My mom started growing African violets when I was a kid. We had a number of them in her garden window in California. I now have several in a south facing window in our home in a garden tray my husband gave me for Christmas one year. They bloom constantly - even through the winter which brings color to our home in an otherwise colorless time.
This little African violet came to me last December. It had been left behind by its previous owner and wasn't in the best shape. The leaves were small and discolored and there were no signs of any blooms on it at all.
But you can see things have changed for it. There are still a few discolored leaves, but now there is new growth and today it bloomed. What changed?
It would be low hanging fruit to say it was the difference in care between the prior owner and me ... but that's not the case at all. I generally have a "brown thumb" ... I'm really not good with most plants. The difference is the environment.
African violets are "social" plants. They flourish when grouped together and wither when isolated from others. Here are this little violet's "tray mates":
These little plants teach us about ourselves. We are not meant to be isolated from the wider community. When we isolate, we wither ... we get small and we get selfish. We refuse to see that our own flourishing and growth requires us to be part of a larger community ... a community where there is commonality AND diversity (notice not all of these violets are pink!).
This has been a hard week for my sisters and brothers in Baltimore. Tensions have erupted between the largely impoverished African American neighborhoods on the west side and the police over the death of Freddie Gray. I have seen people of all races coming together to seek justice as well as the frustrations of years of being unheard erupting in looting and violence. I have seen withered small hearts isolated from these harsh realities passing judgment on social media - people who fail to see that their flourishing has resulted from the very system which has impoverished so many. As folk singer Pete Seeger once noted: "The rich are rich because the poor are poor."
There is an ancient Zulu word: Ubuntu. There is no simple translation of this word but as Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained, it's essence means "I am because of you" ... or "I am who I am because I am bound up in you." Our lives are connected! We do not live in isolation - what happens in Baltimore affects all of us: regardless of anything which appears to divide us. Ubuntu speaks to our need for true community. This is not just surrounding ourselves with like-minded people who look like you, share your values, socio-economic class, and world view. This means building real community and connecting ourselves to people whose lives are radically different from you. It means listening to and learning from the experiences of those who do not see the world as you or I do. It means honoring them as sisters and brothers in Christ knowing that any system which raises some up at the expense of others is not of God and is not, in the long run, sustainable in any meaningful way.
St. Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 12 when he describes us as the Body of Christ. He said:
The eye cannot say to the hand, "I do not need you." Or the head cannot say to the feet, "I do not need you."We need each other to become what God wants us to be ... just like this little violet needed others to truly become what it could be.