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Composting the (Holy) Cow

Our friend, Maggie, lives not far from us on a family farm with her three little kids and husband. Not long ago, one of their cows died. And do you know what they did with it? They put the whole dead cow in the middle of a huge compost pile!

Over the next nine to ten months, and with regularly turning, the dead cow slowly decomposed. You could walk by the pile in the grip of winter and see and feel the heat rise from this natural organic process. Eventually, what had been a dead cow became rich, fertile material to amend the farm’s soil and grow healthier, nutrient-rich crops. “It’s all about the soil.” any farmer will tell you.

This dead-cow-in-the-compost is a great image of what happened to our faith 15 years ago. We stood before the compost pile of more than 25 years of ministry shaped by evangelical theology and practice. Heat was rising within us from the angst and disillusionment we felt after some heart-breaking actions were taken and decisions were made at the church where we served.

In one dramatic and decisive moment, David and I chucked it all. We resigned from our pastoral roles and walked into a liberating and terrifying unknown. We weren’t sure what parts of our “holy cow” would survive if any. It looked like much had been tossed into the garbage. Yet over time, we discovered that something else was happening.

All our past religious experiences and theological training, our relationships with and views of the church and our approach to the Bible were being composted. Through active and rigorous lament (crying out to God, grieving in the presence of God), the composite of our faith was turned over, again and again. What we believed, what we stood for, and what we could no longer stand for were broken down through the process of surrender.

And eventually, though much longer than nine or ten months, the soil in our hearts began to transform. The gristle was broken down; the carcass and flesh re-formed. It’s a mystery, a grace, and somewhat puzzling how it all happened. Much of the time the work of God in us was hidden and unrecognizable. It was a difficult and painful time. Yet the result has been dramatic and necessary!

During those years of composting, we often wondered what would be left after the breakdown—or should I say break-up? Now we know that true to the process, the work of God in and through composting has transformed our hearts into richer, more tillable soil, so that God’s seeds of love and good desires have a better place to root and grow. After all, “It’s all about the soil.”

Here’s a question for you:

We meet with many people who describe themselves in a season of “deconstructing” their faith. If you are or have been in a similar season, how is the idea of composting helpful or unhelpful to you?

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