The Wisdom of Those Who Plant Seeds

The day after Easter, it snowed. I was carrying in my last buckets of sap before leaving for Portland and was not surprised by the flurries, but they still stymied my expectations of warmer weather. The equinox had passed several weeks before and while the start of spring had been marked on the calendar, it was (is) dragging its feet in coming.

Who has known the mind of God or even a good seven day weather forecast?

We see and know in part. Certainty has never been the steady state of the human condition. Our lives are stretched with the awareness that clarity, at its best, comes with a smudge.

The experience of knowing we do not know can be felt in different ways. One is confusion, another, mystery. Both are confrontations of the hidden or unknown but one brings us to awe and the other despair. One can leave us feeling isolated and the other in wonder at our relationship to that which is so much greater than ourselves.

The space between the two is not in the level of knowledge but rather our relationship to the knowing and unknowing itself. In the midst of our unknowing, we are faced with a choice; passive uncertainty or the stumbling action of faith. The beginning of wisdom is not the expectation of certainty with knowledge but the understanding that the kind of life most worth living is always an act of faith.

A farmer went out to sow his seed…

Whenever a seed is planted in spring, it is an act of that faith in the midst of unknowing. Some might fall on rocky soil and others eaten by birds. You do not and will not know whether there will be enough rain (or too much), enough sun (or too little), or even another coating of snow in the middle of June.

A gardener knows that even after doing all they can, the end results do not rest with them. They are fully aware that there is nothing they can do to make every seed sprout, every plant be healthy and to guard what they have worked so hard on from all possible disruptions and destructions. And still, they sow.

Planting a garden is foolishness to the perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the glory of God!

By the time I had finished collecting sap (I had predicted we would be done by March 23rd) the flurries had finished but the blue sky had not yet emerged. I looked up and saw the bright disc above me and realized that the closest I ever get to looking at the sun is always through the clouds.

The Mundane Resurrection

It was 5 years ago now. I had recently finished a few week stay in the ICU, over two months in the hospital and more than one conversation between my parents and doctors about whether or not I would pull through. Still, I had made it, and after several months of regular home nurse visits, fentanyl patches, dilaudid pills and twelve hours a day on an IV for liquid and nutrition, I was stable but still far from recovered.

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The Saturday before Easter was sunny and unseasonably but appropriately warm. My mother and I took a walk outside, over a mile, the furthest I had gone in nearly five months.

“Wouldn’t it be poetic,” I asked, “If suddenly this whole illness, everything that went wrong in the hospital, all made sense tomorrow on Easter?”

“Hunny,” my mom responded kindly, “I think that’s a lot of pressure to put on the pastor. Don’t you?”

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What The Bachelor Didn’t Teach You about Farming

Three Things to Ponder About Food

Last week I traveled back to my alma mater, North Park University, to participate in a panel discussion about food. Dr. Norman Wirzba, of Duke Divinity and author of Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating was the keynote speaker and Ericka Elion, formerly of Bread for the World and my friend Ryan Anderson at the Delta Institute all joined in the conversation.

Many thanks to Karl Clifton-Soderstrom for the invite and University Ministries for hosting.

Here are the notes for my talk.

Farmersonly.com or You Don’t Need to Win The Bachelor to Have a Relationship with a Farmer

You are in relationship with a farmer. In fact, lots of them. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have been frequenting farmersonly.com or the winner of the most recent season of The Bachelor. What this means is that you, like every other human, eats food. And that food is raised, grown, picked or collected by someone.

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An Ode to Beef Shank or How to Cook Three Meals on the Cheap

Ah, the humble Beef Shank. You might not be familiar with this lowly cut of meat so I’ll save you the search and pull right from its sparse Wikipedia entry:

The beef shank is the shank (or leg) portion of a steer or heifer… Due to the constant use of this muscle by the animal it tends to be tough, dry, and sinewy… Due to its lack of sales, it is not often seen in shops. Although, if found in retail, it is very cheap and a low-cost ingredient for beef stock.

When looking for signs of moral decay in our society, many point to the productions of Hollywood and pronouncements of the New York Time’s Editorial Board as evidence that Rome is burning. Instead, I would argue that the greatest reason we might need to follow old St. Benedict and flee an empire collapsing around us is found in our collective disregard for… the Beef Shank.

It is true, the Beef Shank served a steer or heifer well during its life through faithful and constant use. Yes that means that the muscle was strong and lean. But the “lack of sales” and “low-cost” are not because the Shank has little value. It is because we don’t have the patience to understand that its difference from other cuts of meat is not a liability, but an opportunity.

The Shank, and other “discount” cuts of meat cast off by society, are the ones we are called to embrace. It is in them that are found the greatest of riches. It is here, my friends, we find the culinary world’s Pearl of Great Price.

The Shank’s humility is its crown.

A true lover of food will see its light marbled fat, dense marrow and solid bone, and instead of wishing for a filet mignon, they will envision a feast only 10 hours away.

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“I Was an Idiot” as a Sign of Grace

Few people in my life would likely make the mistake of characterizing me as a naturally disciplined or pious person. Zealous, maybe. Pious, no. I’ve tended to live life in a passionate pursuit of a particular direction only to stumble, fall, get back up and run a different way (not necessarily opposite, just different).

Thus, it has been an interesting experience for me this Lent to spend time reading, writing and reflecting on discipline and ascetic practices. This stumbling and turning has often felt like an aimless back and forth, but in these weeks of reflection, it has been encouraging to look back and see growth. While the back and forth has been real, what has seemed like “just meanderings” have turned out to have some forward direction.

Father Richard Rohr gives this encouragement, “The steps to maturity are, by their very nature, immature.”

As we look back, each step behind us is going to seem immature, maybe even like a mistake. Hitting our head and saying “God, I was such an idiot back then,” is evidence of grace at work in our lives. The ability to see the ways we failed that were invisible to us at the time, is a sign of our growth in wisdom and discernment. This is often hard for me to accept.

Like the cow patty that was stuck to my big green muck boots this morning, I’ve got an image of grace in my head that isn’t right, but I keep carrying around with me anyway.

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The Beginners’ Guide to the Sounds of Sap

If you listen, each bucket has its own special sound. First, are the empty buckets and their muted ting of dripping sap falling straight to the galvanized steel bottom. Next is the dop that reverberates from the slightly sweet drop running off the spile to a thin layer of liquid below. But it is the soft, and all too rare and timeless plop that I wait for. That quiet plop (or sometimes plip) signals that over half of that the three gallon bucket is full and the tap is giving in abundance.

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There is a slight quickening of the heart when the bucket is heavy enough to need two hands to pull off the hook. Then an involuntary smile to hear the pitch of the shwoosh ascend as the smaller bucket presents it’s offering to the larger. But sometimes, before I touch the bucket at all, I stop and wait to hear what it has to say. Ting? Dop? Plip? Plop?

I look at the tree and then its neighbors. I strain to hear the rhythm of the buckets around me and wonder, what makes one tap run so well when others are nearly dry?

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When the World Looks Back

Lent is a season of preparation. I reflected first on a few insights from a short stay with monks in the New Mexico desert about the importance of making tangible and physical commitments during this season. I then followed up with a post about how fasting can change our relationship with the world and that the practice of abstaining can lead us to a more full celebration in our feasting.

But, the process of preparing for Easter does not need to be all negative commitments and focused on the things we don’t do.

One opportunity for developing new positive practices during Lent involves learning to see. The Gospels recount at least three different instances after the resurrection in which followers of Jesus were not able to recognize or “see” him, Mary at the tomb mistaking Jesus for the gardener, the road to Emmaus and the delayed reaction when Jesus gave great fishing advice.

The truth of Easter is not always readily apparent. It requires the ability to see clearly. This means rubbing our eyes, clearing them of gunk and focusing our vision.

Having recently shifted from spending most of my day in an office environment to spending almost all of it outside, I’ve been ruminating on what it might mean to practice seeing the non-human, or natural world, more clearly. Here are my initial reflections:

Have you ever been moved by a sunset? A star filled canopy of the night sky? A canyon filled horizon? A towering wooded cathedral?

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