The good dirt

Published 2:30 pm Saturday, August 26, 2017

by Andrew Book

I am originally from Atlanta, Georgia.  I am told that once upon a time Atlanta had good dirt — good in the sense that it was nutrient rich topsoil that grew things well. However, that was many years ago. My experience growing up in Atlanta was less about rich topsoil and much more about red Georgia clay.  The red clay in Georgia never seemed like good dirt to me. Instead, it seemed like the source of endless stains on every part of a young boy’s pants. Stains that likely would never come out. That didn’t seem like good dirt to me.

The dirt in Courtland is something altogether different. We moved here just over three years ago and brought a sandbox with us for our kids. Shortly after we arrived, I began asking myself if the sandbox was even necessary. The dirt here is so sandy, couldn’t we just dump the sand toys in the backyard and let the kids have fun? At first, it seemed like the only thing sandy soil was good for was providing a home for ants. How can it be good dirt?

As I have watched and learned, I have come to realize that both Georgia clay and the sandy Courtland soil have unique traits which make them, in their own way, good dirt. The role of clay in making pottery has played a huge role throughout human history. For centuries, people relied upon clay pots, jars, jugs and more. Pottery is more commonly decorative today, but for much of history, pottery has been essential. As a result, clay has been essential. There is no way to make pottery out of the “best” rich topsoil, so it turns out that clay is good dirt after all.

The same can be said about our sandy soil in western Tidewater. After a year or two in Courtland thinking our dirt was good-for-nothing, someone explained to me how important the sandy soil is for growing and harvesting peanuts. The soil may not be ideal for growing a nice lawn without sand spurs, but it is essential for harvesting peanuts. The way I understand it, it is impossible to harvest peanuts in other types of “good” soil because the peanuts stick to the dirt! So, it turns out, one of our central industries is rooted in the unique goodness of our own good dirt.

This Sunday, Courtland United Methodist Church is heading up to the Airfield conference center for worship, lunch, swimming, boating, fishing and lots of good conversation. I am excited about our time together for lots of reasons, but leading worship in nature leads me to reflecting about the world that we live in — the world that God created and called “good” (see the beginning of the Bible, Genesis 1).  The beginning of the Biblical story tells about how God made a good world and then tasked us with the responsibility of watching over it and caring for it. Unfortunately, it does not take long for the consequences of our actions to have a negative impact on the earth: Genesis 3 tells the story of “the fall” where Adam and Eve turn away from God’s guidance and instructions and, as a result, cursed the earth (Genesis 3:17).

As the ones who God has placed in charge of this good earth, we have been tasked with overseeing that which God made and God values. Even those parts of creation which we struggle to value are things which God has declared are good and placed in our hands. Just like the good dirt around us in Courtland and the good dirt in Georgia, all the pieces of God’s creation are good — if we can take the time to see and understand their place in God’s world.

So, as we worship in the beauty that is Airfield Conference Center this Sunday, I will be thinking about the good that is around us — and the ways we as people, tracing all the way back to the first man and woman, have struggled to be good caretakers of what God has made. I am going to be thinking and praying about how I can better be a part of valuing creation around me and saying myself, “This is good.” At the end of the day, if we can see something is good, then we come to value it and our actions begin to look a lot more like the actions of a caretaker!

We would love to have you join us for worship, lunch, swimming or more this Sunday. The party starts with worship at 11 a.m. at the Airfield Conference Center, 15189 Airfield Road. Follow the signs after you arrive.  Wherever you find yourself looking at God’s creation, remind yourself, “This is good. I need to treat it like it’s good.” See how that attitude shapes the way you live as one of those who has been entrusted with taking care of God’s creation!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or