The Red Couch: Getting Involved With God Discussion (Biblical Ecology)


M_BookClub-4To learn more about Getting Involved With God, read the introductory post and the discussion posts on the Lamenting Psalms and Song of Songs.

I didn’t grow up in churches where the Old Testament was heralded with the ring of good news—save a few Psalms. It seemed like we grew out of the old stories as we graduated from Sunday School and into the “big service” where the newer testament took center stage.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered the treasure trove of the Hebrew Bible–the grand narrative of exodus, the intoxicating vision of hope in Isaiah, the erotic love poetry of the Song of Solomon and gut-wrenching cries of Lamentations? Then entered the complex characters like bi-cultural Moses, drum-beating Miriam, Ruth the Moabite and Joseph the hero (or sell-out) who offered grit to my conception of faith. The Hebrew Bible took my heart and imagination by storm thanks in great part to Walter Brueggemann, who I stumbled upon in a seminary classroom.

It would be years before I encountered Ellen Davis, an Old Testament scholar who exegetes the text with velvet elegance and surgical precision. I read Getting Involved with God and was seduced by her genteel voice that never once muted the razor edge of prophetic words—such skilled grace with explosive texts. She reminded me of all the jewels in this portion of our sacred canon. I remember wanting everyone who struggled with the value of the Old Testament to take and read this book in a hurry!

Leigh indicated the book had a similar effect on her—once she committed to reading it. Antonia and Emily have each shared how her introduction wooed them into deeper reflections that hit closer to home. And I find myself soaking in the goodness of her final section, a closing salvo that focuses not on one book of the Old Testament but on the sweep of wisdom on one topic—ecology.

She’s the first to recognize that Biblical ecology may sound like an oxymoron. The church has not given creation its due, racing through the goodness of Days One to Five to get to Day Six where humanity makes a debut. In our rush we miss the twin statements of Genesis 1 and 2 about human vocation. Connected to both divinity and soil, humanity must represent God’s benevolent dominion in the world and get our hands dirty working and watching over creation. Regarding earth’s soil, which is more relative than resource Davis points out, we are to serve it, observe it and keep it.

After sweeping explication of the biblical texts from Genesis, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Job and Hosea she arrives to a comment on good-faith eating. From text to table, she brings good theology as close as the plate in front of us at suppertime. A simple summary won’t do her work justice, let me suffice by saying if you believe in eating your vegetables then read this chapter for some theological nourishment!

Here is what comes to mind when I close this chapter—there is a reason I eat the way I do. Perfumed red berries and crisp watermelon in summertime; carrots, parsnips and fennel roasting in rotation during the winter months, eagerly awaiting the arrival of tender spring asparagus to the farm stand. It matters to eat and enjoy in season, falling in line with the rhythm of the soil—our partner in good living.

 Maybe respecting what the earth gives means paying attention to the goodness of each place and its unique offering. I know that the pineapple I eat each Burundian summer, straight from the reddened soil to my sun-soaked table, tastes sweeter than the ones imported from Hawaii to Arizona (my other home). I can’t eat pineapple out of season, out of a rightful region, any more. And the mangos in season, in well-suited soil, are jewels I hunger for all year long. It is worth waiting to eat them with my feet on the local soil, a tribute to the sweetness of this land.

My Achilles’ heel is the lush avocado. I crave them year round and will eat them despite where they are trucked in from, honestly. But I can tell you they are best and most guilt-free when eaten in Burundi where, again, they are within arm’s reach. The soil offers such generosity when we enjoy what is on offer right in front of us and don’t succumb to over-reaching.

These quick observations make me think that my menu planning and market selection, my dinner preparation and eating all are connected to some deeper things. Maybe theology does come tableside when we engage the text with attention (and the help of a good scholar-friend like Ellen Davis).

Maybe we can literally taste and see the goodness of the Lord when we serve, observe and keep the soil. Maybe this is the ultimate table grace, a celebration of the earth’s bounty, God’s goodness and our rightful collaboration with both. Ellen Davis, a student of the Scripture, leads me to believe this is true. I can only invite you to the table—take and read, take and eat, take a seat at the table where Creator and creation sit together in delicious harmony.

Questions to Consider

  • Have you ever considered Biblical ecology before?
  • What does good-faith eating look like for you?
  • What is a practical change you have made  (or plan to make) regarding ecology (food, earth, etc.)?
  • What other concepts in Getting Involved With God resonated with you? Any final thoughts on the book as a whole?


Our June book is Soil & Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith by Fred Bahnson. Come back Wednesday, June 4 for the introduction to the book. There will be a reflection post from Cara Meredith on Wednesday June 18 and Sarah Caldwell will lead our discussion on Wednesday, June 25. Plus, we’ll be announcing the Third Quarter Books on Wednesday June 11!

For on-going discussion each month, join The Red Couch Facebook group.

Disclosure : Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley is co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi. She is also the author of Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World (Eerdmans).
Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley Nikondeha

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  1. pastordt says:

    Wonderful post, Kelley. If I can just manage to add MORE BOOKS to the pile . . . sigh.

  2. This post is so wonderful! ( “an Old Testament scholar who exegetes the text with velvet elegance and surgical precision”–yes please!) This whole post so beautifully leads into the discussion hopefully to come next month with Soil & Sacrament!) I am sad that we have been crazy-busy with moving for me not to have time to read this book, but I have loved every post and the discussion on Facebook – I look forward to reading it later this summer or fall. Literally tasting and seeing the goodness of the Lord as we keep the soil – yes, and amen. Thank you Kelley! (And oh, how I am an avocado and tomatoes-in-the-summer when they come straight from the garden kind of gal too! Gets my mouth watering for the goodness of the land in summer.)

  3. sandyhay says:

    I was finally able to finish this last night. There’s no way I would have picked it up without the incentive of Red Couch Book Club. THANK YOU.:) Never thought about biblical ecology before but Ellen has certainly opened my eyes. Over the past three years or so I have definitely been searching for Farm to Table produce, eggs and some great spices in my local area, organic if possible. Eating certain foods in season, like cherries and corn on the cob!!!!!!! My favorites and out of season they’re terrible. I eat more vegetarian meals but I’m definitely not ready to eliminate meat, fish or chicken . I do again search for local or raised and slaughtered with the highest standards. The costs are much higher 🙁 I probably ate this way as a kid back in the 50’s but the 60’s changed LOTS for all of us, especially junk food, processed foods and GMO development…hmmm.

    I’ve underlined and starred LOTS in this book but 2 jumped at me. The first is about Psalms of lament Pg 28: ” If you have the courage (and it will take some), try turning the psalm a full 180 degrees, until it is directed at yourself, and ask: Is there anyone in the community of God’s people who might want to say this to God about me-or maybe about us”. And then Isaiah 49 pg 77: “…the servant’s preparation for effective public ministry occurs in out-of-the-way places, where perhaps no one else much notices, approves of, or is grateful for what we do. It is the hidden places where we are most closely under God’s protective care.” Amen

    • Love hearing this, Sandy! I bet you’re happy summer’s here- lots of cherries and corn on the cob in your future. I finished reading Eating Animals last night and was surprised by how much more there is to learn about the animal farming industry. I thought I was fairly well versed already! I’m glad so many more people are trying to eat ethically.

  4. I am so bummed – this is the book I was most looking forward to and somehow May turned into the busiest month…. I am looking forward to reading it and rereading these amazing commentaries! Based only on experience (and not the book…) I totally agree with Biblical ecology. We try hard to grow or buy locally as much as possible. We’re definitely not the best at it, but adjust our budget so that food is high priority. I think that taking care of the earth is such an important form of worship! Thank you for these thoughts. Even without having read, I feel that this is an important conversation to start!

    • Totally understand how crazy life can get! Hope you’ll get a chance to read this book some other time. You’ll definitely appreciate her perspective.

  5. Oh wow, this is a fascinating post Kelley. Good faith eating…I’ll have to ponder that one awhile. I know that during my pregnancy, my midwife suggests eating domestic fruits and veggies, as they have a gentler affect on the body system. I love that. I’m so thankful we have stone fruits and blueberries and cherries that grow locally. But there’s nothing like a good mango or avocado. I’m so happy you’re tucking into the bounty of that red soil. Sounds just wonderful.

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