Life Training

by Joseph Christopherson

The act of running has given us many and different analogies for as long as running has been around. It makes sense. Running has been a part of nearly every culture. Many lessons have been taught and sermons have been preached using varying aspects of a race or the act of running to bolster a point. So, being the cross-country coach, I thought I would add to the tradition by using cross country as a metaphor.

There are many lessons to be learned from a race, but for now I want to talk about the lifestyle of a runner when they are not actually racing. A runner’s success is affected by what they do on off days. For instance, a runner gets a lucky day off of work on a Tuesday afternoon the week before a race. They have a choice. The runner could kick back, lounge on a sofa, grab a bag of hot Cheetos with lime, and turn on the news. Or, the runner could grab a healthy breakfast, tie up those running shoes, and head out for a run. These are somewhat extreme options, but you get the idea. This is not to say that the first option is a bad one. I, for one, love to watch a quick episode on Netflix or take a nap every once in a while. But the motivation behind the choice is important. Remember, this particular example takes place a couple of days before a race.

Some people can do well in a race even if they choose option one, the hot Cheetos. But if a runner chooses option one it points to their habits and their lifestyle. Given this same choice ten times, they might choose option one seven out of ten times. Their running lifestyle is not ideal and can even be toxic. Though this choice might not affect this particular race, it will affect races down the road. Their lifestyle, though on the surface it can seem maintainable, is not sustainable. The runner is on the road to a crash.

Much like the runner’s lifestyle affects their long-term running life, a person’s lifestyle will affect their life. For instance, a person gets a lucky day off of work one day during the week. This person has a choice of what to do with it. Option one: this person can kick back, lounge on a sofa, eat a few bags of hot Cheetos with lime, and binge on Netflix. Option two: go outside! Or, maybe, read a book. There are actually plenty of options that could fit into option two. The idea is that we can choose to be active, not necessarily physically active but, rather, mentally active, or we can choose to be lethargic. The lethargic lifestyle can still function, but, as with the toxic runner, this is not a healthy way to go. Once again, choosing option one, every once in a while, is not bad based on just the one choice. But when that choice represents your lifestyle is when it will lead to a crash.

Lifestyle is important. Certain aspects of our lifestyle affect how successful we are in our lives. Our lifestyle translates into how we operate in our jobs and how we act with our friends and even which friends we have. This is why it is important to have a good, healthy lifestyle. There are many types of lifestyles that are good, but there are also plenty of toxic and poisonous lifestyles. Some toxic lifestyles are still functional, people can live their life and work their job and spend time with their friends, while still not totally collapsing. This, however, is not ideal. It will lead to a crash.

For runners: what are we filling our bodies with? It should be water! How often do we practice or work out? Hopefully at least a couple of times a week!

For our life: What do we fill our time with? Reading, running (or some other physical activity), praying, studying, and much more! Who are the influences in our lives? Good people, and most importantly Jesus!

Many of you know this. Many of you are good at this already. I hope this is an encouragement to you to keep going. It is important to remember, for both cross country and for life in general, that, while the end is important, it is not the only thing that matters. How you get there is also important. Jesus has saved us! Hallelujah!  Who are we going to be in response? How are we going to live our lives knowing that we are truly and deeply loved? Like the good runner’s lifestyle, let us train ourselves to better, healthy people. Loving God and living our lives for His glory.

 

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The Power In Poetry

by Helen Wagner

A poem is just a poem, nothing special. It’s a bunch of words grouped together in a certain way, sometimes in meter and rhyme, sometimes not. It doesn’t have any power over the human mind and emotions. There’s nothing threatening about a poem.

Or is there?

The truth is, poetry is one of the most powerful weapons humans can use. The tongue has long been known for its ability to influence; among other references, Proverbs 18:21 says that “death and life are in the power of the tongue.” A poem is the highest form of any language. It can carry the greatest impact with the fewest words.

With this in mind, it is not surprising that many poets have had their work banned, challenged, or censored throughout their lives. The very act of banning a poem acknowledges that it holds some power to change reality. For example, Mahmoud Darwish, an activist poet in the Middle East, was exiled from Israel for 26 years because some of his work was considered ‘anti-Israel.’ The president of Israel, Ehud Barak, went so far as to prevent any of Darwish’s poetry from being included on school curricula. Darwish was surprised. “It is difficult to believe,” he said, “that the most militarily powerful country in the middle east is threatened by a poem.”

And yet, this was the case.

Shel Silverstein, Walt Whitman, Lewis Carrol, Dr. Seuss, and others all march in the ranks of the banned poets. The reasons why they were banned vary widely; some were banned for their portrayals of Marxism and others for the anthropomorphizing of animals.

Shel Silverstein’s collection of poetry, A Light in the Attic, was number 51 on the 1990s list for most-challenged books. According to a school in Wisconsin, it “glorified Satan, suicide, and cannibalism, and encouraged children to be disobedient.” One poem in the book, ‘How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes,’ caused distress because it encouraged children to break dishes instead of drying them. Another poem, called ‘Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony,’ was disputed at a school in Florida due to the fact that the little girl died at the end.

Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham was banned in Maoist China in 1965. What was the reason? Apparently, it portrayed Marxism in a bad light by showing the Sam-I-Am character force his possessions (green eggs and ham) onto someone else. The ban was not lifted until Seuss’ death in 1991. Californians had problems with The Lorax, which they believed demonized the logger community.

Alice in Wonderland, full of both poetry and prose, was banned in Hunan, China in 1931 because Lewis Carrol included talking animals, especially in the poems “The Lobster Quadrille,” “The Voice of the Lobster,” and “The Mouse’s Tale.” A government censor condemned it for “its portrayal of anthropomorphized animals acting on the same level of complexity as human beings.” Other countries also challenged the book, but for different reasons – it allegedly promoted drug use in places such as the “eat me, drink me” scenes and the hookah-smoking caterpillar.

One prime example of using poetry as a kind of weapon is the WWI poetry collection by D. H. Lawrence, All of Us. Lawrence, an English author, criticized the war and challenged British imperialism with his poems. He described the horrors and inhumanity of the war, and his message was spread through his verses. But this collection was Bowdlerized by government-fearing publishers to the point of incomprehensibility. These poems had the power of persuasion, and British authorities feared this. Thus, Lawrence was silenced. It was not until 1979 that Cambridge University began a project to publish all of his works, now uncensored.

Whitman’s poem collection, Leaves of Grass, was considered obscene and shocking to many when it was published in 1855. The unconventional subject matter (everything from love to democracy) and frankness with which it was discussed outraged many. The book was legally banned in Boston in the 1880s, and libraries around the country refused to buy it. Ralph Waldo Emerson, however, was in favor of the poems. He called them “the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed.”  He recognized that Whitman’s words had power and should be heard.

I could say more about the power of poetry, but perhaps it is more fitting to end this article with a quote from one of Whitman’s banned poems: ‘As I Lay with My Head in Your Lap, Camerado.’

“I know my words are weapons, full of danger, full of death;

(Indeed, I am myself the real soldier;

It is not he, there, with his bayonet, and not the red striped artilleryman;)”

It seems that Edward Bulwer-Lytton was right: the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

 

REFERENCES:

Liberman, Sherri. “Even Dr. Seuss Recognized He Was ‘Subversive As Hell’.” Talking Points Memo, 26 Sept. 2013, talkingpointsmemo.com/cafe/even-dr-seuss-recognized-he-was-subversive-as-hell.

Morrison, Oliver. “The Good, the Bad, and the Banned.” National Coalition Against Censorship, 9 Apr. 2015, ncac.org/blog/the-good-the-bad-and-the-banned.

“Poetry’s Place in the History of Banned Books .” Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, 9 Aug. 2017, http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/poetrys-place-history-banned-books.

“Spotlight on a Banned Book: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” Buzz Bookstore, 26 Sept. 2016, www.buzzbookstore.com/blog/2016/9/26/spotlight-on-a-banned-book-alices-adventures-in-wonderland.

 

Medieval Fan Fiction?

by Lindsey Scholl

My Kindly master then began by saying. . .
‘That shade is Homer, the consummate poet;
The other one is Horace, satirist;
The third is Ovid, and the last is Lucan.’ . . .
And so I saw that splendid school assembled,
Led by the lord of song incomparable,
Who like an eagle soars above the rest.
                          -The Inferno, Canto IV 1

“This is fan fiction.”

We were in the middle of a tenth-grade literature discussion, and I don’t remember who said it.  But the student was right. Most of us are familiar with the concept of fan fiction. According to Wikipedia, “fan fiction is fiction about characters from an original work or setting, created by fans of that work rather than its creator.”2  I did try to find a more authoritative source for a definition, but a) fan fiction is such a modern literary phenomena that it was hard for me to find a nice Oxford definition of it and b) most other definitions I came across fit within the Wikipedia definition.

The internet has grown fan fiction exponentially, since “fandoms” can gather around a website and share their contributions. Like any exploding genre, it has some problems. Because of copyright, it is rarely published professionally, which means it has few filtering bodies. It is often used to twist the story’s original relationships — “I always thought X and Y should get together, so I’m going to write it.” By its nature, fan fiction is rarely original, nor is it considered quality literature. Finally, it can lead those whom it influences towards escapism rather than creativity.

And yet it’s true that The Divine Comedy is, in fact, “a fiction about characters from an original work or setting, created by fans of that work rather than its creator.” The first canto reveals this.  Dante writes himself into some dark woods (this is called ‘self-insertion’) and is beset by three horrible monsters. Suddenly, he sees the figure of a man.

“Have pity on me,” were the words that I cried,
“Whatever you may be—a shade, a man.”
He answered me: “Not man; I once was a man. . . .
And I was born, though late, sub Julio,
And lived in Rome under the good Augustus.”3

Dante realizes that this isn’t just any ghost, but Virgil, the author of Rome’s epic, The Aeneid.  That would be like C.S. Lewis walking into the room to deliver us from the clutches of an atheist professor. An astounded Dante asks for help, and Virgil answers: to find a way out of the dark wood, Dante must follow him through Hell and then Purgatory. At the crossover to Paradise, the pagan poet promises that “a soul more worthy than I am will guide you.”  So begin the adventures of The Divina Commedia with its three books: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.

Admittedly, The Divine Comedy centers on a historical, rather than fictive character, but it qualifies for fan fiction in other ways. Dante models his work on Virgil’s fictional Aeneid, which sends Aeneas on a journey to the underworld. Further, Dante writes himself meeting various historical and fictional celebrities. Readers won’t be surprised to find Caiaphas in Hell, though they might not expect to see Odysseus confined to the eight circle as a fraudulent counselor. Moreover, all of Hell’s inhabitants are guarded by mythological greats such as the Minotaur and three-headed Cerberus.

In Purgatory, Dante encounters more notables, including Cain, as well as a host of popes and Italians more familiar to his own era. Finally, in Paradise, he sees such lights as Thomas Aquinas, the Emperor Trajan (he’s surprised at that one), the Virgin Mary, and, finally, Christ Himself.

The Divine Comedy therefore not only qualifies as fan fiction, but it’s one of its greatest examples, excepting only Virgil himself, who stole so liberally from Homer. Given fan fiction’s spotty record, how do we process this? If we require our students to read Dante, are we approving the genre? I would say yes, provided that each fan fiction work follows these criteria:

First: it should be written in high literary form. Dante wrote not only in a highly structured rhyme scheme, but his use of metaphor is second-to-none.

Second: it should be inspired by a literary classic. Dante’s model for The Divine Comedy is the Aeneid, so he’s already working with quality material.

Third: it should elevate its characters rather than degrade them. Dante doesn’t twist history by making Virgil a Christian, but he does portray the pagan poet as virtuous, courageous, and wise.

Fourth: it should offer its own plot. The Divine Comedy is original. It is Dante’s imagined journey, not a retelling of Virgil’s biography or Aeneas’ journey. Consequently, it adds to the work that inspired it, rather than twists it.

These guidelines should weed out the trash. I’d be surprised if any modern fan fiction qualifies for all four, but one never knows. Perhaps there’s a young poet out there who can bring the genre back up to Dante’s level.


1 Dante Alighieri, Inferno, trans. Allen Mandelbaum (New York: Everyman’s Library, 1980), Canto IV, 85-96.
2 Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Fan Fiction,” (accessed Jan. 27, 2017), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fan_fiction.
3 Inferno, Canto I, 64 – 71.

Creating Lasting Change

By Kyle Bryant, Heights Campus Director

What are your new year’s resolutions? I confess that I didn’t give it much thought until Sunday night at 11:58 p.m. But as I watched replays of various countries’ celebrations on TV, it struck me how communal is the celebration of the new year, yet how personal are new year’s resolutions. We bring in the new year with family, friends, and loved ones, but when it comes to resolutions, every man is an island.

Personal resolutions aren’t bad. Many are good and beneficial. But the truth is that a majority of us will have abandoned these resolutions by sometime in mid-January. According to U.S. News & World Report, 80% of resolutions fail by the second week in February. The problem isn’t with the resolutions; the problem lies with the resolver. We are inherently sinful people, and the journey to “perfection” is long and arduous, with many side-steps, pitfalls, and restarts. We are going to fail at our resolutions in some way; and when resolutions fail, we are tempted to give up completely. Maybe we need a new approach. So, at the risk of offending some, I propose that we abolish New Year’s Resolutions and institute New Year’s Reformations.  

Resolutions are personal and private; reformation is public and corporate. Resolutions change activity; reformation changes vision. Resolutions are quick and decisive; reformation is slow and patient. Resolutions demand success now; reformation understands that lasting change takes a lifetime.

I am convinced that we need fewer personal resolutions and more corporate reformation.

Reformation is realistic about human nature and God’s grace to redeem all of creation. Often the corresponding result is that reformation provides a more holistic approach to long-term growth and change. Instead of producing change in individual people, reformation changes entire communities. While resolutions encourage us to quit bad habits or begin productive ones, reformation challenges us to conform our vision and lives to the true, good, and beautiful. Reformation encourages us, as communities, to orient our lives away from prevailing lies and toward eternal truth. When considered in this manner, reformation goes hand in hand with repentance and worship. The foundation for true reformation, therefore, is true worship.

The process of reformation also plays out in scripture. Ezra and Nehemiah, two of Israel’s great reformers, serve as an example. Ezra understood that Israel needed to reform its pagan ways. So he read the word of God to the people, confessed the nation’s sins, and exhorted the people to repent of their sins and turn their hearts back to God. The plan of reformation begins with rebuilding the Temple—the place of corporate worship. What we see is that true reformation begins with corporate worship. The same is true in our own lives: if we desire reformation in our communities, we must begin with worship in our communities.

This year, consider your own spheres of life and how you might begin reforming with the people around you. Ask the Lord to shape your vision for life and worship in accordance with his Word.  Sit down with your family (or even your church community!) to talk about ways you can reform together. Start with worship and let the reformation conversation go from there. For I am certain that when we worship God rightly (and together!), we will see true and lasting reformation in our families, churches, and schools.

Lastly, know that God is patient with us in our weaknesses. So be patient with yourself and those around you. One of the great benefits of reformation is that we are always reforming. We are running a marathon up a mountain—we don’t arrive at once. As you read God’s word, confess your sins, and seek reformation with those around you, understand that it is a lifelong process that only begins in 2018. Although it begins with fits and starts, it ends in glory. So Happy New Year, TCS Family, and Semper Reformanda!

Christmas Eve

As the Primer School Director, I am surrounded by families in the phase of life that just ended for me. Toddlers and babies, strollers and sippy cups, diapers and diaper rashes used to be the norm for me. I am in a new phase of life. My children can set alarms, dress themselves, make lunches. They need my practical help much less now. But I am still close enough to remember the moments that felt lost due to a missing shoe, and the guilt that can weigh a mom’s heart due to lack of patience. I wrote the blog post below when my kids were 2, 4, 6, and 8. The Lord was gracious to provide a glimpse of perspective in the middle of it all, and I hope it encourages you during this holiday season.

My husband leads the music at our church, so since the day Antonella was born, I have gotten the family ready for church by myself. No matter how early I start, we are always rushing out the door to make it to church on time. This is never more true than for our annual candlelight Christmas Eve service. Getting the four kids and myself into holiday attire and out the door requires a logistical plan including charts, alarms, and baby wipes. The timing of the snack, bath, and dressing are crucial if we want to arrive at the church looking somewhat picture worthy. I know that I could simplify all this, but I want the kids to know how special the night is, how we prepare all month, all day, to worship with our family in anticipation. On this night we dress up as if we were expecting a king… because we are.

I’m afraid that a lot of this sentiment is lost in the hustle, if not for the kids, for me. I arrive at church feeling tired and stressed and wondering how my crew will sit through the dimly lit reverent service. For the last nine years, I have paced the back of the church, bouncing a baby, entertaining a toddler, one eye on the older kids left to manage by themselves. Every Christmas Eve after all the preparations, all the ironing and wiping, all the tucking in and smiling for pictures, I attend the service and find myself wondering if we should have come at all. I rarely pay attention and the carols roll off my tongue from memory more than worship. My mind is occupied with the kids, guessing which of the boys will set their hair on fire. The few moments of sincere gratitude and adoration are sandwiched between baggies of Cheerios and Crayons.

This year, we arrived traditionally late and traditionally flustered. It wasn’t until we sang “O Come O Come Emmanuel” that I looked down our row and saw my four kids, sitting and singing. And I felt my heart change, not just because my little ones were worshipping, but also because I sensed some sort of pleasure from the Lord in the faithfulness of His people. The traditions we participate in matter to Him; He delights in them, even if our hearts are not always engaged. They are important to Him, and they are important for our children. We show up and sing and celebrate–flustered moms, tired dads, flawed families – because He is worthy, and not because we do it well.

I know the Lord does not care about what we look like or the matching sweaters, or even how quiet the kids are during the service. These things are usually a distraction and take away from the real meaning of Christmas. In this funny culture we live in, we dress up and make our kids be quiet… for Him, our King. And my flustered heart was at rest, not because my children were old enough to quietly sit through the service, but because I realized that all the years of pacing and shushing honored Him just as our songs did on this Christmas Eve.

 

Affection for Paradise Lost

By Dr. John Scholl, Academic Dean and Rhetoric School Director

Our juniors are wandering the 17th century, drinking deeply from John Milton’s Paradise Lost. A couple of weeks ago, we were having a particularly good day. We had outlined the book’s tri-partite map on the whiteboard—Hell, Heaven, and Earth*—scrawled our theories about Milton’s vision of Satan, God, and Adam, and noted a few of his successes and failures, when one of my students looked up at me and asked: “Can you take a class on this in college?” What a delightful question! It is wonderful how a simple question can reveal a complex thought: that she loves the book, sees its complexity, knows we are barely scratching the surface, and wants to go deeper. The others agree and have expressed their affection in various ways—most recently drawings and quotes. Their love testifies to the book’s power and its inherent lovability.

It seems unusual that they should think this way, because a cursory glance suggests at least two strikes against Paradise Lost. First, it is a poem. In the ancient world, poetry was celebrated by young and old alike, by the educated as well as the uneducated. Plato, in creating an idealized republic, advised that poetry should be controlled by the state, because poetry, particularly epic poetry, had such a powerful influence on how people understood virtue and vice. It is different in our day; poetry is often confined to the classroom, the domain of the intellectual. Most high schoolers reject poetry, like broccoli, on sight and shut off their taste buds before the teacher can spoon Homer or Milton into their mouths—they never taste them. Thankfully, my students, fed a steady diet of great works and poetry memorization over the last several years, were ready to digest some Milton.

However, I was concerned that their appetites would be squashed by a second problem: they already know the story. Paradise Lost retells the fall of Adam and Eve, and Milton knew that his readers would anticipate the main events: Satan’s rebellion, the temptation of Eve, her and Adam’s sin, and the ensuing divine judgment and punishment. There are no cliff-hangers here, no plot twists, and, as if to destroy any lingering ignorance, Milton foretells the narrative twice before he even gets to the Garden, once in the first five lines of the book and then again in the mouth of God the Father. Is this not like taking a journey to a place we have already been? Not unreasonably, I thought my students might get bored as they trudged through three hundred pages of dense poetry on this well-worn road.

My fears were quickly dispersed; on day two of our study, the first or second comment was “I love this book,” and we were soon sharing favorite lines. This affected me in a surprising way. As their teacher, I was hoping to influence my students’ tastes, but I did not anticipate that, when they fell in love with the book, my own appreciation of it would change. It reminds me of the time when my wife and I picked up our dog, Amadeus; as we drove home with him, a fuzzy, squirmy puppy crawling on my wife’s lap and she responding with laughter, I, a critic of the canine, started to like him. Amadeus was the answer to my prayers: my wife’s companion on long days while I was working, a little creature for her to nurture, and so I loved him precisely because she loved him, because he filled a space that I wanted to be filled. Milton did the same thing. I have been praying for my students and longing for them to think about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable … whatever is lovely.”** It is not a given that someone will readily love good things. There are many failures or shortfalls in the road to developing someone’s tastes; shockingly, children sometimes prefer McDonald’s to better hamburgers. Two months ago, Shakespeare’s Hamlet flopped; my students saw its quality but did not enjoy it, were not compelled by its questions. I am grateful, then, to Milton not only because he wrote a great book but, even more so, because he wrote one my students would love.

Why do they love it? This is like asking someone why they like Dr. Pepper; it is not one thing or even ten, but the ensemble, the marriage of the whole, that pleases the taste. Forced to explain themselves, my students point to the poem’s beauty, a concept easier to recognize than to define. When first planning this article, I intended to dissect their thoughts, to explain what they could not explain—how foolish!—I could not do it.  

At best, I can offer up one of their favorite sections. In Book Two, Satan encounters Death-personified on his exit from Hell; the two immediately prepare for mortal combat: “Each at the head / Levelled his deadly aim: their fatal hands / No second stroke intend.”*** It seems odd to enjoy this moment: Satan and Death are the stars of the show. Should we not be repelled? Instead, Milton draws us in, envisioning them as mighty warriors, and evokes their intent—to kill each other in one blow—without saying it directly. One of the radical things about the poem is Milton’s depiction of Satan; he makes him at times a sympathetic figure, a Greek hero trying to rescue his men. It is shockingly, almost disturbingly beautiful. Where we are ready to sideline Satan, to label him, like Hitler, as an incomprehensible villain, Milton depicts him in familiar, essentially human, terms and engages us in Satan’s disturbing rationale. It is a testament to his ability that the poet does this through metaphor and word choice, without ever telling us his intent. As we encounter Satan, we are engaged and repelled almost simultaneously and so gain a deeper understanding of our own sinful natures.

If you have not read Milton, I encourage you to try him out. He reminds me of C.S. Lewis, or rather Lewis reminds me of Milton, for echoes of Paradise Lost appear here and there in Narnia. His beautiful writing engages readers in a surprising way and draws us to a deeper consideration of ourselves and our relationship with God.

 

* The ordering here follows the order of places and people in Paradise Lost; Milton begins in Hell before heading on to Heaven and Earth.

** Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

*** John Milton, Paradise Lost, ed. Gordon Teskey (New York: W.W. Norton, 2005), 46: 2.711-713.

 

Blessed Are the Trees

By Mr. Anderson – Head of School

All the attention on Psalm 1 this first quarter pushes my thoughts towards trees. I love trees. They are one of my first neighborhood prerequisites before choosing where to live. I lived in a treeless neighborhood once and it was terrible. To make up for it we basically moved into a forest with our next home purchase. We named the biggest trees in the neighborhood and visited them often on walks. Sometimes, when the kids were young, they would make comments like “I wonder how Big Earl is doing today?” He was an unusually huge pine. His presence always made an impact on us. We’d give him a firm pat when we walked by just to see how he was holding up.

I am troubled that my family hasn’t made it to the redwoods yet. I have fixated on that forest for almost a decade now. Lately, the Appalachian Trail hiking keeps stealing the show, but it’s a source of steady heartburn in my life that I have not experienced a giant sequoia in person. In my mind, all the redwoods are falling and I fear that by the time I make it there, the last one will fall as I drive through the desert. A portion of my fear turned to reality last summer when the headline struck my news feed that the iconic tunnel tree fell (great article about it here). He died before I could visit.

Trees are transcendent. Like rivers, oceans, and mountains, trees seem to connect us to some higher truth of God’s world more evidently than other elements of nature. That’s why they are steadily used as metaphorical images like in Psalm 1. He is like a tree planted by streams of water.

God enlightens us through his word and through nature. In this case, he is doing both at the same time. The psalmist calls our attention to a tree in order for us to contemplate a blessed life. So I challenge you all to think about trees when thinking about your life. I’ll provide one extension of the metaphor here, and leave the rest of the contemplation to you.

Trees grow slowly. I remember a time straight out of college when I was preaching through the books of Acts. As I exhorted the church to “get our act together” in order to more closely resemble the church in Acts, an older gentlemen pulled me aside one Sunday morning and gave me a gentle correction. He asked me if I was aware of the amount of time that transpired in between all the inspiring stories in Acts. He asked me why it is that there is no documentation of what happened in between those stories we have collected. His point was obvious. God brings things about in seasons and cycles. Change doesn’t happen all at once. Real life is more like that of a tree. Roots inch downward. Bark thickens over decades. Leaves turn in annual cycles. Fruit is born and flowers bud after seasons of purposeful death and dormancy.

A tree planted by a stream is a life rooted in God, poised for slow change, thickened against the elements, sprawled with branches ready to bud when God says it’s time. I will not notice any changes today, nor tomorrow, in the six trees that are in my front yard. I will walk past them and to me they will be the same. But they are preparing for change. And they will all be fuller, stronger, and more mature through time.

As we read through the Psalms this first semester, I’d encourage you to meditate on Psalm 1 often. I’d encourage you to pray Psalm 1 over your children. We are looking to see a forest of trees, planted by The Stream, displaying the grandeur of God.  

God, let it be so.

* If you want to play with the tree metaphor and learn something that will blow your mind, listen to this from Radiolab.