Gene Logsdon and Friends

Trying To Make Sense Out Of The Last Supper

In Gene's Weekly Posts on March 16, 2011 at 8:42 am


From GENE LOGSDON

My new novel, Pope Mary and The Church of Almighty Good Food, is raising lots of eyebrows so maybe I should write something about it. The story takes place in the rural countryside which should be no surprise to readers familiar with my books. But this time the subject is very controversial for a lot of people: the closing of so many local churches. The inspiration for the book came from the closing of a little rural Catholic church that I can almost see across the fields from my place. Perhaps some churches do need to be closed because of dwindling congregations, but this one had the money and parishioners to keep on going just fine. Friends asked me why I cared, since I’m not a church goer anymore. First of all, I care because I think many small churches are closing for the same reason small farms are closing, that is, false notions about economics. The general thinking is that it is more profitable to cram more people into fewer, bigger churches just like it is more profitable to cram more hogs into fewer, bigger barns. I don’t buy that kind of banker talk anymore. Secondly, to me it is a matter of justice, not religion. That church was built and paid for (some of them were my ancestors) before there was a bishopric or diocese in this area. I don’t see how church authorities can close it against the will of the people who worship there.

Anyway, this dispute went to court, and unlike any other case I know about, the judge ruled against the church authorities. He ruled that this was a matter for civil law not church canon law and that the protestors could indeed hold legal title to the property. The upshot was that the protesting parishioners got their property back, not as a bonafide Catholic church anymore, but as a place they could meet for various community exercises like marriages and funerals. This was really an extraordinary court victory but it happened too far out in the countryside to attract public attention. So I decided to write a novel inspired by it.

That’s how it started out anyway, but when I get involved in writing novels, or anything else, the words end up going in directions I never envisaged, in this case rather far from the real event that inspired it. The fictional characters finally told me to go sit in the corner and let them handle the affair, which I was only too glad to do. Eventually, they figure out what they are going to do with the church that they have won title to, but can no longer use for regular church services. They turn their place of worship into a glorified restaurant and farm market of local food with nearby farmers kicking in land around the church for community gardens. So successful were their efforts that the pro-bishop forces and the anti-bishop forces decide to sit down together and eat in peace.

The heroine of the story is Pope Mary, so-called derisively by her critics, the pro-bishop supporters, and in good humor by her anti-bishop supporters, because she is forever brazenly pontificating on all subjects religious or agricultural and invariably turns out to be right. She has returned home from working at the Chicago Board of Trade, is farming with her father and gets drawn into the conflict mostly against her will. She is much more interested in another young farmer who just happens to be the grandson of the hero of my novel The Last of the Husbandmen.

The other main character is a seemingly mild-mannered priest who is having grave doubts about the theology he is supposed to uphold. He likes raising horses and sheep more than he likes quoting the bible and ends up being called the Lone Ranger because of his habit of riding his horse to the rural churches he is in charge of, to save on gas, he says as an excuse. The Lone Ranger and Pope Mary get involved in all sorts of adventures, from trying to figure out who broke down the locked church door to who scammed the diocese out of the closed church’s money, to how the bishop and the local government agricultural officials got outwitted, to who is in love with whom. Things turn out well for almost everyone and if you can get through the book without laughing at least once (even if you are a bishop) I’ll give you your money back.

Anyway, I was half way through the writing before I realized what my characters were telling me. In all religions (well, all Christian and Muslim sects anyway) the consumption of food is at the center of the worship ceremonies. The Eucharist or Communion service in Christian sects and Ramadan in Islam are really centered on spiritual and physical celebrations of eating communal meals, the Last Supper over and over again. Food really does, in an ecological sense anyway, transubstantiate or consubstantiate into body and blood, no big mystery about it. Food is supposed to be sacred, not fast.  Maybe I should have titled the novel “Holy Food,” to go with my other book, “Holy Shit.”
~~

  1. Is Pope Mary published? I’m not finding it on Amazon. Looks great, can’t wait to read it.

    deb

  2. Well —— the obvious humor here is that Holy Food would have to be a prequel. Your confidence in the laughs present in the book is warranted. I had several belly laughs and a lot of chuckles as well as some “ahhh” passages because of the beauty of the language. I appreciate the insight on the local events that inspired you originally. The creative muse is a mysterious thing but I guess if one accepts its existence then the “Mystical Body” might be a reasonable thing also.

    By the way, you are probably familiar with the author L.H. Bailey who was dean of Cornell’s ag school at the end of the 19th century but I was not. I just ran across a book he published around 1915 called “The Holy Earth”. I have not read it completely yet, but his ideas seem to be aligned with yours on the holiness of food and stewardship of the natural world.

  3. Gene, you have just reaffirmed my long-standing determination to have nothing to do with organized religion. While I know many people who practice (or don’t) a particular religion and who are good, kind folks, all too often, I see “the Church”–it doesn’t matter what the religion is–acting in ways that are neither just nor kind. Whether it’s the practice of shunning, condoning pedophilia or holy war, organized religion is, in too many cases, simply another hierarchical body demanding that I live in the way they have determined to be “correct”. As an example, I teach nursing students and professionals on the subject of domestic violence. I was doing some research regarding the impact of religion on the cultural “norms” of domestic violence–whether the official religion was a driving or a restraining force. Interestingly enough,while many people have the perspective that Islam is the worst in this respect, I did not find that to be the case. Examining the position in ancient India it is clear from the evidence in the Rigveda, the earliest literature of the Indo-Aryans, that women held an honorable place in early Indian society. There were a few Rigvedic hymns composed by women. Women had access to the highest knowledge and could participate in all religious ceremonies. In domestic life too she was respected and there is no suggestion of seclusion of women or child marriage. Later when the priestly Brahmans dominated society and religion lost its spontaneity and became a mass of ritual, we see a downward trend in the position accorded to women. The most relentless of the Brahman law givers was Manu, whose Code of Laws is the most anti-feminist literature one could find. At the outset Manu deprived women of their religious rights and spiritual life. Sudras (members of the lowest caste), slaves and women were prohibited from reading the Vedas. A woman could not attain heaven through any merit of her own. She could not worship or perform a sacrifice by herself. She could reach heaven only through implicit obedience to her husband, be he debauched or devoid of all virtues. How’s that for a religious influence?!
    Glad to see you take up such a touchy subject–bet you get a lot of discussion on this one.

  4. Saw a copy at Daniel and Ann’s and can’t wait to get my own. If JELLO ever goes out of business, so will the Lutherans…if they don’t all go extinct from drinking their lousy coffee :)

  5. I like the sound of this one. When will it be published?

  6. That’s fantastic. I’m excited to read this one. We’re LDS, and our church doesn’t do megacongregations– if gets above 300 people, we split. I think it does a lot to allow the congregation to really function as a community. We can probably get away with this because we don’t have paid clergy, so you don’t need a big critical mass to come up with a pastor’s salary; and the ministry workload is spread over the whole congregation. Everybody has some kind of job and everybody knows each other– Viva the community church.

    Also, Gene, are you familiar with an author named Vandana Shiva? You and she come from very different angles– she’s a political activist from India– but the core of what you both have to say is similar enough, it makes me giggle.

  7. Farmer Deb, Paula, the publisher is Wicker Park Press in Chicago, you can order it from them online. The book will be on Amazon soon, I’m sure. Mellifera, I know Vandana personally. Russ, I do not know that LHBailley book although I have read others of his. I’m a sort of fan of his. Gene

  8. Can’t wait to read the book Gene. I sense that there is also something deeper going on here that has not yet been mentioned but may be alluded to in the book itself. That is the ongoing lack of support for and demise of local communities. In earlier times (and in many places still) the community was the heart, soul and guiding light of every area in the rural world and the physical manifestation of that community was usually a store, a church and a bar at least. Take these away and you are removing some of the visible support that keeps that community alive; without it that spirit can only live on in the hearts of the people themselves and that can be tenuous. Down here in NZ we have just had a severe earthquake as you may know following on from a deadly mining disaster and it is disturbing to me each time to hear the local and central authorities calling on the communities to stand up and pull us through when they have done nothing to nurture or support that spirit in the past. I guess the same can be said for most of the Western world. To me they treat community spirit like a badly run savings account; a few sporadic minor deposits in and quite regular and hefty withdrawals out. I think you will agree that is not sustainable.

    Keep up the good work. I love it.

  9. Interesting. I have been working on a series of essays that all come under the overarching title of “Why I Am Not A Christian”

    http://www.thecompostfiles.blogspot.com

    It all stems from the fact that the church has gone so wrong because they’ve either abandoned the Word of God or reinterpreted it to say what they want it to say.

    You have to start with epistemology. Something is either true or it is not. How do you know? Then, once you find out, what do you do about it?

  10. Hello Gene,

    I just finished “Holy Shit” and I finished “The Lords of Folly” a week ago. I can’t decide which I like better, your novels or your non-fiction. Both are very well written and very engaging. I hope you have as much fun writing them as I do reading them. If you do, we are both better off. I can’t wait to read “Pope Mary”.
    Thank you for all that you do,

    Sincerely,

    Tucker N

    • Tucker N I really appreciate your response because I am trying to write novels in a somewhat different style from what I see out there. For a top notch pro bowl writer this would be risky. For a minor leaguer like me it is perilously reckless. The fact that there are at least a few people who like what I’m doing enough to say so is not just gratifying but helpful and hopeful. Gene Logsdon

  11. Beth Greenwood, I much appreciate your observations about early India and religion. That the Rigveda placed a high regard on women was a new discovery for me. I think what you are saying holds true for early Islam and early Christianity too. Mohammed, the original Mohammed, was sheltered from prosecution by the reigning “old men” of his time by a Christian community. How about that. I like your phrase, the “loss of spontaneity” in institutionalized religion. John Finlayson, in my estimation you are one hundred thousand times right and you say it perfectly well. The local will always be viewed by Power as a threat because of course it is. We all fall for it in a way. We overlook the greatness of people in our own neighborhoods and imagine greatness in far away places that isn’t nearly as great as it sounds. Moshe Ben-David, yes two opposites cannot both be true. But I know religious people who are even more convinced of the one opposite as I am of the other, so we are still left with the dilemma. What to do about it? I am the coward. My instinct is to run off and hide in the woods. Gene

  12. Somehow this reminds me of the middle ages. In books like “Life in a Medieval Village” by Frances and Joseph Gies, you read time and again about how churches were tied to land. The local church raised its own food, on its own land, and through tithes from the local land holders. In times of famine people would go to the churches because they usually had food available. The churches owned so much land that there was a huge political argument in England at one point because the churches had tied up a significant amount of mineable coal on the land they owned.

    When you know something of the history, it becomes pretty clear that the churches have become unrooted due to economics. Somewhen along the line, the church became less about the people and land, and more about the people and money. But then again, I suppose people themselves have become disconnected from land, so it all makes some sense, if you ignore that it’s all based on nonsense.

  13. You are correct Gene. Western churches are receiving just reward for their greed and flawed vision of what God meant for The Church to be. Those who borrow money and owe more than they are worth wager against a very uncertain future (whether they be farmers, parishioners, or families). In that type of economy the music inevitably stops and someone is left without a chair (or pew, or crop, or house).
    The early church owned nothing, but they shared everything. Fortunately, many in America are finding food, fellowship, and faith in home-based churches free of the buildings, budgets, and big shots that everyone mistakenly calls The Church.
    It isn’t (and never has been) about the building.

  14. The last bastions of the Church being tied to the land were many of the monasteries. In 1968, I toured St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa and the monks had a full working farm to supply their needs and that of the college. Of course, it doesn’t exist now. I have no interest in the Church or organized religion -it’s largely a money-making scheme and a forum for haters and bigots.

    If you run to the woods when faced with a tough conflict, it is probably the best place. If there is a God, he resides there, and in the farm fields and wild places, not in a cold church building.

  15. One name:
    Fr. Vincent McNabb

    Have you read his “THe Church and the Land”? It will knock your socks off! (ANd most likely affect the views of many of your commentors…) It’d be a good one to take to the woods.

    http://www.littleflowerfarmcsa.blogspot.com is the website for our farm…and place that has been and continues to be inspired by McNabbs flaming prose.
    There are still monks tied to the land. There are still brothers in monastaries chanting the office of prayer and making cheese from secret and ancient recipes from Europe (ClearCreek Monastery, OK)…and pretty much propping the rest of us up by their steadfast pursuit of romance with God.
    McNabb’s point often is very simply. In order for Man’s dignity to be fulfilled, and his needs to be met, a return to the land is paramount. And, he adds, a return to dancing and songs, and prayer…that “God may once again walk with man in the cornfields”.

  16. McNabb also mourns the loss of country parishes…and although he wrote some time ago…he points out that the majority of religious vocations were coming from the country, and not the city…Why, he asks, Does the Church concentrate so much of her effort in the city rather than the countryside??
    We might ask the same about any politcal agenda.
    There is a rootedness to life when living in a small rural community. When you work a piece of land you leave an image of yourself in it…and that kind of tie goes far beyond legal ownership…It is the stuff of poetry-not signitures and mortgages.
    A country that does not invest in this smallness of things, in families, rural communities and parishes, and small farms…has no healthy root system for its mamoth edfice of engineers, scientists, and lawyers.
    Every Spring attempts to persuade us to this way of thinking…of the value of smallness, and thus rootedness. All the seeds that later become our summer glory are so tiny!

    Some of the disatisfaction I have felt, while raising my CAtholic family on a CSA farm, is how disconnected a church 20 minutes away seems to the thrum and sciffs of daily dirty life on the farm. But I recognize that this disconnect is certainly not specific to the churches…but of society in general. We are willing to ignore certain ridiculosities if it means we can sit back on a sofa with Prime Time and chips and soda. I myself am hindered by my own overblown admiration for icecream! Yet I admit that this is a paradox in me…and probably an imperfection.

  17. Gene, I’ve read Pope Mary … and fashioned a sermon around it for this weekend. Food, sustainability, and religion are topics dear to my Unitarian congregation, as are your general sensibilities around these themes. I’m recommending your novel as a good read. Thanks much.

  18. Chiara, will check out the Rev. McNabb. your website is wonderful. Until I got into this web madness, I didn’t realize that I was not alone, that there were others doing like we do only better.
    Ed Searl, I really appreciate your reaction. I need to know that my book is maybe more than just a weird and offbeat tale. What was your congregation’s reaction to your sermon? Gene Logsdon

  19. Gene,

    2 years ago we were selling my wedding jewelery to pay rent, buy dairy goats, and get started with chickens. We were clutching our worn copies of John Seymour and the Contrary Farmer shaking in our boots…and delirously excited that we were tired, dirty, and doing it…we were farming. I owe you a batch of cookies, and a huge thank you. Thanks for stopping by our blog too. There’s a chair waiting for you in front of our woodstove…

  20. Re. April 3 sermon based on your book: Your ideas/opinions were well received. A few went home and immediately posted on Facebook your blog and mention of “Pope Mary.” It dawned on another that you might have had a hand in their favorite cookbook on pies during your tenure as an editor of Farm Journal. A few former Ohioans asked me if I knew where your farm is located. Another thought she had just read a review of your book in the Chicago Tribune. So, there was much interest and enthusiasm, as well as resonance with the religious naturalism. The text of my remarks are at searlsermons.blogspot.com.

    • Ed Searl: your review of Pope Mary and comments about me were very kind and thorough and thoughtful. I would like to reprint it here if you will allow it and if my partner in this blog agrees. You went right to the heart of the matter about food and spirituality as I feared no one would. But what I really appreciated was your inclusion of that long ago poem I wrote about my mother. The fact that you have carried it around with you. The poem was and is so important to me because her untimely death started me on the road back home. But I didn’t think anyone ever noticed it in the public print. You made my day. No, you made my year. Gene

      • Gene, you have my permission to reprint my remarks. That I have carried your poem “Roots” around with me for more than 30 years speaks to its impact for me.

  21. A tutor of mine in College was fond of saying that if we wanted to convert a man he’d take him to a pub for a beer.

    Isn’t the whole point of the incarnation of Christ, that we required a real flesh and blood man to save our souls…precisely because we are not just spirit…but matter too?

    Our being both matter AND form (and all creation being that) can be seen as a poem, and a fortelling for the great act of the incarnation…just as all suppers approach wonderfulness in so far as they approach the last supper, in which the most complete and beautiful of communions was offered.

    Rev. Vincent McNabb says that Holy Communion is not holy because it is made of wheat, a fruit of the earth…but that wheat is holy because it is necessary for the great sacrament of the altar…and because of that he muses that farming is a great responsibility of the church…one that the church too often ignores.

    And here’s the thing of it:
    All knowing comes first from the senses…it’s this beautiful poetry of living,that the glorious and eternal soul has to stoop to the receivings of the eyes, nose, mouth, and skin…
    It’s always the first step, the senses…we can’t comprehend a last supper unless we first contemplate a supper simply…and because this is a first step, it is one many can share without too much difficulty…which is why a Church of Almighty Good Food is a good beginning…

    But I think it is only a beginning…and one that gets it’s beginning-ness from the end…

  22. I’m a bit slow on things so I was unaware you wrote books…I just found your site the other day while web surfing and you sounded like a good sort of fella, so here I am.
    That’s my story and I’m stickin to it.
    Anyways…think I’d like to read your book and to let you know I’m glad to make your acquiantnce.

  23. Tina, glad to make your acquaintance too and I have a hunch you will enjoy the wonderful group of witty readers who respond here. Gene

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