When Problems are Too Big For Partisan Politics….

2012 is still new. There is still plenty of shine on it. It has all kinds of potential for good.  As long as the election cycle doesn’t overshadow our opportunity.

Elections are important. They are also a necessary evil. We have a chance to participate in the process, so vote. We also get to live with the consequences of our decisions, so vote wisely.

Here’s the deal, though. Government will not fix a single real problem facing our country or our world. Their size, their needs, their divisions will forever mire them and keep us frustrated with them. Government is in the business of Government.

Inflation, unemployment, the ongoing real estate crisis, escalating divorce rates, poverty, hunger, rising costs of medical care; these are just a few of the mountains Americans are facing. We mistakenly think that somehow Washington is going to put their partisan differences aside and solve them. How foolish are we?  The Republicans and Democrats have become so polarized that the party out of power will forever see their role as obstructionist.  We may have lost the art of compromise forever. Wisdom has left the building.

The fact is, Washington never was, or never should have been, the answer. For people like me, the Church is much better positioned to help find solutions to our communities’ crippling economic, social and moral problems.

As individual congregations, we have agility and mobility to focus on the needs inside our fellowships, that the red tape of Govt. Bureaucracies  could never allow.

Think about it for a moment. If each Family of Faith would concentrate efforts on finding creative solutions to the hunger, financial and health issues just within our own groups, we could reduce the load on Government, exponentially.

Now, let’s take that thought to the next level. If the Churches in any given community were to work together to solve mutual problems, our size, influence and wealth of our combined efforts would be a virtually irresistible force.

Let me cite just a couple of examples: 1. Let’s suppose all the Christian gardeners and farmers in a congregation united to create community gardens to help provide food security for the members of our congregations who were in need. Or, what if we tithed the produce from our gardens to our Church food pantry. What if we tithed our eggs, our chickens, our milk, our beef, our lamb, our pork; how much food could we provide?

What if we held classes in our Church buildings that taught people how to cook and prepare nutritious, whole foods and reduce the need the need for fast or highly processed foods in family diets. Now what if we taught them how to grow some of this food themselves. We could dramatically reduce poverty and health costs at the same time.

Sure, there is a certain percentage of the population who is not willing to help themselves. We have to live with that, but there is also a percentage who is more than willing, even desirous of being a part of our own solutions. We don’t stop offering a cure because some people want to stay sick.

Speaking of sick, imagine with me that all the Christian medical professionals in a given community, tithed their time to provide pro bono medical care for people in their congregations who could not afford it.  How much medicaid and medicare money could be saved?  Heck, how much fraud could be reduced?

Ok, one more; What if all the mechanics in a Church would devote time each week to do oil changes and basic maintenance on vehicles for the unemployed, single mothers, senior citizens and other financially challenged in the Church. How much money could be saved in the long run?

We can’t let the risk of abuse be our excuse for not following the Scriptural command to look after ‘the least of these’. A very large percentage of people Jesus himself served, apparently rejected Him or took their bread and fish for granted. In one example, Jesus healed 10 men of leprosy and only one even thanked Him. And that dude wasn’t even a Jew. It didn’t stop Him from healing or feeding though. How very radical.

Most of what I’ve described has been at a congregational level. Imagine for a moment, if Christians united to serve together. The force for change would dwarf a Tsunami. Our enemy knows that. He works overtime making sure the Church stays divided, because if we ever come together, the gates of Hell are toast.

Which brings me to a final point. The world needs Jesus much more than we need a conservative (or liberal, if that’s your orientation) Government. I don’t believe that the Republicans OR the Democrats will help us find Revival. And neither will prevent one, once it gets started. I’m just sayin’, vote, it’s an American privilege, but if you consider yourself a Christian, pray like the future depends on God and work like the future depends on you.

If you’re not a Christian, I dare you to give Jesus a fresh look. You might be surprised by what you discover.

Peace, y’all.

 

 

Heroes of the Good Food Movement Part 1 – Will Allen

“Actions speak louder than words”.  I imagine you’ve heard that before.  How about this one, “I know what you’re fighting against, but what are you fighting for?”  Ok, one more, “Talk is cheap!”

I have always been inspired by doers.  Men and women who roll up their sleeves, take risks and take action are much more exciting to me than mere great thinkers.  To me, the real visionaries of history are those who see a need, have a goal, and then fight like heck to do something about it.

As promised, I’m writing a series of very short articles about people and organizations that really inspire me as relates to food security.  These are sleeve rolling, action taking, get r done kind of people whose efforts are kick butt effective and who motivate me to get up off my couch and make a difference in my community.

The first person I want to highlight is Will Allen and his organization, Growing Power.

I’ll admit, I hadn’t heard of Will Allen until about a year ago when I first saw, “Fresh, the Movie”.  I became an instant fan.  This guy is a real hero. He’s a doer.

After a career in Basketball and a stint in corporate America, Will Allen went back to his roots, farming.  The cool thing about his farm is it’s stuck right smack in the middle of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  He is the poster child for Urban Farming. Three glorious acres surround by sprawl.

Growing Power uses some pretty innovative methods combining greenhouses, Aquaponics and vermicomposting to grow mountains of food.  They are absolute masters of space and resource management.  They are a genuine oasis in the heart of a food desert.

What makes me love Will Allen and Growing Power so much, is that they have seen a need for good food and have taken action to make it available and to train others to do the same.  These people are not  mere protesters of the travesty of malnutrition, childhood obesity or food insecurity, they are working to alleviate it.  They are setting a standard and an example of excellence, demonstrating that there are solutions to our growing food security issues.

In the spirit of full disclosure, Mr. Allen and his organization have much more interest in Government involvement than I do.  The more I learn about Growing Power, the more I believe our political views are quite disparate, but Will Allen isn’t waiting on Government, he is doing something now.  And what he is doing is heroic. 

Growing Power is now working well beyond Milwaukee, with centers and partnerships in Madison, Wisconsin, Chicago, IL and other cities around the country.  They are feeding communities, but are also training a new generation in how to build a secure, sustainable food system.  This is community organizing I can get behind. 

I’ve included links to their website a couple of times in this post, but you should also do a search for Growing Power or Will Allen on YouTube for more information.  I’ve got to tell you, though, if you read and watch this stuff, you might just become compelled to do something about your community.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

My Birthday Manifesto

I am 55 years old today.  Truth be told, I don’t like it much.  I am not handling it particularly well at all.  Time is ticking.  I am well aware of the fact that I have more days behind me than in front of me.  I’d like to believe that the best ones, though, are still ahead.  To ensure that last statement, I am making some priority adjustments in order to keep the Main Thing the Main Thing. See, I still want to change the world.

Children are still going to bed hungry.  Mammas are crying themselves to sleep at night because they don’t know how they’re gonna to feed their babies.  Daddies walk around in a haze wondering when they’re going to get a job.  Old people still can’t afford to keep the heat turned on and are terrified they won’t be able to pay for their medicine.  Married couples can’t see around their mountains of debt, much less a way out.  Divorce attorneys get way too much work and Bibles gather way too much dust.  Young people are still pointing guns at each other, and at themselves.  Cancer patients are still afraid and abortion doctors are still too busy.  Addicts are still looking for a hit. Cheaters are still taking off their wedding bands.  Soldiers are still dying.  Politicians are still lying.  Hearts are still being broken and dreams are still being shattered. Life looks grim.

But there is real hope out there.  And the world needs to know. The Word is still sharper than any two edged sword.  Light still chases the darkness.  Truth will still set us free.  Love is still the greatest thing. The gates of Hell still fall before the advance of the Church and Jesus is still Lord.

I am not as strong as I used to be, but the One I serve has strength that never fails.  My grip is not as firm as it once was, but His is still snatch proof.  My mind is not as sharp these days, but my knees still work just fine.  The prayer of a righteous man is still powerful and effective.  Jesus is still the same, yesterday and forever.

This jar of clay may crack, but brokenness will only reveal the treasure inside.  I don’t like getting older, but I refuse to sit down.  I’m taking this opportunity to serve notice:

The hungry WILL be fed.  The thirsty WILL receive water.  The naked WILL be covered.  The sick and imprisoned WILL be visited.  The lost WILL be found.  The Good News WILL be preached to the poor.  The earth WILL be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Death HAS been swallowed up in victory.

On this day, I declare war on the Darkness. Join me or get out of the way, cause this train is leaving the station.

Worlds Apart On Common Ground

Brittan and I are part of a grass roots movement that makes the Tea Party look like a week night crowd at a Florida Marlins game, virtually nonexistent.  I mean, this movement is huge.  And it’s growing at a pace that could soon make us an irresistible force.  If we don’t implode, that is.

We have many names and many flavors.  People are in for a variety of reasons.  Some are about local food.  Some are about whole foods.  Some are interested in food security or better nutrition.  Others are about sustainability and permaculture vs. Big Agra and monocultures.  Many participants are fighting ‘Climate Change’ while others have faith based motives to care for God’s creation.  The list of reasons goes on and on.

We are old and young, male and female, religious and secular, conservative and liberal.  We speak a hundred languages live in all corners of the globe.  We are strong.  And we are fragile.  Our uneasy alliance could crumble at any moment.

I see two large contingents in this ‘good food’ movement.  The first is liberal and secular.  I would even argue that they may be the dominant force.  They are certainly the most vocal in the social media environs of Facebook and Twitter.  They are all about ‘food justice’, anti- Big Agra and very active in urban areas.  They are well educated and articulate.  They are also passionate and dogmatic.  This group wants to see more Govt. involvement in all things food related.  This group is responsible for some outstanding films like, “Fresh” and “Food, Inc.”  I would consider Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and Will Allen, the heroic founder of “Growing Power” in Milwaukee as poster children for this branch of the movement.

The second large force is conservative and Christian.  Brittan and I are in this group.  This contingent has a large number of small farmers, bloggers and writers in its constituency, but appears to be less vocal.  On the whole, we want Govt. out of the food chain.  We consider Big Govt. as big a problem as Big Agra.  We promote personal responsibility over federal responsibility.  We would rather mobilize the Church, communities and individuals and keep Govt out of the way.  Lift the restrictions and let the people go free.  I’m guessing that Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms in Virginia is the most recognizable name and face in this wing.

Conservative Secularists seem to make up smaller part of the movement.  Some of them, though, like the very awesome Nature’s Harmony Farm, in Elberton, GA are making a significant impact.

All the branches are about making healthy, tasty, whole, natural, safe foods available to the masses.  We all want it to be affordable as well as accessible.  We are all working day and night as producers, consumers and advocates to make it happen.  There are, however, fundamental differences in our core values and even some of our desired tactics.  It is here that we are most vulnerable.

For example, at the end of the film “Fresh”, which I own and which my wife and I opened our home for a public showing before its national release, the statement is made that access to good food is a fundamental human right.

The implication of that is then that all forces, private and Governmental, should be marshaled to achieve the noble goal of food security.

I whole heartedly agree with the goal.  I fundamentally disagree with the premise, and there’s the rub.

There is nothing in Scripture or nature that indicates food is a basic human right.  It is a basic human NEED, but need and right are not synonyms. 

In nature, animals starve to death all the time.  There is nothing in the physical world that suggests we have a right to food.  If I am competing with a gorilla for the same banana, unless I have a firearm, his strength and quickness will trump my ‘rights’ every time.

It the Bible, in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul wrote, “If a man refuses to work, he shall not eat.”  The implication is that eating is conditional. Note: This refers to the ‘won’ts, not the ‘cant’s’.  I get it. 

For me, and for others like me, it is my love for God and my fellow human beings that drives me to CHOOSE to meet their need for good nutrition.  “Pure religion, and undefiled,” James wrote, “is to look after widows and orphans.” Note:  This one is about the ‘can’ts’.

It breaks my heart to see pictures of starving children.  I am angry that 35 million Americans are genuinely hungry, not to mention the hundreds of millions around the world.  I shake my head in frustration and rage when I read about a new salmonella outbreak.  I am outraged at the conditions of animals in Factory Farms and CAFOs.  It should not be this way.  It should not be easier to get a packet of ramen noodles than an apple.  Kids are starving to death on Happy Meals, even as those same dinners are making them obese. 

Unlike my liberal allies, I believe more Govt. intervention will only make it worse.  I guarantee you that more taxes, more regulations, expanding subsidies to small farmers, will not make things better.  It will make everyone poorer.  It’s simple math. 

I want to find a way to make healthy food affordable.  I want mothers and fathers to learn to cook again.  I want people to read the labels on what they buy, before they put the stuff in their mouths.  I want families to grow some, or all, of their own food, but you can’t make people do any of that. 

I don’t want Tyson or Smithfield legislated or regulated out of business.  I want people to see inside their chicken houses and CAFOs then come see our chickens and pigs running around in the sunshine, eating grass and leaves and chestnuts.  Let them see our cows grazing away in the pasture or our young goats and lambs romping around at sunset.  Then let the consumer choose.  Transparency is better than regulation.  Openness is superior to legislation.

People should be able to know what’s in the food they eat.  Supermarkets and restaurants should voluntarily make it known.  Then people can make informed choices.  If the sellers won’t release the information, consumers should move along and buy from those who do.  It is not Govt.’s place to get down in the weeds and regulate that kind of behavior.  There are simpler, self policing methods.

As consumers, we’ve gotten lazy.  We want cheap food.  We want to drive about two blocks to get it.  We want to toss the bags, boxes and cans into a trolley and have someone else make sure it’s good for us.  Or, at least that it’s not bad for us.  Hey, adult, Mommy doesn’t look after you anymore.  Take some responsibility.  Stop being so trusting.   I promise you, if we start paying attention and ‘voting’ with our dollars, knives and forks, the food producers, markets and restaurants will follow.  They want their profits.  If we move our dollars elsewhere, things WILL get better.

As a producer, I choose to take some responsibilities, too.  I choose to grow the best tasting, healthiest, food possible.  I choose to ask a fair price for it.  I choose to avoid pesticides and chemical fertilizers.  I choose to avoid soy.  I choose to sell locally, direct to the public.  I choose to make our farm and garden open to the public and let people come in whenever they like.  I choose to teach others how to do the same thing.  I choose to try and persuade Churches, schools and civic groups to adopt ideas like community gardens.  I choose to give away 10% of everything we grow to people who can’t afford to buy it. 

Hmmm, I intended this to be a series of observations rather than conservative libertarian discourse, but there you go.  I know that some of you will go, “Amen.  You preach it.”  Others will tremble in anger.  A few will ‘unfollow’ me on twitter.  And there’s the problem.  Ultimately, we have the same goal.  It is an honorable one.  We are working together, so far, but we are building from different sets of blueprints.  That could become problematic.

I am hoping that what we have in common will be stronger than our differences.  I am hoping, too, that we will be tolerant of each other rather than begin some ugly infighting.  I am hoping, but I am not confident. 

In the surprisingly current words of John Lennon and Paul McCartney:

“Try to see it my way
Do I have to keep on talking
Till I can’t go on?

While you see it your way
Run the risk of knowing that
Our love may soon be gone
We can work it out
We can work it out

Think of what you’re saying
You can get it wrong and still
You think that it’s all right

Think of what I’m saying
We can work it out and
Get it straight or say good night
We can work it out
We can work it out

Life is very short
And there’s no time
For fussing and fighting, my friend

I have always thought
That it’s a crime
So I will ask you once again

Try to see it my way
Only time will tell
If I am right or I am wrong

While you see it your way
There’s a chance that we might
Fall apart before too long
We can work it out
We can work it out

Life is very short
And there’s no time
For fussing and fighting, my friend

I have always thought
That it’s a crime
So I will ask you once again

Try to see it my way
Only time will tell
If I am right or I am wrong

While you see it your way
There’s a chance that we might
Fall apart before too long
We can work it out
We can work it out”

Well, darn, wouldn’t you know it, they were liberals, too… 🙂