On the longest night of the year we humans have always wondered whether we are part of something dying or living. There is an oddly appropriate logic behind the decision of the Christian bosses to move the celebration of Jesus’ birth from the summer, when it more likely happened, over to the winter solstice where we really needed it.
We need a seed now.
It is a seed, not a brick or a stone. Hospitals and governments are good at bricks; witness any hospital or the Wall of China. Bricks are all the same size and have edges the keep them from rolling around so they stay pretty much exactly where you put them. You can stack them and build floor after floor of square rooms. Once bricks are in place they are difficult to transform when times change. People are not like bricks although I have seen some departments of “human resources” spend enormous effort trying to make them so. And then wonder why their organizations struggle with change.
Stones are also good for things intended to stay put. Universities like stones but usually carve them up to work more like bricks. Robert Frost admired the way stone fences built of carefully chosen stones worked with gravity to make good neighbors. If you want to build with stone, you let the particularity of that one stone at a time guide you to its place in the overall structure. If you are good at it, you don’t even need mortar; gravity and thoughtfulness can hold for centuries.
God likes to build with stones. The sturdy wall on Pilot Mountain predates the Appalachians and may outlast them, too.
It helps to think of working in community as more like building with stone (and always without mortar)(no, money is not like mortar).
If you want something to live and spread, you need to think more about seeds than either bricks or stones. The Jesus Movement, as Clarence Jordan called it, is a seed that surprises us fearful ones every single year (“Don’t be afraid,” the Angels had to say.) It surprises the brick-loving tyrants, too. (The cry of Mary was celebrating their surprising collapse.)
Seeds can be planted, but not made. They can be protected, nurtured, fed, watered and given space. But they are miracles of wonder built for becoming Oak, Kudzu, grain and ideas that live. Seeds last because they create generations of seeds.
Don’t make the metaphor do all the work here. What matters most in our time is to nurture the seeds of hope already alive among us. The seeds of the Congregrational Health Network in Memphis (more like Kudzu now if the New York Times story on Friday is right: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/20/health/tackling-a-racial-gap-in-breast-cancer-survival.html?_r=0&hp=&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1387548390-ULxVXPXDQ2cxZXdCXfFtHw ). That seed has blown across the mountains onto Piedmont clay, catching root and heading toward fruit fast (FaithHealthNC.org).
Look at the ridiculously improbable seed sprouting in Bithlo, Florida where Tim McKinney has planted himself in the literally toxic soil and finding root, too. (http://stakeholderhealth.org/transformative-partnership/case-study-bithlo/ ). Oakhurst Baptist which birthed Seeds Magazine in my youth and Green Street Methodist and Glide Street open late last night in the Tenderloin of San Francisco—all seeds many, many generations alive and thriving. Look at dozens of faith-inspired health ministries, some grown into huge institutions with a simple hope still in their heart.
These are long nights and short days, but the seeds are in the soil.