Expect the end of the world. Laugh.

In yesterday’s reflection, I asked if hope asks anything of us. Emily Dickinson said no, not a crumb but I wondered if hope did not at least invite certain actions from us. 

Wendell Berry wears many hats. He is an environmentalist, an activist, a farmer, an essayist, a cultural critic, a novelist, and a poet. No one else has been more compelling and steady as he, in warning us against the environmental and economic dangers inherent in the industrial agricultural complex, and the things we’ve lost in our rush to progress.

I love Wendell Berry. He is incisive in his analysis of the state of things. I’ve read his non-fiction and have devoured his novels—all set in the Port William Township, with the Catletts and the Coulters and Jayber Crow. Yet, it was Berry’s poetry that first drew me to his writings.  His best-known poem is Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front. I hesitated to include it in these Advent reflections because it is final exhortation, Practice Resurrection feels more Easter than Advent. But Resurrection runs all the way through Christian hope, even at Advent. No Easter, no Advent hope. Here’s the poem:


Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

The opening of Manifesto describes the state of things in contemporary life, the tedious monotony of a world with no beyond. We scheme for our own personal success—quick profits from get-rich-quick-schemes, jobs with good benefits,  a lucrative 401K. Everything is done for our own satisfaction and security. We are comfortable, but each of us is the center of our personal universe. We have not thoughts of the world beyond our existence. We fear our neighbors (or migrants, refugees and asylum seekers). We fear our own death, and perhaps the death of those who make us happy. Consumerism drives our desire and our behavior. We exist and subsist with a loss of hope for the future, our connection to the past and a sense of transcendence. There is no God, and if there is, it is only the God that makes me happy.  

Enter the Mad Farmer, calling us to each day: do something
that won’t compute
, to Love the Lord, and Love the world; to Work for nothing; to take all that we have and be poor and to love someone who does not deserve it; to denounce government and hope our nation will one day live its ideals of freedom; to approve the incomprehensible and praise ignorance, to be thankful for the things humanity has not encountered and destroyed; to ask the questions with no answers, to invest in a millennium. to plant sequoias and trust in the two-inches of hummus that will build under the trees every thousand years; to listen to the carrion, and hope for the world to come, to expect the end of the world and laugh; to be joyful, even in the face of facts; please women more than men (as long as women don’t go cheap for power), Swear allegiance to our nighest thoughts, lose our minds instead of letting ourselves be co-opted and controlled, to be like the fox, making more tracks than necessary, practice resurrection.

The Mad farmer invites us to enjoy life, to not be driven by our economic interests, to not see Creation and all that’s around us as something to be manipulated for personal gain, but instead, to invest in the far-off future, to expect the end to the world and laugh.

It is possible to go through life and just let it happen to you, to give little thought about how your choices impact nature, others and the future; to drink Keurig coffee because you don’t like the inconvenience of washing out the coffee pot. 

Like the Mad Farmer’s Manifesto, Advent hope is the invitation to see the world beyond us. Jesus is coming! Get ready. All the things that isolate people from one another, all the broken relationships and the things that steal our joy, all the ways that institutions chew people up and steal their soul, will meet their end. The wolf will live with the lamb,  Expect the end of the world. Laugh. If hope asks anything of us, it is this: don’t just let life happen to you. Live mindful of the world to come—the world beyond. 

The wolf will romp with the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid. Calf and lion will eat from the same trough, and a little child will tend them. Cow and bear will graze the same pasture, their calves and cubs grow up together, and the lion eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens, the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent. Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on my holy mountain. The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive, a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.” (Isaiah 11:6–9, The Message)



Reflecting God’s glory, by living well, in the pocket of the Kingdom: a book review

The truth is we are broken people. We were created as image bearers to reflect the glory of God, but because of sin we are twisted and broken image bearers. We reflect God but are fragmented and alienated from others.

Kevin Scott’s Recreatable: How God Heals the Brokenness of Life takes an honest look at the reality of our brokenness but also offers us the Good News: we are broken people, but we are not broken beyond repair. As people created by God intended to bear his image, we are ‘recreatable.’ God is able to take the broken shards of our life and help us to live holy lives which reflect his glory to a watching world.

I really loved this book. In part, this is because it contains both what I consider the single best analogy of human brokenness and one of the best summaries of the Christian life. In the first chapter, Scott tells the story of his daughter Courtney baking brownies and dropping the glass pan that they were in. While smell of brownies was still enticing, the brownies were full of shards of glass and were dangerous to whoever dared partake of them (19-20). This seems a vivid picture of our image bearing. We humans have the scent of heaven on us, but because of our brokenness we hurt all who get close to us.]

Scott summarizes the Christian life with this ’45 second’ explication of the book’s sections (Reflecting his glory, Living well, in the pocket of the Kingdom):

“Reflecting his glory” means that God is taking  the shards of the world and our broken lives and restoring his glory to them. We become a place of intersection where people can meet God as he makes us holy.by

“Living well” means that Christ develops in our hearts a sustainable pattern of faith, hope and love. This is the essence of healing, hope, and God’s glory in us.

“In a pocket of the Kingdom” means the holy life– the attractive life–is lived with other Christians who come together around Scripture, worship, and community, and welcome other Christians into the Kingdom pocket through Christian mission.

It is through this process–this story recapitulated in every disciples life–that God heals the brokenness of life. We may be broken but we are recreatable (*13-4).

These paragraphs describe in brief the outline of the book. Part one looks at “reflecting his glory,” part two describes “living well,” and part three explores the context of ‘pocket of the Kingdom”–Scott’s description of how the church relates to the Kingdom. This forty-five second version hints at what the Christian life is about and draws on three thinkers which help Scott frame his theological vision  in reponse to three thinkers, “the scholar, the philosopher and the farmer—N.T. Wright, Dallas Willard, and Wendell Berry (9).” Scott claims that the insights of these men have uniquely impacted his life. I think they helped him frame his summary of the Christian life in terms of biblical theology (Wright), spiritual formation (Willard) and local context (Berry). All three men are quoted and referenced in the text, though I think Wright and Willard’s influence (providing the biblical vision and how this is lived out) are more explicit and Berry is more implicit (i.e. how community and local communal context relates to the concept of church).

This book provides an interesting look at discipleship. I think Scott has important things to say. At times he is incisive in his conclusions (i.e. the reality of human brokenness and the gospel  news of healing and restoration). At other times he is provocative (i.e. he tells disciples that they ‘maybe’  reading the Bible daily isn’t the best way for them (153). But he is always compelling. This is the sort of book that makes me want to pursue Jesus full force. Its focus is more on ‘personal aspects’ of faith rather then social implications, but Scott is careful to situate this communally. As a book describing personal discipleship, I give this 5 stars and recommend this book for small group study and personal reading. This is an excellent resource for those seeking to deepen their spiritual life and grow beyond brokenness into holy living. This is well worth reading: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★.

Thank you to Kregel Publications for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Easter week 3/ Earth Day 2012 poems

Having spent yesterday weeding and trying to ready a garden plot, for this years vegetables. I spent a good part of yesterday with my hands in the dirt, hunched over and seeing how much the soil teems with life–beetles and spiders, worms and slugs and the odd gardner snake warming herself on a stone. In the northern hemisphere Easter coincides with new life and growth. So I thought it appropriate to share some poems which reflect on this seasonal rising. Below are two poems taken from Luci Shaw’s The Green Earth: Poems of Creation and one poem from Wendell Berry’s A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997.

From Luci Shaw

Rising: the Underground Tree
(Cornus sanguinea and cornus candensis)

One spring in Tennessee I walked a tunnel
under dogwood trees, noting the petals
(in fours like crosses) and at each tender apex
four russet stains dark as Christ’s wounds.
I knew that with the year the dogwood flower heads
would ripen into berry clusters bright as drops of gore.

Last week, a double-click on Botony
startled me with the kinship of those trees
and bunchberries, whose densely crowded mat
carpets the deep woods around my valley cabin.
Only their flowers — those white quartets of petals —
suggest the blood relationship. Since then I see

the miniature leaves and buds as tips of trees
burgeoning underground, knotted roots like limbs
pushing up to light through rocks and humus.
The pure cross-flowers at my feet redeem
their long, dark burial in the ground, show how even
a weight of stony soil cannot keep Easter at bay.

—-

Stigmata

The tree, a beech, casts the
melancholy of shadow across the road.
It seems to bear the enormous weight of
the sky on the tips of its branches.
The smooth trunk invites me to finger

five bruise-dark holes where rot
was cut away. Years have pursed
the thickened skin around the scars
into the mouths that sigh,
“Wounded. Wounded.”

As the hurt feels me out,
wind possesses the tree and
overheard a hush comes; not that
all other sounds die, but half a million
beech leaves rub together in the air,

washing out bird calls, footsteps,
filling my ears with the memory of
old pain and a song of cells in the sun.
“Hush,” they say with green lips.
“Hush.”

From Wendell Berry

Another Sunday morning comes
And I resume the standing Sabbath
Of the woods, where the finest blooms
Of time return, and where no path

Is worm, but wears its maker out.
At last, and disappears in leaves
Of fallen seasons. The tracked rut
Fills and levels; here nothing grieves

In the risen season. Past life
Lives in the living. Resurrection
Is in the way each maple leaf
Commemorates its kind, by connection

Outreaching understanding. What rises
Rises into comprehension
And beyond. Even falling raises
In praise of light. What is begun

Is unfinished. And so the mind
That comes to rest among the bluebells
Comes to rest in motion, refined
By alteration. The bud swells,

Opens, makes seed, falls, is well,
Being becoming what is:
Miracle and parable
Exceeding thought, because it is

Immeasurable; the understander
Encloses understanding, thus
Darkens the light. We can stand under
No ray that is not dimmed by us.

The mind that comes to rest is tended
In ways that it cannot intend:
Is borne, preserved, and comprehended
By what it cannot comprehend.

Your Sabbath, Lord thus keeps us by
Your will, not ours. And it is fit
Our only choice should be to die
Into that rest, or out of it.