Psalm 65 – A Blackberry Sea

You care for the land and water it;
    you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
    to provide the people with grain,
    for so you have ordained it.
10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
    you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
11 You crown the year with your bounty,
    and your carts overflow with abundance.
12 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
    the hills are clothed with gladness.
13 The meadows are covered with flocks
    and the valleys are mantled with grain;
    they shout for joy and sing.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here)

This past spring, I was walking through the farm with the girls, meandering and exploring. We walked behind the fence-line of field four, a part of the property that had been timbered a few years ago. The undulations of the land were completely festooned in sprays of blackberry flowers. It was a sea of white and green. Since then, I have been eagerly watching roadside berries grow and turn dark, knowing that the same thing was happening in my secret blackberry sea. Last weekend, we went to pick some and were not disappointed.

I was overwhelmed by the sheer abundance of the land, a land that had been used for its resources and left as a ravaged wound. When we arrived here a few years ago, what is now a blackberry sea was a hot, depressing place: raw dirt, old stumps, and piles of brush baking and bleaching in the sun, with nothing to break the heat and wind but the occasional scraggly clump of weeds. Now, in addition to the blackberry, there is wild grapevine, shiso, and milky oats. On the perimeter, there are young paw paw trees already producing, and what I have a suspicion are persimmons too young to produce fruit yet, but full of promise for future years. I felt like I was in Eden.

God is so generous, Xe gives us solutions to problems of our own making. My blackberry sea is but one example. The other one that had me marveling anew this week was the fact that oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico are inadvertently growing huge reefs of those wonderful water filterers – oysters – on their charged, underwater metal equipment. And I think I’ve shared before that trees sequester carbon (up to forty-eight pounds per mature tree), provide oxygen, and literally seed clouds – yes, more trees equals more rain.

I do not think this means we get a “get out of jail free” card when it comes to caring for our wonderful island planet. Nor do I think that “letting nature be” is necessarily the best approach. Certainly, there are some areas of the wild that need to stay just that: completely wild. But if you remember, our original role in the Garden of Eden was gardener, so Biblically, you could argue that is humankind’s original and preferred vocation. There is constantly unfolding research about the Americas that show pre-Colombian populations were those edenic gardeners: tending the lands on a broad scale to make God’s fertile gift even more abundant. Early explorers were astounded by the park-like settings of eastern forests (which still had bison roaming through them) and the overwhelming number of fish in the Hudson river. 1491 and Native Roots: How the Indians Enriched America are both excellent books if you are interested in learning more about how humans have actually, at least at some point in time, been beneficial to the earth.

What our role in caring for the Earth should be is something I’m sure I’ll revisit in greater detail in future posts, since that is what our farm is all about (and my husband, Chris, writes about it with more knowledge and eloquence than I, here). Today, though, I just want to celebrate the amazing abundance that is earth, from the cancer-fighting properties of ancient algae to the oxygen-producing capabilities of the Amazon Rainforest, and everything in between.

I thank God for the shade of the oak trees, the sweetness of a strawberry, and the puffs of dandelion seeds that delight my girls. (If there was ever proof that God loves play I think the answer lies in the irresistibility of a dandelion head to a small child.) I thank God for volunteer squash in the old pig paddock, the ever-forgiving and ever-cheerful zinnia blossoms, and the meteoric growth of my ten foot high corn. I thank God for the surprise stand of persimmons at the end of the driveway, quietly growing for a decade from seeds thrown there by my father-in-law many years past and just fruiting now. I thank God for the lush grass in the well of my front yard – a marsh in the winter but perfectly evergreen and inviting in the summer, where my girls run and roll and play with the dogs. I thank God for wildflowers. I thank God for gentle, rolling hills. I thank God for cool rivers and warm summers. I thank God for my blackberry sea.

Book Review: God of Earth

I hate preamble, but I must share some background on this book and my relationship to it.  I promise most of my upcoming book reviews will not have so much back-story.  In fact, you can read a much more straight forward bonus book review of N.T. Wright’s God of Earth on my GoodReads page. Oh my, I’ve managed to preamble my preamble.  If I have any readers left after such a sin, let’s get to it:

I met author Kristin Swenson through the farm (for those new to the blog, I’m a farmer when I’m not writing or mom-ing) when we were starting out in Charlottesville.  She gifted us her book God of Earth shortly after it was published in 2016, when I was six months pregnant with Betty.  I got about halfway through it, then had a baby, and it got buried on my nightstand through no fault of its own.

I’ve picked it up several times in the intervening years, and I’ve read (and enjoyed) the first half many times now.  I brought it with me when visiting family last Christmas and finally made it three-quarters through the book, and now have finally finished it for real!

I want to reiterate, my slow reading has nothing to do with the readability of this book – which is an easily-digestible 139 pages – and everything to do with the external pressures of kids and livestock.  It flows gently yet insistently, like a spring creek, and strikes the perfect balance of wonder and urgency discussing ecological issues in Christian terms.

God of Earth brings God, particularly Jesus, into a sphere where I have (in my admittedly limited reading) rarely seen him: in and of the Earth in the most physical way possible.  This book reminds us again and again of Jesus’ visceral nature, challenging us to do the same:

The Earth is not out there, a discrete entity in splendid isolation but enmeshed in all sorts of relationships just as Jesus was with family, friends, and disciples. The God of earth, like the biblical Jesus, is relational. The friendship works boths ways.  What makes a friend to the God of earth, to the Jesus beyond Jesus incarnate in the earth itself?

If we take this question to heart, we will marvel at the world around us anew, and also be moved to attend the myriad ecological crises we face with new determination.  Swenson takes time to marvel throughout the book.  One of my favorite quotes coming from the beginning of chapter five:

The cellular wisdom of dynamic nature (what makes a rose smell like a rose and guides giraffes to evolve long necks), the energy of weather both relieving and terrifying, the urge to love and be loved, the source of all stories and art and surprise, the architect of death and keeper of mystery–that which both contains and transcends everything, the only One worthy of all worship through all time–became of earth-stuff one day, undeniably small, and absolutely vulnerable.

She goes on to describe Jesus coming to earth as a baby, miraculous and normal as any other baby.  It made me think about God in a whole new way, as discussed in this post here, where I reference her baby analogy in greater length.  It made me want to hold the whole earth tenderly in two hands.

And to behold the earth as such a precious object, I am motivated all the more to be part of the solution to climate change.  I have a long way to go, as I’ve discussed before, as I guess you do, too.  Swenson urges us to do better for sure, but she offers us this much needed grace:

“If you already care at all, if you are trying to live responsibly on the plant, then you and I, dear reader, are hardly the ones pounding in the nails.  So, if we spend our time attacking each other, already acting with ecological sensitivity, then we have let Rome–the greater world powers [oil companies, lobbyists, the shipping industry…]–load onto us their far graver sins.

This does not, of course, excuse inaction, and no one could accuse Swenson of saying so.  What this book does do, however, is provide hope where hope is needed, acknowledge grief and sadness both personal and global, and overall speak encouragement.  If you feel overwhelmed by climate change and what your role could possibly be in helping to combat it, this is the book for you.  If you need a new, organic way to think about our Christian God, this book will breathe fresh air into your beliefs.  I encourage everyone to pick it up and read it, it will do good for your soul.

This is my first book review, and I aim to do one a month from here on out in addition to my regular Bible reading.  If you are enjoying what you read please follow the blog for more!  Click the folder icon in the upper left corner of the menu, and you can follow via WordPress or email.  And don’t forget to check the blog out on Instagram and Twitter, too!  If you want to see what else is on our reading list, follow me on GoodReads and check out our post 36 Minority Writers for you to Add to Your Reading List.

Hosea 09 – Stewardship Callings

5 What will you do on the day of your appointed festivals,

    on the feast days of the Lord? (Read the rest of the chapter here!)

Kind of a rough start to a blog entry the week before Christmas, right?  But this chapter does ask us an important question: what will we do on the day of our appointed festivals? On the feast days of our Lord?  Will we participate in hollow ritual, whether that be religious or secular in nature, or will we remember our true callings?  Throughout these recent chapters – indeed, a major message that comes from numerous prophets – is that God does not want lip service, God wants our hearts and minds, our true dedication.

But what does that mean, exactly?  For me, it means stewardship.  I believe the best way to show our love of God is to care for what God cares for: Xyr creations.  The Earth and all its inhabitants.  So stewardship can take many forms, as you might imagine.  That’s one of the beautiful things about it: you can find what makes you passionate and follow that path.  And no one path is “better” or “right.”  There are many, many problems that need to be addressed in this world.

For example, my two major motivators are environmental stewardship and combating racism/xenophobia.  Those are broad topics, and I’ve explored them further I’ve zero-ed in on what really, really interests me.  First, within environmental stewardship is the issue of food waste.  Did you know that somewhere between 162-218 BILLION DOLLARS of food waste is generated in America each year?  That’s food that is thrown out at grocery stores and restaurants, by individual consumers, and the stuff that is left to rot in the field because it doesn’t meet harvesting standards (but is perfectly edible).  Just one third of that wasted food would be enough to feed the 50 million food-insecure individuals in this country.  Instead, it is in landfills producing methane, a greenhouse gas contributing to global warming. It is a sin of excess compounded by a sin of carelessness.  Did you also know that there are two bills that have been introduced to Congress that would go a long way towards combating this waste….but they have languished since being introduced.  (It’s the Food Recovery Act and the Food Date Labeling Act, both introduced by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine, you can read more about them here.)  You can bet I call my reps about those bills, and spend a lot of time sharing facts like the ones above to spread the word.  And while I’m far from perfect, I try to combat food waste at home, as well: buying only what we need, using leftovers in the next meal’s cooking, and composting as a last resort.

Second, racism and xenophobia, which need to be attacked from so many levels.  The issue-within-the-issue, if you will, that really gets to me is governmental policies towards refugees.  We are a country of plenty – as illustrated above by the sheer waste we are able to generate – and there is no reason we can’t reallocate resources to help those in need, including incoming refugees.  I wrote more about why this issue is important to me last year, in this blog post.  Again, I call my representatives, speak up on this blog and other forums, and donate when I can to organizations like IRC and RAICES.

But that’s just what I’m passionate about.  And it’s OK if that’s not what you’re passionate about.  My plea today is to just find what makes you passionate.  Some other quick examples:  My priest in Charlottesville cares deeply about healthcare in rural communities, as well as the rights and well-being of those in institutionalized care (such as the elderly or mentally ill).  I have friends passionate about criminal justice reform.  Others are dedicated to plastic-free lifestyles and spreading the word on the benefits of that, both personal and environmental.  Many of my favorite accounts on Instagram are devoted to fighting fast fashion with it’s exploitative nature and environmental impacts.

Like I said, there’s a whole world of problems to be fixed.  And that can be scary, when you think about trying to fix all of them. But God does not ask that of you.  God simply wants you to be a part of the larger picture.  When we are selfish, greedy, careless, we turn from God, as the ill-fated people in this chapter.  But if we turn towards eachother, towards stewardship, we can avoid the horrors of this chapter, and that is something to rejoice.

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