Fallow Fields: Death, Religion and Gardening

Yesterday the Pew Research Center’s released its findings from a U.S. religious landscape study called “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” that reveals that Christianity has dropped from 78 percent of the American population to 70 percent within the last seven years. In addition, those unaffiliated with any religious tradition has increased from 16 percent to almost 23 percent.

On the same day, I read a post by Rachel Held Evan’s from her new book, “Searching for Sunday.” It read:

“Lately I’ve been wondering if a little death and resurrection might be just what the church needs right now, if maybe all this talk of waning numbers and shrinking influence means our empire-building days are over, and if maybe that’s a good thing. Death is something empires worry about, not something gardeners worry about. It’s certainly not something resurrection people worry about …”

The gardening metaphor is so beautifully apt. It helps reframe the significance and perspective of the Pew study findings. And if you extend the metaphor just a bit more (and maybe she does in the book, which I haven’t read yet), the implications continue to hold true. In gardening or farming, doing the same thing over and over results in declining value. If you plant the same crop in a field every year,  over time you will deplete the soil of the nutrients that sustain the plants. Rotating crops or leaving fields fallow allows for replenishment of the soil so that it may remain fertile ground. And so our religion must continue to go through the cycle of death and rebirth to provide sustenance for its people.

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