James 5: 7-12 Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your "Yes" be yes and your "No" be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
In our increasingly urbanized world, we are losing touch with our agrarian roots. The consequences of this is that we are out sync with the rhythms of life: of birth, death, planting and harvesting, of seasons and weather. Anyone who gardens knows it takes time for preparation of the soil, planting of seed, germination, growth and harvest.
It is the rarest of commodities, our precious time. It is so important that we are paid not for what we produce, but for the time it takes to do our jobs. The author of James was well acquainted with the agony of waiting. In this passage, the idea of the farmer is used as an example of the patience needed for the life of faith. While many of us may not be acquainted with farming, all of us are deeply knowledgeable of the results of farming: The food we eat. Food is a necessity for all of us:
- rich or poor
- insider or outsider
- male or female
- free or slave
Jesus prayed: "Give us this day our daily bread." How does the patience of the farmer spill over into the lives of those who reap the benefits of fruitful harvests.
The psalmist may urge us to "be still" (Psalm 46:10), but waiting is difficult business. Especially in the lives of those who follow Jesus. It is very difficult to wait, when so much needs to be one. Educator and Quaker, Parker Palmer suggests this when he wrote about "functional atheism" in his book Let your life speak:
... Functional atheism, [is] the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us. This is the unconscious, unexamined conviction that if anything decent is going to happen here, we are the ones who must make it happen—a conviction held even by people who talk a good game about God.It often leads to burnout, depression and despair, as we learn that the world will not bend to our will and we become embittered about that fact ... (p. 88).
Are we "functional atheists" in the Church? We say we believe in God, but do we act like it? Do we have the time to wait for God to answer? Many of the environmental and social disasters affecting our world can be traced to our impatience: We want what we want when we want it. Having created a world (or 1/3rd of this world) where this idea of "NOW" has come to fruition (at the expense of the other 2/3rds of the world), are we surprised that there is a cost to our impatience?
The questions become:
- "Where is our food coming from?"
- Why is Canadian society becoming more obese and less healthy?
- Why are families spending less time at table together?
- We are living longer, but are we living better?
- We take food for granted because it is always there. What happens when the power goes out?
- What happens when we have to make the choice between medication and supper? We all have to eat, but do we have the patience to do so wisely?
So here are some of the questions that you might ask yourself:
1. There are bumper stickers that go "Have you eaten today? Thank a farmer." What have you eaten so far today? How much of it was locally grown and/or produced? Do you know the person who grew the grains/vegetables or raised the livestock? In early agrarian societies, and indeed, not that long ago in Canada, food production, preparation and storage, was a (if not the) primary "industry." How much do you know about the food you eat?
2. How patient are we? How many times have you ordered from a drive-through window this past week? In church, do many grumble when the worship service goes beyond the "sweet hour of prayer"? In the time of James, the early Christians were waiting for Jesus to return, in glory hopefully, but return nonetheless. They did a lot of waiting. How do you think they coped? How do you cope with waiting in queues, in traffic, in emergency rooms, for children to keep up, for elders to catch on? How do you cope with matters of faith, when the answers are not forthcoming? The story of James is about waiting for Jesus to come again to bring justice—the "Parousia." How do you think our sisters and brothers who are suffering at home and around the world endure with patience for justice to come? For the Living Jesus to be with them?
3. One of the most important themes in food management is crop rotation. The idea is that the farmer grows different crops on the same land to reduce the need for "crop inputs" (i.e., fertilizer, pesticides, etc.). The difficult part is that not all crops yield the same "outputs," or, rather, are not as valuable as others. The "market" often plays into this. A farmer may have to plant soybeans in a field, when it's corn that's very valuable this market season. So, it is a matter of the interplay of "must do this" and "may do this." We all must eat. What may we do to make our food policies more equitable to producers locally and internationally?
4. Recently, a cattle producer mentioned that he witnessed a calf auctioned for $4.00. How much did you pay for a pound of hamburger last at the grocery store? This discrepancy between the producer and the grocer is legendary. However, in other industries, unions were formed to introduce fairer wages, benefits and safer work environments. How much are you willing to pay for food that allows a living wage to producers?