Thursday, 6 August 2015

My first cherry tomato.

Last summer I tasted a cherry tomato for the very first time. I had eaten many, in fact I used to claim they were a favourite snack – but I had no idea I had never actually eaten them the way they were. The first time I really ate cherry tomatoes was in an urban garden, next to some train tracks and ironically, behind a grocery store. They were straight off the plants we had been forming all season – and they cast a long shadow over every other cherry tomato I had ever eaten. We hadn’t done anything special to them, or used a particular kind, or tried to grow an exceptional cherry tomato. We had just tied them and suckered them as they grew. In a burst of flavour and juiciness, it was all immediately clear how grievously disconnected we are from what we eat.

We all know this, of course. But it would be impossible to walk through a supermarket with the fullness of this knowledge. I myself often do not care what a meal tastes like as long as I am full at the end, and the cleanup is quick. Gardening goes against almost all of my sensibilities – patience, intentionality, planning ahead while also being flexible with what the soil yields. This is in part why it is so refreshing to me, as I am continually humbled, continually giving up control to the soil.

Spending time in this particular garden, one of the most consistent things that people are amazed by is what broccoli looks like prior to harvest: a large leafy plant that seems far too big to be practical for what it yields – there was so much untouched room that I often found intact spider webs among the deep green leaves. I have led such a life that I have never needed to know how to grow broccoli, or tomatoes, or anything else. A food I eat regularly, only seen for the first time as an adult before it is packaged up for my quick consumption. Of course this is not a privilege, but rather a huge disconnect from what people have being practicing for… most of human history and around the world. I’m in the minority, and I’ve been missing out.

We all eat though, one way or another, and are involved in this process, however disconnected we might be. Wendell Berry calls it “farming by proxy.” So we just have to decide what type of farming we engage in.

A spider's home in the broccoli.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Slow Death of Hope for Creation

My husband works at a homeless shelter in downtown Toronto. He says that one of the hardest things that the staff struggle with, and often burn out from, is the slow death of hope for the people they work with. It’s easier to be cynical than to keep hoping, to celebrate a step forward when you know that more than likely the person will step back, or fall down again. Sometimes there are beautiful ‘success’ stories, as indeed the organization provides resources to help people in the face of material poverty. But it’s also a success story to simply sit with someone, every day, for years, through their struggles, through their failings. We’re not called to love people into being better – we are just called to love them, as Christ loves us, despite our constant failings, thorough brokenness, and inability to save ourselves.

I have been experiencing the slow death of hope for the beauty of creation. More specifically, about people’s apparent lack of interest in the state of creation, and even more, my own inability to do anything. I’m not a fan of fear statistics about rising sea levels, extinction rates, or other doomsday predictions. These inspire guilt, and often despair, as it seems things are too far out of control. A much better motivator that is more rooted in scripture is that we are called to care for creation because we love it. As we love others despite their, and our own, perpetual brokenness so we must look at our broken earth. It is broken at our own hands, and we are to continue loving it, and those that perpetuate its brokenness.

As much as a natural scene (I am a fan of rivers and lakes, personally) inspires awe and wonder they are now often accompanied with the lamenting thought, “what have we done?” This is how God made the world, and look at what we have done to it. Even more, we hardly care. This is by no means intended to inspire guilt, as I am in that place too often. Another large part of my loss of hope is the fact that I can hardly do anything, even if I knew what to do.

Reducing my meat consumption in response to the immense toll that the meat industry takes on the environment means I would have to find protein some other way. One of the best (?) ways to do this is through soybean products, which as a crop are responsible for a significant deforestation and farmer displacement.

As much as I might ride my bicycle instead of driving a car, there are industries and systems in place that pour out pollutants that operate on a scale that hardly seems accessible to me.

I have bought used jewelry to avoid mining and labour issues, but have bought far more electronics that have microchips and materials that play into these same problems – blood  diamonds are trendy, used laptops are not.

Even more, many of these alternative options are only available to me by being middle class, having the time and resources to research and afford these options. Buying locally and ethically, taking the time to compost, recycle, garden, bike, researching what you buy from where, are acts of a certain privilege. Even though environmental concerns disproportionately impact those in poverty, often those who are bound by poverty have more immediate concerns about their health and family, than where their waste might go.
One of the hardest parts about caring for creation is to continue to love the broken church that has largely failed to respond to the groaning of the earth, and to accept grace for myself in this failure as well. We can lament this, but we don’t have to stay there. The type of hope we have is not in our power to reduce carbon emissions. 

We are called to love and care for the earth – but how? We are called to love others – but they fail, they let us down, they relapse, as do we in response to others’ (and God’s) love for us. The love that Christ demonstrates is a suffering love.[1]

In the face of melting ice caps, of knowing your reusable coffee mugs will also sit in a landfill, of the immense consumption and waste of North American culture, we are called to love the earth. Redemption and hope in our own life is not out of the question, as much has been and will continue to be done to foster stewardship of the earth.  But we don’t love creation in order to fix it.

[1] More on this idea:

Saturday, 25 April 2015

For a class in Eastern Orthodox interpretations of scripture, I wrote some poems for contemplation each week of Lent, attempting an Eastern lens. They are also written in a syllabic pattern used by St. Ephrem the Syrian. 
1st Sunday in Lent

You called us while we

       stood under the tree
reaching for the fruit
       under the fig’s shade
You say come and see -
       the prophets spoke true.

You are the one true vine!

Graft us to the branch
       let us bear good fruit
Give us eyes to see,
       You, the gardener.

2nd Sunday in lent

Healer, Redeemer,
       you heal all who come
We are lifted up
       through your forgiveness
Moses raised the bronze
       serpent to Israel

To you, all creation looks.

You stretch out your hands
       in your compassion
As you are raised up
       creation bows down

3rd Sunday in Lent

One from Jesse’s line,
       You have submitted
to be High Priest;
       brought low to raise up;
Your promise, a bow

       over creation.

Your mercy makes your cross light.

The shoot of Jesse
       takes root and redeems.
You have cleansed the earth,
       making fertile ground.

4th Sunday in Lent

The Lord’s healing hand

       is above all others
Through Him, creation
       hears and speaks His name
Chosen by the Lord,
       Abraham went out.

The Lord calls out and draws in.

We praise the Lord for
      His deliverance!
The land has borne fruit;
       Your promise fulfilled.

5th Sunday in Lent

The way has been made,
       the ram was given;
You hung on the tree 
       in your compassion.
The curtain pulled back,
       to heaven itself.

Your grace reaches to the depths.

Your deliverance
       is our assurance.
Ransom for many,
       you clothe us in light.