This ten-part A Deacon’s Musing series will explore the intersection between the change philosophy known as Appreciative Inquiry and a Christian theological orientation grounded in diversity. I am most grateful to be co-shaping this conversation with my mentor and friend Maureen McKenna. We sincerely hope that the definitions, metaphors, theological reflections, images and videos help impart the significant generative potential that is centred in appreciation, gratitude and abundance.
As this Appreciative Inquiry series of theological reflections unfold, you can find each blog on the Tabs above.
Planting seeds – a practice that has an old literal and metaphorical pedigree. It is clear from a context that ranges from the planting of urban flowers and herbs, micro & community gardening to large scale agribusiness, the soil in which we plant, the time to nurture and curate often results in efficient terms like yield, tonnage and bushels. The same can be said of how we plant our words.
When focused or framed upon deficit or that which is lacking, the soil into which seeds are planted does not often bring about the result we wish. This is only exacerbated when we recognise that between us – whether as friends, partners, parents or mentors – we are both the sower and the soil, depending on our context. If, therefore, we wish for harvests that are abundant, both the sower and the seed, the soil and the crop must be recognised to be part of the same ecosystem. What we plant is just as important as how we plant. How we plant is just as important as why we plant. Why we plants is just as important as what we plant: and the circle unfolds …
The literal and metaphorical dance take on an even richer tradition within the Sacred Christian Scriptures. Most of the book of Matthew in Chapter 13 uses metaphors that are seed/sower laden. When taken literally, they can seem to reinforce a sense of privilege and superiority. When removed from the listeners of the day and context of the Rabbi’s teachings, it is easy to forget the subversive nature of Jesus’ radicalness that positivity – as abundance – is the key to understanding God’s Creation. As discussed in the previous exploration of the Poetic Principle, we must always be aware of the layers of meaning which are inherently subversive within the Christian discourse.
If where we focus determines what we see, then how we say it frames what we will hear. Jesus’ teaching in Chapter 13 could be heard as a simple sermon that established who is in and who is out. That those who are pure are the good seeds and those that are not, well they’re lost. At the beginning of this parable, we might be able to rationalise that. By the time we get to mustard seeds, however, there is word play going on that is radically positive and intrinsically tied to an inclusivity that is about building robust relationships. Ones that reveal ways to be generative in a time and place when the listeners really had no reason to hope.
So let’s take a step back …
- This exploration of sower and seed, as metaphor, in the Christian Second Testament begins with Jesus needing a break! But those crowds need and want him, even demand of him;
- Rather than berate, depart or get grumpy, he gets teaching via the use of parable that contained layers and layers of meaning;
- The literal beginning of the teaching makes sense – bad soil, nothing grows; good soil, stuff does;
- Yet … remember a majority of these listeners were not sowers, likely they were the marginalised. They were those who could not afford a dinner out in the suburbs, let alone gardens and especially not owning property to farm;
- And as Jesus nonetheless speaks to them as the ‘landed aristocrats, makers of empire, and agrarian poets’ he turns everything further topsy-turvy when he gets to mustard seeds …
Mustard seeds? Really? The smallest of grains, yet pretty much a voracious weed. It becomes a tree, suffocating ‘good crops.’ To add insult to injury, it spreads itself like a rolling stone and attracts birds and creatures who love eating them seeds only to spread them willy-nilly. This – inevitably – in spite of the straight rows we till and plant: think dandelions on steroids!
It’s not only crazy, it’s his teaching that this is a metaphor for God’s world: it’s the place Creator longs for us to inhabit! Radically generous and abundance where all live with positive potential that does not divide, but unifies. To get there, we have to begin to let go of assuming we can control the tossing, tilling and subsequent yield potential. For Jesus’ listeners, this was a liberating invitation to claim the agency that they were denied by the larger societal realities of the Roman Empire. But … for those who had access to land, planting and the right tools and instruments, it was not such an easy message.
Relationships are hard things, yet when nurtured, like well fertilised soil, they give up new life that sustains all. For this seed-tossing, weed-blooming Kingdom to come, however, all of us have to realise our interdependence. Letting go doesn’t mean getting less. It means receiving more of that which is lacking. This can be both exciting and anxious-making as we may not even know, let alone remember, what that might be.
Yet there’s Jesus, two millennia ago, telling tales, even though he is exhausted. He’s weaving words in a way that is confounding, yet begins to create a path so we can positively and collectively come together and mobilise to do this new thing. It requires cooperation and relationships. But taking those steps, even if you’re struggling with letting go or realising you have a voice, points to possibilities unimaginable.
This crazy and radical thing might happen … it’s always there beckoning … The question always is: are we willing to risk what our imagination promises or hold tight to what have, even at the expense of the Other?