Life, Faith and Urban Farming

The life and happenings of an unconventional pastor and urban farmer living in the city with a family of five.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Playing a "show" tonight

I'm thankful for friends and friends of friends who say they're coming out tonight to hear Alyssa and me play new music for the first time (apart from worship) in many years. The past twelve months have been the hardest 12 months of my life and definitely Alyssa's hardest. While we've known for a long time that we wanted to start working on music together again it's wasn't until about a month ago that we began sharing new songs with each other. In the mean time we'd both written and I had recorded dozens of songs and song ideas. I even released the Solace e.p. on Bandcamp, those songs don't include Alyssa, though the full length release will include her work too. Music is our outlet and a passion in our lives. It's extremely important and yet we don't take it too seriously. We're just excited that some folks are excited to hear our new music tonight! 336 Roup Ave, come on over at 6:30. And, hey, it's my birthday today! So come out and have a drink with!

Sunday, July 02, 2017

A Paragraph In Which I Tell You What I'm Writing a Book About...

Heres another short snippet from the first chapter of the book I'm working on. I wanted to post something that summed up what the whole of the book might get into. 

As we enter into this new millennium humanity is faced with the greatest global crisis we’ve ever experienced. The days of wondering if we should talk about climate change, deforestation, loss of biodiversity and food justice in the church are over. As the years go by and the crisis becomes more felt and more obvious around the world the conversation has finally begun. But are we too late? In order to continue as a species we must remake civilization, rarely are we willing to admit that this movement is calling for something so huge. Humanity cannot survive in a world that is four degrees Celsius warmer than it was at the start of the industrial revolution, and the church cannot survive it’s silence in the face of such distinct a crisis. Human beings have created this ecological crisis, there have been even more dramatic crises in earth’s history, but this one is ours, created by our species and only solvable by our species. 

Ok, so it's about the massive problem of climate change that we all face, and addressing it as the people of God. But there's going to be a lot of story telling, a lot about the countercultural joys of growing food, a lot about permaculture and people, and some bible stuff too : ) 

Friday, June 30, 2017

(Chapter 1 excerpt) In Which I Moved Some Stakes

Near the center of the woods there was a clearing and a huge red oak. The tree spread out like the great tree of Moreh at the furthest reaches of Abram’s biblical journey bring myth and mystery to wandering children like myself. It stood with massive lateral branches reaching in every direction to absorb as much solar energy as possible. The land around the tree had been cleared for a small nursery of woody perennials, now over grown, but the giant oak kept the land directly underneath clear. Nearby also existed the old long-abandoned barn and brick silo. Some of my earliest memories are of the trees, the forest and land that stretched from my back yard toward that tree and the forests surrounding it. That is where I played, got dirty, created forts and tree houses and sometimes got poison ivy and skinned knees. But that tree at the center of it all represented an ancient sacredness to me that few others recognized.

 I thought those woods would exist forever, that those trees would drop seeds and continue the generational reproductive process for generations to come. During one of my hikes deep into the thickets of underbrush I began noticing a strange invading presence along the valley about 100 yards from our back yard. Four-foot stakes had been driven into the ground in a long line with pink flags flapping in the wind calling out to a young boy to follow and see where they led. They’d been placed in my woods like an enemy frontline, setting a boundary in a place that I thought was mine, my family’s and my neighborhood’s. To me, those woods had no boundaries, no areas off limits. This line of stakes said “do not cross” and “do not touch.”

Sadly, the neighborhood had no imagination to preserve that faithful remnant of wilderness in the suburbs for the enjoyment, renewal and refreshment of all the surrounding families. The land had been destined to become more suburban houses and cul-de-sacs. The elders of the Bush family had held on to a portion of the old farm as long as they could. Much of their land had been sold off years before I was born for the development of my own neighborhood. The remaining siblings, too old to work the land and keep the family nursery business open, sold their inheritance - a common practice among my parents’ and grandparents’ generation.

Apparently there had been rumors of these transactions for quite some time. My parents and neighbors seemed not to be surprised. No one I knew took it quite as badly as I did. In fact, I’m a little cautious to tell you the next part of the story, but I’m sure the statute of limitations has long passed. It’s the part of the story when I transitioned from being an existential naturalist to an environmental terrorist.

When I saw those pink flags staking their claim in my woods with complete disregard for the trees and animals all around them they had no chance at remaining in their precisely planted location. Their straight line represented a sure boundary telling me I was no longer welcome. I soon learned they were there to mark professionally surveyed property lines for the new homes to be built. I had no intention of leaving those stakes in place, and no intention of just pulling them out, throwing them to the ground to be replaced on a later date. No, I moved them just enough to throw off the new roads that would be paved and to create property disputes whenever someone wanted to put a shed or detached garage in their new back yard. Most of those markers stayed in those woods, but not in the places that I first found them. A few of the larger 2”X4” stakes were kept as souvenirs for years in our garage to remember the woods that had be destroyed.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Last Year I Started Writing...

Last year I started writing. I kept going for about six months. I'm trying to come back to it now. I wrote about 25,000 words, a few chapters that is, of what might someday become a book. Here's a short little excerpt of the first page. Maybe I'll try posting short snippets to see what you think.

I was a child often lost, and yet somehow at home, in the woods. I spent many hours exploring the hills and valleys behind my suburban split entry home. We lived in a development built in the 1970’s outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in what was once thickly wooded land with small farms and homesteads scattered throughout the hills and valleys. The woods I knew were a remnant of what once was. Large red oak and wild cherry trees still stood like a faithful remnant, symbols of a wild and abundant past. Growing up in one myself my dad would complain about the shoddy generic houses built in the late 1970’s, boasting that with hard work he could redeem our split entry. Our suburban streets and cul-de-sacs surrounded what was left of those woods. In the 1980’s pockets of woods remained for deer, raccoons and wild children like me and my friends, constantly trying to hone our instinctual survival skills. Those were the places that the more liberally parented neighborhood kids exercised body and imagination. For one six-year-old boy those woods were a very real extension of home.

Our street bordered on the largest tract of remaining forest where the old Bush farmhouse still stood along with the ancient oaks. I was lucky to have parents that let their children loose for hours at a time on hot summer afternoons. Our woods were like a window into an ancient past surrounded by suburban neighborhood roads, a fairly large tract of land, big enough to still get lost in, big enough for a young boy to explore for hours.

My time in those woods began when my parents took my little sister, our German Shepherd Dog, and me for long walks deep on the trails and muddy dirt roads of the woods. My six year old mind stored our walks. It’s funny what gets permanently imprinted on our brains, especially at such a young age. I remember walking in autumn, the smell of the cool, damp forest floor, the bright orange color of the fallen maple leaves, and the down-filled vest I wore to keep warm. Maybe that’s where the story begins for me, about as far back as I can remember, when senses of smell and touch imprinted more heavily on my brain’s cerebral cortex than any visual or intellectual attempt. This story began when I first recognized a deep love and connection to the natural world. We all have that connection, created within us, looking to be expressed in any myriad of ways.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

After the Rain (new ambient song)

This was the last ambient/instrumental piece that I did this spring. It was my attempt to create something a bit longer and less "song-like" than some of other tracks I'd been working on. This one is not mastered and not necessarily finished, but I wanted to make it available to more than just myself. The track is almost 10 minutes long and takes sonic journey with no real chord structure, definitely no verse or chorus or repeating "cliche." My hope is that it can be a piece that creates a certain mental or emotional atmosphere, even spiritual atmosphere, where one can rest, listen, meditate, find a little peace. As I've begun working on this kind of music I've heard some amazing artists out there who have done far more than I and know synthesizers and sound makers far more intimately than I. But, this is my attempt.

When you listen, I recommend good speakers or high quality headphones. In my mini studio it would great and with my recording headphones even better, but not in my car. I recorded a lot a bass tones that are too deep for the cheap speakers of my Mazda 5. The farm truck evidently has much better speakers, sounds pretty good in there. There are things that mastering would clean up and make more sharp, but this is the free version : )

I hope you like it! It's a free download, but feel free to leave a tip.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Acting on Climate

While many of our nation's climate activists were marching in Washington DC on Saturday some of us remained at home and marched in our respective cities. I had the opportunity to march and to speak at the Pittsburgh march. Here's what I said:

Today, humanity sits at a great precipice. One that we may blindly fall into with little chance of return, or that we may creatively build a bridge over. Climate change, with little or no intervention, will create the worst humanitarian and environmental disasters we’ve ever seen. But scientists and entrepreneurs have the solutions that we need to transition away from fossil fuels and toward clean, renewable energy. The bridge that we need is being built, but, will we continue off the ledge and into the chasm?

As a pastor, I believe addressing climate change and environmental issues is a moral imperative. Climate change is not a political issue for me, it is not a partisan issue for me, climate change is an issue of ethics, morality and an issue of faithfulness for those who believe caring for people and caring for the earth are mandates from the Creator.

In November of last year I traveled with some friends to North Dakota to learn what I could from the Dakota Sioux Indians and participate in the resistance at Standing Rock. I learned a great deal about leadership and how to follow. I learned that the transition away from fossil fuels will not be lead by our government or by those who have power in this nation. Rather, the transition will be led prayerfully by those who have been oppressed, by indigenous people, and by regular people like you and me, but rarely by those with influence and power. But, we have the ability to influence those with power. Through our choices, the ways we spend our money, our own personal transitions away from fossil fuels, the letters we write and the banks we choose, we will collectively influence those who believe they hold great power in our country.

I make a very modest living as a pastor and urban farmer. Last year, my family put solar panels on our home. A friend of mine, just this past year, decided to buy an electric vehicle, and put solar on his home. His family of four now uses no gasoline and almost no electricity that doesn’t come from their own panels. We all need to share how we are individually making this transition, and encourage each other to enter into this exciting journey. Another example of regular folks making big changes has come through the thousand of letters we have and continue to send to our banks. Banks like PNC bank, a great company, that unfortunately is still funding the Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access.

As people who live by love, compassion, ethics and morals, we must stand up and demand change. We must be the change that we are demanding. We must demand and demonstrate the change that must come about in this world.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Music, Meditation and Lent

videoSmoke swirled in the wind as a fire burned on my front porch to make palm branches into black ash for worship that evening. It was Ash Wednesday and BJ had planned a beautiful contemplative prayer experience in the space that The Open Door may be moving our worship gatherings to come June or July. Earlier in the day I had collected the dried palms from last year's Palm Sunday service and now I burned them in a prayerful afternoon.

Palm Sunday is a strange celebration for the church each year. I remember singing loud songs of praise as a child, hearing the full horn section in worship blasting out triumphantly as the pastors would process down the isle, everyone waiving palms in celebration. All this, knowing that it was the start to Holy Week, the time when we reflect upon the death of Jesus. Now, 25 years later, each year I take the palms of celebration and burn them to ashes, ashes that represent our own impending death. Palm Sunday is a little less celebratory at The Open Door, more focused on the start of Holy Week than a pre-Easter celebration.

For this self led prayer service people moved from one station to the next reflecting on their own mortality, Jesus' suffering, and our own suffering in life. I was given the opportunity to impart the ashes I had earlier created on the men, women and children who finished the experience of contemplation and prayer. It was a very powerful experience for me as I told people, "from dust we were created and to dust we will return." I think Ash Wednesday is one of the most difficult Christian practices we have, we choose not to ignore death, but to look it in the face. That's not easy.

BJ had found some great ambient music to play during the service. I think the experience of prayer, of imparting the ashes on friends and reflecting upon the struggles in the life of my family these days inspired me to go home and make some music. That night I recorded this song. It's super simple, two chords with layers of guitar and synth on top. Since Ash Wednesday I've continued experimenting with instrumental music. I've recorded ten pieces, one that's based on an acoustic guitar, a handful that began with swelling synthesizer sounds, and one or two that are all electric guitars. This practice of making music during lent has been great for me, it has been a life giving practice that I hope will be life giving for others in their spiritual practices or just in bringing a little peace and calm in this crazy time. And yes, I find it interesting that a life-giving practice came out of a reflection on mortality. There is no life without death, at least not as we human beings know it.