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Inch by Inch

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3FkaN0HQgs[/youtube]

I love gardening. Well, I love it in the Spring. And the Fall. I just about hate it in the South Carolina heat.

We did our spring planting last week — just in time for this week‘s frost. Doh! We lost a few tulips, but we didn’t lose the tomatoes I foolishly planted too soon. And I grew these babies from seed. Brandywines!

But every time I go out in the backyard the same thing hits me.

We bought four creeping figs last year for our new wall. We had talked to a green-thumb-friend about it. We consulted our gardening books. We went to the best nursery in the city. We asked the people there for advice. We planted them carefully and watered them regularly. We did everything right.

They died. Well, all but one. And my first knee-jerk response is “It’s my fault. I didn’t work hard enough.”

I walk past the Space Bags at Target. I have about a dozen of these already at home. None of them work. Not one. And I think, “It’s my fault that they don’t work. I didn’t try hard enough.” And I have to stop myself out loud (“Keep moving, Camille!”) to walk away and not buy more. Capitalism thrives on this kind of egocentric self-loathing.

I find a bag of moldy pumpernickel in the pantry. Pangs of guilt shoot through my body. “Why did I let this happen? I’m not careful enough.”

Fundamentalism taught me this. “No doubt the trouble is with you,” right? Well, living in an abusive ideology taught me this. And it’s not just my previous life. There are countless examples. The hyper-focus on sin and an obsession with humility is a tactic for control, not a command from Christ. It’s too egocentric to be from Christ.

As I read these early contemporary conservative evangelical books, I realize that this ideology — whatever I should call it — reduces the entire person to the will. There is no body or even gut or heart — no “dreams and bones.” Just a will. You either choose to do right or you choose to do wrong. That’s all there is to it. An on-off switch. Simple compliance. And every problem can be explained away as such. If you can’t do the right thing, you have too weak of a will. If you can’t stop doing the wrong thing, your will is too strong. Back and forth — same old Keswick crazy-maker.

You see, ’cause no doubt the trouble may not be me. The world doesn’t rise and fall on my making simple choices. Take the creeping figs. Maybe the sun is too hot in that spot. Maybe the soil is bad. Maybe the plants are diseased. Maybe the bugs got ’em. Maybe they were just cursed. Whatever it is, it’s not all about me.

And gardening forces this very product-oriented INFJ to throw caution to the wind a little bit. It forces me to stop the habits-for-the-sake-of-habits and think about what works. “Well, the petunias didn’t work here, so let’s try them over there. Or forget them altogether. Let’s get azaleas. Carrots taste bad in this red clay, so I’m not planting them again!” Habits are not a virtue. And when I reduce myself or when I’m reduced to mere habits — mere will — I’m no longer acting, but simply just moving.

Besides, I can plant and I can water. But come on now, God gives the growth. Inch by inch. It’s not all about me.

For the last several years, my main motivator for those deep-down personal things that would probably go unnoticed to the world at large has been self-loathing. Egocentric self-loathing. I would (can I use the past tense for this?) actually shame myself into sticking with a particular habit, telling myself that I don’t deserve any different.

Stupid. I admit that it’s stupid. But I have to get it out in the open to work past it. It’s not the way I was raised. And it’s taken this long to realize that what I endured 10-15 years ago is the same thing I’m reading about in my project and that pushed us out the door of fundamentalism. It’s a pair of book ends around a multi-volume set.

Sigh. . . .

I found some brown romaine in the vegetable crisper drawer today. And slimy cilantro. So into the new composter it goes. It’s really invigorating to do that, you know? Turning slime into black gold. Composting is like grace for garbage. 😉 Turning my failures into the best fertilizer for the flowers.

Now if I could just find a composter for these Space Bags.

9 thoughts on “Inch by Inch

  1. “You either choose to do right or you choose to do wrong. That’s all there is to it. An on-off switch. Simple compliance. And every problem can be explained away as such. If you can’t do the right thing, you have too weak of a will. If you can’t stop doing the wrong thing, your will is too strong.”

    You hit the nail right on the head with that one. I know that despite my departure from fundamentalism four years ago (though the seeds for my departure were sown long before that), that is something I still struggle with. The grace of God sufficient for salvation (plus saying a magic prayer, plus taking a “pilgrimage” down the aisle, etc.), but not for sanctification. If I only try harder, I can just ___. It probably doesn’t help that I have a do-it-yourself personality, combined with my tendency to be introspective and beat myself up for my failures. Thanks for the reminder that it’s God who gives the growth. I needed that.

    I’m curious though how some of the tags fit in with the topic (Mahaney, Driscoll, SGM). Are you implying that they’re equally guilty in preaching a man-based just-try-harder fundamentalist form of sanctification? If so, that is something I’ve started to notice in their books and preaching (the same old fundamentalism I grew up in but with a different set of rules, or in same cases, the same set of rules but with different wording), but it’s something I’m still thinking through.

  2. Sometimes the only thing meaningful that I can say when I read your blog is “Thank You!”. 🙂

  3. Thanks you all! 🙂

    Amanda, you said:

    I’m curious though how some of the tags fit in with the topic (Mahaney, Driscoll, SGM). Are you implying that they’re equally guilty in preaching a man-based just-try-harder fundamentalist form of sanctification? If so, that is something I’ve started to notice in their books and preaching (the same old fundamentalism I grew up in but with a different set of rules, or in same cases, the same set of rules but with different wording), but it’s something I’m still thinking through.

    Yes!! That’s it exactly. There’s nothing different there. If you look up under the sentence “There are countless examples.” I have four links to similar problems.

  4. Camille, I looked up those links; I’d encountered one of them before, but not the others, and wow! They definitely confirmed my suspicions; this is one of those times that I actually wish I could have been wrong about what I was seeing : Sure, they may *look* different on the outside (different dress code, different beverage choices, etc.), but beyond that they’re the same as the fundamentalism I knew (authoritarianism and lack of true elder rule, emphasis on tithing, conformity at all costs, emphasis on works to the neglect of grace, preaching on modesty, women’s “roles,” etc.). Fundamentalism goes WAY deeper than the externals.

  5. Have you read Christless Christianity by Michael Horton? Gets at the same issue — that even in so-called Reformed churches the main message is “do more and try harder” — and the Gospel is taken for granted, assuming we don’t need to hear it over and over.

    I love the comment about compost being grace — I am so much more able to toss bad food in the compost instead of throwing it away, because I know at least some good will then come of it.

    And I have finally admitted that I hate greens, except spinach. I am not growing chard again, nor kale or anything else. Instead, I’m going to try to grow so much spinach I can freeze it, since its growing season is so short.

  6. I just thought of this line “no doubt the trouble is with you” and googled it to see who said it(i knew it was one of the Joneses) and saw this blog. Perfect. I sooo needed to read this today. Very good points you made here.

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