Freedom’s Ripe Vine

jackie, January 31, 2019

By: Tyler Coles, Unitarian Universalist of Fairfax Young Adult Community Leader

I grew up surrounded by gardens. Small gardens composed of planters along walkways and stoops. Backyard gardens overflowing with collard greens, okra and lettuce. And farm lands filled with rows of sweet corn, pumpkins and potatoes. Any plot of ground that could possibly give root to seed would almost certainly be transformed into a robust bed of delicious fruits and vegetables within a matter of weeks. Yet no matter the size of the plot or the question of its ability to yield, tomatoes were the constant favorite amongst those who tilled the soil.

For many who grew up in southwest Virginia, as well as in other parts of the country of course, homegrown tomatoes call to mind memories of years gone by. For some these juicy, ripe fruits conjure stories of ancestors who relied upon the earth and their resilient faith in the Divine to feed their families year in and year out. For others, tomatoes served as the perfect punctuation to summer meals and delectable recipes.

Over the years I have even given my hand to growing tomatoes. Though some attempts were more successful than others, it was in the doing that I garnered the most reward. Each time I came upon another struggling batch my Grandmother would gently tease me by saying, “did you sucker them?” To which I would almost always respond, “I knew there was something I was forgetting!” And off I would go, back to my garden or planter to remove “the suckers” that would sprout between the stem and branch which would sap the plant of the necessary nutrients it needed to grow successfully. While the plant would magically spring back to life, quickly giving form to blossoms, the suckering process would have to be repeated every couple of days as to ensure the plant’s continued development.

In some ways, fostering justice within our communities is like suckering tomato plants. While growth and development are continuous in some regards, it is in the intentional practice of tending to the needs of our communities and the lands which we call home that true growth occurs. For many of us, this wisdom of keeping watch and delicately tending to the needs of that which we love and care for is imparted to use through the ways of our Ancestors and spiritual traditions. In my familial and spiritual lines, tending to the natural world and the land is one of the ways in which I honor the divine within myself and within my community.

As our existence is interconnected so too is our justice work. Advocacy to reduce further damage to the natural world is tied up with the work to end gender-based violence against women and girls. Efforts to decrease the existence of food deserts are connected to the dismantling of greed and capitalism. Subverting White Supremacy within our hearts and communities is linked back to the discontinuation of the societal disregard for the environment. Because to perceive justice work as being unrelated to any other struggle for justice fails to grasp the full reality of our shared existence. We are truly bound up in this together.

It is my hope that as these cold nights give way to warm days we might look to the ways of the natural world and the life-giving practices handed to us by our ancestors as to keep watch and tenderly care for freedom as it ripens on the vine before us. And in so doing, may we open ourselves to being transformed in the process of supporting one another as co-creators in the garden of existence.


Tyler Coles (they/he) joined UUCF as the Young Adult Community Leader in September 2018. Tyler’s role is to build and help facilitate a young adult community outside of UUCF, but grounded in UU principles and values.

Tyler is a Southern-raised native of Roanoke, VA. They hold a bachelor of arts in history and religion from Roanoke College and a master of divinity from Vanderbilt University. Inspired by the good news of Unitarian Universalism, Tyler is a candidate for the ministry with more than 5 years of experience focusing on the intersections of young adult spirituality and collective liberation. This work includes interfaith organizing, the facilitation of queer spirituality communities and continuous efforts toward “creating the Beloved Kingdom on earth.”

Tyler also serves as the communications co-chair of Diverse Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM). DRUUMM is a People of Color ministry and anti-racist collective bringing lay and religious professionals together to overcome racism through resistance and transform Unitarian Universalism through multicultural wisdom.

You can contact Tyler here.