By Rev. Jenn Tafel
I was invited to speak at the International Day of Peace (September 18th) hosted by the Wesley Foundation at MSU and the Shalom Center for Justice and Peace; and specifically to speak on behalf of the LGBTQ-Christian voice as I am religious advisor for Q-CROSS at MSU. I was told me the theme was about agriculture. So, the challenge was set before me as to how to include all of this in a message.
Photo Credit: Wesley Foundation at Michigan a State University
After I was asked to be one of the speakers for this event, I was inundated by the quote from Mother Theresa, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” I knew that I had to pay attention and it stuck with me while I prepared what to say.
While in meditation and preparation, I began to think about gardens. When I was married, my husband and I attempted to grow a vegetable garden. I say attempted, because anyone who has even the smallest experience with gardening knows how much work is involved. There are people far more skilled than me who can go into great detail as to what it takes to grow a successful garden. Great care is involved, time, energy, and an understanding of factors such as the soil, water, heat, light, insects and animals that destroy efforts, and so on. And like I said, we made an attempt and were able to yield some vegetables for our efforts.
During this experience, I also learned about concepts like companion gardening, cultivation, and symbiosis in new and meaningful ways. We were intentional about planting the garden and even had a map in order to employ companion gardening. We had to be mindful about what plants would interact best with each other. We had to have a map because when the seeds went in the ground, it was anybody’s guess as to what would be springing from the ground. We spent time weeding, watering and trying our best to get rid of unwanted insects. We even tried creating worm bins in order to create nutrient-rich soil for cultivation purposes. We were researching the best methods in organic gardening. When I would look out the window at this garden toward the end of summer, I saw the symbiotic nature working in ways that words can’t always describe. This creation was alive and breathing.
And so it is with the body of Christ. It takes effort to live out the teachings from Scripture and to cultivate relationships based on agape love—unconditional love that seeks to feed and nurture us. Cultivating also means to break up soil in order to plant new life—which also applies to us. We need to break up old parts of ourselves in order for new experiences, relationship and life to truly take hold. We can’t be lazy about our spirituality. We can’t coast on good deeds done the year before. In order for Christ to work through us it requires intentionality in all we do. The best part is that the more that we practice our faith, the more effortless it becomes. It becomes ingrained in our thoughts, language and actions.
When I first became involved in QCROSS, I would receive emails from the founder of the group whose email signature was the quote from Dr. King, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” And I had a sinking feeling—was I being too silent about being an ally? An occupational hazard for ministers is thinking that we are not doing enough, but at that moment I realized that I could honestly do more—or at least more vocal. And I have and what blessings have occurred because of the relationships that I’ve cultivated.
In gardening there are often surprises, some bad and some good. Plants endure a lot and sometimes will spring up despite the harshest conditions. This is also true with the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit lives and breathes and surprises us if we’re not paying attention. As an institution, the Church has fought long and hard against members of the LGBTQ community. However, those of us who have taken off the “institutional blinders” see our family and friends as part of the living body of Christ. What can we do to further cultivate relationships and break up what no longer serves so these children of God can thrive? I leave it to you to find those answers in your life and community.
Original Art by Rev. Jenn Tafel
Again, as Mother Theresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” We all belong in the body of Christ. May we continue to be inspired to do our part to bring forward the peace that Christ offers.