Rain and yoga with my mom today reminded me of two short poems I wrote this time last year: Wildflowers Yarrow, poppy, and sweet alyssum seeds fall white like pearls on the black earth. It's getting dark, but I'm planting wildflowers before the rain.
Yoga Before shavasana, Sally said, Think of someone you hold dear, someone you love, and let a smile start from the inside out. I smiled with my whole body, thinking of you.
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I
drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
“We can,” they answered.
said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the
baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me
to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been
the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are
regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high
officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead,
whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and
whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man
did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a
ransom for many.”
many of you know, I am going to be moving at the beginning of November
to live with family and then friends in the Bay Area for a few months.
Next summer I will enter seminary at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical
Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana. I'll be pursuing the M.Div, or Masters of
Divinity degree with a concentration in community organizing. This
degree will prepare me for ministry in a church context, or in
non-profit work. I am going to miss each of you, and am grateful for
having been a part of this community. I am also grateful for the chance
to preach today, since I need all the practice I can get and because it
gave me the opportunity to reflect on my experience coordinating the
community garden ministry here.
the scripture reading today, we heard James and John ask Jesus to grant
whatever they wish, and when Jesus asks James and John what they would
like him to do for them, they want to be elevated to the highest
positions of prestige and honor – to sit at his right and left. I'd like
to read a little further in the text to the story of Blind Bartimaeus,
because I believe it is an interesting juxtaposition to the previous
they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large
crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son
of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that
it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have
mercy on me!”
Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling
you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
how in both passages, Jesus asks “What do you want me to do for you?”
The son of God puts himself in a subservient position to both his own
followers and to this blind beggar on the streets. What an interesting
contrast, though, that the disciples pre-empt Jesus' question with “We
want you to do for us whatever we ask” (as if Jesus is a magic genie)!
But Bartimaeus the beggar shouts out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on
requests that follow are also completely different. The disciples want
to become the greatest. They want recognition and reward. Justifiably,
it's hard work following Jesus and they've probably endured public jest,
hunger, no pay or benefits, and days away from their homes and
families. Yet compare their response with Bartimaeus' simple request: I want to see.
after Jesus tells the disciples that following him means to serve, he
goes and shows them what service looks like in action and heals
Bartimaeus. Through this action, we see that being a disciple of Jesus
means coming into contact with the least and identifying with those at
the bottom end of society – that whoever wants to be the greatest must
a hard thing to learn for someone at my age. Two of the greatest
temptations facing my generation are mobility without concern and
ambition without commitment. In other words, there's a lot of pressure
to climb the ladder.
am no stranger to the pressure or the desire to climb the ladder. While
here at the Garden, I was offered three different jobs, all of which
would have been a “step up,” according to our society's values. I say this because each made
me consider what I was doing here. I felt those nagging anxieties: should I, could I be doing something different?
I think my family thought I was a little crazy to turn them down. Maybe
I am a little crazy. However, I truly felt that God called me here to
help this garden ministry grow and also to be shaped and formed by the
discipline of staying in a place and learning from it, without seeking
after a higher paycheck or status. I believe that when we are in the
right place, serving God and neighbor, we are the least anxious about
what we “should” or “could” be doing.
I am feeling that challenge again now that questions of what I'm doing
next emerge. My grandparents recently asked me what I'll be doing in
Half Moon Bay next year, and I took a moment before answering because
suddenly I felt panicked – what will I be doing? How is this contributing to my goals, my future, my career? What will my family think? I
answered truthfully – I will be helping with a food distribution to the
working poor and volunteering at a farm and community garden there, as
well as working on scholarships, but a lot of time will be dedicated to
rest. I listened to the pause on the other end of the line... And then
my grandma responded that she thought that was a great idea!
is when we choose to reject the dead-end road of upward mobility and
accept the journey of discipleship – of following Jesus – that anxiety
falls away and we receive true sight and faith. Like Bartimaeus, we
recognize things of real value and worth and suddenly the landscape
widens. It is not dominated by us anymore, though service does open us
up to discover our own vocation and gifts. For me, my service at the
Garden helped me to discern a calling to ministry.
was here that I saw what churches can be, and how they could not only
serve their community but also serve the land in this time of ecological
crisis. I gained a vision for how churches can be a part of social
movements, like the food security/ food justice movement, and learned
through my experience here about a different model of community
organizing – one that welcomes people in and nurtures people for
long-term change. I saw the potential of creating safe spaces –
sanctuaries – for those on the margins – for youth at risk of joining
gangs, and alternative places of belonging to those already involved.
How often do you hear about a church where homies come to the property
every week, and also indigenous farm workers, some of whom will be
gathering here this afternoon to make pan de muerto (Day of the Dead
bread)? This speaks to your church's willingness to surrender control,
the ultimate fruit of servanthood. It's scary and dangerous, but we're
in the business of following Jesus and it's the journey that promises
I'd like to share a quote from a presentation that Chelsea, a student volunteer at the Garden, gave at CSUCI:
was kind of worried when I heard that the Garden was located on a
church property because I'm not very religious and I was worried about
the type of people who would be around. And so I was very surprised when
I found out the people I met were varying in age, background, beliefs,
and even their purposes for volunteering in the Garden. It was really
empowering to see so many people from different worlds coming together
towards a common goal. And at the end of the day, not only did I feel
better because I knew I was benefiting my community, but I felt like I
was part of something bigger and something so positive... I've heard it a
million times before but it really is true that you can't help other
people without helping yourself.”
pray that you will continue this servant practice of opening yourselves
up to the "stranger" and encourage other churches to do the same. When
you see tattooed or different-looking people outside those walls, I hope
you will see an opportunity for friendship. When you find the kitchen
out of order, I hope you will find an occasion to think of all the
people who are using this space, and see them, too, as part of your
community here. When you feel anxiety, as I have recently, about the
future of your ministry, I hope God assures you that God
has taken care of this place and will continue to do so. This is the
assurance offered to God's servants.
closing, I want to share a story from the Garden when, like Bartimaeus,
I felt my eyes opened to see Jesus. Every Saturday in the Garden we
gather for lunch after working together – pulling weeds, planting
cabbage or lettuce, watering, harvesting carrots, and making compost
with the scraps. And last Saturday I took a good look at the circle of volunteers: I
see a young man expelled from school for fighting with a lot of anger
still in his eyes, but who for the first time went into the kitchen and
volunteered to help the chefs finish their meal. I see an older man who
is usually pretty quiet and comes for what he calls his “therapy.” I see
a new family from the neighborhood whose kids have gotten involved and
are now leading field trips for kids at the garden. I see a young woman
with a stressful work situation who texted me later to say about how
much she loves the place. I see a girl from the Unitarian Universalist
church youth group who will later rave about how the homemade food she
ate here was the best meal she's ever had. I see a Navy engineer whose
famous last words three years ago were that he approved of the garden at
this church, but he didn't have the time to get involved. (I think we
know who I'm talking about!) I see an older lady who got a traffic
ticket and chose community service hours over paying the fee just so she
could come work with us.
when we form a circle to introduce newcomers, this lady grabs the hands
of the two kids on probation next to her, and starts singing, “Oh, the
Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord! For giving me the things I
need, the sun and the rain and the apple seed, the Lord is good to me!”
And soon everyone is shyly holding hands, just like you all do after
each church service, from the kids caught tagging to the family who came
because they can't afford fruits and vegetables to me, the young woman
who served here without fully knowing why I was called to stay. Who
found in this place a calling to grow this circle, this beloved
community that I've come to see inside and outside the church walls,
from the baptismal font to the soil under the apple tree. And so I thank
If I haven't told you yet, I've decided to go to seminary next year, starting fall 2013. I'll be going to Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS). When I visited earlier this year, I was struck by the fact that one decision can have such a ripple effect in the future, and on ecology. And that's partly why I'm going to seminary (to speak in riddles). Here's a poem about one such decision that made me choose AMBS.
When They Stopped Mowing, They Noticed
When they stopped mowing,
they noticed how the newly tall
grass invited shy neighbors-
the sparrows and the swallows,
prairie grasses that crept in
to seed their seed, and deer
emboldened by the feed.
They noticed less welcome creatures, too,
skunk and opossum hiding
under the slides and swing.
Red shouldered hawks
stopped for a meal now and then,
they too observed the gradual succession.
From the sky they saw their future homes,
seedlings of bur oak nurtured
near the books in the seminary
that ceased to mow its fields.
6275 Bell Place
The worn path home
cuts across an empty lot.
Grocery bags hang from my arms,
and I make one more engraving
of feet into dust. Even the fire hydrant
seems to sweat on this summer night.
I pass the house of Ms. Maggio,
the salsa instructor. Her door is cracked,
and she is dancing with a student,
red curtains drawn back.
Three jars of tomato sauce
weigh my shoulders down.
I pass houses whose windows flare
soft blue with the lights of television.
One couple sprawls across the couch,
the smell of jasmine thick along their fence line.
When I arrive, I will write a poem to this place,
this night like many others, when I tread
the crossways of the corner lot
and miss home, months before I leave.
I'm currently spending a rainy Saturday morning typing up an application for admission to Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (IN). Here's part of a response that relates to the theme of Forming Roots...
"List some of the formative influences in your life..."
When I was only a few months old, my family moved to Indonesia with Wycliffe Bible Translators. My mom worked with linguistics, and my dad was a bush pilot with JAARS, their missionary aviation division. We lived in Indonesia for 6 years. My earliest memories are of waking up to the sounds of the rainforest, eating sweet potatoes and roasted boar at village pig feasts, and playing games with our neighbor kids. Looking back, I think that these early childhood experiences implanted an interest in me for new places and different cultures.
Though I was only in Indonesia until age 6, I relate to the experiences of many missionary kids or “third culture kids” who have a hard time answering the question, “Where are you from?”. I have moved about 10 times throughout my 24 years, and these displacements have profoundly affected my life. On the one hand, I find it exciting to get to know a new place. I have become adaptable, and am good at making new friends. On the other hand, I have a hard time knowing what “home” feels like, and it's been difficult to integrate all the places and experiences into my present place. The search for home has become something of a spiritual question for me, and is a way that I emotionally understand the meaning of sin (being “lost”/ far from home), and the nature of the kingdom of God (a homecoming).
I'm trying to write a poem every day this year. Here's another one about the Garden:
Homies in the Garden Albert, with the faded and badly done tattoo under his left eye, asked today how to grow a peach tree. Giovanni, so eager to please, plants spinach in neat rows, and positively glows when talking about Sophia, who just turned one. Jose, with muscles grown on a backyard weight set, turns the compost pile, tells me he's building his resume. He tastes sweet peas for the first time, and smiles like a little boy.
Don't let the clean gallons- plastic, white and gleaming behind the glass- fool you: milk still comes from the warm, pink teats of a cow, its hoofed legs likely up to their bony ankles in manure before milking.
And days before they slipped into squeaky foam cartons, eggs turned and dropped from the canals of chickens, smells of sticky feathers and the shuffling flocks molting off their shells as they are boxed.
Don't think that because you are vegetarian or vegan that you can escape death or dirt. I once saw a tiller snare and slice a panicked rabbit, hidden behind the artichokes. Its blood fed the living soil, where microorganism hoards feed the plants that feed us. They eat what is dead, and all our ancestors die again and rise again from the Earth.
Try to praise the mutilated world. Remember June's long days, and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew. The nettles that methodically overgrow the abandoned homesteads of exiles. You must praise the mutilated world. You watched the stylish yachts and ships; one of them had a long trip ahead of it, while salty oblivion awaited others. You've seen the refugees heading nowhere, you've heard the executioners sing joyfully. You should praise the mutilated world. Remember the moments when we were together in a white room and the curtain fluttered. Return in thought to the concert where music flared. You gathered acorns in the park in autumn and leaves eddied over the earth's scars. Praise the mutilated world and the grey feather a thrush lost, and the gentle light that strays and vanishes and returns.
-Adam Zagajewski, 2001
Thanks to Kari and her blog, where I first saw this poem.
I use this blog mostly for communicating with friends and family during periods of travel. Aside from that, I post the occasional poem or reflection, usually on themes of agriculture, radicalism, and faith.