Highlight: The Church is like a Tree

Tree and Rhoda and Gail Kling in California

In this post The Old Fool reflects 0n a lecture by Melinda Berry on Liberation Theology delivered on the New Perspectives on Faith platform.  As a  teaching illustration, she projected the image of large tree sans ground and, of course, the unseen atmosphere.  It was just an ordinary tree, not a banyan tree, but a tree much like the maple tree that grew near the Old Fool’s birth house, or the sweet cherry tree along Lehman Road. The little boy fool climbed both trees, and came to know them intimately, even in today’s memory. But he could not see the roots of the trees.  They were alive,but hidden in the soil.

Berry identified the roots as local, simple, living-faith communities where beliefs are developed and nurtured.  Persecution and hardship are experienced by these communities.  Ernest prayers are offered, and if a miracle happens, it is experienced among the roots.  Life-giving nutrients are gathered by the roots from the soil for the tree’s growth.  Eschatological hope is alive among the roots.   It interested The Old Fool that Berry’s metaphor was of a tree growing in a rich organic soil.

A healthy tree has an abundance of leaves far above the ground’s surface where they are exposed to rain, sun, and air.  According to Berry, the leaves can  be a metaphor for the part of the church which is privileged to engage in scholarly, scientific research and the open exchange of information and testing of ideas.  The leaves like the roots, gather and process nutrients needed for growth and bearing fruit.

But leaves and roots cannot nourish each other without a connection, a trunk.  Berry’s picture had a sturdy trunk for nutrients to flow upward and downward.  If I understood Berry, the trunk is a metaphor for the pastors of the church.  Most of them  recruited from the roots,  pastoral candidates are exposed to life among the leaves, become comfortable with change and then sent back to the roots as ministers. 

The Old Fool found Melinda Berry’s metaphor helpful, useful in understanding church dynamics as he experiences them.  He is living in Goshen, Indiana, about to become a member of a church located on a college campus. 

In his youth he was introduced to Goshen College as a distant center of liberalism in the west. Now, after eighty years, he lives in Goshen, and enjoys it. This seems to him to be an unlikely twist on his life and faith pilgrimage.  For the tree (church) projected by Berry appears to him in real life to be dysfunctional at times and places. 

Too often, but not always,  the leaves (scholars, scientists, theologians) of the tree are tempted to a mild disdain for the roots (the churches).

Many churches are Mennonite with Amish heritage and are too suspicious of the leaves growing far above them. 

The trunk (pastors) are uneasy, insecure in their calling.   As the Old Fool recalls the commencement address given to the graduates of the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, they were told bluntly  that they had been given good news but the people to whom they had been sent don’t want it and won’t like it.

The Old Fool once came upon a successful pastor who was preaching a series on the ten commandments.  The Old Fool asked why he was preaching on the ten commandments?  Oh, he said, I’m preaching from the easy commandments.  The next series will be on the hard commandments, the commandments of Jesus.  Cure for  dysfunctions within the church lies in the two great, but simple, commandments of Jesus. But The Old Fool rambles and is about to digress.    

About Martin Lehman

I was born 92 years ago, the son of a Mennonite pastor and organic gardener in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. At age 10 I was baptized as a member of the Marion Mennonite Church. I own the "Old Fool" moniker because I want to walk the Jesus Way even though the world and much of the church takes me as a fool for doing so. In my life I have moved from being a young conservative to an elderly radical. I tell that story in My Faith Journey posted on my website.
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3 Responses to Highlight: The Church is like a Tree

  1. Rohrer Eshleman says:

    I like that tree idea. It keeps my “old mind” streached. That’s good for me!, Rohrer

  2. Pauline Yutzy Miller says:

    Thank you again Martin for an interesting story and comparisons on certain things. I always enjoy reading your insights(thoughts) on certain subjects. Keep up the good work.

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