Returning to the Garden

The Old Testament, rife with snippets of a single person making all the difference, little vignettes that are taught in Sunday schools and preached from pulpits to inspire us, to remind us that we may not know our role in the greater flow of God’s plan, yet when we answer the call, amazing things happen, begins with a garden story. A garden full of riches but then left too soon, a garden we are left seeking still. Anyone who works with the soil whether in a tiny garden plot or acreage as far as the eye can see, a collection of pots on the porch or hanging from a window sill, or borrowed space in a community garden, whatever level of gardener or farmer, all know that God is in the growing. No where is our dependence more clear than when we dig up dirt and push a seed into the ground, waiting, waiting, tending, only to have food come forth, as we watch the heavens provide rain and sunshine, as the seed produces more and more and we are able to share from our efforts. Yes, God meets us the garden. Thus the story of our Tithing Garden at church has felt holy from the beginning, a space set aside for several plots where folks can grow as they please with the old requirement that they donate 10% of the harvest to the local food bank. I thought I knew all about this garden, the full story of how it almost wasn’t this year, and then I heard the bigger story. A telling from a longer view, a deeper knowing, that convinced me that we never really leave gardens, that God will keep bringing us back.

Writing for our monthly church newsletter, I described all the people involved in making these small spots available and robust again. The Tithing Garden had been around for several years but almost didn’t happen this season. The man who had led this ministry told our director last fall that he was not feeling that call anymore, he needed to step away. Folks had not been tending their gardens, they were messy and ignored, filled with weeds and empty of produce. The director thought maybe the money our church spent on plowing and fertilizing and publicizing would be better spent in other directions, it may be time to let this go. Confession time: I had one of those horribly neglected plots. I wanted to tend it, I wanted to do good, yet it just wasn’t the right timing. Our world came to a screeching halt and we were barely able to tend to ourselves, but still, we hadn’t cared for the soil and the plants long before that event occurred. I think I was also a bit mad at God and had no desire to meet Him in the soil, to watch anything grow while my life had just been painfully pruned. Yet I championed the garden anyway. Several conversations over donuts and coffee, bugs in the ears of those who I know like to harvest and who are dedicated to putting seeds into the soil, I just knew maybe the right people hadn’t gotten involved yet. I had the opportunity to help a friend who owns her own flower shop during her busiest season, Valentine’s day, as a rider who jumped out of the car while someone else did the driving to deliver flowers all around the city. This gave me the chance to talk at length with a master gardener, maybe not an official one, but someone who has a deep passion and a house full of seedlings before winter has ended. The right people began to talk to each other, I gave names to the director.

Our Men’s group was looking for a project, they built new raised beds to enable more folks to access plots. The driver and the lead builder took over leadership of the garden. It is thriving this year. And the leader from last year? His faithful acknowledgment to back away was exactly God’s timing, his wife was diagnosed with cancer this spring and is benefitting from all of his attention. I thought this was the beautiful story, the way so many different people rose up at exactly the right time, to create food for themselves and for those in our community who are not as secure when dinner time hits. It is a powerful story in the life of our church but it is woefully incomplete.

Our church is nearing the 10th anniversary of our big move from the landlocked too small building we left to this new structure in the middle of fields, out in the country. Since our relocation, developers have followed, we are getting 700 new neighbors with many more to come. As we look back on our history and wonder at what lies ahead, the very first pastor of our congregation was asked to speak, a man I didn’t even know. When He first facilitated the unification of our Methodist congregation in 1969, land was purchased for a future church. Until it could be built, he and a fellow parishioner decided to each use it for gardening. One acre apiece, they plowed, planted, weeded, tended. Before he could harvest though, he was called to serve a different congregation, as is customary in the Methodist church.  Many families benefited from the work he began. He has since retired and come home to this area again, he worships now at the church he helped found. When he learned we had a Tithing Garden, he quickly claimed a plot and now donates not just 10% of the harvest but all to the local food bank. Once again he is gardening with our church, once again he is giving it all away.

We are truly actors in each other’s stories, connected across decades and lands and interests.  Sometimes we can see those little bits of goodness, those sprouts of our efforts.  Other times it is difficult to find our role amongst the weeds and the winters.  Without the wide angle view, zoomed out to include both the past and the coming days, it is impossible to know the impact of our “yes” and “no” to any question. A garden story that began almost 50 years ago is finding completion, a man who dug up soil and pulled away weeds is finally harvesting his beans. I think we have been faithful to the vision this first pastor had for us, as well as to what God has asked of us. He certainly has been faithful to God’s call to move and move and move again. Now he is back home to his first garden with our church.  With hundreds of choices and decisions and little conversations and the faithful listening to calls to become His hands and feet, I can see now we are all working our way back to the garden.


LGBTQ, Jesus and Purple Blankets

With curiosity, with anxiety, I read John Pavlovitz’s piece about Christians Making Atheists only to find much truth and plenty to convict my Christian faith in his words. Jesus is my truest best love, the one I know at my core and brings me to every relationship, how could I not want others to experience that grace? I know full well the power of forgiveness, what happens when a church decides to allow a sinner to participate and to serve, the healing that begins when the refreshing waters of new life discussed in sermons are truly shared with those who thirst for a second chance. I am that person who has come alive which has allowed me to make space for others to do so as well, I say yes when asked, grateful to be included and able to use gifts long laying dormant, waiting for my church home to recognize that my offerings, like the widow’s, may be scant but came from the deepest of my soul and could be used for great good. My church I think is open to sinners and saints alike, I am proof. Yet even with the labels I do carry, there are many that find headlines currently that I don’t wear, that maybe make it somewhat easier to accept this sinner.

As a United Methodist congregation, we are facing the challenge of taking a stance regarding LGBTQ as described here.  Our pastor has asked our members to prayerfully begin considering how we are to act on this new information, the opportunity to stand up for our brothers and sisters who love who they love without our censorship. This is a no-brainer for me, I want to open our hearts and minds and doors to those who deserve the level of acceptance and grace that I have experienced. I want everyone to taste and see the deliciousness that I find every time I walk through the doors, the coming home where my brokenness is not hidden but celebrated. How could I keep this only to myself, how could I ever feel better than, above, superior to anyone, that my sin is not as bad? Regardless of where one falls on the “homosexuality is a sin” continuum, it is clear that by sitting on the throne of judgement, we are practicing exclusion and not practicing a walk with Jesus.

My Plum was gone for 2 1/2 weeks, a planned vacation that I raised up as a concern and a joy to my friends and fellow worshipors one Sunday. I asked that they surround his family as they travel and also Chef and I as we were left without the joy-bringer, the giggler who delights and enlivens us. Finally yesterday my little shadow was home and ready to accompany me on errands, a trip to church for several quick meetings and the gathering of extra food in the kitchen to deliver to local non-profits who could use the donations. After a full day of traveling and a late night, he came to me in the now famous picachu pajamas, a bit grubby and carrying his much loved wad of a blanket. As we walked from the car to the church doors, he began to question not his attire, he stands by that choice, but the security blanket he was clutching. I reminded him that our church cares more about our insides than our outsides, that they love us for who we are and not what we look like. I told him friends inside might ask about Purple Blankie but would never mock him. He was immediately at peace, he told me other people outside of church might make fun of him but not our friends at church. Two steps inside, we both met Jesus.

The office staff have a practice of gathering each morning at a set time to share their own joys and concerns and circling up for a moment of prayer. We arrived just at this time, just as all were visible through the big office window as we entered the building. What happened next was so sacred, was so beautiful, so holy that I want to gush with joy at my church. All my family spontaneously raised hands to wave at my boy, tears of celebration of his return met mine through the glass, they welcomed him like the prodigal son. He stood taller, he swaggered a bit, he answered quick questions, he felt loved. My dirty little boy in pajamas entered church and found acceptance and cheers and grace. I could barely speak, how does one talk when Jesus is walking among you?

I want John Pavlovitz to know that my little church out in the cornfield in Indiana is working hard to get it right. I want everyone to know we are so incrediably full of grace that a child who began life such as my Plum did, who has experienced hardship and trauma is being taught that he matters and he is taking that teaching with him everyday. We may have a more difficult challenge reaching some of our older folks who learned that the bible says no more often than yes, but we are striving everyday to undo some harm and find space for sinners and saints and lovers and grumpy people and for those who wear their pj’s during the day. We are all little children inside, carrying a security blanket or teddy bear, wondering if we will be met with love or judgement. Let us remember to cheer the return of all who enter, surely Jesus is waiting to join in the celebration.



Open Those Doors

Secrets keep you sick. An old addictions adage that rings true outside of the realm of drug or alcohol use, one we utilize in our family often. A reminder that hiding behind masks and shielding others from my real self allows shame to rule, I have taken a different road this year. I have chosen to open up about my brokenness and the outpouring of support and grace has been overwhelming. New doors, the very ones I feared would always be closed, have widened, welcomed in me. I no longer have to look for that window or side door to sneak in, I go through the front and drink coffee with everyone else. I sit at the table, I am included.

Much has been and will be written about the election and what it means for our country, what it means about our country. Ultimately, I think though that our mask has been ripped off, we have been handed the opportunity to face our brokenness. We are a hurting nation, not because of the election but because we haven’t found a way to love ourselves enough to love others. We haven’t learned to trust those we share a pew with each Sunday with our real secrets. We are afraid to be authentic, afraid to be judged. We are surrounded by hurting people, we are hurting people, and yet we keep pretending that our marriages aren’t crumbling, our children aren’t being bullied, that we aren’t afraid we about to lose our homes. If we cannot talk about our own real stuff, how can we deal with the wider truths just outside our doors?  We show up each week, eat some donuts and adjust our masks. This week the veil fell away.

The good people in my mostly white congregation are scared, their children are afraid for their friends who don’t have the same color skin. The good people who may have been subjected to sexual harassment but never shared that pain are now open about fears for their daughters. Our masks are off and I am hopeful. We cannot really confront the pain of the widow, the hungry, the lost until we acknowledge we are among them. We are them. We are all sinners, we have hurt those around us by not doing enough, staying in our comfortable homes and sending money sometimes. We have not spoken up when the racist slur was hurled in our hearing. We have not spoken up in outrage as a congregation to say we do not support misogynistic views, we have not walked into African-American communities and asked how we can help.  I am hopeful now we will, now we will be mobilized by the shedding of masks, the fear and worry will turn to action.

I expect big things, amazing grace, to come from this election cycle. I expect America to get real. We made a clear start when we threw off the facades that covered our true selves. We won’t be shamed any longer, our secrets are out. We are distrustful, we are scared, we don’t really like people who don’t look or worship or love like we do. Sweeping these truths under the rug, keeping these as secrets, has kept us sick. The shame is still raw, opening up to the world about our dirtiness. That’s okay, the support will come. With each outstretched hand, each honest conversation, each trip into a neighborhood to share some food, the hurt will ease. We will be better than before, we will be real. We have a chance to begin healing, ourselves and our neighbors. Now it is time to get busy and open some doors.