June 16, 2016
Ashley Renée Johnson, a member of Union United Methodist Church in Boston, is the winner of this year’s Laity Address Challenge.
With the changes in the Annual Conference schedule, Johnson gave her address on Thursday evening, June 16. It is part of the challenge rules that the address be focused on the Annual Conference theme, this year, “Planting Seeds of Trust,” and the selected scripture: John 13:34: “A new commandment I give you, that you love on another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
“Kids really do say the darndest things,” the elementary and Sunday school teacher began, and she quoted one little girl who was certain apples do not grow on trees: ‘No they don’t,’ the girl said. ‘They come from the supermarket!’”
“The thing is,” Johnson said, “we are like this honest little girl in so many ways. The truth is we, too, have lost touch with where our food comes from, and I’m not just talking about the food that we eat … I’m talking about the food that will nourish all of our souls.”
Saying that “As the Church we have grown somewhat out of touch with where God’s nutrient dense foods of justice and peace really come from,” Johnson told the Annual Conference that we’ve become used to a “culture of convenience” where it’s easier to make a donation than to work together.
“In a society where so many people are in pain; in a church where so many of our brothers and sisters are in pain, do we even really know what it means to get down in the dirt and plant seeds of trust?”
“If we are really committed to planting seeds of trust that have the potential to positively change the landscape and diet of our society,” she said, “we’re going to have to get dirty, and we will need all hands on deck.”
Planting – even seeds of trust – she said is messy work.
Johnson went on to say that part of that messy work is weeding. “… identifying the types of weeds in your yard and killing the unwanted weeds at their roots are the first steps to effective gardening.”
Before we even dare to plant seeds of trust,” Johnson said, “we have got to do some weeding.
“Some weeding is not easy,” she said. “We must ask again and again and again: What are the weeds, the structures of oppression in our churches, in our community, in our society that have prevented seeds of trust from flourishing for all too long. … The fact of the matter is we have already identified so many of them; now it is time to get rid of them.”
Johnson talked about the shooting in Orlando, the recent shooting of a Boston teen, and last year’s church shooting in South Carolina. It’s easy to reduce these tragedies to mere numbers of victims, Johnson said, and obscure the “sinful sources of these heinous crimes”: heterosexism, racism, classism, sexism.
Those are the weeds, she said.
But there is hope even in the growth of weeds, Johnson said.
“Weeds are a sign of fertile ground,” she said, and if weeds can grow in a particular area, fruit can also.
“The question becomes, are we courageous enough in our planting ventures to stay to where the weeds are?” Johnson said. “Are we courageous enough in our planting ventures to go to where God has already prepared the ground with the nutrients that are needed for people and plants to grow?”
Gardening is best done in community, she said, and just as gardeners turn to each other for advice on how to be successful, we must listen carefully to each other.
“There is not one person in here who knows all that there is to know about planting; just like there is not one person in here who possesses the truth,” Johnson said “We are all journeying towards the truth as we journey towards perfection together, and there are just a million miles to go. When we listen, really listen to each other … we will be effectively planting the seeds of trust that we long to grow.”
Turning back to the scripture, Johnson said the command to love one another in new ways is the essential ingredient:
“This is how we plant seeds of trust: We love,” she said, and once those seeds are planted, “God will provide everything else that’s needed for those seeds to grow.”