image by Amy Loves Yah
By Joanna Rodriguez, Contributing Writer
We’re talking “local” at MAM this month: local farms, local learning opportunities, local businesses, local food. Perhaps you already value the geographical place God has put you in for this season of your life. Perhaps you have fond memories of the community you grew up in. Perhaps you enjoy developing relationships with farmers and knowing where your food comes from.
Wherever you are at with the idea of local, today I want to explore the “why” of local agriculture from a Christian perspective. As believers in the God of the Israelites and the risen Christ, why should we care about our local agriculture and economy? There is so much that has been and could be said about this. This is just a taste.
Let Us Make Humankind In Our Image
We will start at the beginning. God is creating the heavens and the earth and calling it all very good. And he creates humans:
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’” (Genesis 1:26, NRSV)
We tend to read this passage and focus on the “dominion” part. That means we can use the earth to serve our purposes, right? To abuse it in the name of “production” by dumping pesticides and fertilizer into the water, by depleting topsoil, by destroying forests?
Ah, but there’s that bit at the beginning: ”…in our image.” In the image of God. Perhaps my thinking is a bit simplistic here, but if we are made in the image of God, should we not care about the earth as he does? The earth is his masterpiece, and he has filled it with plants and animals and bacteria (and much more!) that are intricately connected in ways we will never completely grasp. We can and should live with awe and wonder and respect for God’s creation.
Part of valuing God’s creation is realizing that what we do to it changes it. Ellen Davis, in her book Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture says that one of the faults of our culture’s dominant model of agriculture is the assumption that “science and technology are both limitlessly powerful and benign…” which, really, doesn’t make any sense.
In fact, a great part of the contributions that science has made to agricultural practices in the last hundred years or so has been anything but benign. The state of our earth and our health are proof of that. Science that abuses power by exploiting and depleting, however, is not the only way to use science. I think of Joel Salatin, who combines the best of technology with the best of tradition to farm in a way that is both intelligent and respectful.
From The Dust Of The Ground
Created in God’s image to have dominion. But created from what?
…then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
When we abuse the soil, we are harming the very stuff that God used, in some mysterious way, to form and fashion us. We are not just standing on holy ground; we were made out of this holy ground. This thought fills me with awe and humility.
The Psalmist aptly reminds us, “But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight in abundant prosperity” (Psalm 37:11). If our scientists and farmers and businessmen and politicians remembered that, would it change the way they use and misuse the earth? Can it change the way you and I use and misuse the earth? Let us allow our dominion over the earth to be balanced by humility and meekness.
image by Zdenko Zivkovic
We Are Given A Place
So God makes a human. And then…
And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. (Genesis 2:8)
He places the human in the Garden of Eden. Our very first locality. And what are we to do there? “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (vs. 15). In fact we read a bit earlier that nothing was growing on the earth because “the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground” (vs. 5).
God created the earth with a particular role for humankind: to till and keep the earth. God is all powerful so I’m not about to say that he couldn’t have done it without us, but he chose to create the world in such a way that it benefits from our presence. We are not told to just keep our paws off and leave it alone.
Although, there is one thing we are to leave alone: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Perhaps God set this limit so that we would remember our limits. It’s a visible reminder that while we are made in God’s image to exercise dominion, we are not God. We do not know all that God knows. We can till the ground and plant the seed, but we do not make it grow. We are utterly dependant on God.
Our work and patience and faith pay off, and not just in the immense satisfaction of seeing things spring up and bloom and produce fruit. We get to enjoy the fruit of the land! Fruit and nuts and vegetables and herbs and grains and, dare I say, eggs and meat and milk and honey!
We Are All Eaters
Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden. We, too, are placed in a particular place for particular seasons.
But we live in a culture of impermanence. Jobs send families across the country or across the ocean. We leave home to go to college and often settle far away from where we once had roots. However, we can still honor our God-given purpose by paying attention to the place God has put us in right now. Whether we are here for seven months or seventy years, we can live into our role as earth-keepers.
We don’t have to be farmers or gardeners to do this. We are all eaters, and if we are not growing our own food, we are supporting someone who is. Are we supporting agribusiness, whose chief aim is a quick profit? Or are we supporting local farms tending small plots of land, whose chief aim is the “long-term health of the ‘land community’”? (Davis, 34)
When we intentionally invest in the soil of our particular place on this earth, and live into our identity as both God’s image and fashioned from dust, we can exercise our dominion for the good of the land and the humans and animals that inhabit it. Thanks be to God!