Composting Preservatives

Composting is the process of recycling organic matter. Leaves. Grass clippings. Scraps of food. Things that were once full of life and are in the process of breaking down and dying.

To compost efficiently and effectively, there is a bit of an art to it. While one can just throw food scraps in a pile to rot, it might not be something that you want to put in your garden afterward. It might attract rodents and it might take a long time to turn into compost.

To create compost that you might want to stick in your garden, it has been found that a mixture of nitrogen rich “greens” – like fruits and vegetable scraps and grass clippings – and carbon rich “browns,” like cardboard, wood chips, and leaves, are needed to create a rich compost pile that doesn’t stink. Then all your pile needs is water and heat. I know some folks even water the compost pile daily.

In composting, what was once life, falls to the ground and dies. Decays. Breaks apart. In doing so,it helps create the possibility for new life to exist.

Throughout the gospels, farming metaphors, parables, and allegories are used often. In the other three gospels, Jesus tells stories of farmers sowing seed on different qualities of soil. Some seeds fell on the rocky soil,some the good soil. However, Jesus’ imagery in the gospel of John, which was ready beautifully by logos, is significantly different from the story of sower in the other three gospels. Jesus, in this imagery, is foreshadowing his own death.

In John, Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

Jesus’ death was to bring “many seeds.” It was to bare fruit.

One of my hobbies is to walk around in parks in the fall, and collect seeds from trees. I take the seeds home, and do a little research in my book on starting trees from seed.

In regions like Ohio that have winters, many of the seeds that I collect from indigenous trees need something called cold stratification. They need a period of time, usually 60-90 days of under 40 degree weather, in order to produce a seedling in the spring.

There are multiple ways of doing this, but what I do is take the seed, remove any coating that the seed has, and place them in a ziplock bag of moist peat moss. Then I take all my bags and place them in a 5 gallon bucket outside for them to be in the cold throughout the winter.

Here is a bag of sugar maples. If you look closely, you can see that they are sending out little radicals or roots. They are ready to be planted and watered. Unfortunately, we are a few months too early to plant because these would freeze outside.

For the seeds to grow, they need to experience a type of dormancy. A type of death. They need to dry up in the autumn and fall off the tree. They need to be placed in cold harsh conditions. They need to wait in the darkness, buried in the dirt. The recipe for life, is a type of death.

Jesus’s allegory is not too different from my tree planting. Or from compost. In his death, there would be the possibility for more life. In our passage, Jesus goes on to say,

“Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

This is again a very common saying of Jesus in many of the gospels. It occurs 4 other times in the other gospels.

Matthew 10:39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 16:25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

Luke 9:24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.

Luke 17:33 Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.

This is contradictory. What do you mean if you lose it, you will preserve it? And if you try to keep it, will you lose it?

If I die, I die right? And so I should try to put that off as long as possible. That’s how you have a nice long life, right?

Jesus is questioning this logic that feels innate in our culture today. We have hospitals and a medical system whose goal is to put off death as long as possible. To sustain life as long as they can, no matter the cost. This is what we want… right? I should have the goal to live till I am 90, right?

It’s a logic of preservation. Preservatives. The kind of stuff we place in our food to make it last as long as it can. Preservatives do not compost well. When Chaska bakes homemade bread, we usually have to eat it within the week or mold will start growing. When I purchase a loaf of sliced wonder bread, I often can keep that in my cupboard for 3 weeks.

Sliced bread lasts longer, but which is better? Jesus’ wisdom is one more akin to compostable foods than one’s with preservatives.

A life of preservatives is one that is focused on sustaining. Its focused on accumulation. An accumulation of days on earth. Accumulation and consumption of things in order to survive as long as possible.

Jesus critiques this sort of life when he tells the rich young ruler to give up everything he has in order to have eternal life.

To give up one’s wealth feels like death. It’s a rejection of capitalism. A rejection of individualism. A rejection of security. It’s a rejection of the illusion that you will live forever.

Living a life that is focused on maximizing and preserving the amount of days you live, does not mean you will have a good life. Not in the sense that Jesus is calling us to.

Losing this sort of life – getting rid of the preservatives, Jesus believes, is needed in order to have life that is fruitful. That bares lots of seeds. That creates human flourishing.

But slowly getting rid of preservatives is hard. At the stage of life that I am in now, I am all about the preservatives. I am in the process of gaining all of the preservatives. Landing in a career that I love. Getting a job with regular pay, buying a house, putting money into retirement, buying insurance. All of these things are needed to survive in the United States in the 21st Century, and survive potential crises.

In this stage of life, I am doing what Swiss Psychoanalyst Carl Jung would call “building Ego.” Building up security. Building a sense of self. Jung argues that during the first decades of life, this is what you do. You find the things that you like and are good at. You find your friends. Your people. You study something in school that helps you prepare for a future job. You find jobs, community, and security. You are searching for who you are in the world, but you are doing it by attaching to all of these things to create your identity. And its totally normal. This is squarely in the stage that I am in, and I am guessing most of us under 40 are in. You are building who you are – well at least who you think you are.

But then Jung suggests that isn’t actually you. Its just ego building.

You aren’t your favorite band. Favorite sports team. The house that you live in. Your job title. Your yearly wage or 401K. Your grade point average. Your athletic ability. Your social media image. Your good looks. Your beautiful garden. Your religious knowledge.

All of that will disappear. All of that will die. And then what?


Jung talks about a second half of life. And you do not get to the second half of life by doing this type of Ego building the rest of your life. You do not get to the second half of life through accumulating. Through buying. Through preserving.

You get to the second half of life by everything falling apart.

Through your ego that you built being fractured. This may be what Jesus is talking about when he says, “whoever loses their life will preserve it.”

Losing the first half of life can happen a couple of different ways. A crisis can cause it. A crisis of faith. A crisis as a result of the death of a loved one. Through losing your job. An end of a relationship.

When these crises hit, the veil that was over one’s eyes is torn. What you have been working so hard to build did not work. It failed you.

I have a friend who lost his 1 year old son this past fall. A couple of weeks after his son’s funeral, I hung out with him for an afternoon. He shared a lot about how he is processing this death. Something that he said still sticks with me. He said that “everyone else are just amateurs at life.”

What I think he was getting at, is that yes there are hard things that happen. And then there are the things that flip your world upside down. That destroys your life. It changes everything. The amateurs are still doing all of the basic ego building . The pros have gone through the real crap, the rotting fruits and veggies in the compost pile, they have experienced death. Their old lives have long since decomposed on the compost pile.

Then what is next?

In the second half of life -which you are hearing from a 32 year old that has experienced some hard things, but is very much so in the ego building stage- is where your values, and passion and longings start to line up. Where you begin to listen to that mysterious “calling.” Something that you were unable to hear clearly in the noise of ego building. In order to find this calling, that first half of life, the ego building, the training and the job finding, and the community finding, and money making, needs to die. To be lost.

That first half of life went into the compost. Preservatives and all. Like in compost, probably the more preservatives, the longer and harder the breaking down process might be. This dying process, from the perspective of someone in the first half of life looks terrifying. I don’t want to give up everything I have, like the young rich ruler, to let my life crash down. But it is in the crashing down that you have the space to listen. To rethink. To realign.

I am not calling the crashing down – the dying – a good thing. That experiencing pain is good for you. I am saying that when life comes crashing down. When everything is lost, there is spaciousness for something new. Something different.

Its so ease to compromise values when you are trying to build up a life. You find yourself doing things that you never thought you would be doing. But when it crashes, you can restart.

At this point, that calling might be clearer. What mattered so much in the past, does not matter so much any more. But it is crucial at this point that you are listening deeply, or you might just get back to ego building again.

One seed dying, stratified in the cold winter, can bring about a large tree that can bear a lot of fruit. Fruit to share. Fruit that blesses others.

One scholar writes that this abundance of seeds that Jesus is referring to is the community of faith that comes out of this death of a seed.

When you crash to the bottom. When your previous life dies, community becomes the way forward. Your faith community becomes the people who walk with you into this second half. Your new way of life that is aligned with your longings and passions that creates beauty in the world. In community, your stories of death inspire others to question their preservatives. Living into this is a way of thinking about eternal life. A life lived that is deeper and more connected. A life that is no longer anxious about dying but passionate about a life well lived. An enteral life.

We cannot take this world with us past our physical deaths. And Jesus is inviting us towards this process early, so that the lives we live are ones worth living and are not just ones shooting for 90 years old because we are scared of dying. Each of our lives are compostable, no matter how many preservatives you have. And its not that our ego building was a waste. In thinking about our lives as compostable, what we build from our first half of life gets transformed. The skills and things that you made a part of who you developed into are composted into something new.

In lent, we emulate this a little bit when we give something up. We compost a little part of ourselves for a couple of weeks. We get a taste of death. We also get a taste of what the possibilities of life are after our first lives have been composted, and placed on the garden. And I want to also invite you to this. Yes, lent is this great season to try to die a little in this way. But you can do this at any point in your life. Take a break for something for a while. Shoot, there is no rule saying that you can’t give something up from now till easter. Perhaps starting now will inspire you to compost even more.

May we not live just to live as long as we can. But be open to dying so that we may truly live.


May God compost you so that you grow into abundant, internal and flourishing life.