Guest Post: Megan Armentrout, social work intern

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 This semester, I have had the joy of supervising six social work interns who are helping get the garden organized for the growing season, publicizing and attending garden work days, and sharing about the opportunity with the George Fox University community and those in our town of Newberg. One of the interns, Megan Armentrout, spoke at a weekly gathering called Shalom, a Thursday night chapel elective. (Shalom means holistic peace in Hebrew.) Here is what she had to say about the garden and how it connects to our faith life:

Glimpses of the Garden

I believe it is safe to say we all experience a longing for Shalom; for things to be right again in the world. As followers of Jesus we have a part of us that aches to get back to where we started – to the beginning, to the garden, with God.  God created a world in which things were good, very good, and made this a point through the Genesis account. Unfortunately our own sin got in the way and we no longer experience this beautiful Garden where Shalom had no competition. Our hearts were meant to experience Shalom.

Despite our sin, God still reaches out to us through the world. I like to call these moments “Glimpses of the Garden.” Shalom can be experienced on a huge spectrum: a baby’s laugh, the loyalty of a dog, reuniting with family or friends that you haven’t seen in a long time, sunsets, rainbows, iced tea on a warm day, finishing a project and thinking “this is good,” stars, or a huge hug from a loved one. These moments are usually the ones that, if we choose to take a step back and realize it, feel perfect – almost as if the heavens were torn open and for a split second you got to see the Glory of God.

I grew up in the middle of nowhere, southern Illinois. The best thing about living in the middle of nowhere is the fact that there is no light pollution to take away from the beauty of the stars. For as long as I can remember I have found myself laying on my back staring at the night sky. It’s in those moments that I have a glimpse of the Garden. I lose myself. Can you imagine what the Garden looked like? If we lose ourselves in the stars, imagine what they used to be like when God created them before sin entered the world.

Here’s an entry from my journal several years ago:

I lost myself again in the stars tonight. I sat there in awe, closing my eyes and listening to the frogs and the wind through the trees. [God] created the Garden to be serene, beautiful, and glorious and then sin ravaged the earth. But what the world looks like today is a testimony of how redeeming his love is.

[God] took this sinful world that was supposed to be perfect – but still managed to make it beautiful nonetheless. So that when we get the chance to take a step back from our busy lives and sit with him in creation, we catch glimpses of the Garden.

And thank God for that. Because I understand God most through creation. When I can sit back and think, “Wow, the God who made all of this, who holds the universe, cares enough about me to be involved in my life.”  God created the stars, but also created us…most days I can’t even fathom this great God.

Another way that I get a glimpse of the Garden is when, ironically enough, I am working in a garden, or doing yard work in general. I come from a line of great gardeners but unfortunately that ended with my mother who has zero luck with any green, growing thing. BUT, I have had several opportunities to learn the beauty of working with the soil. This summer I worked at a camp in Idaho. One of my duties, the one I always looked forward to, was working grounds. Call me crazy, but I love to weed. There is something so beautiful about getting your hands and knees dirty and working the soil – I’d say it’s like we were meant to be in a Garden or something!

I was talking with a friend one day about the revelation of God through creation, and he said this:

You know, you look around and you see all of these cities and capitalism and you think we’ve come so far – which we have. But, something always brings us back. The outdoors always call our name. Something in us brings us to sit around a campfire and look at the stars just like our ancestors did in years past. We’ve evolved so much, but yet we starve for that beauty and simplicity. You can’t find that in a city.

I think that God’s beauty is meant to be shared in community. In the Garden, God said that it was not good for person to be alone. I think humanity is not meant to be alone. I am a senior social work major and for my Macro Practice class we got to pick a community development project to partner with. I chose, and was placed with, the community garden at Fox. The garden was started in 2007 and has continued to run since then. Cherice Bock, a religious studies professor here at Fox, has taken the lead on the garden and is expanding the reach of the garden. The hope is that families of low income will have access to the vegetables, fruit, and herbs grown in the garden.

Most people can get food, that isn’t really an issue anymore. However, getting healthy, locally-grown food is another story – let alone knowing how to cook with them. The hope for this garden is to have a group of people who take part in working the soil and tending to the garden weekly, eat a meal together, and take whatever produce they harvested that day with them. I think that this is absolutely beautiful and such a vision of the Kingdom.

The work of a community garden is that it truly combats our consumeristic culture.  I went on an immersion to homelessness trip in Portland with my social work class. At one point in the day we were given $1 and were told to go find lunch. Most everyone went to a place called Blanchett House. Blanchett House is a dining hall that serves over 800 meals for lunch. My experience was this: Walk in. Wait in line. Get seated at a table with 4 strangers. No conversation. Finish meal. Leave. There was NO conversation at all. I had to force it out of someone and the looks I got from him were not pleasant. It occurred to me then that our system wasn’t working anymore. I mean, sure, people were eating – but it became highly consumeristic.

This garden is combatting that. Imagine: people from all sorts of socio-economic backgrounds coming together to work in the garden and eat together. There is work involved for everyone and inevitably community is built. Being part of this community garden resembles much of the early church. In Acts 4:33-35 we read about the church being a place of community where no one was in need.

With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

At the heart of God is this call toward justice, creating a place where no one is in need. In the early church this came from God’s grace so powerfully at work in his people.

At the garden, we’ve had a couple work days and they have been amazing. We have prepared the garden by pulling weeds and planting strawberries and we have planted tiny, tiny seeds that will grow into hearty plants. The garden means something to everyone involved.

I see Shalom in the work done in the community garden. I see a group of people coming together to steward the Earth well in community. I see laughter and deep conversation. I see meals shared and commonalities found more than differences. This garden is a vision of the Kingdom. We’re returning to the Garden where Shalom is abundant and everyone is welcome.

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