Friday, August 15, 2008

Tree Hugging, Money Loving

A friend of mine passed on an e-News letter from the LCMS. It had a special “Focus on Workers in the Church.”

It was so special. It included a Bible verse, of course. “Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” Matthew 13:8 (ESV)

Too bad the rest of the letter didn’t stay in context with Christ’s parable. Instead we were treated to a piece from Psyche and Spirit titled “The Thing About Trees.”

The short essay invited us to commune with trees and receive the benefits of being in their presence.

Summer is a great time to be outdoors and commune with nature. In the past few years, Japanese researchers have verified what most of us know with certainty - that there are significant psychological benefits to being in the woods. Bless them. But rather than sit at my computer and read their research, I'll try to get outside and find some trees to hang out with so I can experience it myself. Whether being in the forest feels creepy and strange or majestic and inspiring, it is the community of trees, the composite, which helps us feel that we are in the midst of what is greater than ourselves. A community of living things so thick and vast that we fear we could even get lost in it, entering farther and farther into our own and the collective unconscious - the thing of fairytales and great adventures. In our part of the country, many men and women, find greatest peace sitting for hours in tree stands, ostensibly waiting for animals to pass.

Now, this Miss’ippi (Colorado born, Germany raised, Arkansas/Texas livin’, Utah toted, Memphis hailin’) gal don’t need any Japanese researcher to tell her that being outdoors is the best cure for whatever ails her. That’s what God created gardening for—especially azaleas.

And there isn’t anything like a vast Rocky Mountain forest— or a German one like pictured above—to make one aware of what C. S. Lewis called the Numinous Other. He’s the one who is Greater Than Ourselves, who makes the forest feel creepy and strange. We know He’s watching. We can feel Him. But when you get right down to the bare bones of it, the Numinous Other is just more Law. Feeling Him doesn’t bring comfort. He causes the hairs on our neck to rise. We are in awe of Him. We know we don’t want to see Him face-to-face, at least not without a mediator. He isn’t the Savior.

The rest of the LCMS eNews letter had info about financial matters, managing debt and so forth. I can’t fathom that verse Mt 13:8 has anything to do with taking a walk in the woods and financial management, unless it is this way: “Take a walk in the woods, clear your head, and then go clear up your financial management.” Now that's just plain eisegetical silliness.

Jesus' parable and its context and its use in this letter have lost any relationship to each other entirely. Perhaps it’s that 2,000 year gap we’ve got to span. I reckon nowadays that parable refers to sowing money wisely? Maybe this is the new LCMS parable for financial investment:

A church worker took a walk in the woods and examined the beauty of her surroundings. She marveled at how the roots tangled over rocks and broke up the soil before the lofty trees finally took flight to the heavens above. Sitting among the glories of the trees, and the beauties of the flowers, she could feel the soft breeze of the wind. It was almost creepy. Besides, break time was over, so she beat it back to her desk before she got fired.

Duly refreshed, she took another look at her finances. She invested some of her finances in savings accounts where it earned less than prime rate. She invested other money in poorly held stock accounts where they soon failed. Other money she invested in a rising artist who ran off with his homosexual lover and all her investments. Other moneys she invested wisely in secure bonds, some producing at 6.2 over prime, others at 7.9 over prime, and still others at 8.5 over prime. (Gimme a break if I get this wrong. I don’t know financial terminology.)

OK, so is that how we are to read this verse in context with this letter? Otherwise I don’t know how it even fits!

A walk in the forest is a tremendous way to find temporal respite for the body and mind, but it does nothing for the eternal soul. For that, take along a small Bible, too. Meditate on God’s Word while among those things He created. The earth can inform you that there is a Creator; only God’s Word can inform you of your status before Him, and of His intentions toward you in Christ. Then do not separate yourself from the community of saints in worship gathered around the altar of Christ receiving His Gifts in Holy Absolution, Baptism, His Body and Blood through the bread and wine, and in the Word spoken in your ears by the pastor.

Financial matters are managed after one has been first fed from the Tree that gives eternal Life, forgiveness and salvation. Just as our First Parents ate from the fruit of a Tree and died, so now we eat of the Fruit another Tree and live, that of the Cross. Those who are first in Christ make better decisions as Christians. I think this is what the LCMS wanted to say. They just somehow couldn’t find the words for it. They got tangled up in Japanese researchers instead of going to the Source Himself. Whenever Jesus went off by Himself for refreshment by communing with (praying to) Someome, He communed with His Father, not trees. His prayers always began with His Father's Word. There's the lesson to learn from.

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