Did you know that soil is incredibly diverse and complex? It might look like simple dirt, but one handful contains more living organisms than there are people on the planet.
And every part of the soil, every organism has a part to play. They affect chemical and physical properties. There are a billion bacteria in one gram of fertile soil that consume what is produced by green plants… there are fungi that decompose materials, there are soil animals that consume and decompose and feed on one another and leave channels in the soil that increases infiltration of minerals and water and oxygen.
And all of these living organisms live off of and feed off of one another. It is their interaction that makes soil healthy and thriving and good.
In his book, The Third Plate, Dan Barber describes the “war” that is going on in the soil we walk upon. It is a class system where:
Jack pointed to the soil. “There’s a war going on in there…”
first-level consumers (microbes), the most abundant and miniscule members of the community, break down large fragments of organic material into smaller residues; secondary consumers (protozoa, for example) feed on the primary consumers or their waste; and then third-level consumers (like centipedes, ants, and beetles) eat the secondaries. The more Jack explained it, the more it started to sound like a fraught, complex community…
Fred Magdoff, likened the process to a system of checks and balances. “To me there is real beauty in how it works,” he said. “When there is sufficient and varied food for the organisms, they do what comes naturally, ‘making a living’ by feeding on the food sources that evolution provided… What you have is a thriving, complex community of organisms.”
I have been thinking about the immense complexity of dirt and what it means for us as the church.
We have been inundated with a move towards “simple church” and we talk so much about unity and yet I wonder what would happen if instead we embraced the incredibly complex, diverse, thriving nature of soil as a metaphor of our life together.
It is actually what we find in the Body of Christ as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12. We have feet and hands and eyes and hearts and livers and spleens. We all play a part. We might look at others and think, “I don’t need you,” but Paul says we are wrong.
In our Iowa Annual Conference right now, we are divided. We are different. We don’t read scriptures the same. We feel differently about human sexuality. We aren’t sure what we should do about those folks on the margins, our brothers and sisters, who are gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender or still discovering. Underneath it all is a different understanding of how we understand the scriptures.
And sometimes, that diversity feels like a war. It feels like the battle Jack described the soil beneath us. We are chewing each other up and spitting each other out. And I hate the way my brothers and sisters are hurt and damaged by comments that cut to the core of their very being. Especially as I watch them walk away from the Body of Christ.
When you focus on the conflict that diversity creates, like Jack did, you want to strip out everything that is different to protect yourself and others. We want simple things. We want unity, which means, we want to all be the same.
But to be healthy, we need diversity. We need difference. We need checks and balances. We need to remind each other of the importance of the bible and scripture and justice and mercy and grace and love. It comes from both sides. We need to listen. We need to hold one another accountable. We also need to challenge one another. We need to say things that are difficult to hear. We need to be willing to speak the truth in love.
And together, the interaction of all of our different parts creates something beautiful and mysterious and powerful.
Friends, we might look like United Methodists, but a little deeper under the cover of our identity, we are incredibly complicated. We are men and women, people of all sorts of shades of skin, languages, eye colors, theological perspectives, ideas, gifts, skills, ages…
I need you. All of you. And together, God wants us to be amazing.