October 21, 2014

No Gray

When it comes to serving God
Shortly after I turned twenty-three I decided to rededicate my life to Christ. I somehow thought that by doing this my troubles would evaporate and I'd be blessed with a struggle free life. Oh how wrong was I. 

I found myself doing the same things that I promised God I wouldn't do. 

Blessing people with the same mouth I cursed people with. Speaking words of encouragement to all who needed it, only to turn around and engage in senseless chatter. 

You see, when it comes to serving God, it's either all or nothing,  either white or black.....no gray.

Granted we may not know what God has called us to do in our life and won't know until God is ready to reveal that to us. And so I have learned to use my season of waiting as a way to listen to the Holy Spirit. And by allowing the Holy Spirit to move me, abide in me and then change me, I was able to fully dwell with him and let go all of the earthly things that I was trying my hardest to hold on to. God doesn't expect us to be perfect. He just wants us to be His. 

When it comes to serving others
I had always had a heart to serve, even before I got saved. I tried volunteering at different organizations only to retreat at the last minute. Even though my heart was in it, I couldn't shake this feeling of hollowness. 

When I allowed Christ to lead, he began to show me a thing or two  about serving others. He showed me that although we are all different shades with different personalities; we are all children of the same God. 

 Although it would be more comfortable for some to serve in a nice environment with air conditioner and cable, we are also called to serve to those who haven't seen soap or shampoo in weeks-such as our friends in the Free Market. 

When we humbly serve, not only are we a blessing to those of whom we are serving, but by being faithful with a few things, God will put us in charge of many things. Only then are we able to share in our master's happiness. Matthew 25:21

When it comes to Unity
What I've learned by serving and being in community is that race, gender and ethnicity do not need to be the barriers we make them out to be. What I mean is that hunger does not discriminate, nor does poverty, nor homelessness. And so we must not be quick to turn away our brothers and sisters who do not look like us. We need each other. We need unity. 
If there is anything to be learned, know that although there are areas of our lives that are not yet clarified; and because we do not have clarity, these areas may seem gray to us. But when it comes to sin there should be no compromise. Perhaps it would be nice to do whatever we wanted to do and love the Lord at the same time, but it doesn't work like that....it's either black or white. 

There are many shades of gray; aim to be none of them. 

October 7, 2014

The Revolution: Tilapia, Torches and Pitchforks

As Jon alluded to in the previous post, The Well is now operating a fledgling hydroponics system for the shared benefit of our broader community. This week, a small group of us has the privilege of participating in aquaponics training at Morningstar Fishermen in Dade City, Florida. We are joined by students from around the globe to learn more about using this unique combination of aquaculture, hydroponics and agriculture to create healthy and reliable food sources. In addition to a shared interest in plants and fish, many of those in attendance also have a common burden for communities that struggle with hunger. A fellow student from the U.S. shared over dinner yesterday evening that he too was frustrated with local efforts in his state to criminalize not only being poor, but the efforts of others to feed the poor. He then remarked with a grin that teaching people to raise their own food was his way of "giving the finger to the system." His is a frustration that I know all too well, but I also share his optimism for the growing influence of small food producers on larger systems. I wanted to take this opportunity to share why.

A glimpse of the collaborative economy by Jeremiah Owyang
Over a span of nearly two centuries, armies of "farmers and peasants" in nearly every country on the American continents have fought successfully for independence from colonial powers. This most recent century witnessed the transformation of all workers into what Peter Drucker referred to as knowledge workers, and the erasure of a separate class of laborers. During the last decade, the so-called maker movement has emerged to so enthrall millions of industrious Americans, that they have abandoned traditional education and employment in droves. Even among those struggling with poverty in our own community, we at The Well hear voiced constantly a desire to labor, serve and innovate. Today's revolutionary farmers are more educated in biology, technology and the mechanisms of global economics than any generation that has preceded them. Makers and tinkerers of every kind also have unparalleled access to empowering information from Wikipedia to MOOCs. Perhaps most encouraging to me is the thriving collaborative economy that has emerged in the last few years that indicates a cultural shift toward de-stigmatizing cooperation, shared-use and interdependence.

Specifically as it pertains to nourishment, demand has exploded in the last few decades for foods that are grown locally and sustain both healthy bodies and a robust ecosystem. A growing number of visionaries are now working to take the energy and creativity of the masses and combine it with a knowledge of local food production that is sustainable, scalable and enormously subversive. As a result, the balance of power over what we eat is slowly shifting from monopolies and global conglomerates to the local producers who treasure our planet and value an intimate relationship with those for whom they produce food.

Viewed together, these trends converge into a single "mega-trend" that could be described as the democratization of the means of production. Put simply, everyday workers increasingly have all of the knowledge necessary to produce every material thing that we need to live full and abundant lives. It is only natural that, as a fundamental need and the basis for a healthy mind and body, food should lead the way in this revolution. People who are not hungry have the time and energy to be creative and pursue other interests - interests that may include creating and building things, or more ominously for some, the energy and determination to undermine and tear down systems of tyranny and oppression.

The hope for our own efforts to cultivate fish and plants is to both feed and educate those in Tampa's urban neighborhoods who struggle with food insecurity. The familiar image of a revolution may be an angry mob with torches and pitchforks - but the sense of generosity, gratitude and peace cultivated by growing and sharing food serves as a reminder that ours need not be a violent revolution. After all, the greatest revolution was started using a few loaves and fishes along with the admonishment to be kind to each other and serve those in need. We live in an incredibly exciting time, and despite the resistance posed by self-serving institutions and the powerful few, we have every reason to be encouraged.

To you who are already laboring with this mission: Let your torches shine boldly from the hilltop and keep your pitchforks working toward the more abundant future we know is possible. 

To any who still dare resist this revolution: No matter. The farmers and peasants are coming. 

October 1, 2014

Who Owns the Pond?

There was a time when those who would work with the poor would concern themselves with giving fish to the hungry. Over time our thinking about development work improved as we began to speak in terms of teaching people how to catch fish themselves. Because, as the cliche wisdom goes, "if you teach a man to fish he can eat for a lifetime" 

Today we are continuing to learn more about what it takes to see communities become autonomous and sustainable. While it is important to ask how folks can learn to catch fish we are becoming increasingly concerned with the question of, as John Perkins has put it, "who owns the pond." Ownership and control are necessities if we are talking about developing self sustaining communities. It doesn't matter how good of a fisherman you are when all the ponds are on unwelcoming private property. Behind the needs we hope to meet we must face the issues, like lack of access, which are perpetuated by systemic attributes like legislation

While we agree that teaching someone to fish might empower them to eat for a lifetime (if they are permitted to fish in ponds they don't own...which you will increasingly find that the poor are not) we are beginning to realize that teaching people to fish is not enough. Going a step further we have come to realize, after a visit to Morningstar Fisheries, that teaching people to raise fish can feed a village for generations. If you are going to invest in and raise your own fish though, you need to have ownership or control over the pond in which you are nurturing life. 

While the Well does not have our own pond (our community actually owns and controls very little as of yet) we do have a little swimming pool that we picked up for just over a hundred dollars that we own and control. In that little pool we currently have over 300 young tilapia living and fertilizing four beds of vegetables. We were inspired by The Sustainable Living Project, who have been a model and friends to us as we have installed a similar system. We are sowing seeds today and preparing ourselves to steward much more tomorrow.

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”
-John 21:10-12