Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cardboard Wafers or Real Food?

A short piece for the Broadcast, a newsletter publication for Episcopal young adult ministers...

As a teenager, I was part of a church that celebrated the Lord's Supper by passing around a plate of translucent communion wafers. These flimsy wafers bore a strange resemblance in size and shape to Pogs, small cardboard discs that young adults who were kids during the 90's might remember collecting. I doubt they taste much differently. The 0-calorie discs of “bread” dissolved as soon as they touched my tongue, and with a swish of grape juice, I sensed no trace of Christ's body left in my mouth or in my body. What a contrast to the Feast that I participate in every week at the Abundant Table.

The Abundant Table, a small house church and campus ministry that started up an organic farm last year, breaks bread using a fresh roll made by our priest or a church member. I savor the bread and can feel its substance as it passes down my throat. After the Eucharist and a blessing, we continue the Feast together with a potluck dinner. About three-quarters of the worshipers at the Abundant Table are either members of the farm's Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)* program or are farmers/ farm interns who work to supply about 60 CSA members with vegetables and fruits from the 5-acre organic Farm near our house. As one can imagine, our potluck dinners feature the farm's bounty in a mouth-watering array of dishes. We feast on Julie's spinach and zucchini lasagna, Erynn's kale salad, Josephine's roasted beets, and then top it off with Seth and Ana's Indian-spiced almond and carrot pudding.

I believe that our celebration of Eucharist can lend itself to an awareness of how we eat during the meals following, whether they be potlucks inspired by a farm's harvest, lunch from a drive-through, or a youth group's snack time. Are we eating “cardboard wafers,” or are we feasting on food directly connected to real hands and to creation? I think of the Abundant Table (yes, we're an aptly named bunch) as practitioners of a hearty Eucharist feast. The bread that we distribute once shared strands of gluten with the rest of the loaf; through sharing it, we remember our inter-connectedness with one another and with Earth.

Author and farmer Wendell Berry calls the very act of eating a sacrament, “by which we enact and understand our oneness with the Creation, the conviviality of one body with all bodies.”** This begs some questions about how we eat the sacrament of Christ's body and the extension of that sacrament into daily life. Do we eat mostly alone? How do we share the food and resources given to us? Are we consuming what Michael Pollan calls a “food-like substance,” or are we eating food that comes from healthy plants and animals, that finds its source in the Earth that sustains us? Ultimately, if we believe that the sacrament of Eucharist draws us together into new life as the body of Christ, let us not separate that life from the health of our physical body.

* Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a relationship between a farmer and community members in which members commit to financially supporting the farm for a season, and in return, receive weekly delivery boxes of the farm's harvest. See our website,, for an example CSA.

** Wendell Berry, “The Body and the Earth,” in Norman Wirzba, ed. The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2002), 93.

A few suggestions for churches/ youth groups/ individuals looking for next steps for connecting with food, one another, and Creation:
-Start a small garden at your church. Connect the Garden to your church's Sunday School curriculum for kids, like St. Paul's Episcopal in Ventura, CA does. Or, grow grapes for communion wine!
-Volunteer at a community garden to learn how to grow your own food and connect with others. To learn more about community gardening, visit
-Plant some vegetables and fruits instead of shrubs and lawn in your yard. Visit for a great example of home gardening with a vision.
-Contact a farm for a service-learning trip. Two youth groups from All Saints, Pasadena, and St. Wilfred's, Huntington Beach, recently spent a rewarding week connecting to the land through helping with work on our farm.
-Subscribe to a CSA, share a box with a friend, or start a CSA drop-off site at your church. It's a great opportunity to connect with farmers and other members of the community. Check out for a directory of CSAs and farms nearest you.
-Take your youth group on a trip to the local farmer's market to learn about where their food comes from and how it's produced.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sea Bass

This is what it looks like! (See Part I for more on Eric's free-diving for White Sea Bass)

Monday, September 6, 2010

This is what Abundance Looks Like (Part II)

(See post below this for Part I)

At times, believing in Abundance seems like a pipe dream. The very word "Abundance" flies in the face of the world's shrinking resources and is a naive denial of human exploitation and greed. Why hold on to a word best left to idealists and the rich? The wealthy can afford to talk about Abundance (like the word "blessing," it can be a great justification for their privilege), but what about those who are directly affected by the realities of "Not Enough?"

There are too many such Realities: soil depletion, oil addiction, global warming, hunger, water scarcity. They all grapple to claim our immediate and necessary response like the recent images of hands fighting over aid after Pakistan's floods. Some respond by producing more. That makes sense on a very basic level; there's not enough to go around, so let's make more of what is lacking. Others respond by trying to correct the inequities and injustices involved in the distribution of resources. This is a necessary step toward addressing the real causes of poverty, but I do not believe it is Abundance. True Abundance is not simply a matter of production or distribution, nor the magnitude of either of these two economic pillars. Abundance is the invisible support in the Great Economy, as Wendell Berry calls it, and though it is hard to define, control, or plug into an equation, I believe it is Creation's cornerstone.

The Abundant Table Farm Project, where I spent the last year as a farm intern harvesting, planting, and distributing the bounty of 5 organic acres, was the growing ground for community conversations around Abundance. From these, I distilled a few starting-points for definition of this foundation to Creation.

1. Abundance includes a transformational perspective and orientation to how the world naturally is. It is not simply ethereal, however, but is an embodied way of living and being in this creation that both witnesses to and creates a greater reality than the realities of over-exhausted and limited resources.

2. Given the above, it is helpful to think of the byproducts of Abundance as material. Like Eric's bio-diesel soap, however, I believe Abundance is often created out of what the dominant system would consider waste.

3. Abundance happens in times and places of seemingly limited resources. Our tomatoes were not setting well, and we worried we would not have enough to give our CSA members as promised. Then, another CSA farmer visited our farm. He had an over-load of tomatoes, but no beans. A quick barter for our plentiful beans, and we soon had enough for all to be satisfied. Rather than competition being the rule for an economy built upon scarcity, Abundance completely reverses the capitalist game. There is more than enough for all - but we must first know our place and its residents well enough to have eyes that see the potential for abundance there.

4. Reciprocity is the name of the game - partakers in Abundance are also givers. Vegetable bearers are sent away full of white sea bass to share. The disciples' baskets of bread and fish in the Mark 6 story are returned not empty, but overflowing with more than enough (thank you to Ched Myers for Bible Studies that illuminated this and other feeding stories).

5. Abundance is closely related to limits. At one point, our little farm doubled from 60 to 120 CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members in one season. We were producing more than ever, but I do not believe we were experiencing abundance. Our community life was stretched thin and our bodies overly exhausted. Limits also apply to the life of the land, not just its occupants.

6. Abundance is the closest word I know to the meaning of the wide word "shalom," which Paul struggled to express in different ways. Abundance extends to right/ just relationships with earth, people, animals, and ultimately, with God. If you had not already guessed, then, it is really difficult to completely define or encompass. But you know it when you see it!

Like Eric and Christine's family, I pray that we too may be people of Abundance, who transform waste into purpose, create relationships of mutuality and provision in community, "free-dive" into the place where we live to know it well, and join together to obey Christ's command to feed and to eat there in the face of scarcity. It is to this urgent and joyful discipleship that we are called in the midst of grim realities, that all may have Abundant Life.

Friday, September 3, 2010

This is what Abundance Looks Like (Part I)

(I separated the following post into 2 blog entries. Mostly because I hate over-long blog posts and I spent too much time on this for readers to skim.)

Friends of mine recently invited me to house and garden-sit for them. They have a lovely little cabin built behind their home, and I was looking forward to using one of my nights there to write and reflect on the meaning of Abundance and what Abundance looks like lived out, since these have been themes of the last year.

Instead of writing, though, at the last minute I decided to visit Eric and Christine, friends of the people for whom I was house-sitting. Eric is a local mechanic and an avid spear-fisherman. If you're like me and don't know much about spear-fishing, he can spend a good hour or two explaining how he free-dives with his own handmade spear, discussing the seasonality of marine life close to the Channel Islands, showing you epic underwater videos of the hundreds of Yellowtail and White Sea Bass he recently swam through off the coast of Anacapa Island where he dives, and demonstrating before your very eyes how to slice up a 30 pound sea bass (picture to come).

Christine and Eric home-school their two little girls in an alternative way, which includes helping with the fish, wild mushroom foraging, and making soap from the waste of bio-diesel. Their car runs on bio-diesel and vegetable oil, and Eric has made a small business out of producing about 55 gallons of bio-diesel a month right in their garage. One of the by-products of bio-diesel production is glycerin. Rather than consider it waste, they have rigged up a system to purify it, melt it together with beeswax ("waste" from an area bee-keeper), and are teaching their children how to make soap! The bars are a beautiful, dark brown color and feel soft and smooth. Eric estimates that each bar of soap costs him about a penny, since it's made from materials that would otherwise be thrown out in the process of fuel production.

My visit to Christine and Eric's home was not just a neighborly call, but economically motivated as well. These creative folks are savvy traders. They are thinking outside of the money system and are re-defining economic relationships in their community by exchanging car repair for fresh eggs, baby-sitting for boat rides, labor on a local organic farm for a fancy meal at that farm's restaurant, and spear-caught fish for everything from a weekly CSA box to educational conferences. I came prepared for a good swap with a bag loaded full of squash, eggplant, tomatoes, and carrots from our farm. I left with two big bags of frozen sea bass and roe, a stack of homemade soap to re-gift to friends and family, and with a spirit swelling with gratitude at their lifestyle of generosity and renewal.

Abundance is hard to define, but I know it when I see it. The way that Christine and Eric live is a testimony to God's promise of abundant provision in and for all of creation. It makes me want to stand up and shout with joy, "THIS is what Abundance looks like!"

Variation on Matthew 6:26

Consider the black cat
who, in the crawling
fog of morning,
slips through your garden,
glancing at you once, briefly,
yellow eyes amused
when you say,
Excuse me, cat,
but did you not see the fence,
the gate, the 'No Trespassing' sign?