an excerpt from the latest school paper

From my annotations on an amazing book by Frances Moore Lappe, Joseph Collins, & Peter Rosset “World Hunger: 12 Myths“:

The way people think about hunger is the greatest obstacle to ending it

If we view hunger as numbers, they say, then we will look to the answers for numbers too. I think if we were to view hunger as part of a greater story, a theme as part of a greater whole, then we as humans can begin to take ownership of the plot: beginning with pen strokes (growing a crop or preparing soil), leading up to sentences and paragraphs (forming organizations and communities to tackle hunger through food relief and more sustainable agriculture practices), and gradually building up to chapters where political and economic action is taken to remove systems and relieve our fellow people trapped under them.

Sustainable agriculture is a tool – a very important one – but a tool nonetheless, for achieving God’s harmony on earth through uniting all peoples and bringing the growth of the earth back into balance. This is my motivation as a Christian in utilizing more sustainable growing practices in pursuit of social and human justice – and grace.

Grace is not to be forgotten in the midst of the cry for justice, because, as Christians we profess the name of Jesus Christ who took the world’s sin and judgement upon Himself thereby introduced grace from God on our behalf into the world.

May I not become so bent on justice that I miss an opportunity of the Holy Spirit to show grace; may I not become so grace-centric as to become complacent or tolerant in situations that cry for action.

 

Rooted and Grounded

I remember working in the blueberry field at Spring Rain Farm two years ago, weeding out overgrown thistles and sorrel colonies.  The berry plants themselves were still fairly young and we had to be extra careful as we were working around them so as not to disturb their roots.  If we grabbed the wrong root shoot, a slight tug would unearth the whole plant and we’d have to re-plant it back into the soil immediately – any time spent out of nutritious soil is shocking to the root system and delays the growth of the plant.

For whatever reason, a fair number of blueberry plants in that field were easily uprooted, having a hard time establishing and grounding themselves in the soil amongst all the aggressive weed pressure.

something I’ve learned about transplanting potted plants in the landscaping business, is that however you prepare the home soil for the new plant (be it shrub, tree, bulb or herbacious flowers), once you do any amending and mixing in of minerals or organic matter, you want to water pretty heavily both before and after planting so that there’s a good supply of moisture for the new guy – water is essential for transporting nutrients through the soil to the roots.  And finally, once you’ve planted, you want to stomp the ground around the plant to squeeze out any air pockets remaining in the soil – there are no nutrients in air and though it is critical for life, too much of it keeps the roots from getting fed, which in turn stresses the plant.

In the same way that the soil conditions and quality matter so much to plants, so our own life conditions and quality matter to our spirit.

In Ephesians 3 where Paul write in verse 17, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”  This rooting and grounding is essential for our growth in Christ.  It is through establishing our foundation in Him that we are nourished and capable of expanding, stretching our limbs, and growing.

As most gardeners and farmers know, the size of the plant above ground level is in direct proportion to the size of its below-ground members – with the underground portion growing to many times the size and spread of the parts we can see.  The fraction of a person that lives in the visible, physical body is merely a fraction of the whole being.  If we are firmly rooted and nourished in our invisible parts with the Lord, the rest of our being will prosper and grow.  But if access to nutrients, water or air is hindered in our foundation, our whole being will suffer, being stunted.

The things which nourish our roots are time with God in prayer and thanksgiving (Colossians 2:7), sound teaching and doctrine, and putting our gifts and talents to use (1 Timothy 4:13-15), and being intentional about surrounding ourselves with other Christians and fellowshipping with believers (Hebrews 10:24-25).

All plants want to grow, are yearning to produce fruit and scatter their seeds for the next generation, they will spend their life and full force of energy to do this, reaching out to sometimes impossible depths to get the food and nutrients needed to create and sustain that healthy, vibrant life.

Roots will generally grow in any direction where the correct environment of air, mineral nutrients, and water exists to meet the plant’s needs. Roots will not grow in dry soil. Over time, given the right conditions, roots can crack foundations, snap water lines, and lift sidewalks.

Can we say the same thing about our spiritual growth and life with God?  Are we intentionally seeking the source of our nourishment and being?  Are we breaking through the concrete of hardened hearts, lifting the oppressive systems that trod on the poor and ‘least of these’?  Or are we poorly rooted, allowing the adventitious weeds and empty air to gradually separate us from Life?

Guerilla Gardening is……..Biblical

God is a God of second chances. Of redemption. Of re-formation. Of new life.

That feeling we get in the Spring when all the flowers are blooming and the trees clothe themselves in rich greens.  That reassurance that everything is not dead and the landscape will be filled again with life, lush curves and swaying leaves………God created that.  Birds sing about it all the time. (If they didn’t, the stones would start singing, I’m sure: Luke 19:40)

When people rip out the life of creation and smother it with concrete, erect buildings on it and spray chemical showers on what’s left of it, God is not surprised (we can’t ‘surprise’ God) or incapable of redeeming in the midst of the damage.

When people (and “corporate persons”) slay and beat and force the land into submission, stopping just short of genetically modifying dollar bill genes into heads of grain, using other people to do the dirty work (is soil dirtier than greed?) and slaying and beating and forcing them into poverty and dependence, God is weeping but not surprised.

God weeps and works.

He works on hearts. On minds. On relationships – with Himself, people, moving creatures and the earth.  God works on greed and in the soil.

‘Guerilla Gardening’ can mean, “illicit cultivation,” “war against neglect and scarcity of green and growing public spaces,” and “activism through gardening.”  It’s happening in many large cities (and smaller towns) where abandoned lots and empty, neglected buildings and spaces are just sitting, hurting the eyes, and begging for new life.

When guerilla gardeners take an unused space and fill it with new soil and plants, they are reclaiming what has been lost and giving it new purpose (whether for food or beauty.)  Just after Zacchaeus admitted his wrong in stealing money from others and realized his higher calling, Jesus affirms this message by saying: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10.  Jesus IS God’s proof of His redemptive heart.

In the book of Amos, God practically coins the term Guerilla Gardening:

“In that day, I will restore David’s fallen tent.
I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear My name,” declares the Lord, who will do these things.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,

“when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes.
New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills.
I will bring back my exiled people Israel;
they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them.
They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them.”

Amos 9:11-15

The heart of God towards His created. His image-bearers. His beloved.

No matter how much concrete, how many corporate persons, how much spraying.  There is always a remnant. Rebuilding is always possible. Restoration is the name of the game.

One of the last images in the book of Revelation describes a garden, with a huge river flowing through it (a river coming from the new city of God, by the way):

On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.
And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

Revelation 22:2

City and garden are finally reconciled.

Here’s a taste of what that can look like.  Though it doesn’t end well for Adam Purple, the fulfillment of God’s promise of redemption and restoration is still lingering.  There’s still work to be done; vacant lots to plant, workers to be healed, chemical action to be amended and greed to be addressed.

Ethiopian Terroir

The table is set for 17. The 24-month-old Southeast Indian baby wears a traditional African dress.  Mom and daughters have been cooking all afternoon.  Father and boys have been preparing the house and dining room, including fitting all twelve leaves onto the table.  I have just been through an 80’s music video marathon on YouTube and Boy George’s lyrics, “Lovin would be easy if your colors were like my dreams: red, gold and green, red, gold and green” are revolving around in my head as I seat myself before the Ethiopian flag-colored table runner.  Each end of the table is laden with flat wicker baskets piled high with rolls of injera, Ethiopia’s signature fermented flatbread, normally made out of teff flour.  No utensils are present, because we were all born with them at the end of our arms (this is where the injera comes in, you fold it and use it to scoop and sop up the stews, meats and veggies.

The night’s table is represented by Washington, California, North Carolina, Turkey, Yemen, India, New Zealand and of course, Ethiopia.  But this is just a typical evening meal for the Little’s, one of Port Townsend’s most prominent families.  They have been the recipients of 5 biological children, 9 adopted children (from Taiwan, Ethiopia, and India) with dozens more foster children moving through as well.

We begin the evening with a hand-held prayer then everyone begins to grab rolls of injera, laying them out flat on their plates before beginning to load up on all of the 8 different traditional dishes that have been prepared.  First there is the fit-fit, a cold salad of cucumber, tomato and pieces of injera (this is often served for breakfast in the country.)  Gomen is a dish of greens simmered down in garlic, onions and spices like jalopeno and nutmeg.  The different wats (stews) include misir (lentils), doro (chicken) and tibs (beef).  A dish of cabbage and carrots with turmeric, onions and other spices as well as a bowl of ground garbanzo beans cooked with hot water, tomato sauce and spices are also featured at the table.

A couple of key ingredients for cooking traditional Ethiopian food are the spice mixture berbere (think garam masala, but with 16 different spices! including nutmeg, cinnamon, black and white peppercorns, chili powder and turmeric), and niter kibeh, clarified butter infused with cloves, nutmeg, ginger, garlic and other spices.)  In order to make a wat, onions are first cooked in a small amount of water until softened, then the niter kibeh is added and then the berbere before any other ingredients in the stew.

Ethiopian style is family style and all the bowls were circuited around the table. Multiple times.  Conversation stemmed from topics such as the eggs in doro wat (whole eggs are hardboiled in the stew liquid, peeled and placed right back in), adoption stories, discussion of the Ethiopian government (a parliamentary republic), the pros and cons of foster parenting and the upcoming trip to Ethiopia that the mom is heading up as president of AAI (Adoption Advocates International) in February.

Father and son (Bob and Beshir)

And this is a great chance to segue into a subject that has been brewing in my life for a while.  The subject of going to Africa, most likely Ethiopia.  It began as an awareness, turned into a nudging, became an interest, evolved into a conviction and is on the road to becoming an action – all as the Lord is leading.

Port Townsend has a strong connection with Ethiopia (more than 4 families, including the Littles, have adopted children from Ethiopia, mostly through an agency about an hour west in Port Angeles.  Most of the adopting families have more than 12 kids.)  Many of the Ethiopian adoptees have returned to visit their native country to find their birth families and villages and to do work in the orphanage from which they were brought.  One family that I’ve gotten to be very close with, lived for over a decade in Ethiopia raising their 3 children and ministering to Somalians (Ethiopia is right next door to Somalia, both help comprise the Horn of Africa.) Through spending time with a lot of the kids in Young Life, a stirring in my heart has begun for Africa.

“Go. Go. Go.”

And I’ve never felt that stirring before. And so I’m going with it.  My favorite quote from a missions conference in Seattle I attended a couple of weeks is: “God can steer a car that’s moving more easily than one that’s parked.”  So without knowing which direction or path He will take me on, I’m starting to move forward.  Eating AMAZING food is just a perk, really.

Did you know?
-Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia (although there are 48 indigenous languages) and is comprised of 216 alphabet characters
Goorsha is an act of friendship in Ethiopia and is demonstrated when you break off a piece of injera, scoop up some wat and feed it to a friend.  The bigger the goorsha, the stronger the friendship.
-Ethiopia is the size of Texas
-It is the most populous landlocked country in the world
-Due to previous Italian occupancy, pasta and pizza are now commonplace in Ethiopia, as is hearing, “Ciao!” upon departing.
-Just as a lot of places in the US have problems with feral cats, so Ethiopia has a problem with wild dogs.
-This is where coffee originated
-The Ethiopian calendar is based on the Coptic calendar (not our Western, Gregorian one) and is about 8 years behind our date today, based on differing calculations of Jesus’s life.  They don’t have leap years.

A (un)Just Food Conference

The highlights of my weekend:

-Taking an awesome road trip with a good fellow farm gal
-Great road trip soundtrack (think Amy Grant, The Duhks, Celine, Fiona and DC talk)
-Visiting a wonderful friend in Portland over pots of steaming chai tea
-Being able to check off Oregon as one of the states I’ve visited
-Getting incredibly inspired by our Eugene hosts’ home garden (complete with backyard chickens, a worm composting bin, high tunnels on over-wintered beds, some of the fattest turnips I’ve EVER seen and a greenhouse made completely out of recycled materials.

 

Not-so-high lights of my weekend:

-Being disappointed in a Food Justice conference that skirted around anything practical we could do as communities to get real, fresh, whole food to those without
-Being disappointed that far-removed government policy-driven mindsets were the bulk of what said conference had to offer
-Being especially disappointed that said Food Justice conference – where the buzzwords of the weekend included equity, availability and access – would choose to throw a fabulous dinner party complete with a host of organic and sustainably raised produce and meats and local beer and wine, and offer it as ‘invite only’; excluding many attenders in the process

And so this past weekend, with most people having that extra day off of work, the University of Oregon in Eugene held their Food Justice Conference complete with art displays from numerous artists, 3 days of speaking sessions and workshops, open visits to the Urban Farm operation and Vandana Shiva as keynote speaker.  What was set up in my mind to be an outstanding conference, paled in comparison in reality.

As speaker after speaker gave their talks, it became more and more apparent that problems were the focus of the discussion and no one had any real solutions to present.  Most speakers hinted at policy reform and government legislature, and sat behind shiny place-tags with their names and credentials in bold print, emphasizing their expertise and specialization.  But after speeches incorporating such large words as to lose much attention from the willing audience and to be more fitting for a Masters thesis than an honest look at how to get true food from point A to point B, I was already beginning to feel the first heaves of disappointment.  And these were only encouraged as religious and political jabs were made multiple times when agriculture and farming practices were    the topics of focus and politically-correct semantics were courted time and again (it’s not “global warming,” it’s “climate change.” No wait, it’s “climate instability”).  And an entire speech centered on ‘the deliciousness of food’ (which skipped from the definition of ‘delicious’ to the fact that many people are ‘super tasters’ and some are ‘non tasters’ to the fact that organic strawberries taste better than their chemically farmed counterparts to what does our sense of taste say about the nutrition of a certain food) wound up only confusing the majority of listeners and causing our graduate-degreed speaker to admit she needed to do more research in certain areas (especially when a front row-seated Shiva corrected her on what the flavors of foods mean in traditional Ayurvedic philosophy.)

Overall, I was struck by the realization that academia (and politics) have very little to do with sustainability, agriculture and truly living out justice in our very un-just world.  Being so far removed from the reality of growing food, planting seasons, garden work parties, human needs and rumbling bellies, higher education can philosophize til it’s blue in the face, but until anyone in higher positions will decide to move into the projects or trailer parks and start a community garden, give up a meal for someone in need who is hungry, or become a better neighbor to the underprivileged by spending time and effort on their well-being (not just on charitable donations, food bank giving or policy-reform jargon) they will be stuck arguing about politically correct terms with which to categorize said neighbors and their socio-economic potential towards nutrient-deprivation and ignorant cave-ins to mega-corporations’ unethical advertising schemes.

If being a Christian has taught me anything, it’s that we need to walk the talk.  We can’t set out with agendas to convert as many people as we can to our way of thinking or believing, even if we honestly believe it would be the very best thing for them.  The best way to love someone and show care for their well-being is through forming a relationship with them.  Non-Christians don’t want evangelical nuts all up in their face anymore than fast- and processed-food eaters want organic health nuts up in theirs.  And the ‘underprivileged’ and ‘undernourished’ that speakers at the conference had in mind, just might care more about being invited over to supper or given a chance to harvest from a neighbor’s garden, than being presented with a graph recording their chances of contracting a diet-related disease if they don’t get enough of A, B or C in their diets.

But where does the line between being a ranting action-less philosopher and a radical health-Nazi fall?  Perhaps somewhere in the vicinity of caring neighbors and real relationships.  A person’s health is much more than what calories they consume, just as a person’s spiritual life is much more than whether they sit in a pew once every 7 days.

Are we willing to live out our beliefs by example and relationship?

 

Grace on a Plane

On my return flight to Seattle I sat next to a man from Holland who reclaimed and recycled computers that had been forgone for the latest and greatest models.  He cleaned them up and sold them reduced to folks who just needed a basic computer for things like book keeping or keeping tabs on a home business.

Aside from being very opinionated on topics of our conversation (“You were homeschooled? Oh so you are one of the sheltered ones,” and “My father was a staunch atheist and my mother was a devout Roman Catholic – I know all the arguments and see it from both sides,”) one area where we seemed to have common ground and see eye to eye was on consumption and the earth’s resources. (Derive what you will from the fact that we were both flying cross country.)

On a previous flight he had sat next to a woman and engaged in a conversation much like our own – the frightful amount of waste that is generated into landfills the world over, how alternative forms of energy are being used from solar panels to methane-capturing tarps over landfills in Holland to living lightly on the earth ourselves.  The difference he pointed out was that this woman had bleached blonde and styled hair, a fresh nail job, a name-brand carry on, was blinged-out with jewelry and gems and yet touted a “light-carbon footprint” and caring about the poor and destitute in yonder third world countries.

“But with you, I see a difference,” his Dutch accent curled. “I can see you are what you say you are about.”

Thank you, God. I only hope that doing what I say is apparent to others in my life as well.  It is so much easier to be known for being environmentally conscious, a sustainable agriculture advocate and trying to live below my means.  These are popular ways to be at this point in time.  It’s become a trend among the “aware” to sport stainless steel water bottles and set out recycling at the curb and find your social niche at the farmer’s market.  It is indeed harder to be known for your faith. Especially in a society where a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy and where the individual reigns surrounds us.  It’s not politically correct to display your faith – but totally fine to harp on others for creating vast amounts of waste, not recycling and making numerous or thoughtless trips riding high in the various gas-guzzlers all too popular to the American public.

But how do you make known the reasons behind the actions?  Let it be known that I choose to bike when I can instead of driving my car because oil is a finite resource that God made as a part of His world and the flippancy with which it is used really doesn’t equate to good stewardship; that living as closely inside the realm of what He has made (which He called good) is a way to worship and honor Him that made it (it’s in man-created ‘Babels’ that disunity is most rampant); and that caring for the earth and all that is in it (minerals, topsoil, natural gas, kangaroos, goldfish, bees, horses, pine trees, herbs, friends, strangers, foreigners, visitors and relationships) hopefully shows my respect for and glory of the Creator.