A couple weeks ago, while listening to Wendell Berry, I decided to stop waiting for the ideal situation and start planting a garden.
I’ve realized something about myself since that day. I like to do simple things. Tasks that require hands on practice. And not much research or technical skill.
Gardening seems like it should be pretty straight forward. Take a seed. Put it in the ground. And water it. But it turns out there’s more to planting a productive garden than simply pressing a seed into the earth.
There’s a need to know about the climate where the garden is planned. There’s a need to know what grows in that climate at this time of year. There’s a need to prepare the soil. And to learn what preparing the soil means.
And so, I suppose like anything one is new at, gardening requires learning new skills. And I think that’s why seriously undertaking planting a garden scares me off. I’m lazy. I don’t want to have to research what the soil is like in the “low desert” of Arizona. ( I had know idea the area I live in is called “low desert” until I started researching how to plant.) I don’t want to have to spend weeks preparing the soil.
But I don’t want to be an expert couch potato either. And so today is week 2 of my repentance from laziness.
Last week I researched and asked questions. Planted herb seeds in a little indoor greenhouse tray. Marked the 12 x 5 foot area in the earth where I decided to plant. Shoveled goat and chicken droppings and scattered them on my garden plot. Watered it daily. And didn’t plant anything.
This week, I tilled the soil. And took my neighbor’s advice (she’s an expert gardener), added more goat droppings and covered the area with wood chips from her yard. Watered. Put up a chicken wire fence around the garden. And planted nothing.
Through the week I’ll keep watering. And maybe on Saturday or Sunday I’ll plant the seeds the experts say grow well in Arizona’s low desert this time of year.
I’m tired now. My back is sore from bending and hoeing and digging and raking and squatting. I’ll sleep well I’m sure.
Laying here about to die to the day. I can’t help but think about the grace that gives us God’s work to do. Seed planting isn’t the only or even the first work. The labor is observation, learning, asking questions, listening, praying, caring, and waiting. Then the seed is planted. And then it’s God’s turn.
“I planted the seed of the teaching in you, and Apollos watered it. But God is the One who made the seed grow.”
I’m learning that the heroes of my American Christianity held out the gospel with one hand and the chains of their slaves with the other. I’m learning that the history I’ve been taught has left out a lot. As a result, I have believed a whitewashed narrative that made the wickedness my country’s greatness was built on look like noble American Christian bravery.
I’m learning at the least, the American church has turned a deaf ear to racism and at worst has preached and practiced it as Biblical. I’m learning that there are structures and practices in American government and in the church that have marginalized the lives and worth of black people.
I’m learning that my black friends are tired. Tired of trying to explain why. Tired of my passivity and ignorance. I’m learning that I don’t know what I don’t know.
I’m learning that I resist listening to people I can’t help, don’t understand, disagree with or feel uncomfortable around, and that in refusing to listen, a part of my heart has grown cold. My refusal to listen has increased my comfort and decreased my compassion. My refusal to listen has let the lies that have propped up my white sons’ insecurities go unchallenged. And because I haven’t listened I haven’t learned. And because I haven’t learned my neighbors have not experienced the hands and feet of Jesus that come with the hope of his gospel.
I began by listening to my Eritrean American friend, and fellow nurse. She told me in an aisle at the grocery store about her thankfulness for what she sees as God’s protection on her life and her family these 20 past years in America. I listened as she asked how my police officer husband was doing and told me she was praying for him. I listened as she told me she is afraid for her black sons.
And then I listened to my white teenage sons spout off support of President Trump. I asked questions and challenged them to explain what they supported about Trump. As a mother and a Trump detractor, my skin crawls thinking that in their teenage insecurity, my white sons might be drawn to and impressed by the machismo of the Trump presidency. I want to take Trump down in their minds with a lot of bad words, but instead I listened, trying to understand why they are where they are in their thought process. Then I told my sons we were going to listen to the Color of Compromise together. We sat, listened and began a dialogue.
I listened as the administrators of the Be the Bridge group I joined asked me to be quiet for three months on their social media group and do the work they provided me to learn. It’s an act of repentance of my ignorance to do the work of hearing from my black neighbor’s perspective.
I listened as a white, mentally-ill homeless woman told me how she got where she’s at and why she feels so stuck. I listened as she told a story of a lifetime of abuse, rejection and poverty.
Then I turned off the social media and listened to Moses and Job and Isaiah and David and Daniel and Jesus. I listened as the Spirit of God began stirring a fire in me. The cold places of my passive heart began to warm with compassion and conviction. The notes section of my iPhone are filled with quotes from scripture all telling me, “I am the God who saved you out of slavery to the sin of cowardliness. I am the God who lowered himself taking the form of a servant to lift you up and make you a child of God. Turn from your ignorance, your passivity, your cowardliness, your silence. Learn to listen. Learn to speak. Speak the truth in love. Love your neighbor and your enemy.”
I listened to God tell Cain, “Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground” and Job’s friends tell him all the reasons he was wrong about why he was suffering. I listened to Job tell me to stop being a miserable comforter to my black friends.
I listened as God called Moses to go to the government structure enslaving his people and insist that they let them go. I listened to Isaiah and the prophets pleading with me to learn to do good, love mercy and work justice. I listened to David declare the heart of God for the widow, the oppressed and poor. I listened to Daniel confess and repent of his sins and the sins of his fathers.
I listened to Jesus declare that I must love others, including my enemies and those who see me as an enemy, just like he has loved me. I listened as he and his apostle’s declared that love born from his Spirit in me will not only declare the gospel but extend a healing hand and care for the physical needs of the people around me.
And I listened to my pastor call for me to examine myself to see, am I a Jesus person? Do I believe Jesus makes me righteous and do I love my neighbor by speaking the truth in love and, “disadvantaging myself to advantage someone else”?
I know, like any work of the Spirit of God in me, this must be an enduring work. Listening must become a practice. A rhythm. Speaking the truth in love must become a discipline. Working justice for the oppressed must become part of a gospel-driven, “long obedience in the same direction.” Saying and believing black lives matter and living a life that repents of the racist thoughts and beliefs that have become an ingrained part of the narrative that has kept me quiet and ignorant for so long, must become as daily as breathing. Something my black neighbors have been fighting to do for generations in this country and in the church.
Lord help me. Help me to be a listener. A learner. A repenter. A servant. A lover of my neighbor and my enemy. Help me to boldly declare the scandalous gospel that saved me and boldly decry the injustice that your gospel and your kingdom are driving out. Please call my sons to be men who chose the sufferings of Christ over the riches of this world and lay down their lives for others.
The day after tomorrow teachers across the state of Arizona are going to walkout of their schools in protest of the current state of the Arizona public education system. I have a mix of thoughts. Mostly though, I support Arizona’s school teachers.
The rhetoric and commentary that surrounds this walkout is your typical jump-on-a-bandwagon or vilanize-someone fodder. I’m not going there. I don’t think there is a perfect or harmless way to stand up for what’s right. In the case of Arizona’s public education system, light needs to be shed on what’s wrong and the leaders and lawmakers of our state need to be held accountable for leading the way in a serious overhaul of the current system. There are facts that can’t be avoided in regards to Arizona’s public school system. There are people who will suffer because of this walkout, specifically single-parents who are trying hard and work a job that won’t allow them the freedom or resources to find another safe place for their kids while the schools are closed. And there are people in the community, many of them teachers, who will be using these missed school days to offer free assistance and child care to support the needs of the community during this tumultuous time.
But one issue this whole #RedForEd movement has drawn my attention to, once again, is the vital role parents play in the education of their children.
I am not a homeschooler. My two sons attend the public schools in our neighborhood. My oldest is a freshman in high school and my youngest is right behind him in the 8th grade. Besides the first couple years of school, my kids have been in the Arizona public schools. Most of the time they have had great teachers who took time to understand my kids as individuals, their learning styles, met with us when there were concerns, made accommodations where there were needs and just went the extra mile to light a flame of eagerness to learn in my kids. And I am so grateful for them! But before my kids started 1st grade I spent time at home intentionally learning their learning styles and teaching them to read and write and engage with curiosity their environment. As the years have gone on I’ve continued to observe my kids and adapt to their needs and I’ve tried to provide the resources and tools to help them develop the God-given potential within them. The Arizona public school system is one of those resources.
For me, I can support these teachers as they seek the needed changes for Arizona’s students and educators because I know ultimately I am responsible for finding the resources necessary for my kids, and with or without a good public education system I will find them. I don’t believe I am solely responsible for delivering every form of education my kids need, but I am responsible for fostering an environment that leads them in a love of learning and for providing them resources that help them learn best.
I know not all parents have the time or resources to spend hours at home with their kids, or to pay for someone they trust to do so. I know that many depend on the great teachers in Arizona’s public school system to provide a safe environment for their kids to learn, and without them, their jobs and/or their kids’ safety is in jeopardy. But whether you’re a poor, single mom, or a mom like me who doesn’t homeschool and depends on the resources of good teachers of math, science, language arts, history, music, etc., to educate your kids, we as parents are ultimately responsible for our kids’ growth and development.
I’m praying as this crisis hits Arizona more parents will take an active role in their kids’ education and the church in Arizona will take more public role in helping parents raise their kids, especially single parents.
Parents are leaders. They are teachers. They are this first and primarily in their children’s lives whether they have good resources or not. Leaders do not do everything for those they lead, they delegate and set an example that inspires those following them to do what they envision them doing. Teachers are chief learners who invite their students to be like them- to love learning, be curious, engage their environment and ask good questions. Parents are teachers and leaders and if we see ourselves this way we’ll guide our kids and find resources to help them grow. The teachers in the state of Arizona are one of our most valuable resources. We need them, but we won’t put all of the responsibility for our kids’ education upon them. That’s part of the reason why I refuse to be upset with teachers for walking out. I support them because they are a highly valued resource for educating my kids. I don’t want my resource destroyed, I want them flourishing. Arizona’s government should see Arizona’s public education system that way. We should see it as a great service and resource worth investing in.
I have spent years thinking that passivity was the most peaceful way to avoid trouble and be “Christlike”. In recent years my eyes have been opened to the falseness of that thinking. Standing for what’s right is especially the call of Christians. Doing justly and loving mercy are not juxtaposed to each other, they are hand-in-hand with each other. The current state of Arizona’s public education system is wrong. It is right for teachers and parents to take a stand and call attention to the wrong. It is also right for those same teachers and parents to spend time meeting the needs of the children and parents in their communities whether the government does what’s right or not. This is where I pray Christians in Arizona will stand out. I pray we’ll not be blamers and shushers who complain out of one side of our mouths and passively do nothing out of the other side in a faux meekness that looks nothing like Christ. I pray we’ll call on the Arizona government to provide the needed curriculum, resources and reimbursement for educators that helps Arizona’s children flourish and succeed. And I pray we’ll form co-ops and groups and free childcare and tutoring and services for those in our community who need resources and don’t have them.