What We’re Reading
There has been a lot of experiential learning in this journey on the Graduate Preaching Fellowship. Today in the milking parlor, for instance, I was pooped upon. Twice. First by a Brown Swiss. Then by a Jersey. If that's not experiential, I'm not sure what is. And while I have not yet discovered any immediatly discernible theological insight from being crapped on by a cow whose teets I happened to be greasing with udder cream, I'm not going to count out the possibility either.
Anna and I have been curious to learn about the intersection of faith and the stewardship of the land, and we have been fortunate to be hosted at a number of farms to volunteer and learn how theory and practice meet. Camphill Farm where we are now has made an effort to provide quality of life for those with developmental disabilities through its agricultural enterprises. Only by entering into the work of the community have we been able to find out what this looks like 'on the ground' (or as the name of this blog suggests, 'From the Ground Up').
In addition to the experiential learning over the course of the year, we've also been reading a variety of things that touch on themes that I proposed to seek out in this fellowship. I thought I'd share a few of the books we've enjoyed.
'Food and Faith' by Norman Wirzba is one I picked up early on in our travels. Through the lens of farming and eating practices, Wirzba offers a down to earth way of imagining how God is active in our lives. One refrain in the book relates how death leads into life drawing connections between eating and the communion of all things. This is one I'll be coming back to for insight and inspiration.
In a very different direction, I've been working through a book on fighting poverty called 'More Than Good Intentions.' It focuses on micro-finance programs in developing countries and discusses their successes and shortcomings. The chapters on agriculture have been helpful to imagine what farming looks like for those with both limited resources and limited access to markets.
A professor of Anna's at Dartmouth has written a book called 'Fresh: A Perishable History.' It traces cultural conceptions of freshness in western countries over the past few hundred years, paying particular attention to the role of refridgeration in changing both agricultural practices as well as consumer attitudes about meat, eggs, milk, vegetables and fruit. One point she brings up throughout the book that we hadn't thought about a lot before was how we have come to imagine fresh food as beautiful food. So, for instance, fruit at the supermarket is grown and displayed to be completely unblemished and standardized. Odd because this does not often lead to better flavor nor is such conformist meat, veg or fruit convincingly a product of nature. This relates to a conversation we had with a citrus farmer in South Africa who lamented using certain chemicals on his trees which only improved the appearance of the fruit so that it could be sold in the European market. Anyway, 'Fresh' is a good read both as history and as a diagnosis of the current food culture in the U.S.
I do not lament getting to travel and engage theology like this for a year. It's a dream come true. There are days, though, that traveling just wears you out. Packing the suitcase, finding lodging, planning other logistics. Sometimes you wish you could just sleep in your bed. As an antidote to this feeling, I've been reading a collection called, 'The Best American Travel Writing of 2012' edited by the author William Vollmann. There are essays here about all kinds of travel adventures and lessons learned on the journey. It's great reading when I'm sick of looking at maps or browsing for the cheapeast flights.
With all of the non-fiction reading, we've also had a chance to delve into some fiction reading as well. The Whale Caller, by Zakes Mda, is a novel that is set in Hermanus, a seaside town just 4 kilometers from Camphill that is most famous for the Southern Right whales which take refuge in Hermanus' cove each winter. Some say Hermanus is the best place for onshore whale watching in the world! The Whale Caller centers on a tension-filled love triangle between a man, a woman, and, in a great bit of magical realism, a Southern Right whale. Together they wrestle with the ways that the outside world– both the beauty and wonder, but also the violence and cruelty– impact even our most beloved relationships. It's a teary-eyed read from a wonderful modern South African writer, and a fun story for us as we live just outside of Hermanus.
Last but not least we've been reading a new Lonely Planet, this time for our next destination…Georgia and Armenia!