In another life Polly and I owned a modest dwelling built on a small rise in a neighborhood of starter homes. We lived on a corner lot and I had an appropriately modest lawn to attend.
Attend it I did.
I fenced it. Weed-wacked it. Watered it. Fertilized it. Mowed it. I sealed the driveway in the middle of it. Trimmed tree branches overhanging it. Shaped shrubbery decorating it. In due season I gathered fallen leaves from it.
I wish I could say such "tending" on my part was love's labor. That "tending my yard" was therapy freeing my mind from it's Dremel-like high revs. I cannot. It was not. I did not do yard work. Yard work did me.
For some, in fact many, yard work is a most effective means of God's personal presence communicated to them. I know people for whom God is best experienced knee-deep in mulch, or pruning roses or jiggling under the sun on a lawn mower. "More power to them," I say. Sincerely. Part of me envies their genuine joy. Such people flourish by exercising dominion over their Edens. It is as though, in such "tending," they are being who God made them to be.
I understand the pull of it. I see the myriad connections between life's lessons and nurturing a lovely landscape. It just didn't work that way for me. Didn't, in the words of a friend, "make my socks roll up and down." I felt guilty about it. I affirm the depth, skill and labor people (whom I admire) devote to their "tending." God bless them all and may they forever flourish.
Nothing snide going on here. I really mean it. Although I did it - and was good at it - "tending" my yard was never a joyful outlet in my life. It was always and only a means to an end. I owned a home. I had a yard. Responsible ownership meant "tending". That was that.
Polly and I have bought a condo. My "tending" now consists of ten minutes weed-wacking a courtyard smaller than my office. Yeah verily, my socks surely roll up and down. Thank you, God.
What does this have to do with the local church?
I see great beauty in the local church. So many different kinds of people. So many personalities. So many stories. So many opportunities. So much potential. Some may see the local church as a necessary duty. Others may see it as an aid to social location. Some may see it as an overgrown relic from an over-burdened past. Others may see in the local church a waste of time or a drain on resources.
I see ... beauty.
Some church people thrive when left virtually alone, as though attention will drown or affirmation will, like too much fertilizer, burn them. Others survive only through constant tending; there can never be too much encouragement, care, touch or tenderness. Some folks thrive year round but, at their appropriate season, are strengthened by extra prayer, or teaching, or a pruning word of conviction.
Yet I do see beauty in the whole. God plants us. God waters us. God feeds us. God causes His sun to shine and rain to fall upon us. God is faithful in all seasons and at all times, as surely present in moist warm spring as in barren cold winter.
We ought never degrade into some scrubby patch, abandoned and over-run by the encroaching wildness of a fallen world. On the contrary the beauty unique to the church ought to expand, generation after generation, upon the fallen world. The most jaundiced eye ought to see a beautiful difference between life lived under the shaping hand of God and life lived absent that Hand.
I love the local church. It is beautiful to me.