Honouring Our Differences

IMG_1418 Wendy's peony 5ch The other evening my neighbour invited me over because the light was right. I love it! How many people would do that? She gets me! This time of year the sun sets further to the north and she was enthralled by the light that made the flowers on her dining room table glow. She knew I would enjoy it too, so she phoned me to come over -and bring my camera.   IMG_1403 irises ch Earlier in the week another friend, who I love dearly, confided that she didn’t understand why some people had an emotional reaction to things like rainbows and sunsets. They were pretty and all, but didn’t give her any particular thrill; their formation is easily explained. She’s good at a lot of painstaking, repetitive, detailed tasks that would have me running for the nearest exit before I collected my pay cheque, gladly receiving the label of irresponsible scatter-brain rather than do one more inventory.

Yesterday I noticed that another friend I admire was excited about getting a handle on organizing her studies in Greek and Hebrew so she could spend her summer reviewing before launching into her Ph.D. work. Today yet another friend talked about how much satisfaction she is getting from building fences and raking 7.5 kilometers of new trails on their ranch. The neighbour who invited me to see the way the sun struck her flowers is a fabric artist. She is fascinated by colour and has a unique hobby; she is a dyer of fabric.

IMG_1437 Wendy's irisch   My husband and I had another, um, opportunity to share grace with each other this week. I needed the password for a device we supposedly share, but I seldom use. I had to find him and ask because I couldn’t remember it. This is why I can’t remember it: he throws strings of numbers in his frequently changing passwords. I am a numerical dyslexic. Quantity I comprehend. There is simply no file in my brain for numbers as identifiers. Blue house with a pink plastic flamingo in the yard by the dog groomers, I can remember. 12302- 37th Ave. (I made that up -sorry if it’s your address) falls right through the huge colander holes in my number memory file. Phone numbers? Hopeless. And don’t get me started on model numbers. All you will get is a glare if you ask me if I bought the A8932 or the A9934 version.

“The green one.”

How am I possibly supposed to remember that password?” I whined at my husband. The man has no problem. He sees numbers as having as much personal distinctiveness and identity as a blue house with a pink flamingo. He just remembers them (numbers, that is – a blue house with a pink flamingo might as well be on Mars.)

I think I finally found a way to explain my frustration with his choice of passwords. I grabbed a dictionary with a dusty/reddish/rust coloured cover and asked him to remember that shade and go buy a piece of fabric to match. He looked at me dumbfounded. “Can people do that?”

IMG_1420 Wendy's peony 2ch   My neighbour could. Most of the time I can too. He’s not a visual learner. He’s a verbal processor and I’ve learned to pretty much ignore everything he says until he comes to some sort of conclusion.

Here’s the thing; we don’t all think or feel or learn or enjoy life the same way. Consideration -one aspect of love- is being aware that not everyone is like me. Loving myself as God loves me means giving myself permission (grace) to be different without guilt or comparison. I can’t remember numbers, and that’s okay. My husband does not have a strong visual memory. He will walk right by a pink flamingo for 23 years and never notice it, and that’s okay -annoying, but okay.

I love this observation by Kris Vallatton: Arrogance is not thinking too highly of yourself. Arrogance is not thinking highly enough of others.

We tend to value our own currency most highly; that is, if we are task-oriented we will admire people who work hard. We will compliment projects that exemplify hard work. My dear hard-working German mother often complimented needlework or fine meals with an acknowledgment of how much work went into it. Another person might notice how much thought went into it, or how much artistry was involved. I grew up being rather deficient in the hard-work and joy of labour department. It took me years to realize she truly enjoyed baking bread before her morning shift as a nurse and then cleaning the kitchen until midnight. Work gave her as great a sense of satisfaction as the wretched sense of dissatisfaction being chained to  long hours of physical labour gave me. It has taken me even longer to quit feeling guilty about not being like her.

In the big C Church we tend to do the same thing, and we end up discounting or dishonouring those with different ways of seeing, hearing, feeling, learning and doing. Over here we have the go go go-type and here the contemplative-type, and here the emotional, demonstrative-type –  many of them feeling guilty for not being more like the others, and some of them wondering what the heck is wrong with everybody else.

IMG_1435 Wendy's irises 2 ch   I am beginning to realize that unity is the result of the love and grace we extend to others by blessing their differences. Grace is the permission God gives us to fully become who we are meant to be in Christ. At the heart of unity is love, which honours the beauty of the image of God in each one of us, however that manifests.

Then the light shines -as through the colours of  flowers that an artistic person noticed, sitting on a table a practical person moved, and photographed with a camera an industrious person designed, and an entrepreneur sold and a meticulous person inventoried…

Cambium Layer

Painting: Soon

I was sitting at my computer, performing some boring task like deleting old emails, when I heard this word in my head: CAMBIUM LAYER.

Well, that was weird. I ignored it.

A little later I heard it again. CAMBIUM LAYER. It was quite clear. I hadn’t run into that word since biology class nmpfm years ago.

Sometimes God talks to me (and no the TV doesn’t talk to me and I don’t wear a foil hat.) I’ve only recently stopped apologizing for it. If that upsets you, just move along. This is not the post you are looking for.

I think He talks to a lot of people, but when we ignore the message, or dismiss His still small voice as stress or too much pizza, He stops talking to us that way and moves on to plan B. This time I knew it wasn’t pizza talking. I’m allergic to pizza –both crust and cheese. Haven’t eaten it in years.

But like Peter, the devil has lied to me, and although I’m getting better at telling the voices, dreams, and loud thoughts that seem to come out of nowhere apart, nevertheless it is wise to judge this offering with the spiritual discernment God has given you and check to see if it lines up with scripture.

I answered this word with my usual deeply reverential response.

“What???”

I was surprised to read a footnote in my study Bible. In 1 Corinthians 13 (yes, the love chapter)  a Greek word used in the verse about seeing  “through a glass darkly “ is ainigma (enigma). My margin notes said, “As in a riddle”.  J.B, Phillips translates it: At present we are men looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror.

I consulted a Koine Greek expert and he said the word implies a puzzle that needs to be pursued and is worthy of study. So I pursued, puzzled and studied “cambium layer.”

The cambium layer is the new growth layer of a tree. It carries the sap to the leaves, flowers and fruit. The cambium layer, when its season is done, forms another ring which is added to the wood of the trunk and branches.

A few days later I had an urge to take my camera to my friend’s orchard. Their orchard is quite unique; this friend’s specialty is growing as many varieties of apples as space and our climate will permit. He preserves old varieties of apples as well as experimenting with new hybrids. “Jake” has one tree with six varieties of apples growing on the same tree. He showed me how he grafts them in. All his trees are grafted onto old hardy roots that have proven ability to withstand Canadian winters.

“When I graft in a new branch I cut down to the cambium layer in the trunk or in a thick branch.” He said.

“Cambium layer, you say?” He had my attention.

“Yes. The new branch must form a connection to the growth layer or it won’t receive any sap and will starve.”

I leaned in for a better look. Some grafted branches looked like sprained ankles, strangely swollen, protruding at odd angles and supported by what looked like bandages and even crutch-like sticks which held up them up.

“It’s tricky,” he said. “If you put it in too deeply, into the old wood, the graft will fail to take. If it’s not deep enough the bark won’t form enough scar tissue around it to hold it in.”

Grafts
Grafts

“Tell me more about the cambium layer,” I said.

“You can make quite a few cuts into the cambium layer. Even a huge long gash will heal, but you can’t restrict it horizontally all the way around the trunk.  If you bind wire around it, for example, the tree will die.”

He fingers rested on the trunk almost affectionately.

“That’s also the part of the tree bugs want to get into. The bark is what protects the growth layer from attack. It needs to present a unified front.”

Grafted In
Grafted In

“It’s interesting,” he added, “that in tough years, or really dry years, the rings left in the tree are thinner, but a number of dense rings will make the tree stronger. You can’t always tell by looking at the size how much fruit a tree will produce. Some of these little ones can give you a ton of apples. And of course we need to be out there every year to prune back to just the essential branches to direct the tree’s energy into making fruit.”

I went away praying, “So, Lord, what are you showing me?”

This is what I feel I learned:

An apple tree can be a picture of the Church. The big C Church –the real Church made up of all followers of Jesus Christ — not just the buildings where folks plop their weary bones on a pew after the cows are milked on Sunday morning (the historical reason behind why most churches meet at the time they do.)

I have observed areas of active growth in the Church, where people are encountering God in all his goodness, being filled with the knowledge they are loved, and having an increasing desire to glorify him and to reach out to the needy with the good news. It’s a place where new believers are drawn to Christ, where there is a hunger and thirst to know him more deeply and a desire to go beyond the experience of parent’s and grandparent’s comfortable pews, and where lovers of Jesus are being empowered to be a positive influence that brings justice and salvation and healing to the suffering. These are places where lives are changing and the fruit of the spirit is beginning to fill out.

apple blossom sun beam charis

There is also a tendency for a lot of these groups, who are experiencing bounding spiritual growth, to become objects of harsh criticism and to feel restricted by the limits of “old wine skins”. They often end up disassociating themselves from former movements.

Every week new denominations start up with creative names reflecting the facet of the God-experience which best expresses their current focus. (In my opinion even “non-denominational” churches and home churches are mini-denominations. Within two or three generations, open-armed fellowships, meant to embrace like-minded people, have a tendency to morph into closed institutions whose function is to exclude those who have not had the same experience, or do not agree on every point.) They miss the stability that can only come about through years of weathering storms and drought and winter wind. Their roots are shallow and they quickly become victims of the climate.

If the growth layer in a tree is restricted the tree will die. If the old established “organized” tree attempts to restrict the growth of a movement to the parameters of its own previous experience, it will kill the tree. Tradition and history remind us to remember the goodness of God’s faithfulness, to encourage faith in what the Lord will do and not just in what he has done. By establishing sound doctrine based on the Word of God year after year, and pruning back unproductive offshoots, our forefathers and foremothers have maintained the shape and integrity of the church. I’m not saying we should overlook unscriptural teaching; essential doctrine is essential. Yes, sometimes it has run seriously wild, but God sends reformers along every once in a while to dig around the roots, lop off dead branches, kill the insects, and dump a load of fertilizer on it, to keep it in check.

The point of the solid structure of the tree is to support new growth that will produce fruit. Power-hungry jealousy and competitiveness is like a wire tied around the trunk that chokes off life. It is not the job of the cambium layer to support the woody layers. Young believers cannot be grafted into old wood with which they can make no connection. If communication fails, they will not receive adequate nurturing; they will shrivel up and fall away.

I wonder if the bark might represent the ones who are called to intercede, or the forerunners – the cutting edge spiritual warriors who bear the scars, the ones who face threats and are willing to lay down their lives to protect both the old stable wood, the new growth layer, and to gather around new grafts to support them securely. Without them, the whole tree is vulnerable to attack and can be destroyed by one annoying, invading insect at a time.

apple blossom ring ch

The roots of my friend’s trees are hardy. We are rooted and grounded in the love of Christ and build on a foundation of the apostles and prophets.

In Ephesians 2 we read: 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21  in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

By faith we sink our roots deep into the love of Christ and Holy Spirit flows up producing fruit that is obvious to the world –love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness , faithfulness, gentleness and self-control .

A tree with many varieties of branches grafted in will not produce fruit which all looks and tastes totally alike. Cultural differences may make this tree church look odd,  lacking in homogeneity. Accepting new branches may involve an uncomfortable period of wounding to make room –but it is a wonderful thing, this Church universal.

Without the new growth layer and connections to where the Holy Spirit is flowing now, the old woody layer is a merely a dying monument to the past. Without clinging to the stability gained through perseverance and enduring hope grown throughout a 2000 year old history of good seasons and tough seasons, the strength and stability secured through adversity and persecution is not available to the new layer; it flips and flops all over the place, tossed about by every wave of doctrine. With both it is strong, and continues to grow stronger producing enough fruit to feed a hungry world.

Honour your father and mother. Do not quench the Spirit. Both.

We need each other. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples -that you have love for one another.

-for your discernment