I first stumbled onto Ragan Sutterfield‘s writing in a 2007 Paste magazine. It was an interesting article about the contrasting journey between his peaceful Arkansas farm to the crowds and music of Farm Aid. At the time my interest in agriculture was only a small seed. How fitting that I would personally connect with Ragan several years later at a time when I was feeding on Wendell Berry and living on a farm myself.
When I received a review copy of Ragan’s book, ‘Farming as a Spiritual Discipline‘, I was immediately impressed with the concentrated wisdom presented in such a small book. This collection of essays was born out of a series of talks* that Ragan gave at Englewood Christian Church in 2008. And despite what the title may infer, it is not just for farmers- it is for all of us who long for the coming shalom of GOD’s New Earth. He begins by inviting city dwellers to get their hands in God’s dirt:
“My hope is that Christians will come to see one of their tasks as staking out claims for God’s kingdom by redeeming the land from the margins and using that land to create gardens that offer not only good food but also community development and hope.”
I was hooked.
Ragan goes on to lay a biblical framework for understanding our relationship with God’s creation. He sets up the first essay by saying:
“Farming is essentially the practice of cultivating creation and how we see farming depends entirely on how we see creation. From there, we could say that how we see food depends on how we see farming and how we go about eating reflects what we think about people and our place and role in creation. These are questions that if we follow them, go all the way down to the essential questions of who we are.”
He unearths some foundational theological truths from Scripture and uses those keys to open up deep doors of wisdom about human existence, society, the Kingdom of God, and agriculture. And much like his mentor, Wendell Berry, he applies that wisdom in a way that challenges the roots of our preconceived notions.
In this book, Ragan also draws a straight line from the value God places on creation to our wise and timeless response that he calls, “the agrarian mind”. He speaks of ‘proxies’ and limits and our spiritual need to abandon a mindless consumerism in exchange for a living interaction with the world God has created.
Ragan ends the book in ‘the garden city of the New Jerusalem‘ metaphorically laying out the future of God’s kingdom as pictured in Scripture. With the rich imagery of God’s new creation in ‘the Age To Come’, he frames the agrarian mind in the theological imagination of the Old and New Testament prophets. But the final word is not left to the future as he holds out his flame to set our minds ablaze: “We need to invite the church to get dirty” (pg. 42). This last statement makes wonder if this is just a few essays or the fertile text for a growing movement, the seeds for which have been passed down as heirlooms for generations since the beginning of time.
Keep your eye on Ragan, he is a voice worth heeding.
Check out our archived interview of Ragan about ‘Farming As A Spiritual Discipline‘ when it first came out.
*Listen to the talks that the book was born out of over at Englewood Review of Books: Farming As A Spiritual Discipline [Audio]
Ragan was a regular contributor to the Sustainable Traditions blogazine for several years. View his blog archive here: Agrarian Notebook @ ST.
He also did a great interview recently with Jonathan Blundell over at Something Beautiful Podcast: check it out.
Here him talk at the ‘A Rooted People: Church, Place and Agriculture in an Urban World‘ conference in Indianapolis (in October of this year).
And you can find links to more of his writings at: RaganSutterfield.com.
[Thanks to our friend Chris Smith at Doulos Christou Books and The Englewood Review of Books for the free review copy of Ragan’s book!]
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