Often the vision we have of gardeners are round-brimmed hats on kindly retirees with a packet of seeds in one hand and a geranium in the other. This image hardly cuts a figure of revolution and social change. But in recent years there has been a revival in our understanding of the role of gardens in an age of division.
In the United States there is a group called RAW Tools. They began doing something unusual a few years ago. They started turning guns into garden tools. What started small has grown as people from far and wide bring them guns, many used for violence and crime, and in their workshop they turn the metal and wood of those weapons into gardening tools. They make shovels, hand plows, and tilling forks. They make implements of growth from guns that were brought to them as implements of violence.
Their inspiration came from the hundreds of gun-related violent crimes that have happened in their community, and also from a verse from Isaiah 2:4 that reads, “They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore.” It’s a verse that points to the activity of turning away from violence and hatred, towards peace and gardening. Each garden tool is a tangible reminder of how peace is made: actively, intentionally, slowly, and with great love for others.
It is beautiful to me that gardening and peace seem to be the precise antithesis of violence. Gardening implies that there is hope for the future of our land, that we can plant something and expect it to grow in peace. Gardening implies that we could all live in harmony, heal what seems dead, and plan for tomorrow, together. The wide brimmed hat of the gardener digging in the soil is perhaps the kind of peace maker we need.
The biblical vision in Isaiah is a vision of peace, but more than just butterflies and sunflowers, it is the active work of taking what was meant for harm, and shaping it for the common good. In ancient times enemies would plow salt into the fields of those they hate so that they could not grow anything for a generation. But here, in this image of turning swords into plowshares, we see a hope that seeks instead to cultivate something living, something beautiful, and something truly life-giving instead of destroying this place for others.
Today we may not experience the violence of a sword and many of us are certainly disconnected from the land where our food is grown. Still, our neighbourhoods are not always at peace. A pandemic, domestic violence, sorrow, racial division, personal hatred, fear, and distrust have caused our community pain. The work of peace-making is still very much ours to take up and much of the peace-making our community needs begins with those who live along our street.
What is the plowshare you can make in your community? Perhaps something meant to destroy is destined to become an implement of life.
To learn more, visit rawtools.org