Thursday, October 8, 2015

Book Review: Year of Plenty by Craig L. Goodwin

Two and a half years ago, during the inaugural SpokaneFaVS Faith Feast, I had the chance to glut myself on dozens of delicious desserts at Millwood Presbyterian Church. After getting stuffed on appetizers and entrees at more exotic locales (a Muslim mosque and the Sikh temple), I'll admit that I was at first rather blase' about this third location, a Christian house of worship and a faith with which I already had a passing familiarity. The impressive spread of desserts knocked my complacency right over, though, and I enjoyed myself, and the conversations I had with other guests and with our hosts, immensely.

Millwood Presbyterian has a rather unique and special relationship with food, led in large part by their pastor Craig Goodwin and his family, that I found intriguing. Once a month, the church hosts the Second Harvest Mobile Food Bank, distributing food to those in need. And every Wednesday for four months spanning the summer, the parking lot is taken over by the Millwood Farmers' Market providing access to locally raised or produced meat, fruits and vegetables, breads, honey, flowers and more. With this background showing such long-term and ongoing commitment, I was interested to pick up Year of Plenty authored by Goodwin, and see just what he had to say about how faith, food, and family intersect.

The basic set up - a family of four commits to eschew "meaningless" purchases and consumerism for a year focusing on only homemade, homegrown, local, or used goods and products (with the notable exception of the Northwest staple not grown in the Northwest: coffee) - isn't completely unique, a fact Goodwin addresses early on in the book, and yes, it's a bit gimmicky, but I actually didn't mind. There's a real sincerity behind the impetus for the project, a thoughtful adaptation to his family's lifestyle and capabilities, and a true desire to learn and change that is authentic regardless of how many other iterations exist.

In fact, this exercise had far-reaching implications for real Christian living. In a family headed by two pastors, it's not at all surprising that spiritual lessons will be unearthed, but the continuity and inter-relatedness of daily actions and overarching beliefs showed up again and again. "Faith that doesn't touch everyday life is dead," Goodwin said, so examining exactly how faith touches and influences everyday life is vital.

What they - and by extension their readers - discovered is that relationships are key. When they purchased their food from a local farm and met not only the farmer but the whole family and learned the name of the cow that they'd be eating as beef later in the year, they made real connections and felt real impacts. "We've got faces on our veggies now," Goodwin writes, and their prayers over meals changed:
We predictably thanked God for the food, but the our prayers spontaneously went into unchartered [sic] territory, thanking God for the farmers and producers. We thanked God for Mr. Siemers and prayed for his struggles and the injustices in the marketplace that allow his crops to rot...Our prayer became an inventory not just of the food but of the people whose work had gone into producing it. Every food item on our plates was connected to a person we knew, a person who was sorting out a life of hopes and dreams and struggles. These were our neighbors, and that night, through our prayers, we were able to love them like never before.
But this reaches farther than the dinner table, into how we approach others and the Gospel itself. For example, Goodwin talks about the "unsettling integration of consumerism and Christianity" and how it sometimes seems in a culture of proselytizing and evangelizing that "Jesus is the supreme consumer product." He says:
I believe in evangelism and being prepared and equipped to tell people about the hope we have in Jesus. But it perverts the story of the church to envision people as projects to convert, or friendships to leverage. In a world prone to coerce and manipulate, the church should come offering free love, and even free hugs...The greatest gift the church has to offer its neighbors is to recognize them as something other than customers. In a world where everyone is constantly reduced to objects, the church ought to be a refreshingly humanizing force. The story of the church is to envision people as beloved children of God who are irreducible.
This humanizing force, this recognition of neighbors as people, allows relationships to develop and deepen. I love how Goodwin describes this experiment as creating "holy mischief in my life, turning the disconnected, isolated objects of my consumer life into an inseparable web of meanings and realities."

And that's the real value for me in reading about the Goodwins' year-long experience. It showed that by deliberately paying attention, by entering into interactions - even everyday economic transactions - with eyes wide open, by asking questions about the impacts of our choices, by intentionally allowing our core values and our faith to inform and transform our actions, we participate in a process of making connections and becoming more whole as individuals and as communities.

No amount of doctrinal knowledge or accuracy can substitute for the practice of daily living of the Gospel in every aspect. Likewise, the scope of global problems can be overwhelming, but simple actions of building community and relationship are not only eminently doable, they are the essence of Christian living. 

You see, Goodwin says, "God is in the midst of redeeming all things, and I'm doing my best to pay attention to and be a part of what God is doing."

Year of Plenty: One Suburban Family, Four Rules, and 365 Days of Homegrown Adventure in Pursuit of Christina Living
by Craig L. Goodwin
ISBN: 9781451400748
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

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