We planted some Covington sweet potatoes this year.  Most of what we planted were slips from potatoes we saved from last year:  Maple Leafs and Oklahoma Reds.  But we didn’t have enough so I bought some Covington slips from a local nursery.  There was a serious shortage of sweet potato slips around here this season, so I felt lucky to find any.  They’re all in the ground now and we’re hoping for a bountiful harvest this Fall.

The Covington sweet potato is a metaphor for a lot of what is happening in our society, particularly as it relates to food.  This variety was almost completely unknown just a very few years ago, but this year over 95% of commerically grown sweet potatoes are Covingtons.  Why this dramatic surge in popularity?  Well, it is partially because the Covington keeps well.  But Beauregards keep well too, yet the Covington has pushed the once dominant Beauregard to the sidelines.  The primary reason the industry has switched to Covington is because the food service industry (restaurants) prefer it.  And they prefer it because of the uniformity of size.

A sampling of our sweet potatoes from last year

Sweet potatoes come out of the ground in all shapes and sizes.  Some are fat and round.  Some are long and thin.  Some weigh a few ounces.   Some weigh a few pounds. 

But not the Covington.  They’re all the same size and shape.  Restaurants and grocery stores prefer this, as it makes the potato easier to package and assures that everyone who orders a sweet potato gets the same thing on their plate.

But a world in which all sweet potatoes look the same is a world a little impoverished, in my humble opinion.

I prefer to celebrate the wild diversity among sweet potatoes, rather than work toward a time when all sweet potatoes are identical.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this preference for homogenization is reflected in other ways in our culture.  It seems like most folks would prefer we all be Covingtons.

The industrial food complex prefers uniformity.  All the eggs in a carton must be the same shape, size and color.  All tomatoes must be the same size, shape and color.  And so on.

We don’t follow those rules here.  Open one of our egg cartons and you’ll see eggs in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes.  Likewise our tomatoes.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the Covingtons do.  I’m sure they’ll be delicious.  But I hope we are always able to produce lots of good old-fashioned crazy looking sweet potatoes too.

Love Wins

The Glow of The Goose

I feel some pressure to do a proper reflection on Wild Goose.  Not because I’m under any obligation to do one, but because the festival is so amazing and generative of hope that I feel a powerful urge to let others know about it, while knowing that there is no way mere words can do it justice.  Hmm…  Sounds like evangelism.  Well, for better or worse, I’ll make a humble and surely inadequate attempt.

Wild Goose is a weekend camping in the North Carolina woods, in the dead of summer.  So Wild Goose has ticks, chiggers, humidity and blazing heat.  It also has campsites in the woods.  Friends sitting around outside tents talking, laughing and playing guitars.  Glasses of wine under the stars. 

Wild Goose is a place to sit on the ground and listen to talks from the leading voices of Emergent Christianity.  It is a place to hear inspirational stories of radical nonviolence, stewardship and activism, and redemptive love.  It is a place where it is safe to have dangerous conversations.   Where truth is spoken to power.  Where folks can try to make sense of following the way of Jesus in a violent, cynical world, where religion often seems to make things worse rather than better.

Wild Goose is a place for music and art.  Often crazy music and crazy art.  Everywhere is a song and a celebration.

Wild Goose is where it’s normal to stand and chat one on one with authors and musicians.  Everything is conversational and interactive.

But mostly Wild Goose is an atmosphere of community.  In all its wild diversity, there is some unifying undercurrent.  A feeling that we all belong there.  It feels like being on ground zero of something universal.

Cathleen Falsani’s video of the Sunday call to worship captures some of the Wild Goose spirit.  It’s interesting, however, that while this was going on, some of us were under a tent listening to Carl McCollum talk about contemplative prayer and the benefits of silence.

Wild Goose Festival: Sunday Call to Worship from cathleen falsani on Vimeo.

Until it becomes tiresome, I’ll blog occassionally about some of the specific speakers, artists and events.  But camping in the woods with these folks, then gathering for a discussion, is a vibe completely unlike going down to Barnes and Noble for a reading and book signing.  To fully appreciate anything any of us write about the specific sessions, it is important to place them in the context of the pervading atmosphere.

I encourage y’all to go the Wild Goose facebook page and look at some of the photos being posted there.  They help.

Wild Goose gave me the courage last year to cut the last remaining chords with my law practice and to step out into the wild.    It’s that kind of thing.

May the Goose soar.

Love Wins

Helping Others Succeed

Here’s a great post from Joshua Becker at Becoming Minimalist
Why Helping Others Succeed Can Be Your Greatest Success
by joshua becker

“It is not true that nice guys finish last. Nice guys are winners before the game ever starts.” – Addison Walker

This past week I sent an e-mail to a friend. I thanked him for helping me over the years and being a significant factor in Becoming Minimalist’s success. He wrote back, “If I have helped you succeed, I am happy.” It was a short e-mail response, but it communicated an important truth: Our greatest successes in life are often found in helping other’s succeed. Our most lasting and fulfilling achievements are often earned by helping others fulfill theirs.

This is foreign thinking to a culture that often sees the world as one giant competition. In their mind, there is a set number of winners and losers. And if somebody else wins, that’s one less opportunity for me. But I have come to realize the mindset of competition is based on a faulty premise. It assumes there is a finite sized pie – that one more success in another’s life equals one less success in mine. But quite frankly, this thinking is incorrect.

There is wonderful freedom and grace in realizing the size of the pie is not finite – that in reality, the pie keeps growing. Another’s success does not mean I have less opportunity. In fact, another’s success can actually be my success if I had opportunity to enable, encourage, and promote them along the way!

Consider how helping another achieve success (however you/they decide to define it) results in significant benefits in a number of directions:

  • The receiver has reached a far greater potential than they could have on their own.
  • The world has been bettered and has been given a life-giving model to emulate.
  • The giver is remembered fondly and is often publicly (and privately) thanked for their contribution.
  • A stranger is likely to be the recipient of the original receiver “paying it forward.”
  • And the cycle begins again.

Now, just to be clear, I am starting with an assumption that our greatest joys in life are rarely found in the relentless pursuit of selfish ambition – that selfish desires always leave us lacking and searching for more. Some may think that line of thinking is too unrealistic, far-fetched, or old-fashioned. They believe that in a dog-eat-dog-world if I’m not looking out for #1, nobody is. But that line of thinking is short-sighted.

Inherently, we know we have been designed to live for something greater than ourselves. Our contribution to this world has to be measured by something more meaningful than the size of our house or the neighborhood where it is located. And our lives are going to find lasting significance in how we choose to live them… and how we enable others to live theirs.

Love Wins

Painting the Fence

My work here is a labor of love. There are very few tasks here that I don’t enjoy. But I must admit I did not look forward to painting this new section of fence.

But on a beautiful breezy morning, even a potentially tedious job like that turned out to be not so tedious after all.  And behind me, I had this great view.

And, in an effort to save our seed corn from crows, I took a break to create this very indimidating dude.

Of course he doesn’t compare to Georgia, who polices our chicken yard, but hopefully Cherie will spiff him up a bit when she gets a chance.

Love Wins

People of the Book

I read a fascinating article recently, with the decidedly deterrent title: “Exegetical and Extispicic Readings of the Bible in Turkana, Kenya, and North America.”  The article can be read here: http://place.asburyseminary.edu/asburyjournal/vol66/iss1/6/

The piece contained a lot of interesting observations from a man who has served as a missionary in Turkana, Kenya. This one struck me:

It was only in the past few years that a translation of the Bible in the Turkana language was produced.  The consequences of that are very interesting:  By the end of our first term in 2003, many Turkana church leaders had learned to read their own language, many others were learning, and every woman and man in the churches who could read had their own copy of the Turkana translation of the Bible. ‘Mission accomplished!’ Or so we naively thought. Unleashing the vernacular Bible quickly aroused many questions and opportunities, as missionaries and the few bilingual church leaders no longer had control over the canon of scripture being read and taught. The “unintended consequences” of difficult questions began to arise. “Where does it say in the Bible that polygamy is wrong?” “Why did so many of God’s followers in the Old Testament have more than one wife?” “Why does the book of Hebrews call Jesus ‘the Great Witch-Doctor’?” Then the women in the churches started wearing head coverings in worship. Not long after that, church leaders began to teach that women who had given birth must follow certain regulations before they could return to church again. These and other complications started to arise from Turkana Christians reading the Bible. These were all questions and situations for which my seminary education did not prepare me.

The consequence of the missionaries “no longer having control over the canon of scripture being read and taught” were interesting indeed.  In some sense amusing, and in some sense not funny at all.

About 500 years ago the church establishment in Europe feared what might happen if the Bible could be ready by persons other than priests.  In those days it existed only in Latin.  One of my French ancestors was tortured and executed for his faith (“broken on the wheel,” to be precise).  His crime likely included owning a French translation of the Bible, which was a capital offense in those days.

After the Reformation had kicked off on the continent, there was a debate in England over whether the Bible should be made available in English.  An English bishop, in declaring the danger of such a thing, argued that common folks need men with religious educations to explain the Bible to them and control what they hear.  If common folks had Bibles they wouldn’t be able understand them, he insisted, and they were liable to read passages like Matthew 18: 8-9 and start chopping off their hands and plucking out their eyes.  His opponent responded, “I think you underestimate the intelligence of the common people.  For example, if I were to say them ‘The bishop is an ass,’ they would understand me well enough and know that I am not saying that the bishop is literally an ass.”  I love that story and fortunately the zinger didn’t cost the man his life, although it certainly could have.

These days the benefit of translating of the Bible into the vernacular is unquestioned.  There are entire organizations devoted to nothing but making Bible translations.  Timothy Tennant, among others, has argued that it is the translatability of the Bible which is one of its greatest characteristics.  Arguably the Bible is inherently translatable, in that it is the only sacred text which in its original form records the words of the founder of the religion in a language other than the one he spoke.  Jesus spoke Aramaic, but the original texts of the New Testament are in Koine Greek.  We can be reasonably sure that nothing Jesus is recorded as having said was said in exactly those words, since he was speaking an entirely different language, which had to be translated.

Exiting that rabbit hole and returning to Turkana, there were some other interesting developments arising from possession of Bibles.

As I hand a Bible to a Turkana church leader I am reminded of the Bibles and books I have received as a literate preference learner: the Bible my father gave me when I was baptized, a collection of Shakespeare plays that was given me when I graduated from high school, the commentaries given to me when I finished seminary, the What to Expect When You Are Expecting book when my wife was pregnant. But what is the Turkana church leader thinking of when I hand him or her a Bible? Is she reflecting on a time when the local diviner gave her motber a powerful stick that she sewed into a small leather pouch on a necklace and wore for years to protect her from illness? Is he thinking of the small shields that all Turkana used to carry around with them for protection from their enemies, the Pokot? Are they thinking of the power that seems to come to the missionaries who carry these books around and the possibility of now receiving great wealth and power through their own possession of this book?

Just as books are culturally foreign in much of the world, among some cultures there is a profound fascination with books, per se.  I remember when I visited the local mosque and one of the men approached me and, with great excitement, handed me a Q’uran.  “This is our book,” he said.  The look on his face was like that of a man holding out a newborn child.  The Muslim devotion to their book is so intense that even the most fundamental of American fundamentalists can’t get it. 

I remember working at the local community Christmas dinner one year, and seeing very poor people standing in line afterwards with their children to get gifts–the only Christmas presents the kids were likely to receive.  Some were hardly able to conceal their shame and I especially remember the confused and hurt looks on the faces of some of the children.  Waiting at the end of the line were a group of men in suits and ties handing out pocket-sized new testaments.  I couldn’t help but wonder whether that was right–for many reasons that would unreasonably lengthen an already unreasonably long post. 

But I do wonder if Phyllis Tickle isn’t on to something when she says we have exchanged a human pope for a paper pope.  I do wonder whether those men, who I admire greatly for their passion and concern, should have handed those children a piece of candy, or a stuffed animal, or given them a hug, or just some space, instead of a little Bible.

I had a professor once who is from the Miso people, who live in a remote part of northeast India.  He told us how, when he was a child, missionaries came to his village.  The Miso people had no written language.  The missionaries reduced the Miso language to writing, in part motivated by a desire to produce Miso-language Bibles.  They also established a school, the first his village had ever had.  Thanks to those missionaries my professor went on ultimately to get a Ph.D. from Princeton.  He told us that the most amazing thing he discovered when he came to America was the pervasive negative impression of Christians.  All he had ever known of Christians was goodness, love and self-sacrifice. 

May the people of Turkana be as blessed as my professor.  And may we be forgiven if in our fumbling efforts to do the right thing, we often get it wrong.

Love Wins

Back From the Goose

We’re just back from an amazing weekend at the Wild Goose Festival.  It was like four days of swimming around in an ocean of awesomeness. 

It’s going to take me some time to process it all.  Just as last year, we’ve returned inspired and encouraged. 

I’m sure there were over 2,000 folks there this year.  Many of the most brilliant, inspirational and creative people I know of were there.  There was a powerful feeling of community and intimacy.  It was particularly cool to see and talk to folks who were discovering the community for the first time and were overjoyed to know they’re not alone.

Coming home from the Goose is like coming down off the mountaintop.  As much as we’d like to, we’re not meant to stay on the mountaintop.  But we’re already looking forward to next year’s festival.

Everything is changing.  Everything is going to change.  And Wild Goose is going to be one of things that makes that happen.

Love Wins

Empty Nest

We helped Peyton move back to school a couple of weeks ago.  She has to be in Fairfax for her job this summer and she’s taking a couple of classes while there.  By this time next year she will have graduated.

I’m happy for her.  She’s studying what she loves (Conservation Studies).  She just returned from a study abroad in Belize.   She is happy.

And now the nest is empty again. 

With the kids away at school most of the past few years, we’ve grown accustomed to it.  But I confess that it still feels weird sometimes.  I can testify that time really does fly.

The night after we helped her move Peyton was in my dreams.  But she was a little girl, two or three years old–plump and smiling her big smile.

Time marches on.  But sometimes it tugs on an aging man’s heartstrings as it does.

Love Wins