Today was a cold and rainy day here in Durham.
The sky never brightened beyond the dull gray of the clouds that rattled and wept most of the day. Here, where spring has arrived in full force, the temperature struggled to reach sixty degrees. In a week full of bright sunshine, the weather somehow knew how to set the scene for Good Friday. My plans to spend the day digging and planting fell by the wayside, because of the rain and a fairly sleepless night thanks to my allergies.
I had two things on my calendar for the day. One was to meet Ryan, a new friend as well as a Methodist minister and community activist, and the organizer of the Jack Crum Conference on Prophetic Ministry I wrote about not long ago. The plan was to meet him at the Pie Pushers food truck for a slice of pizza and conversation. The truck was parked in the lot at Sam’s Quik Shop, which shares the lot with a self-service car wash. We got our pizza and made a table out of a shelf in one of the car wash bays so we could eat and talk. We stood in the stall for almost an hour and a half. I had imagined the time between noon and three today being quite time alone in the garden, planting and praying and thinking about Jesus’ execution. Instead I came away both challenged and encouraged by time together with Ryan and Ginger as we talked about how our faith is best lived out in our broken world.
Late this afternoon, Ginger and I went out our back gate and across the alley to Mary Anne’s house. She is our back fence neighbor and a wonderful gardener. She sent a note out on our neighborhood listserv inviting everyone to a plant swap, which was followed by a sentence that said you didn’t have to have anything to swap to come and take part. Five or six other neighbors showed up, most with plants from their yards. Everyone was generous and helpful. We came home with six or eight buckets full of plants from irises to day lilies to Lamb’s ear to a Japanese maple seedling. Everything we brought home was small. My planting tomorrow will be an exercise in hope because most everything will need a year or two to take root and grow into itself.
I love working in the garden and I don’t always know the names of the things I’m planting. As we walked around Mary Anne’s yard, she knew them all by name and could not only tell you how to treat them in replanting, but also had stories to tell about how the various plants came to take up residence in her garden. Her stories seeded tales from the rest of us about plants and gardens and homes and families. We all left with plants for our gardens and seedlings of relationships in our hearts.
By the time we got back home, it was time to fix dinner. Ginger, her parents, and I shared the meal around our dining table. The Alzheimer’s continues to disappear my father-in-law, but tonight he had a few lucid moments. One of the things Ginger does best is invite him to step back into old memories that are still alive in his mind. He can’t recall the names of our Schnauzers for more than a minute or two, but can revel in every detail of his life growing up and while he tells those stories a little lightning sparkles in his now mostly vacant eyes.
Those who had followed Jesus stood together while Jesus was dying on the cross; many of them stayed together in the days between death and resurrection. Even in the deepest darkness, faith is a team sport. It is not good to be alone, even in the dark. Thinking about those with whom I gathered today sent my mind back to a Wendell Berry poem that moves me each time I read it. I offer it tonight as we sit in the dark together.
Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Love the Lord. Love the world. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts. Amen.