There is soil in my yard that calls out to me. Soil is like the womb from which the seed issues forth life; no, more than “like that” it is exactly that. It is there looking to nurture, to feed and to give of itself until it is spent; it is the potential for growth and for tomorrow.
The soil calls out for the seed. They are meant for one another and neither is truly complete without the other. Together they are the future not yet born, apart they remain just potential, frustratingly close to becoming something, agonizingly near to being something other than what they already are, on the very verge of becoming.
You plant a seed in good soil and then you water and tend, pulling the weeds that might choke and fertilizing the soil to give the best growth. You worry and fuss and micromanage until you realize that for the most part the garden grows the best when you leave it alone for long periods of time, only intervening when the situation warrants.
In the garden you plant the seed to see the produce, to eat the lettuce, the carrot or the tomato. When you plant the seed there is already a picture in your mind of how the plant will grow, you build a cage or a trellis for the climbing ones, you make sure that there is enough room around the bushy ones. You need sandier soil for carrots so that the roots can grow long and strong, you don’t have to worry so much about potatoes, they’ll grown in almost anything.
Soon the picture forms in your head of the entire garden, early snap peas and fava beans giving way midway through the summer to pole beans and, well if you have a child in the house, more snap peas. Onions and garlic planted alongside the tomatoes since they grow well next to one another. Some of this you read about in the gardening books and the endless gardening magazines, which despite the fact that most people plant more than one kind of plant in the gardens, the magazines seem to be totally focused on tomatoes and how to get more of them, and bigger too.
In simpler times you held back some of the produce of the vine and bush, setting it aside and watching it over-ripen and then go soft. You saved the seeds from the impending muck so that this year’s crop might very well be followed by next year’s crop, which would then, in turn be followed by the next year’s crop. I’m sure that the Burpee Seed Company is chuckling at the notion since they have convinced us, it would seem that the garden has to be new and different every year and that means we should buy all new seeds, but what can you do?
This is ever more true in industrial gardening, called in this country agriculture, where companies strive mightily to create plants that do not produce fertile seed, ensuring that you have to buy new seed each year.
You almost never “dabble” in gardening. It is something that evolves over years, you learn a little and try and do better the next year. We planted tomatillos one year but after setting a amazing amount of fruit, all of that fruit withered on the vine and I plan on asking some gardening experts why that happened and how I can keep it from happening again. One year feeds the next year, and even if you only crop is beautiful rose bushes, over time you get slowly, progressively better at it.
One generation learns from the previous and each garden, while different, shows the inheritance it has from the one, the two, the thirty gardens that came before it. And as a famous former governor of Alaska and former US Secretary of the Interior Wally Hickel once said, “You can’t just let nature run wild,” though I think he may have been quoting someone else, and so nothing is just left to grow of its own accord.
You prune, and trim, and fertilize and, if you are so inclined to fancy terms and techniques, you might even espalier. Oddly enough considering how much you invest in nurturing the plant and providing for its health and well-being, you are, if honest with yourself and with God, not terribly interested in what the plant want for itself. We garden to get whatever it is we want from the plants, the vegetables, the fruits, the flowers, the figs the whatever.
We make straight the path as Isaiah might say, for the plant to grow but the path leads where we want it to, why do you think all of those magazines have tomatoes on the cover? More, bigger tomatoes are the universally acceptable goal in gardening and a lot of thought has been put into how to make the path lead there.
The path leads to high production, and the plants are pampered to that end. And when there’s a drought, we will sacrifice the lawn to save the tomatoes, and sacrifice the petunias to save the green beans, making sure that the veggies come through without being too stressed because that might lessen the yield.
If gardening were a dance, then there’s no question who is trying to lead, if gardening were choir, there’s no question who the director is.
Almost no one would sacrifice yield for the sake of what would help the plant have better chance of re-producing, after all, isn’t that what next year’s seed packets are for? The plant exists for us, this year, short term, and what will carry into the future is up to us to carry.
I was with Caitlyn at National History Day, a competition that was held at the Sonoma Academy. It should be noted for honesty’s sake, that I fundamentally disagree with private schooling, thinking instead that we should use our resources to educate everyone into the best they can be.
But while I was there, on the lovely grounds, what 30 million dollars will build you, I tell you it is an impressive place. I was walking from the parking spot at the far end of the lot, I need all the walking I can get, and I walked past the garden plot that they have set up on the grounds and I thought to myself how nice, they are at least teaching the kids about patience and planting and creating a vision for the future and all of the things that go with gardening and then I spotted something that brought my joy and appreciation crashing down.
Recently delivered, it would seem, was a fresh pile of what must have been very nice soil and it was there that I realized that while parallels could be drawn, raising a garden and raising a generation were two entirely different things.
We are, of course, interested in the produce of each, the child that will grow to be the teen that will grow to be the young adult that will grow to be the adult, and we want to make sure that both have what they need to thrive in the environment in which they are planted but I’m afraid we have made a mistake somewhere and have begun to seek a different produce from our gardens.
The pile of fresh soil exemplified it for me. “Let’s teach them about growing plants for food in the ground,” is the general idea we would assume, for the garden plot at the Sonoma Academy. But I would assume that the very nice raised beds were made by someone else, and that the ground was dug and the fence built and the soil delivered by someone else and the whole effort was embarked upon in order that the garden would succeed, having been given every advantage.
It was a mirror for the school, where the same philosophy applies only the seedlings that are being planted there are children. In the nicest environment, with the very best resources and tended according to the very best research they are anticipating a crop of exceptional quality, both in the garden and in the school because that’s how good children, good teen, good young-adults and good adults come about.
Just out of curiosity, is anyone here the product of such a regime? No shame, just a question. The vast majority (or entirety, depending on the outcome) were not lavished upon with the very best and yet, here you are years later, some of the finest people it has been my privilege to know, let alone minister to.
How do you suppose that happened? Happy, more or less well-adjusted adults gathered here worshiping their God without benefit of hot house.
Maybe we should spend less time gardening our kids and more time actually raising them. Sometimes, it would seem from this morning’s Gospel, you need to shake the kids up a bit. It helps them grow.
I was chatting with a colleague from the East Bay yesterday at a Mount Cross Board Meeting and she remarked, about her extremely sedentary congregation, “People forget that sometimes being Christ-like means making a whip of cords.” You need to shake the kids up a bit, it helps them grow.
Maybe make the kids dig the soil and separate the weeds and build the beds and compost to enrich the soil and grow an earthworm farm and try and grow in a less-than-perfect medium and perhaps fail from time to time to see how it is that failures can lead to discoveries, can lead to advances, can lead to future successes.
This was particularly poignant as we were at Mount Cross yesterday where part and parcel with the whole Christian camping model is the notion that we are taking the kids out of their technology-buffered, all-you-can-eat, you deserve a break today, have it your way world and seeing what they learn and what they do and how they band together and find a way forward. It is all about shaking the kids up from time to time so that they can come together better on the other side.
Jesus wasn’t holding anyone’s hand nor taking anyone’s order as if he were the celestial waiter. He isn’t making sure that the soil is perfect and that the people get just enough sunshine. Jesus is shaking the kids up a bit, His children, His heirs and He is not running through the Temple with a whip of cords because He hates them.
He is running through the Temple, driving out the Moneychangers and the sellers of doves because He loves them, and they are straying from the path and need a little love.
The other difference twixt gardening and child-rearing is that we are not just raising children for what they will be to us. Unlike a garden, the produce of our children is seen in their children and in their children’s children, generations we will never see will bear the mark of our pruning shears, our shovels and hoes because of what we pass on to our kids today out in the garden of their lives. We are not raising them to be a particular thing, something in our vision, but rather making sure that whatever it is that they become, it is the very best we can offer to the world, to tomorrow.
I think that every child in this congregation should have the chance to go to camp and be shaken up a bit each year. I’d be happy to donate to a fund to make that happen, but I don’t think it should end there. I think we should keep shaking, keep agitating, challenging, disappointing and sometimes yes, angering our children.
They are not plants. They are more resilient than that. They will not wither under the pressure. They are more like us than we care to admit and just as we have made our way in the world, they will too and someday, when our names have been long lost to family history and the old dusty Bible on the shelf, our work will still be seen, still be felt in our generations to come.
It is scary just trying to raise kids to be strong and brave and inventive instead of focusing in on a goal and working to raise an engineer, or an actor or a doctor, but this is not a garden, we do not plant Engineer seeds or buy Doctor bulbs. Children grow in weird and wonderful ways and we are – not – in – control of the outcome.
We just influence the person, the human, the Christian that they will become and sometimes that means making a whip of cords, metaphorically speaking, and shaking things up a little so that they can learn, so that they can grow, so that they can make us proud.
I started this with the Psalm and so I’d like to leave you with a few lines – There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. Generations yet unborn will hear our voice. Let us be glad we have Good News to proclaim.