(Note: I have a lot less time to blog these days but I have every intention of posting some more thoughts from the food, faith and farming conference at Duke Divinity School – so stay tuned!)
My wife and I recently returned from an incredible few days at Duke Divinity School‘s ‘Summoned Toward Wholeness: A Conference on Food, Farming, and the Life of Faith‘. We sat through a handful of workshops with some brilliant people – the only thing I regret is not being able to go to all of them. And while I particularly enjoyed Will Samson’s ‘Abolishing the McEucharist: How Food Can Help Churches Move Beyond the Happy Meal Gospel‘ my most favorite workshop was with Kyle Childress, an unconventional Baptist pastor from Nacogdoches, Texas, who I had met the night before.
As we sat in the sanctuary of Kyle spoke of his congregation‘s involvement in helping revive a local farmer’s market, their creation of a glass recycling/upcycling entrepreneurial ministry (when their local municipality abandoned glass recycling) that uses proceeds to benefit the local Habitat For Humanity and other ways that his small church is practically embodying the Gospel of Jesus in their community.
During this workshop with Kyle he also told a story I will never forgot and consider to be one of the more profound moments of our time at the conference. While I cannot tell the story as he did (apologies to Kyle for incorrect or omitted details and my efforts at embellishment for dramatic affect), it is worth repeating. It is a cautionary tale and yet one fertile with inspiration – and what I consider to be a prophetic witness for how we can embody GOD’s kingdom in these increasingly volatile times. Thank you Austin Heights Baptist Church and Kyle for your faithful Christian witness.
After the Storm
It was 2005 and on the heals of Hurricane Katrina, a new ocean whirlwind was threatening landfall. The affects of Hurricane Rita, while not direct, nonetheless took down trees and tree limbs and knocked out a large portion of the town’s electricity – except for the area where Austin Heights Baptist Church building was. Evacuees came up from the south and found refuge at Austin Heights. A dozen or so local church members soon followed and found refuge in the church building. Out of necessity and the willingness to respond, a makeshift missional community quickly emerged. This ragtag collective spent their days working to clean up downed trees and limbs around town and then reassembled back at Austin Heights each evening to play games and eat together. Some of the church members broke out their home-canned foods. Walking the halls as everyone settled down for sleep you could hear adults reading stories to the rooms of children.
On one of the days Pastor Kyle went down the road to fill up his car with gas. Gas rationing had been lifted. He found himself warmed with thankfulness at the thought of his church community sharing and serving. He pulled into the gas station and noticed a pickup truck. In the bed of the truck was two 55 gallon drums, gas cans and other containers. A man got out and anxiously looked around. There was a gun on his side and guns in the gun rack in the window of his truck. A woman quickly slid out of the passenger side door – with hand on gun she nervously scanned the area, keeping watch as the man began filling up the truck and then all the containers with gasoline.
Pastor Kyle sat a little lower in his seat as a sense of fear quickly crept through his mind and muscles. This couple was there to take whatever they needed – or wanted, and no one was going to stop them. It was an apocalyptic moment with two responses to the storm sharply revealed and contrasted in his mind. He thought about his makeshift missional community with open hands and hearts and a willingness to give generously. And then this man and woman standing before him stockpiling at any cost, enforced with the threat of violence.
As the gun-laden couple slammed their doors and peeled out of the gas station relief and sadness washed over Pastor Kyle. This couple was driving off under the burden of their isolation and fear. What they really needed – community, was not something they could take or stockpile. They lived in a world of scarcity, where it’s ‘survival of the fittest’. He filled up his gas tank and made his way back to the church building. A subtle light filtered through the broken branches of nearby trees. A handful of church members and evacuees were carrying bags of mason jars filled with last season’s preserved harvest. The Holy Spirit seemed to be descending on the scene. The world was awash in abundance.
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