For the longest time, I've been saying "I'd love to get my hands dirty in a garden". And then, wouldn't you know it, I made myself entirely too busy or made up excuses to skip a trip to the community garden at Frazer, or step up and help start one at Eastern. Now, I think my other commitments and obligations were legitimate at the time, but now that I live in the middle of a pretty grey and drab part of Boston, the urgency of re-connecting with the land is becoming a bigger deal. And in that light, Wendell Berry is getting moved to the top of my reading list (once I finish The Beloved Community, which you will read about on here once I'm done with it).
A quick glance around my neighborhood revealed that a grocery resembling Acme and Genuardi's (for those of you in New England, Shaw's or Stop and Shop), is not within walking distance. And, most of the people who frequent large grocery chains have the money and means to buy 4,6 or more bags of groceries to last the entire week, or maybe even longer in some cases.
Many of the kids in my neighborhood struggle with obesity; and a quick look at their diets indicates that someone might pick up a few TV dinners on the way home, because, after all, they're only $1 a piece. When you have a limited amount of time, money and hands to carry things, it's easier to walk to Brother's Grocery, pick up a few things, bring them home and prepare them quickly than it is to drive to Stop-and-Shop, pick up potatoes, spinach, cereal, milk, eggs, etc., etc., and develop a week's recipes for balanced meals. Or, maybe you take the bus to Stop-and-Shop... but you buy the same stuff, because you have to take the bus back to your neighborhood and walk home from the bus stop. And you only have two hands.
But, now, in what way are the families pursuing these habits any different than a number of suburban families? I grew up in Exeter, NH, as an only child. My family currently owns four cars between the three of us, and within 5 miles we have access to Stop and Shop, Shaws, and Market Basket. There's also a smaller, pricier organic-type grocery called On the Vine, and Hampton Natural Foods and Hannaford aren't all that far away, either. The number of cars we own could be critiqued by some for plenty of reasons; I mention it only to say that it's really easy for any of us to get to the store, load up the car or truck with 8-10 bags of groceries, and get them home in a timely fashion.
While my mother used to take a good deal of time to prepare every meal we ate, and often still does, it's not like she represents every suburban mom out there. I've witnessed plenty of Moms and Dads who are so busy with their demanding jobs and social lives, that their children are often handed the same crummy food that some of the kids in my neighborhood are. And while some of the families in my block might be plagued by alcoholism, a quick glance around my former neighborhood in Exeter, or dare I say, Wayne, shows that some families suffer from workaholism.
Okay, so as usual, I've ranted for a couple of paragraphs. But now I'd like to get constructive. See, a few days ago, I spent some time with Leah, Kim, Elizabeth, Magen, Andy, Laura, Booker, and a whole bunch of kids and parents from the block - whose names I can pronounce but not spell yet - building a 4 x 8 raised bed -- on a plot of land poisoned by lead, making it impossible to plant in the land itself (hence the necessity of a raised bed). Filling my truck with dirt, arriving at the property, seeing the joy on the kids' faces as tutors showed up with popsicles and face paint, seeing how excited the "adults" (sorry, I don't think of us 20-somethings as adults, yet) were to get this project underway after some delays in past weeks, was a refreshing, collective experience. Elizabeth showed us all how to plant tomatoes, sweet onions, herbs and who knows what else (I was too busy trying to make sure the watering can made it around to all of the kids, that I didn't really focus on the types of plants we put in).
Here I was, a suburban kid who didn't care much for gardening, or anything related to the natural world, until 2-3 years ago. And my Dad had a huge garden in our backyard up until a few years ago! Maybe one of the ways to practice redemption is for the Christian community to do things like get our family together and plant a garden in the back yard. Doing this on a land poisoned by lead in a pretty rough part of Dorchester might be just as powerful as Mom and Dad taking one day of work off each week in Wayne to spend time with their kids and get their hands dirty together, instead of handing them over to a nanny or taking them to run around concrete wastelands like the King of Prussia Mall.
Maybe the problems that face communities like Dorchester aren't all that different from those in places like Waybe; sin, and its effect, take on very different faces but when the consequences are neglected kids, who don't know and don't care about the very land that they walk on (and really depend on), redemption is needed in both places and can be a powerful sign of the Kingdom of God breaking forth in the world, here and now.