Friday, September 26, 2014

Love Affair With Trees (and Fetuses)

It was time, he explained, as he brought his business card to the door to warn us of the coming work in close proximity to our home. Cavities developing, branches dead, dying, and falling down meant that proper action was required for the sake of the tree and the people and homes nearby. Knowing it would soon disappear, I managed to remember to capture some images of the beautiful maple beforehand.
Plot maps show that we are not the  "owners" of the tree, though it is much closer to our home than our neighbor's. Because of that, I always considered it ours. I didn't realize how attached to it I was until the warning came of its removal, and I began to go about my days wondering how the whole landscape and the view from several of my windows would be radically altered. I loved seeing how it would change dramatically throughout the seasons through this window at the top of our staircase ~ a first glimpse of the day upon waking and heading downstairs to make the morning pot of tea in the kitchen where the maple greets us again through the side window. She felt like a familiar friend.  (We first met in 2002 when Robert discovered this little gem of a house for our family.)
But the workweek arrived and the progress was swift. Jamie, the foreman, saw me watching from the backyard and came over to talk.  He took me to the tree and explained exactly why she needed to go, pointed out the poison oak that was making its way up her trunk, and assured me that all roots and divots in our yard would be smoothed out and covered over. Delighting in his unusual kindness, compassion, and thoroughness, I felt the freedom to ask if Kayla and I could count the rings when they got to the trunk. 

"Of course," was his reply. "We always count the rings for our records, and I would guess that this one is about 130-140 years old."
We were captivated by the whole process, and found it difficult to stay on the normal tasks of our day. The chainsaws were loud (and sometimes got stuck!), the whole house shook each time a branch came down, and the chipper roared all day long chewing up leaves and smaller branches.

There were often men on our roof, and a bucket truck sent different workers hovering high and low all over our yard and right within our view.  Talk about distraction.  I suppose we could have packed up and done our schoolwork elsewhere ~ Barnes and Noble is a favorite locale ~ but it seemed we ought to stay put just in case. Plus, it was an education in and of itself.
On the same day the tree work began, I left the house early for my morning run. Walking past my other neighbor's house ~ the one on the opposite side of the tree work, I caught a glimpse of her newest bumper sticker. Bumper stickers are an interesting and entertaining way to get a pulse on the culture of our town and region. Mocking the Christian Ichthus symbol, Darwin fish (with feet) abound, "My Other Car is a Broom", "Friends Don't Let Friends Vote Republican", and "Eat More Kale" are seen fairly often, and my favorite: "Get Real: As If Jesus Would Have Ever Owned a Gun and Voted Republican."  Some of these seem quite incompatible with the other prominent bumper stickers: "Coexist" and "Teach Tolerance."

My neighbor's new bumper sticker says this: "Wendy Davis for Texas State Governor 2014"

(Remember now, I live in Massachusetts. We're 2000 miles away from the Lone Star State.)
Bumper stickers and trees may also seem like incompatible issues for a blog post, but the two events happening on either side of my house this week got me thinking.  At one neighbor's house, a statement about stewarding well the earth and nature, albeit it through the necessary removal of a beautiful creation.  At the other neighbor's house another blatant (to those in the know) statement about "stewardship" through the removal of a beautiful creation.  Yes, both of the issues involve the choice to remove life.  It's just that the former brings renewed life, sustained life, protection of life and the latter only ushers in several forms of death.

Wendy Davis made herself a national hero (to some) when she filibustered for hours recently to prevent the vote on a measure that would ban abortions in Texas after 20 weeks.
For many, the removal of a fetus is no different from the removal of a tree ~ a necessary and prudent choice. Both may be stricken with disease or deformity.  Death may be inevitable for each. Ending their lives may seem an act of kindness. Both may prove to be an enormous inconvenience someday, therefore early intervention and prevention seems wise.

Though they sound like such similar predicaments, they are vastly different in God's eyes.  In fact, one is not really a predicament at all ~ though it may seem like it at the time.
As Christians, the first task given to us by God is stewardship of the earth. The animals, the birds, the trees and other vegetation, the rivers, streams, and oceans ~ they are all ours to rule over, to subdue, and to make productive.  The removal of a dying tree falls within godly stewardship of the created world.  

God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth." 
Genesis 1:28

The same rule, however, does not apply to human life.

You shall not murder.
Exodus 20:13

And even before we see it clearly in the Ten Commandments, we see it inherently after the creation mandate in Genesis after Cain murders his own brother Abel.

Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" And he said "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?"  He said, "What have you done?" The voice of your brother's blood is crying to Me from the ground.
Genesis 4: 9-10

No, we don't have authority over the life or death of another human. God alone has that authority. Psalm 139 portrays well the preciousness of what is going on in the womb.

For You formed me in my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb.  I will give thanks to You,  for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in secret and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;

Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.
Psalm 139: 13-16
What is foolishly believed by my neighbor and all of Ms. Davis's platform supporters is that the right to end life will bring about true freedom and that this unqualified freedom is what is best for the women of our country.  The strange thing is that we constantly limit "freedom" in this country for the sake of ourselves and our fellow countrymen. Our laws mandate that we not steal, speed, use or sell drugs, kill (those outside the womb), or trespass. Even smoking is now a severely limited freedom in this country. But to tell a woman what she can and can't do with her uterus ~ a thing that is actually quite risky, and harmful to herself physically and emotionally, not to mention the other human involved ~ is, oddly enough, a highly disdained position.

I'm pretty sure my neighbor is not genuinely concerned about the welfare of the state of Texas, and I think she's sadly mistaken regarding the welfare of the women and potential children of our country.

It's so very disheartening to me and a tragic sign of things to come that a majority of folks grieve the one (the loss of the tree) and celebrate the other (the loss of human life).

On Wednesday, when the final cut was made, there was a crowd in my driveway and traffic slowed on our busy downtown thoroughfare. One couple parked, got out, and took pictures.  They requested a sliver of the trunk to show in their classrooms. Everyone wanted to marvel at the majestic life that had once been displayed in that tree. Several of us even gathered around, counted the rings, and celebrated the historical epoch the tree had witnessed in its 120 years.  It was a proper tribute, a godly recognition of the natural world given to us by a loving Creator.

The aborted fetus gets no such fanfare. (And it probably shouldn't in this situation.) Though its life is quite short by comparison, its mutilated parts, in most cases, are quickly and mindlessly discarded. There is no celebration of the majestic and miraculous work which was in progress. Rather, the rejoicing is regarding the life that will never be, and the "freedom" the other seems guaranteed now that it's gone.
Most of the women I know (and I need two hands to count them) who've chosen to end their baby's life in utero are not celebrating, though.  They are grieving. Some decades after the fact. Oh, they know they are forgiven, that "therefore, there is now no condemnation", but the ache remains. They would certainly never recommend their choice to another.  In fact, one of those friends recently took in a young, single pregnant woman, shared her own experience, and took her in for a heartbeat and ultrasound appointment. The young woman made the decision to keep her baby. We all rejoiced and plans were made for her care and support in the process.

Not all women's hearts are aching though, and while that fact may be used as evidence in favor of the "right to choose," I wonder if it's an even more serious consequence in the form of a numbed and hardened heart. If lawmakers think this is a favorable condition for the females of our country, they are greatly underestimating the power in the tender strength of the feminine heart.  Protecting that natural resource would be to their advantage in my opinion.

The trees are lovely to be sure.  Women and children are lovelier. We were completely mesmerized with the process of removing the beautiful tree next door.  I just wish we were as concerned with the removal of children from this world and women's hearts in the process.


Anonymous said...

Every time we see a Wendy Davis sign in a yard, we are pained and saddened. Recently we read in Exodus 1 about the pharoah ordering the Hebrew midwives to kill all the boys at birth. But because the midwives feared God, they refused to obey the king. Yes, they FEARED God and cherished the sanctity of life. Thanks for sharing this beautiful blog. Love, K&J

Anonymous said...

I really liked this blog post. I'm vehemently pro-life(except in cases of rape or when the life of the mother is severely at risk).

I am sorry that other people are intolerant of you. Listen, I'm a lesbian pro-life republican in the middle of Amherst,MA. I know how you feel. I also believe in God (Sorry, not a born-again Christian and have no interest in being one). I have been to your church on numerous occasions, always at night so no one ever sees me. It is truly a beautiful and strategic space. I extend to you a Congratulations on 15 years.

Melanie said...

Hi ~ thank you so much for your encouraging words and apologies for this intolerant, at times, culture we live in. I really appreciate you taking the time to write. I do hope you will visit us on a Sunday morning, though! No pressure to be or do anything you are uncomfortable with ~ just a loving (and broken, all of us!) community coming together to learn about and worship God. You are always welcome.

Anonymous said...

I very much appreciate your invitation, but I think I'll pass. I was born-again Christian for three years, but walked away because it just did not mesh with who I am. My sexuality was part of the reason why, but not all.

I know a friend who attends MercyHouse. There is no reason why two people of opposing worldviews can't be friends, as long as boundaries are set and respected.

Melanie said...

I totally understand not wanting to come worship with us. You've got to do what you think is best for you right now. And you're absolutely right ~ no reason folks of differing world views can't be friends. I'm thankful for that! Glad you have that kind of friendship with yours.

Walking away from being "born again" is not something we believe is truly possible, though. New birth in Christ, to Christians, means that they are finally alive in Him forever. They have spiritually been transformed from dead to alive. And God's covenantal love makes it impossible to then be out of relationship with Him ~ or to no longer be born again. You may have never really been "born again" but you still held/hold a belief in God. It's just that He may be a god of your own making ~ and not the one who has disclosed Himself to us through His Word. (And to be clear ALL of us struggle with surrendering to the God of the Bible as He has revealed Himself.)

I hope that doesn't sound rude, but thought I might just offer the Christian and biblical worldview on that issue. (Though some Christians might disagree) We would also say that "who we are" truly is only found in Christ. That once we are "born again" we begin to discover our real, true selves as His image bearers ~ and then let go of ourselves for service unto Him and others.

Again, not wanting to offend, just offer some of the finer points of what we believe true conversion is all about.

And again, I'm sincerely thankful for your kind words and willingness to write. May God bless your work and your friendships here with joy and peace. If you ever want to talk in person, let me know. I'm a big fan of the "coffee date!" ;-) Take care.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your response.

I know you view me as an idolator, but it does not make any conceivable sense to me that a God who created us and this beautiful world (no, I do not believe in evolution) would throw a sect of the population into a burning hell for all eternity just because they acted on their same sex desires. I do know that born-again Christianity says that God can convict outside of sexuality, but I am merely talking about this one issue. It does not make any sense to me that God would sit back and call that justice.

I'm somewhat open to a coffee date, but I am at the same time very hesitant because I don't want this to become a witnessing/harvesting/Mark 16:15/The Great Commission expedition.

If you look at my abandoned blog, you will see I am no stranger to the gospel and born-again life style.

Melanie said...

I view myself as an idolator, too. The only hope I have for choosing against idolatry is the Holy Spirit living inside of me.

Everyone's destination is hell without the received gift of grace and forgiveness at the Cross by Jesus Christ ~ not just one sect of the population.

And it's God's work to convict and convince, not mine, so there won't be any badgering. But it is unloving to withhold truth from people. I'd still love to talk with you anytime, but to keep silent about biblical truth in our conversation would be unfair and unloving to you.

If you would ever like to talk, please let me know. My email is

You have been in my thoughts and prayers so much this week. I hope you have a great weekend.

Anonymous said...

Like I said, I've heard this all before. This is nothing new your telling me.

The Quran is a Holy Text for the Muslims. It is the ultimate authority in their religion. That is their truth. Your a Christian, which makes the ultimate authority the Bible. That is your truth. In sum, truth is relative according to whom you ask.

I'm surprised at your response. On your blog, you expressed a grievance in the lack of tolerance for born-again Christians. I agree that some people (especially in these parts) are intolerant of you guys -- this is wrong. However, I see a lack of tolerance in you, for others who do not want to follow your ways. You can't have a relationship with someone without witnessing to them? I'm fine with my Christian friend talking about her life with Mercyhouse, in fact I want to hear about it because I want to know her and her life. And I am happy that she is happy. Does she pray at the dinner table? Yes, and I welcome it and pray along with her. But do I allow preachy/witnessy/your not thinking the 'right' way type of talk? NO. There's a fine line to all of this.

You've been here for 15 years and have achieved so much. Beautiful church and other plants across Pioneer Valley. I assume that you enjoy connecting with college students, and that this factored into your family's decision in moving from Texas to Amherst. Afterall, their are unchurched, non-college regions in the US. Wouldn't you want to know and connect with someone outside of your belief system? Hiking or canoeing for example. Can't non-Christians add something positive to your life? Does everything have to revolve around an agenda? Can't a Christian and non-Christian find similarities and common ground in other things?

Hope you have a good weekend

Melanie said...

Absolutely, I do enjoy connecting with all types of people and learning about their lives, backgrounds, beliefs. And no, it doesn't have to include "witnessing" ~ as in the person is always an evangelical project. People are people worthy of love and respect and friendship no matter what.

But, I don't believe that truth is relative. In fact, I think that definition defies the very nature of the word truth. It may seem rigid, but I believe there is only Truth ~ or one real truth ~ and that it is absolute. And that Truth is Jesus Christ. Muslims deny the deity of Jesus based on the Quran, which renders it lacking in Truth.

If we go back to the abortion issue, you and I believe that the truth is that the fetus is actually a person and that murder is wrong. It's an absolute truth. It can't be true for some and not true for others. And if abortion seems too fuzzy, then just murder in general. We believe in absolute truth there for sure. It is absolutely wrong to take the life of another person.

Again, I would say it is unloving and even abusive to badger folks with something they clearly don't want to hear about, but to tell someone they can't talk about something they believe is an absolute truth is not very loving either.

Anonymous said...

I know that you guys believe that truth is absolute. I respect that. I should have said "truth is according to whom you ask" to be more clear.

As I said before, I encourage my friend to talk freely about her life at Mercyhouse. I ask, "How are you, how is your life with Mercyhouse" etc. She then talks about things she is involved with and why she loves doing them. I listen objectively and I love hearing her enthusiasm because I am happy that she is happy. That's not a witness, it's just sharing what your doing in your life.

The part that I don't like is someone willingly trying to facilitate a conversion with their words. It's just setting healthy boundaries. You wouldn't like someone trying to convince you that God is dead or God is just pretend. I surmise you would tell them to please stop. I would do the same. Nobody is going to convince me that their is no God and I wouldn't want an atheist constantly trying to facilitate a conversion from deism to atheism. Not trying to be unloving, just trying to set boundaries beforehand that can be observed by the both of us.

Melanie said...

Totally understand the desire/need for boundaries and have many friendships and conversations like the one you described. So glad that you have that with your friend from our church.