potluck

5 Religious World Records Broken in 2014

Screenshot of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, "World's Most Living Figures in a N
Screenshot of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, "World's Most Living Figures in a Nativity Scene."

Some churches conduct pageants. Some temples host dinners. And others spend weeks or months meticulously planning how to break a Guinness World Record.

Sure, 2014 was the year that records were beaten for “Fastest marathon wearing chain mail (upper body)” and “Most sticky notes on the body in five minutes.” But several faith-based Guinness World Records were set over the course of the year as well.  Here are five that were smashed in 2014:

Spiritual Cultivation

SOIL AND SACRAMENT is Fred Bahnson’s story of finding God through sustainable farming. A trained theologian, he learns to best live out his faith with shovel in hand, practicing a method of permanent agricultural design principles called “permaculture.”

We follow him through the liturgical year on an agrarian pilgrimage from one faith community to another, digging into the big question of how to best love his neighbor. His answers are uncovered through building relationships and healthier soil, communing with others and his Creator in the field. From jail cell to monastic cell, from a rooftop in Chiapas to his four-season greenhouse, Bahnson finds the intersection of community and solitude between the field rows. Just like the first Adam from the adamah (earth), we learn how to give more to the soil than we take away and to reverently observe the garden as fruitful and multiplying. “Human from humus”—he had me at hugelkultur. (Look it up—it’s really cool.)

Bahnson begins his pilgrimage in a Trappist monastery in South Carolina during Advent, joining the brothers in prayer and mushroom-growing practices, entering the dark cold winter silence of vigils and the soil. Bahnson then flashes back to 2001, to Holy Week in Chiapas with a Christian Peacemaker Team accompanying the Mayan Christian pacifist civic group Las Abejas—“The Bees.” In Chiapas we sit and eat with Bahnson on Maundy Thursday, corn tortillas and slow-cooked black beans made into holy elements, partaking of an “ancient and unnamed liturgy,” eating our way into mystery. Bahson ordains the creatures of the earth as perennial ministers of the soil, notes the transubstantiation of seed and potluck as Eucharist. He writes of beginning to think of growing food as the embodiment of loving his neighbors, the journey of the liturgical calendar through the mystery of soil. The book is a slow dance, a cosmic one-turn around the sun.

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To Have and to Hold (and to Serve Six)

By Ken Davis

JUNE IS A special month, particularly for families celebrating ... uhm ... something. I forget. Fortunately, ever since I read a study suggesting that cholesterol-lowering statins can cause problems with ... with ... word retrieval, I realize now it has nothing to do with getting old, which many people my age are getting these days. It’s because I’m just another victim of an unscrupulous drug industry. (Drug company lawyer: “I understand that you think you took our drug, sir, but how can you be sure?”)

But now I remember why June is special: Our oldest daughter is getting married this month, and I can use our cover story as a reminder that I’m probably supposed to do something to help out. Although darned if I can remember what it is.

My daughter’s won’t be a gay marriage, which is trending this year, but it will be an alternative wedding, one of those nontraditional celebrations that doesn’t require me to dress up and “give away” the bride. (If I was going to give her away, I should have done it well before the wedding bills started coming in.) There’ll be no church to rent and no preacher to pay. The ceremony will be outside, probably in a tent, and we already have one of those. (It sleeps four. Nice size for an intimate gathering, if people don’t mind stooping during the service.)

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Kitchen-Table Giving

Philanthropy in the news usually involves big money and big names: Bill Gates doing good with another few million or the powerhouse alumna who buys a university building. But for most of us, charitable giving is a private, even individualistic act: Decide where to give (perhaps after a conversation with a family member), then write a check or punch in a credit card at a Web site.

Nothing wrong with that—writing checks alone certainly seems more natural than bowling alone, that oft-cited marker of a crumbling civic life. But might we benefit from making generosity a team sport?

“Giving circles” are a form of grassroots, cooperative philanthropy. A group of people pool their money, educate themselves about community needs and potential recipients, then give grants. It has been described as people “giving to their community, in community.”

Giving circles first emerged in the 1990s. A 2006 study by the Forum of Regional Associa­tions of Grantmakers found that giving circles continue to multiply at a steady rate, are now popular among a variety of demographic groups, and are responsible for millions of dollars of giving each year. This cultural phenomenon has drawn the attention of popular magazines such as People and Real Simple, which have further spread the idea.

Take the Washington (D.C.) Womenade circle. Dr. Amy Kossoff often paid out of her own pocket to meet her homeless patients’ emergency needs—a set of dentures or a bag of groceries. The cumulative cost became too much to sustain on her own, so in 2001 she and friends decided to hold pot­lucks where they gathered donations to create an ongoing emergency fund for the people most in need in their area. Their slogan: “With lemons, make lemonade—with women, make womenade!”

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Sojourners Magazine April 2008
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