One of my favorite, though perhaps unsung cities, is Minneapolis. OK, St. Paul too…the twin cities, Minneapolis-St. Paul. And it’s not because of the Mall of America. I was introduced to the Twin Cities when Torin’s younger brother Josh and his partner Saro lived there. There was something about the cold weather and the warm people that endeared it to me.
If I were to live in the Twin Cities, I would most certainly NOT consider it living in exile as it has a vibrant cultural life, social justice awareness, good restaurants, and alternative economies. But it is still a city… which means green space is limited, vast open places to run around in are somewhat rare, probably far more concrete and metal than dirt and grass.
But that doesn’t stop people from growing gardens.
It doesn’t prevent people from connecting with the Source that runs deep beneath the concrete and steel.
For some, it has inspired them to be more intentional about this growing…about this connection.
Fritz Haeg is the artist-in-residence at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and he has let his art loose on many of Minneapolis’ most common green spaces. The front yard.
Haeg’s project is called the “edible estate” and it is something he calls both provocative and invitational. He works with families in the cities to show their neighbors how they can grow their own food in the space they have not considered before. The space that generally has just been a burden to mow and look tidy and impressive for those passing by or the neighbors. And he finds that the best gardens are grown in the places you would least expect them…in well-to-do neighborhoods where manicured lawns are important…and in run down neighborhoods where once there were grassy lots of trash and debris. These are the provocative places for the best gardens.
But lest you think these are simply mini-farms with rows of corn growing in the front, these edible estates are more than simply about food production. Haeg calls them pleasure gardens that also produce food. “The point” he says “is to make visible food production in the city, but in a very pleasurable way. [The whole point] is for everyone to look at this and think, “I could do this too. If nobody else does it in the neighborhood, at least everyone gets to watch and look at it. Those little kids growing up on that street who may not otherwise recognize that food grows on plants coming out of dirt, they get the reminder every day.”
When God speaks to the Israelite people in Jeremiah, he is speaking to a group who have faced provocation…
A desperate group
A people who have seen their holy city of Jerusalem, destroyed, their homes pillaged, their lives crumbling around them.
These people who, if you would ask them, who are you, what name would you give yourself, they would say “God’s chosen people” now must add to that description…
They must face their new home in Babylon, some in Egypt. And the prophet Jeremiah sends them a letter. Certified no doubt, with the mark of respect stamped right on it so they know this is not just the words of one man, but the word of God. In the scripture, you notice, there are all these names, as we read we can hope…one of these people will surely find the solution, queen mother? The king? The court officials? Artists, smiths? At least…maybe these messengers will bring good news…
Surely this letter will say, God will return you to your home.
Surely this letter will say, “Don’t worry, I’m taking care of it.” Take a nice vacation and you’ll be back in two weeks.
Opening the letter, like Charlie waiting to see if he has golden ticket for the chocolate factory, it says
No, maybe not buck up.
Maybe more like…Yeah, this is the way it’s going to be. This is the new normal. This is your life. This. Your home is with me, and I am with you…here. Make this your home.
It is possible.
Beautiful…but…not quite…what they were hoping for.
As Fritz Haeg stands in his gardens in Minneapolis, thousands of years and thousands of miles from the exiles in Babylon and Egypt, he sees these urban gardens, perhaps like the exiles did as they envisioned those gardens they were to create. Haeg says that his gardens sit between hope and doom.
A garden that sits between hope and doom. (?)
He says that of course, the garden evokes hope because it is beautiful, everyone can benefit from it. “When you see a garden like this, of course you think, wow what if everyone in the city did this?” And there is excitement.
“Then, maybe your mind snaps to the opposite extreme” he says. “[You think this] is ridiculous, nobody can do this; nobody has time for it. The soil is too polluted, the air is too polluted, and nobody has time to grow food in this way. You can list all the reasons why we can’t and shouldn’t and won’t do this.”
And for him, this is where the best gardens are planted. This place between hope and doom.
He takes the ideal notion of what the city he wants to live in,
creates some small piece of that vision,
and then puts it into the least likely part of the city.
The beauty is in the contrast between “the city we want and the city we have” he says.
When we first arrived at Morgantown, I had the seminary chip on the shoulder that most new pastors do, and honestly, is something that a lot of churches want. That chip has energy, enthusiasm, and vision. I prided myself on bringing the good news to you, to speak about the city, about exiles and immigrant, about our call to social justice, to peacemaking, to welcoming, to radical discipleship, praxis, action…
It took me a while, but slowly I realized that while these are messages close to my heart, and yours, I found…they were probably the least challenging for me to preach and for you to hear.
It took me a while, but slowly I realized that the messages most challenging for me to preach and for you to hear were not about calling you to action, but calling you to reflection. Calling on you, and me, not to always turn your gaze outwards, but calling your gaze inwards once in a while.
It took me a while, but I slowly came to terms with that. It took me a while, but I slowly convinced myself that this wasn’t a cop out, but what this community, and myself needed.
This is a congregation that plants gardens, literally and figuratively. You are out there working in the city, connecting with exiles, loving your neighbor. After a while I realized that our church didn’t always need to be reminded to do God’s good work because all of you are.
What I realized is that your spiritual life is the garden where you perhaps see yourself straddling the line between hope and doom
Spirituality, a notion that seems so beautiful, so inviting, so alluring
And yet…do we have time for it? Is my spirit too polluted? Is it too much work? Is it a nice idea, but beauty will never win over productivity? Is it too close?
Sometimes, dear friends, the place we can feel most like an exile, is in our own hearts. When we don’t feel at home there.
When we wonder how this garden will be watered when what we have experienced for so long is dryness and drought.
Sometimes the garden of our souls is overrun with weeds and pests and nothing is blooming and…where do we even begin?
How do we recognize the contrast between
the spirit we want and the spirit we have.
the spirit we want and the spirit we have.
In the children’s book The Curious Garden a little boy named Liam lives in a city that has no green, no gardens, everyone stays indoors. It is dirty and polluted. But Liam loves being outside in spite of it all. One day he comes across an abandoned railway bridge. He climbs onto the railway and sees a little patch of green with a few small flowers, struggling to survive, but still opening themselves to the sun.
Over time, Liam begins to care for the garden. “Liam may not have been a gardener” it says “but he knew that he could help. So he returned to the railway the very next day and got to work. The flowers nearly drowned and he had a few pruning problems, but the plants patiently waited while Liam found better ways of gardening”
How many of you feel that this is the point where you are in your exile-garden-soul. You try things, trial and error, some work, some don’t. And you can get discouraged…
But your soul waits patiently while you find better ways to tend it…
“As the weeks rolled by, Liam began to feel like a real gardener, and the plants began to feel like a real garden. Most gardens stay in one place. But this was no ordinary garden. With miles of open railway ahead of it, the garden was growing restless. It wanted to explore. The tough little weeds and mosses were the first to move. They popped farther and farther down the tracks and were closely followed by the more delicate plants.
“Over the next few months. Liam and the curious garden explored every corner of the railway”
And what Liam discovers after months of tending this garden is that the most surprising thing that popped up…
… were new gardeners. By the end of the book, this brick and steel and concrete city that was given over to desolation, became green: ivy growing up buildings, gardens on rooftops, flowers popping out of abandoned cars.
A little garden, perched between hope and doom, just a patch of green in exile.
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.
What is this garden within you? This place of doom and hope? Plant it, water it, pray over it, invite others into it and bless them with the fruit that does and will come from it.
And, above all, call upon God, the ultimate Gardener, Tender or our souls, to walk before you, and alongside you.
Inviting Her to kneel with you as dig your hands into the deep earth of His love.
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.May it be so…