Thursday, November 14, 2013

High-Tech Tools for Ancient Values: Year-Round Farming at Taos Pueblo

A Blog by Todd Wynward

  Author of The Secrets of Leaven

 [The sixth in a series on Watershed Discipleship]

Think the local food movement is a fad for elite yuppies and homesteading hipsters? Think again. Meet the Red Willow Growers Cooperative: Taos Pueblo food producers who use cutting-edge technologies to promote place-based values that have sustained their culture for a thousand years.


The Red Willow Farmer’s Market is a high-desert haven, providing abundant food year-round at 7,100’ above sea level. Located next to two substantial greenhouses and an educational building at Taos Pueblo, the market is open Wednesdays year-round and offers grass-fed beef, seasonal produce, eggs, fresh breads and pastries, fruits in season, jams, jellies, and soaps. From their rangeland nearby, the Taos Pueblo War Chief's Office provides local buffalo, which is USDA certified, 100% grass-fed, and sustainably produced. During summer the farmer’s market is both indoor and outdoor, with a dozen vendor tables and an outdoor grill; in the off-season the market moves inside and is more limited.

The farmer’s market operation is impressive enough by itself. But even more remarkable are the sustainable greenhouses on site that keep fresh produce growing even in deep winter.
Angelo McHorse, Red Willow’s new Farm Manager, knows the systems well. He needs to: his livelihood—and the well-being of hundreds of other members of his bioregion—depend on it. Last week he took me to the heart of Red Willow’s heated greenhouse system. Passing by stacks of locally-harvested piñón logs, he swung open the thick round metal door of the GARN heater to reveal a chamber that would soon hold a blazing fire. Describing the GARN in 2011, Tara Somerville of the Taos News called the high-tech heater “the foundation of a complex but sustainable system that is allowing agriculture to thrive even as temperatures plunge.” Observing Angelo manage Red Willow’s operations almost three years later, that statement seems truer than ever.

Red Willow’s new Farm Manager, knows the systems well. He needs to: his livelihood—and the well-being of hundreds of other members of his bioregion—depend on it. Last week he took me to the heart of Red Willow’s heated greenhouse system. Passing by stacks of locally-harvested piñón logs, he swung open the thick round metal door of the GARN heater to reveal a chamber that would soon hold a blazing fire. Describing the GARN in 2011, Tara Somerville of the Taos News called the high-tech heater “the foundation of a complex but sustainable system that is allowing agriculture to thrive even as temperatures plunge.” Observing Angelo manage Red Willow’s operations almost three years later, that statement seems truer than ever.

Angelo summarized how the GARN system works: Over 3000 gallons of a water mixture swirl around in a steel chamber surrounding the firebox. This heated water then shoots into above- and below-ground pipes to warm the pair of greenhouses, as well as two other buildings on site. All the particulates from the piñón fire are burned off when the smoke travels into the second core of the system—a ceramic tube that increases the temperature to over three thousand degrees. After taking a few minutes to warm up, the system becomes smoke-free.

Angelo McHorse
Red Willow uses high tech tools to achieve traditional goals, in order to achieve both food sovereignty and regional food security. The GARN biomass heater is only one of several innovative systems that have made the project a regional model in adaptive climate change sustainable farming. As we walked, Angelo showed me several other sustainable systems: one of the most remarkable was a series of strategically placed fans near blue barrels that siphon the hot air from the top of the greenhouse into an underground piping system in order to warm the earth around the plants and prevent freezing. Another energy-preserving technology used at Red Willow is cellulose insulation, made from locally sourced 100 percent recycled newspaper, used in the walls of the market’s walk-in cooler. In addition, solar panels provide the energy for the greenhouses' drip and irrigation systems, and recently acquired batteries are going a long way to take the entire system off the grid, as well as provide emergency back up.

The potential unleashed by the year-round greenhouses has put Taos Pueblo on the map as a model for other pueblos and communities looking to revitalize bioregional desert agriculture. Visitors have come from Tuba City, Hopi, Dine, Navajo Country, and White Apache Mountain to see the emerging project.

The powerful mixture of traditional values and cutting-edge techniques used at Red Willow are influencing younger generations at Taos Pueblo through the Red Willow Education Center's after-school and summer youth programs started by Education Director Shawn Duran. In 2002, as a twelve year-old, Angelo McHorse took part in Red Willow’s first Sustainability Institute in 2002. Now, as Farm Manager and college graduate, he’s deeply grateful for all that has come before him, and also feels that he can take the Red Willow project to a new level.

“It feels like I’m completing a circle,” he says quietly. “So much has been done before me, it feels like I’m building on a legacy.” In past years, the goal of producing enough fresh produce year-round for significant market sale has proved elusive; McHorse and his colleagues are working hard to ensure that this upcoming winter will be the most profitable and abundant yet.

- - -

My visit to Taos Pueblo left me inspired. This little farmer’s market is about so much more than local healthy food production: it’s also about robust local economics, place-based environmentalism, and education. It’s a vision that is the foundation for three interconnected initiatives: First, the Red Willow Farmer’s Market provides year-round fresh local food free of chemicals and additives; second, the Red Willow Grower’s Coop specializes in resilient bioregional food production powered by renewable resources; and third, the Red Willow Educational Center focuses upon sustainable agriculture educational and vocational opportunities for Pueblo youth, farmers and entrepreneurs.

Our nation’s communities sorely need this kind of spark: a compelling vision inspiring interconnected initiatives to launch massive social change. We need new local visions that improve how we eat, how we shop, how we farm, how we work, how we relate to the earth and each other. In short, we need an invitation to reinhabitation.

Here’s one take at a vision that might incite a movement: The 25/75/100 Bioregional Food Covenant. To join, an individual would make this vow: “By the year 2025, I will source 75% of my food from within 100 miles.”

Even to me—who authored it--a personal vow like this appears insignificant at first glance. But think about it: if a critical mass of people joined in, this humble promise could change the planet. Let me count the ways:

It enriches local economies. Thousands of families committing local for the long term would establish new demand and new markets, creating an incubator for regional companies in the business of growing, selling and distributing good food to their communities. Hard-earned cash would circulate longer within the region, causing more cycles of exchange for local goods and services as proposed by “slow money” advocates. Right now, there are few local growers and there is very little local food available because the majority of Americans don’t demand it.

It corrects our crazy consumption. Sourcing much of our food locally means adapting to our watershed and letting it instruct us how to be. It means learning to live within healthy natural limits. As David Orr writes: “It makes better sense to reshape ourselves to fit a finite planet than to attempt to reshape the planet to our infinite wants.”

It improves individual health. Kale..or Krispy Kreme? I know this is not a fair comparison, but my point is this: when members of communities encourage one another to eat food produced off the land, better health is likely to develop. In the case of Taos Pueblo, diet-related diabetes has become a deep concern among recent generations, and affordable access to farm-fresh food is a promising antidote.

It reduces our dependence on petroleum, packaging and pollution. Currently, the majority of mega-chain food travels a thousand miles or more to reach your local grocery store. Massive amounts of petroleum are used in soil amending, growing, processing, storing, packaging, and delivery of food items that could be grown and transported within a few miles of your house. Reduced travel and storage means reduced packaging and pollution.

It builds basins of relations across race and class. Brock Dolman writes that everyone on the planet lives in a basin of relations: “Everything we do for work, play, school, shopping, farming, recreation and so on occurs in a watershed somewhere.” What if those who could afford it signed on to a bioregional food covenant for themselves and for another family? What if congregations or schools or clubs became communities of care and made the promise for all their members? When a group of very different people direct their intent and resources toward making local food affordable and accessible, differences can unite in common cause.

It improves bioregional citizenship. Once we take a stand to eat from our bioregion, we begin to care much more about its health—about the quality of the water, soil, and air around us. We see the beautiful complexity of the interconnected living systems required to produce good food. We start acting in creative and clarifying ways like the New Mexico Coalition for Community Rights: they encourage thousands of regional groups to adopt Community Bills of Rights, asserting that corporations are not above people, and declare that all citizens of a watershed have an inalienable right to clean air and clean water.

Most importantly, a 25/75/100 bioregional food covenant boosts “community resilience”—a term describing the ability of your home region to thrive in the face of change and shocks from the outside, articulated by Transition movement founder Rob Hopkins. Like the three initiatives that are working together in the Red Willow project at Taos Pueblo, a bioregional food covenant would build local capacity and infrastructure, reduce dependency upon external providers, promote sustainability, and increase biological diversity.

Who knows—if a groundswell of people across North America took on this covenant in the next decade and patiently worked with farmers and sellers and communities so they could obtain 75% of their food from their own region by 2025, what would our nation look like? It’s an interesting reality to ponder.

Next week, I’ll be meeting near Washington DC for a national Watershed Discipleship Roundtable, imagining with others how we might best launch a Watershed Discipleship movement across the country. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Be Honest: How Much Does A Changed Life Change the World?

A Blog by Todd Wynward
 Author of The Secrets of Leaven
[The fifth in a series on Watershed Discipleship]
WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons?
That’s the provocative question Derrick Jensenasked in his 2009 article “Forget Shorter Showers”[Orion magazine, June/July issue]. And four years later, it’s a question that continues to inhabit my soul.


My family and I have changed our lifestyles a lot in the last six years, living a simpler life of greater sustainability and watershed discipleship.  We live in a yurt, use a composting toilet, heat with local wood, eat locally, grow significant food, milk goats, live in community, drive a Prius, take less showers, and skimp on non-necessities. 
But Jensen’s article made me pause: how globally effective is personal lifestyle change? Is it enough to follow the words of Gandhi, and be the change I want to see in the world, hoping that change will somehow spread beyond me?
Derrick Jensen says no.
I’ve wrestled with this question before, but Jensen made me look at it again, hard.  In “Forget Shorter Showers,” he powerfully argues that personal lifestyle changes—dramatic as they may be for individuals—do almost nothing to forward the massive systemic change needed today:
An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.
 To drive his point further home, Jensen quotes Kirkpatrick Sale’s sobering conclusion that personal changes have little impact upon planetary crises:
“For the past 15 years the story has been the same every year: individual consumption—residential, by private car, and so on—is never more than about a quarter of all consumption; the vast majority is commercial, industrial, corporate, by agribusiness and government [he forgot military]. So, even if we all took up cycling and wood stoves it would have a negligible impact on energy use, global warming and atmospheric pollution.”
Jensen’s message is painfully clear: taking shorter showers may be something you feel led to do, but don’t pretend it’s a powerful political act, or that it’s deeply revolutionary. Remember, he says repeatedly: Personal change doesn’t cause social change.
Or does it?  After wrestling with Jensen’s argument, I remain convinced that personal change can cause social change, and is often the necessary catalyst that leads us to it.
Jensen states that organized political resistance is necessary to confront and dismantle corporate and industrial power.  No doubt. But Jensen doesn’t ask the real question:  what kind of organized political resistance is necessary? He seems to think there’s only one kind of organized political action, the kind that is essentially an externalized re-action: citizens opposing injustice by demanding that our government or corporations do something, putting legally-binding limits on faceless institutions already damaging our planet. This kind of external activism is designed to get our government or a corporation to improve, even as our own lifestyles may stay unchanged.  Examples of this might be demands that our government forces extractive petroleum corporations to stop fracking, or require industrial food producers to follow healthier practices.
I’m certain, with Jensen, this kind of organized political resistance is vital for social change. But, unlike Jensen, I’m certain that an equally necessary form of organized political resistance rises from a groundswell of collective lifestyle change.  We must remember that the root of politics is polis--people, not politicians or laws--and that organizing culturally-defiant, lifestyle-changing parallel societies has been the modus operandi of such transformative movement leaders as Dorothy Day, Mahatma Gandhi, Vaclav Havel, Francis of Assisi and Jesus of Nazareth.
Joanna Macy has a term to define the massive cultural change needed today: the Great Turning. It’s already underway. Macy articulates three dimensions of the Great Turning, each mutually reinforcing and equally necessary:
Dimension #1: 'Holding actions' that slow damage to Earth and its beings.  ‘Holding actions’ encompass a great variety of pragmatic endeavors to defend healthy life on Earth: legal measures like legislation, regulations, political actions, and lawsuits; as well as direct actions such as boycotts and blockades, protesting, publicizing, organizing, whistle-blowing and civil disobedience. These holding actions seem to be the “organized political resistance” Derrick Jensen urges: immediate efforts to curtail the most damaging aspects of our industrial society. But while Jensen sees holding actions as the sole focus of what we should be doing, Macy sees them as a crucial stop-gap, providing time to do the vital work of the other two domains of the Great Turning: envisioning and implementing a life-sustaining society.
Dimension #2: Analysis of structural causes of destruction and creation of alternative institutions.We must examine the dynamics of the industrial growth society, comprehend how it’s seductive and destructive mechanisms work, and then create alternative social institutions. Bill Plotkin, in his book Nature and the Human Soul, notes that countless individuals involved in the Great Turning are already crafting new life-sustaining structures and practices in all our major cultural establishments: economies, food and energy systems, government, religion, parenting and education.
Dimension #3: Fundamental shifts in personal worldview, values and practice.  Macy asserts this dimension is the most basic, as the courageous resistance and creative new alternatives needed for the Great Turning cannot take root and flourish without deeply ingrained values and spirituality to sustain them.
The Great Turning needed today is not just about urgent political protest; it is equally about organizing a groundswell of collective lifestyle change through new worldviews, transformative practices and alternative structures.  And so, Derrick Jensen, I am here to tell you that I won’t forget shorter showers. I won’t forget composting toilets and buying less plastic.  These actions are not just personal; when organized and disciplined, they become deeply political, and can be revolutionary.
How? Derrick Jensen tells us that wasteful “corporations and industry” are the chief culprits of climate devastation, and that personal changes in consumption won’t matter. In doing so he overlooks an essential truth: a industry’s degree of success—and it’s degree of destructiveness—is utterly dependent upon millions of us buying it’s stuff.  When organized people and businesses make independent choices and stop buying, then industries stop producing, and when they stop producing, they stop polluting.
The bottom line is what Gandhi taught us all along: even in the face of Empire, you still control your choices.  He showed just how politically potent our personal lifestyle changes can be when shared, spread and organized. 
In that spirit, I’d like to introduce you to a movement of collective lifestyle change that’s kicking off next spring: the 25/75/100 Bioregional Food Covenant.  Individuals become members, wherever they live, by making this pledge: “By 2025, 75% of my food will come from within 100 miles.”  It’s one of those “fundamental shifts” that Joanna Macy calls for, a reorientation toward bioregional interdependence sorely needed in North America today.  If this interests you, stay tuned: I’ll flesh it out more fully in my next installment, “An Invitation to Re-Inhabitation.”

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Watershed Discipleship: An Ancient Path

A Blog by Todd Wynward
 Author of The Secrets of Leaven
[The fourth in a series on Watershed Discipleship]

There is a covenant that undergirds our lives.  Like a watershed, it’s about blessings, it’s about relationships, and it’s about limits. Much of the time, we oh-so-independent, uber-mobile North Americans forget this covenant we have with creation. We who suffer from the disease of affluenza tell ourselves we’ve earned the benefits we receive; as privileged perpetrators of the global economy, we think it our God-given right to acquire whatever we want, whenever we want, from wherever we want, without reflecting on the real cost.
But our tradition tells us a different story.  The Hebrew people began as habiru, wanderers who came to know a deeply covenanted relationship with their God. In the ancient story of Exodus, Yahweh frames it this way: “I will take you for my people, and I will be your God [6:7].”  It’s a covenant, a shared promise that has responsibilities on both sides.  For us moderns who aren’t used to limits, God might need to say it in a few more ways, to get it into our thick skulls: I shall provide for you an abundant world, and you shall rejoice in my provision.  I shall create a world full of many creatures, and you shall find your right place among them.
Genesis tells us that Yahweh, in a deeply intimate tone, says “I will establish…an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants [17:7];” in doing so, the land of Canaan becomes an “everlasting possession [17:8].”
Land as possession? Booyaa, we North Americans say.  We love that concept.  To us, who commodify everything, the scripture clearly tells a tale of God giving his favorite people a chunk of natural resources to do with as they please, to exploit as they want and discard when done.
Except God didn’t.  God gave the land as an everlasting possession, which is a permanent relationship with a place, an entrusted legacy for a body of humans to exist in covenanted right relationship with a place for generations. That’s watershed discipleship. It’s communion with a particular bioregion. And it’s been going on for as long as people have told stories around campfires.
With covenanted right relationship in mind, I’d like to look at Psalm 104 with new eyes.  Protestant preachers, like noted scholar Charles Spurgeon, have a serious history of relegating Psalm 104 to beatific poetry, calling it “lofty” and “one of the longest sustained flights of the inspired muse.” Spurgeon was much closer to its core teaching when he said this Psalm “sings sweetly of both creation and providence.”
That’s what it’s about: Providence.  Don’t underestimate how much this psalm can reprogram your hard-wired capitalist psyche. Read it more than once, let it creep into you.  2500 years ago, the author of this song was expressing covenanted right relationship.  In response to God’s flowing providence, how does the psalmist say we are to act? To say thank you with every breath; to make a practice of trust; to embrace God’s will; and to let all selfishness disappear.
This Psalm is long.  I’m going to do two things that are a bit different: I’m going to present only excerpts—not the whole thing—and I’m going to present it as translated by Buddhist writer Stephen Mitchell. These two shifts from convention help me hear the Psalm’s power with new ears. 
It starts as an ecstatic thank-you letter to God:
Psalm 104.13.3.JPG

You water the hills from the sky;
             by your care the whole earth is nourished.
You make grass grow for the cattle
             and grains for the service of mankind,
To bring forth food from the earth
             and bread that strengthens the body,
oil that makes the face shine
             and wine that gladdens the heart.
You plant the trees that grow tall,
             pines, and cedars of Lebanon,
on which many birds build their nests,
             and the stork in the topmost branches.
The mountains are for the wild goats;
             the cliffs are a shelter for the rock squirrels.
You created the moon to count months;
             the sun knows when it must set.
You make darkness, it is night,
             the forest animals emerge.
The young lions roar for their prey,
             seeking their food from God.
The sun rises, they withdraw,
             and lie down in their dens.
Man goes out to his labor
             and works until it is evening.
All [creatures] depend on you
             to give them food in due time.
You open your hands—they gather it;
             you give it—they are filled with gladness.
You send forth your breath—they are born,
              and with them you replenish the earth.
Your glory will last forever;
              eternally you rejoice in your own works.
I will sing to you at every moment;
              I will praise you with every breath.
How sweet it is to trust you;
              what joy to embrace your will.
May all selfishness disappear from me,
              and may you always shine from my heart.
--Excerpts from Psalm 104: 10-35
It starts as an ecstatic thank-you to Yahweh—for God’s part in the bargain--but it ends in a revolutionary promise to do our part: “How sweet it is to trust you…May all selfishness disappear from me, and may you always shine in my heart.”  Trusting in enoughness, rejoicing in the gifts we are given, finding our bioregional place as one species among many: these are the tasks of the watershed disciple.  It’s an ancient path—as old as the covenanted right relationship discovered by the wanderinghabiru—but it just might be the way that leads us back to God’s dream of right living.
[Note to my loyal readers out there: No, you didn’t miss a post.  I just decided to write about something other than what I’d planned!  Forgive, if you can.  I was inspired.--TW]

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Watershed Discipleship: An Improbable Movement

A Blog by Todd Wynward
 Author of The Secrets of Leaven
[The third in a series on Watershed Discipleship]
There’s a profound environmental movement beginning to bubble up in an unlikely place: the Mennonite church.
I don’t have an easy relationship with institutional Christianity.  All too often, organized religion ends up supporting the warlike tendencies, ravenous greed and socioeconomic inequities that Jesus wanted to liberate us from.
Knowing this, I became a Mennonite fifteen years ago.  Why?  Well, frankly, if you’re interested in participating with God’s dream to make earth as heaven, Mennos are one of the best outifits going. Despite a lot of human inconsistency and moral weakness, for five hundred years the Mennonite tradition has taken seriously the idea of following a radical Jesus.  This has led to all types of embarrassing, Empire-defying stances: civil disobedience, refusing to bear arms, intentional simplicity, forgiving murderers, befriending the poor, practicing mutual aid, and engaging deeply in global peacemaking. Now, not all Mennonites are guided by such values, to be sure. But many are. Radical discipleship is in the tradition’s roots; it’s in the blood.  Fifteen years ago, when I encountered a pocket of inspiring Mennonites doing their broken best to practice the Jesus Way in the neighborhoods of Albuquerque, I was hooked.  I wanted to be one of them.
An undomesticated Anabaptist
I like Mennonites most because they have a long history of developing parallel societies in the shadow of Empire. My wife and I try to do that too: we live in a yurt in the Sangre de Cristo mountains near Taos, New Mexico. My friends and I milk goats, shear sheep, plant trees, and try to grow a lot of our food in the high desert. My wife and I each have more than two decades of experience as wilderness educators, river guides and camp directors. Both of us have spent more than a thousand days—three years of our lives—in open country and in wilderness, sleeping under the stars.  More than once we have been called feral. Last week, a citified visitor from Philadelphia giggled in awe when she entered our small dwelling, and immediately started snapping photos.  She simply couldn’t believe we use a composting toilet and carry water to our house by hand in buckets, like millions of people across the world.
Before you get too impressed, let’s be clear: we’re nothing but pretenders.  My family still has laptops and a cappuccino maker, cell phones and Netflix. We daily take our son to soccer practice in a Prius and monthly drive a hundred miles to shop at the nearest Trader Joe’s.  Even though we homestead in the high country, we’re still entangled in Empire, as much a part of the system as anyone.  Which is why my encounter last month with other Mennonites hungry for transformation was so life-giving.
Did not our hearts burn within us?
Picture this: July 2013, downtown Phoenix, AZ, me at my first national Mennonite Convention.  During the last hours of the week-long event, about a dozen of us gathered from across the nation, hastily organizing our own meeting on white plastic chairs in a faceless food court. We came together as Mennonites to see we could do regarding climate change.  We came together as North Americans hoping to transform our policies, our perspectives and our lifestyles.  We came together wanting Mennonites to repent from our culture’s eco-cidal madness; we came together wanting ourselves and our churches to practice watershed discipleship, as followers of a God who loves all of creation.
What began as a hasty assembly evolved into a sacred circle.  Spirit moved strongly amongst and through us.  Together we listened attentively and spoke prophetically. Here we were, at an institutional gathering for an institutional church, and transformation was filling the air. No lie—I was caught up. Potential for a new reality blossomed in my cynical heart.
Where there is no vision, the people perish.
At the end of our meeting, the dozen of us departed to our own scattered parts of the continent, yet we did not feel alone.  We now held a common vision: a not-so-distant future filled with congregations across North America embodying watershed discipleship, changing our society from the inside out.
Now I want to ask you, dear reader: Will you be part of this vision? You can be if you help your community live out four key traits:
◦       Practice bioregional adaptation, seeking to craft sustainable lifestyles that fit within the gifts and limits of our watersheds;
◦       Enact structural mitigation, resisting eco-cidal institutions and policies that threaten the health of our vital life systems;
◦       Actively explore and implement alternative institutions and appropriate new technologies that foster healthy regional economies;
◦       Embody a spiritual resiliency, sharing and living a scripturally-grounded, Jesus-following, earth-honoring, despair-erasing Christianity.
How to get there from here? 
How do we become the church we want to be--the watershed disciples that our God is yearning for us to become? Our group is not sure, but we have some places to start.  However, dear reader, that is a topic for another day.  Tune in next time as I share my exciting conversations with Ched Myers and Luke Gascho, and also share the inspirational actions and ideas of Sheri Hostetler from the Bay Area, Anita Amstutz, Donna Detweiler, Ken Gingerich and Andy Gingerich from Albuquerque, Joel Miller from Columbus, and Steve Heinrichs from all the way up in Vancouver!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Watershed Discipleship: Region As Rabbi

A Blog by Todd Wynward
Author of The Secrets of Leaven
[The second in a series on Watershed Discipleship]

Watershed discipleship defies Empire-based thinking, and converts us to Sabbath living. Sabbath living, writesChed Myers, “is about gift and limits: the grace of receiving that which the Creator gives, and the responsibility not to take too much, nor to mistake the gift for a possession.”
This is what Jesus meant when he said the meek shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). The meek—those who do not grasp and hoard, those who do not think too highly of their own importance and needs—these are the ones who understand the blessing of creation.
Try this on:  Does being a Jesus disciple today require one to also be a watershed disciple?  I’m starting to say yes. “Consider the lilies of the field,” the Master encouraged (Matthew 6:25). Jesus was saying model your life upon this aspect of nature at your fingertips, be a student of God’s creation that thrives in your watershed. 
So what might watershed discipleship look like?  I’ve spent the last several years living into this question.  It’s a question of both perspective and practice: Seeing differently leads to acting differently.  As I learn to re-inhabit the place I live, I’m seeing my region as my rabbi in three specific ways.
Watershed as Sustainer, Teacher, and Corrector.  Try on this idea: All of my food needs, my watershed can provide.  Sounds crazy?  It does to me. I mean, I know most of humanity for all of history were sustained by their watersheds, but those were primitive people, primitive times. What about my Italian parmesan and my Florida orange juice? What about my olive oil and coconut milk? 
Can all the items my family loves be sourced in my bioregion?  I seriously doubt it. But this line of inquiry leads me to pursue two questions.  First: How much of what my family desires can be sourced from our watershed?  In the high deserts of New Mexico where I live, the answer seems bleak.  For my family to obtain what we like eating, I’d have to drive hundreds of miles before I found the first orange tree or avocado orchard.  This leads me to a second question: To what extent can we become creatures who thrive within the limits of our bioregion?  In other words, to what extent can we adapt?
Wait—me, adapt my wants to my watershed? As an entitled American consumer steeped in the values of Empire, this suggestion is not only absurd; it is scandalous.  I’m trained to buy whatever I want whenever I want, without a second thought to planetary consequences.  To be asked to limit my lifestyle, to curb my appetites, fills a part of me with indignant fury and fear. I’m an American, dammit! I want to roar.
Yet my watershed, my rabbi, corrects my spoiled behavior. Just like in any master-apprentice relationship, my rabbi corrects me as part of my training, just as any master would refine and re-form an immature and out-of-shape disciple.  This is a kind of conversion, metanoia, the transformation of worldview and habits that early followers of Jesus underwent. They were taught to walk away from the values of Empire and instead care for the poor, love their neighbors, and anticipate a modest bounty of daily bread.  These age-old precepts were central to the teachings of Jesus; they are equally central to the teachings of my watershed. They cause me to look anew at the two troubling and transformative questions raised earlier: What can my watershed provide? How can I adapt my wants?
A few years ago, some neighbors and I decided to have some fun with these questions. Instead of bemoaning the arid sparseness of northern New Mexico’s high country, we began to explore what kinds of food sources could thrive in our dry mountain environment.  At the same time, with a perverse joy, we began to break from Empire-based thinking, and explore if we could learn to be happy with what our watershed provided.  My ranching friend, Daniel, has managed small herds to see which livestock could thrive with minimal inputs while being maximally useful to us.  What has he found?  Goats and sheep, we want to keep.  They adapt well to our bioregion, are fairly easy to manage, and provide milk, cheese, meat, kefir and yogurt.  But yaks?  Not so much. After five years of experimentation and hard work, Daniel concluded that they’re substantially more trouble than they’re worth.  As for vegetables and fruits, we’ve found success with plenty of the usual fare—carrots, onions, beets, tomatoes, zucchini, apples, plums, greens galore.  Also, under the guidance of my mentor gardener Seth, I’ve adapted my habits to appreciate hand-ground cornmeal, many new types of beans, high-altitude quinoa, plum preserves, wild amaranth and lamb’s quarters, sorrel, kale chips, broccoli leaves, and varieties of squash and potato previously untasted.
I’m finding that many of my life practices—habits formed unconsciously growing up within Empire’s culture of excess--have no part in the life of a watershed disciple, nor of a serious  Jesus follower.  Even as I slowly transform, however, a small part of me wants to remain an unconscious and self-absorbed consumer, a well-trained cog of Empire.  Are you feeling it too? We both know it’s easier to remain a spoiled child instead of becoming a responsible adult. Yet in this “watershed” moment of history—with our existence in the balance--it’s clear our watersheds are calling us to do something old-fashioned: repent, turn around.  To exist within the limits of our watersheds, we’ll need to release our attitudes of entitlement and retract our rude-boy appetites.  To what extent can we thrive within the bounty—and the boundaries—of our bioregions?  I honestly don’t know; for me, my addiction to affluenza is scarily strong.  But with my friends in my Lama Mountain community, I’m going to keep trying to learn from my watershed’s teachings, and see if we might find a good life within it.  Our other option? Stay unrepentant, keep purchasing whatever we want whenever we want, keep demanding that the world cater to our whims.  To do this, though, we’d need to consciously reject the teachings of the Master, and admit we’re greedy and reckless bastards whose needs are to be met at the expense of the planet.  Which option are you going to choose?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Watershed Discipleship: A Way Through?

A Blog by Todd Wynward
Author of The Secrets of Leaven
[The first in a series on Watershed Discipleship]

In early July 2013, Todd Wynward sat down with author and activist Ched Myers to discuss the concept of watershed discipleship and dream about building an alliance among faith-based groups engaged in localized, bioregional living. Below are Todd’s reflections.
I have to agree with Ched Myers’ stark analysis of the current human condition:  modern society lies drugged in an “ecocidal slumber.”  We’re fully aware our actions are causing the corrosion of earth’s basic life-sustaining systems, and we know we have choices, yet we lay paralyzed, trapped by our compulsive habits and oh-so comfortable lifestyles.
Ched holds up a strange hope to our post-modern progressive paralysis: the Bible. He asserts that “the prophetic traditions indigenous to both testaments may alone be capable of rousing us” from our addictive malaise.
The Bible—our best spur toward urgent action? It’s an unconventional hope for most modern progressives who—for good reason—are leery of anyone declaring they’re “Bible-based.”  Yet Ched claims the Bible might be the best tool we’ve got to get modern America to drop the iPad and get off the collective couch.
It’s an interesting proposition.  Do the ancient scriptures hold enough social critique to radicalize slumbering evangelicals AND enough social credibility to galvanize cynical progressives?  Perhaps.  Ched thinks so.  He describes the power of the prophetic strands that weave through the Bible:
The reflective poems, warning tales, grand sagas and radical histories of scripture summon us to remember our origins and the ways of our ancestors; invite us to imagine and work for a restorative future, and call us to liberate and heal ourselves and our home places.
Reforms of habits--such as recycling and eating locally and shopping responsibly--are important, Ched affirms, but to become the people we need to be to face our environmental crisis, we’ll need to do much more:  we’ll need to practice transformed living through watershed discipleship.
Watershed discipleship? It’s an odd, almost jarring term, invoking and synthesizing two domains rarely joined in our imaginations: one scientific, the other religious.  Yet I’m becoming convinced it is exactly this kind of unitive consciousness—both data-driven and deeply spiritual--that is needed if we humans are to play any significant role in our planet’s healing. 
I’ve taken the liberty to change a word or two, but I agree wholeheartedly with Ched that those who aspire to watershed discipleship must embrace the following motto: “We will not save a place we do not love; we cannot love a place we do not know; we cannot know a place we have not inhabited.” Inhabiting a particular place—experiencing its characteristics and being formed by its constraints, its bounty and its boundaries—is essential to watershed discipleship.  It is the “re-placed” identity we as a species must vitally embody if we are to rouse from ecocidal slumber.
So what is watershed discipleship, exactly?  In talking to Ched this week, it became apparent that no one fully knows quite yet.  Watershed discipleship is an intriguing and powerful concept that could motivate us to move mountains of malaise and despair, but it will need some years of being embodied and explored by many of us before we arrive at a firm definition. I, for one, want to be part of the journey of discovery.  If inquiry into a deeper understanding of watershed discipleship interests you, join me in future blogs as I tackle the following topics:
  • Region as Rabbi:  Watershed as Teacher, Sustainer, and Corrector
  • Traits of a Watershed Disciple
  • Reinhabitory Practices: Bioregional Covenants      & the Art of Re-place-ment
           Todd Wynward lives in a yurt at 8000’ elevation in the high desert 
            mountains outside of Taos, New Mexico.  Ched Myers lives closer to
            sea level near Ventura, California.  This is Todd’s first post in a series on
Watershed Discipleship.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

How have you been living called out?

A Blog by Todd Wynward
Author of The Secrets of Leaven
[Part 4 in Going Cimarron, a series on Wilderness Spirituality]
The original Greek word for church—ekklesia—meant “the called out ones.”  How have you been living called out?
The church: a covenanted band of cimarrons?  Could it be that Jesus envisioned a social movement that was not a pillar of dominant society, but rather a drastic alternative to dominant society--a group of transformed people called away from a state culture of financial security, structural inequality and military might?
Most people who name themselves Christians today believe they’ve been called out from the world around them.  But in what ways? When I was a teenager, our earnest youth pastor once asked our high school group, “If being Christian was a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”  
Back then, as a Southern California teen growing up in Reagan country, my answer came quickly. Enough evidence? Sure. I felt pretty confident in my walk with Jesus.  In the culture I was raised in, the evidence of a good Christian was all about personal piety and purity. Wasn’t I honest and kind?  Didn’t I do my best to avoid sexual temptation? Didn’t I skip parties where I knew there’d be smoking and drinking?  Besides that, I prayed for others every week at youth group, and had my own daily devotional time reading the Bible. I even shared the Gospel with friends at school, encouraging them to ask Jesus into their hearts so he could forgive their sins.
Sin in Greek is a term from archery, meaning “to miss the mark.”  Back then, I felt I was a good Christian because my goal was to stay pure in a polluted world.  Thirty years later, realizing how shackled I am to Empire-based thinking, I struggle all the time to be a follower of the Way.  I find myself missing the mark every day.  All too often I seek first my personal kingdom, rather than the kingdom of love and justice Jesus envisioned.  I say I want to love my enemy, but I go blithely about my daily business as my nation bombs other nations. I yearn to follow what my Rabbi taught in the sermon on the mount, but I still find myself worrying about tomorrow.  Tomorrow, and lots of other things: financial security, health care, college for my son, what people think of me.
Yes, I’m a cimarron child of God, tested in wilderness, someone who has been called out and who lives very differently than dominant society.  And I’m also an addict to Empire, compulsively drawn to personal greed, ego gratification, and a haunting callousness to the suffering of other people and the planet.  Too often I’m pursuing shiny gadgets instead of sharing food.
I need serious help to be the God-filled person I want to be.  I can’t do it alone.  I need to be part of a transformative ekklesia—a body of called-out ones, a covenanted band of cimarrons who support one another to embody a parallel society of the Jesus Way even in the shadow of Empire’s might.
I have a feeling that many of us need help, addicted as we are to the comforts and customs of our juggernaut civilization. To that end, I want to highlight three energizing communities in my neck of the woods—New Mexico--that are helping me to defy Empire’s pull through creative, abundant living:
Albuquerque Mennonite Church:  This urban congregation of 150 is not only deeply worshipful, but also is a campus of life-change.  Small groups not only get together for support and song, but also for more radical reasons such as exploring consumer habits and creating community-based solutions to relieve chronic credit-card debt.  Last week, AMC sponsored the “More With Less” Fest, a day-long event in a neighborhood park celebrating lifestyle choices members have made such as collective housing, salvage living, solar retrofitting, urban gardening and chicken farming.

Lama Mountain: This tiny rural mountain community on dirt roads near Taos, NM is a hotbed of cimarron activity.  People who grew up in the belly of Empire, trained to be good consumers like the rest of us, have defected from that narrative and are now striving to be generative producers in all aspects of their lives.  Some of the findings we’ve learned from our “experiments in living” are daunting:  I didn’t know until last year how much time it takes to cultivate and process a few pounds of beans that I could buy in the store for a few dollars.  But easy, unconscious consumption on the cheap is not our chief aim: rather, it is to re-learn right relationship and cultivate our own food sources, our own music, our own culture, our own definition of what makes abundant life.  Current initiatives includecommunity agriculturefarm & wilderness summer camps, and an Outward-Bound style public school; building and dwelling in yurts and earthen structures; goat milking, sheep shearing, and yak herding; wool processing and yarn making; flood irrigation of storage foods such as quinoa, heirloom beans, winter squash and mountain corn.  It’s not easy, but it feels very real.
Taos Initiative for Life Together [TiLT]: this intentional co-housing movement in downtown Taos is in a formative stage, with occupancy by 6-8 people expected to occur in August 2014.  Although a specific location has not been identified yet, it’s been extremely life-giving to conspire and dream about what we might become together.  TiLT’s motto is “reinventing the North American lifestyle, starting with our own.” As North Americans raised in Empire, can we practice a way of life that is less destructive, less maddening, and more satisfying?  By changing our habits and attitudes, can we find a better way to live? We hope so.  Similar to other neo-monastic communities in America, we’ll practice disciplines such as prayer, song, fasting, spiritual direction, open table fellowship, Sabbath and wilderness retreat.  Our members seek to embody “shade tree economics,” treating our finances as resources to be used for the common good.  Lastly, we plan to live out the values of the global “transition towns” movement, which encourages an energy-lean, time-rich, deeply satisfying lifestyle that does not depend so much on cheap oil nor the exploitation of people and the environment.
With these words, I come to the end of a four-part series on wilderness spirituality.  In wild uncolonized space, we can find our true selves as children of God, and as cimarron people—no longer so shackled by Empire--we can cultivate kingdom communities that stand in stark contrast to dominant culture.  But what might these communities and lifestyles look like?  
What kind of creative life choices are bold Jesus followers making in modern America today? This is the next topic I intend to pursue, in my daily life and in this blog. Join me in the inquiry!
Next Time:  How Then Shall We Live?