Stephanie Smith’s wants evangelicals to learn from locavores:

It’s true that we need to carefully discern our living patterns and what informs them, as Anderson suggests, from evangelical impulses which are true and that which are false, as well as worldly influences. But I would also add that there are cultural examples the church might benefit to learn from. Because if our evangelical inattention to the body results in inconsistent living, others have inversely made a religion out of the body to which they devote themselves, in both word and action.

For example, I go to a farmer’s market every week. The same people are always there, beekeepers, farmers, and “locavores”—all people who have significantly rearranged their lifestyles to accommodate their ideology of sustainability, environmental care, and organic foods. Regardless of your views on the new food movement, its proponents admirably demonstrate the commitment to marry their convictions with practical, daily living.

Stephanie’s point here brings into relief one of the (many) aspects of the book that I would love to go back and clarify:  if the problem is evangelical attention, then the solution isn’t solely attention.

Stephanie is exactly right that others have “inversely made a religion out of the body,” and while she picks locavores as a healthy example, she might have also picked the yoga or gym crowds.  Such folks may not have rearranged their lives around sustainability or organic foods, but get into the culture deep enough and they’ve certainly arranged their schedule around the body. 

But then, so has everyone else, at least in one way or another.  Even the most gnostic evangelical (and once you meet a real gnostic, like I have recently, you won’t pull the trigger on that label quite so quickly) arranges the schedule to fit three meals a day.  They may not have attended to the systemic features of their food as much as a locavore would demand, but they’ll thank God for the chicken regardless.

The difference, of course, is that the locavore has become rather self-conscious about the body, the way a runner might become self-conscious about his form.  Such attentiveness is a step, but unless the rails are in place, it may not be a helpful one.  People who stop with being simply attentive to the body often manage the unholy combination of being miserably insufferable, as they make the molding of their bodies a form of self-conscious self-righteousness and then attempt to take the rest of us down too.  There are few things more burdensome than a fellow who has lost his freedom to not drink, and can’t understand the desire to preserve it.

The trick, in other words, is being attentive to the body in the right way.  If we are going to rearrange our practices and our schedule, we must have a pattern, a pattern that challenges the locavores and the yoga-goers as much as anyone else.  For while we might look around to various communities to see how they do things, we are looking in the shadows.  Only the church can make our attentiveness holy, for it is at the cross that our bodies can find their worth.


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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. ‘Only the church can make our attentiveness holy, for it is at the cross that our bodies can find their worth.’

    A library could be filled with books, with their basis just in that last sentence.


    1. Matthew Lee Anderson October 26, 2011 at 10:48 am

      Totally agree, Greg. I wish I had put it that way in the book itself. : )



  2. And the trickier trick is that there will needfully be many more than one “right ways”. Age, gender, what we do for a living, disabilities and health conditions, all collectively bumping against one another in the church and in the family….

    I think that’s why the church has been so largely inattentive. It’s just a massively complicated issue. Us evangelicals either like things super-loose, or super-tight. Like clothing, neither of those options serves us well.


    1. Matthew Lee Anderson October 30, 2011 at 7:36 pm

      This is exactly right. Because it’s the body, it’s right at the intersection of theology and people’s experience. And that’s precisely what makes it fun!


  3. Great post! Totally got me thinking about my routines…

    In particular, though, when you said,

    ‘The trick, in other words, is being attentive to the body in the right way.’

    I was wondering, isn’t there always areas we are unable to know about the body and the bodies needs. I’m not saying, we will never know how to cure XYZ plague or cancer. Rather, sometimes we eat brocoli, when really, we should have eaten carrots. At least, later, we come to learn this. We will always be attentive to the body in the wrong way, in fact, it is almost guaranteed to happen when we think it is the right way.

    Can’t wait to hear your response! Again, thanks!


    1. Matthew Lee Anderson October 30, 2011 at 7:42 pm

      Rene, thanks for the comment, and I apologize for my delayed response. I was in Chicago for an overnight trip on Thursday, and have just been buried from it.

      That said, your question is *so* good, *so*, *so* good. I think I didn’t nearly specify (here, or in the book) exactly what the “right way” is, but I think you’ve gotten on to one of the core problems. It’s possible, for instance, to become so obsessive with doing “the right thing” that we wouldn’t eat anything at all because we can’t know which is better for us in the grand scheme of things. But that doesn’t seem healthy. And so I tend to think that the “right way” means something closer to, “the way that seems best to us after deliberation and prayer,” acknowledging that we could definitely get it wrong but that getting it wrong won’t kill us.

      In other words, I think there’s a real place for relaxing about what the right way is and simply trusting that if we eat the wrong thing, all shall turn out well in the end. However, once we learn what the right way is, then I think we harm ourselves MORE if we don’t pursue it, in that we make ourselves less capable of choosing it in the future.

      Does that make any sense? Love this question a lot.



  4. Its an informative discussion. Thank you.


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