Posts Tagged 'gardening'

On Scatology and Compost

No, not eschatology, though many folks consider than an equally excremental topic. Rather, yesterday’s post Organic Church: Full of Crap? elicited a lot of lively feedback (thanks all!). One friend in particular emailed me off-blog  and wondered if perhaps I was carrying the metaphor of church history/our personal experiences-as-compost a bit too far; couldn’t saying that the ‘crap’ is valuable justify abuse, manipulation, or normalizing sub-standard experiences? It’s a good question. Here’s what I replied:

Great question. And if I was brutally honest about my own ‘organic church experience’ over its 10-year period, on a scale from Euphoric to $#!tty, I’d probably say it’s somewhere in the middle – and that I’d rather not spiritualize my experience of the latter.

Far be it from me to make the compost metaphor whitewash the $#!t and justify manipulation and groupthink. Rather, I think that this image of spiritual life can stand – on a personal/local level as well as a macro/historical level – as an ecosystem metaphor for even the best of times and the healthiest of institutions/movements. ‘Cause when you think about it, most people don’t pile steaming excrement on their home compost heaps. That’s just fertilizer – and that’s helpful too, but somewhat different. No, the compost heap in my parents’ backyard garden gets a regular supply of egg shells, carrot peelings, old lettuce, and other bits of organic matter that were (and are, strictly speaking) life-giving – just not at that moment for my parents. They were yesterday’s meals – yesterday’s manna, if you will. By sewing into the compost heap, they hope to reap some life-giving food down the line a bit. Even a psychologically-healthy, well-adjusted group will have old manna to put on the compost heap for tomorrow’s nourishment.

You’re right, too, that we don’t worship the decay – the compost heap isn’t = the life of the Spirit. Rather, it’s the fertile ground where the Spirit can do her work.

Organic Church: Full of Crap?

The Web has had been a-buzz with some conversation about my native church milieu, ‘organic’ church – aka house church or simple church. Folks meeting in homes, rather decentralized, certainly de-clericalized. Senior Christianity Today editor Mark Galli wishes organic churchers well, but is concerned that we might burn out on our lofty ideals.

What I worry about is the coming crash of organic church. And after that, I worry about the energetic men and women at the forefront of the movement. Will they become embittered and abandon the church, and maybe their God?

Some folks think this is over-dramatic – including Neil Cole, who responded to Galli’s editorial here. (Update: Frank Viola has responded too.) But others, like my friend Neil Carter, were writing about the death of idealism in organic church before they even read Galli’s piece. Carter finds himself looking at organic church on the outside after 10 years as an insider: Far from breathing the rarified air of ‘changing the world’ (as Cole suggests organic churches do) or ‘revolutionizing the history and practice of the church’ (as the house church stream Carter & I share proclaims as one of its goals), Carter is now churching with that most ubiquitous (and some would say, boring) of tribes: Southern Baptists. Reflecting on this, Carter writes:

It’s funny how you can age ten years in the space of just one, while at other times you can go ten years and hardly age a year. It’s a variable process, it turns out. It’s all about what you learn — what you experience in the space of a year. Having said that, I feel I’ve aged more years than I know how to count just in the last 12 months.

Specifically, he recounts a major compromise with his ideals in allowing some professional pastor dude baptize his youngest daughter – even though he baptized his first two daughters himself as part of his former house church community, in a swimming pool. He quotes a coupla Michael Caine flicks – “Obsession is a young man’s game” and “Idealism is youth’s final luxury.” Neil’s only about five years older than me, but he’s musing, as Blink-182 did a decade ago, “I guess this is growing up.”

Or is it?

Do-it-yourself New Testament scholar Bill Heroman – whom I also shared a living room with, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away – thinks the organic church movement is full of crap – in a good way. “The challenge,” he says, “is sustainability.”

Human systems last a long time mainly by suppressing the human element that challenges established traditions, but that same human element also provides authenticity and vitality. Thus, the best way to survive for a long time is to be nearly dead. Nature, naturally, sustains itself quite differently. The work God needs to do within a local body of believers will always be messy, but Institutional Christendom keeps peons & yokels from participating precisely because they make messes. The shift is: who says messes are bad? Antiseptic works well for hospitals and elementary schools, but not in gardens or forests. After all, crap makes good fertilizer, and God is a gardener.

God is a gardener, and we – our individual lives, collective lives, our history and our institutions – are compost. Just like the Holy Spirit, Sarayu, in The Shack: She is unoffended by our messiness and our chaos. Indeed, it is beautiful to her.

So thanks, Bill, for stealing my metaphor. :)

Even so – I understand and respect my friends like Neil Carter, who find themselves outside of these more ‘ideal-laden’ patterns of doing and being church – whether by necessity or shifting sensibilities. It’s an internal tug-of-war, sometimes. Even though I’m far more interested in liturgical and traditional elements (from the ‘compost’ of our history) than I once was, I’m as opposed to clericalism as I’ve ever been. Even so, I’m not at all opposed to leadership – even strong leadership – as some in the organic stream are. Leadership is, it helps, and not everyone is gifted at it. That said, any leadership modeling itself remotely on that of Jesus or even Paul will be continuously giving power away – “You feed them!” “Try this!” and not seeking its own self-preservation. Because while we’re not all ‘leaders,’ we are all priests.

What does this look like, practically? These days I’m drawing inspiration from the 70-year-old Church of the Saviour cluster of churches in the D.C. area (read Inward Journey, Outward Journey by Elizabeth O’ Connor! Do it now!), as well as the 30-year-old St. Gregory of Nyssa congregation in San Francisco (do yourself a favor and pre-order Sara Miles’ new book Jesus Freak: Feeding/Healing/Raising the Dead). While these fellowships are older than the current ‘organic’ church nomenclature’s popular use – and they certainly have the trappings of Galli’s ‘smells and bells’ in significant ways – to me they embody composted communities; not experiments in puritan house-cleaning, but groups who are full-of-crap and they know it. It’s from this rich, loamy soil that they can sprout the Spirit’s life afresh in each generation.

Obama’s First 100 Days – My Grade: B-

https://i0.wp.com/blog.reybango.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/barack-obama-bw1.pngSo CNN is running this 100 Day Report Card of the Obama administration dealie that showed up in my Facebook. I compulsorily graded Mr. President & was done with it. But 40 FB wall comments later, I thought I’d explain my grade a little bit, in a hopefully less-incendiary, more policy-based, space. (Facebook walls can be brutal when you have lots of friends who are conservatives, and lots who are progressives!)

Overall, I think Obama is doing a great job in overall leadership & visionary categories. He came down to earth a bit in progressives’ hearts & minds with his cabinet choices – they seemed rather Clintonian. Like many Slow Food enthusiasts, I was initially disappointed in his Ag Secretary choice, Tom Vilsack, but I have hope that he might be different on organic/local food policy than his predecessors & former Monsanto cronies. (Though I am disappointed in his pro-ethanol stance)

That said, Obama’s charting his own course with sweeping reform & the stimulus package. I have a lot of empathy with him on the stimulus package, as it’s almost a lose-lose proposal – conservatives shriek socialism, and actual socialists, labor movement folks, and other progressives fret about it being pro-big-corporations. I can understand both fears, but lets face it: in the wake of the previous administrations’ war-debt fest, what’s left to do?

The Stimulus Plan, like the New Deal, is ambitious, flawed, & probably will work. I also appreciate Obama’s presence in global relations & his reconciling tone – it’s not cowardice to be friendly with former & current national ‘enemies;’ one might even say it’s a Christian virtue of quiet strength. Oh, and I LOVE that the Obamas have a pesticide-free garden on the White House lawn. It’s only symbolic, but symbols are important – we desperately need a food system overhaul in America. Oh, and I applaud the administration for setting an Iraq withdrawal, better ecological standards, and working on a light rail.

Now for what I don’t like: While I appreciate the pragmatism (& believe the good intentions) of the abortion-reduction strategy, many of Obama’s moves have been huge concessions to the pro-choice camp, even when they’ve been (in my opinion) politically unnecessary – like with embryonic stem cell research. Even Al Gore is now pointing to the viability of skin stem cells for the same breakthroughs that embryonics promised. I think this is an opportunity for the new administration to step up to the post-partisan plate.

Secondly, I’m just not sure overall if Obama’s going to make good on his promises to reverse harmful Bush administration trends toward less transparency and greater executive power – his policies on rendition, wire tapping, etc., are pretty fuzzy. I wish the new Congress would just repeal the Patriot Act.

Finally, while I think that Obama’s a kinder & gentler hawk than the Bush-Cheney crew, he’s still hawkish. I wish he’d seriously consider nonviolent alternatives to full-scale war in Afghanistan. (See Rethinking Afghanistan)

So that’s it. Here are some websites, from progressive *and* Libertarian sources, that outline some of my praises/concerns:

Huffington Post

Paul Raushenbush

American Prospect

AlterNet


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  • Friend of Emergent Village

    My Writings: Varied and Sundry Pieces Online

    Illumination and Darkness: An Anne Rice Feature from Burnside Writer's Collective
    Shadows & Light: An Anne Rice Interview in MP3 format from Relevant Magazine
    God's Ultimate Passion: A Trinity of Frank Viola interview on Next Wave: Part I, Part II, Part III
    Review: Furious Pursuit by Tim King, from The Ooze
    Church Planting Chat from Next-Wave
    Review: Untold Story of the New Testament Church by Frank Viola, from Next-Wave

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