Monthly Archives: July 2013

As of this morning, I am no longer an employee of Emmanuel Bible College.  After something like nine years of teaching English literature there, I am no longer able to sign the school’s statement of faith, and so it withdrew its offer of a contract this fall.

My feelings are mixed, because I enjoyed my time at EBC, especially my opportunity to meet the students, some of whom I would now count among my friends, and I am saddened that I will no longer have the opportunity to be an alternative voice for them at the school, but I am increasingly uncomfortable, not only with some of the specific elements that the school includes in its statement of faith, but also with the very idea of a statement of faith, at least in the sense of a standardized list of criteria for orthodoxy.  It is not that I object to the idea of people or even organizations expressing what they believe, but I do object to the idea that these kinds of statements should be or possibly could be definitive of belief.

When we make statements of faith, we need always to recognize how provisional and impossible they are, how inadequate they necessarily are to say anything definitive about God, never mind something prescriptive for those who might be trying to know God.  To assume that any such statement could possibly include all those who are sincerely seeking God is simple pride and hubris, and to exclude on the basis of any such statement can only serve to increase division among people whose common purpose is, at least in theory, to know God better.

In my own case, for example, I object to the statement of faith affirming a belief in the Bible before a belief in God, and also to its description of the Bible as “the only supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct,” an idea that the Bible does not itself contain and that runs counter to the Bible’s frequent depiction of God working also through tradition and personal revelation.  I would say that God, not the Bible, is the only supreme authority, and that the Bible is a means, one of several, through which God communicates.

None of this should put me essentially at odds with most of the people at the school.  It is a point of theological difference where we might disagree, but it is not a matter where the sincerity of anyone’s belief is in question.  Yet, the assumption that we all need to affirm the same list of theological criteria in order to be orthodox, and perhaps to affirm several different lists as we go from church to work to camp to community drop-in center, imposes a final and irrevocable division between us.  This is a great sadness to me.

Let me propose an alternative.  Suppose that each of us, regardless of our religious beliefs or lack thereof, was expected to have a personal statement of faith, even if it was only so short a thing as, “I haven’t a clue what to believe,” and what if we were to regard these things not as prescriptive in any way, but as opportunities to engage one another about these questions that, whatever we believe about them, lie at the core of our humanity, and what if we were expected to hold these statements of faith, not absolutely and for all time, but with equal amounts of humility and passion, so that we would be as willing to admit the possibility that we were wrong as we would be willing to live fully what we believe is right.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this supposition would have me teaching my students this fall.

I had been using a blog for a homeschooling project back when my kids did that sort of thing (as it looks like they may do again), but it had been sitting around for better than a year, and I had an idea to use it as a place to organize my garden, so I’ve gradually been listing the plants that I have and the plants that I want, and a scalable map of the garden (which is already out of date, but awesome even so), and now I’ve started blogging a little too, though probably in a very interesting way. My approach (for all of two days now) is to list very factually what I did in the garden on any given day and to list also the interactions I have with people through the garden and because of it.  I have no idea what this will look like, but I’m doing it anyway.  Take a look if that sort of thing amuses you.

We picked our first real crop of cherries this year, probably a quarter of a bushel, so we have been eating cherries at every opportunity, putting them in cereal and on icecream, and I used the ones with bird bites in them to make a cherry pie.

Yesterday we also picked our chokecherries, the second year now that we have had enough to make them worth picking.  Their sour taste keeps them from being edible fresh (though my youngest son was not at all deterred), but they make great jelly.  I prefer no-pectin recipes, and they are not always easy to find, so I thought that I should post mine:

Just cover the chokecherries with water in a pot, including some unripe ones for flavour and added pectin.  Boil them until they are very soft, then mash them lightly.  If you want your jelly to be clear, strain the pulp through cheesecloth, but do not squeeze or press it.  If you want a more jam-like jelly, press the pulp through a sieve.  Either way, combine the juice with equal amounts of sugar and about a tablespoon of lemon juice per cup of chokecherry juice.  Small batches tend to jell better, so work with amounts of  three to five cups of chokecherry juice at a time.  Bring the batch to a boil, stirring often, until it reaches jell stage.  Pour into canning jars.  Water bath for five to ten minutes.  Let cool.  Check that the jars have sealed.  Store the jars in a cool and dark place.  Eat the jelly often, especially on icecream.

I took Jayden, my youngest son, on a drive the other morning.  He was going stir crazy, and he needed out of the house in the worst way, but it was pouring rain, so I was not much motivated to take him for a walk.  We drove quite a way out along the sideroads, and I was just about to head home when I saw a flash of lily orange in the ditch, but at a height far above the wood lilies that are sometimes found along the road, even above the much more common garden-escaped daylilies.  I turned around at the nearest opportunity, pulled over next to the patch of orange, and waded in my sandals through a ditch filled with a foot of water and a tangle of bulrushes to discover that what I had seen were Michigan Lilies, almost as tall as I am.  I waded back, fetched the shovel and bucket that I generally keep in the back of the car, waded out a second time, dug up several specimens, and hauled everything back to the car.  The toddler watched the whole procedure from his carseat with what I assumed to be interest.

A day later, I took him for a walk through the neighbourhood and struck up a conversation with a woman who lives a couple of streets over.  She was weeding her garden and had just started to pull out a number of sumacs, one of the low-growing varieties.  I asked if she would let me keep a few if I helped her dig them out, and I came home with a half-dozen of them.

The next afternoon, I went to call my kids in from the yard and found two bags of plants on my front walkway, unlabeled and unclaimed.  They turned out to be some kind of iris or purple flag, not the native variety I like best, but nice even so.

Then, yesterday, we went for a hike with some friends where I knew I would be able to pick up some common milkweed for my front boulevard, since many of the ones I planted last year were killed off when they were covered by a delivery of mulch.  I took my bag and my shovel along on our walk and soon had what I needed.

I love these kinds of plants, the ones that have stories to them, even the simplest of stories.  I love the plants that come, not from a nursery, but from uncommon places.