September 15, 2019

A Note To Weed-Eaters

Some interesting discussion on “watchbloggers” on the blogosphere this week. The verdict is that we need them. I agree. A bit like weed-eaters.

Our school has a student work program, and one of the most popular jobs is working on the yard crew. Our boys love to work with the tractors, mowers and weed-eaters.

Especially weed-eaters. It’s a certain sign of spring when I hear the yard crew outside the window of my house, and I can hear the sound of 4 or 5 weed-eater motors revving up like NASCAR racers waiting the start of the race.

There’s nothing quite as empowering to a middle school boy as to be given a weed-eater of his very own. Armed with the machine, safety glasses and an orientation, they come marching across the campus taking on weeds and untrimmed grass like Sherman’s march to the sea.

If there was ever any tentativeness in these weed-eating workers, it all vanishes when they get their first taste of the power of the weed-eater. With a squeeze of the trigger, the power to eliminate weeds replaces the fear of what might happen in using such a dangerous device. Lazy middle school boys are transformed into the scourge of weeds and untidy lawns everywhere.

There is, unfortunately, a not so charming side effect of this transformation. In the ensuing attack on weeds and sidewalk scruffiness of all kinds, most of the other flora and fauna of the campus is put at some risk from overenthusiastic weed warriors.

So in addition to a tidy campus and well attended faculty and staff lawns, there are frequent attacks on flower beds, gardens and much loved decorative hedges and bushes. Small fences are no obstacle to a boy convinced that some stray sprig of wayward grass is attempting to survive the Day of the Weed-eater.

Flowers and other decorative plants are at real risk when the power of a gang of boys go out into the neighborhood to do good. They are armed and dangerous. The neighborhood will be improved.

With time and guidance, these eager young naturalists will learn to wield the power of the weed-eater with more patient and judgement. They will become dependable servants of the cause of an attractive campus. But there will be those first few forays into battle, and the results are predictably predictable.

* * *

So as I get older, I see many of my zealous brothers and sisters armed with the Bible, heading out into the church to do what they believe is a good work of killing weeds.

The results are predictably predictable.

Be less enthralled with your ability to trim the grass brothers, friends. Be less certain that you are qualified to tell the difference between a weed and a flower that has yet to bloom. Learn to use your power equipment carefully. You can do a lot of damage. All does not depend on you cutting down every unknown and out of place plant. You are not saving us from the arrival of the jungle. You are making things look better. It is an important job, but not to be taken overly seriously.

You can hurt someone with that weed-eater. it can tear up a tree or even a nice porch. It can mess you up. It has great potential for good, but it can cut down a garden in a matter of seconds. Learn to tell the difference. Be less fascinated by all that power and more committed to having the eye and heart of a cultivator.

There is a battle with weeds to be fought. Cut them down as needed. But be cautious, not self-righteous. You cannot make every edge straight. Most weeds will grow back. A weed-eater isn’t the right tool for every job.

It was the Pharisees that Jesus criticized for their weed-eater mentality. They were obsessed with separation. They were tithing their spices. They were experts in staying on the case until the weeds were revealed.

Jesus wants us to be gardeners, but we do have to deal with weeds. Did any gardener ever say “let the weeds grow” except for Jesus?

Some of us have set our sights (sites) on being full-time weed eaters and we’re having a very good time. The body of Christ needs a few. But only a few. And be careful, please. Very careful.

There are other ways to pull weeds of course. Not nearly as much fun, but I have to wonder what Jesus would think of today’s “Sons of Thunder” and their weed-eating zeal.

Whoever is not against us is for us. Who said that? Someone trying to keep the weed-eating crew useful, and not a dangerous nuisance.

Comments

  1. The church has always had weed eaters, the internet just gives them a wider audience.

    Well written Michael.

  2. Capt. Steve says

    That was so funny Michael. I really enjoyed reading this post. I may qoute you later in our theology class.
    Cheers mate,

  3. Yes, I, too, may use this illustrative imagery in the future.

    But it really was a good analogy in communicating that we need to guard against the ‘gift’ of pointing out everyone else’s faults. As one who struggles with perfectionism, I have noticed that I can bring that weed eater into my own life, ripping away at my own self. I have had to grow in grace in this area towards myself and others for my 12 years in Christ.

    Thanks again. Very beautiful.

  4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian says

    “…most of the other flora and fauna of the campus is put at some risk…”

    Fauna?!! Oh dear God, say it isn’t so!

    (Buzzzzzzz! Meooowwww! Yelp yelp yelp!)

  5. I recall, in my own past as a weed-eater wielder, I figured I had a God-approved license for being an utter jerk towards atheists, heretics, Democrats… basically anyone I disagreed with, and figured God disagreed with too. There was no love in any of my behavior. It was pure bile. But I disguised it as holiness, excused some of it as humor, and got away with it for quite a while. Even got some “attaboys” from pastors.

    There are some folks who claim they’re doing it out of love, but their fruits show otherwise. My fruits were broken relationships, people further alienated from Christianity and God, anger, disappointment, embarrassment, and making a few more sons of hell like myself. Thankfully God stopped me before I made things worse.

    Oho, and I should tell you about this: Last summer, a few of the folks at the Salvation Army camp I was working at purchased a new tool to replace their weed-eater: A flamethrower. No, I’m not kidding. The thing actually emits a small flame from its business end, meant to burn weeds to a crisp. Consider the allegories.

  6. Sadly, I’ve known more than one “weed-eater” who actually believed that God had given them “the gift of criticism.” Ouch!

  7. Great stuff, Michael. Thanks. I plan on using this analogy, and, if I’m feeling particularly magnanimous, I’ll remember to give you credit!

    This makes me wonder how many times I’ve been perceived as a weed. When I’m the only Pentecostal minister attending a Baptist church (as I am now), how many will see me and some of my theology as weeds to be hacked at the knees? When I was an Assemblies of God monk, how many well-meaning Catholics took it upon themselves to show me the error of my ways? Fortunately, not as many as one might think. I’ve been the only white participant in an African-American church and an Hispanic church. Was I a weed then?

    Furthermore, a weed is only a plant in a place we don’t want it. Grass growing between the sidewalks is called a lawn. When it shows up in the flowerbed, it becomes a weed. I wonder how many times we (I?) have named something a weed simply because we wanted to eschew their “evil” presence.

  8. Thanks, Michael. Doing a lot of gardening myself, I always appreciated Jesus’ words of leaving the weeds alone less you pull up the good plants too. If the weeds are some distance from the good plants it’s not such a problem, but when you get the weeds and the good plants wrapping their roots around one another, then you REALLY need to be careful. And besides, some of those weeds can provide a little shade that some of the good plants need. (I DO love metaphors.)

  9. From one perceived “weed” to another, thank you.

  10. “You are not saving us from the arrival of the jungle. You are making things look better.” This seems to connect with your post the other day about embracing our brokenness, not trying to be good Christians. Much of what I see, hear, and read today seems to focus a lot more on making things look better and being “good Christians.” In doing so, we often neglect the real work of the Kingdom which is much more than improving appearances, our own or that of others whom we view as “weeds.” A little humility along with trusting Jesus to deal with the weeds would really help.

  11. ProdigalSarah says

    “You give a tenth of your spices—-mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—-justice, mercy and faithfulness.”

    My experience has been that dill self-seeds so readily that once established, you will have all you want. Not only does it come back each year in the garden, but I have to pull up dill from all over the yard. Grow mint in a location of its liking and it grows like a weed. You will have all that you want and plenty to share.

    I find it interesting that Jesus names three plants that while very useful, practically grow like weeds. Things like justice, mercy and faithfulness require much more careful and deliberate cultivation.

  12. BTW, has anyone officially welcomed Challies to the underside of the bus? It’s really quite comfy under here!

  13. It’s always been interesting to me that what we consider to be “labor saving devices” are also implements which are pretty destructive.

    Back in the day, Jesus would have used a pointy stick or maybe a hoe to pull weeds. Far more elegant, precise and less destructive. In addition, it gave one time to consider the plant one was digging before one destroyed it.

    Perhaps we need to reconsider our love affair with efficiency most of all.

  14. ProdigalSarah says

    “This seems to connect with your post the other day about embracing our brokenness,”

    This was my exact thought, possibly because I was thinking about that post yesterday while working in the garden.

    A weed had grown right at the base of a potted fig tree. I needed to untangle the roots very carefully.

    I was thinking that while God has worked some new creations in my life, they are like germinating seeds and vast areas overgrown with weeds are all around these new creations. When seeds are germinating it is nearly impossible to know which are desirable and which are not. You have to be very careful, and possibly do nothing at all.

    While gardening, sometimes I use a tiller to prepare the soil for planting. It rips up all the plants and I have been known to rip out some desirable plants hidden in the weeds.

    The weed eater is useful, but as you said, it must be handled with skill. You can even kill a large tree with a weed eater if you routinely trim too close around the base. Eventually the base is weakened enough that a hard wind can knock it down.

    Every gardener knows that weeding is necessary, but there are many ways to go about it and the same tactics do not work the same in every situation.

  15. Great post, iMonk.

  16. “Be less enthralled with your ability to trim the grass brothers, friends. Be less certain that you are qualified to tell the difference between a weed and a flower that has yet to bloom. Learn to use your power equipment carefully. You can do a lot of damage. All does not depend on you cutting down every unknown and out of place plant. You are not saving us from the arrival of the jungle. You are making things look better. It is an important job, but not to be taken overly seriously.”

    Wow, Michael this is excellent. I wish the folk in my theological ilk (though we share the same Christ, another thing often lost on my theological kin) who would defend these weed eaters would also take a page from how you expressed yourself here. I’m learning a great deal from your example and gentle reminders. Thanks.

    Brad

  17. Good words.

  18. Peggy in Shenandoah Valley says

    This will go down as one of my all time favorite posts. And since this is Good Friday, let’s hear a round of applause for the much-maligned dandelion. Anyone with the eyes of a child knows it is a magical flower- what child has not gathered a handful of blossoms as a gift for mom? And those seed parachutes- what fun to blow them in the wind. Dandelions are attacked by spades, chemicals, weed whackers and flame throwers, but can no more be eradicated than the word of God, which goes forth and takes root in the most unexpected places. Ah, the dandelion- deep roots, full of medicinal value, joy, beauty, nutrition, and for making new wine in the spring. I’m heading out right now to pick some dandelions to mix with my tulips and daffodils for a lovely spring bouquet. Funny thing- I’ve planted a lot of tulips but few survive, compared to the dandelions and the daffodils. So I only have a touch of Calvin for my bouquet.

  19. I found it ironic that someone who made his name by being a watchblogger is now criticizing other watchbloggers.

    But, I guess that, in the way that beautiful or wealthy people never see themselves as such (or the way that no Calvinists ever consider themselves hyper-Calvinists,) in his own mind, he has risen above watchblogging.

    All Christians who criticize, complain, bitch and moan, claim to be exercising the spiritual gift of discernment. As a recovering Pharisee, I know this first hand.

  20. Why is it every spring my neighbor pulls out his weed-eater and, in a burst of neighborly deed, hastens to trim my yard, too? And everytime, kicks up a rock that chips my car, cracks a window, or thumps my head.
    And I am left with a bill and a crying need to write him a thank-you. Which I am always moved to do. And thereby ensure I will, once again, become a target next year.
    There’s a Scriptural lesson here, I think. But the drone of that infernal weedwhacker is making it awful hard to concentrate.

  21. But, I guess that, in the way that beautiful or wealthy people never see themselves as such (or the way that no Calvinists ever consider themselves hyper-Calvinists,) in his own mind, he has risen above watchblogging.

    Or perhaps we can just be thankful that though some come late to the party, we can just be happy that they come at all. I needed to be reminded of this today and Michael and Justin Taylor have reminded me (they have rebuked me in love without even realizing it) that love “always believes all things”, “hopes all things”, “always trusts” and “always rejoices with the truth.” And love is “not arrogant or rude.” As I’ve been sucked in the last couple of days and joined in the scrum, I realize (too late!) that I’ve gotten dirty again myself while trying to clean others up.

    I like Michael’s picture here very much. It says what needs to be said the way it should be said.

    And I perfer Round Up for my own yard anyway, it’s far more targeted and it doesn’t just lop the tops off the weeds, but gets the roots too. The Gospel can do this for anyone, and we need to trust that it can…over the last few days, I certainly haven’t. Forgive me.

    Brad

  22. “There’s a Scriptural lesson here, I think. But the drone of that infernal weedwhacker is making it awful hard to concentrate.”

    Indeed, Beau. Really, really hard.

    But I’m intent to stop drinking the fire water over at the angry swills, because in the druken brawls I still seem to get into, I’m likely causing quite a bit of damage myself.

    Brad

  23. What a great lesson for me. Thanks. I cringe when I recall two (too long) periods in my life when I knew so much (?) and had experienced so much (!) that I just had to share that wealth with everyone. I think what they needed to hear was pretty irrelevant. It was all about me.

    Trying to lay flat in the bathtub with a mattress over me (and my reluctant 50 lb. dog) last night while a tornado did its thing helps a lot with perspective too.

  24. “Mt 12:30
    He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.” Notice the difference between us and me. First, be sure you are on the right side. Second, tell the world. God will gather and as promised will separate the wheat from the tares.

    I agree many do harm in the name of good news. Do be careful.

  25. I don’t know. Do we really need “watchbloggers?”

    I would say no…at least in the form that watch-bloggers usually take. Most of the watch-bloggers I have been exposed to seem simply to be interested in making sarcastic, mean-spirited swipes at everyone who doesn’t see things through the same lens they do.

    Some of them, such as a certain female blogger who recently tangled with the imonk, seem to view their “take-down” style of posts as being some high calling from God.

    How does one engage in fruitful conversation in such a situation?

    I agree completely that people should be willing to speak out if they feel something is wrong, or harmful, or “unbiblical”. However most of what I’ve seen always appears to be more “slicing” and dicing of human beings rather than any sort of reasoned discourse.

    Personally, I have tried to cut back on my own rhetoric, though I am sorely tempted at times, because I find it harms me spiritually to spew verbal missiles at people.

  26. Just when I think Michael Spencer has past the “grumpy-old-man phase” and is burnt out, he comes up with something witty and clever like this. Kudos to you sir, very good.

  27. Great writing and a poignant post.

    Small fences are no obstacle to a boy convinced that some stray sprig of wayward grass is attempting to survive the Day of the Weed-eater.
    That made me laugh so hard I sprayed coffee out of my nose.

  28. Patrick: People who want to go down the road with “John” have dozens of websites happy to pay the bill. I have better things to do.

    Some people think I’m the devil. Great. Next…….

  29. Having been in Jr. High more recently that most of the average readers here, I concur that Imonk’s depiction of the first weed-eating experience to precisely describe the emotion of it all. Exactly how I remember it. The illustration struck me powerfully as I am just now starting to pick up the figurative “weed eater.”

  30. Mat 13:24-30 KJV Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: (25) But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. (26) But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. (27) So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? (28) He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? (29) But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. (30) Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

  31. As one who is exploring the state of the church today this was an excellent reminder to watch my attitude and to make sure what I’m doing will actually serve to build up the church, not just tear people down.
    Thank you.

  32. Brilliant. Just brilliant….TY. I’m gonna have to link this one, fer sure.

    Richard Abanes

  33. Thank you for an excellent post. It pretty much sumed up my thoughts on the “throw down match” and the harm we can do when we allow our pride and our need to be right in all things scriputal to get in the way of Jesus. As a gardener like ProdigalSarah, I too have often wondered why Jesus used mint and dill as an example…while being good and useful, both these plants unchecked can be more invasive than most weeds. Mint, left to it’s own devices in a very short time chokes out everything around it and dill can pop up clear across the yard where you never planted it….ummm? Watchbloggers…good or bad? Don’t know, but,for me, I think I’ll put my weed eater in the garage for a while and go back to pulling them by hand. You get a much closer look at the garden that way and I really don’t mind a little dirt on my knees or under my fingernails.

  34. The Guy from Knoxville says

    Michael,

    This is probably better addressed in a post dealing with it but, something that I’ve had on my mind today and, to some degree, mentioned in many of the comments above is this: How much of what we say is of God really is of God??

    How many times have all of us heard from people, regardless of the circumstance, in church and outside of church, that God lead us to ____________
    fill in the blank. I’m not saying that God doesn’t lead in our lives and churches – far from it he does but, I wonder in some situations just how much of “God’s direction” is more man’s direction, what we want personally or based on popularity etc.

    Certainly many watchbloggers take the appoach that all they do is God directed and ordained from the beginning of time – not so! Some of them may, and most likely are, God directed or God called but many are not.

    I’m going to leave it there for the moment. Michael, maybe, as I said above, this needs addressing in it’s own post at some point.

    RM

  35. The Guy from Knoxville says

    Sorry for the poor writing and grammar in the previous comment – not that good with to begin with but it looks exceedingly bad today. Long week it’s been.

  36. Excellent Article! Thank you for so graciously approaching this topic!