“Gardening the City of God”: An Interview with Loren and Mary-Ruth Wilkinson
Culture is fundamentally what we do with the earth in order to provide sustenance for human life.
Transcribed and edited by Thea and Jon Reimer
Apr 5, 2011
LW: There’s a lot written on Christian ministry in the city that uses the metaphor of gardening. There’s a lot written generally on environmental issues by Christians. But, there’s practically nothing by Christians about specifically connecting people in the city to their sources of food or about urban gardening, which is a growing movement – no pun intended. There is a Christian silence here, which is challenging because we seem to be exploring something that isn’t being done very much yet.
MRW: Often in Christian literature authors refer to the Jeremiah 29 verses – to plant gardens, get married, have children. When they quote the verses they usually leave the gardening part out and if they do include that phrase, they do very little with it. The most we’ve found is an isolated paragraph here and there. It’s as if all that matters is human presence and action, but we can’t divorce ourselves from creation because of the simple fact that we have to eat in order to act and eating inevitably involves creation.
LW: But somehow gardening is often used just as a metaphor. For example we were talking to somebody recently and she kept talking about her work in the city as gardening. And so we were very excited and began telling her that we were doing this course, to which she replied ‘well I’m not actually gardening, gardening is just a metaphor’.
MRW: The Bible talks about gardens at the beginning and the end and all the way through. We take that and spiritualize it into just metaphor.
LW: When we look at Jesus’ metaphors, it’s very clear that he was deeply connected with agriculture. The parable of the sower, the vine, etc. Most of his imagery is from agricultural activity and I think we’ve tended to say, ‘Well that’s because he is speaking from a primitive agrarian culture’. But we forget we are all still in an agrarian culture – that’s what produces our food. I think we have allowed ourselves to be so insulated from where our food comes from because of the technical infrastructure that we think agriculture is part of a vanished age. We are only about three meals away from gardens becoming a very crucial issue for every person. Similarly, we hear a lot about “Christianity and culture”, and the “cultural mandate”, but it’s not just coincidence that culture and agriculture sound the same. In fact culture is a word that means agriculture. It’s the basic Latin word for farming. So culture is fundamentally what we do with the earth in order to provide sustenance for human life.