Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Trees of Heaven, Hell and Earth


In the eternal garden where fear and blame are masters no more, a man came upon an old overgrown pepper tree. Now on earth this man had been a sculptor, and so when he saw the weeping canopy and the bulbous trunk, he thought it looked like a woolly mammoth. This musing pleased him so much that he took his pruning sheers and began snipping the pepper tree to shape it like he had once done to wood and clay on earth.

Before he was finished, another man came along. Now this man had once been an arborist. And when he saw the trimmed pepper tree, he stopped dead in his tracks. There was no mistaking its form. It was a woolly mammoth in size and texture.

The arborist burst into laughter. All his thirty-odd years of trimming trees, of selecting a tree’s central leader, of judging the strength of each off-shoot’s angle, and waiting for growth to fill in the gaps, had not taught him to trim trees into woolly mammoths. It had never even entered his imagination. And here now this sculptor, with his skills of proportion and scale, was doing just this.

The sculptor too fell into fits of laughter because he saw the humor of it. He saw the thing from the arborist’s eyes, and it delighted him too. Then when they wiped their eyes dry, they sat in the soft grass and discussed pruning and sculpting until lunch.

Such are the joys of heaven where all the trees are had and enjoyed, and nothing is lost.

Hell is not so.

Upon the shores of the fiery lake where no trees will ever grow, there stood the charred remains of an old oak eternally burnt and dead. And against it leaned a lost soul, the bent and shriveled remains of a man. He stood guarding the dead trunk so that no one would touch it. But the black sulfuric clouds often stung his eyes, so he didn’t see another damned soul approach until the theft was complete.

“Hey, there!” the victim shouted. “What the hell do you think you’re doing with that?”

“What? Oh, you mean this,” the interloper replied holding up his stolen goods. “It’s nothing. Just some useless charcoal.”

“That useless charcoal is mine, and you can’t have it!”

“Why not? You aren’t doing anything with it,”

“That’s because thieves like you keep stealing it from me.”

“What are you going to do with it? Whiten your rotting teeth?”

“I have much grander plans than anything you could dream up.”

“Try me.”

“You’re obviously not the kind of person who’d understand.”

“Ooo! Watch out! Mr. Ingenious here is going to use charcoal to revolutionize hell! If you’re so smart, you can find some charcoal elsewhere.” Then the interloper seized more of the burnt tree.

“I’ll pound your face into the ground for that!”

“I’d like to see you try.”

And with that the two men fell upon each other in that dog-eat-dog wasteland where the trees are all defended but never won, and everything is lost.

But there is a third place where trees grow.

On earth where the property lines divide hers from his, two neighbors, a dietician and an Edison employee, were considering the overgrowth of a massive loquat tree that spanned both their backyards.

The Edison employee saw how the branches were touching the power lines and although he was no lineman or arborist, he decided to trim back the overgrowth. His neighbor the dietician, who also happened to be deathly allergic to gluten, peanuts, and dairy, was shocked to see the results. 

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Keeping the branches away from the wires,” replied the Edison man.

“But the tree! It’s so lopsided now.”

“I can come and trim up your side too if you’d like,” he replied.

“Oh no, please don’t. I like how my side shades the lawn. And what have you done with all the fruit?”

“It’s here. You can have it if you want. It’s not spoiled or anything.”

“Thank you, but I prefer my tree not hacked to pieces.”

“You know, Edison will have to come sooner or later and cut it back anyways.”

“Perhaps, but you had no right to touch my tree!”

The Edison employee felt his blood pressure rising and his arguments clouding his vision like a swarm of gnats. He wanted to say, “If you care so much about your tree, why didn’t you trim it yourself?” And, “If you didn’t want it trimmed why did you let the branches overhang my yard? Every year you let the fruit rot on the branches and fall onto my grass and attract rats and flies.”

But his boiling anger prevented him from saying a word, and in the silence he saw that he wasn’t merely trying to convince his neighbor that he was right, but that he was good. He’d taken her accusations not as an attack on his choices, but as an attack on his character. If he conceded to her point, didn’t that mean that he was not just wrong but bad?

Suddenly, he saw his arguments fall uselessly to the ground. It wasn’t that they were false. They were simply not needed anymore. He'd remembered the truth about his virtue.

“I am so sorry, my dear lady. I did not think about how the tree would look from your side.”

“Why would you?” the lady replied tartly.

“You are absolutely right,” he replied. “I have been a selfish ass. How can we make this right?” 

His admittance was said truthfully and without false humility because he was under no delusions about himself. However, he also didn't measure his goodness in light of his daily mistakes. Rather he understood himself in light of God’s view of him. And God saw a heart that was clean and right and good and loved. God saw His son's reputation upholding the human's virtue. Filled with that sort of goodness and love, the Edison employee could relinquish the argument and love in return.

Such is the way on earth, where trees are given up, and eternity is gained. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Overactive Conscience

What will you say when it accuses
every day
every time you slip
and even when you didn't mean
any harm?

What will your answer be
when your ability to cope breaks
when you fear your goodness wasn't good enough
when your actions anger others
or when a shred of your beastliness shows?

Imperfect! It says.
And it is right.

How will you cure this disquietude?
How will you answer the law pressing upon your heart?

The only reason I got like that was because I was hungry. If I'd known we were going to have to wait that long, I would've brought a snack. I should've listened to my intuition about the people running that show. I'll never go to an unplanned outing like that again.

Or:

At least I'm not as bad as those mothers who scream at their kids all day. I try to use a calm voice with my children so as not to transfer my anger.

Or:

But my parents think the world of me. And so does so-and-so. And remember that friend who wrote me that kind email about how big of a help I was to her. I'll read it again. I can't be that bad if they think so highly of me.

Or:

How very interesting! That must also be what's wrong with so-and-so. He can't take a joke because of his vanity. If only he knew about his flaws. Maybe I should tell him.

Or:

You can't hold it against me. I did the best I could. That's all I can do! Do you honestly expect me to be perfect?

Or:

It's all because no one taught me how to do this correctly! If I'd had more-instructive parents, I wouldn't be so ill-equipped for life.

Or:

Sure, I goofed. But I'm not rotten to the core. How can I be when I've made such sacrifices? And whenever I'm with someone, I'm always trying to help them. Sure, I've got a few faults but I'm not selfish.

Thus, the machine runs again
temporary lubricated with excuses
onward a few days
perhaps a week,
until the so-called overactive conscience
starts up again.

Not Enough! It says.
And it is right.

How will you cure this disquietude?
How will you answer God's law
making demands upon your every effort?

Hear now the Answer spoken for always.

Your wrongs have been righted.
And your "rights"s have been too.
No need to decipher
if you're blameless or not.
Never before God will you be
punished, scolded, or humiliated.

So answer your conscience
with, I'm not enough.
And that's alright
because He did it right.
And he is in me
doing right everyday.

That open heart in my infancy
works now
in my maturity
to complete perfection inside imperfection,
so that now these malfunctions,
these paralyzing break downs,
insist I remember and say,
I can't, but you can.
Lord, help
everyday
every time I slip
and even when I don't mean any harm.