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Spirit-fermented, Kingdom-culture

May 3, 2022Art, Blog, Culture

“I will not dishonor

my soul with hatred,

but offer myself humbly

as a guardian of nature,

as a healer of misery,

as a messenger of wonder,

as an architect of peace.

I will honor all life

—wherever and in whatever form

it may dwell—on Earth my home,

and in the mansions of the stars.”

~Diane Ackerman

Today is Ash Wednesday and I am traveling south from Seattle, Washington down to the Oregon coast. It is wild terrain where the plush mountains kiss the sea. Craggy rock formations are visible from the shore, and it has become a pilgrimage of sorts, where I can marvel at the beautiful wisdom of creation. Nearby, the Willamette Valley is home to plentiful stone fruit orchards and vibrant grape vineyards. This fertile ecosystem is the crosspollination of oyster farms, sea salt harvesting, dairy farms and lumber/timber yards. 

One of my favorite breweries is located on the Oregon coast, and they specialize in an old Belgian technique of brewing called open air (or wild) spontaneous fermentation. The basic premise is that you allow the “farmhouse” ales to soak up all the funky bacteria in the air, which develops the flavor in complex ways as the organic beers age in oak barrels. The brewer tells the story that when he was selecting a site for the brewery, he took petri dishes up and down the Oregon coast seeking to find the bacteria culture that most resembles the Belgian air. 

Winemakers tend to terroir—or the specific ecological qualities and conditions of the particular land in a region. Likewise with the sea, oyster farmers tend to meroir. Belgian farmhouse brewers tend to whatever we call the air culture. 

Like grapes, oysters and bacteria, humans too are formed by the land, water and air of their local bioregion. However, in multicultural societies such as the United States, it can be difficult to trace the cultural lineage than more indigenous societies where there are more visible and audible distinctions between people groups in a particular place.

I was astounded when I visited Brussels, Belgium to learn that language was the cultural marker of much sociocultural and political conflict. While racial power dynamics have been the prevalent sociocultural and political marker since America’s origin, in Belgium the battle line was drawn linguistically between French and Flemish. This is related to its political history, as it is geographically located between France and the Netherlands. Communities were divided socioculturally by their native tongue. This blew my mind, because in America, we are so used to differences being charted out visibly by skin color. The thought of communal differences categorized audibly by language was a new consideration for me, but it helped me to understand  what’s underneath our prejudices more broadly.

As humans, we are prone to wander—not only from God, but quite literally we have migrated throughout civilization due to societal conflict, resources, climate, tyranny, adventure, better opportunities, etc. And as we have splintered off farther down the family tree from Genesis 1 and our fore-parents Adam and Eve, our cultural distinctions have been increasingly shaped and formed by the various bioregions of earth in which we live. While all humans are earthlings made in God’s image from dust and breath (and a lot of hydration), there is vast sophistication to God’s creation of terroir, meroir and air culture.

Humans are formed by the land, water and air, but in the modern American context, we are so often removed from our agriculture that it can be overwhelming to trace the ingredients of the marinated, multicultural stew we live in. How do we enjoy the unique, local comfort foods of our youth, and yet learn to expand our palate globally? Our shared design in God’s image and cohabitation of earth binds us together in identity and purpose. There is much potential in how local, flavorful resources can be creatively cultivated and imaginatively melded to devise delightful, sacramental feasts. All of life is creationally interconnected, and with the presence of the Spirit there are unlimited opportunities for exponential transformation. 

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the church calendar’s season of Lent in which we humbly remember our beginning and end from dust to dust. And because of the Son leaving Heaven, leaving family of origin, leaving local culture, leaving institutional religion, leaving political empire, leaving His disciples, and leaving the garden—He entered into the desert, temptation, torture, death and separation from the Father—that in Christ and by the Spirit we might be rescued from slavery, sin and death to feast together with the King. This Spirit-led, Kingdom culinary collaboration informs a more hospitable and generous way to view and approach American race relations, environmental conservation, global patterns of immigration and refugees, and geopolitical conflict like the recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia with their shared Slavic language origins.

Our Triune God has freed us in Christ not only from our personal brokenness, but also from clinging to our tribal preferences, experiences and background. And in His merciful kindness, God has called to share, trade and experiment communally as a way to glorify Him as part of His collective Kingdom. But the invitation to partake in the eternal City of God, requires us to live out our days until then as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. As Christians, we are a royal priesthood called to steward creation and tend to human cultures. Our desire and effort to understand, appreciate and explore ethnic, racial and linguistic elements of human cultures are a diplomatic way to humbly relate and contextually invite other broken humans to the King’s Table.

*Chris is a guest writer. He lives in Seattle as an Executive Director of a community-based counseling ministry called Polis Recovery Project. He wrote this piece on Ash Wednesday, so his reflections will portray that.