Monday, October 29, 2012

Year of Plenty Part 4: The Material v. the Spiritual and My Struggle With It

I've been working on another blog post for the better part of a week and still haven't posted it. It's about a great topic, but I was having trouble narrowing it down. So I'm going to keep working on it and will post this instead.

I always start off the weekend days with a grand plan for how I'll spend them and what I'll accomplish. In Sunday School today, we talked about how Year of Plenty author Craig Goodwin struggles with the dualistic divide in the Christian faith between the spiritual and material in which the spiritual choice is seen as the better option, i.e. joining a monastery instead of apprenticing with the local blacksmith (a random medieval example, but it works.) The physical/spiritual dualism isn't as much a struggle for me as it is for Craig, but I do struggle with another kind of dualism: what I should accomplish and what I actually accomplish.

For instance, I got a free compost bin at the Spokane Solid Waste Fair yesterday. I had planned to set it up in my backyard yesterday afternoon, but when I went out to set it up, I ran into one problem after another. The bin is basically a sheet of rolled-up, stiff black plastic that you're supposed to be able to arrange in a neat 3x3 square, but it had been rolled up so tightly that it didn't want to unroll. I had to jump on top of it to make it stay flat and put spider-webby bricks on all corners. I also realized that to actually put it together, it needed stakes, which I didn't have.

Basically, I realized in dismay that I do not have the brain for mechanics or tactile creativity. Putting this compost bin together was far beyond my ken. Instead, I planted 12 daffodil bulbs, swept a ton of pine needles off the back porch and thought about how I had spent way longer on the compost bin than I intended and still accomplished very little. And my Sunday sped by with little care for my carefully crafted weekend to-do list of which I crossed off exactly two things.

The problem that the compost bin revealed is that I have trouble concentrating on reading or writing when material things are left undone. The contemplative tasks get pushed aside for the tyranny of the urgent. Reading my newest creative nonfiction book can wait, but if that pan sits there another minute with a film of potato soup, it will be a nightmare to clean.

In A Year of Plenty,Craig's year of eating and buying locally required intentionality and contemplation. The Christian life should require intentional choices for every aspect of life. The end goal is that these God-honoring choices become second nature. But for Craig at this point in the book, he still has to think hard about nearly every decision he makes. In an attempt to honor God with my time, I think hard about how to spend my time after work. However, unlike Craig, whose thinking inspires him to action, I often respond to the choices of how to spend my time with paralyzed non-action, hence the dualism between what I want to accomplish and what I actually do accomplish.

And ironically, this dualism gives way to the very dualism that Craig struggles with. (And here I thought I had escaped it.) What is a better way to spend one's time? It depends, of course. There's a place for both the material tasks and spiritual tasks, and God can be glorified in both. But when it comes to the nitty gritty details of how I spend my time, I get mired in the material at the expense of the spiritual. Though both are good, is it possible that one is still better? (I'm thinking of Mary v. Martha.)

I continue to wrestle with this issue and really don't have a good answer to give. How do you see the material v. spiritual playing out in your life? Is there tension between the two? How do you deal with the tension? I'd love to hear from you in the comments. (Maybe you can help me sort this all out!)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Year of Plenty: Part 2, Sort Of

We had a great discussion in Sunday School about Year of Plenty. My parents, visiting from Portland, OR, were a delightful addition to our group. However, I'm not going to write about our discussion this week. Lame, I know, but for some reason, I'm really tired. It might as well be spring with only some wrinkled potatoes rolling around in my metaphorical root cellar; I'm at the end of my energy store. 
I always have recipes I want to try buzzing around in my head like busy bees. With the change of seasons, I'm starting to think about all the wonderful ways to use pumpkin, winter squash, and root vegetables. Waking up to the beauty of fall and winter's humble vegetables has been delightful. I'm thinking of making a chicken curry with apples and squash and a roasted root vegetable soup soon. 
Have you noticed all the pumpkin and apple-themed drinks and pastries in coffee shops recently? I was at Petit Chat Bakery this morning, and I asked what flavor one particular scone was. One person said Maple Walnut; another said (more definitively) that it was Pumpkin White Chocolate. Anything with chocolate is sure to earn my allegiance, so I ordered the scone and found it was actually Pumpkin Walnut! There was also a round loaf of fresh Pumpkin Walnut bread that I bought after thinking about French toast and PB&J with peanut butter and pear butter. I love that this bakery has fresh, local bread at a decent price with quality ingredients. On Sunday, all the week's leftover bread is half off, so I often make a pilgrimage there before church. This Sunday, I snagged a loaf of Whole Wheat and a loaf of Dill Chive Garlic (and my parents paid for it!).
Last Thursday, I made meatballs for the first time with lots of local ingredients: Darigold milk, local ground beef, Green Bluff onions, a slice of Petit Chat sourdough bread, and a local duck egg. The ingredients that weren't local are the parsley and the Feta cheese you can almost see in the picture. Pretty good all around! I cooked them up with tomato sauce and whole wheat pasta for my parents on Friday.

I thought I'd include a couple other pictures of my time with my parents. The first is my dad and me at Eleven Acres Farm at Green Bluff with boxes of winter squash around us. The second picture is our Friday night dessert: baked apples stuffed with brown sugar, dried cherries, and walnuts. Yum!


The second-to-last thing I want to say is that I got a newsletter from the Spokane Country Library district with fun events happening at different library branches. It reminded me that there are so many fun things going on in Spokane in October. Trips to the Fall Festival at Green Bluff, a Firefighters v/ Librarians Chili Cook-Off at the North Spokane library on Oct. 20, a lecture by Shane Claiborne at Whitworth next week, concerts at the Spokane Symphony and at Whitworth, a Compost Fair at the end of the month, and live 40s dancing music at different libraries throughout the month. How cool is all that?! If you're in Spokane, check out some of these events. If you're not in Spokane, I encourage you to find out what's happening locally in your own community.

And finally, a beautiful poem to leave you with. Find it here.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Autumn is here. I went on a walk/run after work today and it was cold enough to need a sweatshirt and warm enough to wear shorts and sandals. I've noticed that Spokane fall air smells dry and sweet, as if the golden autumn sun could impart a scent. The world takes on new depth and perspective.

In my long walks, when my thoughts are free and untethered, I connect the seasons to different life stages. Perhaps because fall is the transition from summer to winter, I connect it to a person moving from one life stage to the next. Like transitions in life, leaving summer behind is bittersweet. But fall, like a transition, is also lovely in its own right. Though we leave good things behind, the transition itself is worthwhile, too. With God's grace, I come to a better knowledge of myself in times of transition.

Women from my church meet once a month on a Tuesday evening to enjoy two hours together. Last night, we met for a wonderful dinner and time of sharing. The discussion leader read a list of words aloud, and we each took five minutes to share which word we identified with most at the present time. Most people identified with one of two words: loss and belonging.

The word I chose was transition, but as I reflected, I realized that the word "transition" for me encompasses both loss and belonging. On my walk today, I headed up the hill behind my house to Whitworth's campus. Two years ago, I belonged here. I lived, worked, ate, and played with friends here. I walked, talked, and struggled here. I marveled and anticipated here. But though the campus is still familiar, I don't belong there in the same way anymore. I belong to the tenuous world of adulthood. Tenuous because I'm still trying to figure out how it works.

There is sometimes a sense of loss, too. But only sometimes. Not because I'm not happy with life now, but rather because I can never go back to being an undergraduate student. A chapter in my life has closed and though it can be revisited in memory, it can never be re-lived.

Several of the women last night visited states over the summer where they had previously lived. Each one saw family members and old friends and felt that the visit had renewed the abiding, albeit long-distance, connections. One woman reflected, "When I was in Colorado, I realized that though I still belong with my friends and family there, I no longer belong to the place. It was a freeing feeling."

Her comment resonated with others in the room, and now that I think back on it, that's exactly how I feel about Whitworth. Though I belong with the people who are still at Whitworth, I no longer belong to Whitworth as a place. My daily life doesn't revolve around the school. And honestly, that's a freeing feeling. On Sunday, someone asked me if I missed being a student. My honest answer was, "No." There are things I miss about being a student, but overall, I'm savoring this time of transition between being a child and being an adult. With God's grace in this time of transition, I am coming to a better knowledge of myself.

Fall inspires me to think about these things. My life takes on new depth and perspective in the fall. Does yours? How?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Year of Plenty Part 1: Proper Complexity

**This series is rooted in my weekly Sunday School class at Colbert Presbyterian Church in which we are studying the book A Year of Plenty: One Suburban Family, Four Rules, and 365 Days of Homegrown Adventure in the Pursuit of Christian Living. Our classes have been rich with discussion, so I wanted to continue some of the discussion here in order that we might all think more deeply about how our spending and eating choices affect both our spiritual and temporal lives.**

I was partially leading discussion yesterday, so I admit that I wasn't listening as well as normal. I was often focused on how to formulate my next question and when I should move the discussion along instead of attending to the discussion at hand. But I did glean some that I'd like to share.

First, a little back story. Craig Goodwin, the author, is a Spokane-area pastor. One Christmas, he and his wife Nancy realized how exhausted they were from the consumerist rush of the holidays. In a rock-bottom moment, Craig and Nancy decided that the year 2008 would be an experimental year in living locally. The Goodwin family was guided by four rules for the year: everything they bought had to be local, used, homegrown, or homemade. Local is defined as roughly the Eastern Washington and North Idaho area. As pastors, Craig and Nancy are also very interested in how all this applies to the Christian life. As you can see, it's a perfect book to be discussing in our particular location (and at this time of year). It's also a topic that's close to my heart.

My classmates are varied, thus it's quickly become apparent that no one person is going to approach this issue from the same background or come out with the same resolutions. We have avid canners and gardeners rubbing shoulders with those who shop mostly at Costco. The question I posed to my classmates yesterday arose from a chapter in which Craig creates a homemade pinata for his daughter's eighth birthday. After the experience, Craig writes: "We were discovering the importance of proper complexity."

My question is what is proper complexity?

It's more complex for me to make and can 14 quarts of applesauce. It took a considerable amount of time to pick the apples, chop and core them, fill jars, and process them in the canner. Each jar of homemade applesauce came to $2. It would take maybe 20 minutes max for me to drive to Fred Meyer to buy a jar of applesauce. Which is better? I think the answer is "It depends."

Which is why I think it's really important to ask this follow-up question: What is gained and what is lost by ____ (fill in the blank)?

In my example, what is gained by making my own applesauce? One easy answer: relationships. I purchased the apples from farmers who attend my church. While making the applesauce, I spent time by myself, praying and thinking and being present to the task and the process. With the extra applesauce, I fed my co-workers. With six of the jars, I'm able to share with my parents.

What was lost in making applesauce? Money and time I could have spent doing other things.

To be attentive to the two great commandments that Jesus reiterates in Mark 12:28-31 means the answers to many questions may never be the same two times in a row. It's more important to have the love of God and people as our overarching rules than to follow Craig and Nancy's local, used, homegrown, and homemade guidelines. However, it's very possible that to love God, the world he's created, and the people who bear his image, following Craig and Nancy's rules may provide an excellent framework for a proper and rooted-in-love complexity. Whether or not we like it, the world is complex, and we face choices every day that demand tough-love decisions from we who embody both the brokenness of this world and the beauty of the Kingdom to come.


How do you see this idea of proper complexity playing out in your own life? What decisions are easy to make? What decisions do you struggle with?