Confessions of a Lapsed Platonic Idealist


Our local journey has ushered us into some wonderful ongoing conversations, that matured and developed long before we came to the table. I'm reminded of folks who come to me in my role as pastor with deep questions about God and the Bible, and upon discovering just a sliver of the volumes written and developed around the subject, they are surprised with a wonderfully honest, "You mean someone has asked this question before?" I often feel like that around these issues of consumption, surprised and humbled that, for the most part, I've been missing out on these important and well developed conversations. So I'm in catch up mode and as a result, I find myself interested in things that would have slid right by me before; like land use.

For example, I recently took note of this article about the rising demand for farm land in the Seattle area and this article about folks in Missoula, Montana organizing to stop subdivisions. The presenting issue in both stories is the current pressure to localize food sources. I'm learning that the issue of food quickly becomes an issue of land. When we start paying attention to where our food comes from, we start paying attention to what we do with the land around us. We've experienced this in a small way with our change in land use policy at the Goodwin residence.

This newly discovered interest in land use, reminds me that while I have largely been out of the loop until now, there have been voices calling to me through the years to engage the conversation. Wendell Berry is chief among these voices. Not long ago I used a quote in the church newsletter from Berry's collection of essays, Standing by Words. He says;

It invariably turns out, I think, that one’s first vision of one’s place was to some extent an imposition on it. But if one’s sight is clear and one stays on and works well, one’s love gradually responds to the place as it really is, and one’s visions gradually image possibilities that are really in it.

At the time I wrote of it as a metaphor for our church sorting through the possibilities for ministry on our corner of the block, in our unique place in the community. I still love it as a community development metaphor, but given my renewed perspectives, I love it now more as it was intended, as wisdom for the use of real land in real places.

Maybe this is a helpful way to describe some of the changes going on in me. These days I am less interested in metaphors for living, and more interested in just living. I am less interested in the metaphor of the garden and more interested in the actual dirt in my back yard. I am less interested in the worn out pep talk metaphors of risk taking, and more interested in buying tickets to Thailand with our insurance check. I am less interested in the metaphor of love, and more interested in real loving actions with real people in real places. My ingrained and unquestioned Platonic idealism is giving way to what Eugene Peterson might call an earthy spirituality. I'd been snookered into thinking that the metaphors and the ideas would give me access to the sacred spaces, but am learning that the simple tangible act of buying something, or not, is a sacred event itself, an access point into what my tradition calls the kingdom of God.

I had better wrap it up. My sensors are telling me that random bits of my doctoral dissertation are creeping their way into this post.