This past week has included what, on the surface, appear to be two radically divergent investments of my time. It included some passionate visioning conversations at the church I lead, and important reading in preparation for my upcoming week at conference addressing the intersection of science and faith.
While on the surface, they appear to be two wildly different worlds, they came together this morning in my quiet moments in the backyard. Everything’s becoming new these days in the backyard: deciduous trees have new leaves. Evergreens have new needles. And all kinds of things are popping out of the ground, including the health-enhancing dandelion, and the flower (name unknown) whose blossoms serve no purpose known to me other than that of being beauty. As I’m paying attention, I’m now thinking about DNA and reproductive cycles, of seasons and how both temperature and longer days play roles in all that I’m seeing. Francis Collins book, the Language of God is helping me understand the building blocks of the universe, and though there’s much more to say about this, I’ll offer only one quote: “The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. He can be worshipped in the cathedral or in the laboratory. His creation is majestic, awesome, intricate, and beautiful – and it cannot be at war with itself.” Collins’ reminder is an important one because nature, whether studied through a microscope, or a telescope, points to the Creator, inviting worship.
Meanwhile, I’m also looking at these things through the lens of questions about change and finding the life for which we’re made, whether as individuals, or as the people of God called the church.
The dandelion reminds me that we’re made for reproduction. I’m not talking about babies here. I’m talking about using the life we’ve been given to impart life “wherever the wind blows us” as Jesus said. I think of the parable of the talents, and of the guy who just kept what was given to him, protecting it lest it get stolen or damaged. ”Wrong,” is what Jesus says about that. All that we’ve been given, all that we enjoy, all that is the abundance of our life, exists to be spread, for the blessing of others. This is the life for which we’re made!
The new growth on the redwood reminds me how change comes about: S-L-O-W-L-Y. Sure, there are monumental markers in the life of a redwood, like the day it appears out from the earth as a tiny, yet visible, new living thing. Another memorable day will be the day it falls in the forest (and if anyone’s there to hear it, it will make a sound ) In between though, change will happen slowly, imperceptible. It will come because the branch is drawing on the life in the soil and, in the profound wisdom of creation, becoming the tree. The new growth each spring is a different green. There’s a freshness about it, like the first day of school, or the first month of marriage (we hope), or the first day of your dream job. But the new green fades, and eventually, by about July, all you have once again is a tree. The new life is indistinguishable from the whole.
Ha! Did you catch that? All you have is a tree? All you have is the miracle of reproductive and sustaining life. All you have is a creation that exhales oxygen for us, and shelters life, and creates the foundation of forest ecosystems that are integral to our planet in ways that we’re just starting to understand, now that the rainforests are disappearing. ”Just a tree” is a nonsense statement. But it’s “just” in the sense that all the excitement is gone, for now at least.
“Just a marriage?” My wife and I ate lamb chops in the backyard last night to celebrate because 32 years ago this month I introduced her to lamb, on a portable hibachi, at a park in Seattle, just a few miles south of where we now live. Now, 32 years later, the miracle of marriage continues, but (can I say this?) most days are unremarkable. They’re good. They’re formative. They’re life-sustaining. But you’d never make a movie about them. They’re not even worth a status update. It’s listening, affirming, confessing, deciding, cleaning, supporting, laughing, some tears, work, leaky roofs, oil changes.
I fear that our lust for lives like the sitcoms, or romantic comedies is helping make a world where common green is seen is so boring as to not be worth the time. Hear this! Special green only comes along once in a great while. Take a picture. Savor it. But celebrate ‘normal’ too, because that’s where the real growth is happening.
”Just a church?“ Every day I get stuff in my inboxes about the fastest growing churches, or the most incarnational churches, or the churches doing discipleship or being missional, and all of it makes the green of my own leadership appear downright boring by contrast. We just show up together to bear witness to the fact that, because Jesus lives, everything’s different. We do this by sharing life, studying the Word, and serving together to make God’s reign visible. Lots of days look like yesterday. Tomorrow? Maybe similar. It’s tempting to want to make big changes because we’re “just a tree.” Maybe. But there are many, many, days, weeks, months, when the best thing we can do is keep showing up, trusting that God’s changing churches the way he changes redwood trees: slowly, but inexorably growing so that they can be a beautiful blessing to others.
That was my morning: the worlds of science, Bible, church vision, and what it means to live faithfully, all blended into a seamless cloth during coffee with God. I wanted to share it with you…even though it’s the weekend. Cheers!
BLOG TOUR UPDATE: Because The Colors of Hope has just come out, a few folks are writing about it.
Nathan Sovonske posted a review on Amazon, and he’s got a great blog, with the same review, here.
Tim Thurman posted the book trailer on his blog, which can be found here.
As I shared earlier in the week, I’m convinced that, in our time of polarized politics and theology, the message from “Colors” is vitally important. Thanks for your help in getting the word out.