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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

postheadericon Good statement from National Catholic Rural Life Conference

The National Catholic Rural Life Conference provides many important resources for reflection upon rural life and agriculture.  Their statement on stewardship is a helpful summary:  "All of Creation is sacred and we are called to serve as faithful stewards. Creation has an integrity and inherent value beyond its usefulness to human beings. Human beings are to be responsible stewards of creation: In this activity we work in harmony with God as co-creators. The web of life is one. The way we treat animals carries moral significance. We cannot casually inflict pain on them; their modes of living deserve study and appreciation. Animal welfare should be a moral concern."

Monday, November 14, 2011

postheadericon Harvest Song

We sang this song in church this past Sunday.  I loved the words that bring together this time of harvest with the larger vision of God as Farmer who brings in the harvest, and we as those planted by God, cared for by God, and graciously brought by God into God's "garner."  This is certainly a season of Thanksgiving for the harvest and for all of the gifts which God has given to us.  In such a season we also remember the purpose of God's gifts:  to bring us to fullness of life as we share those gifts with each other.

Come, Ye Thankful People, Come,
Words: Henry Alford, Psalms and Hymns, 1844.

Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.

All the world is God’s own field, fruit unto God’s praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown.
First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take God’s harvest home;
From God’s field shall in that day all offenses purge away,
Giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store in God’s garner evermore.

Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring Thy final harvest home;
Gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified, in Thy garner to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels come, raise the glorious harvest home.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

postheadericon Tubby Creek Farm: a visit and a reflection

Traveled down to Ashland, MS this past Saturday (November 5) for an afternoon at the Tubby Creek Farm run by Josephine and Randy Alexander ( They are slowly transforming overgrown and eroded land into productive farmland. They are committed to organic small scale farming. After a tour of the farmland, traveling companion Kathleen Kruczek and I were put to work planting leeks. We worked together to plant a row, using tiny leek plants raised from seed that were now ready for transplant. In the same row a bit further down, garlic had already been planted and covered with straw. I could almost smell the good soups and other dishes that will emerge after these plants grow and are harvested. It was a beautiful fall day, with a hint of coolness in the air from time to time, but generally warm while working under the afternoon sun. We had plenty of time to talk and learn more about the farm as we worked under Josephine's direction. A few feet away Randy diligently worked howing the carrot field. Rookie the dog scampered about, including along the freshly planted leeks, which earned him a scolding. I was struck by the patience and persistence that is needed for this farm work. And there is a great deal of trust and hope bound up in the plants being rooted in the earth. I'm thankful that this type of farming is being initiated by more and more people. Randy and Josephine will be doing Community Supported Agriculture as the year progresses. They are also actively preparing ways to renew the earth on this farmland that was harmed by years and years of "industrial farming" that uses heavy doses of chemical fertilizers. An afternoon on this farm gives hope of a renewal of Southern agriculture that is respectful of the land and practices good stewardship of the Creation. On this blog there are resources from the internet and other sources that support this kind of farming. A movement continues to grow!
Wednesday, November 2, 2011

postheadericon From Jamie Lee, From Scarcity to Abudance

Jamie Lee
‎"I'm struggling with a theology of scarcity. A professor of mine told me once, "There is no such thing as 'not enough' in God's kingdom." For the last few months, I have found myself driving along the roads in rural Western KY, looking at perfectly manicured lawns that sprawl over an acre or more, wonderingt how God would smile if those sunlit spaces were put to use providing food for the hungry in our community. The church I'm serving now has been blessed to be able to purchase over 24 acres and I am feeling called to lead this church to begin a community garden where we not only provide space for the families in our community to produce their own food, but partner them with members of our older generations who have the knowledge and skill sets that many folks in my generation and younger are missing, thereby enabling them to produce and store their own food. There is no reason for folks to be hungry in this country, especially in the rural South."

postheadericon Southern Rural Theology: An Initial Inquiry

I'm finding it interesting and a bit perplexing that there seems to be a dearth of publications on Southern rural theology. In developing a course on "Farming, Food, and Faith," I found a number of books that sought to develop a rural theology, but each of those reflected a Midwestern context. I have yet to come across a book that is the Southern equivalent to texts such as Rural Ministry: the Shape of the Renewal to Come, or Sustaining Heart in the Hearland: Exploring Rural Spirituality. I'm wondering what a rural spirituality grounded in the Southern rural context might have as major themes. I'm wondering, too, how these may or may not differ depending upon different Southern contexts, including different races, different types of farming, different types of rural communities.
I know there are plenty of Southern rural pastors and other rural folks who are deeply formed by their faith. Pastors, in particular, are writing and delivering sermons each week. What kind of theology are they sharing and how is that theology grounded in their rural Southern context? I'd like this blog to become one place where some of that "theology on the ground" could be shared. So, here is an open invitation to begin sharing.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011

postheadericon A Theology of Active Presence

In the book, Rural Ministry: The Shape of the Renewal to Come, the authors seek to develop a theology of rural life. Part of their theology focuses on God as actively present in rural life. They write, "At their best, rural Christians have had a deep certainty that God is present and active in the world" (133).
This, of course, leads to the question of how do rural Christians see God as present and active in their lives? Perhaps it is easiest to reflect here on God as Creator, as the One who creates and sustains life through the creation. God is present and active in the land, the sky, the clouds, the sun, the wind, the warmth, and the cold. God is present in the growing crops and the livestock. God is present in the harvest as we celebrate the gifts that come from the land. The praise psalms such as Psalm 147 and 148 give voice to praise of God in God's creation.
Additionally, God as Redeemer can be seen as the restorer of relationships, restorer of what has been broken; the One who brings beauty again out of what has been made ugly, and the One who brings fullness out of what had been barren. We may think here of God at work in the patient attending to the well being of the land through planting of crops not for production but for the healing of the land. We may think here of the important work of crop rotation and of farming in ways that resist erosion and the depletion of the soil.
Finally, God as Sanctifier may be seen in the enlivening power that sustains us through the hardships and toil of life. God here is the quiet strength of love over fear and hatred, the ongoing mystery of the victory of life over death. We are empowered to live faithfully to God's call in all areas of our lives through the power of God's Spirit in our lives.
In all of these ways, and more, God is present and active in our lives. Perhaps a daily practice for each of us is to seek to be open to this active presence of God in our lives.
Thursday, October 13, 2011

postheadericon What is "rural"?

Ever wonder what makes a church a "rural" church? Is there something that "rural churches" have in common? Kent R. Hunter in The Lord's Harvest and The Rural Church offers this definition, "A rural church is a congregation of Christian people who live an agriculturally oriented life-style." A more complex analysis developed by R. Alex Sim and discussed in Rural Ministry: The Shape of the Renewal to Come (Shannon Jung et. al.) identifies four contexts of "rural ministry":

1. Ribbonvilles: small towns in the country that are changing from a free-standing town to part of city that has gobbled them up. Farmers are selling and moving. Sometimes there is a relocation of older urban churches to new suburban territory. There can be a challenge to old denominational identities and dominance. And a major concern is how to respond to increasing diversity as the transition from rural to urban takes place.

2. Agravilles: here the economic base is primarily agriculture but may also include mining, forestry, and related industries or small industries. These are often farm service towns where Wal-Mart has arrived. They are often further out on highway corridor from cities, beyond Ribbonvilles. Educational, health, government services have tended to consolidate into these towns. Still likely to have a dominant denomination, a church that is the largest and most influential.

3. Mighthavebeenvilles: these encompass the many thousands of six-mile hamlets, villages, and small towns that have fallen under the domination of an Agraville. Once thriving towns these are shrunken versions of their former selves as resources migrated to Agraville. Their former down towns are mostly abandoned, board up. Mighthavebeenville churches are often first pastorates for person out of seminary and the members often older and discouraged. They face a primary problem of how to pay the pastor and how to keep the church going given the cost of doing so.

4. Fairviews: Rural communities whose economic base is grounded in recreational activities and/or institutional towns serving a college, prison, military base. Here there are more city refugees, or urban folks who came here to work. Some Fairviews are reborn Mighthavebeenvilles or Agravilles. The churches need to address long time residents and newcomers, visitors. New congregations may be forming meeting a “niche” need such as retirement community that is growing. Such areas also attract people to low-paying service industry jobs and these jobs may interfere with regular church services scheduling. There may also be issues of economic justice for these workers.

postheadericon There's an 'App' for That

Good resource for rural news, The Daily Yonder,
Friday, October 7, 2011

postheadericon Mental Health in Rural Areas

I'm often struck by the connections between rural and urban life. I think it is safe to say that there is a close relationship between the two, with rural folks probably more aware of the relationship than urban folks. The obvious connection from an urban perspective is that those of us who live in urban areas mostly rely upon food production done in rural areas. But today I want to point to one area of shared concern: mental health. Below is a resource discussing mental health in rural areas. I'm aware from working with homeless persons in Memphis that mental illness plagues many of the homeless. And, a number of these folks come from rural areas.
I'm hoping churches might play a role in urging mental health resources in rural areas.

postheadericon Harvest Celebrations

I'm wondering what folks are doing to celebrate the harvest. I went around searching various websites and a few of the resources I found are below. But what I'd really like is to hear from pastors and people about harvest celebrations in their local congregations. What are you doing? Why? Do you have any long-standing traditions as part of your harvest celebration?
Friday, September 30, 2011

postheadericon What is farming from Alice Waters

Farming is not manufacturing: It is a continuing relationship with nature that has to be complete on both sides to work. People claim to know that plants are living things, but the system of food production, distribution, and consumption we have known in this country for the last sixty years has attempted to deny they are. If our food has lacked flavor--if, in aesthetic terms, it has been dead--that may be because it was treated as dead even while it was being grown. And perhaps we have tolerated such food--and the way its production has affected our society and environment--because our senses, our hearts, and our minds have been in some sense deadened, too. ~ Alice Waters

postheadericon Farming, Food, and Faith Bibliography

Farming, Food, and Faith Bibliography

Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, Sierra Club Books; 3rd edition, 1996, ISBN: 0871568772

Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry,

Shoemaker & Hoard; First Shoe edition, 2003, ISBN: 1593760078

Douglas H. Boucher (ed.), The Paradox of Plenty: Hunger in a Bountiful World,
Food First, 1999, ISBN: 0935028714

Kennon L. Callahan, Small, Strong Congregations: Creating Strengths and Health for Your Congregation, Jossey-Bass, 2000, ISBN: 0787949809

Cathy C. Campbell, Stations of the Banquet: Faith Foundations for Food Justice, Liturgical Press, 2003, ISBN:0-8146-2938-5

Sara Covin Juengst, Breaking Bread: The Spiritual Significance of Food,

Westminster John Knox Press, 1992, ISBN: 0664253830

Kathleen Ray Darby, Theology That Matters: Ecology, Economy And God, Fortress Press, 2006, ISBN: 0800637941

Michael Eldridge, Theology and agricultural ethics in the state university: A reply to Richard Baer, (Unknown Binding)

Lawrence W. Farris, Dynamics of Small Town Ministry, Alban Institute, 2000, ISBN: 1566992281

Gary Fick, Food, Farming, and Faith (S U N Y Series on Religion and the Environment)

(State University of New York Press, 2008), ISBN-10: 0791473848, ISBN-13: 978-0791473849

*Mark E. Graham, Sustainable Agriculture: A Christian Ethic of Gratitude, Pilgrim Press, 2005, ISBN: 0829816062

William H. Jones, Looking for God's People in Rural Places, Brunswick Publishing Corporation, 2005, ISBN: 1556182066

*L. Shannon Jung (ed.), Rural Ministry: The Shape of the Renewal to Come, Abingdon Press, 1998, ISBN: 0687016061

L. Shannon Jung, Rural Congregational Studies: A Guide for Good Shepherds,
Abingdon Press, 1997, ISBN: 0687031397

L. Shannon Jung, Food for Life: The Spirituality and Ethics of Eating, Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2004, ISBN: 0800636422

L. Shannon Jung, Sharing Food: Christian Practices for Enjoyment, Fortress Press, 2006, ISBN: 0800637925

Andrew Kimbrell, ed., The Fatal Harvest Reader, Foundations for Deep Ecology, 2002, ISBN: 155963944X

Andrew Kimbrell, Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture, Foundation for Deep Ecology, 2002, ISBN: 1559639407

Ben Mepham, Food Ethics (Professional Ethics), Routledge, 1996, ISBN: 0415124522

Marion Nestle, Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health,

University of California Press, 2003, ISBN: 0520240677

Anthony G. Pappas, Inside the Small Church, Alban Institute, 2001, ISBN: 1566992516

Anthony G. Pappas, Entering the World of the Small Church, Alban Institute, 2000, ISBN: 1566992362

Daniel Sack, Whitebread Protestants: Food and Religion in American Culture, Palgrave Macmillan, 2001, ISBN: 0312294425

Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, Harper Perennial, 2002, ISBN: 0060938455

Michael Schut, Food & Faith: Justice, Joy, and Daily Bread, Living the Good News, 2002, ISBN: 1889108901

Paul Thompson, The Spirit of the Soil: Agriculture and Environmental Ethics, (Environmental Philosophies), Routledge, 1994, ISBN: 0415086221

Holly Whitcomb, Feasting with God: Adventures in Table Spirituality, Pilgrim Press, 1996, ISBN: 0829811532

Norman, Wirzba, ed., The Essential Agrarian Reader: The Future of Culture, Community, and the Land, Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004, ISBN: 1593760434

Norman Wirzba, The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age. Oxford University Press, 240 pp.


Christian Coff, Consumers Food Ethics: Tracing the Production Story,”

Jualynne E. Dodson and Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, “There’s Nothing Like Church Food”: Food and the U.S. Afro-Christian Tradition,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 1995; LXIII: 519-538

Food and Hunger Library,

Food and Hunger issue and the set of six Study Guides

Todd D. Still, “Table Fellowship for God’s People,” 11-17

Jack Marcum, “Who’s Hungry, Who Cares?”, 26-32

Lori Brand Bateman, “We are How We Eat,” 89-93

Steven Hall, “Toward a Theology of Sustainable Agriculture,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, June 2002, Vol 54:2, 1-5

Wade Clark Roof, “Blood in the Barbecue? Food and Faith in the American South,” in God in the Details: American Religion in Popular Culture, Eric Michael Mazur and Kate McCarthy, eds., Routledge, 2000, ISBN: 0415925649

Paul B. Thompson, “A Revitalized Production Ethic for Agriculture,” Center for Respect of Life and Environment, Earth Ethics Fall 1999, at website

Zwart, H., “A Short History of Food Ethics,” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, Volume 12, Number 2, 2000, pp. 113-126, at web address:

The Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network (ASAN),

Thursday, September 29, 2011

postheadericon Welcome to Preachin and Plowin

Welcome to Preachin' and Plowin'. This blog emerges from a class at Memphis Theological Seminary called, "Farming, Food, and Faith." I hope this will become a place for the exchange of visions of rural life in relation to food and faith, of practices of farming, eating, and living well in relation to such visions, and for sharing stories and questions about rural life and rural ministry. We can also explore together how Christian faith relates to the land, to living on the land, to farming, to producing and sharing good food, and the care of God's creation. I'm hopeful that together we can create a space where we share lives of faith in relation to rural life. City folks (like myself) will also, I hope, find a place of connection with people and churches and other organizations in rural areas.