Friday, April 13, 2012

The Dirt on St. Francis: Chasing Francis Series

Kevin Guenther is a man in our church who won’t stop talking about dirt. He is obsessed with tomatoes and turnips. And bees, by the way! He thinks gardening is a sacrament.

If you see him, run for your life. If you don’t, you may soon hear a speech about healing your soul by digging in dirt. Soon, you may find yourself in a discussion about compost.

Kevin talks people into raising chickens and rabbits, even if they live in a city.

I have been watching the people involved with him passing around cheese and eggs. Just today I found a hunk of cheese in my office. He denies any connection to the cheese but no one in our church had ever passed cheese around before he came.

What’s up with this guy?

Well, he believes that when Christians lose their connection with nature, they lose a part of their faith. Their understanding of God begins to get distorted. People start thinking that meat is created in the backroom at Kroger; carrots come into the world in little pieces wrapped in cellophane. After a while, it gets difficult to thank God for our food. You begin to wonder what God actually had to do with it.

So, Kevin leads people to the dirt and teaches them to grow their own food. He even invented a contraption called Farm Garden in a Box. A person can use it to grow food on the balcony of a high-rise, if he so desires.

He teaches us to “dress, till and cultivate the earth,” because he believes we can meet God there.

In Chasing Francis, a confused pastor goes off to Italy. He meanders around the vineyards outside Milan. He goes to Rome and Assisi. He eats good food.  He then returns home with a new lease on life and faith.

Crone, the author of Chasing Francis, seems to think the pastor found his way because of the work of Francis of Assisi. Kevin’s theology indicated it might have been the garlic, olives and wine. The pastor may have been transformed by eating naturally grown vegetables.

Maybe there is a third option. Perhaps the pastor was healed because he returned to a culture in which one eats and talks with people who work in the dirt, a culture such as we once were.

How many times did the Lord say, “the kingdom of God is like this farmer who …” Jesus must have told those stories because the spiritual world operates very similarly to the natural world. That would certainly make sense if the same creator designed both the natural and spiritual parts of the universe. We actually confess that in the creed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of all things, visible and invisible.”

Kevin thinks that one can learn how the invisible part of the universe works by becoming familiar with the visible part. Getting tomatoes at Kroger won’t do that for you. Growing tomatoes in your back yard just may.

Oh, and did you know that “Adam” means “soil?” We are made of that stuff. We return to that stuff. Our nourishment comes from it.

So our faith can be explained in three movements:

The Garden
The Kitchen, and
The Table.

An old communion prayer sums it up.

We thank you, Lord God, King of the Universe, for this bread and this wine, which you have created and human hands have prepared. They shall be for us, the body and blood of Christ.

People like Kevin remind us that the source of human life is earthy, common and precious. He helps us move beyond the plastic and artificial not because they are evil, but because they are insufficient instruments to nourish life.

Kevin takes a handful of dirt and tells us how to prepare it to feed ourselves.

So if you can’t go to Italy, take a trip to the field behind our church! Kevin has plowed up some land back there that might have made a perfectly good parking lot. He filled it with boxes. He filled the boxes with soil and seeds.

Kevin isn’t exactly St. Francis of Assisi. However, he is willing to go out into the field and talk about birds and rutabagas.  And, along the way, a few souls are gathering around him; getting steadily pulled out of a world of tomatoes that taste like plastic and into a lifestyle that celebrates “all creatures of our God and King.”

I’m not a Kevin groupie yet. But after meeting him, I do sing This is My Father’s Word with a lot more gusto than before.

This message was surely approved by Francis of Assisi!

1 comment:

Jessica Dotta said...

There is definitely something about gardens that needs to be explored--it was our first existence. Good post!