Monday, September 14, 2009

Feeding the Hungry: Remembering Norman Borlaug

My church started a community garden this summer. Our tomatoes, beans, and greens now grace the shelves of our food bank. The inspiration for the garden came from simply seeing available land and hearing the dire need of our food bank. We turned a small patch of our church land into a bit of Gospel. We also had to learn by doing. It was our small attempt to answer Jesus’ call to feed the hungry.

Bread is central to the Gospel: Jesus offers himself as the bread of life. The Lord’s Supper represents the reality of Jesus’ work of redemption, and it is also a meal. The politics of food are the politics of Jesus, and they extend beyond any ideology.

So it is that many mourn the loss of Dr. Norman Borlaug, who passed away on Sept. 12th. Dr. Borlaug was the father of the Green Revolution, which has been responsible for feeding around a billion people. Put simply, the Green Revolution facilitated the development of smaller, high-yield plants. Its effects were dramatic. India, Pakistan, Mexico, and many other nations could grow enough food for their people by utilizing available land and cutting back on the older slash-and-burn methods. Dr. Borlaug did not accomplish this out of some ideological bent. He was no idealist; rather, he took a job near the end of WWII to help Mexican farmers. Seeing the hunger, seeing the poverty of the people and the land, and seeing the need, he acted on the simple proposition, “feed the hunger.”

His love of neighbor and enemy was prevalent in his work. While the Green Revolution was feeding hundreds of millions, he nonetheless listened to his opponents’ criticism about the use of pesticides and worked on using fewer pesticides. He was in constant motion, even into his nineties. Finally, he did his work not for riches or fame, but simply to feed people that needed feeding. He answered the call.

We can criticize the lack of fanfare that his life and passing away generated — hardly a blip on the 24-7 cycle. We can criticize how most people do not know Dr. Borlaug’s work, though I am sure the people eating the bread of his work are grateful. Yet, would it not be better to hear Jesus’ simple call to feed the hungry through the life of Dr. Borlaug? Would it not be better to follow his example of simplicity, tossing aside our ideologies? Remember that life is abundant, and that all we have to do is open our eyes and ears and listen to God’s music. I love the following quote by Dr. Borlaug, as it captures the man and his work. It is best to give him the last words:

“When wheat is ripening properly, when the wind is blowing across the field, you can hear the beards of the wheat rubbing together,” he told another biographer, Lennard Bickel. “They sound like the pine needles in a forest. It is a sweet, whispering music that once you hear, you never forget.”

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