I took a day of continuing education in June to go with a small group of clergy back to a learning farm at Prairie Crossing, a small conservation community in Lake County, Illinois. While I was there I got to see student farmers and young children learning the craft of small, sustainable, local, organic farming.
When you look at the fields nearby being farmed with modern agricultural techniques, the kind of farming practiced at the Prairie Crossing Learning Farm looks a little ridiculous. Why would anyone use hand tools to weed when these days you can plant fields of perfectly spaced rows of corn and soybeans in a day, suppressing unwanted vegetation (weeds) with herbicides that their crops have been engineered to resist?
Of course, time has also taught us that modern techniques, aimed at producing explosive growth, also have dangerous impacts on life – human and otherwise – downstream. Runoff from farms contains herbicides and pesticides deadly to human cells that make their way into our drinking water and produce oceanic dead-zones.
Practices that are organic, local and sustainable are important for life not only on the farm, but in our faith as well. We have spent the last few decades hearing about proven strategies for church growth that spray people down with shallow, uncritical theology in the effort to produce explosive growth. Downstream though, over time, we find people wandering away from these communities when the enthusiasm they experience in church cannot stand next to the suffering they experience in life. The best laid plan to produce a bumper crop of believers has the danger of producing dead-zones of faith.
This is why it is important for us to do the hard work of examining our faith, choosing the words and hymns we use to proclaim our beliefs carefully, weeding out practices that might have made perfect sense elsewhere and else-when so that faith in God, hope for the future, and love of the neighbor can grow sustainably in our congregations and communities.
As we move into the high heat of summer, come to worship ready to hear new words in our prayers and liturgies, in our hymns and professions of faith that challenge us to sink our roots deep into the earth so that we might be fed with that which brings lasting life.