I have had a tree in my life since I was 5 years old. I first encountered my American Chestnut tree as a rotting stump and a great source of creepy crawly things. The giant had shaded our pre-Independence home and had succumbed to a European tree disease. Its story was my first awareness of the idea of an invasive species, but the story did not end there. One summer during my high school years a shoot came up out of the stump. It sprang up quickly and flourished and then died. The next spring, more shoots grew quickly and likewise died. Each successive round of shoots grew longer and stronger before succumbing to the disease. Later, a conversation with an arborist revealed that indeed the tree was fighting back and was gradually growing resistant to the disease.
Our tree was not unique. All over the Northeast, chestnut trees were rebounding, springing up out of long-rotted stumps. The process appeared painful, as each year new shoots reached for the sky, only to be cut down months later by the virus within. But this growth produced hope. Now, the tree, no longer a stump, produces fruit and is showing no signs of growing weary of the fight. Its trajectory is clear: it will prevail and the disease will be vanquished.
At The Table this past February, Dr. Gregory Thornbury also referenced a tree, The Giving Tree by Shel SIlversten. This morality tale portrays the relationship between a young boy and a tree. In his youth, the boy is perfectly satisfied and blessed by his relationship with the tree. As the boy grows, however, he wants more than the companionship the tree has given him, and he regularly expresses sadness over his lack of material goods. And each time the tree offers up increasingly greater portions of its being—his apples, his branches, his trunk—until finally the boy is an old man and the tree has nothing to offer, except for its stump which the boy now needs as a place to sit and rest. Thornbury used the tree as a picture of the biblical foundations of our nation and society. Like the boy, America presumes upon this legacy, consuming it as needed, and doing nothing to maintain it. While the storybook ends warmly with the boy resting on the stump of his beloved but forsaken tree and the tree happy again to have companionship with the boy, I think that the parallels to life in America need a different ending.
Which brings us back to my tree. Rightly, some in America have begun to question why we are so plagued by mass shootings and failing families and ineffective schools. I believe that we don’t need to wait until our heritage is consumed before our culture acknowledges its biblical foundation. As the “shoots” spring up out of families like those at ACA and influence the culture around them, our nation will catch its first real glimpse of the glory of the tree from which our culture grew. While the trunk may be decayed, the roots of that great tree endure and create resilient and persistent shoots that keep reaching out into the world around them. Like that chestnut tree at my family’s Berkshire home, the awesome power of the Gospel and the weighty legacy of Christendom will sustain and grow this next generation. The trajectory is clear: the Gospel will prevail through this generation of well-discipled, articulate, and winsome young adults. Augustine is delighted to partner with parents to effectively train and equip this generation.
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