The following has been adapted, with permission, from the blog of Sigve Tonstad (originally posted October 10, 2012). Churches of all kinds across the nation are currently engaged in a month-long "journey of prayer" for America, and Dr. Tonstad has chosen to participate in this way. We will be sharing a handful of his prayer blog posts throughout the month of October.
Me: Dear God, today I am praying for the leaders and the people of Kentucky.
GOD: Did you know that ‘Kentucky’ comes from an Iroquois word? It means ‘meadow lands.’ There are still a lot of grassy meadows in Kentucky, beautiful bluegrass and wonderful soil.
Me: It sounds like you love Kentucky.
GOD: Don’t get me started.
Me: Is there anything or anyone you like in a special way in Kentucky?
GOD: Wendell Berry.
Me: Wendell Berry? I bet many Americans have not even heard of Wendell Berry, including many who are praying to you.
GOD: Praying or not, I like Wendell Berry. He is a modern prophet.
Me: I have thought of him as a farmer, prolific writer, and philosopher.
GOD: He is all of those things, but he is also like a prophet. He loves, respects, and defends the land. Many Americans have lost respect for the land. Besides, much of the Bible was written in an agrarian setting. You need the help of contemporary agrarians to understand it.
Me: Tell me a little more about Wendell Berry, but please be brief.
GOD: I have learnt that you prefer sound bites and bullet points, so I’ll try to make it simple. Like me, Wendell Berry believes that the land is a gift and a treasure to be protected and preserved. Like me, he does not believe that land should be monetized.
GOD: It means that land should not be thought of in terms of monetary value or sold as a commodity. Land speculation shows disrespect for the value of the earth. Humans have more in common with the earth than you realize. You are earthlings. I called the first human Adam because he was taken from ’adāmâ, which means ‘earth.’ Wendell Berry understands this and much more.
Me: Like what?
GOD: Like the Sabbath. He has written many wonderful Sabbath poems, and he also understands the ideology of the Sabbath better than many.
Me: What ideology?
GOD: The ideology and practice of rest and cessation. Human beings need rest. The land needs rest. In Old Testament times, I tried to structure human society for plenitude. It did not have many takers because people were more interested in productivity and profit. Plenitude is not inimical to productivity, but they are not the same.
Me: What’s the difference?
GOD: Say after me:
Me: Say what?
GOD: Plenitude is productivity within limits. It starts with the recognition that humans are finite earthlings, and it recognizes that the earth has limits. Air, water, soil, and land are limited resources. Now the land is subjected to predation and exploitation. That is not a recipe for plenitude.
Me: I am trying to understand.
GOD: The Sabbath belongs to a structure of finitude and plenitude. On the side of finitude, there is the recognition of limits. On the side of plenitude, there is a prescription for rest and renewal. A Sabbath-less world is a recipe for self-destruction. Sabbath-less depletion and over-taxation is happening all over the world, not only in Kentucky.
Me: You are talking almost as if the Sabbath is good public policy.
GOD: It is far more than that, including things that should be improved in your book. But I had high hopes and a lot of fun when I advised the priests in ancient Israel to take the ideology of the Sabbath to the practical limits. First, the weekly Sabbath stipulates rest for people and domestic animals, especially the most vulnerable. Second, the sabbatical year every seventh year stipulates rest for the land. Third, the Jubilee provides an economic reset after seven cycles of sabbatical years.
Me: Could you simplify it for me, especially the Jubilee?
GOD: It is not difficult, only unfamiliar. In the Jubilee, people who have lost their land during the previous fifty years get it back. I arranged for permanently decentralized ownership of land. I don’t believe in private ownership of land in the way it is practiced today, not any more than I believe in state ownership. The land, you see, is mine. You can read it in the Book of Leviticus. Leviticus is a tedious book, but you should retain it in the Bible if only for the sake of this verse.
Me: Which verse?
GOD: Leviticus 25:23.
Me: Is there anything or anyone else you like in Kentucky?
GOD: I like the free-ranging elk, and then there is something that I hardly dare to share with anyone.
GOD: I have to whisper it.
Me: Whisper, if you must.
GOD: Muhammad Ali.
Me: You can’t be serious!
GOD: I am very serious. He was born and grew up in Louisville. Kentuckian if there ever was one. Me: I understand that you like Wendell Berry, but I don’t get Muhammad Ali.
GOD: Let me tell it straight: I don’t like boxing. Actually, I can’t stand violence. Muhammad Ali is paying a heavy price for all those blows to his head. But I like that he was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War – even though they took him to court.
Me: Is that why you had to whisper that you like him?
GOD: That’s why. I wish the world and America had more conscientious objectors, more people less willing to go to war for God and country. Let them go to war for country, if they want to, but let them not go to war for me.
Me: I am speechless.
GOD: Try to get over it. And don’t forget to read Wendell Berry’s book, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. It will change your life, and it will increase your love of Kentucky.
Sigve Tonstad is Assistant Professor in the School of Medicine and Associate Professor in the School of Religion at Loma Linda University.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4831