A Christian Science perspective: How developing a community garden in a public housing project, despite obstacles, brought neighbors together in a meaningful and productive way.
When people get together to accomplish something for their community – setting up a tutoring program, installing plants or bike racks, raising money for the library – there is sometimes a sense that everything depends on the efforts of a few clear-eyed, hardworking individuals. That way of thinking can lead to a personal sense of responsibility, clashing and bruised egos, and community activism burnout.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the communities of faith about how they could best work together toward their goals without “quarreling, jealousy, bad temper, rivalry, factions, party-spirit, envy ... and things like that” (Galatians 5:20, 21, J.B. Phillips), conditions called “ugly parodies of community” in “The Message” interpretation.
Instead of depending on their own insights and energy, Paul urged the Galatians to be led by Spirit, to “live your whole life in the Spirit” (5:16, J.B. Phillips), to recognize only the animating, energizing power of Spirit in every activity.
One way to step back from a personal sense of our role in a community activity – from feeling pride about our own contributions, or resentment that they are not being properly appreciated – is to think about what God is doing. That really helped me when I was developing a community garden at a public housing project.
At first there was a lot of understandable resistance – the property supervisor was not interested in increased responsibilities, most of the residents had never gardened before and either were not interested or had unrealistic expectations (gardening can take a lot of time and be dirty!), and
everyone worried that the children would destroy what was planted.
I was able to stick with it by thinking about what God was doing there. I thought of God in terms of synonyms identified by Mary Baker Eddy in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.” She defines God as divine Principle, Mind, Life, and Love, among other terms. It helped to think of the activity of each of these terms: Principle as a divine law providing justice – including access to fresh food – for everyone; Mind outlining the best way to move forward; Spirit, or Life, invigorating the project; and so on.
It was actually the children who made it happen, helping to measure the spaces, pulling their families into the project. Where there had been a concrete terrace (a clothes-drying area), raised beds were built and a lush garden has bloomed with vegetable plots for several families, and families who didn’t know each other before now care for each other’s plants – and children.
Paul taught that the result of living in the Spirit provides what a community really needs to move forward together: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, fidelity, tolerance and self-control (Galatians 5:22, 23, J.B. Phillips). Or as interpreted in “The Message”: “What happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people.”
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