“So how does it feel?” a friend and colleague asked yesterday.
“Strange” was all I knew how to respond. It has been just short of a month since I announced my decision to conclude my ministry here at the end of August, and the responses from others have been quite diverse. “I didn't know you were mad,” said one. For the record, I'm not. “I didn't know anything was wrong,” said another. I'm not aware that anything is wrong. “I am sure you are off to something bigger and better,” responded still another. Well, not so much. I am off to something smaller and dirtier. I'm planning, after all, to farm. More specifically, I plan to learn how to grow food, and to write about the process.
I know, that sounds bizarre. To me, however, it has come to feel compellingly important. For one thing, I don't know how to grow food; and while I am eternally grateful to all those who have done it on my behalf all these years, I am no longer satisfied being the passive benefactor of their efforts. If the truth be told, deep down I am more than a little jealous of them. There is, I am coming to realize, something powerfully mystical and fundamentally, elementally spiritual about participating with God in this process of growth, nurture and nourishment. And I have been missing out. Never mind that I am starting from scratch; I intend to catch up.
But it isn't simply a matter of my own spiritual vitality. There is something missional in all this, as well. As I have increasingly felt competent enough to talk about out loud, we can talk all we want to about “feeding the world,” but if the means we employ are not sustainable in the long term, then I am not sure our efforts stand much chance of success. If, as it seems increasingly clear, that our entire food system – from preparation, to cultivation, to fertilization, to harvest and eventually processing and distribution – is predicated on cheap and readily available energy, what happens when either one of those provisos ceases to be a given? Or both? What happens when energy becomes too expensive to afford, or too short in supply to service the requirements? It seems to me that the answer is, "we get hungry." Will this happen in my lifetime? Probably not. Will it happen during the lifetime of my children? Perhaps. But will it happen sometime? I don't see how we can forestall it.
So, what should we do? It seems to me that somebody better remember how to grow food on different terms, on a different scale, closer to home – in back yards rather than epic but distant fields. I don't know very many in my generation who know how to do that. I haven't yet met anyone in my children's generation with that kind of knowledge. I am not delusional enough to think I can save the world, but I am hopeful enough to want to be a part of that “great cloud” of collective memory that keeps such knowledge and skill alive; to learn, but then also to teach. I figure that no one is better equipped to chronicle and share the process than someone like myself who begins by knowing absolutely nothing about it.
So, yes, I know it sounds a little crazy. But it feels, as I have shared with my congregation, every bit as strong of a calling as the one that brought me to Des Moines in the first place. I could refuse and ignore that call, but I haven't a clue how I could meaningfully live with that decision. And so Lori and I have made the other decision. To be sure, as I told my questioning friend, it feels strange now in this “time between times.” I am here and working for another few months, but daily becoming increasingly irrelevant to the plans and decisions and visions of the congregation that necessarily continue apace. And I am not accustomed to feeling irrelevant. Or, in some odd and disconcerting way that I don't even like to admit to myself, out of place.
But the transition is important to both the congregation and me. Our lives have been intertwined for almost two decades, and some patient gentleness is required for proper gratitude and disentanglement. Strange, after all, isn't bad; it's simply...well...strange.