“Pruning” Our Faith

I decided to trim a tree in my front yard a couple Sunday evenings ago. Not sure why. I walked outside, saw some branches hanging and decided to get out my hacksaw and my loppers and do it myself. I had a lawn service come over and dig out some dead bushes and trim the others, I suppose that may have been the impetus. It occurred to me after they left that I might have had them trim the trees as well, but those big old dollar signs helped me determine that I could DIY the tree. Upon reflection, I might have been better served to DIY the bushes that are on the ground rather than the tree branches which are in the air, but sometimes logic, especially when it comes to home projects, is not first in my skill set.

Probably the best thing about taking on the project on a Sunday night is that Home Depot is not open. After hacksawing the first branch, I so wanted to go get a chainsaw. Ain’t nobody think that’s a good idea, but with sweat rolling into my eyes and my shoulders hurting and a bigger branch awaiting my talents, a chainsaw seemed like a perfect answer. Sometimes a lack of patience works for me – I wasn’t willing to wait for a time when I could get a chainsaw, I was on task and didn’t want to stop til it was completed. I don’t know how long I’ve had the aforementioned hacksaw, but I’m not certain it’s the sharpest tool on the wall. My other option was a regular handsaw, but I had picked it up at an antique store for decoration and when I took it down to see if it might serve me better, it clearly had lived its life as a saw in a previous generation and now was indeed, only effective as country chic decorative wall art.

It occurred to me initially when I got my ladder out to have a better angle to hacksaw the largest branch, that having someone helping might be a good idea, but it was getting dark, all my neighbors’ garage doors were closed and besides, it wasn’t like I was 50 feet up, more like 5. I’m 5’8”, so I wasn’t even as high as I am tall. Bottom line, yes, I fell. Best thing, nobody saw me, I know right? That’s our first thought often when we fall, did anyone see me do something that wasn’t particularly beautiful? Second best thing, as I laid there I started moving my extremities, nothing broken, nothing bleeding, nothing sticking out in a direction that it shouldn’t be, AND the hacksaw was still in one piece! I was so close to getting through the limb, of course I climbed back up on the ladder and finished. You know, it’s the whole you need to get right back up on that horse after you’ve been thrown idea.

When I pulled in my driveway last night I looked at that tree and decided it had grown a foot taller. I’m not even kidding! I really do think it’s grown, o.k., maybe not a foot, but I do think it looks taller. That’s what’s supposed to happen, when you do the painful pruning, it allows new growth in a way that might not have otherwise happened. I know the painful part isn’t supposed to be the pruner falling off a ladder, but given that, maybe the tree isn’t the only thing that has grown from the experience.

I wonder if that’s a little of what’s going on in Protestantism in general and in the United Methodist Church more specifically in this particular time in our common life. I know, I know, I make sermons out of everything! But seriously, I wonder a bit if we’ve simply been comfortable with the way things are for so long that we’ve grown complacent with how Jesus shook up the world in which he lived with his understanding of grace, healing, and invitation for those in his world that hadn’t been invited into community or certainly into the family of God’s vision. Maybe our faith is being challenged to “prune down” to the most important ways of following Jesus that creates communities of people willing to love and learn and accept and live into a world that is drastically shifting in populations of people that are forcibly on the move from that which they’ve called home but is now too dangerous for them to stay. In all this movement the tenets of our faith are being questioned and pushed and pulled and challenged to become nitty-gritty real in the everydayness of a life that isn’t as simple and comfortable as we’ve pretended it to be.

What are those parts of our religious faith that take a whole lot of energy and time and resources but that may be keeping the true growth God wants and needs for us from happening? Do we truly think God wants us to spend our energy and resources on deciding who loves who if those relationships are mutually respectful, faithful, and healthy? Do we truly think God wants us to spend our energy and resources separating families at a border to teach them a lesson about remembering they are not welcome to move from a place of danger to a place of survival? Do we truly think God wants us to spend our energy and resources on defending perpetrators violence on persons because of the color of those persons’ skin? Do we truly think God wants us to spend our energy and resources to maintain systems where people are seen as objects to be used or abused because of their gender?

Here’s what I know to be true – God’s vision will finally be fulfilled because God has chosen us and loves us too much to leave us. The question is how long and with what kinds of unnecessary complexities will we place on the journey as we live toward that vision?

I put some unnecessary and not very wise obstacles and choices in the way of the trimming of my trees because well, I am who I am and I’m human and stubborn. I can learn from that and make some different choices next time. Or I can decide to stay the same, do it again, and be shocked that the outcome doesn’t change or maybe the consequences get even worse. The tree and I both have some growing to do – the tree will use the sun and rain (someday I hope) and the richness of the soil and a little help from a human and do what it was created to do no question, the question is, will I? And maybe too, will we?