Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pondering potatoes...

Turns out that gleaning potatoes one day is fun. Two days is beginning to be tough. The third day was exhausting. Not only was it HOT, but we were truly gleaning...going back over fields previously harvested, some with just a small potato gem or two every 10 feet. Still I managed to gather about 50 lbs in three hours.  Yesterday it was more like 50 lbs in an hour.

You have a lot of time to think picking up potatoes.

The farmer allowing us to glean raises potatoes for large chip manufacturers and local grocery chains. His customers have very serious standards and requirements. So potatoes have to be a certain size, and the harvester is set to screen anything that doesn't meet the standard.  So imagine what is left behind...really small potatoes and really large potatoes. You know all of those packages of tiny little high end potatoes sold by Trader Joes?  I picked up a lot of cute little tiny round potatoes today. To go to he food bank. But if we didn't glean, they would go to waste...  Because some other farmer is growing cute little potatoes that will sell for outrageous prices to foodies (like me) shopping at TJs.

It seems inefficient. And for the market in which these farmers participate, it is highly efficient.

So how do people get fed? 

Switching topics a bit, we are fed lunch each day by a different local church. Today it was a beautiful old Presbyterian church that is mostly home to two large extended (and probably related by marriage) farm families. This lovely high school student was taking great pride in the sanctuary as she told people about the windows and the graves outside. She shared a bit of her family tree. 

She said her last name was Long. I told her we had been gleaning on a Long farm. It was her uncle. Her father is also a farmer. I asked if she was interested in farming. She beamed. Yes, she was anxious to learn all she could so that she could go to Washington DC to lobby for farmers.

Her energy was evident. We talked about her 4H and FFA involvement. Her brother wants to do the same. 

As we drove back, I found myself wondering where justice is in the system? Is there a way for farmers to survive in vibrant communities, where people can stay because there is work and good education and fair wages?

I don't know the answer. But I do know that as a consumer, I am participating in a system tooled to benefit stockholders. And that doesn't seem to trickle down to the very people on whose back the profits are built.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Context Unfamiliar

I am out on the Eastern Shore, near Exmore, Virginia, for a week of learning about the problem of hunger -- locally and globally -- with the youth of Silver Spring UMC. The "work" of the week is gleaning in potato fields.  Did you know that at one time, the Eastern Shore was the largest producer of Irish potatoes globally? Neither did I. Today the area also produces chicken, tomatoes, soy beans and corn. Big potato production is put west. It is clear that agriculture here is omnipresent and struggling. There are lots of tumbling down structures, shuttered businesses, weary looking folks sitting on the porch. And on Sunday, there is machinery in the fields and migrants being moved about by the bus load to pick.

I can't quite get it through my head that this narrowing strip of land is dedicated mostly to food production...not tourism. Look at a map and you see expanses of big bays on both sides with the ocean looming near. I have spent the afternoon trying to get to the eastern edge of the peninsula...and it all seems to be preserve OR private farmland.

I am surprised that our vacation-loving, sun-seeking society hasn't built this area up like Virginia Beach or Myrtle Beach. And I am grateful too. But painfully aware of the financial hardships here. Across from the closest tomato packing facility, I spotted a row of whitewashed shanties with clothes lines hung between. They were neatly painted and tiny, likely with a central bathhouse. They were camouflaged by a stand of trees...  I assume this is migrant housing, and I assume the buses I have seen in the fields have taken workers into the field for the day (Sunday). 

I don't have judgment. It is just so far from what I know and would expect by looking at the map. Look at me going and applying my assumptions. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Maybe We're Not Able to Church Anymore...

I have been letting my mind wander a lot around issues of why "church" doesn't work the way it used to. Along the way though, I am really hoping to have more insight about how it could and perhaps should work rather than why it isn't.

A couple of things are brewing for me. First, I am aware that as a society, we have broken down all sorts of barriers about what we do and do not discuss in polite company. Gone are genteel social expectations that we do not talk about sex, politics or money with our friends and neighbors.  We wade into difficult subjects at every turn in the coffee house, at dinner parties, on the evening news, in the late night variety show.

But I wonder, as our guard has dropped, have we built the necessary skills to have those conversations? It would seem that our polarized legislature is evidence that we do not. We certainly haven't learned to have those conversations in church. Meanwhile, churches, once vibrant community anchors, are bleeding membership. Some toss around the term "irrelevant." 

At the same time, there are folks gathering small groups for other kinds of community beyond the traditional framework of "church" as we have understood it. Perhaps they are sharing scripture and prayer and conversation. They don't have to align with rules and doctrine. No higher authority I. A structure holds them accountable. They can invite people that they determine are compatible. While theses groups go deep, they are not necessarily wide. Many of these groups do 'to advertise there existence or put out a sign with designated gathering times. 

During the World Cup, I found myself thinking about the indwelling of the Spirit in Acts 2. Gathered from the far reaches, people gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Pentecost, 50 days after the Passover. They were from many tribes and nations. Some knew Jesus, some didn't. In the rushing of the wind, all were able to understand one another in spite of differences in language and heritage. All experienced the revelation of the Spirit. 

I think in some ways, the World Cup is a more likely venue for a monumental Spirit moment in the modern era. Millions of people speaking hundreds of languages focused on shared experience. Descended upon, focused upon one place and one purpose, the gathered (live and virtual) are waiting to see what shows up. Imagine that the Spirit descends into that moment and place. Like those in Jerusalem, I suspect there would be skeptical onlookers, disbelieving witnesses and some moved to a life change that sent them back into the rest of the world to name their experience.

What are the skills -- hard skills beyond the developmental faith milestones that we actually seem pretty good at -- that we could be building within the traditional church that enable people to engage I real, thoughtful dialogue with people with (sometimes radically different) understanding and belief. What dialogue skills move us past a human desire to dominate and be right so that we hear and empathize and share understanding? Because thos are skills we need to be God's real presence in the world. And with that skill, how can we gather together FOR the world and the greater Kingdom?

More questions than answers today. But now they are out of my head.  For now.