Composting is holy.
It’s not just a metaphor for holiness.
It’s not only the manifestation of the sanctified life. Rather, composting is embodied holiness.
The ongoing, daily chore of intentionally layering organic material into a rotting lasagna may sound gross, but it is plainly and simply participation in perfect love. Perhaps more poetic and therefore more honoring to the beauty that is decomposing matter is this: Participating in the divinely created process of regeneration that is the collaborative effort of billions of microbiological life-forms all embodying a spirit of self-giving (love) for the purpose of communal nourishment, is to embody, I think, what we Nazarenes have long called holiness.
I wouldn’t dare limit the definition of sanctification to only composting! But I will ask if our historical definition has been too limiting. Has God written into creation from the beginning holy, grace-filled systems that we can participate in, embody, and even contribute to? I believe so. Composting is one of them.
I’ve seen it in the understory of the rainforest on the Washington coast.
I’ve seen it in mineral-rich soil under the palm branch mulch on the Big Island.
I’ve seen it in the decomposing logs on the banks of the seasonal creeks in California.
And I see it in the compost piles at my house.
We don’t have heavy machinery on our property. No tractor or tiller or chipper—just a few beat-up power tools from Home Depot, rakes, shovels, and pitchforks. In other words, most of the work we do is manual. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have help. Clearing forest, mowing fields, pruning trees, and keeping the blackberries at bay are mostly the work of employees I don’t even compensate: goats.
Our milk goats contentedly prune and rake and collect thousands of pounds of vegetation every year. And they haul it without coaxing to a centralized location for pickup. All of that vegetation is dropped in small pellets every night in the barn. As a token of our appreciation for the goats gathering all that vegetation, we make sure to give them clean sleeping quarters. Their bedding gets a fresh “dusting” of straw every night.
Every three months, we muck the stalls, which means we’re moving two cubic yards of straw, urine, and droppings. Roughly a third of the material is the droppings, and two-thirds is urine-saturated straw. That means the accumulated material, with a little help from the rain, is a perfect balance of nitrogenous and carbonaceous material to promote maximum microbiological activity. That two yards of “waste” will become about five wheelbarrows of black compost in two years—one-eighth of our garden needs.
As you can imagine, the barn “waste” flattens out and mats together when left in an exposed pile. It creates an anaerobic environment, suffocating all the microbes that, like you and me, depend on oxygen. Consequently, the overall temperature of the pile drops.
We learned early on that we need compost every year. Every other year wasn’t going to work. In order to speed up the decomposition, the pile needed two things: accessible oxygen all the way to the center and a minimum depth of three feet. Remember, we don’t have a tractor to turn the pile, and I didn’t want to spend hours a week turning compost. I quite liked the goats doing most of the work.
I stumbled upon a solution while mowing the lawn last year. The pile of pure grass clippings matted together and emitted a putrid smell—a sign of anaerobic rot. But the pile next to it that came from under the maple tree was light, fluffy, and odorless—signs of an aerobic environment. By adding mulched leaves to the clippings, we incidentally created a much more hospitable environment for biological activity to flourish.
That’s it! I thought. Our compost piles are not diverse enough.
We now make four-foot diameter rounds with field fencing and literally throw everything in them that can decompose. Junk mail, garden clippings, tissues, cracker boxes, fruit rinds, chicken manure, potato skins, small branches . . . everything. What we end up with is a really aerated milieu of compostable trash. And then when we add our quarterly barn “waste” it builds a vertical, compostable lasagna. Our compost problems were solved.
Instead of two yards of waste, we were now gathering four yards every three months. That’s eight cubic yards of material every year! And it breaks down at twice the rate. That means, over the course of a year, we now produce roughly 45 wheelbarrows of compost, with no turning. That’s all the compost our vegetable garden needs for the entire year. (For those curious, that’s a half inch of compost for nine of our 100 foot beds, every year.)
On the surface, this appears as a story about goat poop, a nerdy hobby farmer, grass clippings, and house trash. But just below the surface, this is a story about many partners learning to work together. It’s a story of billions of microorganisms, nematodes, insects, and mammals, partnering in the sacred work of overcoming the power of death, for the sake of regenerative health and mutual flourishing.
Composting is a chore. A craft, even.
But it’s also embodied holiness.
It is sanctification. Literally.
- Ryan Fasani is a pastor, kingdom farmer, and writer in Bellingham, Washington.
This morning, like every morning, I walked out my front door, slipped on my rubber boots and descended my wooden stoop to the driveway. I hardly notice the steps, for this time of year the Nasturtiums, Bee Balm, Calendula, Echinacea, and Poppies are still hanging onto their flowers in a type of protest against Autumn. I love our medicinal herb garden. It started with a few culinary herbs two years ago, but since has grown to 37 edible herbs and flowers—all with medicinal value in the form of tinctures, slaves, soaps, teas, and oils. We keep stealing more of our lawn for this ever-expanding, living apothecary. It wraps around three-quarters of our house, and likely by next Summer—because when it comes to growing useful plants, I have zero self-control— we’ll complete the circle.
We have a large driveway, which begins the second leg of my morning walk. I’d prefer a small gravel loop, but I can’t complain because the Weeping Willow—my favorite non-fruit-bearing tree in the world—hangs its lazy arms out almost far enough for me to touch. In front of me, which is in direct view from the front of our house, is my favorite part of our property: our vegetable garden. I heard once that the best fertilizer is a farmer’s footsteps. Now, I’m no farmer, but I quietly rehearse that adage, without fail as I walk across my driveway to “fertilize” the vegetables. Walking in our garden is literally walking a prayer labyrinth, not only because moseying between beds, up and back, up and back, is rhythmic and meditative. As a family we have poured ourselves into this little half acre maze of vegetation, and yet it graciously gives in return more that we deserve. Walking it’s paths is a prayerful reminder of the abundant generosity of creation—a reminder of grace.
The impatience of the goats becomes undeniable at this point in my morning walk. Little Lovey, as my daughters like to call her, begins steadily bleating when she hears me walking in the garden. There’s an unsettled family debate whether she confuses my footstep with her caregiver, my oldest son, or if she knows it’s me and with enough persistence, I'll scratch her forehead. Either way, I make my morning stop at her sleeping stall, scratch, and marvel at the good work my boy does with his goats. The mornings are the only time they are in the barn; by day he rotates them between 17 paddocks. He’s discovered that seven milk goats is the perfect number for his small dairy. That gives him at least three goats per year in milk (he breeds them every other year), keeps his bedding prices low enough to still turn a profit, doesn’t over-tax the grass in the paddocks, and gives our family all the milk, chevre, and mozzarella we can dream of consuming. Usually Little Lovey quiets down after a minute of head scratching.
My daughter asks me to open her chickens on my morning walk because, as she says, “They get restless if they’re cooped up after sunrise.” I agree to do it if she stays on top of her fermentation project. She learned early on in raising chickens that she could save money on feed and improve the health of her flock if she fermented a mix of corn and wheat for a week before feeding it to them. My fourth leg of my morning walk is to check on the status of her fermenting bucket, open her chicken door, and check the nearby compost piles.
One of my pleasures in life is making compost. Sure, without a tractor it makes for a lot of pitchforking, but spongy, black soil, made from “waste” on the farm is nature’s resurrection hobby. And It’s just delightful in my hand, knowing, for example, that in one teaspoon there are a billion living microbes. I found that my garden—the prayer labyrinth from earlier—needs two cubic yards or new compost each year. That’s a half inch of compost on every other bed annually. Nearly eight cubic yards of compost material properly layered will decompose into two cubic yards of finished compost. Get this: all of the vegetable “waste” from the garden, the compostable table scraps from the house, our tissues and junk mail and scratch paper, and the bedding seven goats produce in a year ends up being eight cubic yards of material. We produce the exact amount of raw, compostable material on the property to create the demands of our garden . . . with a smidgen extra for mulching the fruit trees.
The last leg of my morning walk I let our Border Collie, Pepper, out of her kennel. Without fail, she darts out to our grass field, runs a few laps, and then comes and lays directly at my feet. She too wants her head scratched. My son has trained her to move the goats around the property in the morning and bring them in at night. With youthful energy, she’s glad to work and expresses such joy to be a part of our small attempts to care for the land. Just this morning, as I finished up my walk, Pepper reminded me of an important truth about creation care: If it doesn’t give our bodies vitality and fill our hearts with joy, then perhaps we’ve just given ourselves more tasks on our to-do list that never really gets finished.
- Ryan Fasani is a pastor, kingdom farmer, and writer in Bellingham, Washington.
I’ve been a stay at home mom (and a stay at home enneagram 7) for 9 years now. That’s a long time for an enneagram 7 to do anything, let alone stay home. While I’m sure I was created to run around the globe starting projects, or teaching English overseas, or being a professional camper/hiker/pie baker/writer/musician, I find my reality to be in stark contrast. These days are spent running kids to school, building Lego castles and washing the same load of laundry three times because I forget to switch it over to the dryer. My own reality when it comes to creation care is also much different than I imagined. My family of five-plus-labradoodle hasn’t (yet) found a way to cram into a Prius or to walk everywhere, but not for lack of trying. I’ve come to terms with my actual reality, which is living with intention, on the grid in suburbia and leading my family to reign in our footprint. And maybe finding a way to wash that load of laundry only once.
Which leads us to this: My top six ways we care for creation in the suburbs, right now.
1. Ransack the electricity bill
I did my own Electricity Audit of our home (I called the power company for a quick how-to lesson. I used our electricity meter to measure how much each appliance/item in our house used) and then made intentional choices about how I wanted to use our energy.
We had been using 100 kwh per day on some days (that’s kilowatt hours) and now we use only 4.5 kwh/day as a baseline (that’s what it takes to run our fridge and water tank). With that baseline established, I can add in electricity usage intentionally, or avoid it purposely.
2. Rage Against the (Laundry) Machine
The most satisfying thing I learned in my Electricity Audit is that our dryer sucks up not only all of my joy, but also ALL of the electricity, confirming what I’ve known for years; laundry is a terrible invention. Suspicion had been mounting for some time, so I used this epiphany as my motivation to unplug that sucker and hide the cord out of reach. Regrettably, that didn’t make the laundry disappear. But it did motivate me to donate a bunch of our clothes (and stop buying new ones) and adopt a more sustainable strategy for getting them clean. These days I’m washing our stuff in cold water with environmentally friendlier detergent and line drying everything, to save us a whopping 300 kwh/month.
3. Cut cooling costs
I committed to not turn on our AC until the temperature in the house is over 80 degrees but that left our 45 year old house very uncomfortable. So I added thermal curtains to our windows along with heat reflecting window film. I covered our skylight with an old tent rainfly and I use fans to bring in cool air in the morning and then turn the house into a dark cave for the rest of the day. By 5 pm it’s pretty hot so that’s when we venture to the local spray pad or eat dinner outside. The house starts cooling off around 8 pm so that’s when I open the windows again. I’ve also planted deciduous trees and shrubs in certain places to block the sun in the summer and let it in during winter.
4. Limit use of disposables and packaging; recycle when we can’t.
I hired my five year old to be our Recycling Master, and his job is to inventory our disposables and take the recyclable stuff to the Red Bin (or turn it into crafting supplies), whilst wearing a cape, of course. It’s not as awesome as producing zero waste, but we’re on a journey.
We also buy from the bulk bins at the store to save on packaging, and try to buy giant shampoo/conditioner or use bar shampoo which is new for us. Again, it’s a journey. Finally, we use reusable grocery bags and reusable bulk-bags for the bulk bins and produce at the grocery store.
5. Certify Our Yard
The most fun thing we’ve done on our block is to turn our backyard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat, and our front yard into a Certified Monarch Waystation. During our Stay-Home Orders, the kiddos researched through those respective websites (NWF.org and MonarchWatch.org) and found checklists for how to turn our space into a friendly one for pollinators and native wildlife. Now we have butterflies and bees galore and the kids enjoy researching the different types of insects. Plus it makes our neighbors happy and gives us something to talk about!
6. Plant Food
We cut out some of our lawn area to plant a large organic garden, and we also raise chickens for eggs and we compost in our backyard. The coolest thing about this that makes me cry just thinking about it, is that the kids sell the eggs to our neighbors, who fall all along the political spectrum, to help fund our church’s Immigration Center.
7. Bonus! Involve the neighbors.
When we certified our yards, our certification came with fancy signs to stake in the yard. Our neighborhood has a lot of walkers, so we make sure that we’re in the front yard as often as possible in the evenings to help build community. Everyone stops to ask about our sign and our very important work! The kids enjoy answering questions and challenging the neighbors to follow suit. At least six families on our block have planted or are committed to planting butterfly gardens and stopping their use of pesticides. Several have also gotten certified, which means more signs, and more awareness about stewarding creation well. That’s over an acre that’s now theoretically pesticide free! Added, my mom friends on our block have heard too many details about my laundry saga, which has inspired many of them to give the clothesline a try. Many of those moms also pushed me to try new things like bar-shampoo and more vegan meals (cookie-dough bean dip is my boys’ fave new snack).
Overall, it’s been a fun journey with my kids to shift our lifestyle and move our focus off of our comfort and onto something sustainable. Caring for creation in our own little neighborhood is helping them become inquisitive and thoughtful and it’s doing wonders for our sense of community.
Amanda Burchfiel is a former high school English teacher who now raises flowers, chickens, veggies and kiddos in the suburbs of Oregon. She thrives on Cafe Bustelo, homemade bread and as-frequent-as-possible neighborhood block parties.
Nazarenes everywhere hunger to be a part of the movement of the Spirit to heal our benighted planet, realize healthy connections with non-human creation, and to fulfill our vocation as keepers of the paradise of God.
But where to begin?
Simply changing lightbulbs from incandescent to CFLs is so 2000s (we’ve moved on to LCD, friend).
Recycling? As laudable as brushing your teeth.
Boycotting industrial meat? Friend, join us in the deeper waters.
We at Nazarenes for Creation Care understand that no one wants to jump into the fray of tending creation only to have some smug Portlander snickering at us from their Subaru window.
Fear not, Nazarene earthkeeper! We have compiled a list of common beginner mistakes that will move you swiftly through the amateur stages of earth-tending into the fully mature stature of tending God’s beloved world.
1. Forgetting to garden.
When we get our hands into the soil, we initiate healthful connections that ripple out in directions unimaginable. Growing food connects us to our first vocation to watch and keep the paradise of God. In the garden, we become aware of our kinship with creation and of our inescapable dependence. Nothing like a well-tended garden that says, “That green Nazarene really knows where her trowel is!”
The garden reminds us of what we have to gain and what we have to lose. It provides a practical and delicious alternative to industrial food, which exacts deep costs to the health of our ecosystems and lives by the misery and ruin of our neighbors--human and otherkind. The garden sustains us, body and soul.
It’s tempting to think that if we could just push through comprehensive legislation with just the right political proxies, the right celebrity champions, and air-tight provisions, the world would heal.
You don’t think that! You’re Nazarene.
Ok, so this brings us to the second mistake Nazarenes make.
2. Doing it by yourself.
If you weren’t raised by progressive Wesleyans, you might have grown up with a personalistic view of discipleship, with the scope and weight of salvation on your fragile shoulders. Planetary salvation, however, is a team sport (and the only sport worth playing).
Our distracting culture will narrow your horizons of possibility and sing your passions to sleep. You need a committed group of passionate earth-keepers surrounding you with love, faithful practices, joy, challenge, kale recipes, and imagination.
It’s not a choice between personal integrity and large-scale political organizing; both of these and everything in between is needed. We must be waging peace on multiple fronts at once. For this, we need supportive local communities linked up with regional, national, and international groups (like those within the Church of the Nazarene) to accomplish work that is much bigger than ourselves.
3. Forgetting to organize
What novice Nazarene earthkeeper hasn’t charged the field of earth abusers--faces painted and bellowing war cries like Braveheart--only to turn around and find themselves all alone?
But, friend, it happens to all of us. Since we have an economy that handsomely awards respectable, highly-educated citizens for trashing the planet, volunteer Nazarene earthkeepers can find themselves painfully overpowered. We need to organize, not just among our merry band of earthkeepers, but broadly--“far as the curse is found.”
It would be simpler to pretend that political engagement is unnecessary to save the planet. We must acknowledge, however, that most of the terrible things being done to trash the planet are legal. They shouldn’t be. In the face of a collective realization as to the enormity of the challenges and the grand scope of God’s salvation, I and many others have moved beyond righteous personalism to collective action that includes right living. Among my hopes for Nazarenes for Creation Care is the possibility that we could organize as a church body to denounce false political alliances with those who destroy the earth and create with our leaders, in and outside our church, protections for the life of the world that God loves and that Christ came to save in its entirety.
4. Leaving economic structures undisturbed
Much of the environmental destruction that happens in the world is justified as necessary to produce and protect jobs. Just try to save the planet from certain doom, and you will be promptly told that, though saving the planet sounds like a good idea, it’s actually bad for business, so… good idea, but you will have to go back to not saving the planet.
Though Christians have tremendous resources within their Bible and tradition for questioning the dominant economy (Jesus comes to mind), many Christians believe that our nation’s economic pursuits are ordained by God and the nature of the universe (spoiler: it is not). If we read scripture with integrity, we understand that work which destroys or enslaves land, people, or our non-human siblings is condemned, no matter how profitable it is for those who conduct or benefit from that work.
Another economy is possible! “Where,” you ask, “can such an economy be found?” Patience, gentle reader. A quality installment of wisdom is even now being crafted on the subject. For now, may it suffice to say that a Christian economy would be a practical elaboration of the command, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Since trashed planets have been scientifically proven to be bad for neighbors, any economy that insists on planet trashing will need to be replaced with one that, at minimum, declines to do so.
5. Not making deep connections with earth-keeping and the mission of God
If you don’t want to find yourself ugly crying, one-handed, over a windy abyss in the Death Star, don’t go hunting Darth Vader half-trained (cf. “Six beginner mistakes of Padawan apprentices”). The Holy Spirit is awakening the children of God to give themselves to the renewal of creation. Praise be to God. However, there are centuries of bad theology and practice to unravel-all while we watch the clock ticking down and the temperature rising. You need to know what we’re up against, young Skywalker, and train accordingly.
Tending the paradise of God is present on the first and last pages of the Bible. Our embrace of earth-keeping must be equally enveloping for right understanding and practice in tending God’s creation. When I hear and read (and write) about earth-keeping and Christianity, the connections that are made are often disappointingly shallow. Yes, Jesus seemed to have liked lilies, and, yes, the bible speaks often of trees. But the scope of God’s intention for creation and its care by the people of God is more than the appreciation of its beauty and a handful of proof texts.
What is needed from Christians is not business as usual, plus recycling. The groans of creation are an alarm Christians must hear with all the urgency of the gospel. When we take seriously the science chronicling the destruction of our only home and its inhabitants while at the same time taking seriously the Wesleyan Christian tradition we belong to, the Spirit will make plain a path that is faithful to both.
6. Neglecting prayer
“Not contemplation or action, but both together,” said Brother Roger of Taize. Those who have worked for peace and justice often have a practice of prayer, meditation, or contemplation: Jesus, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Diddy (no, Google it... You’re welcome), and Wesley. On especially busy days, Wesley said he rose even earlier in the morning to pray longer (though it’s not clear that it made him a better husband).
Prayer practices are central to earth-keeping and all just actions. People who are centered in God and settled in their body tend to be at peace and spread peace. One of my dear friends converted to Christianity, in part, because the only activists he knew “who weren’t jerks” were Christian. Richard Rohr says he joined the Franciscans because they were always marching for justice and having the most fun. Paul recognized that the Kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If our pursuit of justice is not filled with joy, we are, as Brother Roger said, a shadow without a light.
When we face realities as naturally depressing as climate destruction, it is easy to be overwhelmed and fall into despair. We need a living, vibrant connection with God and a belief that God is at work on behalf of abundant life. We find and abide in this connection through prayer and contemplation. This is not simply helpful to the work; it is the work.
7. Ignoring Intersectionality
A giant coal-fired power plant towers over the South African town of Soweto, festooned in murals. Before it was retired, this plant supplied power to White Johannesburg. The prevailing wind dumped its coal ash on the Black community of Soweto, which received almost none of the power from the coal plant.
Environmental justice seeks to name and correct the intersectionality of racism and environmental destruction. Although these conjoined evils are as old as civilization, among the first to name them were activists from the United Church of Christ in the late 1970s. These Christians organized against the placement of yet another toxic dump in yet another a Black community. Since then, people looking through the lens of environmental justice have seen the ways in which destruction of oppressed people and trashing the local ecosystem almost always go together.
This is one way in which intersectionality can be recognized in earth-keeping, but the intersections are numerous. Seeing oppression in its discreet expression keeps people working for liberation fragmented and weak. We can build just power when we work with unified vision and collective strength for the liberation of those suffering from environmental destruction, racism, gender and sexual discrimination, militarism, classim and other forms of oppression.
Mistake # 8: Not reading Wendell Berry
Today is his 85th birthday. Give yourself a present and go read his books.
I would suggest starting with Jayber Crow (a novel) and The Art of the Commonplace (a collection of essays).
Well there you have it. Knowing what beginner mistakes to avoid, I hope you can move into your full stature as an earthkeeper with confidence and style.
Coming up, I will be developing each of these points (at least the first 7) at greater length.
Peace of Christ!
Jason Adkins is the Urban Farmer and Professor of Environmental Justice at Trevecca Nazarene University, and co-founder of Nazarenes for Creation Care
Scripts is a collaborative effort from a wonderful "cloud of witnesses" writing on issues of creation care. All contributors are Christians seeking to embody earth care in their own context.