It was great fun to take and edit these pictures. I could choose carefully the angle from which I took the picture, the location, the subject matter. I carefully chose the depth of my focus so the crab grass amongst the bee balm fades from view.
Looking at these pictures, one might think I had a weed free garden with the tomatoes happily coexisting with the roses, a happy little ecosystem.
In reality, my garden is a mess. Bind weed is everywhere. Weeds have completely consumed one garden patch. I am allowing the boysenberries to take over because their thorns and hardiness allow them to flourish despite my neglect. The little bit of orange in the picture to the right is something I am using to hold up this tomato plant because it is so spindly.
But, through the magic of photography I could practice a little selective vision gardening, focusing on the good and ignoring the bad.
I think something like this tends to happen in the Christian church. We think we are doing okay because the only people to whom we listen are the people within the church. We focus on the boysenberries because the rest of the garden has already fled for more nurturing environments. Don't get me wrong, I love boysenberries. I love my fellow parishioners. However, aside from a few malcontents like me, the reason they are still in the church is because they like it, they get something out of it, they feel like they belong. If we only ask these folks about church, we will get a disproportionately rosy picture. Then, we will be mystified by the signs which seem to indicate the church is dying.
We need to be talking to those who found themselves withering in the church environment and left or those who never came in the first place feeling fairly certain the environment was not for them. The tricky part, however, is having these conversations without an agenda. Asking atheists to fill out a survey so that we can find better ways to con atheists into darkening our doorsteps is just...icky. Asking someone from outside the church to speak at our board meetings so we can come up with a better outreach plan is little better. We have all become quite accustomed to Christians having an agenda. For some of us, this is a big turn off.
I can't say we need to do steps A, B, and C in order to avoid selective hearing. That would be rather agenda-esque. What I am suggesting is more basic, I guess. We need to love people and listen to people just for the sake of loving and listening to people.
Squash the evangelical agenda. (Ha, ha, "squash!" I just caught my own pun! Oh, happy accident!) Just be God's love. We may be amazed at what we learn along the way.