Local Food, Poetry and the Pursuit of Holiness

Stainedglass It was interesting to hear Spovegan assess my perspective on local food in the following terms last week. She said;

"Craig seems to be approaching the idea of veganism from an environmental view point, whereas the Timescontributor takes an ethical stance using some rather polarizing language. There is some obvious discomfort between these two philosophies."

I am intrigued by the way she describes this disconnect between the environment and "ethics" and the tension it creates. It gets right to the heart of what motivates my interest in local food and sustainability, so in response I want to explain my viewpoint in a little more detail.

Before I get into that I want to invite you to share in the comments section or via email what it is that animates your interest in local food and sustainability. Awhile back I did a series called "A View From Your Window" where I featured pics of your vegetable gardens. I'd like to do another series called "A View From Your Local" where I can post stories of what drives your interest in these issues. More on this at the end of the post.

Wendell Berry's commentary on "nature poetry" helps explain some of my perspective. Berry points out that in the world of poetry there are two kinds of nature poetry. He says;

"I will use the term here to refer only to those poets who seem to me to have turned the natural world, not as a source of imagery, but as subject of inspiration...With these (poets) nature was of primary interest; by seeing into its life they sensed the presence of a shaping and sustaining spirit within it. With poets such as Donne or Pope or Shelley the particulars of nature were only of secondary interest insofar as they 'stood for' an abstraction that interested the poet primarily and that he has in mind before he turned to nature for the image."

I was trained both formally and informally to take the latter approach, most significantly in my conversion to the Christian faith in early adulthood. Theology and engagement with God were framed as pursuit of an abstraction, with the material particularities of the world relevant only as much as they serve as metaphor and conduit to access the divine realities.

After years of living with this disconnect and seeing the damage it does both personally and otherwise I have come to the same conclusion as Berry:

"...perhaps the greatest disaster of human history is one that happened to or within religion: that is, the conceptual division between the holy and the world, the excerpting of the Creator from the creation...and this split in public attitudes was inevitably mirrored in the lives of individuals: A man could aspire to heaven with his mind and his heart while destroying the earth, and his fellow men, with his hands."

This disconnect between truth and the material world is as much a sickness of modernity as it is of religion. My intent here is not to bash on religion. (I am grateful for my conversion to Christ and I am after all the pastor of a Presbyterian Church. It's hard to get much more religious than that.) My observation here is more personal lament than global outrage, more about spiritual formation than apologetics (the truth claims of Jesus or the Bible.)

And so my work with local food, our year long experiment, tearing out the lawn, raising chickens, etc. is, at least in part, an experiment in re-weaving faith and soil, food and spirit, earthy reality and divine truth, backyard and baptismal font.

It also relates to my experience as a pastor. I'm thinking of a friend who no longer attends church because she says she experiences God in nature. I'm thinking of the growing crowds of people who say they are spiritual but not religious. I see this as more a rejection of the false divide of the "holy and the world" than it is a rejection of God. And in some ways the church has itself to blame for this exodus. The church signed a long-term endorsement deal with modernity that looked like the deal of the century for awhile but has taken a tragic turn where people feel like they have to choose between nature and sanctuary, spirituality and a community of faith. As a pastor I am experimenting with what it looks like to lead a church that rejects this false divide and witnesses to a holistic faith. So I do the normal stuff like preach and visit the hospital and write newsletter articles, but I also manage a farmers' market and help distribute food with Second Harvest and work to establish community gardens in West Valley, and write a blog about local food.

And let me be as clear as I can, my interest in food and consumption is not some bait and switch effort to slip Jesus into people's lives, as if local food were some carrot on a stick to lead people along into the holy. The whole point is that I am learning to pay attention to real carrots, preferably local and organic, and see them as in some way holy. If I am seeking to convert people here it is a conversion to a whole life where truth and holiness are wedded to earthiness. At least that's the ongoing conversion I'm seeking in my own life.

But enough about me, what about you? What motivates and drives your interest in sustainability and local food and care for the environment? And I'm more interested in the personal dimensions of your journey than I am in arguments for sustainability. If you respond in the comment section I'll pull from there and re-post some or you can email me. Either way I'll maintain your anonymity. Thanks in advance for your input.