I have recently finished reading Joel Salatin’s The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs–a gift from a dear friend. This book blessed my soul. It is encouraging, enlightening, convicting, practical, and delightful. If you are a Christian, and believe God created the world, this book is for you! Seriously.
Though my readers know by know that I am a thoroughgoing reformed Christian, I actually grew up in the United Methodist church. Us methodists “cared” for creation while not caring how farming was done, or where our food came from. Not caring, not thinking, and most adults laughed at any who suggested farming should be done differently so as to glorify God. Most adults also laughed at tree huggers. Many claimed to care, and to love His creation, while “paving paradise to put up a parking lot.” (A song about the loss of a famous hotel for another parking lot, but…stick with me here…) We talked, and delighted, but took no notice of creation’s demise.
Meanwhile, I landed my dream job working at UMC summer camp (for the best five summers of my life!) and we too, as good Methodists (though many of my co-workers were Taoists, deists, and agnostics), loved creation, and taught children to care for creation in the woods, at the riverside, along the creek. We gardened, composted, and bought bulk food from a wholesaler without thinking of purchasing food from farmers who carried out their work while caring for creation (be it land or animals). We took offense at how so much beauty was being paved to put up parking lots, strip malls, and other buildings that would end up empty in a few years. We loved creation, and despised the loss of all the beauty and freedom of meadows or forests or riversides. So, to one with such passions, but little knowledge of farming…
This book was so refreshing!
Fast forward many many years, and into my years as a middle class citizen of a middle sized city, in a smaller reformed denomination (PCA). I’ve put in years of historical, philosophical, Biblical and theological study. Theology is and always will be a passion of mine. As I began to read The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs, I had been re-reading “The Work of Christ” by Robert Letham. So I was able to easily notice that this Reformed Theologian takes seriously the Dominion Mandate, and it is a small part of his writings. Yet, the book is not about the Dominion Mandate, so naturally it is not center stage. I’m still on the hunt for such a book.
In Salatin’s book I encountered a lengthy and meaty teaching on how the Dominion Mandate relates to the choices we make with our dollars, and each chapter is rich and beautiful. Many Americans might easily think “what I do on my tiny patch of yard cannot possibly matter” yet Salatin discusses just how bad pesticides and chemical fertilizers have been for our country. Every citizen who has chosen Round Up, and other such harmful chemicals has done something towards destroying the gift of God rather than stewarding it. People are killing bees, destroying the soil, and creating dead zones in the oceans because they dislike dandelions.
I’d like to highlight one particular story.
Joel speaks of carrying out his work knowing he will battle thorns and thistles, as mentioned in Genesis 3. He does battle with a blade, and with sweat, and with rotational grazing of several species, and perennials. Meanwhile industrial farmers try to evade battle, by using chemicals that are literally killing our planet. Instead of fostering life, what is the average farmer and consumer working towards?
The temporal home we have, the one place our children and grand children will one day ‘care for’ as they live and raise families, have we really treated it as expendable? What is this “Dominion Mandate,” and if I am not a farmer, does it pertain to me? Many have listened to Monsato rather than wrestling with these questions. Salatin’s book will gently (and amusingly) lead you through thinking about questions that pertain to us all.
There is a battle: good vs. evil, light vs. darkness. And the Dominion Mandate is to be carried out in the midst of this battle, in the world wild with thorns. Many, in fear, listen to those who say “we have to farm industrially in order to feed the world!” But fear has led many astray in this. Joel shows how it is possible to farm with regenerative methods, rather than destructive industrial methods, and the possibility of feeding the world with nutritionally dense food! That’s exciting.
Do we listen to God, care for His Creation, steward this planet, and battle the thorns? Or do we try to create a world here and now free from thorns and battles? Choosing the latter means we are also killing the soil, creating food with no nutritional value, and killing off countless species of God’s creatures. Yet, look at you! No sweat! More time for leisure! And more time for doctors appointments, so they can give you something to deal with all the health problems arising from eating that poisoned food. (deal with, not heal…)
I’m joining the battle wholeheartedly
Joel mentions a particular ‘rose’ that takes over if you let it, after the birds plant it. Native to Asia, it destroys our countryside and farms. I had let one grow in the yard. So I went to battle. Leather gloves, clippers…sweat…and peace! And joy! And living out the metaphor that in caring for this piece of land, and in doing battle against the enemy–what I see happening here is a picture of what happens in our souls when we join God in His mandates.
When we spend our dollars based on the bottom line rather than based on logic and wisdom, we support those who farm industrially and ruin this planet. When immature theology says “it doesn’t matter…” then Christians who are not feasting on the Word are led astray. When other immature ‘theologians’ rant and accuse and shout that “someone must do something” they are not glorifying God, nor accomplishing any good.
In contrast, Biblical Theology embraces the notion of being wise stewards up until the moment when Christ returns. These theologians will not use cleverly devised speech in order to gain a platform, they will use life-giving words that are pleasant and healing (1 Cor. 2:1; Prov. 16:24). Salatin’s words are life-giving, enlightening, logical.
If Biblical Theology impacts our spending, then we walk away from industrial farming.
We walk away from spending money at the big box store for the latest sale items that are harming our health and our planet. We begin to budget so that our dollars are stewarded well, we make choices in line with the Dominion Mandate. We do not support ecologists who say “there are too many humans, humans are bad, etc.” But that is a post for another time… Salatin reminds us that farming with regenerative practices is one of the most practical ways to love your neighbor!
Beauty restored. Goodness enjoyed. Truth reigning and leading to rejoicing.
This is God’s design! His mandates. His creation. The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul. The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart. The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. (Psalm 19)
And when we ruin His creation because we make choices without thinking, we are still responsible. When we treat His land with contempt, we suffer. (Sad fact: many people in this country cannot tolerate gluten or dairy because of what antibiotics and glyphosate have done to their gut health. Yours truly included; and I’m still on the long road to healing.)
When our bread doesn’t make us sick, then John 6 makes more sense (go read it). We can trust that His words are indeed Spirit and Life. And we will feast upon them. We can say, as Peter did, “You have words of eternal life!” And we can heed the call to “eat this bread and live forever” with “all joy and peace in believing.” (Psalm 19; John 6; Romans 15:13) When Big Ag and Big Pharma and deep ecologists implement policies and products that make us sick, we resign, we grow lethargic (in body, mind, and soul), and we are prone to turn down the invitation to the feast.
Joel Salatin does a wonderful job of discussing from so many angles how farming practices ought to be carried out in a way that honors our Creator. He also dispels myths that might hold you back from caring–like the ones about cows and carbon emissions… “But I’m not a farmer…” You are not, perhaps; but all your food comes from a farmer who sold it to a company who sold it to a store… I am amused that my neighbors think eating eggs from my backyard chickens is a bit odd, but they eat eggs from the store. Spoiler: those eggs also came from chickens, but the factory farm methods used are toxic and destructive.
With your dollars, what kind of farming do you support?
As a Christian, you must care about how your eggs were sourced, how the chickens were treated, how the farm was run, and whether these practices are in line with your Creator’s desires for His world, or if they are instead leading toward the ruination of our planet. Not because we worship the planet, but because we listen to our Creator, we worship Him by obeying Him. Does He care how chickens or pigs or cows are treated? Or the soil?
Pic: my family when we visited Joel Salatin’s farm. Unlike industrial farms, it smells lovely, looks lush, and is non-toxic.
Next week, look for a follow up post introducing a Reformed Theological position on the Dominion Mandate and Stewardship. (Hint: stewardship is so much more than tithing and how you spend money)