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Plant seeds of kindness in words and actions

by Rev. Dr. Jennifer Strickland

In so many ways, Claremont is an idyllic community. Our shops, restaurants, college campuses, and fabled trees attract people from all over.

As evidenced by our traditional T. Willard Hunter Speakers Corner on the Fourth of July, Claremont prides itself on being a community where ideas are openly shared and calls to action are common and well-received.

In my faith tradition of Christianity, we study the words of the ancient prophets Isaiah and Micah, who both spoke of a day when “God shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

It is a hopeful image—people transforming their weapons into gardening tools!

We live in a society of swords and spears. That’s made clear on a weekly basis as our country continues to be uniquely plagued by gun violence. And our culture’s obsession with violence and weapons is taking a toll on us all physically. Did you know psychology studies show that we Americans, in particular, exhibit signs of chronic stress, like elevated heart rates, muscle tension, digestive issues, high blood pressure, insomnia, migraines and fatigue? 

One can’t help but wonder if the repeated mass shootings and normative attitude towards violence have begun to deteriorate our health.

In the words of Micah and Isaiah, we are living every day like warriors. In addition to acting like warriors, we have learned to think like warriors. We are constantly on the defense, ready to attack someone if we are first attacked, either verbally, emotionally or physically.

Some of us find ourselves with warrior mentalities about our work. We’re fighting our way to the top, battling to be more productive, more efficient and more recognized. Others find themselves with warrior mentalities about parenting, protecting our children at all costs, fighting to make sure they achieve great things and make all the right connections and have all the best opportunities.

Some of us are consumer warriors, out to buy the top products that will portray an image to the world of success, wealth, happiness and luxury.

Others have a warrior mentality about our health and aging, fighting a battle to stay fit and reverse the signs of aging, push back the front lines of death a few more years.

The great hope in the propheccies of Micah and Isaiah is this idea that, in the future, God will make peace between nations, and as a result of that peacemaking, we will all be changed from warriors into gardeners. Our purpose will shift entirely from using tools to cut down, kill, defend and subdue—to using tools to grow, plant, cultivate life and heal.

Our identity as people who have to hustle to get ahead and who fight to stay on top will completely change and we will become people who are committed to bringing forth new life, who learn to feed one another from the earth, and who do not even own weapons or know anything about violence.

If you are tired of living like a warrior, with constant fight or flight mentality, always on the defense, always fearful of what you need to protect or what you need to avenge or attack, the prophetic words of Micah and Isaiah are for you.

If you long to live the life of a gardener, a cultivator of new things, green things, things of hope and life and abundance, these words are for you.

If you have wondered whether or not God can forgive you for whatever you’ve done or left undone in your life, whether or not God still longs for your attention and devotion, these words are for you.           

So instead of studying war, may we begin to garden. May we plant seeds of kindness and generosity in our words and actions. May we grow compassion and gentleness in our relationships. May we prune weeds of anger and jealousy as they pop up.

May we tend to the seedlings of patience and clear away the brambles of self-doubt. May we begin gardening as resistance to the culture of violence we are living in.

And may our commitment to laying down our weapons and picking up gardening tools one day transform from the metaphorical to the literal.