Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Deeper roots…

When my backyard garden finishes growing this fall, I’m most excited for the carrots. Nature’s candy, Tabitha and I call them, though we’ve never planted any before. Indeed, several years ago, I wouldn’t have bothered since carrots contribute nothing to taste, I believed. Then, I learned a roasting technique that softened the insides while browning the outsides, shocking my tongue into satisfied submission.

I’m worried, however, that my homegrown carrots won’t prove up-to-par come harvest. Being root vegetables, I wonder whether we prepared the soil deep enough. I mean, they don’t grow into open air, but into dirt and rocks and whatever’s waiting. If there’s a layer of compacted clay four inches deep, say, won’t the carrots’ growth arrest prematurely?! I’m no farmer (obviously); more a hobby gardener who apparently doesn’t spend time on frivolous concepts like ‘research.’ So maybe my worry is foolish. I won’t know until fall.

Yet haven’t we read the Parable of the Sower, who tossed seeds into various soils? One famously unproductive type in that story was the shallow dirt with no room for roots. The sun beat and nascent plants struggled until their promise ultimately withered. Maybe it works the same for carrots. Stands to reason…

And what of faith communities? Sometimes a great ministry idea fails to bloom, however well-tended with money, people, work and energy, all because, essentially, the timing’s wrong. A neighborhood, perhaps, could prove unprepared to accept a new community garden. So they organize such strong resistance that the sponsoring church pulls support. That didn’t happen to our garden, but it was oh-so-close, wasn’t it? I heard of a community in Tennessee recently that held a public meeting on interfaith acceptance. That’s a great idea, I think, and deeply needed as America grows more religiously diverse. Yet this town proved ill-prepared; the soil was shallow, you might say. They booed and jeered, harassed and bullied until the meeting ended prematurely. And their Muslim neighbors, scared and hurt, cowered back into the shadows.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, where I’m soon to travel, interfaith soil runs hundreds of years deep. It’s not rock free, of course, or nutrient rich in every place for every believer. Just two decades ago, Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim folk killed each other with savage intensity. Which is really a neutral way of saying that some communities massacred others, Muslims receiving the most brutal treatment, from what I’ve read. Sadly, this genocidal violence salted over centuries of history of neighbors living in relative peace. Not all the time, but in many ways, everyday people got along fine. Old stories tell of mothers praying in an Orthodox church at sunrise, mosque at noon, Catholic cathedral in the evening, simply because they were so scared a son would die of sickness, any worship form would do. Traditionalists would, certainly, abhor this mixing of soils, this blatant apostasy. I’m inclined to give the mothers a pass, even celebrate such interfaith, tolerant attitudes. Mix away!

Because when all complex sermons finish, at the end of every elaborate ritual, there’s usually just a yearning worshipper with troubles aplenty desperate to live with hope. And details of theological intricacy rarely matter when you need help, or your neighbor does. You seek love. You give love. That’s what good religion inspires. Unfortunately, when we live only among like-minded believers, history suggests, our soil easily becomes shallow. We’ll believe, “God doesn’t really care about my neighbor, unless s/he thinks like me.” I worry that’s true for some in our country, given our young and predominantly monoculture religious past. That’s why I’m going to Bosnia-Herzegovina on sabbatical, to learn what I can from their deeper roots. Surely, some will show me scars, burned-out buildings proving that even long-cultivated soil can poison. But I’m also expecting to find other stories of more people sheltering terrified neighbors and living with kindness. After all, even the humble carrot transforms into nature’s candy when prepared well. And I’m convinced that prayer and worship, faith and community prepare human souls to love more often than judge or hate.

I’ll look forward to sharing what I find with you. In the meantime, look after our gardens, won’t you?

Grace and Peace,

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