Posted by: DCox | April 8, 2009

Agriculture as Theology

This conversation about agriculture is at its core a conversation about spirituality, culture, and ecology. These “realms” aren’t fragmented, even though we attempt to make them so. By creating a disconnect between the body and soul (spirit), we can ignore our responsibilities because they no longer exist as responsibilities. Instead, as Berry points out, we become users with rights to use creation as we desire.

tornadoThe Psalms describe Creation with vivid words attributed to its majesty, scope, beauty, and power. Man is a part of Creation, but only a part. The earth is mysterious in its behavior and powerful. We’re all aware of hurricanes, cyclones, tidal waves, drought and flooding. However, it’s not until we’re in the center of one of these storms, or lost in the wilderness that we begin to understand the enormity of the earth’s wildness. Humankind has gained some ability to control our lives (e.g., homes that both protect and create an artificial environment) and we don’t want to be reminded of our frailty and smallness. [Although, people living in poverty are often reminded of this reality.]

This is a reference point for us. We attempt to control agriculture by divorcing it from ecology. And we try to control God by divorcing ourselves from being his creatures. We produce ever increasing amounts of grain in a monoculture environment and then we’re surprised when the “soil runs out” or pesticides end up in drinking water. We cut trees from hills and plant crops and then watch the topsoil wash away. We ship foodstuffs long distances and then have to legislate sanitation standards to control food contamination.

organic-matterHowever, there are aspects of biological systems that reflect God’s character and relationships with us. In agriculture we talk of fertility and husbandry. Fertility is the ability to bear, to reproduce. Soils are fertile when they possess high organic matter content and nutrients for crop growth. Livestock are fertile when they bear young. There’s some association between fertility and well-being, wholeness, and abundance. Just as the soil receives the seed, so female livestock receive seed. Receiving in biological terms results in life and abundance. Receiving from God likewise puts us in a disposition of being recipients of life and wholeness.

We associate receiving with femaleness and giving with maleness. Maleness has become correlated with sperm/seed, strength and control. Modern industrialized agriculture has taken on this mantle of maleness. It often is described in terms of husbandry – a husbandry that is associated with managing land, crops, and livestock. Our ideas of gender have conspired with our need to be in control so that agriculture is seen as little more than food production and management. Yet for family farmers practicing sustainable farming methods, they know they have multiple roles – they are caretakers, participants, and recipients. There is a complexity to healthy agroecosystems that ultimately is beyond our ability to fully understand and requires that we become recipients of God’s design in creation.

Continued in the next blog…


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