Over at T&S, Kristine posted On the Bearing of Complicated and Complicating Testimonies, which spurred an all-star discussion that I missed out on entirely. So I will try to contribute by expanding on the interesting theme of gardens and testimony which she raised with her metaphor of the greenhouse testimony that dies if you let in too much fresh air.
I've spent a fair amount of time in gardens. Not little backyard gardens, I mean the big ones. I've spent many hours wandering through the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, a mile up Strawberry Canyon from the stadium. In London, I saw Kew Gardens. On Oahu, it's the Foster Botanical Garden. On Kauai, I toured the National Tropical Botanical Garden from top to bottom. I've even walked through the little private garden of Linneas, the Swedish father of botany, in Uppsala (click here if you're a purist). So why do we bother? Why all these gardens? What is the purpose of a garden? Plants do just fine without our help, don't they? Doesn't an artifically maintained botanical garden do a disservice to the plants? Don't they get spoiled, pampered, fragile, weak?
First, a garden permits some plants to grow in a location they ordinarily would not, either within a greenhouse or with special attention outdoors. By extension, there are some plants maintained in botanical gardens that now grow nowhere else, either because of natural changes or because of human actions. When I say plants, I don't really mean individual plants, I mean species. Biologists don't care that much about individual plants or animals, what they really fight for are species. Evolution is a historical process that doesn't repeat itself, so a species that disappears does not return, ever. Not in ten billion years will it come back. Extinction is forever.
Other things happen at gardens, but they clearly are "unnatural" in a general sense. That doesn't deter the botanists, who go on tending their gardens, studying their charges, and keeping things alive which otherwise might die. A few Gardeners do a great deal of good, and there are precious few Gardeners in our world of five or six billion people. Adam, you recall, tended a Garden. Jefferson maintained an extensive garden at Monticello, wrote comprehensively on American plants in Notes on Virginia, and sent Lewis and Clark on their journey partly to gather specimens of new plants (and animals). Even Voltaire suggested we retire to cultivate our gardens. It's a uniformly positive theme, I think. Everyone thinks gardens are good.
If gardens nurture plants, I suppose congregations nurture testimonies. If the artificial environment of a garden preserves a few plants that would otherwise perish, the same is true for congregations that buoy up a few souls who might otherwise perish or wander off. Granted, I'd make a few changes to the "LDS garden." There should be less correlation committee junk food and more nutritious history and humanity. I'd lower the entrance fee, prune back some of the bureaucratic clutter, and kick out the the retail booths lurking near the edges. I'd set up a "heretic collection" too, a plot somewhere off the beaten path but well inside the garden where these twisted, gnarly plants could grow as they wish without really bothering the other, more placid plants. A few zealot gardeners, of course, want to uproot the entire nonconforming heretic patch and run it through the mulching machine. Their vision of the garden seems to run to a sort of divine monoculture, just a big wheat farm. Myself, I prefer a garden, one with plenty of variety where all plants get a chance to thrive.