August 30, 2013

book: Soil and Sacrament by Fred Bahnson

I didn’t like Fred Bahnson as I began to read his memoir, Soil and Sacrament. As a Christian leader for many years now I’m sensitive to those leaders whom openly admit to neglecting their families for the sake of their work. Nonetheless, it was his painfully honest tone that kept me reading. Soil and Sacrament is exactly what it’s subtitle says, “A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith.” No misrepresentation there. Bahnson offers an transparent reflection of his journey of reconciling his faith with his politics and practice around the growing and consuming of food.

Faith and food are not two subjects that many make an obvious connection between. Yet, throughout Scripture food finds a central role. In the Torah the Hebrews are given divine direction on what, when, how to grow and consume food. And it is constantly acknowledged that the food from the earth comes from the creative force of God’s hand. Moving into the New Testament, as the Gospel message spreads from the Jews to the Gentiles food becomes a central point of debate as different cultures find their ways of sustenance varying from what God commanded in the Torah.

Bahnson reconnects these two subjects of faith and food through sharing his own journey. His journey intertwines with those of many others whose ways of living their faith and how they consume offer lessons to both Bahnson and the reader.

As I mentioned, Bahnson comes across honest. But he’s not brash. His words seem thoughtfully chosen. The contemplative life he chases after with intention is noticed in how he writes. His writing has a tempered, paced cadence that seems to flow from an individual who has been schooled in contemplative spirituality as well as the patient pace of growing food that is as good for the soul as it is the soil.

Bahnson’s honest, bare reflections are intended to teach us. He’s deliberately telling his story in a way that might guide you somewhere. You can’t ignore his ideals when you become aware of the personal challenges he undergoes to reconcile his own life in a broken world to the dream of Christ’s jubilant kingdom. He’s put his money where his mouth his, so to speak. His personal narrative at the start of each chapter earns him the right for you to finish that same chapter every time.

I’m not patient enough for Brahnson’s path. I’m a terrible contemplative and an even worse gardener. But maybe that’s why I ought to have read this book. As a multi-tasker with numerous projects always going at once who is passionately drawn to the urban landscape, it’s easy for me to forget how unsustainable our modern life can be. Bahnson reminds us to slow down even if it requires sacrifice. He reminds us of our need for community even if we lose a little of ourselves. And he reminds us of the beauty and miracle of the natural world, which too easily goes untended.

Bahnson provides a synopsis of his memoir in this TEDx Manhattan 2013 talk:


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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