Over the course of the next few months, I want slowly to share the key experiences that have shaped me in terms of food and agriculture. My story isn’t linear. Only when my love of food and agriculture began growing in college did I begin to see the significance of my childhood and family history. And only when I realized my own personal (albeit untraditional) ties to food and agriculture, did I find the deep energy and passion to pursue a career around these topics. This week, I (finally) conclude my college years.
A significant piece of my college career was spent figuring out what it looked like to have my Christian beliefs shape my views of and work in agriculture. Through the study of the Bible and countless conversations with many people (especially my pastor), I was given the freedom to bring food, my work and faith together at the table.
I had many “aha” moments in college regarding my faith, but there are two that deeply shaped my ag communications career.
When I was child, it was implied that the pinnacle of the Christian faith was a personal relationship with God. And while one’s relationship with God is a vital and unique facet of Christianity, I realized in college that that Christianity is about far more than me being in A-ok-shape with God. I began to see that (simply put) at the heart of Christianity is the God of the Bible loving his people and making this broken world right. In other words, my understanding of Christianity shifted from me (Am I right with God? How can I bring him glory? Where is sin in my life? What should I do?) to looking for God and his work through the world (Who is God? How is he at work? What would he have me do in response to him?). The first set of questions is vital, but only when filtered through a love and fear of who God is.
When it came to my pre-college communities of faith, the relationship between faith and work was tenuous at best. Though rarely (if ever) explicitly stated, I believed that the church largely regarded work as: a necessary evil, a means to an end (making money to give to church and missions) and only “Christian” if you witnessed to your co-workers. Since I never felt called to vocational ministry, I had a lurking feeling that work outside of ministry was second-class in God’s kingdom. At Purdue Reformed University Fellowship, “secular” work was valued and I began to understand that all work matters to God. One of my favorite passages became Psalm 8, especially these few verses:
Yet you have made [man] a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
Because of these two realizations, my views of ag and my work in ag communications became intricately connected to my faith.
I began reading and talking to Brian (the Purdue RUF minister) about what the Bible teaches on food and ag. Although not specific to agriculture, the Bible passages Brian taught on at our weekly RUF meetings often had implications for ag and ag communications.
I became convicted that the Christian view of food and agriculture is more than just saying grace before dinner, praying for a good harvest and trying to end hunger. The Bible’s teaching on agriculture reaches far deeper. Here’s how Brian described it in an interview* I did with him:
God created the world good. Sin has entered the world and God’s good creation is now broken and fallen. But because God is restoring the broken world and he’s making it new, this work of redemption and restoration will one day be finally complete. How we interact with God’s world, particularly in the realm of care for his creation (which obviously entails the way we would eat and think about agriculture) matters now because God is restoring and will completely restore creation. As Christians, the way that Jesus would call us to live now is to live in light of the future, to live as citizens of Kingdom of God yet to come and to, as much as possible, implement these sorts of new creation kingdom practices now. And this has everything to do with caring for God’s world and caring for the people involved with producing the food. It also necessitates that we recognize that increase in profit cannot be the only motivating factor in enabling us to make decisions with what’s good and what’s not.
This was also the season of life where I began to love science. Although I sat on the struggle-bus every semester I took a Purdue science class, I started to see how science is a beautiful endeavor and an integral aspect of restoring the broken world. Though imperfect (like art, medicine, etc.), science became something I could wisely embrace versus skeptically fear. This prepared me for thinking well about agriculture’s controversial issues like biotechnology, raw milk, CAFOs and herbicide usage.
Finally, I began to see my work (my life, really) as a small part of a larger story. The work I do isn’t about me. My faith isn’t the means to making my life happen. No. It’s about God, in his goodness, working to make ALL things new. It’s about embracing the glory and honor I’ve been given as human to exercise dominion in the spheres where I’m called, whether that’s washing dishes or writing an article on genetic modifications in soybeans. These convictions spur me to work hard, embrace humility, live my faith outward and embody hope.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t draw attention Brian and Jeanette (his wife) and my community at Reformed University Fellowship. The countless conversations I had with my Brian and Jeanette, their faithful care for me as a whole person, and the strong theology they instilled in me have forever changed how I view my life and the world. The young men and women from RUF with whom I so sweetly shared life at Purdue chose to see the image of God in my life and bring that out. We drank Greyhouse coffee together, ate dining court food together and had drinks and played euchre at Jake’s together. Really, those three facts say a lot about the beauty and integrity of our friendships.
Brian often reminded us that sanctification- becoming more like Christ – happens in the context of community. My life is a testimony to that truth. I’m the person I am today because of them. I’m the writer and ag communicator I am today because of them