I’ve been digging dandelions out of the narrow strip between our front wall and the pavement. At some point in the past, someone has laid down a membrane and covered it with stone chipping in an attempt to suppress weeds. Given the ability of these plants to push through concrete, it seems a wasted effort to me. As a malfunctioning Dalek – that race of soulless destroyers of worlds – realises in the latest episode of Dr Who [Series 8:2 Into the Dalek], ‘Resistance [To Life] Is Futile.’
Weeds, of course, are simply plants that are growing somewhere where we don’t want them to grow.
Jesus told a parable of a man who had a field planted for a crop, only for someone else to maliciously sow weeds. The man’s servants ask whether he wants them to weed-out these plants, but are instructed not to, due to the likelihood of accidentally uprooting the intended plants along with them. Jesus’ point is that there are some judgements that we aren’t equipped, or called, to make. (Those who think that the harvest and the weeds represent righteous and unrighteous people should note that both are destined for the furnace, the latter to be consumed by fire and the former to be consumed as bread.)
Weeds, of course, are simply plants that are growing somewhere where we don’t want them to grow. They can be beautiful and brilliant, and remarkably resourceful. They might even possess the cure to some malaise, healing properties known to mediaeval monks but since forgotten.
When it comes to shaping communities, whether congregations or neighbourhoods, decisions need to be taken and resources focused on agreed objectives. Increasing investment in one area will mean reducing investment in another. Certain things will be nurtured and others neglected. That is not only inevitable but in fact right and proper: to keep with the gardening analogy, gardeners shape the garden in order to create something beautiful and productive and appropriate to their setting, and no two gardens will be the same. But though we are called to shape environments for life to flourish, more life will grow than we intend, because resistance to life is futile.
In any community, there is more going on than is planned, organised, given structure by some official decree. There are flowers flourishing that we did not plant. They might even grow more vigorously than those we are trying to develop or train. And we might want to uproot them. But we might want to think twice before we do, and let them be.
To see people – whether individuals or groups – as weeds is to pass a judgement on them that is not ours to make. To declare that they are not wanted in this place. That they are of less worth than others. That we are better than them. Which, over time, will result in the atrophy of our soul.
At the very least, when shaping environments for life to flourish, we ought to let the life that grows there without our active encouragement grow. We might even come to value people enough to see them in a new light, to drop the derogatory label, to make room, even to be changed ourselves by the gift they bring.
But I’m not yet happy about having dandelions in my front yard.