Planting New Seeds by Cullen Dolson

Jeremiah 1:4-10 New International Version
The Call of Jeremiah

4 The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew[a] you,

   before you were born I set you apart;

   I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

6 “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

9 Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

 

    For students at Esperanza Academy in Lawrence, Massachusetts, this election cycle has instilled a growing sense of fear and negativity. The students, largely young women of color, hear hatred and fear aimed at them from some of the highest political leaders in the land. They have learned from a young age what being a young woman of color means in the United States today. They have no choice. This became evident this summer during our summer program, as I frequently had discussions with my seventh grade English class about current political discourse. “If Trump gets elected, I am going to move back to the Dominican Republic … he would just send me there anyways.” If hearing this from my students in July broke my heart, then coming to school on November ninth shattered it to pieces.

    School went through the beginning of a mourning process that day. Countless children hugged me in tears that day and wondered if they would be able to stay in the United States. Even more wondered how it was that so many people hated them without even knowing them. I had no answers. I still have no answers. The demographic I represent--straight, white men--were the same faces that hurled at them countless vitriolic remarks and refused to acknowledge how perfectly strong and beautiful they are. How do we encourage our young women of color to continue to be empowered and stand up for themselves in such a divisive world? Our chapel reading at Esperanza this week from Jeremiah offers us some counsel.

    The call we find in this text encourages us to step fearlessly into our vocation to find where our deep desire can meet the world’s deepest needs, to borrow the language of Frederick Buechner. For my fifth grade English class, our vocation took the form of cleaning up and caring for our community garden. This service was how we as a class decided to conclude our unit on the book Seedfolks, which focuses on how a diverse group of people can come together to create a community garden. After our day of cleaning, the girls wrote reflections and crafted a letter that they are presenting to our school outlining the importance of our garden.

    I find it more than fitting that the writer of this text chose to juxtapose tearing down structures and planting new seeds in their stead. Esperanza has a strong emphasis on empowering our girls. Faced with hatred, our girls turn to love. Faced with injustice, they will tear down walls and grow gardens.