I always through there were two options when it came to weeds.
1) you could spray chemicals all over them and hope they die… or use more natural chemical reactions like vinegar and hot water to cause them to wither.
2) you could get out there with a hoe, like my deda (grandpa) always did, and take them out by hand.
This year, I’m taking a course on organic ministry at a farm near Norwalk. We spend roughly half the day in conversation and reflection, have some personal retreat time, and do some work in the gardens themselves.
So far, the thing I have learned that has stuck with me the most is that there are other options when it comes to weeds.
Weeds thrive, you see, because the soil conditions promote their growth. And the weeds themselves tell you what the soil needs in order to be more healthy OR what type of plans you should be planting there instead.
Stinging nettle can indicate that the soil is acidic… so maybe you want to plant hydrangeas or blueberries there. Or, you could work to improve the soil conditions by adding dolomitic limestone and making the soil more neutral.
Chicory or mustard weeds are a sign that the ground is hard and too compacted. You can break up the soil by planting sweet clover that will help break up the soil and replenish nitrogen. Brassica crops (like broccoli and cabbages) also will flourish under these conditions.
The list goes on and on.
I was spending time with a group of clergy colleagues this week and we were talking about difficult people in our churches. People who take up a lot of time or who talk too much in meetings, or are always complaining about something. We all have them in our churches, and if we are honest with ourselves, sometimes WE are that person.
Our tendency is to see these people as weeds. We wish they weren’t there. We’d like to pull them up by their roots or change them.
But what if, instead, we stopped and asked what were the conditions that allowed their behaviors to flourish?
What if someone talks too much in a meeting because we haven’t created space for other voices to be heard?
What if someone is constantly complaining because there is something else going on in their life and it is a sign of a pastoral care need?
What if that person who always takes up too much of our time is a sign of our lack of good, healthy boundaries?
And what if instead of focusing so much of our worry on the weeds, we instead worked to strength and plant things that we want to flourish in that space?
What if we shifted the meeting format to have more small group conversation time?
What if we made a policy to only accept a complaint if there was a constructive response along with it, or a commitment to volunteer to be part of the change?
What if we nurtured a community of care with trained lay folks who helped with congregational care instead of trying to do it all on our own.
All of a sudden, our lives are not consumed with stamping out weeds, but with promoting growth and health and vitality in our gardens and in our churches.