By Lauren R. Stanley
A little while ago, I went into my family’s backyard here in Southern California, where the sun is shining bright and there’s a delightful sea breeze to keep me cool, and began picking tomatoes from the garden.
I’m cooking tonight. With my family on a low-carb diet, I had to wrack my brains to come up with a Sudanese dish that met their requirements and tasted good as well. Finally, I remembered a delightful dish we called salata, which is not salad per se but is chopped up tomatoes, cucumbers and green onions in a peanut-butter paste. I loved eating that in Sudan, and thought my family would enjoy it here as well.
So to the garden I went, on this calm, quiet day, to get tomatoes.
My sister-in-law has two kinds growing: grape and Better Boys. I thought that perhaps I’d get a few tomatoes, maybe a dozen of the former and one of the latter, and that I could buy whatever else I needed at the local grocery store.
But to my delight, the plants were full to bursting with tomatoes, so much so that I could literally pick and choose, reaching in, trying to find the ripest, the reddest, the most succulent-looking. For 20 minutes, I stood out there, delicately reaching for only those ready to be consumed, holding them up, admiring, judging, telling the ones I thought were ready, “You are so beautiful. I’ll pick you.” And the ones that were not quite ripe, not quite as red as their neighbors? Those I left behind, giving them small caresses and asking them to ripen some more. “I’ll come back for you another day,” I whispered to them. (And yes, lest you think you’ve misread, I actually do talk to the plants; my mother’s husband taught me that, and it always worked for him …)
As I searched, I was surprised to find brilliant red ones buried deep in the middle of the cages; how, I wondered, could they have ripened so beautifully, with so many leaves and other tomatoes blocking out the sun?
As I picked these deeply buried tomatoes, I realized that they blossomed, they ripened, because that’s what they are supposed to do. Defying horticultural logic, they took what little light they received, and turned it into something beautiful, a fulfillment of God’s design and wishes for them in creation. It didn’t matter whether anyone found them or not, ate them or not, admired them or not; their reason for being was simply to blossom, to ripen, to the best of their abilities, according to their genetic makeup.
And then it hit me: What happened with these tomatoes in my family’s backyard is the same thing that is happening in the Episcopal Church right now. Those who have been buried deep, lacking sunshine and warmth and all the blessings of the Church community have, despite all those handicaps, flourished. For the first time, the Church has reached down deep and unearthed those people and welcomed them and celebrated them and said to them, “You are so beautiful.”
Ecclesiastes tell us that for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
The Church, it seems, has finally listened. With the passage of two resolutions at The General Convention – one making clear that the process toward ordination is open to all, the other authorizing the collection and development of theological and liturgical resources for same-gender blessings – the Church at last has reached deep down to those places where gays and lesbians and bisexuals and transgendered peoples have had to exist for so long, seen that these people have blossomed and ripened despite being buried so deep – because that’s God’s will for them — and proclaimed: We’ll pick you.
Just as I gently ran my hands through each plant, over each tomato, the Church at General Convention did the same. There was so little acrimony, so much graciousness and holiness, so much listening, so few accusations during those 10 days in Anaheim … it was as though the deputies and bishops were out in the garden, seeking the best and finding that sometimes, the best was right in front of them, just buried deep.
In Conventions past, it seemed we in the Church were more focused on the time to kill, instead of on the time to heal. Some were determined to make these past six years in particular a time to break down, and not a time to build up. We spent more time weeping, and less time laughing, more time mourning and less time dancing. We threw stones constantly, instead of gathering them up.
As for those buried deep, they had to spend far too much time keeping silence, and were not given enough time to speak.
But now? Now? Well, now it seems is the time to pluck up what has been planted, to celebrate that which is flourishing, to end our wars with each other and to focus on peace.
For far too long, we have taken that which God has planted – very good men and women – and condemned them to darkness, ordered them to flourish as best they could without light, without love, without even much hope. Some hoped – some even prayed vociferously – that these people, our brothers and sisters in Christ, would fail to flourish, would die on the vine, would simply go away.
But like those tomatoes in my family’s garden, they have steadfastly refused to fail. They have flourished even in the darkest places, and only now are we finding them, only now are we saying to them, and to the world: “You are so beautiful. We’ll pick you.”
The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church. For four years, she served in the Diocese of Renk in Sudan. In late August, she begins her new assignment in Haiti. She has covered four General Conventions for Center Aisle, the daily newspaper produced by the Diocese of Virginia for General Convention.