Thursday, May 27, 2010

unproductive... or fallow?

On the face of it, there doesn't seem to be much difference between a field (or a time) that is "unproductive" and one that is "lying fallow." In both cases, it's not "producing" a crop.

And yet the difference - in our understanding - is immense.

"Unproductive" is a negative word... value comes from producing, right?... and if something is unproductive... well... there's something wrong. It's not doing what it's supposed to do. Anxiety.

"Fallow," on the other hand, is a positive word. It's a healthy and indispensable part of a broader process. Land that is lying "fallow" is not "unproductive" at all - it is resting, rejuvenating, replenishing and restoring and preparing for future seasons of growth and "production"... Land that is lying "fallow" - as a healthy part of a broader process - is doing exactly what it's supposed to do. Rest. Trust.

This summer marks the completion of 7 years of my "SmallTall Music" ministry... that is, 7 years since my music ministry stopped being a "side thing" and became my "main thing" both vocationally and economically.

I can't help but feel like the past 5 months or so... since the new year (since I injured my finger at the beginning of January)... have been the most "unproductive" time since this music ministry began. "Unproductive" particularly in terms of new writing. I've simply been struggling to even sit down to write. The ruminating (key part of the songwriting process) continues unabated... the list of "songs to write" and ideas to work on continues to grow... but actually working on new songs... very little.

For the first time in the four years that I've been operating my "community supported music" initiative, I missed a "delivery of songs" to my members. There simply wasn't anything there. A difficult "growing season."

I am grateful for the understanding and support of that community, the "members" of my CSM, which, like the "Community Supported Agriculture" system by which it is inspired, is intended to be a "shared risk" system. Rather than just "consumers" of a "product," the members are partners in the production and consumption/enjoyment/use of food (music)... where good growing conditions mean abundant portions for everyone, and the risk of poor growing conditions (hail, unseasonal frost... injury...) is not born by the farmer alone.

To be sure, it has been a busy and "productive" time in other ways (interesting how those two words tend to go together in my mind... I'm not sure that's altogether accurate/healthy). The new Gather 'Round curriculum CD and extensive spring touring schedule have been good.

And yet...

It seems like a "desert" season in other respects too (again, interesting how terms like "unproductive," "fallow," and "desert" can rattle around and intersect...). Walking with my spouse on her own "in-between" journey of seeking employment and career-wonderings... economic stresses... considerable uncertainty...

One of the stresses about leaving a field "fallow" is when you feel that you need the income... leaving a field "unproductive" when it could be generating crops and income can be a difficult thing to do... and yet allowing for "fallow" times can be just what is needed to enable long-term, sustainable health (including "production")...

After 7 years of this ministry, I find myself acutely aware of peers and colleagues in various ministry roles (particularly pastors and professors) who have structured "sabbatical" times built into their roles. I wonder if I'm sensing the need for a "sabbatical" too. If the fields of my ministry need a time of "Sabbath" as well.

But for me to take a "sabbatical," to leave some of the fields of my ministry fallow for a time, feels like a bigger risk. It's one thing to take a sabbatical when you're still drawing a salary (or portion thereof)... with a "secure" position to return to... What happens when I sense a need for a sabbatical of some kind right when economic concerns are acute?

It strikes me that this is precisely part of the "wilderness curriculum" with which God was instructing the Israelites for so many years in the desert. How hard it would have been to live on manna day to day, having to trust that there would be enough. How hard to be receptive to instructions to extend Sabbath rest to the land on the 7th year...

Can the farmer (and community) afford to let the field lie fallow? Can the farmer (and community) afford not to?

5 Comments:

At 12:23 AM, Anonymous Luke said...

I can relate. It's an interesting distinction: unproductive and fallow. I've found that often my ideas and thinking just need time, and that I'm ultimately more productive (where 'more' ranges over quality as well as quantity) for seasons of ruminating. But often for me I'm just not able to afford (monetarily) time for the things that make me healthy (slowing down and actually talking to people, appreciating the kids on a deeper level, walking) A slower more deliberate life is tough to find time for, even if the will is there. In the meantime it's a tough tightrope! Maybe a good match of tennis can sort all of this out ...

 
At 7:27 AM, Blogger Kurt said...

Bryan,
Thanks for your thoughts -- you've opened new areas of exploration/reflection for me on a topic that I'm very interesting in (pardon my poor grammar). Please forgive my boldness -- here's a link that may connect you with more than a few folks who are trying to answer some of the very same questions you've raised - www.sabbaticaltimes.com
blessings,
Kurt

 
At 8:46 AM, Blogger Bryan Moyer Suderman said...

Thanks, Luke. I think you're right - some tennis soon would be just the thing! Imagine how productive we'll be!

Kurt, thanks for the link. Lots of interesting articles/ideas/people indeed!

 
At 11:59 PM, Blogger Thomas Epp said...

In my limited financial experience, I am usually provided for in the bleakest of times. GWP.

Try not to let the Wilfrid Lauriers in your pocket (or lack thereof) get in the way of life. I know it is not awesome that we need to work so hard in order to live. I've found when I grow loose with "that which is Caesar's" the rest of life loosens up as well and it becomes easier to enjoy. Just my thoughts.

 
At 2:22 PM, Blogger Wendy said...

Wilderness Curriculum... sounds like a new album theme to me :)
-Wendy

 

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