Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I Come to the Garden...

I know next to nothing about gardening, which is both sad and somewhat dangerous given the beautiful roses beside the parsonage. Some of you have marveled at the four bushes and their blooms: yellow, white, red, and a lovely hybrid, more orange than peach with red tips and highlights (it looks almost good enough to eat for breakfast!)

Anyway, Jo and I have enjoyed both seeing the roses and cutting them now and then to fill a vase indoors, and truth to tell it feels to us kind of “suburban” or something to be living in a house with rose bushes. We did have a large gardenia in Marshville, right outside the kitchen window, and its fragrant flowers thrilled my late mother-in-law while she lived with us. Flowers and fragrances—two of God’s good gifts.

The other day, though, I noticed that the roses did not look quite right. They were paler than usual and there were holes in the petals. I thought at first maybe they were just getting old and tired but when I looked closer I saw these…these green creatures…down deep between the petals. Turns out there were Japanese beetles, lots of them, feasting on the roses and, soon enough, killing them. What had been lovely and delicate flowers were reduced to barren nubs on the ends of dry stems.

I have done battle with these “flora-vores” the last couple of weeks, buying the chemicals at Lowe’s and spraying the bushes—die, beetles, die!—and the roses themselves are doing their best to keep growing in spite of the attacks, but sometimes the battle seems futile. The green enemy is plentiful and sneaky, undetectable apart from daily vigilance and doing well what it does naturally—feasting on beauty, killing God’s good gifts. And it is a parable, really, what is going on beside the parsonage.

Sin, gossip, blame, mercilessness—there are these and many other creatures ever at work in the garden of God’s church. Only daily vigilance—and by that I mean real prayer and genuine forgiveness, praise and thanksgiving—can keep them from destroying God’s good and beautiful gifts.

Friday, July 15, 2005

an unintentional message

I have just begun serving a new church--First United Methodist, in Stanley, NC--and just down the road from our present facility on Main Street is property we own, 93 acres of it and, we hope, the expanse for a long-dreamed of expansion. We still do most of our work on Main Street, but we make use of the "property," too--there is a youth soccer league, an annual rodeo, a walking track--and most every month (though we are thinking about cutting back to once a quarter) there is a "singing." Now, in some places, a church-sponsored singing is kind of like a hymn-fest or revival, with lots of call and response and audience participation. When we say "singin'" we mean a concert and so we gather out there at the property with our lawn chairs to listen to gospel groups who give us their best work and sell their CD's. We have a concession stand, too, and the smell of grilled hot dogs and hamburgers seeds the southern gospel breeze coming from the stage. Pretty much fun.

There is a sign out there on the property which announces upcoming events, and this last month someone got to playing with it. The sign was supposed to read, "1st United Methodist Church," only the letters got pushed and pulled a little and how it came to read was: "1 Stunited Methodist church," which to my eye as I drove past looked for all the world like, "1 stunted methodist church."

I laughed out loud, but please, God, save us from being a stunted methodist church!