With deference to all my dairy farming friends who have already finished milking by the time I get up in the morning, on most days I drink my first cup of coffee at 5:00 a.m. After morning devotional, I face the decison of whether to read an article or chapter in a book or to go outside and garden. This is frequently a tough dilemma during the hot summer months when vegetables are coming in and the soil is thirsty for water and the plants and blooms hungry for fertilizer. From late June until mid-August, gardening is both urgent and important. Reading is important all the time but at harvest time it usually ranks lower on the urgent scale than gardening.
I’ve tried gardening and reading at the same time by listening to books on my smart phone. The result was that I was a dumber reader and a dumber gardener than I would have been had I been paying full attention to one or the other. I can water the garden effectively enough while listening to a book, but try listening to a book when you are weeding or reaching for that ripe tomato in the center of a raised bed or spreading compost or mulch and you are likely to plant your earphones in the soil.
Being a fairly literate man with a job that requires reading numerous books and articles to stay on the cutting edge of ministry, I could end my dilemma by opting out of gardening altogether. I could buy all my food from farmers markets, grocery stores, and restaurants. That appears to be the answer in the global community where specialization is touted as the most efficient and intelligent way to live. You grow my food and I will study the Bible and theology and tell you what to believe about God.
If you think that last sentence sounded askew or flat wrong, I am glad. You have not farmed out to me the job of deciding what you will believe in spite of my credentials as a preacher and teacher of the Bible and theology. Why then would I farm out to food experts the job of growing, processing, cooking, and even serving the food I eat? It is no more the job of the “food industry” to feed you and me than it is the job of “preachers” to tell you what to believe about God.
Can experts in the food industry inform us about food? Heavens yes! They work with food a lot and should have learned a thing or two about it. But do not, I repeat do not, accept what the food industry tells you about what you should eat or how your food should be grown without challenging it and testing it yourself.
The same can be said about your beliefs. Can preachers and theology teachers inform you about interpreting the scriptures accurately and determining beliefs that are revealed in scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified by personal experience, and confirmed by reason? I hope to heaven we can. But do not, I repeat, do not accept what preachers and teachers of theology tell you is right belief without challenging it and testing it yourself.
I am making a case here for you to be a reader and for you to be a gardener whether you are rural, urban, or suburban, and regardless of your day job. Do not farm out your faith and do not farm out your nutrition to someone else. Materially participate in both so that you read and pray as well as listen to sermons and lessons as you establish and grow your faith; and so that you will also plant, cultivate, harvest, and cook as well as buy food from others and occasionally go out to eat.
Remember that being “literate” is a fairly modern concept, that books were once a rarity and the printed word scarce. Were people dumb before they were literate? Heavens no. Many were knowledgeale and wise because they were observant. They paid attention and learned much about God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sustainer from gardening and farming to feed their households. That kind of visceral knowledge comes from engagement rather than book learning. As we advance, may we reclaim the knowledge that can only be gained when we “farm the fertile land from which we were taken” (Geneis 3:23).