Giving back to the land

February 22, 2024 | News | Volume 28 Issue 4
David Driedger |
Photo by Artur Roman/Pexels

Our farmyard opened from its treelines to the south and southwest. A mile south, I could see the shelterbelts surrounding my paternal grandmother’s 1870s homestead. A few farmyards were dotted out in the horizon in the southwest, but looking that direction was mostly for watching weather systems develop, dissipate or roll in.


Truth be told, I never wanted to farm. I found Jesus in Grade 12, quit hockey and followed a nudge that led to a calling in ministry.


I volunteered with Mennonite Disaster Service in Northern California after high school and ventured into downtown San Francisco with a friend one weekend.


I had rarely been in downtown Winnipeg, never mind a big city. On one street, I remember seeing people lining the sidewalks with ragged blankets and cardboard. Then, as though to punctuate the scene, I saw someone squatting on the sidewalk having a bowel movement.


There was a strange resonance and dissonance that occurred which took me years to sift through. In that moment I saw something about human experience that was out of place, yet it unconsciously reminded me of the farm—these people corralled in rough and dirty spaces.


I learned early from Matthew 25 that if I hoped to encounter Jesus, I needed to be in the places where people were imprisoned or denied food, clothing, shelter and health care.


Since leaving the farm in the late ’90s, I have been drawn to core area of cities.


While we have mostly cleaned up our individual language about prejudices against poor or Indigenous folks, structurally it remains a fact that if you are Indigenous or live in the core areas of Winnipeg, on average, you can expect to knock a decade or two off your life compared to those who live in wealthier neighbourhoods.


Our society has the means but not the will to care for the basic needs of people, and so urban centres produce feedlots of people on riverbanks, in slum apartments and in rooming houses.


If we consider this reality at all, it is often met with a sigh and accepted as bad luck, bad choices or just the way of the world.


While my theology has kept me in the city, my spirit and imagination have been drawing me back to the land.


Recently, I spent a weekend alone on the farmyard where I grew up. Walking around outside, I felt the sheer space. I thought about what and who it could all hold, in terms of food, housing and cultural or spiritual practices.


The world and its economic structure can produce massive profits, but it is not designed to provide collective care. The world’s system does not have the capacity for collective care, but the land still does.


I stand to inherit some of this land. It’s land that was designed to be the base of the Canadian project, which was the British Imperial project, which was the Christendom project.


That project required people and land to be colonized—that is, disciplined and assimilated for a specific goal that has passed on into the integrated global system of capitalism.


For all its might, this system has proved unable to care for people and land, or to allow land and people to care for each other.


It is a system that demands we become increasingly invested in its promises and payouts as opposed to investing in each other. I need to be clear, most of all to myself, that I remain a part of this system and its investments.


It would be nice to end with an idealized statement about what I will do in the future, but I don’t know.


I have slowly built relationships with those who see the harm of this system and those who already suffer under it—relationships with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, Christians and non-Christians. I am praying for a form of justice and healing in which we give land back its opportunity and ability to care for us.


For Christians, this is a Sabbath practice. Live in right relationship with the land and, even when you rest, it will provide.


When I walked my farm and field, the power of what the land offers was palpable. I could feel the space and what it could carry and who it could hold.


I pray for the faith to give land back its opportunity to do just that.


David Driedger grew up on a mixed farm between Altona and Gretna, Manitoba. He currently lives and works in the West End of Winnipeg, where he is leading minister of First Mennonite Church. 

Photo by Artur Roman/Pexels

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