Once upon a time there was a man who looked out onto the world from an easy posture through a large custom-paned window. This window was in the grandest room of his home. From there he could see the changing of seasons, the habits of neighbors and the world passing by. Life was not perfect but it was good. Occasionally, he ventured out to where the streams flowed and waters lapped the edge of the land. There he collected rocks of all sorts. He loved them for they were dense and weighty. Each rock was solid and could be collected according to its beauty and his preference. There were so many rocks, but he only collected a few, and a few was a lot. He lined them up on his kitchen counter and bedroom window. He kept them in bowls on his dining tables. The smoothest and most polished stones he kept in his study where he could hold them in his palms and draw his fingers around them. He found that he felt better for their weight in his hand. They grounded and stabilized him.
This was the way the man lived till one day. On that day, a terrible crash came from the grandest room of his home. There he found his plate-glass window broken. Shards of glass littered the floor. So did a large rock lobbed into his personal space. The rock was ugly. It had a piece of paper wrapped round it. Scrawled on the paper: “I hear you like rocks, what do you think of mine?”
The truth, of course, was that he didn’t like it. It ruined his view of the world. And he knew it would take time to order a custom-paned window. Not only was the rock not to his liking but to make matters worse this rock made noise.
The noise began as a low murmur: barely audible, yet the sound beckoned. The man could not help honing in, listening for any articulation. And in the honing and groaning, a dialogue emerged between rock and man. The man said, “Rock, what did you say?” And every day the murmuring took on clarity till one day the man heard the voice clearly say, “I am not a rock, release me.” The man was in disbelief: “Of course you are a rock. You are hard. You are weighty and, if I keep you from the weather, you will be unchanging.” But the man could not ignore what he heard: “I am not a rock, release me.”
The plea was relentless. The man could hear nothing else. And so one day the man put this rock in his pocket and carried it with him wherever he went. The rock was with him whether he was crying, sweating or eating. The partnership seemed to quiet the weighty pleas. One day, at the end of the long day, the man reached into his pocket to empty his change and relieve himself of the weight of the rock. But in his clutch, the man found only some change and a seed. The seed was gritty, to be sure, but unusually warm. And from the seed came a familiar resonance, “I am not meant to stay a seed, release me.” The man had been conditioned to respond. He scanned his mind to remember how one released a seed. Ah yes! Of course! One plants a seed to release it.
A seed planted
And so, just outside the broken custom-plated window, the man planted his seed. He watered it and it grew. It was a generous seed that gave him food to harvest, chew and digest. It enriched the soil as it expanded. In a similar way, it gave him strength and energy to expand, trying new things and growing in his understanding of the world.
And so the man’s hearing was now attuned deeply. He began to hear the low murmurs of all the rocks he collected. As each one began to murmur, he carried them, gifting them with the friction of his life. The released seeds were planted at the forefront of his life. The man found himself waking each morning ready to tend his garden. He often smiled and playfully named it his freedom garden. When he was quite practiced, he found himself ready to design and order a new plate-glass window. This one was a bit bigger than before but it was a perfect frame on what grows from hard places.
As for throwing stones, there was no longer a need. They could be put to much better use.
Data makes a plea
We now live in an age when data has become hardened and collectible. Something to admire without investment. Something to lob in order to make a point. Something by which we can do distant surveillance on a world without any transformation to the self. But data has a plea. “Release me. Plant me deep in your context. Trust the organic way I can be integrated and take on new forms. Digest me for strength and understanding. Let me change you first before you show me off to others.” Whether it is the data of environmentalism, systemic racism, brain development or a virus, the hard data has a plea: “Will you release me and take me in? Be careful how you answer! For I will change you.”
As we continue to celebrate the concept of freedom through summer and beyond, let’s release data to its purpose. Beyond a token or a weapon, data can help us grow beyond our preferences and prejudices toward what is life-giving for all. That we may all have life, even life abundantly.
Leslie King is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Waco.
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