Tree-Rooted-Ascension

2021 05 13 Ascension Day
Alan Storey

Tree-Rooted-Ascension … The Tree Always Wins
[Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23]

Friends,

The disciples took “40 days” (a symbol for as long as it takes for new truth to be birthed from the time of conception) to come to the conviction, the knowing and the trusting that the Jesus-justice-Way of doing life reigns. The ancient language used to give expression to this conviction is of Jesus being “taken up”. This beam-me-up language metaphorically means above all other powers. Sadly, this Ascension levitating mid-sky metaphor has been taken literally, and when we take a metaphor literally, we end up with an absurdity.

Therefore, on Ascension Day I suggested another metaphor: Tree-Rooted-Ascension: The Tree always wins. Tree roots over time, crack and lift up massive concrete blocks. This is how it is with the Jesus Way of justice, mercy, equality, freedom, forgiveness…each of these may look foolish and weak in the face of the concrete injustice, inequality, vengeance and violence in the world, and yet they always push through in the end.

One way of discerning the difference between the “tree-rooted-way” and the “concrete-way” is that the tree-rooted way is grounded in love, while the concrete way is cast in fear (or love limited for a few). The difference is clearly seen when each way reaches fulfilment. When the tree-rooted-way of ascension reaches fulfilment there is life in abundance for all, while when the concrete ways reach fulfilment life is diminished, demeaned and destroyed for the majority. Furthermore, as the tree-rooted way expands it expresses itself in the form of powerful vulnerability, while the vulnerable power of concrete-way finally self-destructs.

Take one issue as an example: guns. The gun-violence-denialists would have us believe that if everyone had a gun, society would be safer for it. On the surface, this “concrete-way” of thinking may look like it offers a quick solution to personal safety but, in reality, it contributes over time to the increased insecurity and violence of society, the very problem it purports to solve. More guns = more gun violence. Striving for a gun-free society on the other hand is the slow and sure way of tree-rooted-ascension and when it reaches fulfilment, namely a gun-free society, life flourishes, not simply for a few, but for all.

I googled around a bit and I came across a company advertising a product that “can seal your driveway to treat cracks and prevent further intrusion from plant materials. Our special process and top-tier materials can extend the life of your driveway or other concrete surface and help shut out plant and tree roots. Contact us today for a quote!”

Note that their promise is not to eradicate the issue completely – because they know that they cannot accomplish that. At best they can “extend the life” of the concrete.

On the same website this is what they have to say:

“Which came first: the crack in the concrete or the plant? Many landowners with plants sprouting through sidewalks and driveways are curious about whether the plant took advantage of an existing crack or physically caused the fissure in the slab. The answer falls somewhere in the middle. The more you know about the cause of this costly concrete problem, the sooner you can find a resolution.”

Small Plants = Big Concrete Problems
“Your concrete contains microscopic cracks invisible to the naked eye. Plants have new cell growth at the tips of their roots. As the plant grows, so does the root system. The sensitive tips of the roots have the power to seek the path of least resistance for growth. Microscopic concrete cracks present this path for plants growing beneath your sidewalk.”

“Once a plant’s roots discover a microscopic crack in the concrete, they force their way into the slab. Even small weeds and seedlings have the power to displace concrete using potential energy from root growth. Over time, the plant’s continued growth can crack, break, or buckle the surrounding concrete – at which point you may see the plant break through the surface.”

Tree Roots and Concrete
“Tree roots present an even bigger potential problem for concrete surfaces. They move through cement in the same way as smaller plants, but with much greater potential energy. Trees near your concrete areas could push roots beneath and through the surface, causing expensive damage and dangerous cracks in the slab. You may have to cut the roots or even remove the tree to permanently resolve this problem.”

They may be a cement sealing company, but I must say that their theology is spot on. To say that “the answer falls somewhere in the middle” is 100% correct. The cement-way self-destructs while the Jesus-justice-way brings life. I love it that they admit that solid concrete is actually not so completely solid after all: “Your concrete contains microscopic cracks invisible to the naked eye”. This is so important for us to remember: When injustice and oppression look solidly almighty, they are not really. They are actually full of cracks! Cracks that we may not be able to see with our naked eye, but that which exist due to the self-destructing nature of every concrete mix.

This truth: injustices innate cracks together with justice’s new cell life at its root tips are what give us hope. Real reality bends towards justice and for this reason the Jesus-justice-way of the Tree always wins. Our work is to learn the humble subversive radically rooted ways of Jesus and to creatively incarnate them through our living.

In the Spirit of Tree-Rooted Ascension,
Alan

Words worth savouring

Friends,

Last week I read a few paragraphs from Alice Walker’s amazing novel, The Color Purple. Some of you have asked for the quotes. Here they are, plus an extra one or two. Her journey “trying to chase that old white man [god] out of my head” is as profound as it is liberating. Walker’s words invite savouring.

“I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ask. And that in wondering bout the big things and asking bout the big things, you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things than you start out with. The more I wonder, the more I love.” 

“I am an expression of the divine, just like a peach is, just like a fish is. I have a right to be this way…I can’t apologize for that, nor can I change it, nor do I want to… We will never have to be other than who we are in order to be successful…We realize that we are as ourselves unlimited and our experiences valid. It is for the rest of the world to recognize this, if they choose.”

“…have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God.” 

“Here’s the thing, say Shug. The thing I believe. God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it. And sometimes it just manifest itself even if you not looking, or don’t know what you looking for. Trouble do it for most folks, I think. Sorrow, lord. Feeling like shit.

It? I ast.

Yeah, It. God ain’t a he or a she, but a It.

But what do it look like? I ast.

Don’t look like nothing, she say. It ain’t a picture show. It ain’t something you can look at apart from anything else, including yourself. I believe God is everything, say Shug. Everything that is or ever was or ever will be. And when you can feel that, and be happy to feel that, you’ve found It.

Shug a beautiful something, let me tell you. She frown a little, look out cross the yard, lean back in her chair, look like a big rose. She say, My first step from the old white man was trees. Then air. Then birds. Then other people. But one day when I was sitting quiet and feeling like a motherless child, which I was, it come to me: that feeling of being part of everything, not separate
at all. I knew that if I cut a tree, my arm would bleed. And I laughed and I cried and I run all around the house. I knew just what it was. In fact, when it happen, you can’t miss it. It sort of like you know what, she say, grinning and rubbing high up on my thigh.

Shug! I say.

Oh, she say. God love all them feelings. That’s some of the best stuff God did. And when you know God loves ’em you enjoys ’em a lot more. You can just relax, go with everything that’s going, and praise God by liking what you like.

God don’t think it dirty? I ast.

Naw, she say. God made it. Listen, God love everything you love? and a mess of stuff you don’t. But more than anything else, God love admiration.

You saying God vain? I ast.

Naw, she say. Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.

What it do when it pissed off? I ast.

Oh, it make something else. People think pleasing God is all God care about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.

Yeah? I say.

Yeah, she say. It always making little surprises and springing them on us when us least expect.

You mean it want to be loved, just like the bible say.

Yes, Celie, she say. Everything want to be loved. Us sing and dance, make faces and give flower bouquets, trying to be loved. You ever notice that trees do everything to git attention we do, except walk?

Well, us talk and talk bout God, but I’m still adrift. Trying to chase that old white man out of my head. I been so busy thinking bout him I never truly notice nothing God make. Not a blade of corn (how it do that?) not the color purple (where it come from?). Not the little wildflowers. Nothing. Now that my eyes opening, I feels like a fool. Next to any little scrub of a bush in my yard, Mr. ____s evil sort of shrink. But not altogether. Still, it is like Shug say, You have to git man off your eyeball, before you can see anything a’tall.

Man corrupt everything, say Shug. He on your box of grits, in your head, and all over the radio. He try to make you think he everywhere.

Soon as you think he everywhere, you think he God. But he ain’t. Whenever you trying to pray, and man plop himself on the other end of it, tell him to git lost, say Shug. Conjure up flowers, wind,water, a big rock.

But this hard work, let me tell you. He been there so long, he don’t want to budge. He threaten lightening, floods and earthquakes. Us fight. I hardly pray at all. Every time I conjure up a rock, I throw it.

Amen” 

Alice Walker, The Color Purple

Abiding, Entangling Love

 

Friends,

In the introduction of his mesmerising book, Entangled Life: How Fungi make our worlds, change our minds, and shape our futures, Merlin Sheldrake writes:

I attended a conference in Panama on tropical microbes, and along with many other researchers spent three days becoming increasingly bewildered by the implications of our studies. Someone got up to talk about a group of plants that produce a certain group of chemicals in their leaves. Until then, the chemicals had been thought of as a defining characteristic of that group of plants. However, it transpired that the chemicals were actually made by fungi that lived in the leaves of the plant. Our idea of the plant had to be redrawn. Another researcher interjected, suggesting that it may not be the fungi living inside the leaf that produced these chemicals, but the bacteria living inside the fungus. Things continued along these lines. After two days, the notion of the individual had deepened and expanded beyond recognition. To talk about individuals made no sense any more. Biology – the study of living organisms – had transformed into ecology – the study of the relationships between living organisms. To compound matters, we understood very little. Graphs of microbial populations projected on a screen had large sections labelled ‘unknown’….

Many scientific concepts – from ‘time’ to ‘chemical bonds’ to ‘genes’ to ‘species’ – lack stable definitions but remain helpful categories to think with. From one perspective, ‘individual’ is no different: just another category to guide human thought and behaviour. Nonetheless, so much of daily life and experience – not to mention our philosophical, political and economic systems – depends on individuals that it can be hard to stand by and watch the concept dissolve. Where does this leave ‘us’? What about ‘them’? ‘Me’? ‘Mine’? ‘Everyone’? ‘Anyone’? …. It made my head spin to think of how many ideas had to be revisited, not least our culturally treasured notions of identity, autonomy and independence. It is in part this disconcerting feeling that makes the advances in the microbial sciences so exciting. Our microbial relationships are about as intimate as any can be. Learning more about these associations changes our experience of our own bodies and the places we inhabit. ‘We’ are ecosystems that span boundaries and transgress categories. Our selves emerge from a complex tangle of relationships only now becoming known.21

The study of relationships can be confusing. Almost all are ambiguous. Have leafcutter ants domesticated the fungus they depend on, or has the fungus domesticated the ants? Do plants farm the mycorrhizal fungi they live with, or do the fungi farm the plants? Which way does the arrow point? This uncertainty is healthy.

Reading these words made me think of our readings from the Gospel and Letter of John these past two weeks. They both refer to the wonder of indwelling the Divine and being indwelled by the Divine…“Abide in me as I abide in you…” [John 15]. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” [1 John 4:16]. Talk about entangled life!

And then of course what if we take Jesus literally when his says: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” [Mark 12:31]. What if Jesus is not simply speaking about the extent of our loving but the extent of our actual selves? In other words, could Jesus be commanding us to expand our own sense of identity to include our neighbour? If so, then we are more than our skin can hold. If so, what happens to our neighbour happens to us for we all share entangled life. If so, then murder and war is suicide. If so, then an injustice to one is an injustice to all.

If so, what “concepts dissolve?” What “associations change?” “What culturally treasured notions do we need to revisit?”

A growing consciousness of our oneness with neighbour, the Divine, and the natural world lies at the foundation of the world’s salvation (healing and liberation). And obviously not simply a growing consciousness, but a way of life both personal and political, individual and systemic that abides in this consciousness and in which this consciousness abides.  I would call this consciousness of our oneness, Christ consciousness as Jesus prayed: “May they be one as we are one.” [John 17], but others may call it by other names. What we call it is less important than whether we live into and out of it.

If this makes our head spin – let us embrace our “disconcerting feelings” and rejoice that our many “unknowns” if nothing else, help us to walk our entangled life more humbly.

In grace,
Alan
Pronouns: he/him

Email welcome@cmm.org.za for the zoom link to the Sunday service.

A Prayer for Earth Week

Life-giving God, our hearts overflow with gratitude in response to your overflowing generosity. Over millions of years, you worked with loving patience to bring together in perfect proportion all the ingredients necessary for there to be life on this tiny planet we call earth. With perfect precision everything connects together for the good of the whole. In perfect balance every part gives of itself and receives for itself. With breath-like-rhythm, giving and receiving … receiving and giving … nourishing and being nourished…loving and being loved.

No part of your creation stands on its own, for you have not created anything that is self-sufficient in and of itself. Everything is humbly interdependent on everything else. Humble interdependence is the very fabric of creation. No wonder the web of life threatens to unravel, when this humble interdependence is rebelled against and broken.

Life-giving God we confess that we have rebelled against the humble interdependence of your creation and of our being. We have done so in ignorance and arrogance. We have done so unaware of the infinite knock-on effects of our actions. We have done so believing it is our privileged right as so-called “superior” beings to play by different rules. We have done so stubbornly refusing to listen to the mystics and prophets who called us to honour the perfect oneness of your creation. We think we are exempt from the perfect rhythm of giving and receiving … so we take more than we give. We take more than we need and more than what we can ever return and replace. Not content with living from the balance of the present, we consume from the future … and we rob the future of life.

And now the deathly consequences of our stubbornness are already being felt – the natural world dominos into deathly extinction – but many of us continue to live in denial. While others of us feel powerless to make the changes that are now urgently necessary: they feel too big, and we feel too small. And besides we have become dependent on the very things we need to change, for our survival. Some of us even campaign for change to happen, but we secretly hope that change will take place without us ourselves having to actually change.

We ignorantly thought it would be impossible to use up all the ingredients for life on earth – but our unlimited greed is fast revealing the limits of your creation when forced out of it replenishing rhythm. Your creation that promises there to be more than enough if only we do not take more than we need. We not only take more than we need but we envy those who have taken the most – we read their books and listen to their podcasts to learn their secrets of “success”. As of old, we choose Barabbas and crucify Jesus. We worship the killers of life and crucify the life saviours of the world. Life saviours who invite us to walk more gently, justly and humbly … or simply to walk more and drive less.

We confess, we are fools – we contaminate the soil in which our food grows – we poison the water we drink – we pollute the air we breathe. Thinking only of today we destroy tomorrow … which soon becomes today. Truly we have unpicked the fabric of humble interdependence and even done so with pride, believing falsely that so-called self-sufficiency is the highest virtue.

Life-giving God, it has only taken us a few hundred years for us to threaten and destroy what has existed for millions of years – making us the most destructive animal that has ever lived on earth. And yet you continue to follow us with goodness and mercy. Your grace is embodied in your creation, responding with mercy the instant we stop and turn from our abusive ways. Your creation imitates your own heart of forgiveness and resurrection power by restoring to life that which was dead … that which we have killed. We have seen this with our own eyes during the forced standstill brought about by Covid that revealed to us that the instant the natural world is left alone it returns with abundant beauty.

By your mercy help us to honour the humble interdependence you have created us for. Amen.

In grace,
Alan