“Ouch! Dang blackberries!” I say, sucking my poor, pricked finger. “Ouch! Dang blackberries!” I say, when I re-injure myself a few seconds later.
Picking blackberries is a bittersweet end of summer activity. The thorns tear at my clothing and hands, and I constantly have to swat away bees and avoid fat spiders. But each time I soothe my bleeding fingers in my mouth, a sweet mixture of blackberry juice, dirt, and blood reminds me that some pain is worth its rewards. The big bowl of plump, delicious blackberries helps, too.
In the Northwest, blackberries grow wild. You’ll find them along country roads, beside creek beds and rivers, encroaching upon gardens, and bordering properties. The thick, untamable brambles are an eyesore for many locals, who dig them up one year, only to find them returning then next.
I like blackberry bushes. The sweet black fruit grows by the wayside, available free for any passerby. Even where I live, in Seattle, there are several good blackberry bushes to harvest. Most people walk by them, not even acknowledging nature’s bounty, spread out before them. I want to stop them and tug at their shirtsleeves, “Excuse me, sir, you need to stop a moment and feast on this incredible fruit, a free gift for you.”
I think part of the reason people devalue the blackberry around here is precisely because it’s free. People like to assign worth to things based on their cost. My dad once advised me that it’s easier to get rid of something if you assign a price to it. I wanted to put something by the side of the road, marked “free.” And he told me that if I really wanted someone to take it, I should mark it $20. It would be gone the next day. He was right.
In a study at the University of Bordeaux, a student tested this theory on wine. He served participants a mid-range Bordeaux wine and put it in a cheap wine’s bottle, one for vin de table, their equivalent of 2 Buck Chuck. The tasters said the wine was “simple,” “unbalanced,” and “weak.” A week later, the student used the exact same wine and put it in an expensive wine’s bottle. This time, the reviewers found the wine “complex,” “balanced,” and “full” (Keefe 83). The perceived value of the bottle magically transformed the value of its contents.
Sometimes I wonder if Christianity loses some appeal because it’s free. Christ invites the rich and poor. Everyone is welcome, regardless of financial status. Attending Sunday services won’t cost you a penny. On the other hand, there’s plenty of other religions out there that demand money for participation. Rumor has it that to get to the higher levels of Scientology, you have to pony up a lot of cash. Maybe that’s why the stars like it so much. It’s an exclusive club for those who have, and it keeps out those who have not.
What many don’t realize is that Christianity comes at a higher cost than money. Christ asks that we give him our lives, our hearts, our all-in-all. To be his disciple, we pay with our very selves: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brother and sisters-yes, even his own life-he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).
Blackberries taste sweeter to me because they are abundant and free, and they require a sometimes painful labor of love to acquire them. Christ’s gift is all the sweeter because it costs us so much, but in the end, it’s free for everyone.