Last year we had a garden growing in Albuquerque. Facing a number of difficulties in previous years when we lived about an hour north of there, I wasn’t expecting too much. After all, desert life isn’t known for its flourishing vegetable gardens. Last summer however, we lived in a section of the town known as the “North Valley,” an agricultural area situated near the Rio Grande. There are many horse farms, several fields of hay and lavender, a couple of wineries, and that summer, a garden growing in my back yard that far exceeded my expectations. There were tomato plants taller than I am and the leaves on the zucchini plants were as big as the tobacco leaves I remember from my grandfather’s farm in eastern North Carolina. Neither my husband nor I added any fertilizer. We didn’t do anything special other than turn the soil and build a little rabbit fence around the plants. We watered daily, pulled weeds as needed, but the plants went crazy and overran the plot, stretching across the fences. It should come as no surprise therefore, that every day in the month of August last summer I walked around our little garden expecting to find an amazing harvest. And here’s the thing, there never was much of one.
Those tall and full tomato plants only had a few tomatoes growing. Those oversized zucchini leaves with lots of blooms and thick stems actually bore only a few zucchini. And once I had gotten beyond my frustration and disappointment, I found myself saying something the folks in my profession like to say a lot. “That’ll preach.”
A church I heard about once wanted to raise three million dollars for a renovation project. They paid an architect to design their dream building which included an open and appealing narthex where visitors and members could relax and mingle before going into the newly furnished and technologically enhanced sanctuary. There would be new education facilities, a tiered music room, a larger and updated kitchen, roomy offices, and all kinds of architectural extras and landscaping possibilities to create a beautiful and modern church building and campus.
The only thing is that there is no way this church could raise three million dollars since a few years ago there was a split and half of the congregation left and they have never completely rebounded from the loss. Within the congregation there remain lots of unresolved issues, a good deal of tension, not a lot of support for the pastor, and no real mission outside of themselves. Still, several members think a newly renovated building, a good sound and light system, a big kitchen, and new furniture is the answer.
I don’t fault the church for wanting the change. At least members recognize there are problems to address. At least they are paying attention and making some attempt to improve their situation. At least they haven’t lost hope. And yet, I have to wonder, if they do manage to raise the money and build the “dream church” they are hoping for, will it ever really amount to anything? Will there ever be much of a “harvest” or any growth in the community to show or share if they fail to work on their deeper issues of identity and mission? Can they bear fruit if they aren’t healthy?
And yet, what do I know? Even after I had no harvest, I continued taking pictures of my beautiful tomato plants and sending them home to my family of farmers and gardeners in southeastern North Carolina. “Can you believe how big they’ve grown?” I wrote, always in hopes that no one wrote back asking to see a picture of an actual tomato.