There is a war being waged on my property.
I am doing battle against an experienced, well equipped clone army.
I am so going down.
I spend a lot of time talking to God while I’m pulling weeds. Mostly I ask him what I can learn from this seemingly pointless exercise. Some weeds I can eat, some I can make into medicine, most I just ignore. But one is so obnoxious that I go after it.
Bittersweet nightshade has lovely flowers and eye-catching berries, but the foliage and the berries are both toxic (it can be used medicinally by experienced herbalists). It smells noxious, spreads very aggressively, and is considered invasive by many. So, is it invasive, or successful? The answer depends on you.
One of the reasons it’s so prolific is that it can reproduce in several different ways. It produces seeds, but it can also reproduce asexually. If a tiny piece of the root or even the stem are left in the ground, it forms a complete plant, essentially a clone of the parent plant, very rapidly. When you pull it up, it offers little resistance. The “fragile” roots snap, so a little is always left behind. You can rip out a truckload of vines and come back a week later to discover that you didn’t eradicate it. You just gave it an excuse to grow.
After a long afternoon of pulling out bittersweet, I realized I want to be like that. I want a spiritual root system so robust, that even when I’m gone, something deep and lasting remains. I don’t mind appearing weak, or even being a target. As long as there is enough left below the surface to give the next generation a healthy start. The first command God gave humans was to be fruitful and multiply. I don’t think this just means having physical offspring, although that can be an important part of it. Like bittersweet, we can be prolific in a variety of ways.
But what about the smell? And the poison? Handled properly and in the right dosage, the same compounds that make bittersweet deadly can also soothe and heal. We’ve all seen how deadly religion can be. But if we acknowledge the potency of the gospel message and apply it carefully to the wounds we encounter, we can be agents of healing. Does it carry the stench of death or the aroma of life? The answer depends on you.
We sometimes talk about terrorist organizations in much the same way that we talk about noxious weeds. But when we “root them out” are we eradicating them, or helping them reproduce? What lessons can we learn from the fact that some of them have an easier time recruiting than most churches?
Ready for the bizarre punch line? The one time bittersweet nightshade didn’t spread like wildfire in my yard was when I planted it.
That’s right, I planted it.
Our first Spring here, before I realized what a nuisance it was (and found out it was toxic) I thought the vine with the flowers and the colorful berries would look pretty in a particular spot. So I carefully dug up a plant, dug a generous hole, transplanted it, and watered it faithfully.
Could it be that human efforts aren’t the key to being truly fruitful? Do we need to embrace weakness, discomfort, and disruption if we want to have a faith that’s invasive? If you get pulled up by the roots, what will be left below the surface?