Pumpkins, mountains, and community

October 25, 2004 | 10 comments

Still in Alabama, at a hotel which has only one public internet connection. Not good. In any case, waiting around to get on-line in the evenings, I’ve been reading bits from the most recent Atlantic (magazine). Two things caught my eye: first, an article on Yale, describing how their student food services staff is experimenting with using fresh food for the daily meals served (as opposed to the giant bags of pre-chopped, pre-cooked, distance-shipped items that usually make up the ingredients, and which have considerably less flavor and nutritional value than fresh food does). Suddenly I’m having fantasies of BYU turning to the Church’s long-standing position on the importance of gardens, and instead of having the mini-mall of chain food outlets that currently make up the Cougareat, we encourage local growers of produce to provide a variety of regular, season-specific items which are then whipped up into fabulous and affordable meals of delectable delight. The local economy would blossom, student and faculty health would blossom, our example as a people who see healthful practices as a means of treating the body as a temple would blossom . . . well, you see the drift. Aren’t fantasies wonderful. But wait, what if we began in a small way, as Yale is . . .

The second item that caught my eye is an article on Francis Crick which mentions the fact that we share 75% of our genetic makeup with the pumpkin. This second article makes a related point which for some reason delights me. It Quotes Monise Durrani, a BBC science correspondent, who writes about how the genetic blueprint of the humble worm is proving useful in the study of Alzheimer’s. Says Durrani, “Although we like to think we are special, our genes bring us down to earth.” I like the ring of Genesis in that: attention to our humble beginnings (dust-humus-human) may be the strand of thought that heals us, literally, as we search for new ways of treating and preventing a variety of diseases (I also like the paradox of those humble beginnings: humus, after all, is soil rich with decay that makes possible a variety of new life). The Savior seemed to be constantly reminding his disciples of the importance of that kind of humility with respect to spiritual healing as well. I gave a talk in stake conference a few weeks ago in which I asked members to think about the Savior’s hands: the hands of a carpenter, who made beautiful and useful things; the hands of a teacher, who wrote in the sand and asked those who would judge others to first carefully and honestly judge themselves; the hands of a healer, who touched the eyes of the blind and made them see; the hands of a supplicant, as he prayed that he might not have to sip the bitter cup if there were some other way; the hands of one nailed to a cross, crippled and helpless as life ebbed away. I am thinking about those hands in relation to gardens, and fresh vegetables, and DNA shared with pumpkins, and the sense of wonder and delight I’ve had with my own garden, when my tomatoes come in, or when I dig up a baby carrot, wipe the dirt off and pop it in my mouth to see how things are coming along. Gardens encourage us to nurture life, taste life, be filled with new life, an abundance of life. I’ve often thought that when Mary mistook Jesus for a gardener, it was nevertheless an inspired (and no doubt tear-caused) view: the risen rabboni was indeed the Gardener, the same who had walked in the Garden of Eden with new-made humans, and who now stood in another garden to mark yet another beginning. What a triumph of gardening, as decay yet again gave way to new life.

And so, via the role of decay, I return to my thoughts about what seems to me a growing crisis of civic faith. I don’t think the decay of civil discourse so easily noted in so many instances of political exchange is itself the kind of humus that nourishes a thriving democracy (too much iron). But I do believe that, if judiciously strewn with other things, we can take advantage of that decay — with some intellectual perspicacity, focused attention to facts and reasoned argument, a careful sorting of important commonalities, and a willingness to get back to some common- sense horse-trading, it is possible to set things flourishing afresh.

Which, weirdly, brings me back to my previous thoughts on flow (see mountain biking blog), and how we sometimes become aware of being partly our bodies and partly more, attuned to things around us as both radical Other requiring our purposeful attention, AND intimate extension of shared qualities or essences that make possible a fundamental empathy (or even unity?). I wonder if part of what I’ve been trying to get at with my thoughts about civic faith and its role in bolstering yet modulating religious faith within a democratic republic, has something to do with the work we do in gardens (something to do with planting, and watering, and weeding, and tasting, and harvesting, and taking it all into ourselves with both wise preparation and happy gusto). Or with the way we let ourselves fly down mountains (something to do with hard falls, and effort, and blood, and aspiration, and sudden moments where my self is involved in a broad embrace of the landscape, where the short view and the long view are twined in simultaneity).

At the risk of souding goofy, there is a kind of heaven, I think, in the ability humbly to recognize in pumpkins (or in those we might think have pumpkin mash for brains) a kinship that is a perpetual basis for potential faith in one another. If we can’t find that strand of possibility, that admittedly tenuous thread that nevertheless has often been the means by which crazily differing viewpoints have been stitched together to form the patchwork we call the United States, I think we’re in trouble. In other words, it seems to me that what is true of spiritual life is true of political life as well: communion has transformative potential while isolation so often breeds contempt and a self-involved spiral into foolishness. Thomas Merton wrote that “isolation in the self, inability to go out of oneself to others, would mean incapacity for any form of self-transcendence. To be thus the prisoner of one’s own selfhood is, in fact, to be in hell” (yes, I memorized this precisely because I worry that I’m prone to it). Heaven, he goes on to note, is a divine mix (and paradox) of an integrity of self that extends outward towards others, allowing others their integrity as well. Too abstract? Not in terms of gardening and mountain biking. So to conclude this blog, I lift my bottled water in a toast to my faith in humus and our creative potential to make beauty out of ugly things (as Bono puts it in “Grace”).

10 Responses to Pumpkins, mountains, and community

  1. [...] where shared beliefs on abortion or authority could take us, sometimes, the way we do with gardening and growth from decay, instead of always starting back at square one, I wonder. H [...]

  2. Bryce I on October 25, 2004 at 3:52 pm

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this Bloggernacle thing in my time as a guest blogger here. One thing that the Internet allows us to do is to create communities of like-minded people separated by geography and other factors. By and large, this has been a Good Thing ™. However, the downside is that once we find a community that fits our worldview, we may find we stay there, comforted in the fact that we can say rude and outrageous things about Others and no one will complain. In fact, some may even cheer our most vituperative attacks.

    What I find remarkable about Times and Seasons is that it manages to attract a group of intelligent people with fairly diverse views of the world who are nonetheless bound by a common faith, even if we define and practice that faith differently, and that this group manages to speak regularly on topics that are divisive without adopting a common voice, and at the same time creating a space where we understand each others views. It’s a delicate balance.

    Or are we really all the same here? I’ve noticed, for example, that statements denigrating “evangelicals” rarely meet with any protest here.

    At any rate, I raise my Brita pitcher in response. Thanks for the post, Brandie.

  3. danithew on October 25, 2004 at 4:05 pm

    Nice post Brandie. I’m not in condition to make any great points at this moment … but in the interests of humor I’m now a bit concerned about the fact that I enjoy eating pumpkin pie so much … I mean we’re related and all.

  4. Russell Arben Fox on October 25, 2004 at 4:12 pm

    “I’ve noticed, for example, that statements denigrating ‘evangelicals’ rarely meet with any protest here.”

    Some of us do rise occasionally to the defense of Protestantism, Bryan, but admittedly it’s a minority position.

  5. lyle on October 25, 2004 at 5:13 pm


    Also, it has political ramifications. Evangelicals are either slammed for being Anti-MOs/unreliable allies [from some conservatives here] or tools of Bush [from the lefties]. So…trying to fend off both sides, as Russell points out, is def. a minority position.

  6. lyle on October 25, 2004 at 5:15 pm

    “affordable meals of delectable delight”?

    Sounds nice, but the last time I checked into natural foods/non-agro giant food, it tended to cost substantially more. What do the Yale types know that they are keeping secret? Or does it take schools subsidies to keep down the costs?

  7. Andy on October 25, 2004 at 6:40 pm

    As one who dined just today in a Yale cafeteria, I can assure you that the “organic” food (whatever that means) is super yummy. And “organic” 2% milk really does taste better than regular old milk.

    Here’s Yale website about their Sustainable Food Project:


  8. Adam Greenwood on October 26, 2004 at 12:05 am

    I try to be a faithful defender of believing Catholics and evangelicals everywhere. But there’s just one of me, and there’s just two of me and the Grey Fox, and, well, time is limited, you know?

  9. Davis Bell on October 26, 2004 at 12:57 am

    There are people who would stick up for the evangelicals, but those folks typically can’t read. Just kidding. Yes, Bryce, this community is pretty like-minded and similar, and though its members tend to discuss their differences, I’ve always believed they have much more in common than not.

  10. Davis Bell on October 26, 2004 at 1:00 am

    Prescient and invaluable commentary on the topic can be found at: http://intellecxhibitionist.blogspot.com/2004/08/blogdescension-or-natural-effect-of.html

    Sorry for hijacking. Back to pumpkins.


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