Marionberries and Congregational Development Mumbo Jumbo in the United Methodist Church (a working title)

Around the corner from our house, in the part of town that still farms, there is a farm. We drive up the hill next to it on our way home from preschool. Right now there are big homemade signs all around the property: STRAWBERRIES. Our family knows it as a marionberry farm too, where in August we can get a bucket of marionberries fresh off the vine for cheap. The strawberry patch is the lot below the marionberries. And there is another lot above the marionberries, but I can’t remember what that lot contains. What I do know about that third lot is that is where they put the bee boxes. This week, we could see people stooped over picking strawberries, marionberry vines climbing and flowering on their training wires and bee boxes in the upper lot.

5147357821_36a2ef8995_bThe marionberry wants to grow and reproduce. According to Genesis 1, that’s its job. To accomplish this job, it grows a flower. Inside that flower is nectar: yummy food for bees. The marionberry flower is small and white. It’s nothing extraordinary yet neither is it unattractive. The bee seems to think it’s swell. So the bee goes around the flower and dances all over the stamen and pistil while supping up the nectar. The bee goes to the next flower with pollen on its sticky feet. The pollen then gets into the next flower and fertilizes the plant. The plant then begins the process of producing a fruit–actually many fruits–which contain the seed–actually many seeds: the result of the fertilized flower. Several weeks later, I go with my two kids and a bucket and pick that fruit. We eat the fruit. We pass the fruit. Other fruit is eaten by other animals. Other fruit falls to the ground. In any case, the seed is freed from the fruit and dispersed into the ground, whereby it can do what seeds do: give life to a new plant, thereby completing its job.

The plant, in order to live, grow and reproduce, makes food for bees and then makes food for people and other things. The plant can also take significant credit for another wonder-food: honey. It’s what the bees make out of the nectar. The plant does all of this without a brain. It has a system that contains awareness of helpers (bees), atmospheric conditions (is it spring yet?) and a diversity of approaches to assure success (it doesn’t care who eats the fruit, so long as the seed is passed on somehow). That is a bundle of intelligence to have no brain. The system contains many external players, and is quite complex. But most lifeforms on earth are plants who operate in this way.

Too often, we talk about church like an agency or an organization. However true those analogies may be, a church is more like a life form. Instead of figuring out who will keep us living, we need to figure out who we’re going to feed. A marionberry’s fate is literally embedded in the nourishment it gives others. Who needs fed? That is the question.

Image: "joel presents: marionberries", by Scott Mills

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