To Read or to Garden Is Not the Right Question

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.

2014-07-23 09.02.20I’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).




3 thoughts on “To Read or to Garden Is Not the Right Question”

  1. Two points impressed me. The power of gardening for oneself and the power of doing theology for yourself. HR, You made each the illustration for the other. Thank you.

  2. Thanks Jim. I do think that our seeing life as a process rather than acquiring (or being) already processed products from experts is in jeopardy because we as a whole have separated from the land.

  3. Hughey, thank you for posting on SIFAT’s page. I appreciate this article very much. Also the beautiful picture with it. One of the things SIFAT teaches is sustainable gardening and care of God’s creation. If you have not been to SIFAT lately, come by and see SIFAT’s Gardener John Carr’s wonderfully productive and sustainable gardens! Now I have more to say to all our readers concerning this subject. I finally have found time to read Hughey’s book “The Land that Calls Me Home.” I am greatly moved by the book, which is a continuation of the theme of this article. I want to recommend it as a very important book for us all right now. The soil to me is the greatest material gift God has given us. He made our bodies from the soil. Everything that sustains us physically comes directly or indirectly from the soil. When we die, our bodies return to the soil. The soil is a precious gift from God. When we do not care for it as God told us to in Genesis 2 and 3, we are disobeying Him. I thank God that in my older years, I can still have a garden and grow part of my food. Prayer flows spontaneously when my hands are in the soil and I feel deeply connected to my Maker. I highly recommend Hughey’s book, “The Land that Calls Me Home.” I have wept my way through several of the chapters. It is powerful! Thank you, Hughey!

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