(Note: I gave this talk after a viewing of the film FRESH at Liberty University this past Spring at the invitation of our friends at the Liberty University Campus Farm – JF)

Urban farmer Will Allen ended the film FRESH with a phrase that I think sums up our reason for exploring this topic tonight: “Food is at the foundation but it’s really about life”. How do we become cultivators of life? – on our campus, with our friends, in our families, in our church communities, in the community at large – and in the wider world. We are not really just talking about food and agriculture tonight – we are talking about ‘life’; how to sustain human flourishing.

For those of us who have committed to being disciples of Jesus – the central reality of our faith is GOD’s redemptive work through Jesus to restore us to deep abiding fellowship with Him. We know true life, true flourishing emanates from GOD because He is our Creator and Sustainer. And this loving fellowship should spill out into every aspect of our lives – effecting all our relationships – including our relationship with GOD’s creation. For those of us who spend a majority of our time working and living indoors we may easily forget that we are in relationship with the natural world – but as the agrarian author and farmer Wendell Berry has written: ‘Eating is an agricultural act”. None of us escapes our interdependence with the creation – it is GOD’s design. If we are to attend to problems and issues of human flourishing – we must acknowledge that our flourishing is bound up in the flourishing of GOD’s creation.

We all know the story about GOD creating Adam (in hebrew ‘ada’m) from the clay of the earth (in Hebrew ‘adamah’). Forming the man from clay GOD breathes the breathe of life into him and he becomes a living being. As humans – and as Christians we must attend to both realms – of the spiritual and of the physical. Our life is both of clay and breathe of GOD. At no time do we have the option of saying our earthly life has no meaning or purpose for Eternity – we’re not sitting at a bus stop waiting for the bus to come. We’ve been given the gift of this earth and our own lives to align with GOD’s purposes – pursuing life and opposing the things that destroy life. Jesus made it clear that we will be called to account for the gifts we’ve been given. Will we squander or multiply those gifts?

We have always before us the choice between life and death. Everything we do has relevance to discipleship to Jesus and our faithfulness to GOD – including the way we eat and the kind of agriculture that we support. Are we cultivating life – a life that leads to flourishing for communities, local economies, our land and water, and our own bodies? If our Christian faith is to be authentic and maturing we must apply it to every aspect of our life.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist household. My father was a preacher. Eating together at church potlucks, taking communion, eating snacks in Sunday school class as a small child – food was always a part of my faith experience but it wasn’t until recently that I began to see the connection between food and agriculture -and now agriculture and caring for Creation –  the relevance of GOD’s Creation to my Christian faith. Several years back my wife and I left the hustle and bustle of the Washington D.C. suburbs in search of a more intentional and purposeful life. The LORD began to speak to us about living a more integrated life. Work, family and church seemed to be separate compartments of our life – GOD was bringing our search for meaning and purpose into a single pursuit of His will for our lives.

Fast forward to today and I have spent the past several years getting a crash course on applying my faith to my life. We have lived on a farm near the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia for over six years and have been grateful for key friendships with farmers who have taught us the importance of seeking out the wisdom of our Creator for how we farm and live. We are not experts – we have only just begun. Even though I milk a cow and eat eggs from the chickens we help raise I do not consider myself a farmer. But increasingly I am realizing that all of us – every one of us – has been given Eden’s mandate – the role and purpose given to Adam and Eve at the beginning of human history – to cultivate and protect the gift of GOD’s creation as something integral to our faithfulness before GOD who will ask us, like any loving father would: “what did you do with what I gave you?”

I have hope that more Christians will increasingly see the importance of caring for our bodies as GOD’s temples, and caring for the earth as GOD’s gift of creation that we have been given authority to govern. I have hope that a form of agriculture is emerging right now that is not just sustainable – but is something that bears witness to the life of GOD – something redemptive, regenerative, something that can meet our present needs but lead to increased flourishing. This is not an idealistic dream – Scripture tells us: “creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (Romans 8:19). For those of us who are willing – we have always before us the choice between life and death – let us be known as children of GOD – reflecting the love, wisdom, and abundant life of our Creator.

J. Fowler

J. Fowler is the website editor and co-founder, along with his wife Pamela, of the Sustainable Traditions project. The Fowlers live with their seven children on a farm near the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

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