It was the iceberg of weeds. The other day I was weeding our jungle of a back garden, and merrily ripping out the gangly pests that had roots that barely scratched the surface. Overall, I was feeling like a green-fingered boss. Until I met my biennial arch nemesis. For the sake of a tiny stem and two leaves, there was, beneath the surface, an Ent-like structure. My little trowel and I kept squirreling deeper and deeper, but its roots just kept on going. On account of my stubbornness, the wrestle didn’t end until I landed with a thump on my back as I prised the little whatsit out.
Spending time in the garden made me think that all churches should spend a Sunday amidst greenery before they start preaching on Jesus’ parables of the Kingdom. Because Jesus was always drawing from the agricultural world around him to describe the Kingdom of God to His disciples. But, more at home with the sterile two dimensions of cyberspace and the feel of touch screens rather than soil, I think some of their power can be lost on us millennials. (Insert scholarly qualifications on the danger of nostalgia here). When I hear the word ‘fruitful’, it is through the filter of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, rather than as the wind-rustle of vineyards. So whenever I read that we should be ‘bearing fruit’ for Christ, then my knees start to shake and pride is quick on the heels of insecurity. To ‘prove’ I’m a Christian, I worry, I better have authored three devotional books, have under my belt a bajillion mission trips to places I’ve not yet heard of, and a theology PhD to boot. Which would all be wonderful, if it came out of praying each day that God would help me serve Him where I am and with what I have. But when it is the result of fear of God and other people, it means I am metaphysically isolated, living with a finger-wagging, furrowed-brow deity. And no one needs that.
Being a people of the resurrection sounds like it should be super dramatic. Like those ‘5 tips to lose your belly fat’ ads all over the internet with pictures of women before and after they wrapped themselves in cling film or ate three gallons of blueberries or whatever they did (futter mutter, futter mutter), I want a nicely quantifiable, line-graphable change in myself and everything I work on. (For the record, those women are either breathing in, or it’s not the same person- but I digress). But quite honestly, God probably turns his nose up at some of the show-stopping feats performed in His name. The Kingdom takes all our expectations and norms, and subverts them. So if it looks like the winners and the loudest, brashest types are coming out on top, and that the top resembles Hollywood, while the voiceless are lost and disparaged, then there’s something amiss. Those works are like those gargantuan, shallow-rooted weeds. They’re the fur-coat-and-no-knickers of the Christian world; the equivalent of mainstream celebrity culture but with a Christian label. And maybe it’s the little shoots that reach practically down to Australia, but that no one really notices which truly delight Him. Because they’re little gestures, sacrifices and struggles done in the nooks and crannies of our daily life, but done knowing that Christ’s strength overcomes our weakness, and that His power can multiply the fruit of our efforts a hundredfold.
And sometimes, it is only after the ‘after’, that we know the ‘before’ was in need of resurrection and redemption at all. It’s not obvious to me in the ‘before’, for instance, that self-preoccupation is spiritual death until I feel more like my truest self by focusing on others (and oh crumbs do I forget this every other minute). It’s not obvious to me that worrying doesn’t lead to greater control over every eventuality until I loosen my grip a little and see God do a better job than I ever could. I won’t learn to be gentle until I stop associating attention with significance. I won’t have peace until I trust that when God looks on me, He sees Christ, and if He no longer condemns me, then I don’t need to worry if anyone else does.
Those are the leaves I want, even if they’re discreet. And so I have to pay more attention to my footing than to my jazz-hands.