The earth is a living creature, with its own integrity in the sight of its Creator.
Dr. Davis has been providing the Hunger Program, the Agrarian Road Trippers, and many in the United States who have read her work (such as The Manna Economy), a biblical basis for understanding the power dynamics and theological interpretation of the industrial food and farming system. This highly technified, energy-intensive system has all but replaced family-scale and organic farming, which of course had been the dominant food system not a century ago. In this new essay called, A Living Creature: A Biblical Perspective on Land Care and Use*, Dr. Davis says that when it comes to food,
...I have been surprised to find that even those who do not habitually read the Bible care what it says. Perhaps there is a kind of practical theism that informs the thinking of those who deal daily with the essential means of life. Especially they care when they realize (often with surprise) how much the Bible has to say about maintaining adequate food and water supplies, about protecting the fertile soil and at the same time the economic viability of farming communities – all matters of vulnerability, urgency and indeed danger in our current era of industrialized agriculture.
In A Living Creature, which you should download right now and savor, Davis reflects on the relationship between how we eat and the horrific oil disaster the planet just experienced. The modern food system, which hungers for and consumes 10% of our petroleum, is practically connected to this tragedy, but also theologically --
The wound in the ocean floor and our dominant food production practices are also connected ideologically, in that both reflect a profound misunderstanding of the created order and the human place in it. That misunderstanding is in the first instance not scientific but theological.
Without setting off the spoiler alert, here is one more image from the essay that sets the context for her insightful perspective:
Having watched it bleed for months, we are better able to see that the earth is not a machine, nor is it a convenient repository of useful goods. Journalist Naomi Klein comments: 'After 400 years of being declared dead, and in the middle of so much death, the Earth is coming alive.'
Near the end, Davis asks this question:
Can we even begin to imagine a faithfulness so fully realized that the fertile earth invites the Divine Farmer to walk upon it – as God once walked in Eden – in the path marked out by ‘righteousness’ (sustainability)?
UPDATE: The New Internationalist magazine just came in and has an article on the oil spill called - That petrol emotion: BP’s ‘cleanup’ of the Gulf of Mexico which highlights the rose-tinted media reporting. Even if you don't get this fabulous magazine, you can subscribe to their blog here. And did you know you can also get the RSS feed for Food and Faith. Just choose your reader here.
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And don't miss the radio interview with Ellen Davis on Speaking of Faith accompanied Wendell Berry's poetry.
* Originally published in The Bible in Transmission, Winter 2010 (Bible Society, UK), pp. 5-7, also available in the resources section of their website. We are grateful to the editor and to Ellen Davis for allowing us to republish this essay.