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Archive for August, 2010

The Growing Season

Three years ago, Will decided to grow tomatoes. Now, in order to understand the significance of this decision, you have to understand that Will doesn’t like tomatoes. Not raw ones, anyway. He’s quick to tell you that he likes tomatoes cooked in stuff like in Italian and Mexican foods, but unlike me, he doesn’t like a plate full of sliced tomatoes, or a tomato sandwich, or tomatoes cut up into a salad, or tomatoes stuffed with tuna salad or feta cheese, or simply eating a tomato whole like one eats an apple! I
could go on and on about how much I love tomatoes, like the character in Forrest Gump who goes on and on about shrimp, but I won’t.
So, Will decided to grow tomatoes, and since he had never grown anything like that at all, it was an adventure–an adventure that yielded a marvelous crop of delicious tomatoes. Not since our days in North Carolina (when every single member of our church had a garden and kept us stocked in summer produce) had our family enjoyed the daily taste of homegrown tomatoes. The thing I remember about Will’s first crop of tomatoes is that because he had never grown tomatoes before, he didn’t anticipate any glitches, he simply confronted problems as they came along. By the second year, he remembered what worked and what didn’t work. By this year, he was consulting the internet on how to find and kill tomato worms (awful, awful creatures!) and sometimes being puzzled to discover a beautiful-looking tomato which, upon closer inspection, had a bad spot or looked partially eaten. The tomatoes are just now ripening. Thus far, the ones which have survived the dreaded tomato worm or invading insect have been excellent to eat. I see many more green ones in waiting. Under Will’s watchful eye, they promise to be part of my daily diet in the days to come.

I’m going to go on record as saying that Will’s first year of growing tomatoes was the most fruitful, figuratively and literally. I don’t think he grew better tomatoes; but I think the excitement, wonder and risk of trying to grow tomatoes produced a season of the most delicious fruit. There was an eagerness and anticipation which accompanied every yellow blossom that appeared, every tiny green tomato bud, every decision of whether that tomato was ripe for the picking. There was a fascination with each problem that arose and satisfaction when that problem was solved (or surrendered as unsolvable!). The entire tomato-growing season was covered in a kind of happy amazement and pride that the tomatoes we were enjoying were the ones Will planted and tended.

Obviously, every season can’t be the first season. The next growing season and the next produces good fruit, but less excitement, more routine, and tougher problems (that’s a shout out to those evil tomato worms!). This year’s “third fruits” are no less tasty than the “first fruits” but we’re not as amazed anymore. We can now compare and contrast one season with another. We’re still thankful for the tomatoes, but also a bit impatient for them to ripen.

As I think about Will’s tomatoes, I think about church life at HFPC. We are often wistful for those “first fruits” when every service, class, or special event offered was covered in a kind of happy amazement. Problems were as new as the church, and nothing was routine. Now, after 18 years as a church, we tend to compare and contrast the seasons, and some wonder if the fruit tastes as good as it did in the past.

I’ll admit that the memory of first fruits makes them seem like they tasted better, but as the church is entering a growing season that is exciting and challenging, I believe the current crop will be every bit as tasty as the first fruits. Our guidance for our current growing season is not to look back at last season’s crop, but to look forward to Christ, who by his resurrection is himself the “first fruits.” Christ gives us the Spirit that we ourselves may bear the fruits of the Spirit: love, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It is an adventure, or should be, because life as a disciple of Christ is never dull or routine. And we are assured, by looking to Christ and living by the Spirit, that the promise of beautiful fruit is an ongoing reality, and can be enjoyed in this and every growing season.

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Connecting Time

I don’t like blurring time periods, like in all those “Back to the Future” movies (which I’ve never seen) where someone from the future goes back to the past, or vice versa. It creeps me out to hear movie lines like “if you don’t go back to the future, everything in the present will change,” or “if you leave that 2010 penny on the dresser while in 1949, your mother won’t exist and you won’t exist.” [The only movie about blurring times that I like is “Kate and Leopold” and that’s because I like Hugh Jackman. Period. Whatever he’s in–all the “X-Men” movies, the musical “Oklahoma!”, you name it. When I have watched “Kate and Leopold,” I’ve just pushed the time-crossing thing out of my head.]
So, given the fact that blurring time in movies or plays make me shudder, it’s interesting that I wasn’t totally creeped out by a play that Will and I saw last week, a play which, in Act 2, messed with past and present time. As simply as I can explain it, a person from the past comes back to see what he’s like 41 years later in the present (oh, in addition to a guy who died 41 years ago who comes back not only as the guy he was 41 years ago, but the guy he WOULD have been if he hadn’t died. Now THAT is is serious messing with time!)

Anyway, the young person from the past sizes up the middle-aged person that he has become and is clearly not pleased. His older self has lost his spark, isolated himself, become resigned to the world around him. The middle-aged person has a few opinions of his younger version as well–marveling at how self-centered he was and how clueless he was about the important things in life–love, happiness, justice.

I’m not going to tell you the ending (even though, for the record, I never mind knowing the ending to a play, book, television show or movie. But I know some people do mind). And what I got out of this time-crossed encounter may not have been what the playwright intended but it served to remind me that who we were plays a huge part in who we are now. But also, who we were isn’t necessarily who we have to become. (This time stuff is tricky!) The older version of the man wanted to deny the person he had been, because the younger version was so self-centered and insensitive; yet the younger version of the man needed the maturity and other-centeredness of his middle-aged self to help him know that the life choices he made–however imperfect–were worthwhile.

Creeped out by the time-thing as I am, I could nevertheless identify with the middle-aged man when he looked at his younger self and cringed. I think–I KNOW–that I would cringe if I were face to face with my 19 year old self (which was NOT 41 years ago, for anyone trying to do the math!). Yet who I was, and the choices that I made, when I was 19 years old helped shaped the person I am today. And even though the play that we saw wasn’t a religious one, I can see God at work in my life then as naive 19 year old. Truthfully, I may even see God at work then a little bit more clearly than I can see God at work in my life now! But looking back and knowing that God has always been with me, guiding me, supporting me, forgiving me, shaping me that enables me to believe God still does the same for me today. Along with the Psalmist, I can sing, “O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples. Remember the wonderful works he has done.” Past, present and future!

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