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Archive for March, 2009

Inverse

I noticed a disturbing pattern last week: there is an inverse relationship between intimacy of relationships and the amount of respect with which human beings treat one another. To put it in plain English, it really bothers me that people who spend lots of time together tend to treat each other so badly. I would never bark orders at a casual acquaintance the way that I yell at my kids when they are dawdling in the morning and we are running late. Nor would I be as quick to nag anyone as easily as I do my husband.

Sadly, this is coming up because I’ve been treated not-so-nicely by several folks during the past few weeks. I’m grateful that these situations have served as mirrors leading to  self-examination, and once again I’ve been reminded that I’m woefully imperfect since I’ve been guilty of harming others with the same sort of behavior that caused so much discomfort for me.  And so the question has been gnawing at my brain as I attempt to drift off to sleep at night…why do we continue to hurt the people we love the most?

A quick look around the web at various definitions of “inverse” led me to a deeper understanding of the concept. In mathematical theory, I found some good news. As wikipedia says,

In mathematics, the idea of inverse element generalises the concepts of negation, in relation to addition, and reciprocal, in relation to multiplication. The intuition is of an element that can ‘undo’ the effect of combination with another given element.

The additive inverse of 1 would be -1. When you put the two together using addition, you wind up with zero. In other words, the inverse completely negates the original number, it is literally “undone”. It seems that humans interact with each other on an additive level. When we are doing well, we can build on one another. But when we get into inverse relationships, we wind up cancelling each other out, or even worse taking each other into negative territory.

Thankfully there is also the multiplicative inverse. If I just used a number with its additive inverse and multiplied them (2 and -2, for example), I would wind up with less than zero, a negative number. But in the multiplicative case, the inverse of 2 would be 1/2, the reciprocal. When you multiply a number by its reciprocal, you wind up with the number 1. I believe that God saves our screwed-up relationships by acting as the multiplicative inverse once our addition has gone haywire. When God is involved in the equation, the inverse relationship is always reciprocal. This means that there is hope for breaking even, that there is hope for union and literal oneness. Even a negative number can be brought back to 1 when multiplied by its reciprocal.

Tonight as I prepared to give Monday morning devotions, I had an old Sunday School song running through my head. The words are:

Rejoice evermore, for this is the will of God…

Pray without ceasing, for this is the will of God…

In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God…In Christ Jesus, concerning you.

From 1 Thessalonians chapter 5:16, this simple song has put me back on track as I start a new week. I got so caught up in the strange ways that people interacted with me last week that I had forgotten how basic God’s command is for me: Rejoice, pray, give thanks. Not sometimes, but evermore, without ceasing, in everything. All the time. Everywhere.

So (as long as I remember this simple song) when I’m disappointed, I’ll give thanks that God has an opportunity to reveal his grace. When I’m hurt and lonely, I’ll pray and pray some more, inviting God to step in to heal the wounds. And when I’m feeling like nobody cares about what I’m going through, I’ll rejoice because God cares, he will always listen. Because with God, the inverse is reciprocal. When I can’t, God can. When I’m broken in half, God is doubled. With God, the inverse nature of my relationships becomes a blessing and I am restored to oneness with all of creation.

Of course, God’s grace doesn’t free me from responsibility to action.  I’ll end with a paraphrase of a favorite story of mine:

A Buddhist monk walks up to a hot dog vendor and says, “Make me one with everything.”

The vendor prepares a foot-long with the works, and the monk hands him a $20 bill. The vendor pockets the bill, at which the monk becomes indignant. “Where’s my change?” he asks.

The vendor replies: “Change must come from within, my friend.”

I pray that I may seek Christ’s light within everything and everyone, and that together we will all be renewed in oneness with God through the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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I had a vision a year ago of a green wave washing over Koinonia Farm. I was walking home from the office and I could feel static electricity in the air, the farm was buzzing with the anticipation of spring. Brendan and the interns were working in the garden, sheet-mulching keyhole beds and putting up perimeter fencing. And as I walked I was given my vision. The wave started back in the garden, crept out around the back of our house, and then suddenly it swept around the entire property and crashed into the middle. I was walking through Eden, and I could sense that the realization of this vision was not as far off as it seemed.

The ornery goats

The ornery goats

The next year proved to be full of frustrations in our household as Brendan experimented with different techniques, fell behind on weeding, and struggled to keep up with all the animals that he brought to live at our farm. He wanted so badly to provide for the food needs of our community, and in his eyes the permaculture experiment was failing left and right. I constantly reminded him of something Bill Mollison says in The Global Gardener: “In permaculture we try to make a lot of mistakes, so we know what works the best.” Though Brendan longed for the glorious results he saw in the books he was reading and the films he was watching, he needed to struggle in his first year so that he could learn from his mistakes.

Just a year later, we are still riding the high from hosting the first Permaculture Design Course in the state of Georgia this past February. We have preliminary drawings for a master plan for our main campus and Brendan is working with Kurt to pull together a design for the entire 560 acres. Cows and goats are grazing in our pecan orchards, and chickens free-range in the fields, providing around 30 eggs a day. The geese have started laying too, the pigs are getting fat, the honey bees are thriving, seedlings push through the dirt, the fruit trees are blooming…in short, it’s a glorious scene. We are getting more and more visitors who want to come and learn, and we have three trained permaculturists living here to teach them. Brendan, Kurt and Dan impress young folks and old folks alike with their easy conversation about concepts like perennial polycultures and microclimates.

Interns David and Blake digging the swale...notice how it follows the contour line?

Interns David and Blake digging the swale...notice how it curves with the contour line?

Today they dug the first of six swales in the 3-acre field behind our house. These trenches are dug along the contour lines of the field’s topography, so that when we get a hard rain after a long dry spell (which is happening more and more often these days in southern GA) the water slows its course along the earth’s surface. This allows time for the water to infiltrate the soil rather than washing away the topsoil into the creek at the edge of our property. We will use a sub-soil plow in the swales to increase the potential for water absorption, and then heavy mulch will be laid overtop to build organic matter and keep essential nutrients intact. Along the mulched swales we will plant many fruit trees and nitrogen-fixing plants, followed by annual crops and perennial herbs and vegetables. Eventually it will be a veritable forest, filled with beneficial, edible plants.

I’m beside myself as I observe this process. How far we have come in just one year! How much farther will we have gone a year from now? It seems to me that the dam of our own doubts and fears has almost broken, and once it does the flood of green that I envisioned for our farm will be unstoppable.  Permaculture is such a gift to us, one of the essential tools we will need to truly demonstrate a new way of life and invite the kingdom of God to return to our earth.

If you want to learn more about permaculture’s use of swales and perennial gardening, this video is a great place to start. “Greening the Desert” shows how a team of permaculturists created an abundant garden just 2 km from the Dead Sea, simply by digging swales to capture the meager rainfall, adding locally available organic materials to build the soil, and planting a diverse selection of fruit-bearing and nitrogen fixing trees and shrubs. I hope it inspires you to look at the possibility of environmental restoration and regeneration in a whole new light, as it did for me the first time I watched it.

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