Cultivating Faith

— by Andy Wade —

As I was reading the Bible this morning, another garden connection emerged. For those of you who are not gardeners, be patient, it may take a minute to get there. Today’s lesson started in Scripture, led me to reflect on the garden, then with new garden insights, led me back to the Bible and to life-application.

Romans 12:1-7
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

What does “conformity to this world” look like, and what does it mean to be “transformed”? Looking at God’s story as a whole, we were created to live and be a certain way. But we have distorted this and instead tend to live in conformity to our own imagination of how we should function in the world. To be “transformed” is, in effect, become who we were meant to be from the beginning. Like “repentance”, transformation is a turning around, finding a new direction by allowing God to be formed in us – a return to the, um, organic nature of who we were created to be. This is, as the Apostle Paul points out, our spiritual worship, because to walk in it means a daily sacrifice of conforming to “the world” so that we can be transformed for the purposes of God.

Only when we embrace transformation can we begin to see clearly what we are created to be, rightly “discerning the will of God.” And a big part of that transformation is discovering that we were not created to live as self-contained souls. Paul moves immediately from this beautiful word about sacrifice, worship, and change into what it means to live together, as one body, “…so we who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another.” This idea, this spiritual reality, strikes at the core of North American privatized faith. While our faith in Christ is very personal, it is not private. Like it or not, we are members of one another. To live in any other way is to “conform to the patterns of this world” and to deny the very core of the sacrifice of self which leads to our transformation.

So how do I get anything about the garden from all this? I used to garden in all the conventional ways. Dig up the soil, add lots of chemical fertilizer, plant the seeds in nice, segregated sections, kill off pests with pesticides, add more fertilizer… I was a product of my generation and this is how it was (and in many gardens and all industrial farms, still is) done. You basically totally disturb the habitat of the soil, sterilize it with chemicals, plant it, and artificially feed it. I mentioned these tactics in my last two posts. For agri-giants like Monsanto, this has gone to extremes, creating genetically modified seeds which actually produce their own pesticides or plants that are genetically resistant to excessive doses of lethal chemicals being poured on them in order to keep everything but the desired plant from growing. Not only is this process unnatural, it’s likely the cause of growing health problems around the globe.

2013 Garden PlanBut this is not the way God created our food to grow. God created this amazing synergy of life, millions of insects, microbes, and various natural nutrients, all working together to bring forth healthy life. In fact, the more we segregate our plants, the more vulnerable they are to nasty pests. Over the years I’ve begun to understand the amazing network of life that makes a garden healthy “as each part does its work”. Ephesians 4:15-17 In my last post I talked about the superhero-like capabilities of the lowly worm (in partnership with millions of microbes). But the network of life is so much greater. By desegregating our crops, by intermingling them, we can actually create new networks of life that work together for the good of all.

While getting my seed starts going last season, I got distracted – really busy – and didn’t get some of my plants in the garden in a timely manner. The really big problem was my brassicas – broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, cabbage. They were getting ready to bolt so I had to get them in the garden. Without really thinking about it, I plunged them into the soil… all in the same section. No big deal, right? Conventionally, no. But when you’re an organic farmer this doesn’t work well at all. Within a month my brassicas were covered in aphids! What I created was a nice, big, appetizing feast of aphid heaven. And they were, indeed, in heaven!

Now I knew better, but I was caught in a hurry and not thinking things through. For organic gardeners,companion planting is a way of life – garden neighborhoods filled with diversity! Brassicas intermingled with other plants from unrelated families confuse pests so they don’t multiply as quickly and are more easily dealt with. Some plants, like marigolds, actually repel certain pests. Other plants when mixed together enhance the flavors. Beans and peas put nitrogen back into the soil, a key ingredient for heavy nitrogen feeders like tomatoes. There is a synergistic effect found naturally in nature. Then there’s the whole network of good insects in the garden. Planting certain flowers and key plants around the garden aids in pollination and can attract good bugs that prey on the baddies. By developing our garden neighborhoods we actually can create a healthy network of life that enhances flavor, repels bad insects, attracts good bugs to naturally take care of the bad ones, and feed the soil which, in turn, feeds the plants.

One garden, many members, diverse “gifts” and functions, each an integral part of the whole. When the soil suffers, the microbes suffer, the plants suffer. When all is in balance and working as it should, crops are plentiful and healthy. In this way they all grow to maturity and bear good and bountiful fruit. (which sends my mind to another of Paul’s letter – 1 Corinthians 12:12-26).

And so I return to the Apostle Paul’s metaphor of the body of Christ enhanced by God’s lessons for me in the garden. Each of us does have an essential role to play in the life of the body. Segregated churches may work, but they lack the kind of diversity that will allow them to thrive and produce a truly nutrient-rich diet for the world. When we hold back from the body, isolate ourselves except for Sunday mornings, we actually weaken ourselves spiritually and expose ourselves to untold vulnerabilities. We were not created to function as a bunch of privatized Christians who gather together once or twice a week. We were created for each other, for community, which is the context in which we thrive.

Which brings me to another crucial point. The purpose of the garden is to provide food which makes our bodies strong and healthy. The purpose of the church – the garden of God – is not just to be the church, but to provide a “nutrient-rich” diet of love, grace, healing, and hope for the world. We can talk about evangelism, missions, or being “missional” all we want, but if the body of Christ is not healthy, we cannot effectively fulfill our purpose. There is a reason Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane,

(Jn. 17) “…20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,[f] so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

There is a unity of life that we are all called to in Christ; a unity of purpose, even though we have a diversity of “mini-purposes” within the larger whole. This oneness that Jesus prays for is not just for ourselves, a kind of feel-good spiritual club. No, this oneness is for God’s purposes to be lived out into the world. As one fully integrated and functioning body, we become “ambassadors of reconciliation”, drawing others into this unique, yet diverse, journey of faith.

How does your garden grow?

You might also like to explore the richness of another kind of garden community in Christine Sine’s recent post

I don’t think gardening is meant to be done alone. We all know the saying It takes a village to raise a child. well I think we should create another saying: It takes a community to run a garden.
–Christine Sine