The beginning of June is a rough time for a vegetable gardener. Most people can plant their warm season crops in mid May (the very ambitious might put a few out in early May) so the scenery of the garden filled is small transplants and bare soil where seeds are trying to emerge. The warm season crops are the ones that should come to mind when you think of eating something right from the garden: juicy tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, cucumbers, beans, squashes. The beginning of June is rough because it is filled with anticipation of all of these wonderful vegetables.

For some people there is little or no excitement about eating food straight from the garden. After all, we can eat cucumbers any month of the year now. We have an unlimited supply of fruits and vegetables available to us at grocery stores all across the country, so why should we wait with such high anticipation for vegetables to be “in season” when the supermarkets have no need for any season? Taste! If you have ever compared the taste of a vegetable from a garden at the peak of it season with the taste of the same vegetable purchased from a grocery store you will wonder how it is that grocery stores can even call that round, red, dry and bland orb a tomato. There is no comparison. People who grow their own vegetables know this. There are people who don’t or can’t grow their own vegetables who know this, too. They wait eagerly for the few month of farmers markets and roadside stands to buy fresh, homegrown produce.

As you can now see I was very perplexed when I passed by a gas station that cart outside that had I sign boasting “FRESH TOMATOES $.25.” It was early June. I didn’t have time to stop and look but as I drove by I knew two things. 1) There is no way those tomatoes are fresh, and 2) people are being deceived by that sign. The next time I drove by that gas station I made sure I stopped. On the cart were small wicker baskets with five or six perfectly shaped, red fruits. I got back into my car pretty frustrated. I was right. The description of fresh was merely a cheap marketing ploy. How could I tell? The fruit. It was uniform in size, shape and color. These are telling marks of food that is grown in factory-like conditions where every aspect of the “production” of food is streamlined into whatever is most efficient. Food is developed for the look rather than the taste. Think about it, when you are standing at the grocery store in the produce section, you reach for the tomato with the reddest skin and the perfectly round shape. What’s interesting about this is that we are buying produce like we are buying art-as something to look at (no offense to my wife or other artists who value art as more than ‘something to look at). Isn’t this odd? We buy our food in a way that says we enjoy looking at the food siting on our counter more than we enjoy the taste of it. For those grow produce, or those who strive to purchase it from small scale, organic farms the values are reversed. We seek out the produce that will have the right taste regardless of the shape or color. This isn’t to say that we would deliberately grab a squash that has boring beetle hole all through it, but a scar on the outside doesn’t scare us away.

A few weeks ago, as I drove by the same gas station with the produce cart I had a new thought, “It seems like people approach finding a church the same way they might approach that produce cart. Whether we (Westerners) want to be or not are fueled by consumerism. I believe that this is a part of who we are because of the culture that shapes us. The church is no different. Church culture has shape us to approach church as consumers. There are, of course, different degrees to this. I believe that Protestants probably have a harder time with this. After all the Reformation lead to the denominationalism that almost encourages people to go find a different church if you don’t like something about the one you attend. (This leads to a rant which needs its own soapbox for, so I’ll step down.)

Back to the produce stand. I think it is easy for us to reduce our expectations for a church to what is seen on the outside. I’m purposefully using broad general statements here because I’m commenting on what I see happening across the evangelical church landscape. I’m not trying to get too deep into specific situations. We look for a church that has the type of music we like or the charismatic preacher or the programs for our kids or the big building. We see these things on the outside and assume that those characteristics are consistent to the core. To me, these reasons for finding a church are similar to shopping for produce based solely on it’s outer appearance. We look for the churches that appear to have it all together. Churches that have the right shape and color of what we have come to expect a church to be like. But we have replace the desire for taste with the the expectation of a look.

A few post ago I wrote that “I want to be involved in a group of people who struggle their way through living out what Jesus taught. I want to be steeped in “deep church” that sinks into the core of my being.” To me, looking for this type of church is like selecting produce because of its flavor and simply because of the bright color. I believe that when we find a church (the people) we should be able to see it’s scars and bug bites. The scars are signs of life that show that the church has been growing though the elements, and not produced in isolation away from anything that might harm it. These struggles and flaws should be visible and accepted as a sign that says this is in season, locally grown, organically cultivated, tastes great and less filling. We should desire to join with a group of flawed people, scared by life and misshapen as opposed to looking or the “perfect on the outside” yet lifeless on the inside.

I think I’m running out of steam with this post. Maybe if I find the ambition I could do a series entitled “Marks of an in season, locally grown, organically cultivated church.” These are my thoughts, what about you? Does any of this resonate with your experience finding a church? Am I way off base with my comments? Did you find any spelling or grammar errors? Let me know.