New Year’s Resurrection : Part 1 : Theological Considerations

(Author’s Note: This post is the first in a set of three considering the importance of Christ’s resurrection in the Christian’s life. I intended to post this series at the beginning of the new year (to explain the first paragraph), but hemmed and hawed over it for much too long…)

We are just now finishing up the first week of a new year. 2012 done, packed away. 2013 here, ready to unfold. Like so many others, I’m prone to think about what the past year brought to pass. I think about the  tears and the laughter, the heartache and the healing. The mistakes and second chances; the misgivings and the promises.

No matter how each of those equations turned out (did I have more tears than laughter, more heartache than healing?), the fact remains that the days are past—gone, finished. Past. Aside from the memories, all that remains at the end of a year is the promise of future days—the hope that no matter how good (or bad) last year was, this year can be—will be—better.

For Christians, its customary to celebrate this same hope in the future on Easter Sunday, a day signified by Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Through Christ’s resurrection, Christians believe, death has been eternally conquered and a new age (not just a new year) has dawned, and eternal life is available to all who believe. So while New Year’s offers rekindled hope for the next 365 days, Christ risen from the dead offers hope for eternity.

While on this journey of seeking out the abundant life Christ promises us in John 10:10, I’ve become increasingly convinced that how we understand Christ’s resurrection has absolutely real implications for how we live. So what does it mean for us to live in this hope on a daily basis? To actually experience the promise of new life and live out the tenant of our faith that promises us eternal life?

In my own experience, Christ’s resurrection from the dead is preached but not emphasized, especially when compared to the attention paid to Christ’s death on the cross. I suppose this unbalance makes sense, considering Christ’s death is a capstone to thousands of years of Jewish history (we know how things will turn out) while his resurrection is the first chapter in a future still unfolding (we don’t yet know how things will turn out).

Christ’s death is the culmination of Jewish history and by offering himself as a sacrifice for all mankind, Jesus participates in the God-ordained system (based on animal sacrifice) that allows us, His creation, to return to Him. In this way, Christ’s death provides the final chapter in the story of God’s work through His chosen people, the Israelites. His death answers the all-time question of how a sinful man can ever enter into right relationship with a perfect God. Christ’s death answers the question of redemption once and for all.

But while this final absolution of sin answers the most pressing question of our past, does not yet give us a promise for our future.

Consider for a moment how the meaning of the Gospel would dramatically shift if Christ hadn’t risen from the dead. Sure, we are able to have a hope in eternal life because we’ve now entered into right relationship with Him, but it is this hope, this assurance of days to come that drives the Christian narrative and makes it distinct from all other faith narratives.

A Linguistic Discovery : Community Discipleship House

It’s been just under two years since I originally started This Beautiful Life as a blog. While there aren’t nearly as many posts as I would like, the years have not been without progress for TBL. In fact, the faces, places and spaces of 2011-2012 have all worked together to add definition to my original concept, casually outlined in an introductory post from April 12, 2011.

For much of the past two years, I’ve found it difficult to explain the concept of building community using a lifestyle grounded in agriculture and simple, beautiful living. No single word or phrase seemed to really identify my intentions. The word “commune” often came to mind, as it conjures the ideas of community and even growing food, but the political connotations of the word felt too heavy when describing my vision.

Retreat center,” “shelter,” “artistsretreat,” “halfway house,” and the like also came close to describing some elements of my vision, particularly as it relates to hospitality and providing a place of rest, healing and growth. The growth of “agritourism” as an industry and the increasing popularity of “farm stays” help emphasize the farm part of TBL but is wanting in an emphasis on promoting ongoing community.

Specific examples of already existing places, like L’Abri in England also helped me get close to the idea, but again, were not quite the vision behind This Beautiful Life.

While not entirely detrimental in my ongoing exploration of TBL, the linguistic dilemma of how to describe my dream of “living in community on a farm” has inhibited effective communication regarding any specifics of this dream.

Just a couple months ago, I had the occasion to meet someone who shared his experience of participating in a dedicated, year-long residential community that emphasized the personal spiritual formation of each participant. The program allowed this young man, along with seven other young adults, a concentrated time to explore what it means to live a Christian life devoted both to Christ and community. The program also encouraged and facilitated growth in important life skills, including career prep and household management.

Specifics of my acquaintance’s program aside, it was the title of the program, “Community Discipleship House,” that immediately struck—and stuck with—me. Oh-so obvious and self-explanatory, the phrase is surprisingly uncommon. (Of the few places online I could find containing the phrase, most reserve it for ministries focused on bringing hope and healing to individuals suffering from addiction.)

Despite its scarcity, I’m amazed at how well “Community Discipleship House” fits the vision of This Beautiful Life—it’s a term that is simultaneously narrow enough to be worthwhile but still broad enough that the specifics can be left for further discovery.

Some upcoming posts will be dedicated to unpacking this term and how it is shaping the present and long term visions for this beautiful life.

The Origins of Originality

A few weeks ago I took a day “off” to attend a photography workshop. It was billed as a “day of inspiration” and I looked forward to refueling my think tank after a busy season of wedding work.

Much of the discussion centered on our need to be “original” in our vision and our work. The speaker emphasized time and time again that our work matters only to the degree to which it is original. To make his point, he shared the websites of several artists around the world who are successfully chasing after new ideas—and the subsequent recognition and/or jobs they received from their efforts .

But originality has a short shelf-life. It only takes the next guy to build on your idea for the “original” idea to be left as old and forgotten. In today’s social-media world, this creating and building upon can happen in 15 minute cycles. If the value of our work comes merely from it’s level of originality, than our work suffers from a short shelf-life as well. 

So, rather than leaving the workshop inspired to “be more original”, I left discouraged by the enormous amount of attention originality attracts; the high commodity that originality has become in a culture that is always going after something newer and better. It is impossible to keep up.

I’m now reminded of how the goal of This Beautiful Life is anything but original. The core task—learning how to grow, preserve, and cook and share food—is a task that has been central to man’s existence since our beginning. While new technology has certainly changed the way we farm (sometimes for the best, many times for the worse), farming is never about being original. It’s about submitting to the history of the earth and its ability to produce harvest after harvest after harvest. Farming is about letting go of our need to be original—to do things in a way never before done—and agreeing to work in tandem with nature’s course. And most of all, farming forces us to recognize that no matter how much we “do”, how much “originates” from our labor, it is ultimately God who creates.

What’s more, I like knowing that God does not validate me by my ability to come up with next big idea but rather, He is the crazy idea. His Truth is the origin from which all originality results.

And with Him, my value never expires.

Celebrating the Mistakes, Mishaps, and Flat-Out Misses

July is now officially over and Garden Plot #41 is full of weeds. I lament my inattention to the plot and the subsequent chaos now growing taller than my 5’4″ frame. And yet, almost in spite of the weeds it seems, beets, bean bushes, lettuce, broccoli and zucchini thrust their spindly stalks sunward (see earlier post) and offer me an unearned reward for my parsley efforts.

And while I am certainly grateful to report the minor successes of my first year in the dirt, I cannot discount the significance of the lessons I am learning from the mishaps and miscalculations of this first season. Here is a brief recap:

Start out with a studio-sized apartment, not a studio-sized garden. 
The Wheaton Park District rents out garden plots 20×30 feet in size. In the wide open space of Atten Park (where the plots can be found) 600 square feet of freshly plowed, unadulterated growing space did not intimidate me, a budding gardener. Three months and 74 inches of rain later, 600 square feet of fast-growing weeds does.

On the flip side, had I successfully produced my plot’s full share of crop, the resulting yield would prove much too difficult for a lone novice gardener like myself to harvest and consume. And while one day I will be able to handle 40 acres and a mule, that day is not today.

China is the next economic superpower.* 
On every seed packet I found instructions for optimal plant spacing. For example, lettuce seeds should be sown a quarter inch deep, 10 seeds per foot, in single, double or triple rows 12-18 inches apart. Not really knowing what all this meant, I opted for a more “artistic” (read: non-precise) approach to seed-spacing. Turns out, however, that the tighter the plants grow, the less space remains for weeds to find their home amongst the crop. As I observe the efforts of neighboring gardens, the successful plots display plants packed closely together like urban Chinese dwellers in a Beijing apartment building—tight, with little room to spare. Conversely, my plants look as if they are living in rural America, with great distances between their neighbors. Not only are the “Chinese” plots sprouting fewer weeds compared to mine, the yield for these plots prove much higher per square foot. No wonder the 2010 Census reported a 4% decline of rural-living Americans (from 20% in 2000 to 16%)….

Early humans invented tools for very good reason. 
Silly as it may seem, I’m learning why a hoe was invented and why a rake is extremely helpful. It only takes a short time in a garden to realize the usefulness of particular tools and why it didn’t take long for early humans to devise objects for use in food production and gathering.

Variety (aka: the Spice of Life) can sometimes give you heartburn. 
At the start of the season, I decided to plant several different types of vegetables precisely so I could see how each one grew from seed to harvest. This idea only sounds good. In reality, my inexperience proved fatal for some plants, as I could not adequately research and provide the particular needs of each type.

Planting season waits for no one—not even that cute boy with curly hair. 
When it’s time to plant, it’s time to plant. And while the rest of life may still be going on (like weddings to photograph, boys to date, websites to design, and trips to take), come the first frost-free day of Spring, it’s best to lay all of that aside and pick up the shovel.

So while it may be easier to celebrate success (for example: the first budding of broccoli I spotted this past Monday!), the mishaps, miscalculations, and flat-out misses of this first year prove equally valuable and celebration-worthy.

And besides, all great farmers started out as amateurs. Or so I hear.

*Note: I am not trying to make a political statement regarding China’s potential economic power. However, to learn more about China’s growing financial stardom (and that of main competitor, India), click here.