What do you do when the thing you have always done is not what you do anymore? For me, the Army is like an old pair of work gloves. Worn in, shells that slip effortlessly onto my hands, something that has the habit of long familiarity.
The idea of leaving the Army is very much like finding that those old work gloves are now full of holes, and no longer serve the purpose of protecting my hands. So, like any good woodsman, I am searching for a new pair of gloves. The idea of striking off into the unknown civilian world is very much like first putting on that new pair of gloves. Stiff, uncomfortable, unfamiliar. It takes splitting a few cords of wood before they become old friends.
I have been struggling. Trying to find that which will be my next pair of gloves. There are no shortage of options. There are many things that would fit my requirements of 1) being useful and productive work, 2) providing sufficient income to keep body and soul together and 3) scratching the itch of my calling. There are many more forms of life I could choose if I drop those requirements. Military contracting, for instance, would bring me much more money than almost anything else I could do, but it fails at #3 and, in fact, leads to the same soul-draining place I am in now.
Permaculture now, that sounds fine. That scratches the itch rather nicely, I believe, and surely fulfills #1. It remains to be seen if it can be made to cover #2. How does Permaculture fulfill #3 you ask? Well, glad it is I am that you asked. I believe, ever more so, that it is a tool whose time has come to help shape the destiny of the world. Let me explain.
Permaculture answers a number of very difficult questions for modern society, questions that vex the mightiest of nations and which have been the purview of religion for millennia. What do we do to address the inequality of access to material goods and services? How do we live sustainably on this earth? How do we build community? How do we manage access to energy? How do we promote mental health and assist individuals in finding meaning and worth in their lives?
But, you ask, how can a tool, originally designed to address the effects of unsustainable agricultural practices do this? Ah, another fine question, I see my readers are very bright! The answer lies in the underlying Principals and Ethics upon which Permaculture is founded. And, not surprising to me, each of these Principals and Ethics can be found as underlying Principals of Christianity as well. Thus, one Truth validates and re-enforces another. Permaculture, in my ever so humble opinion, is a truly valuable tool for the Church, one that, properly used, can lead us to a new age of LIVING OUT our faith. This tool will allow us to correct much that so many of us who are currently disaffected with church as usual view as ill with religion. It gets the light out from under the bushel and the salt out of the salt-shaker.
Scour the internet for Permaculture sites and there is no lack. There is a vast wealth of experience and education available out there. But, plow through that material for a very short time and you will notice another trend. Those who pursue Permaculture are, by a very large majority, of the New Age-ish persuasian. This is not too surprising, the roots of the movement go back to elements within the Ecological movements. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, but, for those of us of other persuasions, it means wading through a lot of what I would call fluff to come to grips with the practical applications underneath. A lot of winnowing wheat from chaff so to speak. This can be off-putting to those being first introduced to the concepts, preventing those who would most benefit from the ideas and concepts within Permaculture from going very far down the road. So, for my brothers and sisters of the Faith, I will here attempt to show that not only is Permaculture a valuable tool in and of itself, completely divorced from faith and politics, but that the underlying assumptions and goals of Permaculture are so intimately aligned with those of the Church that it is truly a Gift. In order to do that, let’s take a look at what Permaculture has to say for itself, and where those things cross with the principals of the Christian Faith.
The ethics of permaculture are:1,2 (Taken from Wikipedia and http://www.bible.com)
• Take care of the earth: Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply. This is the first principle, because without a healthy earth, humans cannot flourish.
Genesis 2: 15 And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.
Our original design calls for us to be stewards of the land. It is in this that we find a true expression of our design function. There are many ways to act this out, not all of them involve delving in the dirt, but all of them result in a spiritual/physical environment that is sustainable, prosperous and well-tended. It is the inviting nature of a well-kept, warm and well-fed home. It is in the productive work that reaps it’s just reward. It is in the care of souls. If we fail to function within this design specification, we fail at much of life.
• Take care of the people: Provision for people to access those resources necessary for their existence.
Matthew 25: 34-46 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me….
Among the most basic calls of the Gospel is to go out into the nations, preaching the Good News. And, always, that has been accompanied by the call to meet the physical needs of the poor, the destitute, the imprisoned, the helpless and the stranger. But, where does the excess come from with which to meet these ever present and ever growing needs? I do believe my God still does miracles. But, I also believe in the much more common every day kind of miracles that come from fore-thought, hard work and tender care. We have been given tremendous gifts. How will we steward them so that they provide a surplus, and to what end will we devote that surplus?
• Share the surplus: Healthy natural systems use outputs from each element to nourish others. We humans can do the same. By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles.
Acts 2: 42-47 And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
A lot of folks will take this ethic and focus it on redistribution, with a heavy dose of Marxism. This is a shame, since redistribution by force or shame is always counter-productive and un-ethical. But, the redistribution we see in the early Church is a beautiful thing. It signifies a letting go of the 1st half of life urges and movement toward a wiser, nobler form of living that we see in the best of us who go on to become Sages. This is a massive topic, in and of itself. I recently read “Falling Upward” by Richard Rohr and I highly recommend it for a much fuller explanation of what I mean here.
The 12 permaculture design principles
Permaculturists generally regard the following as its 12 design principles:3
1. Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
2 Cor 13:5 Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?
This is pivotal to our own internal spiritual life. As the observer learns to make keen observations in the natural world he is learning skills that can be used to focus discernment on the internal spiritual life as well. Once your eyes are opened to the depths of life, it is hard to go back to being blind.
2. Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.
Matthew 25:1-13 Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. 2And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. 3They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: 4But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. 5While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. 6And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. 7Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. 8And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. 9But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. 10And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. 11Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. 12But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. 13Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
How much of the strife of the world comes from inequalities in access to resources? From the greatest nation-states to disputes with neighbors over a boundary fence, without adequate resources, and proper husbanding of those resources, we live in constant fear and risk. By learning to maximize those resources that come to us, we establish excess, to carry us through the lean times and to allow us to bless others with the abundance given us.
3. Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
Genesis 3:17-19 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; 18Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 19In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
Mark 8:36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
What yield is our life, our church, our faith producing? If it is not profitable, why are we doing it?
4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
Galatians 5:22-26 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 24And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. 25If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.
What is the Spirit except our direct connection to God, the very indwelling of Him in our lives. The one thing we are taught must be our guide, our North Star. The giver of all good gifts, including the fruits of the spirit. We accept His regulation and feedback and, if we are wise, adjust our lives accordingly.
5. Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
1 Pet 4:10 As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
Stewardship is one of the recurring Biblical themes.
6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
As the old saying goes, God don’t make no junk. America, in particular, has no idea how most of the rest of the world lives. Most of the rest of the world would consider it a lifestyle upgrade to pick through our garbage. I seriously doubt God looks with approval on a culture designed to be thrown away and we see it in many of the physical and spiritual illnesses rampant all around us.
7. Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
Genesis 1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 3And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. 4And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. 5And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day….
In all we do, why not follow the pattern of the Creator of all good things?
8. Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
Phil 2:2-4 2Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. 4Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
Man divides, God unites. How much evil has mankind known because we could not look past our petty differences and see the greater good, the reflection of God that we all share in the man standing next to us? Will you cling with small mind to the differences that have led to the splintering of the Church, or will you be like-minded?
9. Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.
Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
God has called us to community. While I have much in common with fellow Christians around the globe, it is in the tight-knit community of my local fellow-believers that I find those I can trust to see the real and whole me, who can speak words of meaning into my life, who have earned my trust and respect and for whom I care deeply. Small, local, slow growing relationship is the cornerstone of the local Church.
10. Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
Acts 2:7-12 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilæans? 8And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? 9Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judæa, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, 10Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, 11Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. 12And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?
Boy, does God value diversity. How did the narrow-minded bigot ever become associated with a God who gave the Law, then gave us His Son who not only perfectly fulfilled that law, but stood every social convention on it’s head?
11. Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
1 Cor 1:27-28 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
Where, anywhere, in the New Testament does God NOT choose to focus on the marginalized, the seemingly valueless, the edges of society to fulfill His purpose? Perhaps it is because it is here he finds fertility, abundance and willingness to embrace change and variety.
12. Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.
2 Cor 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
Above all we serve a God of change. A God who changes hearts, lives and people. We all know the Refiner’s fire and, by embracing it, we help God help us to change and become exactly what He intended. Growth always hurts, but that pain is endurable because we know it serves a purpose, and that that purpose is a noble and good one.
Let there be no mistake. I am not equating Permaculture with the Gospel on a deeper, eternal level. But, it is, I believe, a very valuable tool for the spread of the Gospel. Ask yourself this, if a church can find the funds to built a gym in the hopes of drawing in people who, by virtue of the subsequent exposure to the Gospel, might have their souls saved, how much more might those without be attracted to the light if it was presented as a community garden where they might find food, education, self-respect from hard work and community? If we can devote millions to sport, how much more might we gain by diverting the relatively small amounts a church spends on grounds keeping to development of an educational facility open to the whole of the community that promotes the Gospel through gardening?
There are many tools, and many callings. This is but one, but it is THE one I will follow. I hope some of you will find it inspirational, either in like kind, or in symbol, to reach out and find YOUR calling and follow it with whole hearts. It is from this diversity and multiplicity of small, bright-shining lights that we fill the world of shadow with His luminescence.
1. Mollison, Bill (1988). Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual. Tagari Publications. p. 2. ISBN 0-908228-01-5.
2. Greenblott, Kara, and Kristof Nordin. 2012. Permaculture Design for Orphans and Vulnerable Children Programming: Low-Cost, Sustainable Solutions for Food and Nutrition Insecure Communities. Arlington, VA: USAID’s AIDS Support and Technical Assistance Resources, AIDSTAR -One, Task Order 1. http://www.aidstar-one.com/focus_areas/ovc/resources/technical_briefs/permaculture_for_OVC
3. “Permaculture- Peak Oil – The Source of Permaculture Vision and Innovation”.Holmgren.com.au. http://www.holmgren.com.au. Retrieved 2011-10-21.