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.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Groundwork of Vocation

 This is a sermon I preached a few weeks back. I didn't edit it at all, these are my notes/manuscript, though it's not written for reading, hopefully it makes sense.

Intro: I think this will be the last in our series on vocation. Today I want to think broadly about our collective vocation as human beings. We’ve heard over the past few weeks about our particular vocation, that it can be tough, but that we are all called to live faithfully toward something. Sometimes that particular and individual vocation is clear and other times in life it is extremely unclear where God might have us serving, working, playing, living our lives. Today, in two of the lectionary passages, I think we’ll see some more insight into a unifying and general vocation that all of humanity is called toward. The basis of our general vocation as human beings is RELATIONSHIP. Today we’ll see three areas of relationships that define humanity’s vocation. We’re going to read two of the lectionary passages and bounce back and forth between them.

Psalm 8
8:1 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

8:2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.

8:3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;

8:4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

8:5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.

8:6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,

8:7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,

8:8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

Move: In our psalm passage we first are draw into worship of the magnificent creator. The scriptures often draw us into worship of God through nature. In the scriptures nature is an icon of the creator. The artistic masterpiece created by God is a window into the nature of God, and so we worship God through this icon. I’ll suggest that this may be our first calling or our first vocation. We are called to recognize our smallness, our created-ness, our relationship of lowness to the Creator. From the earliest of the Hebrew Scriptures and theology we learn that God, the ultimate creator of all things, has stooped down to be in loving relationship with God’s creation, especially with people.

    8:4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
    8:5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and        
Isn’t this ironic, considering man’s proclivity toward power, strength and dominance? We are nothing in comparison with God, but we are lifted up to be in relationship with God and all that God has created. That’s what worship is, humbling of our selves in relation to God that God may in return lift us up unto Godself.

Another of the lectionary passages goes on to say that through Jesus we are made children of God. In fact, we are made brothers and sisters of Christ.

    2:11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters

Our relationship with God is made permanent and unquestionable through the humanity of Jesus, the ultimate symbol of God becoming low, even suffering death, so that we might have full access to God. But again, I’m reminded of just how lowly Christ became for the sake of us. And if we are to be like Christ we must take on the humbleness of Jesus. I’ll say that again, if we are to be like Christ, we must take on the humbleness of Christ.

Again how ironic, in light of the American church and it’s current politics of power. How ironic ha we must empty ourselves to be like Christ in light of American leaders.
God never strong arms us into anything. God never uses power to force us to do anything. And Jesus never did either. In the gospels we find a Jesus who speaks to the crowds in parables that subvert the Roman Empire, but never calls for a lifting up of arms or taking up weapons. Jesus was a pacifist, a leader of non violent, spiritual revolution against one of the most violent empires ever. And today, we ask God to “Bless America”, the “Christian” nation that has the greatest military the world has ever seen.

Move: God calls us toward humbleness, toward worship, toward right relation with the ultimate reality in the Universe.

Move: Now, as we get into our Genesis passage, I have some explaining to do. I let go of trying to read Genesis literally and I fell in love with these early stories of creation and existential meaning. I was never a new earth creationist, I struggled to understand how my communities of faith understood these stories. We used words like inerrant, authoritative and infallible. Basically, I ignored these stories as a young Christian because I didn’t feel free to be creative with them.  Now, I absolutely love these stories that shed light and meaning upon the human condition. Today I believe that God can speak to us through any and all of the scriptures.

Genesis 2:18-24
2:18 Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner."

2:19 So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.

2:20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.

2:21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.

2:22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

2:23 Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken."

2:24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

This passage is a tough one to get into because of what might be seen as a mysogenistic view point. Like Will said about his scripture last Sunday on the retreat, we’re not going to try to explain anything away. This passage was written in a patriarchal culture where women had very little rights. This passage has been used for harm against women for centuries, equipping men to oppress or put them in whatever “helper” position best suits us. This scripture, like all scriptures, contains both struggle and difficulty in interpretation and also deep meaning and goodness that we might extrapolate. Today, I’m especially concerned about passages like this continuing to be used to subjugate women in our society. The warped belief that men are somehow over women is why we are in a crisis today. That’s why men think they can take a woman in whatever he wants.

Move: Reading the Bible is like pealing an orange or banana. We really need to come to grips with the hard parts peal them away to get to the inner meaning that God may have for us today. Ignoring the patriarchal, violent or exclusivist parts of scripture and just trying to eat the whole fruit, skin and all,  is not the way to go. I’ve also learned that rejecting parts of scripture because they don’t sit well with us is also not the way to go. Scripture requires that we study it, struggle with it, pray about it, talk about it and peal away at it until we experience the Divine through it.

Before the woman is created God gives Adam the task of naming all the animals. This is an amazing task that we’ll come back to.

Move: As we begin reading this passage we may focus on God’s desire to make Adam a helper, but lets focus on the second word, partner. In reality, a subordinate “helper” cannot really be a partner, can they? A partner is an equal participant, and equal leader. I think the use of the word partner in  place of husband or wife has been attractive to people over the past few years because it gets at this idea that the most meaningful relationships in our lives, the relationship with our partner in life, is not the relationship of a subordinate to his or her master, but rather an equal and respected partner. And within that equal partnership we are both helpers of the other. At times in my marriage I have needed Alyssa’s help. She has come along side me to support me in ways that no-one else could or ever would want to support me. In other times in our marriage I have been her helper, supposing her. But, most of the time we are in mutual partnership constantly looking to help the other.

Move: And this is the second vocation of humanity. We are created for relationship. Yes, relationship with God, yes, relationship with a monogamous loving partner, but also a more general relationship. We are not human without meaningful connections to other people, places and things.

Move: Our psalm passage draws us toward another relationship, our relationship to the rest of creation. At this point we can bounce back to the genesis passage where Adam is given the task of naming all the creatures that God creates. In the Hebrew idea of a name, this is a huge responsibility. The ancient Hebrew idea of a name gave meaning and relational connection. The word for something not only gave a way to talk about a person or a thing, a name granted meaning and gave relational connection. We can understand how deep this could go by thinking about the name of God, in Hebrew they used the equivalent of the letters YHWH when they wrote the name of God. But they never spoke God’s name because it held so much meaning. Adams vocation is to give meaning to the beauty of God’s creation.

As we reflect back upon the Psalm passage we read that all of creation is put under the management of human beings. It is a reality that humanity has the ability to care for, co-create, add beauty to creation and we have the capacity to denigrate, harm and use up the creation. Our vocation is to the care for the creation and add meaning, in whatever specific way God may call us individually, we are generally called to a relationship of care for creation. 

Conclusion: General human vocation is about relationships.
    Our relationship to the ultimate reality, God.
    Our partnership in this life with others through mutuality.
    And our relationship with all of creation as those who give meaning and co-create toward greater health and well-being.

In light of these three relationships, our work and purpose on this earth is ordered. If your life is generating greater and deeper relational connections in these three areas you’re vocation as a human being is being fulfilled. That doesn’t mean that you won’t move on to a new job, struggle in your marriage, lose hope at times. But, if you can recenter your life throughout the years toward finding oneness with God, greater mutual relationships with those you love most, and greater care for the creation that God has given to your care, then you are fulfilling God’s vocation for you in this moment, and this moment is all that matters at the moment.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Twists and Turns (Pittsburgh Recording)

Most of our songs come from time alone. Alyssa and I often write a song and then help shape it together into its final form. Twists and Turns came about differently. I picked up my guitar and just started strumming in open "E". Meaning my guitar was tuned differently than normal. I played about the simplest thing I could imagine, just enjoying the tone of the guitar in this different tuning. Alyssa was in the room, she basically said keep playing. I think I immediately threw in several different chords, picked up the tempo a little... she said no, Just play that chord. About two minutes later we had the beginnings of "Twists and Turns." It's been a discipline for me to not complicate things, keep songs simple, keep life a bit more simple. Some music is complex, impressive, difficult... this song is not. But the recording of Twists and Turns is beautiful, it's simple subtleties, vocal harmonies, and slow pace give it the exact feel we wanted. Take a listen, see what you think, consider paying for it so we can continue making music.

Monday, June 18, 2018

PCUSA Fossil Fuel Divestment Part 1

I arrived a bit late to Saint Louis for the General Assembly of the PCUSA, the denomination in which I am ordained as a pastor. Thousands of representatives from all over the world are here. Last year the Pittsburgh Presbytery concurred with an overture going to this assembly calling for complete financial divestment from the fossil fuel industry. I am Pittsburgh's Overture Advocate for this national call to divest. Of the forty concurring presbyteries from all over the country four people were chosen to speak. I was one.

One side says we must divest to do our part of stop climate change. The other side says we must remain invested to change the fossil fuel industry from the inside out. I'm at peace with whatever happens. I have an opinion. I believe those on the other side have their opinion and are equally committed to doing the right thing.

Here's what I said.

My name is John Creasy I’ve been a pastor at The Open Door Presbyterian Church in urban PIttsburgh since 2006 when the church was founded. I’m honored to represent the members of the Pittsburgh Presbytery and the 40 concurring presbyteries.

My pastoral call includes management of our churches three acre urban farm in one of Pittsburgh’s most impoverished neighborhoods. Our farm has become an ecological oasis where food is produced and biodiversity thrives. For ten years churches have worked together to bring environmental justice, food justice and racial justice to our neighborhood through the farm, but none of that will matter if we don’t halt climate change. We must divest our money today.

Climate change and pollution affects the health and well-being of all people, especially those who are of low income or of marginalized communities. We see this injustice all over Pittsburgh, where the poor live, the industry thrives. Today Jesus is calling us to care for all who suffer from injustice, by taking action against climate change.

In 2016 the Peacemaking Ministry of our Presbytery sent me to Standing Rock in North Dakota to stand along side the Sioux nation in their struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline. It was there that I first witnessed the brutal response that the industry is willing to take when a marginalized people group stands against their bottom line.

Today, Pittsburgh is a community suffering from climate change and pollution like so many other frontline communities around the planet. My community suffers from some of the worst air quality in the nation. One study by the Allegheny Health Network demonstrates that nearly 30% of elementary children in Allegheny county suffer from asthma. I grew up as one of those children and continue to suffer today. Men and women of our city are dying due to increased heart disease and cancer connected to our air quality. The expanding industry is focusing on poor communities, building new infrastructure in these neighborhoods, touting new jobs. We need to stand with these communities and the workers who need long term sustainable work.

This is the time for a complete transition away from fossil fuels. Unfortunately the industry thinks differently. Royal Dutch Shell is building North America’s largest ethane cracker plant, using fracked natural gas, just 30 miles from downtown (google cracker). This one facility will emit 522 tons of pollutants each year that are directly linked to cancer and heart disease and 2.25 million tons of CO2 annually. There are six of these plants planned for our region, making us the “new cancer alley”.

The plan of the industry is to expand infrastructure and increase dependence. Our plan is different. Today we’re asking you to put your children, God’s children all over the world, first. Today we can be leaders in the transition to a truly sustainable global culture beginning with a full divestment from fossil fuels and reinvestment in the clean energy future that we now know is possible.

At standing rock we said “you can’t drink oil” In Pittsburgh we’ve learned we can’t breath it either.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Resolution of the Pittsburgh Presbytery on Eco-Justice

The Pittsburgh Presbytery affirms that we live in an eco-justice crisis wherein its trust in God calls its members attention to their vocation to care for the earth and its vulnerable peoples.
From Hosea 4:1-3 we learn that nature suffers from human sin: “There is no faithfulness or kindness,” and instead “There is swearing, lying, killing…;” “Therefore the land mourns and all who dwell on it languish… the beasts…the birds…and even the fish of the sea.”
Similarly, nature participates in the anticipated redemption of the people and the renewal of the covenant in which God makes: “A covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things on the ground….” (Hosea 2:18).
According to Genesis 2 God put the humans in the Garden “to till it and to keep it. (Genesis: 2:15). WE humans are to till the land for our sustenance and to keep it.  In our over tilling and our relative neglect of keeping it we have weakened the earth and distributed its benefits unjustly.  Our church has recommended four norms for examining our common dependence upon nature: sustainability, sufficiency, participation, and community.  Recent theological reflections have added the norms of human health and harmony.
Therefore in light of our theology, norms, and reading of the evidence:
  1. The Pittsburgh Presbytery co-sponsors the Overture of Hudson River Presbytery on divestment from fossil fuel. 
  2. Encourages its churches and the presbytery to examine energy consumption, reduction of energy usage and implementation of carbon-free energy strategies for their facilities as matter of moral imperatives.  The energy sub-committee of the Peacemaking Ministry Team is ready for consultations as it develops plans for church conversions.
  3. Urges its churches to oppose the construction of the Shell Petrochemical Ethane Cracker and any other highly polluting petrochemical industry expansion in the Western Pennsylvania region. We will write a letter from the Presbytery to be sent to all appropriate political entities as well as local newspapers. This particular facility will be the largest ethane cracker plant in North America and will increase health risks to a population that has too long suffered from polluted air. Foreign wealth seeking should consider the long suffering of Western Pennsylvania residents before accepting state subsidies and untaxed gas for such projects. The project would further concentrate wealth while providing polluting jobs of manufacturing plastics. Risks of the Shell plant include but are not limited to the following: 

    1. The proposed Shell Ethane Cracker will produce 1.6 million metric tons of plastic from locally fracked natural gas each year.
    2. Creates a need for ethane pipelines throughout our region and through the Ohio River.
    3. Each Cracker Plant will emit as much CO2 at half a coal fired power plant. There are currently at least four ethane petrochemical plants planned for the Ohio Valley.
    4. The Shell Plant will emit 522 tons of VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) each year. 44% more than the Clairton Cokeworks, making it the worst polluter of VOC’s in our region and third worst in Pennsylvania. 
    5. Currently we are in the top 2% for cancer risk from air pollution in the United States. More VOC pollution will make our air even worse. 
    6. The Shell Cracker will emit 2.25 million tons of CO2 annually. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Help us with our Kickstarter for New Music!

Well, we've never done this before, and it takes some courage to think that there are enough people out there that appreciate our music to fund this, but here it is, our first ever Kickstarter! We really believe in these new songs and we think you're going to love them too. Please check this out and support! You'll get great stuff if in return for your support! This Side of Eve Kickstarter

Tuesday, January 02, 2018


Some might say songs come like a ghost in the night. They're unexpected and arrive as though they have an agenda or a mind of their own. The great song writers are inspired by their past, the present and hope for the future. Great song writers allow their surroundings to speak into a song and create a lasting impression of a moment in time when the song began coming together. Our album, Solace, was an experiment in improvised instrumental music. There are no words, only layers of guitars and synthesizers with rhythm and ambient noise, basically whatever was going on that day.

Haunting was a track that came about quite unexpectedly at a time when I wasn't sure I wanted to keep working on the project. I was sitting at our 100 year old family cottage an hour north of Pittsburgh. Our cabin is filled with very old things, items that out date the cottage even, things brought from our family farm in the early 1900's. There are also old photos, old books and lots and lots of family memories. When I picked up my guitar I had forgotten that it was partially tuned to a drop D chord. I put on my cut capo, which guitarists might know as a partial capo that produces open sounding chords. I use it a lot and I use it more creatively than most people I know. I put it on the 4th fret and when I played the chord what came out was unexpected and hauntingly beautiful. For this particular track I didn't do much more work beyond teasing out some chords in this new alternate tuning.

Later that week when I got home and back in the Backroom studio I wanted to record the song but the crickets outside were extremely loud. I don't know if anyone else noticed it, but they seemed exceedingly active this fall, for many weeks. It seemed they wanted to take part in my recording, and it seemed the simply song needed some accompaniment. And so, after adding some ebow work with my Fender Strat, the final version was born. And it's still super simple, ambient, calming, but I like it like that.

Here's also one of the photos I found at the cabin that day of a family member no one can even identify any more. Maybe he was playing around with my guitar tuning that day. 

Monday, January 01, 2018

Solace Release

Each track on Solace represents a moment over the past year. Most of these tracks represent for me a mental and emotional space where I literally found solace in the creative process of laying down improvised tracks with my guitar and Alyssa's Nord piano. Some of the tracks were pure improvisations and will never be recreated live or anywhere else. Other tracks, like Drifted, Drifted 2 and Haunting are acoustic songs with other layers, but they are songs that I look forward to playing in live settings. A few of the tracks are very ambient, with more flow than rhythm, like After the Rain. Some of the tracks include percussion and drums by Ian White and some include vocals or synthesizer by Alyssa Creasy. In all, these was a fun experiment for me to focus on during a very difficult year. It was something that gave me joy and focus, it's was largely a meditative process. I have no idea if others will like it, I have no idea if I'll like it a year from now, but it was much more about the creative process than anything else. Nothing is polished, nothing is perfect (by any means), but hopefully all of it is meditative, peaceful, something you can put on the music player when you're needing a background to create a mood of hope and relaxation.