Wisdom From the Gulag

It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there rotting on prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts.  The line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.  If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?  Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: they struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.  And since that time I have come to understand the falsehood of all the revolutions of history: they destroy only those carriers of evil contemporary with them (and also fail, out of haste, to discriminate the carriers of good as well). And they take to themselves as their heritage the actual evil itself, magnified still more.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Love Wins

Shame or Celebration

“The shame of our eating becomes clearer when we consider the chicken nuggets that millions of children like to eat. To be placed on a kid’s menu this food item has to be cheap. To make it cheap the chicken producer has to be paid the smallest amount possible. To raise chickens most efficiently, the producer has to find ways to get more chickens into his or her barns and then get them to butcher weight as quickly as possible. To do that it is best to genetically alter chickens so that their breasts become huge (Americans crave white meat) really fast.

Today’s engineered, confined chicken reaches full size in nearly half the time when compared to traditional breeds. The enlarged breasts of these birds become so burdensome that many chickens’ legs break under their own crushing weight. It is also important that their diets be supplemented by antibiotics because crammed chicken houses are breeding grounds for disease. It isn’t important that chickens have room to roam, because their breasts are so large that walking is difficult. It also makes it easier for them to be caught by the poorly paid (often undocumented) migrant workers who cram them into the cages that will deliver them to a slaughterhouse where they will be disassembled on a factory line.

Very little, if anything, in this process honors or treats these chickens as gifts of God. Industrial methods of chicken production require that they fall within a business logos or logic and production system that stresses efficiency, uniformity and profitability. If we had the mind of Christ, however, we would have to be thinking about what we can do to make sure that our relationships with chickens contribute to their nurture, health and even delight. Why? Because if Christ is the eternal Logos, the one through whom and for whom the whole world is created (Col. 1:16), and if God’s good news has been “proclaimed to every creature under heaven” (1:23), then chickens no less than people are part of his renewing ministry that leads all creatures into the fullness of life. Inspired and shaped by Christ’s reconciling life, we must concern ourselves with the well-being of animals, endeavoring to make sure that they are enabled to live the life God intends for them. When we treat chickens the way God expects, which means that we devote ourselves to their care, shame disappears to make room for celebration.”

Norman Wirzba

Love Wins

Perfect Strawberries

Last weekend we were privileged to be able to attend a conference at the Duke Divinity School titled “Making Peace With the Land.”  The conference title is taken from a book by the same name, recently published and authored by Norman Wirzba and Fred Bahnson (highly recommended, by the way).

Dr. Wirzba is a theologian who explores the space where theology intersects with agriculture, food, agrarianism and rural life.  He shared an antecdote about his first attempt to grow a garden.  He learned a lesson that more people need to learn.

He planted strawberries, nurtured them and waited anxiously for that first delicious bite.  Just as the berries were beginning to ripen he noticed that they were being eaten by slugs.  So he went to Walmart’s gardening section to get something to spray on the plants to kill the slugs.   He picked up a can of something that adverstised its effectiveness at that, and then he read the warnings on the label.  Don’t let children come into the sprayed area for three days, it read.  Discard or burn any clothing that comes into contact with the spray, was another.  Reflecting a moment, he decided that he ought not eat anything sprayed with such stuff.

So, still having fresh strawberries on his mind, next he walked over to the produce department to buy some.  The berries there were plump and beautiful.  Not a blemish on them.  They looked perfect.

But why, he wondered, did nothing else want to eat these berries?  Why was he, apparently, the only thing on earth that would eat them?

He decided against the spray and against the perfect strawberries.  Now, of course, he’s a well-known advocate of natural, sustainable farming.

Far too few people these days understand what garden produce is supposed to look like.  They’ve been conditioned to expect seemingly perfect vegetables.  Most don’t even know they’re sacrificing taste to have them.  They don’t think about the environmental cost of making them look that way.  And of course they don’t consider the amount of poison they have to ingest to eat such things.

A few days ago I went into a grocery store with Cherie.  While she shopped for a few things, I wandered over to the produce section.  They had bell peppers shrink-wrapped in plastic.  The peppers were all perfectly shaped and brightly colored.  They didn’t even look real to me.  I wondered how they get the peppers to grow to be exactly the same size and shape.  How do they make them so shiny?  Intellectually I knew that the commerical pepper varieties are hybrids that are designed for uniformity in shape.  I know that they polish them to make them more appealing in a store.  Intellectually I knew that the peppers are inferior in every way to those we raise naturally.  But I admit to feeling a few pangs of jealousy as I looked at the perfect peppers.  The food marketeers may not be any good at making food taste good, but they’re masters at making it look good.

But the winds are changing.  More and more folks are coming to understand what Norman Wirzba figured out about strawberries that day.  This year we’ve gotten lots of compliments on our vegetables and they rarely have the grocery store perfect look.

As I tell folks, if a bug wouldn’t eat it, neither should you.

May the day soon arrive when we all know what a genuinely perfect strawberry looks like.

Love Wins


Some people are primarily concerned with systemic evils–corporations, nations, and institutions that enslave people, exploit the earth,and disregard the welfare of the weak and disempowered.  Others are primarily concerned with individual sins, and so they focus on personal morality, individual patterns, habits, and addictions that prevent human flourishing and cause profound suffering.

Some pass out pamphlets that explain how to have peace with God; some work in refugee camps in war zones.  Some have radio shows that discuss particular interpretations of particular Bible verses; others work to liberate women and children from the sex trade.

Often the people most concerned about others going to hell when they die seem less concerned with the hells on earth right now, while the people most concerned with the hells on earth right now seem the least concerned with hell after death.

What we see in Jesus’s story about the rich man and Lazarus is an affirmation that there are all kinds of hells, because there are all kinds of ways to resist and reject all that is good and true and beautiful and human now, in this life, and so we can only assume that we can do the same in the next.

There are individual hells,
and communal, society-wide hells,
and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously.

Rob Bell

Love Wins

Industrial Turkeys

One need not look hard to find evidence of the brokenness of our food culture.  I’ve blogged about much of that evidence, of course, and will continue to do so.

Today, as we enter Fall and move toward Thanksgiving, I thought I’d mention the weird and disturbing way turkeys are raised in this country.

When we think of a turkey, an image like this beautiful wild turkey usually comes to mind.

But over 99% of the turkey meat eaten by Americans comes from an animal called the broad-breasted white.

Broad breasted whites are genetically contrived mutants, incapable of surviving in nature.  Their unnatural body mass creates respiratory and muscular problems.  They cannot fly and almost always die of sickness and poor health by the time they reach full adulthood.  They are unable to reproduce naturally and every single one of them is a product of artificial insemination.

Just let that fact sink in.

No Pilgrim and no Indian ever ate such an animal.

Every year politicians “pardon” a turkey at Thanksgiving.  But it’s just a show of course.  Those animals die shortly after their “pardon.”  Last year one fell off a poultry truck passing through town and someone took it to the humane society, where they naively decided to keep it as a pet.  But of course it died soon.  These things just aren’t designed to live.  They are engineered to grow rapidly on a cheap “food to meat conversion ratio.”  They are designed to get as big as possible, as quickly as possibly and as cheaply as possible.  They are frankenfood.  And like all industrial farm animals, American turkeys are raised in hellish CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations).

For those who want to have a turkey at Thanksgiving this year (and remember there is nothing about the holiday that makes turkey meat necessary) I recommend you go to localharvest.org and locate a farm raising natural heritage breed turkeys.

Just say no to industrial turkeys.