I often find myself trying to explain how I came to be where I am at now in my faith journey. As I wrote in this post, I try to remind myself to be charitable both towards those who hold positions I used to hold and now strongly disagree with, and with those who hold positions that are on the other end of what I grew up knowing. One of the best metaphors I’ve heard for explaining where I’m at now comes from Jo-Ann Badley, and her chapter Living as an Exile in the book Stories of Emergence.
I offer you the metaphor of a tree. The essential shape of a tree comes from its trunk. I think of the trunk of my faith tree as the person of God, most clearly revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. My tree is Christ-shaped.
The tree also has branches that get increasingly thin as you look toward the perimeter of the tree. These are the less clearly understood musings of faith, about which the church has argued for centuries. Different parts of the Christian church choose to live on different branches, and some branches are much thicker than others.
These days, I prefer to live near the center where things are sturdier, but that’s because I have experienced what it is to be tossed in the wind by issues that can’t be easily resolved. I’m older now, and the central things matter more. I refuse to focus on doctrinal peculiarities of subgroups, which seems to me to be living on a leaf. Autumn will eventually come, and the leaf will fall.
The tree doesn’t look the same to everyone. The shape you see depends on who you are and where you stand. Are you a gardener? Are you in need of shade? Are you in the garden? Outside its walls?
What you see also depends on the season. Is it winter or spring?
What you see will depend on what direction the wind is blowing.
Clearly different people will see the tree in different ways.
I think of the Holy Spirit as the person of God who helps me to choose a wise place to sit in the tree and gives me the grace to be humble given the variety of branches and the expanse of green I see all around me.
How do I recognize my place? The criterion is the same as it has always been for all of God’s people. Where God is, there is grace and there is life. In the words of Deuteronomy, God sets before us life and death, blessings and curses, and calls us to choose life, so that we and our descendants may live. Or, in the words of John, Jesus came that we might have life and have it more abundantly.