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God bless this organic meal

 
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2:00 P.M. EST April 20, 2010

Don Logner shovels 
compost at Anathoth Community Garden in Cedar Grove, N.C. UMNS photos by
 Ronny Perry.
Don Logner shovels compost at Anathoth Community Garden in Cedar Grove, N.C. UMNS photos by Ronny Perry. View in Photo Gallery

Just think: It all started with the wrong piece of fruit.

The earth was days old, and humans were already eating things they weren’t supposed to. It didn’t please God then, and religious leaders think it doesn’t now, either.

“The Adam and Eve story says eating is a religious act that has something to do with our relationship with God,” says Ellen Davis, a professor of biblical studies and practical theology at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C. “This story says there are limits. There’s only one rule and the humans violate it. The outcome of their act is the cursing of the soil.”

How we eat is directly tied to God’s command that we be good stewards of creation, say a growing number of theologians. The United Methodist Church warns against the misuse of resources in the production and consumption of food, and some congregations are establishing community gardens and avoiding processed food at church suppers.

But there is a long way to go to reach the divine ideal, advocates say.

“The first human being, Adam, comes from the earth; his job is to take care of the garden,” says Norman Wirzba, who teaches classes on caring for creation at Duke Divinity School. “It’s not as if farming or gardening is somehow tangential to what it is to be a human being.”

Environmental value menu

Ever consider how a cheeseburger could cost less than a dollar?

The demand for inexpensive and convenient food – and lots of it – has intersected with a shifting agricultural model that reaps massive profits while engaging in practices that pollute the air, water and soil, and consume rapidly shrinking resources. Animals are kept in unsanitary, inhumane conditions and injected with chemicals that promote rapid growth in a shorter period. The same industry often exploits its workers by paying unfair labor wages.

“I like to say when we sit down to a meal of fast food, perhaps our prayer should be more one of confession,” says the Rev. Grace Hackney, pastor of Cedar Grove United Methodist Church in North Carolina.

Norman Wirzba, 
research professor of theology, ecology and rural life, Duke Divinity 
School.
Norman Wirzba, Research Professor of Theology, Ecology and Rural Life, Duke Divinity School. View in Photo Gallery

Wirzba has seen the “cursing of the soil” firsthand.

He grew up working on his grandfather’s farm in Alberta, Canada. His grandfather had always used traditional practices, but when he opened a small cattle feedlot, it became obvious to Wirzba how even small-scale industrial farming was destructive. In order to fatten the cattle up for sale, they were taken off pastures and put in confinement, where they were fed only specific grains. Growing those grains required the use of pesticides, more acreage and more machinery.

“This model cannot be sustained,” Wirzba says. “Good farming, like my grandfather did, has at its core the care of animals and the land as its first priority.”

Scripture points to a different way, Wirzba says.

“If we eat in ways that honor God’s creation, we will have healthier lands, cleaner water, more contented and happy animals, and our health will be better too.”

The United Methodist Book of Resolutions urges members to “analyze their consumption patterns and seek to live a simple and less resource-dependent life.” It also advocates for responsible land use.

The enormity of the challenge should not discourage congregations from taking important steps from encouraging their members to adapt healthier lifestyles to sponsoring farmer’s markets.

“We don’t have to do it on a large scale,” Hackney says. “It may be as simple as fixing healthier food at your potlucks.”

Or starting a community garden.

Tending the garden

Cedar Grove Church runs Anathoth Community Garden, a 5-acre plot of land where all the farm work is done by hand, and members share the harvest. Membership in the garden is only $5, but members are expected to work in the garden a few hours a week.

The Rev. Grace 
Hackney, pastor of Cedar Grove United Methodist Church, was one of the 
driving forces behind opening Anathoth Community Garden.
The Rev. Grace Hackney, pastor of Cedar Grove United Methodist Church, was one of the driving forces behind opening Anathoth Community Garden. View in Photo Gallery

“We wanted the garden to be accessible to anyone in the community,” Hackney says. “Unlike a typical community supported agriculture program, where they do all the work and bundle up boxes to give to people, we divide up whatever is being harvested each day between whoever is working there.”

The garden’s original mission statement came from the prophet Jeremiah, who was called by God during time of war to plant gardens to “seek the peace of the place” he had been sent and to eat the food that was produced. Anathoth was the name of the field that Jeremiah was called to purchase.

Hackney feels a special call to care for the land.

“We all know how the story starts – God said it was good. We were created to be stewards of that goodness. Over time, the church has fallen into the same trap many do, to think man stands apart from creation. But we’re part of creation.”

Tending the flock

Food consumption reflects not only care for the earth, but care for our own bodies. Remember that saying about the body being a temple? Leslie Hobbs is a firm believer.

Hobbs, a member of Highland United Methodist Church in Raleigh, N.C., became the church’s first director of food ministry when she was approached to prepare Wednesday night meals.

“During the conversation, someone used the term food ministry and I said, ‘That’s not just putting together a dinner.’ To me, food ministry means lining up your food habits and your faith in a way that’s compatible.”

Leslie Hobbs, 
director of food ministries at Highland United Methodist Church, makes 
church meals healthier by avoiding processed foods.
Leslie Hobbs, director of food ministries at Highland United Methodist Church, makes church meals healthier by avoiding processed foods. View in Photo Gallery

Hobbs drew from her culinary background and prepared healthier meals from scratch, using fresh ingredients and no processed foods.

Before Hobbs began cooking the meals, “members could walk down the frozen food aisle at the grocery store and identify what we had for dinner each week!” says Anita Taylor, Highland’s director of children’s ministry. “We saw attendance decline and we knew we needed to do something to bring people back to this fellowship opportunity.”

Hobbs says she’s always admired the parables about agriculture as illustrations of how we’re to live our lives.

“I look at the bounty that God gave us. It’s amazing. We have pomegranates and peaches!” She adds that when you spend time to prepare your own food, “it’s a spiritual thing that you can’t get by tearing open a bag of frozen food and throwing it on a plate.”

It is also a community thing.

Hobbs says her food ministry at Highland has been about making church approachable and having members want to spend quality time together.

“God made us social creatures,” she says. “If we start cutting ourselves off from others, we become like a fruit that rots on the vine.”

It all comes back to food

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is either “coming from a meal, at a meal or going to a meal. Eating’s fundamental,” Wirzba says.

And it may not stop when we die.

In his upcoming book, “Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating,” he contemplates whether we’ll eat in heaven.

“We want to have some idea of whether or not there’s eating in heaven because that might have something to say about what the eating we do now should look like,” he says.

So … will we?

“If God’s life is communion, and our life is supposed to be communion, and we know eating to be a vital part of communion, I think heaven’s going to have eating in it.”

That news should please Leslie Hobbs. Can you imagine how delicious the pomegranates will be?

*Butler is editor of 18-34 content at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5105 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

UMTV: Church Community Garden

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