The gardening season is upon us now in Wisconsin, and I am pondering the wildflower patch. It was started as a 4H project when my daughter was young, and it was fun–until the white cockle took over. White cockle is a noxious weed disguised as a flower. It produces a little balloon seed pod that, when you’re six, is fun to pick and pop. But when you’re a grown up and you have to pull out the cockle because it shades out all the prettier wildflowers, it’s just, well…noxious!
I used to spend hours battling the white cockle on summer afternoons. There was no end to it, and truthfully, it was hard to tell if the more desirable flowers appreciated my efforts. I told myself I was being industrious. But year after year, the cockle just got worse; it was winning the battle.
So last year, I gave up. I told my family I was letting the wildflower garden go to seed. We would mow it over and be done with it. But after we mowed, things just started coming up as they had before.
About mid-way through the summer, I looked closely at the little patch. Indeed, it had gone to seed. The seeds had flowered and filled the garden with color. Sure, there was some white cockle, but it wasn’t out of control. It was just another color in the garden.
I wonder: is it really worth the effort I put into removing the noxious weeds? Or should I let nature take its course and see if the good flowers don’t win out on their own? Maybe instead of weeding, I should be seeding more and more wildflowers so they can take root, flourish and crowd the cockle out without my intervention.
Gardening always makes me think about the church. We work so hard to “fix” our churches, trying to weed out all their bad habits and lazy assumptions, their dusty rituals and moldy hymns. We pray quietly–but regularly–that the more troublesome members will move to Florida. We try to muster up the strength to shout down the demons. But sometimes it seems we are getting nowhere.
An alternative to weeding might be seeding. While it is sometimes necessary to call out bad behavior and eliminate outdated practices, we can also be strengthening our churches by relentlessly casting out our best ideas and observations (even when we think we are being ignored), nurturing the church culture with Christ-like behavior, bravely singing a new song, and fertilizing the most faithful and creative members with support and affirmation. Maybe by empowering what is good to grow toward the sun, those noxious aspects of church life will stay close to the ground and out of trouble.
This spring, I ordered a big bag of wildflower seeds. I’m going to mow down last year’s stubble again, mix the seeds with sand and broadcast it over the garden.
Take that, cockle!