The Garden: Inspiration for the Reimagining Health Collaborative

In the Bible, the story of humans begins in a garden. The first humans, formed from dust and breath, found their health maintained and sustained within a garden that contained “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2:9, NRSV).  This organic language – of cultivation rather than production, of growth rather than construction, of tending rather than making – has become central to the vision of the Reimagining Health Collaborative (RHC) at Duke Divinity School.

Of course, not all gardens (and farms) are the same – as anyone who enjoys tomatoes in a North Carolina summer knows very well. Consider two tomatoes, each of which appears red and ripe. The first tomato comes from a large industrial farm several states away where thousands of tomatoes are picked while green and shipped nationwide for a large grocery chain. On the outside it is beautiful, but on the inside it is dry with a mealy, less appetizing texture. The second tomato comes from a small, local farm down the road – an heirloom variety that the farmer knew would grow well in this particular climate. The farmer carefully tended the soil and the vine and, most importantly, picked the tomato at the height of freshness. The tomato from this plant was bright red, plump, and juicy.

What do tomatoes have to do with churches and health programming? One of the blessings of the church is that it is always local, located wherever Christians are gathered for worship and for life together. As such, Christian congregations are called to resemble community gardens and farms rather than industrial sites of production. We hope that RHC inspires participant congregations to cultivate programs that more closely resemble the second tomato. But this requires close attention to the conditions in which we garden. What if, before we create a new program or implement an existing one, we stop to look at what’s in the soil in our congregation? In our community? What’s missing from the soil? What does it mean to nourish our congregation and community? How can theology help us understand the Christian gifts, values and practices that will contribute to growing an abundant harvest?

As the work of churches in the RHC unfolds, these are the guiding principles that will help answer those questions in each congregation’s particular context. We look forward to sharing stories of the emerging work of RHC participants and the ways in which Christian gifts, values and practices can shape innovative and faithful practices of health and health care.