Seeing flowers, not weeds.
On the morning of my 33rd birthday - which begins, as one of my agnostic students so jovially intoned, my "Jesus year" - I sat on my parents back porch and looked upon the backyard of my childhood. On this particular morning, late in Spring, the field was full of flowers. Sunkissed in the morning dew and beaming yellow from the petals strewn across the green carpet, I drank in their beauty.
Why do we treat dandelions as any other weed, a nuisance to rid from our lives and our lawns? They're some of the most resilient of all flowers, thriving across climates and environments. The rapid transformation to seed shows not only a powerful purpose for furthering life, but an entirely different beauty to behold beyond the golden petals that first spring from the stem.
I blame Scotts. Roundup too. Golf courses don't help either. Really, we've bought into the narrative that grass belongs everywhere and deserves to dominate the landscape. That kind of thinking allows grass to suffocate the existence of dandelions, clover, bellflower, buttercup, and a host of other beautiful pieces of God's creation. Not only that, though, the relentless push to force grass everywhere puts grass at an unnatural disadvantage, whether among inhospitable climates or competing with better-acquainted neighbors for precious nutrients. It's not good for the grass or the dandelion. Sometimes, the best thing for grass to do is coexist alongside all the other plants, drawing on the same nutrients from the same soil to reflect their unique expressions of life. In other words, these beauties aren't weeds at all. They're just not what we expect because we've been told to want something else.
On Saturday, the day before my birthday, I led the Interfaith Baccalaureate Service as a part of Capital University's 168th Commencement. We interwove different aspects of various religious traditions, including Hebrew and Catholic scriptures, Buddhist meditation, Sufi (Muslim) prayer, Christian song, Hindu, Jewish, and Navajo blessings. We lifted up the diversity of spiritual expressions that make up who we are as Capital University (we call ourselves #CapFam because, well, we're just that close).
Capital is a historically Lutheran university that still commits to operating with "contemporary Lutheran values." Indeed, that's why they still hire a Lutheran pastor (read: me) to care for the spiritual health of our entire campus. I'm charged with caring for a Lutheran campus ministry and an ecumenically Christian weekly worship service, but I'm also called to care for the spiritual wellness of each student, faculty member, and staff person at Capital. It's admittedly a delicate balance to strike, being a committed member of a particular Christian tradition and yet supporting the spirituality of people with vastly different backgrounds and goals. Yet, that's also the joyful wonder of my role. I get to live out my discipleship as a Christian and see the wonderful ways the divine works through parters of all sorts of faiths and spiritual walks.
There are some who might see the kind of baccalaureate experience I mentioned as a grassy field full of weeds, which ignores the beauty of the individual plants and the vibrant life each organism has to offer. What I wish they could see, though, is not just the forty-five minutes or so that we spent in worship together on Saturday morning. It's the interfaith panel we hosted together with Residential and Commuter Life. It's the activity in interfaith prayer space that's just a few doors down from my office. It's the positive relationships developed between Muslims and Christians, Jews and Jains, agnostics and Hindus, practically all of which help to strengthen the faith identities of the people in question. That's why others, like me, find those interfaith experiences like a bouquet scattered across a meadow. It's in these moments when we finally refuse the ridiculous narrative that only grass deserves to exist in our pastures and instead look to all the ways that God brings life and meaning into the world.
When you see something that you don't expect, or something that you consider out of place, refrain from judgment at first. Then, ask yourself: Can you see the beauty even if it's unfamiliar? Can you see the goodness even if it's unexpected?
If nothing else, anytime you see something that blooms, change your language. See the flower, not a weed. Do the same for practitioners of other faiths. Relish the petals. Inhale the scent. Then imagine, even if just for a moment, how indescribably beautiful the world is where we all grow together in the field. Where we all belong together, even as we express our divergent beauties, because it's in our particularities that the mystery of the of the divine shines through.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.