Category Archives: Ministry

Run the Race in Such A Way…

identity-640x480A friend from seminary recently asked for some help with theme of creation care for a sermon and the coming church year. She even said, “I don’t know why I didn’t think of you sooner.” I have spent enough time and energy in this area to develop a reputation as someone she “should have thought of sooner.”

I scoured the archives for some relevant writings to share. I was thankful to have some of my past work on this blog to point her to. Hopefully it was helpful. I realized that everything I shared with her is several years old or more. There’s nothing wrong with that. One of my good friends only reads books that are over 20 years old, because often time sifts out the junk and leaves us with those things that are worthwhile and timeless.

But it leaves me wondering what I have to say today. What is it that I want or need to write today?

The answer is that I don’t know. Continue reading

Cultivating Economic Peace in an Age of Instability

This story is similar to my own journey in understand the relationship of economics to the purpose and mission of the church.

CommonWealthWe tried to imagine an economy informed by the narratives of scripture, one bearing witness to the reign of God. It would be made of the same ingredients as the dominant economy: the same money, jobs, buying and selling goods and services. We weren’t going to try to roll back to a subsistence economy, or a household economy, or barter, or self-reliance. What was needed, we thought, was an economy not based on the goals, values and practices of this age, but one based in the life and teachings of Jesus, as revealed through scripture and the life of Christian communities through the ages.

An economy driven by such a direction seemed to be one in which all are taken care of; none acquire wealth at the expense of the others; all have what they need to live on; excessive consumption is not valued but a shared communal life is; mutual dependence is pursued; true costs are measured; all are called on to participate; we avoid categories that place some in the role of service provider and others in the role of service recipient (volunteer, minister/ministry, needy…). We assume we have all we need to take care of each other as brothers and sisters, fellow members of Christ, the living expression of the grace and provision of God.

via Cultivating Economic Peace in an Age of Instability.

Begging the Question

So, the idea for this blog came out of my quest for what to do with my life after seminary. The title is just a clever and catchy way to get at the main theme of this blog, food and theology. As I have unpacked this silly little question it seems to have sometimes taken me far afield. Lately I write a lot about economics, anti-civilization, collapse and consumerism. In my mind, of course, they are all interrelated and connected, but maybe these connections are not always obvious. I try to tie it back in to this question “What Would Jesus Eat?” that’s really about making ethical choices in a very complicated world and helping us navigate these murky waters.

Well, my primary purpose for this blog is to be a place where I can process out loud my own thoughts about these issues from my own reading, experience and thinking and hopefully get some feedback from the few friends and readers that occasionally read and comment. The secondary hope is that some of this will be helpful to other people. Sometimes I think that this secondary purpose would help give more clarity to my thoughts and writing. If I delve into ideas about civilization collapsing, how does that help you understand and live in the world more faithfully? If I go on about economic theories or obscure aspects of finance that I don’t even understand, how does that answer the ethical questions we face about what to eat and what to buy?

In some ways my recent excursions have subverted (or at least criticized) the big question always on the top of this website. The question assumes a certain stance towards the world concerning what we eat and buy. It presupposes that we are consumers and the question of utmost importance is how to choose the ethically correct (or least ambiguous) products on the shelves of our local big box store. I use to have a relatively simple formula for answering this question.

  1. Buy local.
  2. Buy sustainable/organic.
  3. What you can’t buy local try to get fair trade.

It is perhaps still a helpful start in some ways, but it misses the deeper issues that we face. It does not question the assumption that consumption is the answer to the question of making ethical decisions about how we participate in the world through economics and in particular through what we eat. Nevertheless the goofy question that started this ball rolling still haunts me. What do average people living in the world today do to make the most ethical decisions given the world as it is? How does faith, Jesus and the Bible speak to the kinds of ethical dilemmas that plague us? What are practical things that people can do?

I don’t expect everyone to become some kind of radical anarchist, join an intentional community, protest, grow all their own food, forage, dumpster dive, make everything they need, somehow drop out of the economic system and in the end move to a developing country just like me. I’m certainly not as radical as I like to think I am. I depend on the food system and other conveniences of civilization that all of us do. So, in some ways the questions for me are not that different than the questions for the guy working in a cubicle.

So, as I’m coming down off of a reading, writing and thinking binge, I would like to return to this basic question about Jesus and what he might have to say about food and our choices, including issues around consumerism, agriculture, environment, economics. However, I would like to keep in front of us where some of these things really hit the ground, like building and maintaining a composting toilet system which is something I experience every day. I’ve often said I want to get back to the Food in the Bible series for numerous reasons, but I think it fits in with returning to some of the reasons why I write and what I hope for. I’m not making any promises, commitments, resolutions or covenants. As usual, I’m just thinking out loud.

If anyone is out there, I would love to hear some ideas, thoughts or suggestions about what would be helpful to you for me to explore. Here are some questions I’d love to hear answers:

  • What are your questions when walking down the aisles of your supermarket?
  • Where do you face ethical dilemmas or questions about food or consumption that don’t have easy answers?
  • Where do you find your economic life in conflict with your life of faith?
  • What practical skills or knowledge would help with growing your own food, living more simply or living off the grid?

I really look forward to hearing your responses and hope they can spark some new conversations.

Caipepe Beekeeping Workshop

June 25 MCC held a workshop on beekeeping in the Guarani village Caipepe near Charagua Estación. The main focus was preparing the community to care for their bees through the winter. I knew very little about beekeeping before this having helped harvest honey at WHRI as an intern. The workshop was led by Patrocinio G. who has had a lot of experience working with beekeeping near Vallegrande and Moro Moro with an MCC project that helped organize an association of apiarists that is now self-sufficient and thriving. The workshop was entirely in Spanish and we drank a lot of maté to keep warm because it was outside, cold and windy. We will follow up this workshop with another one it warms up at the end of August about how to grow the hives during the warm season and another in January about harvesting the honey.

I couldn’t possibly sum up everything I learned in 4-6 hours, but I am definitely interested in learning more and maybe having a hive or two when we get back to Texas. The main thing I learned is that beekeeping is more work than people think. I assumed it was a great way for people to grow food and earn money, because it required very little labor. I was wrong. In order to maintain your hives and have a good harvest of honey you have to be much more hands-on. It may be less work than some other agricultural enterprises, but it still requires attention and maintenance to be successful.

The other thing I’m learning is the roles of different organisms in the ecosystem that can help us plant better gardens and farm better. Pollinators are crucial for producing food and we have to cultivate them and think about what plants most benefit and help them thrive. Other organisms like fungi are not so obvious but play an extremely important role in the ecosystem that sustains us.

Here are some pictures from the workshop.

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Patro listens to one of the participants asking questions about beekeeping.

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Our host Doña Yema cooking lunch over the fire in her kitchen.

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Patro explaining how to use the smoker properly, what kind of wood to use and how to know if the smoke is the right temperature.

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The smoker in action.

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We went to do some hands-on work with Don Rafael’s hives at his house.

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A group picture of all the participants. The village has four groups and these people will go back to their groups and help them with all the knowledge and skills they gained.

Is This Missions?

“What exactly will you be doing in Bolivia?” We’ve gotten that question often in the last couple months and still get it here in Bolivia. First, I’ll explain then wrestle with whether or not this is missions.

0.gifThe Job
We will be working with Low German Mennonites (LGM) in Bolivia on development issues and improving their agriculture. Low German is the language they speak and it actually predates German. It sounds nothing like German. They are Mennonites similar to the Amish, what we call Old Order Mennonites. They live in colonies throughout Bolivia, but mostly around the city of Santa Cruz. There are somewhere around 60 colonies and 45-50,000 LGM people.

I’m not an expert in their history and each colony has its own story. Generally though, they migrated from Europe, many from Russia during the Bolshevik uprising. Some migrated to Canada first and then made their way to Mexico, Belize, Paraguay and Bolivia. Others migrated directly to South America. So, they’ve been around a while.

When they first came to Bolivia, many of them were on the cutting edge of agriculture and were able to make land productive that Bolivians were not farming. Because they are very closed communities, over time they became stuck and now face many problems and are generally very poor. Their children are educated through 6th grade for girls and 7-8th grade for boys. Literacy is taught entirely in High German (what they speak in Germany) which they do not use except in worship using Luther’s translation of the Bible and their hymnbook. This means practically speaking they have a major literacy problem.

They have not kept up with soil conservation and erosion practices and often practice slash and burn agriculture. Because of droughts and some reluctance to use technologies like irrigation, they need alternatives that are not water intensive crops. There are theological reasons for why they shun technologies and do many of the things they do. The Amish Way is an excellent introduction to some of the Old Order practices and doctrines. I still have not met any of these people so much of my knowledge comes from others who know more than me or books.

So, my job will be something like getting to know these communities and helping them with their problems, improving agriculture, literacy, better marketing of their products, better relationships with Bolivians and the government. The question still lingers though, “Is this missions?” As always, I guess, it depends on your definition.

The Mission
For me, the mission of God, missio Dei, revealed in Scripture is a broad and inclusive thing that includes all nations, foreigners, eunuchs, marginalized and outsiders. It also includes more than just people (Ro 8:19-22; 2 Cor 5:19). God’s work in Christ was to redeem the whole world, including all of creation. Our job as Christians is to participate in the mission of God in the world. We have reduced that beautiful mission to winning converts to our team. The work of the Spirit transforming lives as they encounter the Risen Christ is part of this mission, but it is not the whole.

As Darell Guder has pointed out part of our mission is The Continuing Conversion of the Church. Let’s call this discipleship. Many of our problems (and the problems faced by the colonies) is a problem of discipleship. When we learn what it means to be followers of Jesus together in the Body and practice that in our lives, many of these other problems will go away.

I also believe that part of our participation in the mission of God is to practice the incarnational life that Jesus modeled for us. This means we should find ourselves crossing over to the Other, the one we don’t understand and don’t know, and try to understand them the way Jesus did by becoming human. This may be one of the most crucial elements lacking in our theology of mission. Once you acknowledge that we are called to be incarnational many of our clear cut doctrinal issues quickly become muddy. Incarnational living is a messy process.

So, to answer my question… YES, this is missions. Not because we traveled to another country. Not because we’re working with pagans and heathens. Not because we’re racking up converts for our team. This is missions, because we are helping our brothers and sisters care for the earth, learn to follow Jesus better and practice incarnational living with our Bolivian and LGM brothers and sisters. It is also missions because through the process of cross cultural living and communication we ourselves will be transformed by the Spirit more and more into the likeness of Christ.

Photo: Kennert Giesbrecht/Die Mennonitische Post via www.Mennoweekly.org (found at Continental News)