation that can be believed without having any necessary consequences for how we live. In contrast, the redemption announced in the Bible is clearly understood as restoring human thriving in creation.

Redemption is not just a restoration of our status before God through the life and work of Jesus Christ, but a restoration of our relationship with God as well. And our relationship with God is expressed in how we live. Salvation is about God’s restoring our whole life, not just one invisible aspect of our being (our soul), but our life as lived out in the world in ways that are in keeping with how God made us. The goal of salvation is blessedness for us as human beings. In other words, we are saved so that our way of life can be fully in keeping with God’s ordering of reality.

Here’s another:

If congregations in America were deeply and creatively committed to nurturing the culture of the city of God in their life together, I think it would have an inexorable effect on the lives of our neighbors. But I fear that too many churches are shaping people to be what Kenda Creasy Dean calls being “Christianish” – or not deeply Christian at all. The more faithful we are in living out the ramifications of a Christian understanding of all things, the more out-of-synch we will be in American culture. But why should we wish for anything else? What can we offer the world if we are just like the world?

Interestingly enough, many top businesses view the culture of their organizations as a vital factor in whether they will be ultimately successful or not. One article even calls on business leaders to be “cultural warriors.”

A great example of the difference a distinct and dynamic organization culture can make is Southwest Airlines. Here’s an insightful interview with Dave Ridley, a former executive at Southwest Airlines and a Christian, who talks about the dynamic, employee-focused culture of Southwest Airlines. At one point Ridley highlights the fact that Southwest Airlines is obviously not a Christian organization, and “Yet the culture (of Southwest Airlines) is very reflective of what one would hope to see – but often is not seen – in organizations that claim to have the gospel at their core (including lots of churches unfortunately).”

I’ve come away more convinced than ever that church leaders need to be energetically, thoughtuflly, and artfully shaping the culture of their churches. Designing worship services to reflect a whole faith is just one step that needs to be taken.

In a previous post, I began to look more closely at John 3:16 as a way to wrestle with this question: how are you and I to think about how the Gospel in the New Testament relates to how we relate to God’s earth? This iconic verse that is everywhere is, I’ve found, rarely understood in its full meaning. In this post, we continue to look closely at John 3:16.

We’re so quick to jump to conclusions, aren’t we?

When we come to John 3:16, we rush through its rhythm and ideas, knowing that it ends happily with eternal life. And we rush, too, to the automatic assumption that “eternal life” is talking about life after death.

The grammar of the verse tells us otherwise. And I’ve never appreciated grammar more than when I first understood from David Pawson’s uneven book Is John 3:16 the Gospel? (and confirmed by other sources) that traditional translations of the verse typically get the verse subtly wrong because they don’t convey the subtleties of the grammar.

Pawson explains that the Greek language has more nuance in its tenses than in English. A crucial distinction is whether a verb indicates continuous action or action that occurs and is then over at a single point in time.

The “believe” in “everyone who believes in him” is actually in the present continuous tense. So that portion of the verse literally means “everyone who goes on believing in him.”

The “have” in “have eternal life” is also in the present continuous tense.

So the real translation of this portion of the verse would be… “everyone who goes on believing in him will go on having eternal life.”

Later in John 10:10 we come again to this idea of eternal, abundant life which we will go on having.  Of the many ways there are to translate it, I like the New Century Version best. It reads: “A thief comes to steal and kill and destroy, but I came to give life — life in all its fullness.”

This idea of God offering a full and good life also hearkens back to Psalm 16:11: “You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”

Things get even more interesting when you look at “eternal.” Pawson notes that scholars are debating exactly what “eternal” means in this context. Some believe it relates to quantity – in other words something infinite without end. But others believe it relates to quality – “..life of a quality that makes every moment worthwhile.” Pawson writes, “I think the answer is both quantity and quality of life.”

The implications from understanding these elements of the verse more fully are profound:

First, we need to go on believing in Jesus and through Jesus in the God who Jesus reveals and the framework for what Jesus is all about from the Bible. As we highlighted in the last blog on this topic, this believing in is not about an intellectual assent to an idea but it’s putting the full weight of how we live our lives and what commit our heart to. It’s not a once-and-done situation. It’s entirely possible for us to stop believing.

Second, when we go on believing, we will go on having eternal life. Eternal life does not begin when we die. It begins now and continues through and past our death.

Third, eternal life is not an escape from this world but a radical engagement with it and a radical enlivening of ourselves that begins to give us the true life we were meant to have.

What does that eternal life, the eternal that we can go on having now and forever by continuing to believe in Jesus, look like? Here is my take on that from what I’ve read, seen, and experienced:

Beginning to know the majesty and mystery of God.

Knowing each of us matter and that we are loved by God.

Knowing how much God hates evil in all its forms.

Knowing that our past sins are forgiven, that death and evil are not to be feared, and that God can give us the power to overcome our ongoing habits of sin.

Seeing the God-given value of people and all of Creation.

Finding purpose in using our unique talents and creativity to share God, mend the woundedness of people and Creation, fight evil, and create joy.

Sharing and giving.

Finding peace and strength.

Being filled with the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Becoming part of a larger whole – God’s kingdom and the Church – and knowing that the good we do is part of a large movement.

Being called to forgive and being able to do so.

Knowing what matters and what doesn’t.

Jesus came not just to avoid sinning and be the perfect sacrifice for our sin but to also model for us what this eternal life in God looks like and is to be lived. This is why we are called to make disciples of all people.

I can’t help but mention, and this may reveal my Norwegian-American Lutheran background, that there is little sense in the Bible that following God’s ways will automatically translate into perpetual happiness, at least not in the light and fluffy sense of the word. There will be suffering. We will be called to do hard things. Rosa Parks and Willliam Wilberforce are just two examples of people whose Christian faiths called them to difficult paths that did not translate into casual happiness.

In fact, if our lives are easy and comfortable all the time and we fit in perfectly with the general culture around us, then we’re probably not living a complete Christian life. We’re probably following a Gospel that doesn’t reflect the present continuous tense.

We see the whole context of what experiencing true and ongoing eternal life is all about at the beginning of Genesis and at the end of Revelation – God, people, and Creation together in the relationship they were meant to have.

In this sense, life in all its fullness that we begin to grow into through ongoing faith in Jesus cannot help but lead to a different relationship with God, people, and God’s earth.

You need to know about Joel Salatin and his new book The Marvelous Pigness of PigsIf you aren’t already familiar with Joel, here’s how the book jacket describes him:

“Joel Salatin is a third generation farmer who works with his family on their farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.  The Salatin Polyface Farm is internationally known for innovative pastured livestock and services more than 5,000 families, 10 retail outlets and 50 restaurants through on-farm sales and metropolitan buying clubs.”

That’s the farming side of Joel. Joel was, in fact, the featured sustainable farmer in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma which has helped shape a new consciousness of what of our food system is and what it should be.

Here’s how the website of his new book’s publisher describes him and the message of his tenth book:

“Joel Salatin is perhaps the nation’s best known farmer, whose environmentally friendly, sustainable Polyface Farms has been featured in Food, Inc. and Time magazine. Now in his first book written for a faith audience, Salatin offers a deeply personal argument for earth stewardship, and calls for fellow Christians to join him in looking to the Bible for a foodscape in line with spiritual truth. Salatin urges Christians to rethink America’s allegiance to cheap corporate food that destroys creation in its production, impoverishes third world countries, and supports oligarchical interests. He wonders why Christians ignore and even revel in unhealthy eating habits and factory farming that runs counter to God’s design. With scripture and Biblical stories, Salatin presents an alternative and shows readers that in appreciating the pigness of pigs, we celebrate the Glory of God.”

The shortest and best way to think about Joel is in his own terms. He calls himself a Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer.

He’s someone you should know. He’s a Christian changing God’s world for the better.

Pigness-Cover jpg

The following are a sampling of his words from his book. You’ll be struck by his unique voice and earthy, faith-centered perspective on food and our food system.

When we’re more interested in dysfunctional Hollywood celebrity culture or the Little League program than we are about what is going to become flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, we voluntarily place ourselves into the corporate food agenda. That agenda is decidedly nutrient deficient, price inappropriate, and anti-community based. It promotes centralization, customer ignorance, and a mechanical view of life.

Things that the religious right would abhor if they were promoted by churches are embraced warmly in the food system. While preachers rail against bringing junk into our homes via TV, the Internet, and pornographic literature, few bat an eye at a home stashed with high fructose corn syrup, potato chips, and Pop-Tarts, indeed, some even suggest that the cheaper we eat, the more money we’ll have to put in the offering plate. And to top it off, they denigrate anyone who would suggest part of caring for children is caring about what they eat. (pp. 80-81)

And..

The problem is we Christians do not trust God’s plan. We don’t. Oh, we trust it when it comes to matters of spirituality. But we think God’s plan is broken – along with mainstream scientists of our day – when it comes to physical things. The result is that we Christians marching off to sanctity-of-life rallies send our kids off to college to get a good enough education to go work for a multinational corporation dedicated to adulterating God’s creation.

I would suggest that a God-honoring farm is one that shows strength rather than weakness. It’s one that has no veterinary bills. It’s one that has healthy plants and animals. It’s one that produces food that develops healthier people. This is not a health-and-wealth message.  It is ultimately a humility-and-dependence message. God’s designs work. (p. 68)

And..

The whole idea of pornography, which of course the Christian community universally condemns, is instant and expedient gratification of a sacred act sanctified by marriage. Where is the Christian who dares to identify the pornographic food system that revels in death-inducing, sickness-encouraging, and creation-destroying orgies of self-indulgence? Strong language? Have you walked into a confinement factory chicken house lately? How about a confinement hog factory? Just like pornography disrespects and cheapens God-given and -sanctioned specialness in sex, factory-farmed hog houses disrespect and cheapen the God-sculpted specialness of pigs. (p. 133)

 

It’s a simple but counterintuitive finding.

As Cal Newport tells it in Deep Work, when University of Chicago colleagues Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Reed Larson invented a psychological testing technique called the experience sampling method, they were eager to find out what kinds of activities truly gave people joy and fulfillment.

The experience sampling method involved giving test subjects a pager and then randomly paging the subjects during a day. When they were paged, the subjects were to immediately record what they were doing and what their feelings were. This method, as opposed to relying on test subjects to keep a diary on their own throughout a day, was found to be far more effective in prompting people to accurately document the connection between different kinds of activities and their state of mind.

Here is what Csikzentmihalyi wrote of their fundamental finding:

“The best moments usually occur when a person’s mind or body is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

This prompted him to write the book Flow about that particular state of being. Flow I

Our instincts, of course, are to seek happiness and contentment in relaxation, fun, and doing as little as possible. There is, of course, nothing wrong with relaxing. We need downtime. Even the occasional binge watching of a TV series. Yet, being fully engaged in something – physical training, carrying out a challenging work project, figuring out a complex jigsaw puzzle – that pushes us and stretches us is actually an essential ingredient of a full life.

This, interestingly enough, is what the whole Christian life offers.

When, with God’s help, we commit ourselves to living out God’s love and purposes in all phases of our lives and the life of the world, we are immersed in something both challenging and worthwhile. This will translate into new consciousness of our choices and our habits every day of our life. It may mean taking on projects and challenges at a larger scale. These projects or challenges may well be way beyond what we believe we can handle with the skills and experience we’ve developed on our own.

This is what I believe the Jesus was talking about when he talked about the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven. He modeled it for us. Committing ourselves to it, paradoxically, can give us our best moments in life. Not necessarily easy. Or relaxing. But it can make us fully alive to who we should be.

This is what I would call the “kingdom flow.”

A great example is Bob Muzikowski. As he describes it, he was saved and made sober on the same day. When he subsequently moved to Chicago from New York to get away from reminders of his former drinking life, he started a little league on the city’s troubled Near West Side that attracted, to his amazement, 300 youth the very first time he put out notices about it.

His dive into a larger purpose did not end there. His professional life continued in the financial world until he began to talk deeply with Bob Buford and then joined the Halftime Institute when Buford launched it. In this process, Muzikowski found that he continued to be drawn to the needs of the communities he had experienced through the Near West Little League he had helped establish. So he gave up his comfortable financial career to convert an abandoned Catholic elementary school on the Near West side into the Chicago Hope Academy, a college and life preparatory high school with a strong Christian faith element. Muzikowski purposefully developed it to be more affordable for poor and minority youth than typical private high schools. He also recruits the best teachers he can find from around the country.

This has not been easy work.

“If I hadn’t had a Halftime journey, my life would have been easier and less stressful today,” Muzikowski says, “but it would definitely be a lot more shallow.”

Not everyone may feel the calling to do something that meaningful on that scale. But in every life I am convinced there are needs and purposes that God is offering us to be engaged with and choices to make every day. Responding will move us beyond our own interests and needs while tapping the talents and skills we have and even those we don’t know we have.

When we move from faith in God and what God offers to us through Jesus to a deep commitment to living with God’s purposes firmly in mind every moment, we go from getting to the starting line to actually running the race of which the Apostle Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 9:23-25.

This is an essential point of what I mean by the phrase “whole faith.” When Jesus said he was the way, the truth, and the life, he was not pointing only to life after death. He was, as I understand it, pointing to a true life that begins when we synch our lives with God’s purposes. That true life begins in the here and now, and that God-filled life will never end. After death, it will be even more glorious and complete. This is the new and abundant life that Jesus promised. Being in this kingdom flow give us the sense of flow and challenging, immersive purpose that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described.

Our churches should help us understand this and develp the kingdom flow in our lives.

I know I need that help at times. The brokeness of the world, incuding the dysfunction of how we treat God’s earth, is at times overwhelming. When I don’t hear churches calling us to bring God’s kingdom into this world to the best degree possible, I am dismayed. I even find myself questioning my faith.

But when I come across Christians like Bob Muzikowski, my spirits rebounds, and my faith grows. I am encouraged, too, that there are growing numbers of Christians in the kingdom flow who are working in their own ways to change how we treat God’s earth in the process of growing food from it. Like Bob Muzikowski, they have taken on missions that are challenging and require of them tremendous sacrifice. Gabe Brown, Joel Salatin, and Ray Archuleta are just some of them.

The testimonies of their lives and the impacts of their lives say a great deal about what the whole Gospel offers to you and the world and about its truth beyond its words.