Spring has arrived and our thoughts naturally turn to our gardens. A group at our church is planning and beginning some preliminary work to develop a community garden. We have visions of intensive, small beds for vegetables, surrounded with herbs and flowers. One of our church members, an avid amateur naturalist interested in native species, told me she had been baptized with a sprinkling can. What a beautiful baptism image. We’re seeds being planted, seeds that contain so much potential life and fruitfulness.
This has been a busy week and I enjoy imagining the different events I participated in as instances of seeds being planted. One of those events was a meeting between the Fairfax County School Board and Fairfax County Clergy and Leadership Council of which I’m a member. Our meeting was hosted by the Annandale High School, which treated us to a delicious lunch prepared and served by students taking a culinary class.
It was a great learning experience. The sheer diversity in the school is astounding. The principal informed us that 79 different countries are represented in their student body. That became especially obvious when he took some of us on a tour and we dropped in on various classes. These teenagers are learning to relate to each other across many different ethnicities and cultures.
Part of the discussion in our meeting was about managing the religious diversity among the students. Muslim and Jewish religious leaders were especially concerned about the challenges that students from their faiths have in relation to religious observances. This segued into a discussion of the enormous pressure to succeed among students. Some fear missing classes for religious holidays because they don’t want to fall behind in their studies.
School administrators talked frankly about the intense pressure to succeed. Part of the pressure comes from parents but also from enrollment policies in colleges and universities. As I toured the school I began to suspect that teachers can also contribute to unrealistic expectations because of the pressure to succeed that’s placed on them. One tragic result has been the recent student suicides in Fairfax County.
In my last blog I related “being” peace with “building” peace. It includes a faith that leads us from anxious self-seeking to generous sharing. This cuts against the grain in today’s world. For Christians, this is the season of Lent leading to Easter when we remember Christ’s death and resurrection. John’s Gospel uses the image of a seed falling into the ground and dying. (12:24). We know the seed doesn’t actually die. Instead a biological trigger is switched on and it’s transformed by all that latent energy stored inside it. It’s an acorn producing a gigantic oak tree that, in turn, produces from 70 thousand to 150 thousand acorns in a good year.
The same is true for us. What may seem like death is actually an explosion of new life within us. The Bible talks about peace as shalom or flourishing communities rather than as a static state of no obvious conflict. Being peace necessarily includes a faith that leads us from anxious self-seeking to generous sharing. In Jesus’ words, “I lose my life in order to find it.”