Let’s Love Each Other Like the Trees

Did you know that trees “talk” to each other? Trees send chemical and electrical messages to each other through an underground network. A forest sapling that might not receive enough sunlight because larger trees block it will emit signals indicating its need. What is amazing to me is that surrounding trees respond to that cry for help by surging nutrients to the young tree! Similarly, researchers found that when a giraffe chews on the leaves of an acacia tree, the tree is triggered to emit a chemical reducing its tastiness (from the giraffe’s point of view). After receiving this chemical message, trees as far as 50 feet away begin to emit a similar chemical, ultimately sending giraffes searching for food elsewhere.

Trees getting cared for…by other trees! The old Bapti-costal in me gets the “Won’t he do it?” feels when I think about the wonder of this. When we look at a forest, we see individual trees, growing and surviving on their own. But in reality, trees are a collective unit, surviving and thriving together. In fact, the larger and healthier a tree is, the more we can count on it to be a support to other trees, and probably to have been a recipient of care in its own days of sickness and struggle.

We aren’t that committed to Paul’s vision of the body of Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul doesn’t use trees to explain the innate interconnectedness of the family of God; he uses what we already know about our bodies. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (v. 27). Our body’s interconnectedness is the real-life representation of how deeply we are tied to each other. In the words of Mariah Carey, “We belong together,” whether we like it or not! Paul clearly defines the depth of this connection in verse 26: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” When one part of our body is hurting, the whole body is thrown off.  We easily understand what Paul is saying when we think about a bad tooth or a twisted ankle. But centuries of looking at Jesus through the lens of western individualism has almost destroyed our ability to understand what Paul is saying about communal love and the body of Christ. We are created to be more like the trees than we know.

In this letter, Paul uses the body metaphor to put an end to the Corinthian competition to be acknowledged as spiritually superior. There isn’t a singular gift, or skill, or way of being human that will make this community work, he seems to say—it’s only love (chapter 13). Like those first readers of Paul’s letter, we are tied together by love the way the underground network transforms a group of individual trees into a unified forest.

We don’t have to look far to see that we aren’t that committed to Paul’s vision of the body of Christ. The signs of our diseased community are all around us. Unjustly imposed socioeconomic boundaries predetermine who we see as a neighbor and who we see as an invader. Some of us look on in pity as our neighbors struggle instead of responding as if a part of our own body is in pain. Many of us feel this disconnection from each other deeply, while we soldier on, ignoring our own need for deeper intimacy and relationship.

But God’s talking trees can lead us to a life of more interconnectedness and love if we pay attention. What would it look like for us to be more deeply connected to our neighbors, so that surging our resources in response to their need seemed normal, not extraordinary? What if our vision for our own thriving in this world was intimately tied to the thriving of that person we tend to walk past because their obvious needs make us uncomfortable? What if we viewed everything we have (time, talent, treasure) as gifts from God intended for the benefit of everyone in our orbit, even people we don’t really like? What if we loved each other like the trees do

Sometimes it takes a new metaphor to bring life to one we’ve grown overly accustomed to. The trees have been gifted ways to connect and care for each other.

We have too, if only we have the eyes to see.

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