Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Joshua Tree Epiphany

Robin Williams, in The Non-Designer's Design Book, tells about a tree identification book she once received for Christmas from her parents. The first tree in the book was the Joshua tree because it only required two clues to identify. The budding dendrologist immediately said to herself: "Oh, we don't have that kind of tree in Northern California. That is a weird-looking tree. I would know if I saw that tree, and I've never seen one before."

Imagine her surprise, her epiphany, when she went outdoors with book-in-hand and discovered that 80% of the home in her neighborhood had Joshua trees in the front yard. Robin concludes: "Once I was conscious of the tree - once I could name it - I saw it everywhere." This leads her to the point: "If you can name something, you're conscious of it. You have power over it. You own it. You're in control."

Our concepts about God are often like Robin's Joshua tree experience. They are part of our mental landscape, but we don't recognize them because we don't have a label for them.

Nothing makes a sound in the night like the wind does.
But you ain't afraid if you're washed in the blood like I was.
Don Williams, Good Old Boys Like Me

Question 1: How much of our theology is "blood" based and assumes a God who requires sacrifice to appease our affronts to His holiness, even the sacrifice of His Son.

What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus

Are you washed in the blood, the soul cleansing blood of the lamb?

Jesus died on the cross for my sins.

And without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

How many Christian songs are you familiar with that are "blood" themed? How many prayers around the communion table mention Jesus' blood that was shed for the sins of the world. How many of us understand Jesus' importance primarily in terms of his death on the cross.

There is a name for this concept: Atonement. And if we've named it, we're conscious of it. Now Question 2: What do we really believe about it? Might other "trees" prove more helpful for our spiritual landscape?

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