I came home yesterday in the late afternoon and wondered, as I climbed the steps to my upstairs office, how our backyard redwood tree had managed to grow so rapidly that I could see branches wafting in the breeze through the office window, some 35 feet from the tree! I looked out and saw the terrible truth that the tree had moved. Our redwood had three trunks and now has only two, as one of them fell yesterday, across the fence and landing on the the roof of our neighbor. Ouch! Landing – on – the – roof. I’d seen news footage of that kind of thing, and felt the pit in my stomach as I walked into the backyard to assess the damage.
Fence – no damage. Neighbor’s roof – no damage. Our deck – no damage. The tree had fallen in a such a way that it’s fall was cushioned because of the other trees we’d planted nearby. When the amazing tree doctor came over last night, he pointed out on cedar in particular: “That cedar saved your neighbor’s roof” he said.
“The cedar” I said, “and the work of a tree genius!” I said, thanking him for his amazing services on a Friday night. Earlier, when he arrived, he gave us an explanation of why it happened. The problem was that this part of the tree had no roots! He showed us how this entire part of the tree had been drawing on the resources of the rest of the tree, but not growing it’s own roots, not building its own foundation.
“Look” he said, pointing to the fissure between the fallen one and the rest of the tree, “no roots! It wasn’t even windy today, but I see this sometimes. It looks just like the other two, but it’s appearance of strength is unsustainable without roots.”
Tree doctor was preaching and he didn’t even know it. Since I didn’t need to worry about fixing broken fences or roofs, I was free to ponder what kind of lessons any of us could learn from this amazing incident. There are two things:
#1: You’ll fall farther alone. We didn’t plant a lone single tree when we moved to Seattle 15 years ago; we planted a forest of fir, hemlock, cedar, and a redwood. When the redwood fell yesterday, it’s fall was broken by the community of other trees, and the damage mitigated. This is supposed to be what it means to belong to the church. It’s supposed to be the place where we bring our authentic selves, with confession, truth telling, and forgiveness. When people are in relationships where this kind of thing happens, the falling is short lived, because you’ve a village, or at least a soul friend, to pick you up.
Sadly, lots of people fall with a thud, and leave tons of damage in their wake, because there was nobody who knew them well enough to speak some truth into their lives, or offer forgiveness in the wake of their confession. We all sin, fail, fall. But when we lack the authentic community, our falls will be farther. I’m grateful for a few key people in my life with whom I have absolute transparency, so that my most private struggles are known by some people who love me, and are fiercely for me, and give me both grace and truth telling.
#2: You’ll fall if your faith is vicarious rather than rooted. You can look the part, like your faith is real, because you’re in proximity with real life, drawing on the fruit of faith indirectly, vicariously, without really having your own. Like this third trunk, you can present yourself well. But Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3 isn’t that we’d present ourselves well; it’s that we’d be rooted and grounded in love. “Rooted” reminds me of Psalm 1, and the promise that those who learn to read their Bibles as a means of developing intimacy with Jesus will become like trees that are planted by the stream. Everything else might wither, but the tree well rooted by the stream will be fruitful.
Getting rooted is the reason behind “coffee with God” and “sabbath” and “silence and solitude.” As we learn to draw on the resources of Christ’s life, we’re better able to whether storms, better able to live well, to be fruitful. But when our faith is nothing other than a public display of religiosity, it won’t last. We don’t need religious shows, we needed intimacy, planting ourselves in the forest of community, and becoming rooted in Christ. I’ve a backyard full of redwood stumps now, as a reminder of what happens when we forsake those things.