Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What Food Feeds Your Soul? Part I WORMS!

Okay, new series. For those of you who have been keeping track, I'm not going to stop working on What Music Feeds Your Soul? I've been doing some thinking about food and these thoughts are on par with my concerns about music. The difference is that I'm very active in music either listening to it or making it. I'm not as involved in food...at least my food habits have not kept up with food ideals. So, in an attempt to become more deliberately involved with my food consumption I decided to get into worms!

I'm a bonafide livestock farmer...of about 800 red wigglers, a pound of worms. Let me explain. I have a new hero. About a year ago, Susanna and I read about Will Allen in our Heifer International's publication, World Ark. I was smitten by the picture of Mr. Allen and tore it out. This picture is hanging on our fridge right now:

Will Allen was a basketball player in the 70's. He almost played in the NBA. He left his career in marketing in 1993 to begin a nonprofit, four season urban farm in Milwaukee. In 2008 Mr. Allen was awarded a MacArthur Foundation genius grant. What I find fascinating about Will Allen is his savvy in using the act of growing food to confront the heart of many of our societies greatest challenges. He is a community activist and bridges the rich and the poor, the black and the white; he engages children and school and also juvenile detention centers, and he credits all of this with the wealth of his worms.

I'll be slowly unpacking the importance of food in each post, but let me start with this: the garden and the table are potent metaphors in the Scriptures. It is difficult for us to take these metaphors seriously because we buy our food prepackaged for us. I'm coming closer to the conviction that our health care crisis, our energy crisis, our pollution and our emotional health can be remedied if we could simply learn to eat better, and when I say "eat," I mean not just sitting down to dinner, but all that is involved in getting the food on our plate. This is such a basic and simple idea that it either seems juvenile and silly. To some it might seem Utopian and grandiose.

Here is my underlying assumption: if we can eat better, then we can begin to re-frame our contemporary existence. We will begin to see ourselves as a part of the created order and if we can understand that we are dependent upon creation, then a whole new ethic will begin to be needed for us to live by. I'm only re-phrasing what Wendell Berry has already said, “The standard of the exploiter is efficiency; the standard of the nurturer is care.”

Last year I tried to become a better gardener by starting seeds indoors. I'd been reading Truck by Michael Perry which is an account of his love affair with an old truck that he restores and also his romance with a woman too, but I won't give any spoilers away about that. Reading his description of his garden and his indoor seedlings made me feel ambitious. It was a way to fight against the deep Holland winter here.

The jalapenos grew into nice full bushes, but for some reason they didn't produce many peppers. Our tomatoes grew nice and big, but they only yielded a few tomatoes. Overall, even though I didn't kill the plants, it was an experience to prove that I've got a black thumb. I was in good company though. Michael Perry's indoor seedlings did too to well either.

With such a frustrating failure, I've realized that I simply don't know much about what makes plants grow. Yes, I grew up on a farm. I get it. You put the seed into the ground. It gets watered. The sun shines. The seed germinates. You work your best to fight off bugs and weeds. Well we've done all those things and I still feel clueless about what I'm doing. Thus, the worms!

I'll share more about the worms in my next post because I'm afraid I might have already killed a bunch of them. Ha! So I'll share more once I'm sure I've been somewhat successful. But the point is that the worms poop a nutrient rich organic fertilizer that will help nourish our garden this summer.

For now, I'll leave you with a few good links on Will Allen for those of you who are interested in four season urban farming:

Will Allen's organization is called Growing Power. Click HERE

Some videos about him and his work:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book Acknowledgements

I know it is just one essay and I may be doing too many acrobatical maneuvers of glee for some of you to bear, but other than a few odds and ends in various journals, this is my first book publication. My essay is published in the company of some pretty hefty authors. So, I'll probably stop making a big deal eventually, but for now, darn it, I'm excited.
It would have been impractical for each contributing author to submit acknowledgements, so I want to mention a few people that I'm thankful for here. Conincidentally, David did mention in his acknowledgements the person I am most indebted to, my wife, Susanna Childress. I'll say more about her in a second.

Most notably I need to thank David Cunningham, director of the Crossroads Lilly Endowment here at Hope College. I knew he was a theologian who cared about the arts when I met him in a book group that was working through Rowan Williams' Grace and Necessity. David not only read the essay, but we sat down for a 2.5/3 hour dinner (my dime as thanks) and he walked me through one of my drafts almost line by line. His feedback was very insightful and gave me lots of confidence.

Steven Bouma-Prediger, religion professor here at Hope, read a very early draft. His comments were both constructive and encouraging.

I also had some friends back in Oklahoma City, from the church that is the focus of the story, give me some feedback too. Thanks to Wendy Shreffler and Lance Humphreys especially.

Thanks also to Charlie Peacock for reading through the essay and helping me believe that my writing did fit in the company of such "august" (his word directly) company.

Now back to Susanna. When I spent my first weekend with Susanna, I was concerned that she not think my writing ridiculous. She'd sent me her manuscript, the manuscript that was later picked by Billy Collins to win the Brittingham Prize. I didn't think that she would think my essays back then were ground breaking. I just wanted to make sure she didn't think my scribbles were silly, so somehow I found the nerve to read some of my writings to her. From then and to this day, she has indulged me by being my first reader of almost everything I write. She doesn't just listen. She gives me real, tangible criticism. Sometimes I have to go for long walks after recieving such criticism, but she has made me into a whole new kind of writer. Yes, writing just comes down to lots of hard work, sifting through draft after draft. I only wish I could be half as helpful, loving and supportive for her as she is for me.