Sue and I attended church on Saturday night. The sermon was about living in the “space between” the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Book of Genesis and the Tree of Life in the Book of Revelation.
The pastor made the point that some people only see the trees and not the space between. In so doing, they fail to make the connection as to what our lives are supposed to mean. There are two keen aspects to which this pertains. First, it is a life more knowing and abundant that is led in keeping with purpose of God. That is, to love others as you are loved. And second, this life in keeping with the purpose of God is actually the fulfillment of the New World that the Book of Revelation predicts will come. It is ours to make.
People expecting Jesus to rush down and set up a whole new regime are therefore missing the entire point of the Bible. It’s as if they are so focused on the Start and Finish lines they fail to realize there is an entire race that each of us has to run, ride or swim.
Even children comprehend this basic knowledge. As kids, we often raced between two trees as the start and finish line. We need set points to determine our efforts, but they are not the end of all being.
Yesterday our cycling group rode a course from Yorkville, Illinois out to the small town of Newark and back. The course followed a long arc of the Fox River. We cut through some deep woods, a welcome shelter from the wind. The riding was easier between the trees. That sensation was not lost on me given the sermon of the night before.
It’s one thing to race from tree to tree and back, and see that as your entire purpose in life. It’s an entirely different and meaningful thing to consider the difficulties and joys along the way. Being grateful for that shelter in the woods can actually give you the strength of mind to persevere once you are back out in the open.
We also stopped for one ride to fix a flat. I noticed that his back tire had gone soft and we all gathered around him as he used his CO2 cartridge to pump the tire back up. It didn’t take long before we were back on the road working together, taking turns with pulls into the northeast wind. That made the going easier. And a lot more fun.
Certainly that’s a direct allegory that is hard to miss. Trading pulls is something considerate people do in all aspects of life. Teamwork helps us all. At work. In volunteer capacity. Family and friends.
I think about the teamwork support we created during scholastic and college competition and realize how often we helped each other mentally prepare for big races. There was also a starting point and an end goal every year. The season was conducted between these “trees” of hope.
But I’ve always thought it foolish to think that Jesus would help you win if you prayed hard and long enough. There’s no reason why Jesus would favor you in any endeavor. The goal that Jesus lays out for those who are Christian is simple: accept grace in victory and also in loss. Take what you learn from the losses to feel compassion and offer help to others. Take what you learn from the victories to encourage those you can. Give yourself fully to all, and you will be amazed at how rich life can be, between the trees.
The Christian faith deservedly gets a bad rap when it ignores these precepts. Instead, it has too often been twisted into torturous vines that bind and constrict believers and the people around them. Biblical literalism turns faith into a vicious tangle of backward beliefs, choking out common sense and progress like the vine that kills a mighty oak.Jesus warned this could happen. He specifically outlined that literalism leads to legalism, and called the proponents of this brand of faith a “brood of vipers” for turning scripture into law.
Legalism turns the bible into something resembling a forest clearcut. It turns a beautifully complex forest of parables and metaphors into stumps of stubborn contentions. Jesus warned his own disciples against this brand of thinking. “Are you so dull?” he asked when his disciples demanded to know why he preached using parables rather than speaking “plainly.”
Jesus knew that people needed interesting stories to hold their attention and convey the richness of real wisdom. That’s why his example of teaching through the use of metaphor is so important to the Bible as a whole. It’s how the entire “woods” from Genesis to Revelation is designed. A beautiful woods is evidence of both creation and the call to wander through it with reverence and wonder.
Instead, there is a tendency among some people to hack their way through the Bible as if with a machete. They find their precious hateful nuggets and stand there proclaiming, “Look, the Bible says homosexuality is bad.” Meanwhile, they ignore the passages that indict their own worship of money (the love of which…is the root of all evil.”)
That’s how the journey between the trees gets so screwed up, and why (or how) Christianity has gotten such a bad name. Let’s face it, the Catholic Church is the largest Christian organization in the world and has had its share of supposedly “clearcut” moments when scripture has been used to punish, persecute and kill.
Back when Galileo and Copernicus were illuminating the true structure of the universe, the Catholic church took many a bad whack at the idea that the sun was at the center of the universe, and not the earth. Reality did not fit the anthropogenic model of Christian belief.
Then came the Inquisition and finally the protest by a former Catholic priest Martin Luther who railed against turning the church into a bank for God. We’ve been through many centuries of theological debate since. Now we have a Catholic Pope (I’m a Lutheran, by the way) who is back to mostly preaching what Jesus originally taught. The Catholic Herald recent posted a summary that quoted Pope Francis: “If laws do not lead people to Christ then they are obsolete.” Hello, Pope. Thattaboy.
That’s a pretty sweeping statement that says it is all our jobs, humanists, and believers alike, to consider the purpose of all our laws. If they are designed only to punish those we mistrust or fear, they have no purpose. Truth be told, many of our laws are contradictory. We punish for possession of marijuana while alcohol is perfectly legal. We encourage the use of Viagra while women’s birth control is a point of contention among prudish legislators.
This is life between the trees, people. It’s our job to see the entire forest and not just chop away at things we don’t like, or want to control (or own) or think we know better.
The journey alive
Those of us who run and ride and swim know a few things about competition. We prepare ourselves to do our best. And when all is said and done, we must accept our achievements for what they are: attempts at self-understanding. But if we cannot also look to others and appreciate their journeys between the trees, we fail to recognize our real purpose here on earth. It is ours to love others. Even our supposed enemies.
And how exciting it was to look over at a fellow human being and proclaim, “I’ll race you to that tree!” What if it meant even more than that? What if the human race was our entire purpose for being? And what if a billion races, or seven billion, are occurring every day from which we can draw excitement and meaning? And what if the human race itself is the new world we’re all supposed to see, and understand, appreciate and celebrate?
That is indeed the purpose of our being, between the trees. Yet the race is far, far shorter than we allow ourselves to appreciate. Time is precious. So make sure to look around. The trees are calling you into being.
Take my hand
’cause we’re walking out of here
Right out of here
Is all we need dear
The space between
What’s wrong and right
Is where you’ll find me hiding waiting for you
The space between your heart and mind
Is the space we’ll fill with time
The space between
The tears we cry is the laughter keeps us coming back for more
If you like this writing, please be sure share it. We’re all just trying to make the world a better place.
SEEK JUSTICE. SHOW RESPECT. GIVE FULLY. LOVE LIFE.