Tag Archives: Garden

Sow What?

Sow What? (CaD Mk 4) Wayfarer

Again [Jesus] said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
Mark 4:30-32 (NIV)

It is spring in Iowa, arguably the best place to grow things in the world. Growing up, the stated used the tag line: “A place to grow.” I always found this a great tag line full of metaphorical layers. I’m sad it got buried under slogans like “You make me smile!” and “We do amazing things with corn.”

Spring brings my perennial desire to plant something and make it grow. I have to confess that when it comes to being a child of Iowa I’m a bit of a prodigal. Growing things has never come naturally to me. I’ve done okay with my rosebushes, but I think it’s because they do well on their own despite me. Last spring we planted some herbs on the patio. I even got to use them to make fresh seasoning a few times before they died.

It’s a beautiful thing about the cycles of life, isn’t it? It is perennial. Hope springs eternal with Easter. Every spring the Cubs have a chance to win the World Series and I have a chance to successfully grow something. It doesn’t matter that the odds are 1:108. There’s still a chance, and each spring the hope is intoxicating.

Last year, Wendy and I bought actual herb plants. Undeterred by their premature death, I decided that this year we’re going to grow them from seeds. If I’m going to commit serial herbicide, I might as well make it more difficult. So, we got three grow-kits with pots, dirt, and seeds.

What struck me as I planted the seeds was how minuscule they were. Seriously, I felt like I was sprinkling dust particles in the dirt! I followed the instructions for watering and a week or so later Wendy and I went to the lake for a long weekend. When we got back, there were actual plants growing in two of the three pots. What did I do wrong with the third plant? I’m telling you: I can kill a plant before it even sprouts! When I contacted the grow-kit company I was told that sometimes you can get “bad seed.” I’m not sure what that means, but it felt like a pardon from the Governor. I sanded out a couple of notches off the handle of my garden trowel.

I thought about my little herb garden as I read today’s chapter. Jesus uses planting seeds as a word picture of God’s Kingdom. The seed can be as small as a speck of dust, but it can sprout and grow into something huge. Which is why earlier in the chapter Jesus told another story about a person who was sowing seed as they journeyed along. The seed was sown everywhere, which got me mulling this over.

Jesus told His followers that the seed is the Word. In the Great Story I learned that Jesus is the living Word and also incarnate Love. So, one way I sow the Word along my life journey is by sowing love that is joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, gentle, faithful, good, and self-controlled. In doing this, I’m scattering that hopeful possibility of spring that the seed might happen to fall upon a soul that it good soil for that seed to germinate and grow into something exponentially huge in relation to that little seed sown in a gentle word, a gesture of forgiveness, a random act of kindness, or a timely hug.

Of course, the Great Story also talks about bad seed that can equally be sown. The seeds of hatred, anger, malice, chaos, violence, rage, jealousy, envy, selfishness, dissension, and division. Bad seeds don’t grow much of anything.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself once again looking within and without. What am I sowing in my thoughts, words, actions, reactions, posts, tweets, replies, and comments? I look outward at the things I see in the media, on social media, and the people I “follow.” What is being sown? Good seed? Bad seed?

I don’t want to be judgmental, but I do want to be wise.

I can’t control others, but I can control myself.

I am embarking on yet another day. Day number 20,088 of my earthly journey.

It’s spring in Iowa. A place to grow.

What am I going to sow today?

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Continuous Struggle

If a woman conceives and bears a male child, she shall be ceremonially unclean seven days…If she bears a female child, she shall be unclean two weeks….
Leviticus 12:2, 5 (NRSV)

I am going to be honest. There are still many things that cause me to scratch my head as I journey through God’s Message. I am content to accept the fact that my 21st century American brain cannot completely fathom the realities of life in the middle east c.1500 B.C. It does not stop me from being curious and inquisitive.

In today’s chapter, we read the Levitical system’s prescribed purification rights for women after they’ve given birth to a child. If a woman gave birth to a male child in the that culture she was deemed “unclean” for 40 days. If she had a female child, the period of being “unclean” doubled to 80 days. Even the scholarly text notes in my study Bible states: “It is not clear why the period of uncleanness after the birth of a baby boy (40 days) was half the period for a girl (80 days).” [cue: scratching head]

There is no doubt that ancient cultures, by-and-large, valued male births more than female births. It was a brutal period of human history. Daily life was a bloody, violent version of “king of the mountain.” Wars between tribes, clans, and towns waged non-stop. Power ebbed and flowed through never ending battles of local conquest. Boys became warriors and hunters required to protect, provide, and conquer.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. In the past year there has been a lot of press about China’s infamous program of population control, and the Chinese government’s moves to change the policy now that its unintended effects are shaking their society. Over the years China has gone to horrific lengths to control the birth rate of their people. Hearkening back to the misogynistic practices of history,  male births were preferential to female births. According to one report, by 2020 there will be 30 million more men in China than women. A certain amount of societal chaos is now anticipated.

Beyond the natural, cultural considerations, however, there is a spiritual context that has to be considered. Going back to the Garden of Eden, to original sin, and to the harsh spiritual realities that were unleashed at the beginning. God speaks to the Serpent, to Eve, and to Adam of the consequences of their willful disobedience.

Among the woeful, core consequences is “hatred” between the serpent and the woman. Misogyny is evil, and at the very beginning of the Great Story we see that Evil (a la, the Serpent) is expelled from the Garden with a core, misogynistic hatred of women. The never ending power struggle between male and female is also alluded to as a foundational spiritual consequence of the Fall and continues to be a hot topic in our society, our political campaigns, and our current events.

This morning I am, once again, amazed that God saw fit to surround me with strong, beautiful, capable, intelligent, wise women. I will confess to you that, in certain moments of life, I have experienced pangs of that common male desire to have a son and occasional pangs of grief that it was not part of the plan for me. Fascinating to think about in the context of today’s thoughts. Nevertheless, I have been blessed to be surrounded by females, and it has made me a better man.

This morning is one of those mornings when I walk away from my quiet time with more questions than answers, more curiosity than certainty. I am, however, thinking about the women in my life. I’m thinking how much I truly honor and appreciate them and their femininity. I am again inspired this morning to continually root out deep seated misogynistic tendencies in my own heart, and to seek ways to join the struggle against the enmity against women that has been present from the Fall. I have been surrounded in this life journey by women, and I love ’em.

The Spiritual Balk Rule

Now Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his censer, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered unholy fire before the Lord, such as he had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.
Leviticus 10:1-2 (NRSV)

The opening of today’s chapter is a pretty harsh “good morning” as I begin my day reading with sleep weary eyes. These two sons of Aaron screwed up on the incense portion of the whole sacrificial system. They broke the balk rule of the Levitical code. The penalty? Immediate death by fire.

Yikes!

I often say that one of the important things about the journey through God’s Message is that, over time, you begin to connect dots throughout the Great Story. In this case, the first dot goes back to the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve commit a balk with the forbidden fruit, it starts a chain reaction. Sin, that penchant for willfully doing what we know we shouldn’t while willfully choosing not to do things we know we should, enters the human equation. And, a holy God can’t abide sin. So it is announced right at the beginning, that the penalty for all spiritual balks is death. Adam and Eve are kicked out of the Garden. The Great Story is about humanity’s wayfaring journey to get back Home.

Along this journey, there are other scattered dots to be connected. They are like waypoints hearkening back to Adam and Eve’s original balk, and reminding us that God’s spiritual balk rule does not change. Nada and Abihu are actually not the only ones:

  • Cane’s offering was not pleasing to the Lord. He is cursed and eventually dies.
  • Hophni and Phineas treated God’s offering with contempt, and died.
  • A man name Uzzah reached his hand out to steady the Ark of the Covenant. He touched it, and died.
  • Ananias and Sapphira lied about he and his wife’s offering to the Lord, and died.

These waypoints remind us that God’s spiritual balk rule is foundational to the Great Story. It doesn’t change over time. The penalty of sin is death. Forgiveness and redemption require that the penalty for the spiritual balk rule must be satisfied. In the days of Leviticus the remedy was a labyrinth of sacrifices and offerings. Ultimately, it would be God who would send Jesus to be the sacrificial lamb to pay the ultimate penalty for all of our balks, once for all.

I am Achan

And Achan answered Joshua, “It is true; I am the one who sinned against the Lord God of Israel. This is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, then I coveted them and took them. They now lie hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”
Joshua 7:20-21 (NRSV)

The story of Achan is fascinating. God miraculously delivers the city of Jericho to Joshua and his big band of trumpet players. The walls of the city come tumbling down and the nation of Israel plunders the city with one simple rule: don’t take any of the pagan idols or things used in the worship of the idols and false gods of the people of Jericho. Does this remind you of anything? (Hint: “You can eat of any tree of the garden except for that one in the middle.”)

Sure enough, a man name Achan takes some forbidden spoil for himself in direct disobedience to the order (that would be calls sin) and then hides it by burying it in his tent (that would be called shame). God clues Joshua in that someone has disobeyed and, eventually, Achan is confronted and confesses his sin. Achan and his entire family are stoned to death to rid the nation of sin (that would be called a “scapegoat”).

When I was younger, I always saw the story of Achan from the idealistic view of the majority. “Achan, how could you ruin it for the whole nation? Dude, you knew the rules! How simple was it just to do the right thing? What an idiot!

As I have progressed in my life journey I have increasingly come to terms with a simple fact: I am Achan. I am the child who, at the age of five, stole all the envelopes with money in them off my grandparent’s Christmas tree and buried them in my suitcase. I am the one who is guilty of lying, and cheating, and stealing, and breaking my word, and being disobedient to God and my loved ones. Not just once, mind you, but over and over and over again. If I point the finger at Achan, there are three pointing back at me.

In the context of the Great Story, Achan serves as a thematic waypoint. Achan hearkens us back to Eden and reminds us that the problem of sin has not been dealt with.  Achan reminds us, in the moment, of one of the meta-themes of God’s great story: one little sin taints the whole. As Jesus put it, one smidgen of yeast affects the whole loaf. Achan reflects our fallen human nature’s penchant to blame one for the failure of the whole, and a Cubs fan need only to hear the name Bartman to realize that human nature has not changed across time. Finally, the story of Achan is a foreshadow of the solution God will provide when He will send His one and only Son to be the One who will die the death that idol stealing and  Christmas money stealing criminals deserve. Jesus will be the sacrificial lamb and make atonement for the whole.

This morning I am once again humbled by an honest reflection of my own shortcomings. I am thinking about Achan and accepting that I am him. Throw the rocks, man. I deserve it. I am once again grateful for that which we have just celebrated: God becoming man to die for my sin, to take my shame on His shoulders, and then to rise from the grave to give grace, hope, forgiveness, and redemption to one such as me.

 

chapter a day banner 2015

Our Hollandse Maagds (Dutch Maids)

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Each year our little town of Pella, Iowa celebrates its Dutch heritage with the annual Tulip Time festival. At the core of this traditional celebration is the election of our Tulip Queen and her court (Our daughter, Madison, was a finalist in the contest back in her day). Our dear friend, Megan, is on the court this year, and so Wendy and I headed out last night to a packed community center auditorium to watch the Queen and her court perform the program that they will take on the road to promote our town, our festival, our heritage, (and our local businesses!).

I’m not sure that most residents in our town appreciate the way this annual tradition taps into some of the deepest sentiments of Dutch heritage. As the young republic of the Netherlands fought its revolt against Spain, one of the most powerful national patriotic metaphors emerged out of the deep sentiment the Dutch held for hearth and home: the Hollandse Maagd (Dutch Maid). Young, beautiful, and verdant, the Dutch Maid appeared with the rampant lion amidst her small fortress symbolizing the small republics small fortress state set amidst the sea and her enemies.

Hollandse Maagd 01

Later, the Dutch Maid’s fortress became a lush garden of prosperity over which she was enthroned.

willem buytewech allegory of the deceitfulness of Spain

Writes Simon Schama in The Embarrassment of Riches:

“The enclosure had by now become the verdant and well-stocked garden – the tuin – that signified the divinely blessed prosperity of the Netherlands and within the Dutch Maid, both comely and vulnerable, was now enthroned.”

The Dutch Maid even found her place on Dutch currency.

Dutch Maid Coin

I enjoyed watching last night as our local Hollandse Maagds paraded out in traditional Gronigen costume, complete with Dutch hat. The Tulip Queen and her court will metaphorically preside over our prosperous tulip gardens, lead our parades, honor our traditions, and promote our local commerce. All five of them truly are amazing, beautiful, intelligent, and talented young ladies. And, I realized last night, whether they know it or not these young ladies embody a metaphor that is more deeply entrenched in our heritage and speaks more deeply to our community psyche than most of us know or can possibly imagine.

My Zombie Garden

zombie gardenLet the fields and their crops burst out with joy!
    Let the trees of the forest rustle with praise
Psalm 96:12 (NLT)

I’m terrible with growing things. I got two mini-rose bushes this spring. I repotted them, fed them, watered them, and they both died. Over the past two years I’ve added three rose bushes to our poor excuse of a flower garden. Only the rose bush that survived was here before we moved in is still alive. The only thing growing in our flower garden is Hostas (seriously, they are zombies of the plant world – you can’t kill them and they keep multiplying). Despite my faithful weeding and feeding, my yard looks like the aftermath of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The bed of the undead. Only weeds and zombie Hostas survive. What can I say. I have a brown thumb.

I do, however, live in Iowa. It is among the most fertile soil in the world (which just makes me feel even worse). Each year I watch the crops spring up, grow, produce  good fruit, and be harvested in the fall. It’s a subtle and beautiful thing to watch the gray and brown fields transform into a sea of lush, living green each spring.

Psalm 96 is an “eschatological” song which means the lyrics muse on the end of time: God is on the throne. Nature takes on anthropomorphic (human-like) properties in praising God. The nations gather to pay God tribute. God judges the earth and the nations.

I love the idea of nature praising the Creator. The trees rustle their praise. The seas roar and pound the shore in praise. The fields of Iowa burst forth (along with the weeds and zombie Hostas of Tom’s garden) with joy.

I have to drive to Des Moines today. The fields of corn are bursting forth with their golden tassels which add this amazing transparent layer of gold across the deep green of the fields. I think I’ll take it all in, and add a my own offering of praise to the Creator (along with an apology for my zombie garden).

My Life: A Photo Abecedarius

G is for Garden.

I always tell people that I have a brown thumb. I’ve never been much of a gardener. Most of the time the lawn and landscaping around my house are a humbling reminder of this fact. Over a year ago, however, I planted some rose bushes. Despite my inattentive cultivation and total ignorance of how to care for them properly they continue to grow, bloom and produce gorgeous roses that fill our home with their fragrance.

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 24

A beautiful sight. Earth is polluted by its very own people, who have broken its laws, Disrupted its order, violated the sacred and eternal covenant. Therefore a curse, like a cancer, ravages the earth. Its people pay the price of their sacrilege. Isaiah 24:5-6 (MSG)

A few years ago I went to see an exhibition of Iowa artists. I ran across a simple landscape of a cornfield drawn with pastels. I was surprised by the emotional reaction I had to the picture, and how beautiful it was to me. I'm sure a lot of people looked at it and muttered, "It's just a stupid cornfield."

That experience of standing in front of that beautiful pastel taught me a lot about who I am. Though raised in the city, I am a child of Iowa. I've never been a farmer. I have a "brown thumb." Yet, my life has been framed by the never ending cyclical seasons of tilling, planting, weeding, detasseling, and harvesting. I have a real appreciation for agriculture. It's all around me. It's part of who I am.

Today, I'm reminded that man's first home on Earth was a garden, and the first occupation given to man was that of a gardener. Our responsibility to care for God's creation goes back to Adam and Eve, and I don't believe that responsibility was ever taken from us. When we ignore our responsiblity to the Earth, we pay the price for it.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and toddandd