Tiny Ovens and Vintage Presence

Last summer Amber and I bought a tiny place just off Arkansas Highway 16. And although tiny is a relative term, allow me to expound--the little green-brick house boasts just enough square footage for our whole family, so long as we don't all inhale at the same time. We're always running into one another around here. The size of the home was no selling point, let me assure you. Nor were we over-joyed by the lack of a dishwasher or the under-sized refrigerator hole in the kitchen. Everything in the house is smaller, vintage, or sparse, and I do not mean this in an ironic hipster kind of way. I mean this in the we-can't-fit-an-entire-Thanksgiving-turkey-in-our-1960s-oven kind of way. Living life here is a marathon of adjustments.


Praise the Good Lord and all that He hath created, Spring has come! The new season allows us to leak out of these cramped quarters and into the joys of outdoor living. The boys climb trees and dig holes deep enough to bury bodies, while Amber and I tend to a new garden.

Our garden space was a blank slate at the beginning of the season, though the previous owner had treated the soil well. Hoping to create a more formal garden plot, I found and reclaimed some old railroad crossties, laid them in a 32 x 64 rectangle. A layer of home-grown compost, a dump truck of mulch, and a few straw bales later, and we were officially ready to grow.

Garden Layout

Amber chose the seeds, ordered them from an heirloom shop run by old-timy Mennonites somewhere in the Kansas. They arrived without ceremony, the brown box delivered by a UPS man on an average Wednesday. Amber smiled like a toothless six year old at Christmas when she opened the package. Broccoli, beets, carrots, tomatoes, kale, chard, lettuce, basil, peppers, rosemary, thyme--all her favorites were there, and she spread the packets across the bed as if the harvest had come in. I scanned the packets, said, "what about radishes?" She pulled her chin back, wrinkled her nose, and said, "who likes radishes?"

On Saturday morning, Amber walked the rows and poked seeds into tiny mounds while I tended to other yard work. Without headphones, a smart-phone, or any other device tethering her to the world-wide-information-super-distraction, she was present in the moment. Dirtying the quick of her fingernails, this was her rhythm: stoop, pinch, drop, cover. Smiling. Humming. Laughing to herself. This is the human enterprise of joy.


I suppose by suburban metes and bounds, it's a large garden. That said, it's not like we're running combines or spitting pesticides from the tail-end of a Cessna. And for what it's worth, that's just fine by me, because I'm not skilled in the ways of combine navigation or Cessna spitting. So, we'll tend to the metes and bounds we've been given by hand; we'll use hand-trowells and sweat-of-the-brow. Come Summer, maybe we'll have a few tomatoes, some broccoli, and a bushel of beans for the picking. It isn't grandiose, but it's ours.

[tweetherder text="There is a thing the world does. It says the small things aren't worth a whole-heckuva lot."]There's a thing this world does. Maybe you've heard about it. It says that the small things aren't worth a whole-heckuva lot.[/tweetherder] It demands bigger houses, newer appliances, and faster production. It rewards connectivity, platform, power, and consumption. It pretends the market's quotas are life-giving, and asks asinine questions, like, "why would you plant a garden when you could work a few more hours, make a little more money, and buy all your vegetables?" Bigger, faster, more, more, more. Pay to hire the laborers outside your door.

This logic is hogwash.

We can't all be Hillary Clinton, waging a campaign war for the chance to bring world peace. We can't all be Tyrese Gibson, taking over Hollywood with Mercedes vans and the power of positive thinking. We can't all be power-brokers, or small business owners, or even middle-management company men. Heck, we can't even all be the next internet sensation, the break-out viral video/writer/Facebook post of the month. I suppose we can all be vintage, though. And by that I do not mean vintage in the hipster want-to-check-out-my-vinyl-collection sort of way. I mean it more in the tiny way, in the way that tends to its own patch of dirt.

Make no mistake about it--vintage ain't all that inspirational, but it sure is fun.


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On The Economies of Church (Us Being Us While They Are Them)

"Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering." Hebrews 13:3


I've been considering the us-versus-them divisions in life. Do you see them? They are the implicit lines that we navigate with an everyday sort of sixth-sense. Consider them:

We are the producers; they are the consumers.

We are the educators; they are the pupils.

They are the lawmakers; we are the constituents.

I suppose that these lines of demarcation, the dichotomies are, in one sense, helpful. The divisions help define the parameters of relationship, assist in setting expectations. And in an economic sense, the definition of roles facilitates production and consumption, governance, and the rule of law (otherwise known as "order").

There is a tricky business here, though. While some dividing lines may be helpful in an economic sense, what if they are destructive in another sense? Consider this--by the drawing of more and more divisive lines, are we commodifying each other? Are we seeing each other as objects to be used to reach an end goal?

The producer sees the consumer as a pocket full of dollars.

The educator sees the child as the producer of metrics (test scores) which bear on the educator's metrics (job-security).

The lawmaker sees the constituents' votes as a means to an end (reelection).

And though this may be a more cynical analysis, stop and consider it. Is it an unfair analysis?

There is no doubt, dividing lines can be economically and societally useful. But what happens when these kinds of divisions creep into religious institutions, into Christian machinations? What happens when the church at large begins to call them "useful," begins to unintentionally commodify its own people?

We are the ministers and they are the poor, the broken, the marginalized.

We are the missionaries, and they are the third world.

We are the authors, the speakers, and they are those in need of the message.

We are the musicians, and they are the audience.

These are the dividing lines I'm seeing drawn in the church these days. It's the perpetuation of a Christian hierarchy, an us-versus-them religion. It is a separation of the religiously adept ruling class from the blue-collar, simple faith bearer. Perhaps it's sometimes used as a way to solidify relevance, economic security, maybe even power.

Jesus, I think, came to dismantle the majority of these lines. His ministry was not marked by these sorts of dichotomies; instead, he identified with humanity through brotherhood, becoming "fully human," and making himself "nothing by taking on the very nature of a servant." He stood among the hierarchy peddlers--both religious leaders and his family alike--and claimed both brotherhood and sonship with those who do the will of God. (Luke 8:21). Jesus was less about us-versus-them ministry, exemplified a we-the-people sort of ministry.

And this leads me to the grand point: I trust less the church that ministers to the poor, broken, and marginalized and more the one that ministers with the poor, the broken, and the marginalized.

I'm trying to figure out this kind of living.