Sunday, June 11, 2006

A Corny Theology

There’s a question that eventually everyone asks at some point in his or her faith journey. It doesn’t matter whether you came to your faith early or late in life, whether you prefer singing four-part harmony to guitars and drums, or even matter whether you like to sit in pews or seats. Eventually, the question eats at all of us: How is having faith in God like growing corn?

Yes, admit it, this question has haunted you for years. It certainly has haunted me since moving to Central Illinois. But, finally, after fasting for thousands of hours (in very small time segments) and meditating faithfully every night just before falling asleep, I think I have a workable answer. I’m sharing it here, in the hopes that we can finally put this question to rest, and all go back to arguing about which Bible translation is the best, or placing bets on whether certain people we know are going to make the cut into heaven, which we all know to be life-affirming ways express our relationship with the Divine.

If you have the goal of stuffing your face full of corn come autumn, the first thing you need to have (aside from corn seed) is certain beliefs about corn that will guide your actions towards this desired result. Note that this specifically excludes the idea that you can simply buy your way into someone else’s corn. (In fact, scholars believe that Martin Luther would have included this in the list of grievances nailed to the door at Wittenberg, had corn been available to him at the time).

So what do you need faith in to have a personal bountiful harvest of corn? Basically, you need to believe that if you plant a bunch of corn seeds into decent soil after the last frost, and you keep them watered and they get decent sun, that they will grow out of the ground, pollinate, and produce corn, which you can then pluck off the stalk and eat and make corncob pipes with and make dolls out of the husks and still have enough left over for all the ethanol we need to save our country from its dependency on oil. Yea, verily, verily, I say unto you, corn is a good thing.

Note however, that there are number of other things that you can also believe about growing corn that are harmless, and yet yield the same results. For instance, you are entirely free to believe that corn only grows when you plant it while dressed in long flowing purple robes of silk, or that you must bow in silent prayer after planting each row, or that your field is the only place in the world where real corn grows. As long as you plant it at the right time in the right soil in the right environment, it will grow and be just as fresh and yummy when you harvest. Your dancing around each stalk when the temperature reaches 90 degrees causes no harm to the process, assuming you don’t crush any of the stalks. And Farmer Bob and Farmer Joe can disagree all they want about whether corn likes to be sung to or whispered to – the corn really doesn’t care in the end, as long as you do the necessary things it requires.

However, there are some beliefs about corn that do cause problems. If you believe that corn yields are best when planted in snow on top of rocks in mountains, or that herbicide is really the best watering technique, you’ll find yourself hungry come harvest time.

More interesting perhaps, are beliefs that merely cause your corn to underperform. Suppose you are morally opposed to weeding of any kind. This may be a fine moral position in many respects, if it is based on respect for all life, even annoyingly persistent life with no obvious value. But your corn will suffer, since it has to fight with the weeds for nutrients and attention. Or, perhaps you believe that some corn is immoral and you know it just by looking at it, so once a week you scour the fields looking for the bad corn to yank out of the ground. This will obviously give you less corn, although to be fair, it will probably make you feel better about the corn you have left in the end. And, of course, Farmer Bob will insist that it has more to do with the kind of dance you do during the full moon than anything else.

I think the most interesting beliefs about corn are the ones that work in your location, but not so well in others. For instance, you may believe that corn must always be planted on May 1st or it won’t grow. Given frost patterns in the Midwest, this would work well here, but try it too far north, and most years frost will kill the corn. Or, perhaps you live on a beach in the tropics, and corn doesn’t grow so well there no matter what you do, even after your singing and dancing, which only seem to work with the bananas. The bananas, however, are quite delicious. But, of course, bananas are said to be evil, so it takes some courage just to try them out.

What does this all have to do with faith in God? Well, it must be that those with the most faith in God are the ones who grow the most corn.

No, wait, that can’t be right. How about this: our beliefs about God are like beliefs about corn, in that some of them help immensely in our faith journey, some we hold very dear, but are actually irrelevant in the end, and others are very much a hindrance to a rich and abundant spiritual life. And while the basic nature of God does not change, like the basic principles of growing corn, we have to be careful to recognize which specific beliefs are foundational and which are relevant only to our own location and environment.

Although we can argue endlessly about which beliefs are the best, the proof really lies in what kinds of fruit (and vegetables) we bear based on those beliefs. Or put another way, what matters is what kind of people we become when we feed ourselves with the right kind of spiritual food.

And don’t worry too much if you can only grow bananas. They are actually very good for you, despite their troubling lack of similarity to corn. They are yellow, after all, which I believe to be the holiest, most nutritious and most sincere color of food. But be careful to cook them over low heat while wearing a tin foil hat or else the aliens will replace their nutrients with mind-controlling chakras. Laugh if you must, but I've never been controlled by aliens after preparing bananas that way.


Amishlaw said...

I think you may have something with your corn theology. You should ask for a second chance to preach.

Dan S said...

Are you saying the first time was so bad that I need a second chance? :)

Actually, I had a suprisingly good time preaching, and have had a lot of positive feedback. My favorite comment was from my brother Tim who said there was "no trace of the angry, knee-jerk liberal that sometimes shows up in your blog" I guess I'll have to work harder next time make sure that is easier to see :)

Brownie said...


Anonymous said...

I don't get it. Is God the corn? Are we the frost? Would Jesus use herbicides or not? Are bananas fruit of the devil because of their phallic shape?

Seriously, this is a great analogy. It reminds me of something I read in Michael Shermer's "How We Believe," his book on religion.

He talks about cultural beliefs and categorizes them in different ways. He says there are things people believe that are true and also happen to be beneficial, things people believe that aren't true, but there's no harm in believing them, and things people believe that aren't true and actively harm them. Or something like that. The book is at home and I'm at work, so I can't look it up.

By the way, you forgot to mention that some people (*cough* GeorgeWBush *cough*) plant hot dogs and expect us to believe they will grow into corn.


Dan S said...

Hot dogs don't grow into corn? What kind of traitor are you, and why do you hate freedom so much?