Jul 8 2015

The “Trembling Giant” and the Church

_DSC7241A couple of years ago Rob and I spent some time photographing at Great Basin National Park in Nevada.  As we got to the end of our time there he asked if I minded if we stopped at the Pando forest in Utah on the way back.  I had never heard of it.  He told me of reading about it in one of Jane Goodall’s recent books and how it is a clonal colony of quacking aspens.  Some researchers believe that it is the earth’s oldest living thing, some 80,000 years old.  Intrigued by this we drove to Fish Lake, Utah, and found the forest.  I say “forest” but in reality it is a single tree with a massive underground root system that has produced what appears to be some 47,000 trees springing from that system.  Standing in the midst of Pando it was hard to comprehend how all we saw was part of one thing.

_DSC7235Yesterday I was reading Rachel Held Evans new book, Searching For Sunday, and came across a chapter where she, too, talks about the Pando forest.  She shares the same basic information above but also indicates that a name has been given to this ancient tree, Trembling Giant.  Rachel then goes on to draw some interesting and pertinent analogies between the Pando and the church.  She notes, “At last count, there are nearly as many denominations in Christianity as there are trees growing from Pando.  Each one looks different—beautiful and broken in its own way—but we all share the same DNA.”  She concludes the chapter with these words: “Our differences matter, but ultimately, the boundaries we build between one another are but accidental fences in the endless continuum of God’s grace.  We are both a forest and a single tree—one big Trembling Giant, stirred by an invisible force.”

I really like Evan’s comparison of the Pando and the church.  It makes sense.  The apostle Paul uses a different analogy than Evans in his Corinthian correspondence to make the same point: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.  So it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”  (1 Cor. 12:12-13)

_DSC7208The main reason I’m writing about this today is I am very concerned about how polarized things are in Christianity these days.  The way many Christians attack one another you would think we were in the midst of a civil war.  Some Christian groups believe that they have a monopoly on truth and that all others are either not Christians or sub-Christian.  The sources of contention are innumerable but include things like how one views the inspiration of Scripture, the age of the earth, the Second Coming, the sacraments, women in ministry, etc.  If you do not agree with some Christians about any of these, or other matters, you are deemed a heretic or worse.

What is so crazy about this is we are all one Body.  We’re like the trees Rob and I saw at the Pando forest.  What we saw with our eyes appeared to be a bunch of different trees but in reality was one living organism.  There’s no way the various churches or denominations in the world are going to agree on everything.  I’m not even sure they should.  I’m convinced our diversity should be honored and celebrated.  God is bigger than all of us combined so how could any one group get it all right?

_DSC7309I wish somehow, someway, we would quit focusing on what separates us as Christians and concentrate on what we have in common.  As the New Testament boldly affirms “there is one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6)  Just hours before he was crucified Jesus prayed earnestly that his followers “might be one.” (John 17:21)  I don’t believe he expected us to all be or think exactly alike but we are to live our lives cognizant of the fact that in him we are all one.  Another thing Jesus sought to make clear before his death was that his followers should be known first and foremost by their love for one another.  He said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13: 35)  My hope and prayer is that followers of Christ will learn to set aside their differences, focus on what they have in common, and actually present a unified witness to the world that is characterized by love.  Is that too much to ask?  Jesus didn’t think so.


(I took the pictures shown here at the Pando forest in Utah.)

Oct 24 2012

The Importance of Today

For those willing to learn, nature has much to teach them.  One such lesson is that change is inevitable and is always taking place.  It can be hard to see at times but if you look closely, changes are taking place every single day, every single moment, in the natural world.  At other times, it’s not hard to see at all.

Last week while photographing at Custer State Park in South Dakota I saw the beautiful aspen grove shown above.  I remember thinking how blessed I was to be here to see this particular grove at this particular time.  I knew that had I come a week earlier it would not have been filled with so much yellow.  I also knew that if I had come a week later the leaves would likely have been gone.

A couple of days after taking the picture above I passed by this particular grove once again.  The scene had changed drastically.  A wind storm swept through during the night and had blown almost all of the leaves off the trees.  It was hard to believe how so quickly all the leaves were shed.  It made me grateful that I had taken the time earlier to stop and photograph the grove.  Had I not, I would have missed something special.

All of my life I have heard the saying, “never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”  This wise saying, attributed to Thomas Jefferson, is one we should all pay heed too.  Why?  Because we have no guarantee of tomorrow.  This is something the Bible makes clear in numerous places.  Proverbs 27:1 says “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”  In the Book of James we read: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’  Why, you don’t even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (4:13-14)

We can all learn from both nature and the Scriptures that change is inevitable and that life is uncertain.  Recognizing this we ought to live our lives more deliberately and with a greater sense of urgency.  We should make the most of every day.  We should also realize that we may not have a chance to do tomorrow what we can do today.

Is there someone you need to say “I love you” or “I’m sorry” to?  If so, it would be wise not to wait until tomorrow to do so.  Is there someone you’ve been meaning to say “thank you” to?  Once again, it would be wise not to wait until tomorrow to do so.  The barren aspen trees I saw in South Dakota, along with the wisdom the Bible offers, helps me understand the importance of today.