I attended an awards luncheon at a country club recently. As you would imagine, the grounds are beautifully landscaped – trimmed grass, meticulous flower beds, carefully placed rocks that add to the rustic look.
As I reached the parking lot, I saw what you see in this photo. There, right there, three renegade dandelions had wormed their way into a place where they weren’t wanted. A trinity of bright yellow blooms poked up from a patch of purple.
My immediate reaction? Weeds had invaded the flower bed. They probably won’t be there for long — the groundskeepers are sure to come along and pluck them out by the roots and make the flower bed all pretty again.
I saw the bright yellow dandelions and instinctively labeled them as unwanted weeds.
I drove away thinking about how I’ve been conditioned to think of some pretty things as desirable and other pretty things as unwanted. There are flowers, and then there are weeds. We like flowers and we cultivate them. We dislike weeds and try to get rid of them.
A friend of mine who is a biologist tells me that there is no biological difference whatsoever between a flower and a weed. They’re exactly the same. We put artificial labels on them based upon what we prefer. But those labels have nothing to do with what they actually are.
Isn’t it like us? And not only when it comes to flowers.
We decide that our religion is a divine flower, yours is an evil weed that must be pulled up by its roots. We say that our homeland is a beautiful bloom, yours is an undesirable intrusion on the planet.
My race, my nationality, my ethnic background, my sexual preference, my family, my profession … all beautiful flowers. My state, my hometown, my school, my sports teams … flowers. Yours? Well, get out the weed sprayer.
We spend a lot of time trying to exclude and even eliminate what we label as weeds.
We surround our desired plants with mulch to try to keep the weeds away. We might use some chemical spray that has the unfortunate side effect of killing off what we think of as a nearby flower, too.
So a few beautiful flowers will die along with the weeds? And the ground that we spray will be uninhabitable for anything? Small price to pay for eliminating the weeds. Start spraying.
Racism, sexism, nationalism, homophobia – all the various –isms and –phobias are essentially offshoots of this idea. We decide that those like me are prettier and more desirable than those like you.
You? You’re just a weed.
And we put a lot of effort into the rooting-out process. We root out of our boardrooms and our churches and our governments and our organizations and our hearts. When we get caught with dirt beneath our fingernails, we insist there’s no weeding going on.
But here’s the thing: The weeds always come right back. Uncooperatively. Defiantly. Gloriously.
There’s an interesting story in the gospels that applies to all of us humans, no matter what religion we may or may not follow. As the story goes, the kingdom of God – a place where all are embraced and loved and treated as equally beloved children of the same loving creator — is compared to a fast-spreading weed.
Yeah, God’s spirit is like a weed.
It pops up here, there and everywhere. Comes back even when we think we’ve rooted it out and redefined it away. Blooms in the middle of our personal flower beds. In our self-formed desserts, too.
Challenges our narrow and self-serving views of what is beautiful and what is not, of who is acceptable and who is not.
Reminds us that just because we put a label on someone, that doesn’t change them. Instead, it changes us. Makes us less loving and accepting. Limits us and takes us to dark places, like the one in the mind of the 21-year-old who walked into a church in Charleston last week.
The weed and the flower? Imaginary labels for identical things.
Thank God we have weeds growing in our gardens and our flower beds and our yards and in our hearts, telling us with each splash of sacred color that we’ve got it all wrong.
Challenging us to look at that photo from the country club and see yellow flowers growing beside purple flowers.
Aren’t they all so lovely?