Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A life reconciled

One of the things I really like about working at Echo is how integrated life is. Rarely do I have to work to compartmentalize my time, brain or emotions. Let me give you three examples:

1. I work with my friends and live with my coworkers.

Some of the interns, dressed up as farmers and cows for a late-night trip for free food at Chick-fil-A

This actually makes it unnecessary, and nearly impossible, to over-compartmentalize our day. Often, the dinner table at the intern houses serves as a forum for discussing what we learned or experienced during the workday. I find this extremely useful, as it gives me a chance to further process challenging situations or ideas with others going through similar experiences.[1] There really is no need to leave our work at the "office"; for most of us, our work is a manifestation of our life passion as much as our recreation is. I'm reminded of a quote from the late James A. Michener[2]:

“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he's always doing both.”

I'm not saying we've all become masters at the art of living, but it certainly is not uncommon to see interns tending their work gardens on their free evenings, weekends or, in the case of Brian, at the intergluteal cleft of dawn. Because we enjoy our work so much, there's little distinction between work and play,[3] and none at all between friends and coworkers. We work together, play together, eat together, and pray together. I love it.[4]

2. We eat what we grow and grow what we want to eat. Not everything we eat comes from the farm. Most of our crops are grown in demonstration-size plots, so there's no way we could produce all of our own staple grains, for instance. However, most of what we do produce ends up in our kitchen and, when we're proactive enough to work it into dinner before it rots on the countertop, constitutes the majority of the vegetables, fruits and herbs in our diet.

Laura and some of the pumpkins from her lowland berms (rice and bananas in the background)

These roosters were raised as part of an alternative chicken feed/forage trial

This level of integration is especially new to me when it comes to meats. I've always held that it is healthy to know where your food comes from, and to be aware of how it was grown and processed. Man is conceded animals as a food source,[5] but for us carnivores it is still imperative to be aware that a life was taken so that ours could be sustained. Before coming here I rarely had, or sought out, the opportunity to fully put this philosophy into practice. This has certainly changed; in my two months here, I've already witnessed or participated in the butchering of chickens, ducks, and a goat named Oliver.

This is not an easy experience for any of us. Taking a life is hard even when you aren't emotionally attached to the animal in question. Doing so when you've named and cared for them for months is all the more difficult. It was a few days after we'd killed, plucked and gutted a few dozen chickens and ducks before any of us wanted to see one on our dinner plates. Now, however, when I pull those frozen drumsticks out of the freezer, they are no longer just a product from "the store". They really do take on a different and deeper value. Butchering my own meat is not, and probably never will be, an easy experience. But it's one I'm glad I've had.

Katie skinning Oliver

3. Everything is spiritual, and everything is physical.[6]

Western culture has long been plagued by dualist philosophies that have sought to distinguish between, and separate, the physical and spiritual aspects of our lives. This has often led to a disparaging of the former or, in the case of materialism, a complete denial of the latter.

In the Christian story this dualism has sometimes manifested itself in presenting faith as a sort of insurance service for our spiritual selves. Salvation becomes a ticket stub we cling to as we wait expectantly to escape the physical bodies that trap our souls, ready to fly off to a spiritual heaven. As beings that are as fully physical as we are spiritual, children of a God who himself took on a human form, this kind of salvation is shallow and fake.

I'm thankful to be living and working in a community which values both the restoration of the spirit and the manifestation of this restoration in the nitty-gritty of our daily lives. Discovering new ways to grow food is not just a utilitarian pursuit, or something we do to pay the bills. Rather, it's a reflection of the love we've been shown ourselves; a love for the whole person, soul and body.

On a side note it's exciting, and perhaps a little strange, to discover the connections between the physical dirt and plants around us and the spiritual truths they manifest. But more on that subject in a future post.

And finally, a mystery image! Does anyone know, or can anyone guess, what these are?

Post your answers below!


[1] While doing problem solving and farm planning at the dinner table is convenient for us, it can be a stretching experience for our guests, who aren't always used to having their spaghetti and meatballs accompanied by a lively discussion on which roosters to breed or slaughter.
[2] Thanks Amanda H. for this quote!
[3] That isn't to say that there isn't a distinction between work and rest. Rest for the mind and body is definitely a good and necessary thing.
[4] For the more introverted among the interns, occasional escapes to coffee shops for a "third place," separate from the home-and-work "1st-and-2nd place", are necessary to maintain sanity.
[5] Genesis 9:2-3. There's some debate as to whether God intended man to eat meat, or whether, witnessing our appetite for it, He merely conceded it and gave us regulatory laws to limit cruelty and food poisoning.
[6] The truth of this principle is, of course, not affected by time, place, or community. However, our awareness of it can be.

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