Wild Gardens, Unrestrained Capitalism, And Expansive Evangelism
In the movie Being There, Peter Sellers plays Chauncey Gardiner, a developmentally challenged man who blunders his way into the halls of power by mouthing simplistic gardening advice that the 1% interprets as profound economic and political advice.
The kneeslapper is that Chauncey’s advice is pretty much on the money -- literally and figuratively -- but the 1% is too stupid / greedy to actually apply it but instead reinterprets it for their own ends, thus nullifying its value.
Well, we’re anything but shy about flogging deceased horses around here. There are some very common sense guidelines we’d be well to adhere to should we genuinely love our country.
My wife and I rent a 10 x 20 plot in the community garden at the local park.
It’s a fun way to fill a few hours each week, with a pay off of delicious, ripe, healthy food at peak freshness to enhance our diet.
We’ve noted a few things that mirror what Chauncey Gardiner said:
You have to prepare
Pull out old plants and weeds, add nutrients and mulch to the soil. Check there’s adequate light, water, and protection from pests. Make the bed a place where crops can grow.
Plant, but expect some failure
Sometimes you can do everything right and it still doesn’t work out. Recognize that can happen and don’t depend too much on one crop.
Supervise the growth
If you don’t watch out, many of your plants will expend all their energy and nutrients growing more leaves, not crops. Trim the leaves and branches back; start with those bearing no crops but sometimes you need to eliminate a few buds in order to shift resources to more valuable produce.
Not every plant is a perennial
Some need to be uprooted and mulched as soon as the harvest is done, their component parts replenishing the soil…and starting the cycle all over again.
Being There’s satire aside, these maxims apply to capitalism as well as gardening.
Like a garden, capitalism needs cultivation and supervision; not every second of every waking hour, but enough and often. An untended garden grows wildly (assuming weeds don’t choke it) and produces nothing of value, just leaves.
In this context, leaves are like the profits in capitalism.
That may sound counterintuitive -- shouldn’t the crops represent the profit? -- but it’s apt.
Leaves exist only to grow themselves and support the other functions of the plant only insofar as they would die if they didn’t.
To get them to produce worthwhile crops, they need to be kept reasonably in check and allowed to grow only in a manner that benefits the plant and its crops as a whole.
(Yeah, I realize some plants -- cabbage / lettuce / marijuana -- have leaves as their crop, but even there pruning and trimming leaves makes for a better plant, a healthier, sturdier plant, a more nutritious plant.)
Capitalism needs that sort of controlled, guided cultivation, too. Leaves will always be the lion’s share of a plant’s growth, just as profits will always be a big hunk of capital’s growth. But just as a focus entirely on leaves produces a useless plant, focus on profits for the 1% produces nothing of worth for the rest of us.
Careful cultivation provides more than enough leaves / profits while ensuring the plant / business’ viability and enriching the garden as a whole.
And many if not most businesses need a set lifespan. Recycling capital and property back into the original business entity only keeps others from flourishing, just as keeping old plants in a garden eventually ends up using valuable plot area and resources with no beneficial crop.
Profit is not – and never should be – the sole reason a business exists. A good business, like a good crop, provides for others directly and indirectly.
The modern MBA philosophy that a business exists solely to make money for the owners is sociopathic nonsense that eventually damns everyone.
Nobody begrudges a business / owners their right to profit, but at the same time they cannot, they must not ignore their obligation and interrelation to the world around them.
And while we’ve been discussing gardens and businesses, the same basic maxims apply to religion as well, American evangelical Protestantism in particular (no surprise there as American churches have always acted more like profit driven businesses than spiritual institutions).
Among churches, swap out “leaves” and “profits” for “congregants” or “members”.
American evangelicals tend to adhere to two major heresies: The Prosperity Gospel and ”Make all nations disciples” (a perversion of Jesus’ “Make disciples of all nations” and if you don’t grasp the key crucial difference, that’s what you get for daydreaming in English class).
While Jesus was welcoming and loving to all who came to him, he also realized most people weren’t cut out to be true followers.
If the Parable of the Sower and the Seeds is any indication, he may have thought only 25% would get the memo while the rest of humanity would fall aside.
By this he wasn’t saying most people would go to fire and brimstone, just that relatively few people would adhere to his teachings and be a blessing on the world.
(For a guy who came back from the dead and resurrected another guy, Jesus offers remarkably little on the afterlife: “My father’s house has many rooms” is about the crux of it, and the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man -- if not told in purely symbolic terms -- indicates not being a selfish dick is the easiest way to avoid hell.)
American evangelical churches always focused on membership as a sign of spiritual success because membership (and money; the two are related) is easily quantifiable.
“We had ten more visitors this week” is a lot easier to track than “Ten of our members acted more Christ-like this week.”
The problems with this method of tracking progress are obvious.
Ask yourself which is better:
A church with a thousand regular shmoes who act like a thousand regular shmoes while calling themselves Christian, or a church with only a dozen members who consciously and conscientiously apply “love your neighbor” every waking moment?
Take all the time you need in answering that…
The time has come for American churches to be pruned waaaaay back.
We need to empty pews, shutter doors.
(I admit I have vacillating opinions on this matter; some days I advocate emptying the pews, others I advocate putting the entire church campus to the torch.)
We need to trim back the selfish leaves and focus on the crops of the church (or the “fruits of the spirit” as the Bible would say).
Ten percent of the self-identified Christians acting ten percent more Christ-like would benefit the world a thousand-fold.
It’s one thing to be saved,
it’s another entirely to serve.
© Buzz Dixon