Manicured or Wild?
Phil Porter
Minister of Art & Communication


The building in which I live in downtown Oakland occupies most of the lot that it sits on. No room for a garden, really, but nonetheless we have managed to “green it up” quite a bit with potted plants, vines growing on trellises and fences and growing things both planned and unplanned.

A morning glory growing on the back fence has now snaked its way up the back staircase and is headed for the roof. Wild! While I have been warned in the past about the “exuberant” growth patterns of this particular vine, how can I resist this easy riot of color enlivening the back wall of our building?

I am loathe to prune.

Behind our building is a parking lot that serves the workers at the nearby postal station, poised between the Taco Bell and our neighborhood marijuana dispensary. On the north side of the lot is a grass strip between a fence and the sidewalk that runs along half of that block of 23rd Street. 

When we first moved to the neighborhood, the strip was all weeds and trash. Over a long period of time we slowly but surely commandeered it — cleaning it up, sifting out debris from the soil and planting things. I don’t know how many different types of plants are growing out there now, but it has to be at least 50, give or take 10 or 20. Biodiversity!

And things are growing that we hadn’t even planted. As we made the soil and the setting friendlier, all sorts of things moved in (my favorite “wanderer” — the California poppies). We also have several compost piles along the way. Sometimes after our religious holidays, the leftover church poinsettias or lilies end up in what I call the “liturgical compost pile.”

Over the years, several of us have participated in the care of this urban garden, with varying aesthetics. Some are the “mostly let it go” sort, others are more prone to the cleaner, neater look. I jump back and forth between those two poles. I like the neat look and want others to be impressed with the garden, but I also want to “live and let live.” What the heck is a “weed” anyway? As I look at it today, I would confess that it’s looking pretty wild. Mostly, my own practice is to let go of a sense of control I might think I have, either over others who are tending it or nature’s own intentions.

We want to tame the wildness of God, don’t we? Probably for both good and ill. But God/nature just seems to want to go wild, whether we’re vigilant with our pruning shears or not.