This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Whiteness, weeding and watering

During the past months of pandemic restrictions and stay-at-home orders, I have found renewal and refreshment through gardening.

In the midst of all the chaos and crisis of human society, gardening is a chance to be outside in the natural environment, breathe in fresh air, get much-needed exercise, nurture plants and soak in the beauty of God’s creation. I also recognize that having the space to safely move about, freely breathe and enjoy the out-of-doors is a privilege many in the world do not have. In recent weeks of national protest against racial injustice, ignited by the tragic death of George Floyd, my gardening has also become a time to ponder racism and my role in the movement for justice, hope and change.

As a white person, I believe that white people must do our own work of anti-racism. We cannot expect people of color to do this on our behalf. To begin this work, we must first acknowledge how easy it is to become defensive, or feel overcome by a sense of guilt and the realization of our own complicity in the insidious evil of racism and oppression.

For me, this is like confronting another reality in my garden: The tangle of weeds and grass with deeply embedded root systems that overtake the garden when it is left to the status quo (definition: “The existing state of affairs”).

To promote racial justice, as with gardening, I must turn again and again to the difficult work of weeding in my own garden patch, to dig deep into the dirt of despair to uproot the apathy, ignorance and self-justification that hide comfortably beneath the surface of my life. This is dirty, sweaty and painful work. And these are tenacious roots. Even when I think I have unearthed them, remnants still remain hidden and ready to sprout again when I am not paying attention. Becoming an ally and advocate for racial justice is not just a one-time project that can be accomplished through attending one anti-racism training, or reading one book on white fragility — as important as these things are. The work of unearthing white supremacy and systemic injustice must be supported by ongoing disciplines of truth-telling, confession and self-evaluation.

I confess this struggle would be beyond my capacity, if it weren’t for the fact that it also brings opportunity to nurture truth, beauty and goodness accompanied by divine power and hope. For me, this is symbolized by the watering of the garden that I do with a hose connected to the well, and that God does — even more effectively — with the rain that falls from heaven. Together, we shed tears of lament and love on the freshly tilled soil, we pour out patience on tender seedlings struggling to grow, we soak the garden with fresh perspectives that produce fruitfulness, and celebrate the rainbows of color that dance as water glistens in the light.

The garden of justice is worth the hard work of weeding, and thirsty for the joyful gift of watering.

As the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may spring up, and let it cause righteousness sprout up also; I the Lord have created it” (Isaiah 45:8). “For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations” (Isaiah 61:11).

Heidi Regier Kreider is conference minister of Western District Conference. This originally appeared in WDC’s weekly Sprouts email newsletter.

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!