Mar  2018 27
Living Soil

My wife and I are in the very preliminary stages of turning our back and front yards into permaculture gardens. A permaculture garden is organic and self-nourishing. There is a great deal of attention that must be paid to the quality of life in the soil.

In fact, you might say that healthy soil is the permaculture gardener’s goal. Without healthy soil, plants won’t grow, or grow as well, or grow with as much nutritional value, as they would grow with healthy soil.

The health of the soil, as it turns out, is very highly correlated with the health of life on the planet. If planet earth is to support abundant and healthy life, there needs to be an abundance of good soil.

Since the time of the last great extinction (66 million years ago), the organic systems of the planet created the conditions for life as we know it. And a very large part of the organic systems is how the earth recycles death.

Did you know that a single teaspoon of healthy soil contains more micro-organisms than there are people on earth? A lot of living things need to die to make good soil to nourish the living, and the living, in our turns, will each and all be recycled into the earth.

Anyone who has ever lived on or walked a ranch and seen the combination of sun-bleached cattle bones turning to sand, abandoned houses decomposing into their elements, and animal poop working its magic knows the truth that we all belong to the soil.

Every living and formerly living thing on this planet is of the earth. The earth owns us, whatever the deed in the county clerk’s office says.

What does soil have to do with the subjects of this blog that addresses topics such as religion in public life, church, and seminary education? Two connections.

First, death is a common experience in congregations and church practices these days. Most readers of this blog will be familiar with the ways of “doing church” that no longer work, that no longer nourish, that are dying, so I won’t detail them again.

I wonder, however, how much of that death might be nourishing the soil for the Christianity that is to come. Millions of dollars, maybe as many hours, and megawatts of energy and attention are being freed from maintaining dying institutions and practices that don’t give life.

Yes, I am aware of those places that use up every last dollar from the endowment, every last ounce of use of a building, and every last whisper of life from their members, and then pass from the scene like those cow bones and sod houses I saw walking on a ranch recently.

And there are the “dones” who could not care less to see the inside of a church again, who take their remaining resources elsewhere.

But there are other places where courageous leaders have made their peace with death. By making their peace while resources remained, they freed time-money-attention-energy from dying practices, and composted those resources into the soil in hope of resurrection.

Second, I am wondering what it means for Christians to pay attention, figuratively speaking, to the soil of Christianity. Every way of life we call a religion needs a soil to form an ecology, grow adherents, compost and recycle death, and reform or resurrect new ways of life.

Conversely, if we are not getting the kind of growth or fruit we expect from a religion, we should look to the soil. A soil is good for getting the results we are getting.

Former mainline denominations are dying, but some congregations from those denominations thrive. For those that thrive, do they thrive because they are grown in better Christian-nurturing soil or better soil for meeting cultural expectations for what Christianity means?

Same question for conservative denominations, and for Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and for Pentecostals and charismatics. What should grow in “Christian” soil? In my opinion: more profound love for God-neighbor-self, more inclusive compassion, more courageous repenting and forgiving, more self-aware truth-speaking, more fierce work for justice-based shalom, more smart and tender stewardship for earth-air-water.

If we are not growing more of these virtues—and I don’t think we are growing enough of any of them—we should attend to the soil. What are we feeding the soil of Christianity and what, in the way of changed and better lives, do we expect to harvest?

I suspect that the thing we call “church” is Christianity’s soil (one could argue that the culture in which a church is planted is the soil, but that would be another part of the discussion). If we want to nourish more life-transforming virtues in those who claim to be Christian, we had better look again and anew at how healthy the soil any particular church is.

Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips Faculty
Phillips Theological Seminary offers Christian graduate theological education
in service of intelligent, just, and compassionate religious and civic communities. We welcome
students to a safe space for truth-seeking conversations about the Bible, Jesus, and faithful living.
Courses available on campus and online for certificate, diploma, MDiv, MAMC, MASJ, & MTS
programs, and on campus for the DMin program.

Phillips Theological Seminary

901 N. Mingo Road
Tulsa, OK 74116

p 918-610-8303
f 918-610-8404

Campus & Directions

Site content © 2005-18 Phillips Theological Seminary

The materials on this website are owned, held, or licensed by Phillips Theological Seminary and are available for personal, non-commercial, and educational use, provided Phillips is properly cited. Any commercial use of the materials, without the written permission by Phillips Theological Seminary, is strictly prohibited.

Site design, programming, and CMS © 2005-18 Verdend Interactive

Like PTS on Facebook
Follow PTS on Twitter
Subscribe to RSS and Podcasts