Fig trees and Tattoos

I have been struck by three different things this week, that have all challenged, and reiterated to me the purpose, intention and compassion with which community based christian youthwork embodies. Firstly a story Jesus told in Luke 13:6

“A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’

“The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.

Secondly was this doing the rounds this week:

Photo: Always room for a little more love!

and so did this:

Photo: ==>

- Rohail

and then i read this:

“In this game (of interpetation which we are all engaged in) nobody is above or before all others; everybody is at the centre, is ‘it’ in the game. Thus it is always his/her turn to be interpreting. This process of interpretation takes place whenever we understand especially when we see through prejudice or tear away the pretenses that hide reality” (Gadamer 1967)

Sometimes being a detached youthworker is a fruitless frustrating experience. Having tried, and failed in the experience, of being a youthworker in a rural setting can be as frustrating, especially when it seems that everyone else is working in apple packed orchards or cultivated coordinated vineyards – in which the fruit is easy to identify, there are masses of trees and ample resources -often in city centre settings.  Yet the plight of the fig tree in Lukes gospel is not to be ignored, even if it stands at odds with what may be thriving orchards elsewhere, in fact it deserves special attention, intense fertiliser, more love and care. It is a life that is not to be discarded.  In writing about the social and spiritual impacts of detached youthwork i have been reflecting on what it is that we ascribe to be impacting – usually from our professional experience. We might decree something to be fruitless, yet thats not necessarily what the young person, who may be the only young person we encounter on the streets that evening, will go away with feeling. Even if us being there on a weekly basis meant that this time it “was quiet” – for that one person this chance meeting opened up new possibilities of support, of new reflected reality and someone who met them.

Similarly – what is the fruit that we look for? If we recognise that all are made in the image of God, and that lies sometimes dormant in a person is an explored spirituality, then the fruit we may see evidence of is that same fruit of the spirit – love, joy, peace, kindness…. the character things that against such there is no law – these are fruits we can not only bear witness to, and help a young person recognise, but also help enable, water and encourage?

As detached workers we are often the first, and last chain in support, how can we act with more love, provide more fertiliser and attention when relationships get frayed, disjointed or difficult? Sometimes we have to work with people, we sometimes dont like ( Blacker 2010)

Yet within the challenges, we see reality. real emotions, real swear words, people being real, as they can be in their chosen space – where they feel comfortable. On one occasion on detached i did prejudge the person who had two arms full of tattoos, not that i said anything, but they read it on my face. Yet despite this we had a real conversation about pain, self harm, spirituality, art and purpose, despite him reading correctly that i prejudged. He was nicer to me that i was to him. And i can count on one hand the number of real conversations i have had in a church on a sunday, ever. Yet this tatooed male, late one evening in a Perth street was real, just like the real young people you encounter on he streets, the moments of conversation, its is at times fruitless to other peoples expectations, but we know where we have met God in the collective consciousness of our conversations, where we have seen God in the image of the young people as they are, and been changed ourselves by them.



  1. Nice read James, I was wondering where it was going at first. 😀
    We (TN) have been looking at what kind of fruit we have and the message we have had is; numerically little, misshapen but never bland or abundant. I liken it to the apples we get in the supermarket, identical in size shape and taste to each other, yet the wild apple tree that I pass while walking the dog gives little fruit, that is blemished, but has real taste.
    As fallen humans we set great stock in numbers, more of this, more of that is always better than a little. Jesus spent time going deep with individuals and I feel that is where the need is. A room full of noisy banter from many YP is great, but a meaningful dialogical conversation with an individual is like a rare jewel.
    Keep up the good work!


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