Sunday, November 27, 2005

Lessons from the Farm:Spiritual Insights from Rural Life

Tension: The transforming of those around us.

"The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed...when it grows, it...becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches." Matthew 13:31-33

My sons, Benjamin (10) and Joshua (4), and I were exploring the hill behind our house yesterday when we several bearing hickory-nut trees. We all filled our pockets. Benjamin found the one, among hundreds of nuts, that was sprouting. We planted it.

Near the base of our hill he pointed out one tree had grown in a spiral shape. Evidently a vine had clung tightly around it as they grew together. The vine had died and rotted away, leaving the misshaped tree. Another of our trees is a gigantic tulip poplar. Several years ago we had a severe ice storm that left its branches drooping to this day.

Some trees have sentimental value to us. We have a maple that Benjamin planted from a seed and another one that we brought from Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Ohio. There is a sick little pine that I planted the first year we moved here and a couple of hemlocks we transplanted from the creek. Actually, we have lots of tree stories, but the one I want to focus on involves a crooked dogwood near our driveway.

It was laying flat on the ground when I found it. I suppose the dozer pushed it over when cutting our drive, but I found it, and being very fond of dogwoods, propped it up against a large rock at the base and used some rope to keep tension on it at the top. That solid base to bear the weight and the constant tension at the top has turned the tree upright and now it grows straight and on its own.

Now, this gentle, constant, transforming tension has application in other contexts.

It is a metaphor for the people of God in the world. Yes, we are salt. Yes, we are light. We are also a gentle, constant, transforming tension. We are like rope attached to the sapling. Constantly tugging in the right direction. Where ever the tree is bent crooked, it is because in that place, the church let off the tension.

Racism is a twist on God’s gift of diversity. The churches certainly let off the tension and look where we are today.

Immorality is a crooked handling of the blessed design of God for men and women. The church not only relaxed its stand, but applauded and even engaged in the wickedness.

Greed turns the efforts of the weak into the inordinate profits of the strong. Profit is permissible, and he who takes the greater risks deserves the greater rewards, but profit should never be taken at the expense of the weak, the poor, and enslaved. When I draw a dime that costs my employee his health, his family, his faith, then I’ve turned my motive from profit to greed. Christians should be placing tension on such practices.

The list goes on, but you get the point. Why is France on fire? Why is Iraq a war zone? Why is Hollywood producing ever increasingly vulgar ‘entertainment’? Why did some kid just shoot an administrator in my own county’s high school? Because, Christians have been letting off the tension….for a long time. Now, we have a bent, twisted society.

May the Church repent. May she awaken. May she live again in such as way as to effectively apply that gentle, consistent, transforming tension the world so desperately needs.

1 comment:

Greg Taylor said...

This is so true, and tension really is a good word that serves to help us stand in the world but not be of it . . . it's not flip flopping from one side to the other, not one moment being in the world then jumping into church. Christians are called to live in constant tension between our beliefs and practices and what the world believes and practices.

Thank you, Steve, for your insightful analogy of the trees. I'm a tree lover and on my 30th birthday I planted 30 trees in Uganda. This fall we planted several trees, including a maple, oak, apheia, and whitebud (like a redbud) . . . the oak is crooked . . . maybe I'll put some tension on it!