Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It all started during the Reformation... [or, one of the reasons I'm farming]

“Well, back during the time of the Reformation…,” I began. All of us interns were sitting in the ‘Family Room’ sharing about how we wound up here with the Abundant Table Farm Project. We joked that we could probably each trace our decision to be a part of this Project all the way back to first grade. It is difficult to pinpoint and express the specific events in our lives that brought us here, since we are all people made up of many unarticulated, interwoven events and histories. That is why, both laughing and partly serious, I began long before I was born, at the beginning of one of my histories.

My family traces its spiritual and ethnic roots back to areas that are now part of Germany and the Netherlands. The Anabaptists began as a group of radicals that started a small church reformation movement separate from the Protestant Reformers and separate from the Catholic state church (separate from pretty much everything, actually). They distanced themselves from State religion in a number of unruly ways, such as baptizing adult Christians rather than babies, thus subverting the way that baptism had become the State’s way of keeping track of its population. For this reason, they came to be known as the Anabaptists. One group of Anabaptists that sprang up was called the Mennonites. My ancestors were Mennonites who suffered years of persecution for their beliefs before many fled to Russia and the U.S. to build their separatist communities around farms, churches and schools.

So what’s all that about and what does it have to do with me being here? After my ancestors came to the U.S., they were farmers up until my grandparents’ generation. My maternal grandmother’s parents arrived in California just before the Great Depression, penniless immigrants who did not understand English. Like the Latin American immigrants that work in the fields surrounding our home here in Oxnard, they worked as itinerate farm laborers. Opportunities arose for their children and grandchildren that offered alternatives to the hardships of farming, and so my parents and grandparents became doctors, nurses, pastors, and pilots.

Despite this “upward climb” away from farming, something of the land remains in me. After moving over eight times during my childhood, I long for the connection to a place that farming offers. I am attracted by the profound simplicity and contentment that comes from working with my hands, from being connected with all the steps and products of my labor. In addition to these things, I am compelled by deeper connections and questions, those of my own heritage and faith roots.

I wonder how did/does our traditional Mennonite connection to the land impact the community and our theology? Is something lost when, increasingly, we follow the cultural trend in the U.S. and separate ourselves from farming?

I hope that during my time here, I will continue to discover more about my Mennonite roots, a part of my story that I've only been able to take as my own in the past few years. I can't help but think that with this community, I will come into connection with deeper Mennonite and, more fully, Christian values. I already feel an openness to stories of suffering and a sense of vulnerability that is present here. We're all excited about practicing hospitality (and doing some plain good cookin' (sorry, but no grease-ified German sausage, grandma)), deepening our faith through worship, as well as joining work for peace and justice through internships dealing with farmworker and immigrant rights.

So yes, all that church history and explanation to say: I am here, and it will be a good place to set down roots for awhile.

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