Mega-Churches Are the Factory Farms of Christianity

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We have seen the cost of monoculture in agriculture settings and the cost to the food system.  We have seen that the movement of God in creation is division and separation (that is to say that God, in creation, separates light from dark, water below from water above [sky], fish and birds, etc.).  And we have seen the link between holiness and this movement of God to control chaos through diversity.

Now, we have to imagine the additional problems of monoculture and factory farming and the interesting allusion to the way we see church moving.   The imagery is as powerful as anything could be.  You see the rows of corn, chickens, cattle, pigs and in the same way, you can clearly see the rows of Baptists, Pentecostals, Nazarenes, and Methodists.

One of the things that has brought us to this point, both in farm factories and church factories is the idea of “best practices.”  For years, both in my work in corporate settings as well as church settings, the phrase “best practices” has been tossed around as though it were the perfect Roundup solution to the weed ridden soil into which the Gospel is cast.  What are the best practices to pastoring or leading a church to reach that goal of 1,000 members?  What are the best practices for reaching that goal of multiple services, satellite campuses, bigger and better ministries, manufactured facilities, coffee shops, bookstores, cafes, etc.?   What are the best practices to producing 10,000 or 30,000 head of cattle or pork?  What are the best practices that result in chicken farms that deliver 200,000 chickens to Tyson or Monsanto?

The connection of factory farms and factory churches is undeniable and it lies in the seemingly sexy idea of best practices.  The problem with best practices is that best practices ignore the individual.  Who is the individual?  St. Photini (the Samaritan woman) met Jesus at the well.  She was no factory farmed chicken or cattle.  There was nothing about Photini that best practices could have convinced to follow Jesus.  Rather, Jesus does something different.  Jesus asks for a drink.

Best practices would throw ten or fifteen photinis into the factory floor, use soft coercive techniques to “reach” her, place her in a row of pews or chairs with other christians who have “been through what she’s been through” to help her begin her journey with Jesus.  Best practices result in the throwing out of the injured and deformed, as they are not the desired product of the church.

Jesus asked for a drink.  Surely this does not conform with the best practices of outreach and the missional church.  Jesus said,  ‘but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ 

I know a very qualified and successful well driller, a whole family of them, in fact, and I can tell you that what Jesus was offering was not so-called best practices.  It’s time for us as the Body of Christ to stop supposing that we have “best practices” in what we do and start relying upon the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  When we stop relying on factory church production, perhaps we can build the relationships we need to build to give hope to a world that needs the love, grace, and sustainable holiness of Jesus Christ.

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Taking a Life Should Always Cause Us Pause

Today I had to kill a wild dog.

Julia called me at work and said that she found a big grouping of feathers behind the coop and some tracks.  She counted the chickens and came up one short.  She was worried that something killed one of the chickens.

This is something that upsets me.  We take great pride in our care of the chickens.  I tell my girls all the time that happy chickens lay happy eggs.  They take care of us, provide for us and we have a responsibility to care for them and protect them.  We try to teach the girls that the chickens must be put up in their coop with gates latched before dark.  There are things that go bump in the night for chickens and we have to protect them.  Some time ago, our oldest girl (who normally does a great job with the chickens) waited too long to put them up.  The bad news is that we found an opossum under the coop.  The good news is that this was the egg stealing bandit we’d suspected.   My daughter and I went out and fished the rodent out and I shot it.  I hesitated and it nearly got away.  In the end, I had to kill it.

Nonetheless, this was different.  I came home and changed clothes, got my gun and pushed the loaded magazine home.  I walked out to the coop and found the smattering of feathers Julia told me about.  I knew right then that it wasn’t just a fluke.  There were paw prints, too big for a fox, and just a little bigger than a coyote.  Beside the paw prints were claw marks, from a chicken trying to survive.  I followed that prints around the fence outside the coop.  There were more prints and more claw marks in the snow.

Following the paw prints, I made my way around toward the paddock and back toward the corn field behind our house.  There were scrapes before the paw prints as though something was keeping the animal from walking a full gate.  I walked in the corn field behind the paddock toward the back corner of our property.  I saw claw marks, small drops of blood, and more feathers.  At the very corner of the property I found the body of one of our Buff Orpingtons.  We don’t know which one it was.  It might have been Squaters, Jessica, Water Drinker, but we don’t know.  It had been completely disemboweled.  Whatever killed it hadn’t even had the decency to eat as much as possible.

I tracked the animal through the corn field behind our property.  At several points the tracks split off, and I followed watching multiple sets.  I noticed, eventually, that one set of tracks was coming and one set was going.  I followed the paw prints through the field and I saw in the distance a dark mound lying in a patch of grass.  As I approached, still following the tracks, I found a dark red haired dog asleep.  I yelled at it, waking it up.  It growled.  I asked it if it killed my chicken.  It growled again.  I took two steps and asked it why it killed my chicken.  It didn’t answer.

The dog stood up and took a few steps to the east.  I tracked its movements.  It watched me and I watched it.  We walked together for another two tenths of a mile.  There was a bloody mass on the side of its head and its tail was matted with fecal matter and completely immobile because of it.

I walked, it walked.  It growled, I asked questions.  The cold was getting to me.  It turned toward the woods, limping, growling, limping, struggling.  It turned to look at me.  I pulled out my gun.  I hesitated. I wanted permission.  It killed our chicken.  It was cold, injured and desperate.  I raised my gun and fired.  It yelped and I fired again and again until it stopped.

Killing, no matter the reason, no matter the justification, no matter the whys and the wheres, should cause one to stop and think.  It should cause one to hesitate, to pause.   If we believe Colossians 1, then God is reconciling all of creation to himself through Christ Jesus and that includes that which does violence upon those we love.

Thankfully, that also includes me.  I did violence to that feral dog.  I don’t feel guilty, but it caused me pause.  This is a part of living in creation and partnering with God in the reconciliation of creation.0303-161020 0303-161027 0303-161033 0303-161038 0303-161115 0303-161120 0303-161123 0303-161132 0303-161231 0303-161238 0303-161243 0303-161301 0303-161351 0303-161424 0303-161448 0303-161456

Eating as Sacramental Holiness

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“The industrial eater is, in fact, one who does not know that eating is an agricultural act, who no longer knows or imagines the connections between eating and the land, and who is therefore necessarily passive and uncritical – in short, a victim. When food, in the minds of eaters, is no longer associated with farming and with the land, then the eaters are suffering a kind of cultural amnesia that is misleading and dangerous.  The current version of the ‘dream home’ of the future involves ‘effortless’ shopping from a list of available goods on a television monitor and heating precooked food by remote control. Of course, this implies and depends on a perfect ignorance of the history of the food that is consumed.  It requires that the citizenry should give up their hereditary and sensible aversion to buying a pig in a poke.  It wishes to make the selling of pigs in pokes an honorable and glamorous activity.  The dreamer in this dream home will perforce know nothing about the kind or quality of this food, or where it came from, or how it was produced and prepared, or what ingredients, additives, and residues it contains – unless, that is, the dreamer undertakes a close and constant study of the food industry, in which case he or she might as well wake up and play an active and responsible part in the economy of food.”  (Wendell Berry, “The Pleasures of Eating” 1989 article republished in Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food)

In this amazing passage  Berry offers a critique of eating without consciously understanding the ingredients, origins, and full context of what is being eaten.  The dream offered by so-called scientific advancement is a dream that offers static, flat, and lazy food enjoyed by none, but efficient.  Except that it is not.

One of the amazing things about Holy Eucharist is its medicinal quality.  It is a particularly powerful medicine of the Holy Spirit that binds us together and feeds us as the Body of Christ and it doesn’t do it efficiently.  According to the scriptures the bread is the body of Christ and the wine/juice is the blood of Christ.  It is a constant and blinding reminder that we are not called to the convenience of letting God’s creation fall apart.  Rather, we are called to the death, suffering, and damnation of Jesus Christ; we are called to partner with God in the reconciliation of all things (Colossians 1).

We are invited to the table to be consciously aware of who Jesus is, who we are as people called to be the body of Christ redeemed by his blood.  It is slow and we never do it alone.  This is communal medicine, for the whole body.

This should affect how we eat other meals as well.  Now, don’t hear me saying these things as one who has attained such a grand accomplishment.  Like holiness, it is not easy.  It might begin with a sort of revelation, but it does not end with said revelation.  It is a slow process of recognizing that whole foods sustains us more efficiently (for our bodies, not our schedules).  Local foods don’t just heal our bodies and the bodies of our families, but they heal local economies (while money spent at national chains only returns 13.6% of revenue to the local economy, money spent in local businesses returns 52% to the local economy).

Slow food, grown locally, bought locally heals the body, the community, and the Body.  It is a Eucharistic endeavor that should push us all to do a little more.  Take the next good step.

Holiness and Emptiness

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After reading Rudolf Otto’s classic The Idea of the Holy I want to play with his idea focussed on the Wholly Other’s invasion of holiness upon a person and subsequent emptying of that person followed by the only possible response, which is awe or fear or mysterium tremendum.

With this in mind, the idea of the holy is empty of meaning of itself.  Holiness is something that comes from God; holy is not God; other than the immanence of God holiness is void of meaning.

With this in mind we can see holiness most clearly in Genesis 1 as God is dividing creation and diversifying that which God creates to the culmination of perfect balance when God creates sabbath.  This is a sort of mobile whereupon if any piece of this great diversity of God’s is removed, then the entire mobile is moved to imbalance. We also see this holiness even more clearly in “Jesus’ suffering, death, damnation, i.e., where the old order had maintained that God could not be glorified.  Thus God’s holiness is a freedom for what is far gone from holiness.” (Craig Keen from his appendix in  Mannoia and Thorsen’s The Holiness Manifesto)

This would be a sort of kenotic apocalyptic vision of holiness that engages creation as well as calls the invadee to respond and build upon the invasion and subsequent mysterium tremendum.  The seed must die to give life in the plant.  It is suffering, death and damnation that restores balance to the mobile.

Just some thoughts I’m working through.  Comments are always welcome.

Monoculture Versus Biodiversity: Holiness and Creation part 1

We have had a problem in this world for the last 75 years or so.  Farming has left the family behind and the families that used to farm have left farming behind for lies of a future in the big cities.  This was a part of the cause of monoculture farming and so-called agribusiness. The other part has been the blind allegiance that modernity has given to science.

Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying. I happen to love science. I think it is important in a lot of what we do, maybe most or all. However, blind allegiance to anything/one is just that, blind. I believe that Norman Borlaug was one of the most important (if not THE most important) people of the 20th Century. He, through genetically modified engineering of wheat and corn, saved a billion (literally) people in Africa, India, and Mexico by the time I was born.  The problem is that GMOs are not sustainable. They have served their purpose and now they have moved beyond helpful and now circled around to destructive.

How could they be destructive when GMOs helped so many people?  That’s a great question. The problem with GMOs is that they push out diversity in favor of monoculture. Because of corporate interests, companies like Monsanto and Cargill reduce the GMO to its minimum destroying diversity that God initiated at creation.

Genesis 1 is not merely some creation myth to aline ourselves with.  It is a bird’s eye view into the heart of God. It begins with chaos and singularity (or if your not reading it closely enough it begins with nothing) and God begins to speak division. It moves from  singularity to light and a diversity of light and darkness. Then, from light and darkness to sky and water. God divides water from land. From there God divides the kinds of light, separating the sun, moon, and stars. Then, God continues to diversify creation with fish and birds. Continuing diversity God creates creatures on land and humankind. Finally God creates a division in time, creating Sabath.

God moves from the monoculture of darkness and chaos to the biodiversity that is all of creation. Yet, here in the age of confusion folks decide we can do a lot better by reducing the diversity of God to monoculture in GMOs. It’s like We think we know better.

So the question is: what happens when (not if) the 90% of corn and soy in the world (Monsanto) is GMOed to a single kind of seed and becomes susceptible to a disease or insect that because of the GMO culture is indestructible?  Suddenly, the biodiversity with which God created becomes unbalanced. The perfect mobile of creation is off kilter, much as it is with sin, humankind’s way of dealing with God’s biodiversity.

The call to holiness is a call to return to God’s creation of diversity. I will post about holiness in the next few days to move these thoughts along.

Holiness and Sustainable Farming Begin with Creation

Looking at the Hebrew Bible’s accounts of creation, specifically in Genesis 1 and 2, one can see there is an incontestable connection between Creator and creature.  Therefore, one cannot separate one’s connection between Creator and created.  Because of this, creation, that is to say, all that is created, is just as incontestably connected.

Perhaps connection is not the most appropriate word to use.  Let us look to the poets for better words.  In this case, once again, we turn to Wendell Berry (A Timbered Choir, Counterpoint.  Washington, D. C.   1998):

III

To sit and look at light-filled leaves
May let us see, or seem to see,
Far backward as through clearer eyes
To what unsighted hope believes:
The blessed conviviality
That sang Creation’s seventh sunrise,

Time when the Maker’s radiant sight
Made radiant every thing He saw,
And every thing He saw was filled
With perfect joy and life and light.
His perfect pleasure was sole law;
No pleasure had become self-willed.

For all His creatures were His pleasures
And their whole pleasure was to be
What He made them; they sought no gain
Or growth beyond their proper measures,
Not longed for change or novelty.
The only new thing could be pain.

—-

There is Creator and created.  One is Wholly Other and the other is other even than itself.  There is a both/and binary that must be addressed.  Binaries exist between Creator and created, but also between created and created.  Created flora is not created fauna.  Yet both flora and fauna are created and therefore substantively similar.

Creation is connected by nothing and no one less than the Creator.  We cannot simply deny that we, as humans, live separate and apart from the rest of creation.  We exist as an intermediary between creature and Creator.

Holiness and Sustainable Farming

I first discovered Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things” in 1996 and have never doubted Berry since.  I still remember reading it for the first time.  Having grown up in one city or another, always near rural corn and soy covered fields, but never really that close, this peace and grace discovered “where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds” was something as foreign and mysterious as it could be to someone who spent his life around brick and concrete and steel.

It was the thought, even at 20 years of age, that there were creatures “who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief” that played in my mind.  Surely at that point I had lost two grandfathers, friends, whole cities (as I grew up moving around a lot as a pastor’s kid) and at some future point I would lose two grandmothers, a brother in-law and a son, but the very idea of coming “into the presence of still water” intrigued me.

Reconnecting with my holiness heritage in the Church of the Nazarene after spending years in pastoral ministry, systematic theology, and development work, I now realize the imperative that God’s holiness holds on our lives and the actualization and implication that holiness makes in how we connect to others, including soil, water, and the peace of wild things.

It is time for us to explore more deeply what it means to take part in responsible animal husbandry, dig our fingers into rich soil,  and share what we have with others.  I have realized recently there is something inextricably linked to the holiness to which God  calls us and living sustainably as a part (not separate from) of creation.

Join with me in this journey.  I think it will prove most fun.

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