Honors Guild at Victory Acres

An old, weather-beaten farmhouse defies the wind’s frenzied rush over the fields to the west of Upland. Situated on a westward facing hill, this small, community-supported farm and ministry center seeks to heal the land and people by modeling sustainable agricultural practices and ministering to those who are hurting. The honors program spent a Saturday morning at this farm, known as Victory Acres, in the spirit of sustainability and service learning. During this time we helped to erect a new hothouse, worked in the current greenhouse, readied seedlings to be planted, made preparations for a barn raising, and ate fruit smoothies and eggs.

Spending the morning outdoors at the farm was invigorating and very enjoyable despite the bitterly cold weather. There is something special about working with the earth that calms one’s spirit and compels a change in perspective. It is so easy to become disconnected in our modern environment from the things of the earth that were essential to the survival of our ancestors only a short time ago. Our climate-controlled rooms and highly developed systems for supplying every need or want cause us to forget how wild and complex and wonderful the world really is. Even a morning at a farm was enough to remind us of the more fundamental aspects of our collective existence – like our dependence on the food that the earth yields and vulnerability to the elemental forces of nature.

The opportunity to implement what we have been learning through service was a welcome opportunity. Going to the farm helped us to overcome a second disconnect between knowing and doing. Living sustainability means ordering one’s life a certain way, taking action to implement what you know. In the absence of action, one must question whether the lesson has been learned after all.

The trip was also a great opportunity to spend time with people away from the distractions of our contemporary existence. Our shared task gave us an element of commonality that allowed us to bond through the activity. If C.S. Lewis’ comparison of friendship to two people walking side by side toward the same goal is accurate, it seems like such a setting is bound to strengthen friendship’s ties. In this sense the work we did at Victory Acres helped us to overcome the things that divide us as people in day-to-day life.

The theme should be obvious by now. Working at Victory Acres gave us the opportunity to surmount the barriers between modern man and nature, learning and doing, and one another. The entire experience, from the farm fresh breakfast to the activities, was wholesome in every sense of the word. This kind of endeavor is also the most sustainable since tension results when we live apart from God’s earth, people, and action motivated by what we know. The trip to Victory Acres was a good reminder of these things and an equally important exercise in their practice.

Honors Conference Reflections– On “Feasting and Fasting,” by Diana Meakem

Junior Diana Meakem provides us a fascinating reflection on one of the breakout sessions in the Fall 2012 Honors Guild Conference. Reagan Sutterfield, an agrarian and a writer from Englewood Community Church in Indianapolis, delivered a talk titled “Feasting and Fasting” during the conference. Here are Diana’s thoughts:

Reflection On “Feasting and Fasting” by Ragan Sutterfield

     “When we eat a meal, we’re participating in a concert.” I have always felt this way about meals, but have never been able to articulate it. I appreciated the many facets to Ragan’s talk, the way he intertwined literature, theology, and agriculture. It was particularly apropos because he talked a lot about how God made everything to be connected, even though we often pervert that. 

            Ragan talked about soil, how we were made from it, how we return to it, and how we as humans are dependent upon the soil. I’ve done a little gardening growing up (I love growing basil and making pesto from it), but I had never thought about how special, complicated and life-giving soil is. The soil affects what we eat.

            After that, Ragan talked about how we eat, and spent a lot of time talking about fasting in particular. Fasting has always been a tricky topic for me. I know Christians have done it for centuries, but have struggled to understand why or how fasting should be done. Ragan spoke of fasting as “a kind of mourning,” as a holding out for something better, anticipation. He addressed, too, that fasting is not about manipulating God, which has been an underlying theme behind most of what I grew up hearing about fasting. I like the idea of fasting as waiting for something better. As Christians, that is a huge part of how we are called to live—on the earth, but not of it, waiting eagerly for the redemption of the world (Romans 8).  

            In fact, Christianity is a religion based on waiting. The Jews waited thousands of years for the Messiah, and now we wait for His return. We’re called to wait in other areas of our life, too: we’re called to wait on the Lord, called to wait until marriage for the consummation of sex. Fasting, a discipline of waiting, can teach us about delayed gratification in other areas of our lives. Most things worth doing can’t be done by clicking a button, and it would be good to have a discipline to remind us of that.

            Ragan talked about the historical rhythm of the church fasting on Fridays, always remembering the death of Lord. Then Sunday is always a feast day, remembering his resurrection. In between feasting and fasting is ferial eating, a more normal eating. Observing these disciplines, or a version of them that I could maintain (like eating only fruits and vegetables Friday for breakfast and lunch) might be a lovely way to embrace a historical, sacred rhythm in my busy life.