Sunday, October 9, 2011

Mystery Fruit

Last fall we said goodbye to a craggy crab apple tree that stood between our driveway and backyard. We had enjoyed its spring cloud of pink blossoms and the way they drifted down to carpet the ground below, but the trunk was rotting, it was a matter of time before it died, and we needed it out of the way so we could replace an old shed that was about to collapse around us.

The tree was cut down, the shed was replaced, and last spring I noticed that we suddenly had a sunny corner, big enough for a raised bed of vegetables. I edged it with lengths from a trunk of a locust that came down in a recent storm, filled it with good dirt from our compost pile, and planted potatoes, lettuce, beets, swiss chard, and beans.

I missed the pink blossoms, and the birds missed the bugs, crab apples, and nesting places they’d enjoyed in previous seasons. But it was great to have just-picked beans, the robins were happy with the worms in the raised bed, and the backyard bunnies quickly discovered the lettuce.

Mid-summer I noticed something odd. There was a vine growing from the corner of my raised bed. It had huge leaves – some almost two feet across – and it was heading off through the shrubs and hostas that grew near my vegetable bed.

I pull known weeds and thugs, but I keep an eye on plants I’m not familiar with. Sometimes they turn out to be exciting additions: native trees seedlings, unexpected wildflowers.  My guess was that the mystery vine was some kind of squash, maybe from a seed in my compost? I watched with interest as it grew.

And grew. And grew. When it threatened to choke something I redirected it. When it headed off across the driveway I moved it to the new arbor I’d put up over the walk.

Eventually, it bloomed. Huge, yellow-orange blossoms. Then small green fruit began to form. Larger, then larger.

Squash? Gourds? First there was one, narrow on top, heavier on the bottom, hanging from the arbor. Then another, more symmetrical, along the driveway’s edge.

One of my daughters congratulated me on my watermelons. Really? I went to look again. Almost overnight they’d taken on a classic watermelon shape: long, fat oblongs, bright, shiny green. How do you know when a watermelon is ripe?

A few weeks later, my other daughter laughingly pointed out that watermelons are smooth. Very smooth. My mystery fruit were creased from end to end. Pumpkins. She assured me they were pumpkins.

Sure enough. While smaller green fruit formed, the green on the largest fruit slowly faded from green to a dull orange. The orange grew brighter. And there they were: two beautiful pumpkins. My first ever. The most spectacular fruit of my backyard season.

I was telling about my pumpkins when someone asked why I didn’t pull the vine out. Why would I let something I didn’t plant take over my garden? 

There are lots of things in my life I didn’t plant. Mystery seeds take on lives of their own on the edges of my well-laid plans. I find myself watching with wonder as life unfolds far bolder than I imagined, and spectacular fruit takes shape while I wait to see what it is.

When I pause to look back, I’d have to say that the most rewarding fruit so far grew from things I didn’t mean to do. I didn’t mean to stay home ten years with kids, but things unfolded and drew me in and there I was, waiting to see who they’d become. I didn’t mean to get involved with local school politics, but the time with my kids brought me into the life of their school and there I was, leading the PTA in a fractured school at a critical time, with rich fruit for everyone involved. I didn’t mean to do youth ministry, but seeds planted decades before spread into something new; that vine took over while I watched in wonder. I started a youth ministry network without even thinking: the soil was right, the moment came, and that vine jumped to life before I knew it was there.

Seeds start small. In fact, for a while, they’re invisible, somewhere in the ground, waiting for the moment when the cell wall softens and the soil is just warm enough. Some seeds wait years for just the right moment. Some seeds never start.

This fall, I’m watching a new vine, growing faster than my own mystery vine. Three weeks ago a handful of people moved into Zuccotti Park, a small urban park between Wall Street and the World Trade Center, a block up from the historic Trinity Episcopal Church. They had been gathering on Saturday evenings for over a month, discussing peaceful protest and how to be heard in a system where the rules, more and more, seem to be made by those with money, influence, power.

They call themselves Occupy Wall Street, and already that vine is reaching far beyond Zuccotti Park and Wall Street. Two weeks ago someone started an website, which listed a handful of other locations. Last week the number of cities with meetings listed was in the hundreds. Now it’s over a thousand, with groups in every state, on every continent.

Who are they? What do they want?

They are people who feel shut out by the current political and economic systems. People who believe it’s no longer possible for the average American to have a legitimate say in how our country works, people who can’t find a job that pays enough to live on, who have lost their fragile economic hold because of unemployment, medical bills, situations beyond their control. Many share their photos and stories on

And what do they want? At first there was talk about “the one demand.” But over the last decades the rules have been changing in complicated, inter-locking ways. To address that will take a corresponding web of changes in election law, finance regulation, tax codes, defense spending, food production, energy consumption.

Trying to understand this vine, I’ve spent some time studying the fruit taking shape. It’s available for anyone to see . There are currently eight “official” proposed demands, but it’s a fluid process, with room to comment on existing demands or offer additional proposals, and an invitation to vote on existing suggestions. Last time I looked there were 27, with a month to vote on each demand listed.

There are plenty of voices suggesting this vine should be pulled out fast. The “occupiers” have been accused of being communists, socialist, fascists, anarchists, hippies, moonbats, and much much worse.

Jesus said “You can tell a tree by its fruit.” He also said “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. Good people bring good things out of the good stored up in their heart, and evil people bring evil things out of the evil stored up in their heart. For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks."

The fruit of angry, dismissive name-calling is obvious. We’ve seen too much of that already. But the fruit of a new attempt at direct democracy? I’m watching with hopeful interest.

On October 5, Trinity Church, Wall Street, just down the street from Zuccotti Park, issued an official statement of invitation to the protestors: 
Trinity Wall Street respects the rights of citizens to protest peacefully and supports the vigorous engagement of the concerns that form the core of the protests – economic disenfranchisement and failure of public trust. 
 As a prayerful community with a deep history of relationships in Lower Manhattan, Trinity continues its pastoral outreach and welcomes any of those involved in the ongoing situation to parish spaces. Many protestors have found the opportunity for rest and revitalization in Charlotte’s Place, Trinity’s new neighborhood center, and have expressed deep appreciation for the hospitality there. We welcome any of those involved in the protest for pastoral care and reflection. 
 With its long history, Trinity is also a place where meaningful conversations between people with divergent viewpoints can happen. We also offer our meeting spaces to groups for conversations and forums on issues of public concern 
 As the protest unfolds, I invite you to hold all those involved in your prayers: the protesters, neighborhood residents and business owners, the police, policy-makers, civic leaders, and those in the financial industry – all – and to consider the ways we might take steps in our own lives that improve the lives of others. 
 Faithfully, The Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper, Rector, Trinity Wall Street 
I’m thankful that historic church is playing a part in this important time, and thankful for the reminder to pray.

And thankful for the call to consider the ways we can improve the lives of others.

Where will it end? How far will the protests spread? What happens if demands aren’t met? What will the next steps be?

It takes time for fruit to grow. And this is a new vine, with fruit we’ve never seen before.

Join me in praying it will be good fruit, much needed fruit. Spectacular fruit.

From the Book of Common Prayer:
Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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