How farming and faith relate

I first started working on a farm when I was just a toddler. Ever since then I’ve been tromping around cornfields and playing in pig pens. And while most of what I’ve done on the farm is far from glamorous, I would like to think that I have learned as much about discipleship in fields and barns as I have in classrooms studying theology. Despite the stigma (and the smell), my work in these places has been a sort of living parable. On the days I am not cursing the cold or grumbling about the manure I have yet to move, I count it a blessing.

Jesus was no stranger to the agricultural industry of his day. His Kingdom stories were full of references to fields, farmhands, garden plots, trees, weeds, and harvest-time. If the statistics are right, not a lot of folks reading this will have known the modern version of this world which he pointed to, and even fewer of you will find yourselves on farms in the future. A lot of you have probably never even stepped foot on a farm. That’s just the world we live in now. Are we missing out? More than just culturally, spiritually?

Of the many lessons I have learned, perhaps none has been so important to my spiritual journey and work with the church than the patience that farm work requires. In the age of Google, where quick fixes and short-cuts are the name of the game, there is a need to relearn this kind of slowness rather than resort to a sort of fast faith.

There is no shortage of spur-of-the-moment salvation experiences out there. Trouble is, discipleship, like fieldwork, is difficult. Sanctification is a Divine labour stretched life-long, and the simple fact is that not all the seeds that are scattered end up taking root. Used to the artificial pace at which North American culture operates, I see so a lot of folks come to faith, and, realizing that transformation does not happen as quickly as their espresso order, grow deeply discouraged. Many simply give up.

While at times it comes dramatically, suddenly, and with a great display of force, change most often happens gradually, the way the snow peas and sweet corn inch their way skyward. And so, when I am discouraged at the pace of transformation, in my life and the lives of those in my community, I stoop down and look at those plants which take months to grow but will, after my patience has been tried, eventually produce fruit.

These are hard jobs, involving a commitment to get dirt beneath one’s fingernails while participating in time-intensive disciplines, the fruit of which may not be seen until much later. If you are passionate about cultivating faith in your community and bringing justice to your neighbourhoods, and find yourself burnt-out, discouraged, and wondering if there is any hope for change at all, try planting a couple sunflower seeds. There is fruit to our labour, and there are worlds of work and grace, rain and sun, that lie in bigger hands beyond our own.

A few summers ago I spent some time helping a local community centre develop an urban garden program. Given my background in farming, they thought I could help. One of the problems we discussed was how, at the end of the season, a lot of members would simply end up abandoning their plots. For whatever reason, come early October, half the garden was a mess of wilted tomato plants and stunted corn stalks.

Faith requires incredible patience, but God is on the move, and will see this work through. Resurrection is bursting out of the earth all around us. Don’t abandon the plot.

This is the last of our faith and farming series.
To read part 2: Theology of food
Part 3: Graveyard for silos
Part 4: So you think you can farm? 


Flickr photo (cc) by Hartwig HKD