Food and Faith is a blog of the Presbyterian Hunger Program.
When Adam is placed in the garden of Eden he is placed in relationship to the fertile soil for which he is named: he is to “till it and keep it,” if you read the NRSV, or to “work it and take care of it,” in the NIV, “work the ground and keep it in order” if you’re partial to Eugene Peterson’s Message, or “tend and watch over it” if you read the New Living Translation. What on earth is he doing? Two Hebrew verbs. One is abad, to “serve,” most literally, as a servant serves a master, or to “worship,” as a person does to God. It does have the rarer meaning of “to work” without an indication of for whom you work – but usually it indicates a service rendered by an inferior for a superior. My California soul is deeply delighted at the notion of our first ancestor “worshipping” the soil. And I’m also thrilled to see that there was a positive paradigm for a human’s labor rendered to the soil, before the fall and expulsion from Eden whereupon we are told “in toil you shall eat of [the fruit of the land] all the days of your life. Two is shamar, to “watch,” most literally, to observe with one’s eyes, OR as a watchman watches over a castle, to keep, protect, or preserve. I respect and appreciate the idea of protecting and preserving the land, but there’s also the aspect of watching it that takes a learner’s eye – to learn what the land can do, what it needs, how it will react to rain and sun and tilling and any other interaction it may have. Ellen Davis comes up with four words: when it comes to the land, Adam is to “work it and serve it, observe it and preserve it.” We must fall to our knees, learn from it, respect its limitations, appreciate its art, marvel at its wonders, protect them from harm. This is our call. (Scripture, Culture, Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible. p. 30)
Food Justice Fellows Do you get angry that we grow more than enough food for everyone but so many go to bed hungry? Does the thought of building bonds and direct links between farmers and eaters stir you up? Are you already a food justice-maker? Does the idea of building oases of fresh, healthy food in "food deserts" get you excited? Have you heard of food sovereignty? Is your longing for justice - for your neighbor and all people - rooted in your faith? Yes to one or more of these means you may have the agrarian and spiritual muscle and bones that Food Justice Fellows are made of! This is a new initiative of the Presbyterian Hunger Program to strengthen the work of Presbyterians and communities working to build just, equitable and sustainable local food economies in the U.S. and around the world. We have seen that by strengthening localized food systems, which are controlled by the producers and consumers themselves and based on Christian principles of justice and stewarship, communities are able to become more self-reliant and economically prosperous. Food Justice Fellows will work individually as organizers in their region, but be strengthened as a national communal body by exchanging their experiences of what is working and visions for how to move forward. By virtue of being a community of practice, Fellows and PHP staff will be able to update each other on the U.S. and global food sovereignty movement and stay connected with common ground initiatives inside and outside the church. Food Justice Fellows will provide each other with mutual support, accountability and camaraderie. Consider becoming a Food Justice Fellow and/or passing this information to a young (or young at heart) adult who would be great for this.
I commend to you a little reading in Leviticus. What? Nobody commends Leviticus. That’s the backwardest part of the Bible. When my youth group performed the “Bible in 15 minutes” we summarized Leviticus as: Don’t have sex with your daughter....
Many of us have heard too many times in the Adam & Eve story that “Adam means dirt.” Humans are made of humus, blah de blah. How cool and ancient and mythical and overimaginative of those ancient Hebrews – right? No, there’s a little more to it than that. First of all – “dirt.” Mistranslated “dust of the ground” by King James and the RSV family of Bibles, the word means “fertile soil.” Adamah in the Hebrew (you see how closely it’s related to Adam). This is a particular word, not just any old dirt. It is soil – arable land. Think not about the dust of a desert, but about potting soil… an obviously fertile soil, the stuff from which all land plants and animals ultimately take their nourishment. But our potting soil is usually pretty blackish brown, and this is not the adamah’s color. The words adam and adamah are not only related to one another, but are related to the word adom, “ruddy,” reddish. This is particular soil – for the Israelites this is the color of the hills of home. It tells them not only THAT God made them, but WHERE God made them. Egyptian soil and Babylonian soil have nothing on that particular soil from which a chosen group of people were made. We can all say that God made us here – on this earth. Some of us have (over the millennia) wandered to northern regions where our skin didn’t need the melanin so much, and so we got a little paler, and so it’s funny, nearly ridiculous, to say white people were made from soil. Contrary to the pictures in many a Children’s Bible, however, people in biblical times didn’t have that problem. They understood that they belonged to that land, as surely as their skintone matched the fertile soil. In a world of cheap travel, adventure, frequent voluntary relocation, and of the nonvoluntary diaspora and exile of many people-groups… we lose our sense of belonging to a land. Where do you belong? Where were you made? What color is your dirt? What is the land you cannot abandon?
Over the New Year's holiday, I looked at some old family pictures. One set shows my grandfather driving a Model T Ford along the rutted, unpaved tracks of what then qualified as a major highway in central Nebraska. My wife's grandmother reflected to Allyson about the changes she had seen in her lifetime -- from hearing the astonishing news of the Wright Brother's first flight (December, 1903) to seeing live TV images of people walking on the surface of the moon (July, 1969). When we lived in Iowa farm country, Allyson and I saw home movies where our parishoners were plowing fields with teams of horses, and raising sheep, goats, cattle, pigs and chickens in the diverse ecology of a family farm. I've had a couple of conversations in the last month with folk describing their experiences growing up with party line telephones, and having eight families able to listen in on each other's conversations. My, how times change! Today's farm fields -- frequently owned by corporations instead of families -- are plowed by enormous tractors, and livestock are raised in the confined settings of industrial agriculture. Increasing numbers of households are giving up their wired telephones, and exclusively using mobile "phones" that are far, far more powerful than the computers that took Apollo 11 astronauts to the moon. Where my adventurous grandfather spent days fighting across muddy Midwestern roads to get from Omaha to Denver, 50 million people now fly through the Denver airport every year, expecting quick and reliable travel to destinations around the world. Generally speaking, all of these changes are matters of great pride to our culture. The rapid transformation of technology, society and economy are named as accomplishments on the accelerating flow of progress. We've come to expect, and depend on, things that were unthinkable just a few generations ago. We celebrate each new innovation. Today, I offer a contrasting reminder. It is quite possible to live a rich and fulfilling life without all of the technology that surrounds us. Being fully human does not require internet access. Facebook is just one expression of friendship and community. A large, high-definition flat-screen TV with hundreds of cable channels and on-demand movies is not the only (or even the best) way to experience culture and get information. Travel to a far-away tourist destination does not guarantee either enlightenment or enjoyment. The profound musings of Socrates, Confucius and the Buddha -- all from about 2,500 years ago -- deal with questions that are pertinent and challenging today. The poetry and prophecy of the Bible provide clear guidance about the meaning of life and ethical relationships, even though the people of ancient Israel didn't have electric lights, automobiles or MP3 players. The plays of Shakespeare speak compellingly across the centuries, and to cultures far removed from Elizabethan England, with stories that tap into deep and universal themes. The members of countless indigenous cultures -- the Pueblo people of the Southwest, the Inuit of the Arctic, the Aborigines of Australia, or the Bushmen of southern Africa, to name just a few -- have social structures and sophisticated worldviews that provide religious meaning and ethical guidance finely-tuned to their setting. Art, music, stories and ritual have flourished in every human community at every level of technology. For many thousands of years, people have found joy and meaning in life. Our forebears were not intellectually, spiritually or socially deprived. The gadgets, technology and opportunities of our modern world do not make us more human or more insightful than those who lived before us, or those who now live in a less industrial world.