The Story of Accidental Tomatoes
How a forgotten seed showed me how the church could change.
A few years ago we planted a little herb garden in the landscaping in front of our house. We put in thyme, basil, oregano and parsley, and also added in some hot peppers and cherry tomatoes just for grins.
Everything lived together in a little 3-foot-diameter ring of bricks right outside our kitchen window. It provided a lot of fresh flavor for our meals that summer…not to mention a couple amazing batches of homemade salsa!
At the end of the season I dug everything up with the intention of starting over the next spring. But life got in the way, spring turned into summer, summer turned into fall, fall turned into winter, and by the following spring I still had a bare patch of dirt staring at me every time I looked outside.
And the next year’s good intentions didn’t turn into anything more productive than the preceding one.
But something funny happened.
Where did that come from?
A couple weeks after cleaning some weeds out of my little empty bed of dirt, I noticed some new greenery poking up. Figuring I’d just have to weed again eventually, I ignored it. But a few days later I took a closer look…and what do you know? It was a tomato plant!
Now keep in mind that it had been two years since I last planted tomatoes in that little plot. But there, somehow, despite a full year and a half of neglect, with no new soil or fertilizer or anything, this little cherry tomato plant decided to emerge!
Although it was mid-July when it sprouted, which is pretty late in the growing season in our neck of the woods, we decided to let it go and see what happened. When the first flowers emerged we started to get excited, but within a couple of days some of the local fauna (most likely a deer or rabbit) had chewed off the tender blooms. We figured that would be the end of it, but not having the time (or energy) to fuss with it, we continued to let it go.
Lo and behold, a few days later some new blossoms appeared, and this time the critters left them alone. Within a week some tiny fruits started to sprout. So we staked and wired the plant to keep everything up off the ground, and it just took off!
And then we spent several weeks harvesting our accidental tomatoes.
What I learned from a tomato plant
My accidental tomato plant reminded me of all the people the modern institutional church has neglected. The folks who haven’t been fed, cared for, nurtured, or even paid attention to. The people who have just wandered away without a word. The ones who have been forced out because they didn’t measure up to some imaginary standard of purity or morality. The ones who were made to feel unloved and unwelcome.
And the ones who, regardless all of that, persist in insisting that they are still worthy of love, of friendship, of value, of relationship.
My accidental tomato grew despite me not paying a whit of intention to it. It just decided it was going to grow, so it did.
And it produced a bumper crop of delicious fruit.
There are people in the world who have really legitimate reasons for saying no to all the trappings of religion. But what if, instead of just closing our doors and hearts to them, we started to see all the beauty they are capable of producing? What if we allowed them to feed us, to nurture us … to make us all more alive together?
Putting lipstick on a pig
I still believe that the church can be a powerful force for liberation in the world. And while it’s clearly evident that our institutional models for church are dying, they still works for a lot of people.
But there are a lot of us who it’s not working for anymore. And no amount of recruiting or cajoling or putting on new window dressings (in Appalachia we call it “putting lipstick on a pig”) is going to change that.
Here’s the thing, though…church can be different.
It doesn’t have to be hard-backed pews, long-winded sermons, and songs we can’t sing. It doesn’t have to be hyped-up light and laser shows, tight-shirted pastors, and fake smiles.
All it has to be is community.
And, to quote the Beatles, all it needs is love.
So welcome to Accidental Tomatoes. This is a place where we can come together to share the stories of how unconditional love can change the world. Through both online and in-person community, we’ll forge relationships, inspire unity, and work together for justice for all and the common good.
I’m glad you’re here! Let’s grow together!