Special thanks to Tanya Ortman for sharing the following reflection and blessing last Sunday at Rainbow:
I grew up east of the small town of Freeman, SD. The Freeman area is home to several Mennonite churches, two of which are located east of town about two miles from each other along what we call “the church road.” They are informally known as the South and North churches because of how they are directionally located from each other. Right in between these two churches runs and east-west road which quite a lot of folks drive on their way to church, turning either north or south to get to church.
For many years, longer than I’ve been around, a pine tree has towered near the intersection of the church road and this east-west road. This tree was originally planted near a one-room school house. My dad didn’t attend that school but remembers playing under the shade of this tree during a rally day back during his primary school days. This tree has been around a while. The school house has been gone for years and for many of us the tree now marks the church road intersection. It’s shape is unique and easy to pick out over the flat plains, against the horizon. It’s a marker, a long-lived beacon of sorts. Something that those of us who drive by all the time know like the back of our hands. It’s roots must surely run deep.
During the summer of 1996 I was hanging out in South Dakota, waiting to leave for my term of service with Mennonite Central Committee in the Philippines. While at home I was asked to help lead the children’s activities for a church conference being held locally. I used a creation care theme and one of the activities was planting a tree. I wanted to plant it in a place that was visible, one that those kids might have a chance of remembering or noticing later. I decided to ask the landowner who owns land at that same intersection where the tree towers if I might plant another tree. The landowner said yes so our little group planted a tree. Not to compete but rather as an act of hope, or maybe faith, that the rootedness will continue.
When Ruth asked if I would share this morning she in particular mentioned this story about the tree. And at first when I tried to remember that night when Rod, Keith and I shared stories of our faith journey I had a little panic. Why had I shared that story? I think it is significant to me for a couple reasons.
One is that that tree, the church road tree, has some level of community significance and of all things it marks the corner where I turned to go to church every Sunday while I was growing up. I didn’t need the marker, but it was there and has been forever imprinted in my brain. In kind of a foundational sort of way. Just as church and my faith community there have been so important and truly laid the foundation for the person I have become. There were so many people and events that influenced my faith through my growing up years—too many to name—but this tree kind of symbolizes them all in it’s perfect, yet certainly not perfect, creation.
Secondly, my desire to plant another tree, which wasn’t very premeditated or well thought out at the time, I think speaks to my struggle throughout the years to figure out how to actively live out my faith. I’m always looking for things to do. I’m a doer. I want to fix things. I want something to grasp on to. And while I love the concept of grace I am also convinced that the little things in life matter. Maybe planting a tree matters. Maybe no one else will notice but a bird might find shelter. Or a kid might build a fort underneath. Or maybe it will soak up some impurities from the air. Or maybe it will grow into another tall tree, marking the way for someone down the road. History might repeat itself.
And maybe this one little act will inspire more from within me. I hope so. I know I look around this community of believers and find inspiration each and every Sunday. We aren’t all at our best all the time, but that’s part of what being in a church community is about. Helping each other out, building one another up, challenging each other to be the best we can be. All the while understanding that we come from different places and can’t agree all the time. We are all searching to find out what it means to be part of God’s Kindom.*
Hannah and Andrew, I truly am happy you’ve made the decision to be baptized. It’s an honor to be here to support you in that decision today. May you remember this day fondly as you go forward, knowing that your commitment to following Jesus is truly a journey with ups and downs but that your Rainbow community will lovingly walk with you through it all.