Ragan Sutterfield's work has appeared in a variety of magazines including The Oxford American, Men's Journal, Triathlete, Gourmet, Fast Company, and Books & Culture. Sutterfield is an endurance athlete and long time naturalist who loves records, film, and living the good life with his wife Emily and their daughter Lillian. He has worked as a teacher, librarian and farmer, but he is most of all a reader and a writer. He blogs regularly at the "Word + Flesh" blog on Patheos.com. His work also appears regularly in the Englewood Review of Books and at SustainableTraditions.com. Articles and more can be found at his website RaganSutterfield.com.
I first read this book last year as the pamphlet version. It completely changed my family and I's life and outlook on spiritual direction. I have read it 3 times since then and just bought it for the Kindle.
Here was my longer review after the first time through: Thanks to the Englewood Review of Books, I received a copy of Ragan Sutterfield's Farming as a Spiritual Discipline. In this book (more like booklet at a little over 40 pages), Ragan summarizes three talks he gave at Englewood Christian Church on, well, farming as a spiritual discipline. To summarize his summaries, we have moved from where we were (Eden) through our intentional sin as we are moving towards the New Jerusalem (a city with a garden at the center of life).
Through farming, we reclaim that same mission that was initially laid out to us: to care and cultivate the world. We have moved from our agrarian mindset of creation and cultivation to a consumer mindset of consumption and use. Finally, our final stand against the powers and principalities (empire) of the world is to change our habits and begin to bring redemption to the used and unused spaces in our urban and suburban cities. This can best be accomplished through community gardening where we not only supply food, but teach classes for kids on the science of farming and teach adults how to prepare the food; creating little pockets and patches of Eden in the Empire.
Needless to say, you should order the book, read it, pass it along and actually do something with it.
And while you are at it, go read some Wendell Berry. ([...])
Ragan Sutterfield's collection of essays, Farming as a Spiritual Discipline, is a call for churches to start gardens and grow food. He introduces the essays by saying:
"My hope is that Christians will come to see one of their tasks as staking out claims for God's Kingdom by redeeming land from the margins and using that land to create gardens that offer not only good food but also community development and hope."
True to his comments in the book about the need for patient preparation of soil, he aims with this small book, to prepare the topsoil of the church with amendments of biblical reflection, kingdom theology, and agrarian sensibilities.
He starts out with the assumption that before engaging the practice of farming we must first grapple with our understanding of creation, which is ultimately a question about how we see ourselves in the order of creation. He says:
"Farming is essentially the practice of cultivating creation, and how we see farming depends entirely on how we see creation."
Sutterfield grounds his understanding of the human place in creation in a perichoretic, or social understanding of the trinity, with God inviting us into the "eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," and into the task of widening that divine embrace of love. The author lifts up sustainable farming as a generative practice that anchors us in the humus of created order, and ultimately in the triune embrace of the creator God.
He makes a keen observation about our typical response to the wreckage of rapid industrialization and the burgeoning green movement. He says:
"So far, the answer seem to be mostly, keep doing what you are doing, only do it 'greener.Read more ›
Sutterfield's book is a must read for those seeking fresh perspectives on spirituality and personal/community growth and practice. The book illustrates through thoughtful and matter-of-fact examples how we can participate in and nurture the cycle of fertility and creation through the practice of farming (on whatever scale). I highly recommend this book for Christians seeking enriching practices for growing their faith but also for anyone seeking a deep meditation on the land and our role as stewards of it.
This little manifesto is a must read for anyone, as we are all agricultural. Some of us are producers. All of us are consumers. And we all take part in the direction farming goes.
This has changed my life. The thoughts and challenges posed by Ragan Sutterfield cannot be avoided or ignored. How we deal with food and the soil we work with is vital for our own health, for the health of our communities, and for the health of our churches. There are changes we need to make as producers as well as consumers. And at the heart of it all is the Creator, the One who gave us this land and directed us to work the land.
I more value our small home farm now. I see the potential better, and I see the importance of being patient, of hard work with the soil, and I see more clearly the needs in the community.
This will certainly cause more conversation and reflection.
I am hoping churches with property are willing to read this together and be encouraged to utilize their land wisely and respectfully for the sake of the community and for the kingdom of God.
Farming As A Spiritual Discipline is not a large book but it is one of the most powerful and concise books that should be on the shelf of every Christian. This collection of essays was born out of a series of talks that Ragan gave at Englewood Christian Church in 2008. And despite what the title may infer, it is not just for farmers- it is for all of us who long for the coming shalom of GOD's New Earth. He begins by inviting city dwellers to get their hands in God's dirt:
"My hope is that Christians will come to see one of their tasks as staking out claims for God's kingdom by redeeming the land from the margins and using that land to create gardens that offer not only good food but also community development and hope."
I was hooked.
Ragan goes on to lay a biblical framework for understanding our relationship with God's creation. He sets up the first essay by saying:
"Farming is essentially the practice of cultivating creation and how we see farming depends entirely on how we see creation. From there, we could say that how we see food depends on how we see farming and how we go about eating reflects what we think about people and our place and role in creation. These are questions that if we follow them, go all the way down to the essential questions of who we are."
He unearths some foundational theological truths from Scripture and uses those keys to open up deep doors of wisdom about human existence, society, the Kingdom of God, and agriculture. And in the tradition of Wendell Berry, he applies that wisdom in a way that challenges the roots of our preconceived notions.
In this book, Ragan also draws a straight line from the value God places on creation to our wise and timeless response that he calls, "the agrarian mind".Read more ›