A few years back, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks making music in a beautiful little village called Cambria. Nestled in the rocky cliffs of California’s Central Coast, Cambria is a community of hippies and surfers, doctors and lawyers; It’s not as affluent as many coastal cities but quaint and “funky” in the best sense of the word.
On a beautiful Saturday afternoon during my stay, a friend and I visited the local farmer’s market. It’s worth noting that while Cambria sits on the rocky Central Coast, it is surrounded by some of the richest farmland in the United States. The vast vineyards of Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo are to the east and south while the “Artichoke Capital of the World” is north in Castroville. “Mega” farms sprawl across the picturesque landscape of the region; but these were not the folks trading their wares on this sunny afternoon. The scene was more earthy, more communal and one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed. The fruits and vegetables were bigger and more vibrant in color than any I had ever seen. I saw colors of lettuce I never knew existed and have never seen since—and not only produce, but fresh breads and wines from small family vineyards; handmade quilts; fresh flowers and so much more. Beauty surrounded the proceedings but there was not a drop of efficiency to be found. The produce displayed were more acts of artistry and love than a well thought out business model. These farmers knew the meaning of “enough” and, because the beauty around them was their reward, “enough” was all they needed.
I am certain I have romanticized the experience a bit; time tends to do that with so many memories. Still, I am all but certain that there was no rivalry, no competition at the market that day. Each farmer celebrated the harvest of their neighbors, and the entire gathering felt like one big community.
As my own “faith-community” continues to move forward into unexplored lands, I wonder if there is any lesson in the little market I walked through that afternoon. Over the last few years, I think that maybe our self proclaimed “emerging community” was becoming just another big, commercial farm. Lights and music and computer graphics were the pesticides and herbicides that we hoped would increase our harvest and make our farm a success. Buildings and programs became our massive combines and irrigation systems. The problem is; we never really were “Mega” farmers. We were artists and craftsmen. We were farmers who loved the beauty of our harvest more than the profit it promised. When the cords connecting who we were with what we were becoming stretched tightly enough, the cords snapped and the farm fell into ruin. Or so it appeared.
When the sun came up the next morning, a funny thing happened. Some of the workers crept back into the fields. Some worked alone and others in small groups. Little patches of life began to spring up all over the old “ruined” farmland. Nothing looked much like it had before. The old methods were more efficient, more predictable. But now the fragrance was sweeter—the colors were more vibrant—and sometimes the cost was greater. Soil that once produced plentiful—if somewhat bland—fruit now produced hope for a child in Burma. It produced love and covering in the uncertainty of sickness. It produced rejoicing with the joyous and tears with those who mourned. The farm began to come to life again but the life that erupted from the soil became art and beauty, not product and commerce. It was not efficient but it was beautiful.
So what is missing? I think it may be the weekly farmer’s market. A weekly gathering of all the farmers where each brings in a part of their crop to share with the community—fruits and vegetables, bread and wine, covering and warmth. A time to celebrate the crops that have thrived and a time to share with those whose fields are too rocky to grow much. A place where we seek no profit and enough is all we need.
As we have deconstructed the church, many have missed the weekly gathering to worship and teach God’s word. I think we need a “market” where we can share our crops with one another. We need to sing together rather than being “sung to.” We need a time to teach one another rather than looking to only one “professional” farmer for all the wisdom we need. We need to share the bread and wine of Eucharist and live in the mystery of life springing from death. We need to care for one another … and for one another’s children. We need to dance and sing and weep and mourn together. We need to be in community with each other in order to fully experience community with Him. We need something earthy, communal and maybe a little bit funky.
What if we could build whatever we wanted? What if there really were no rules? What if, instead of going back, we moved forward into an unplowed field and started over? What if we gathered each week, not to “go to church” but to share with each other the work of the church that is taking place on little patches of ground all over our community? I have no idea what that might look like but I think it might be quite an adventure to find out.