Weedy Christianity or Musings of a Christian Weed Scientist
By Kenzie Barth
What is a weed? A weed is usually defined as a plant growing in a place where it is not wanted. That definition makes the term weed subjective; some homeowners go on missions to eliminate dandelions in their lawn, while others don’t mind them. Some species of Amaranth plants can severely damage crop yields, but members of the same family are grown as a food crop in other areas of the United States. A plant is just a plant until we decide that it is in the wrong place or should not be growing where it is. When we decide that it is in the wrong place, it becomes a weed.
As we decide that some plants are weeds, the way that we think about it and how we approach the plant changes drastically. The way that we think about weeds in a modern culture is often warlike; advertisements for herbicides can use language like waging a war on weeds, and some advertisements go so far as to say, “The only good weed is a weed that’s dead.” Violent language like this is deeply tied to the eradication of weeds and shapes how we think about a plant out of place.
Weeds have been an issue since people have been cultivating plants. About 8000 years ago,
weed control began with an early form of the plow and weeding by hand. Weeds have been
around for forever. They are mentioned in historical texts, including in the Bible, where there are numerous references to weeds, such as in Proverbs.
I passed by the field of the sluggard and by the vineyard of the man lacking sense, And behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles; Its surface was covered with nettles, And its stone wall was broken down. When I saw, I reflected upon it; I looked, and received instruction.
Before the Bible was written, there were still weeds causing problems. Weeds have been a
problem in agriculture since the very beginning of agriculture, always trying to survive by
stealing nutrients and resources from the crop and often incredibly similar in growth habit and appearance to the crop being grown. Other weeds like poison ivy, among many, cause skin irritations and allergic reactions. Invasive weeds can outcompete native species and disrupt the balance within ecosystems. Weeds with thorns can tear skin and clothes, and those growing in pastures can poison livestock. In Job, it is written,
Let thorns grow instead of wheat, and foul weeds instead of barley.
Weeds cause issues for man and the rest of creation. A plant is a weed because it is undesirable. Shown in Job, weeds grow where they are not wanted and emphasize the imperfection in creation that is a result of the fall.
However, creation is redeemable, and created by the Creator like us. In the evils that weeds
exhibit, there is a truth. Even as weeds cause issues for humans and animals, they carry
something beautiful within them. Weeds often grow in places that are undesirable for other
plants, and they grow where other plants won’t or can’t. In 1 Maccabees,
And they saw the sanctuary deserted, and the altar profaned, and the gates burned, and weeds growing up in the courts, as in a forest or as on the mountains, and the adjoining chambers demolished.
1 Maccabees 4:38
The most problematic weeds adapt to survive through applications of chemicals that are meant to erase competition for the crop. Weeds grow in the cracks of sidewalks, in gutters, and even straight out of rocks. Weeds are survivors, and they want to live so badly that they will do nearly anything to survive. The intense will to live in this part of God’s creation is something to think about. Those same traits that make weeds mean and undesirable also help them to survive. Thistles avoid being eaten by being prickly and poison ivy is left alone because of the chemicals in its leaves. Weeds growing in the sidewalk cracks don’t have other plant competition where they are and weeds that look and act like the crop that they are growing with are often hard to differentiate.
Another way that weeds are successful is in how they produce more weeds, through their seeds. Weeds are masters of reproduction – they are very good at producing seeds and dispersing those seeds. Dandelions utilize the wind to spread their seeds with their fluffy ends that can travel long distances. Burrs can stick to clothing and fur, which then brings the weed’s seeds to new places with more opportunities to grow and spread. Some seeds are extremely tiny, getting into small spaces and traveling many miles with a companion to be deposited somewhere to be left to grow and spread. Some weeds can maintain viability the entire way through an animal’s digestive system. Other seeds can travel on water, floating down a river until they land on a riverbank or beach. There are many examples of how weed seeds spread, all in the name of survival.
The way that these weeds survive in harsh environments is unique to each species and
environment. Perennial weeds can have extensive root structures, storing energy to use when they need it. Roots full of sugars function like an emergency fund bank account, there when needed to provide resources and energy to keep life functioning. Extensive roots also help weeds reach water and nutrients that other plants cannot, letting them continue to grow in drought or in poor soils with little nutrition. In 2 Kings,
And whatever will have been left behind, from the house of Judah, shall send a root downward, and shall bear fruit upward.
2 Kings 19:30
While other plants are withering and struggling, weeds with strong roots can stay green because they invested in their root system. As every hostile environment where weeds grow is different, with unique challenges, so too is every place that Christ grows. Secular universities, workplaces, and totalitarian nations are all places where being Christian is not easy, but Christ continues to survive in us as we carry our faith with us to these places. We continue to survive in difficult places because we invest in ourselves, each other, and our faith. Forming a strong foundation in the Word and Christ acts like a root system. A good root system is there to support life in the good times and the bad and gives us the resources and strength that we need to continue when the events and environment around us are challenging.
Indeed, Paul drew on the power of that root system when he and Silas were thrown in jail for casting a spirit out of a slave girl. He and Silas were attacked by the crowd, beaten, and tied up in prison.
As Paul was persecuted and persisted and as modern-day Christians are persecuted and persist, so too do weeds. The beautiful, intense will to live that makes weeds problematic also lives within Christians. We should not shy away from embracing our will to spread the Gospel, and draw upon our foundational root system in the Word and in Christ when we are faced with periods with spiritual drought.
In the will to live that weeds demonstrate, there is a mirror to Christianity. Christians have faced oppression from those who do not understand since the founding of the faith. Early Christians were often killed in the name of the faith. Indeed, a majority of Jesus’s disciples were martyred, with many more Christians dying for their faith since then. Do we not, then, grow like weeds? Christianity has often grown in difficult situations – a weedy religion - persistent, with a will to survive and to spread the Gospel to the ends of the Earth that has never been seen before. We also are survivors. We persistently and lovingly seek the God who made us in the hope of eternal life.