Thursday, October 29, 2015

Theology of the Pumpkin Patch

Every year, as the lectionary returns to readings that use sheep or crop yields as a metaphor, I wonder what has been lost to modern ears. Last year, as I helped unload pumpkins from an 18-wheeler truck to our church’s pumpkin patch, one of the children asked, “Why are they so dirty?”

I said, "Because last week, they were growing in a field."

I could see the child looking at me as if I might be joking; after all, he's never seen pumpkins growing in a field. He may never have seen anything growing in a field. We are in an urban area, after all. I wondered if I should do more to explain.

And then I thought of all those agricultural metaphors, where Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like ... .” That parable of the seeds and the different types of ground – do we really understand that parable if we’ve never planted anything?

Each year our church transforms its front yard into a giant pumpkin patch. It’s one of the more popular fundraising and community outreach events that my congregation does. In my search for relevant metaphors, I’ve wondered, what does this pumpkin patch tell us about God and God’s community?

Our pumpkin patch contains all sorts of pumpkins, both the traditional orange kind and several types of green pumpkins. We offer both pumpkins and gourds. We have every size of pumpkin you could want, from the largest pumpkins that could be a chair, to those we’d use for a pie, to the very small, cute kind that you can put on a fireplace mantel.

In the variety of the pumpkins, we get a sense of God the creator who doesn’t stop at just one possibility. We get a sense that in God’s creation there’s room for every kind of pumpkin.

Those pumpkins don’t come off the truck by themselves. Our church must provide the labor to get the pumpkins to where we want them to be. When I helped unload the pumpkins last year, I thought, “I’ve never felt like a part of a more seamless Christian community than I do right now.”  

That’s not exactly true. But the times that shine in my memory are times of similar service: serving dinner to the homeless, doing a winterization project for homes of the poor in the inner city, working together to create a wonderful vacation Bible school experience for children. 

Unloading the pumpkins also reminds me of something else that I cherish about church communities: At their best, there is room for everyone. The littlest ones can carry pumpkins, if they want to help that way. Those of us without the strength to carry pumpkins can help sell them. 

I think of myself as having no upper-body strength, but clearly I’m wrong. By the end of an October night, I had carried at least 400 pumpkins. I would not have expected that I could do that since I can’t do 10 pushups at a time without my arms screaming at me. And yet, it needed to be done, and so I kept moving the pumpkins and pushing through my fatigue. At the end of the night, although I was exhausted and covered in dirt and pumpkin gunk, I felt an exhilaration that I hadn’t anticipated. Similarly, God has plenty of surprises for us. 

As I cradled those pumpkins, which so resemble human heads, I felt a strange tenderness toward them, the tenderness that I imagine God feels toward us all. In some ways, pumpkins are so sturdy and yet so fragile. All it takes is one slip and the pumpkin is rendered useless, a pulpy mess of slime and gunk. And yet, even from that accident could come new life, if one planted the pumpkin seeds. From that one pumpkin, we could grow a whole new patch, life out of death.

As I drove home after we unloaded the pumpkins, I thought about all the ways I was surrounded by evidence of God's grace: an abundance of pumpkins, a great group of fellow workers, the beautiful sunset, the almost full moon, the exuberant children, blessing after blessing. I felt gratitude for my healthy body that could carry all those pumpkins. I said a prayer for those who had grown and harvested the pumpkins in a distant field in New Mexico. I went home to wash the pumpkin gunk and soil off me, and I felt additional gratitude for warm water and a cold swimming pool in which to soak my sore feet. I felt more appreciation than usual for my soft bed and clean sheets.

The next morning, I woke up with very sore arms and a soul singing with gratitude. I said hello to the pumpkins I brought home, pumpkins that won't be here very long.

None of us will be here very long. I want to adopt a more sacramental approach to life. I want to see evidence of God's grace all around me, in the lowliest gourd, in the greatest pumpkin, in every human who crosses my path. 

A year ago I created this post for the Living Lutheran site- See more at:

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