June 30, 2010


When I teach prospective pastors about leadership in the church, I have urged them to find terms other than "volunteer" to use for those in their congregations who do the work of the church. That word has always implied to me something optional, voluntary, rather than an irrevocable calling (Romans 11:29). But I may be rethinking all that. You see, in my garden, I have had these amazing volunteers this year. I have three tomato plants that have just appeared -- the seeds sowed by last year's plants, coming to life in the new season, and growing as well as the plants that I bought last month. My neighbor has an amazing vine, huge and green, that might be a pumpkin but could be a squash -- we will have to wait to see. It was born from her compost, from the fruit of last year that has now put forth its own fruit. And a planter in my yard that sat outside all winter has produced a pink petunia from two years past.

These are all volunteers. And these experiences make me wonder if we are doing enough self-seeding in our churches. Are we raising up the right leaders, helping them bear fruit in their own generation, and then allowing the seed of that fruit to ripen and mature into a new crop that can provide nourishment in a subsequent season? I'm not sure. I think we all too often wear out our lay leadership so they have nothing left to pass along that will create volunteers for the future.

I will probably eat tomatoes this summer from plants that I set out in another summer. I am hoping that might be the case in some of my churches: that the work I have done in a past season will bear fruit for the future, that there will be volunteers that sprout up to nourish a new generation.

June 28, 2010

Vegetable of the Week

It is round and yellow, small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. It looks like a lemon with funny little spines on it. But when I slice it open, the secret is revealed: It is a cucumber! It has the transparent seeds, the cool pulp, the taste and clean smell.

The great naturalist, scientist E. O. Wilson, has long been a proponent of biodiversity. I think he is mostly thinking about creatures, not vegetables, but I'm sure he would appreciate the lemon cucumber. I don't know what benefit there is in the world having a round yellow cucumber, except that it is a beautiful thing. And maybe that is all the justification that needed.

June 25, 2010


I made the first pesto of summer, with basil that I brought home from our farm in my suitcase. It has a lot of garlic -- so I can only eat it when I am going to be alone. It has the sharp, bright greenness that is both a color and a flavor. If my garden yields even half as much as my mother's, I will have lots to put in the freezer. Then, in the depth of winter, I will take some out, cook a little pasta, and have a taste of summer.... all by myself!

June 14, 2010

Where Love Lives

The twelfth floor is where love lives. I walk down the corridor, and most rooms have open doors. Very few people are alone here. A middle-aged man is feeding a small woman with thin white hair. Another person missing a leg is gently supported as she makes her way slowly down the hall. A young mother has her almost-new baby with her as she sits with her father, the generations keeping vigil. The man’s wife comes with food made at home in the kitchen where he has cooked for her for years. Machines beep and whir and drip and count. Those who were once full of vitality have their vital signs carefully monitored. The staff is quiet, polite, efficient, responsive.

When I leave, the middle-aged man is sitting by the bed just holding the old woman's (his mother?) hand. She is quiet and so is he. The next day, the room is empty, and I think to myself that she has gone home – whatever that means. I wonder how long he stayed there with her, and I know that his love somehow lingers.

This is what love is: watching and feeding and touching and talking when there is nothing else left to do. It is not moonlight and candlelight and wine and roses. It is biopsies and bedpans, tears mixed with laughter, sadness and pain and memories and prayers. And it is all there, on the twelfth floor.

June 8, 2010


Two minutes after I finished planting my garden -- literally -- we had a hail storm. The rain came down in torrents with chunks of ice the size of giant marbles. I could have collected them and cooled a glass of iced tea. The chard and the beets look a little smashed, and some of the peppers, but I am optimistic that they will bounce back.

I garden for fun and because I love the feeling of wandering out to the back yard to see what I might have for supper. But I think of all those folks who grow things because they must, and I hope for them that the weather is fair and the growing season is long.

This year, the new thing I have planted is dinosaur kale. Even with its tiny leaves, it has a kind of prehistoric look. The beet greens are already red, the rainbow chard yellow, green and magenta. I have two colors of peppers, eggplant and heirloom tomatoes. And I am going to see if it is possible to grow okra north of the Mason-Dixon line. I'll keep you posted!

June 6, 2010

Beulah Land!

Last Sunday, we sang an old Southern hymn, "Dwelling in Beulah Land." You won't find it in the hymnals in the kind of churches I attend in Connecticut! The chorus has stayed with me all week:

I'm living on the mountain underneath a cloudless sky,
I'm drinking at the fountain that never shall run dry,
O yes! I'm feasting on the manna from a bountiful supply
For I am dwelling in Beulah Land.

There is one place in the Bible, Isaiah 62.4, that speaks of Beulah Land. It is a powerful statement of the promise of God's love fulfilled in the land itself, in the place of grounding, where the people find their life and livelihood. The prophet reminds them: "You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Beulah (Hebrew for Married); for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married."

It is odd to think of the land being married, but the old hymn explains the meaning. It is to come to a place of abundance and joy, a place where all that is needed for life is present in overflowing measure. Maybe Beulah Land is all around us but our culture has become so soaked with fear and greed that all we see is scarcity. It is a fact that there is enough food in the world for everyone to be fed, and yet countless numbers die of starvation every day.

I was in my own Beulah Land when I sang the hymn. In the few days I was there, different people showed up with various little gifts: a cabbage freshly cut from the garden, a dozen eggs right from the chickens, potatoes and onions newly dug, squash and blueberries just picked. It was a bountiful supply of manna and we indeed had a feast, several actually!

And the first verse of the hymn starts with these words: "Far away the noise of strife upon my ear is falling." I did, in those few days, feel that the noise of the world's strife was far away; not absent, but not overwhelming either. To live in the place of abundance is to be able to be present in a world that is far from perfect and still to know that God's intention for all the earth -- people, animals, plants, and everything -- is only good, always shalom. It is to remember that the whole universe is, indeed, as Brian Swimme has said, "bottomless vaults of generosity."