“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it," ~ Henry David Thoreau
Jesus said that sowing goodness would be met with discouraging failure three-fourths of the time and I'm struggling to come to terms with this reality, in spite of the mirage of constant success stories my contemporary ministry capitalist industry tells me.
Luke 8:4-5, 7-8 reads, "And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
"Trampled down, devoured, choked..." now that's something that I can unfortunately attest to as truth.
When I first visited Amsterdam, Holland, I found a reproduction of Vincent Van Gogh's 'The Sower' on a wall in a courtyard of a little hostel where I was lodging. That picture has always been my icon of life and ministry ever since. A picture of faith in the face of overwhelming odds. The mystery of the seed, a picture of death and resurrection that is ever the core truth of real fruitfulness.
As I was pulling weeds in our church garden this week, the invasive, consuming twiggy stranglers I faced reminded me of the brutal nature and wearisome work of growing godliness in my soul and neighborhood daily life. The huge amount of hard work, little resources, few hands and small harvests viciously barked at my enthusiasm like the countless dogs that populate East Central.
I see a parallel to our struggle in our church garden, in the battle between mega-industrial agricultural machine that promises bountiful harvests through mass chemical, genetic re-modification, large scale farming techniques and the sometimes comical struggle of amateur but compassionate urban community garden work. I see the temptations of the fast, popular, consumer tailored spirituality offered this day up against the boring, plodding, pace of the Jesus type of moment to moment discipleship.
Jesus invited his workers and followers into a seemingly hope challenging endeavor, promising more failure than success in the short term but promised fruitful reward in the long term. This method runs contrary to modern mindsets, where the immediate screams so much louder an the soft voice of perseverance and time.
"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up," Galatians 6:9.
As I paused with bucket full, the sun beating down and my recently injured shoulder bemoaning the labor, I wanted to quit my ridiculous attempt at clearing assailants that would return the moment I left the garden. The fact that I was pulling weeds from paths and not even the beds further heckled my motivation. All this work and it wasn't even contributing to any fruit bearing results seemed to add more pain to the already difficult job. But as I sat there in the wet dirt I was reminded that beauty saves.
"I believe the world will be saved by beauty.' I am a believer because Christianity is that beauty," Prince Myshkin, The Idiot by Dostoevsky
My seemingly insignificant work at creating a more pleasurable garden experience for visitors contributed to the increase of beauty in an often ugly prone, struggling neighborhood. Creating a space for people to taste and see that the Lord of creation is good to eat, good to smell and good to visit was worth the ache and cyclical labor, even though in the moment it seemed like I was the idiot.
But I was pleasantly surprised to see that my example this week, spilled over into a small measure of catalytic response, when a few others saw my attempts at reclaiming our garden and came and added their labor to the plot of ground choking from neglect.
The result, a little more room to breathe, grow and produce, which left me feeling less self-conscious about wearing the title of St. Idiot.