The Tree of Life: thoughts on discipleship and roots

 

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The Bible is a book of both concrete truth and creative metaphors. God is gentle and God is a rock. Jesus was born of the virgin Mary and Jesus is living water. Humans are selfish creatures and humans are branches. Yahweh is faithful and Yahweh is a shepherd. God is divine and God is a king. And metaphor within metaphor – God’s kingdom has arrived and it is a mustard seed.

As words, metaphors give shape to non-concrete realities. As images, metaphors invite us to see, discover, understand, and experience the embodied truth.

One of the most commonly mentioned things in the Bible is also one of its most powerful theological metaphors – trees. (Check out this article for more thoughts on trees in scripture.)

God’s expansive story begins with all kinds of beautiful trees, and also two very specific trees (Gen. 2:11). It ends with two healing trees of life flanking a river of living water (Rev. 22:1-2). Within the story, both God’s people and God himself are described as trees (Ps. 52:8, Hos. 14:8). Wisdom is a tree of life (Prov. 3:18). Isaiah tells trees to sing and clap their hands. Those who love, fear, and hope in Yahweh are trees planted by a riverbank (Ps. 1, Jer. 17). Those who love, trust, and follow Jesus are deeply rooted in him (Col. 2).

Deep roots, strong trunks, healthy branches, flourishing fruit, and sometimes beautiful flowers are concrete earthly realities that reflect profound spiritual truth.

Discipleship can be visualized in countless helpful ways: four chairs, a wheel, a directional triangle, a roadmap, and more.

In my new discipleship job with Young Life, I recently worked with some people to create a visual metaphor of discipleship intended to foster deep dialogue and encourage focused intentionality.

YL Rooted in Christ

(Downloadable PDF: Rooted in Christ 2.0)

The image can guide every follower of Jesus as we:

  • carefully contemplate what it means to follow Jesus in both general and specific ways
  • honestly reflect on our own personal lives of discipleship
  • prayerfully consider our discipleship hopes and desires for those in our ministries, our families, our small groups, and any other community of believers.

Here are some reflection questions and dialogue prompts to get you started:

  • How do the three main tree elements relate and work together?
    • roots – which are “time in scripture, time in prayer,” etc.
    • trunk – which is a strong core of love, trust, etc.;
    • branches – which are expressions or displays of specific behaviors and attitudes repeatedly highlighted throughout scripture
  • In your current season of life, how do engage in, experience, or express each of the different elements in the tree?
  • What specific areas (within trunk, core, branches) of your personal discipleship are most in need of attention, guidance, or challenge?
  • How can you lean into those things intentionally and purposefully?
  • What specific areas of your personal discipleship (within trunk, core, branches) do you naturally embrace and dig into? Why? What does that look like?
  • For those involved in Young Life or youth ministry, think about your specific ministry focus (WyldLife, Young Life, YoungLives, Young Life Capernaum, Young Life College) and your specific ministry context (community size, location, primary culture, specific sub-cultures, socio-economics, etc.). Based on those realities, what are your hopes and desires for your students’ growing life of discipleship? For example, what do you hope “time in scripture” will begin to look like for those in your small group of teen moms? Or how do you hope your 7th grade WyldLife Campaigner guys will begin to display “faithful witness”? And so on.
  • How will you intentionally disciple your students with these things in mind?

(A version of this article originally appeared here.)

Aslan Did Not Say That (Lewis misquoted again)

[UPDATE below]

Literary Lewisians – that is, those who view his written texts and his recorded readings as the only things that qualify as Lewis quotes (as opposed to cinematic adapted one-liners and outlandish self-empowering slogans) – likely expend too much energy seething about the ever-growing corpus of non-Lewis quotes cluttering (even polluting) the digital universe.

I do, anyway.

And perhaps I should stop caring. Or stop blathering about it. Or stop calling it out.

But I think it matters immensely, far beyond anything that has to do with being a devoted Lewisian, medievalist, literarian, or would-be-Narnian. (For these reasons and these. Also these and these. And so many more.)

This is not merely about misquotes. It’s about being thoughtful, careful, precise, clear. Truthful, even.

But I am once again disheartened and confounded by the most recent misquote because it is in printin a bookabout Lewisthat perhaps many people will read, and so there’s very little chance of retracting this particular absolutely-not-a-quote (just like there is very little chance of properly recovering the correct order of the Chronicles of Narnia, yet another reason literary Lewisians gnash their teeth).

The newly released book Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis (by Patti Callahan; Thomas Nelson, 2018) ushers readers into Part I with this page:

Anyone who has read Lewis will recognize this “quote” of Aslan’s as not possibly having been written by Lewis, ever. It drips with modern self-actualization that appears nowhere in Lewis’s writings (who was thoroughly unmodern and utterly I-am-lost-without-my-Lord).

I suppose the cinematic-adapted CGI-leo might have uttered these words. But if so, the above quote should indicate such by 1) deleting C. S. Lewis as the intimated author and 2) clearly noting the cinematic-adapted-and-ravaged version as the actual source.

That seems only fair. And accurate. And clear. And precise. And factual.

I assume this “quote” comes from the cinematic-adapted scene wherein the Dawn Treader (“such a very Narnian ship”) enters the Darkness – a very real and very terrifying place of evil. A place wherein Aslan would never advise someone to defeat the darkness in oneself (which isn’t to say he denied inner darkness, or didn’t think it should be defeated). Those who know Aslan (and his earthly incarnated human-divine reality but please remember the Chronicles ARE NOT ALLEGORIES) know that when any of his children find themselves in the midst of evil danger – quivering hands, overwhelming despair, paralyzing fear – if that child has only enough strength to whisper, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now,” – well, even if that child would forget to say please or pretty please or by your mane – Aslan would never respond with: “Well, hmmm, okay. But first you must defeat the darkness in yourself.”

Never. Absolutely and unequivocally never.

Instead, after pleading hopeful words in the midst of palpable despair, something would begin to change inside the child, and inside all the other children on whose behalf she also whispered.

First, a tiny speck of light would appear up ahead.

And then a broad beam of light would fall upon the ship, even while it was still surrounded by darkness.

And then along the beam, the children (some young, some grown) would see what looked like a cross, then like an aeroplane, and then like a kite before finally arriving in a whirling rush of wings. It would be an albatross. It would circle around the mast three times before perching for just an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. And then it would spread its wings, rise, and begin to fly slowly ahead, bearing a little starboard, leading the whole shipload of children folk out into the warm and welcoming sunshine.

And the one who’d whispered for help back in the evil dark – rather than being chided for not first defeating her own inner darkness (blather) – would have heard these words from Aslan-as-albatross while still in the darkness:

 Courage, dear heart.

And as she heard the voice, she would also have felt a delicious smell breathe in her face – the breath of love, the breath of joy, the breath of presence, the breath of spirit, the breath of undeserved rescue.

And when finally out of the darkness, without knowing exactly when or how it happened, everyone would realize there was nothing to be afraid of and never had been.

That is what Aslan would have done and said – because that is what he did and said in Chapter 12 of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

So, yes – misquotes matter.

Because though both Aslan and our Lord are in the business of forming humility and love and grace in their children while also helping them die-to-self each and every day, neither Aslan nor our Lord are in the business of self-help nonsense-babble that only leads to disappointment, despair, and emptiness. (And maybe also poisonous self-inflation.)

Words matter. Because behind the words are ideas, meaning, stories, and truth. At least that’s the hope.

[UPDATE: 9 Oct 2018]

Turns out this is not just a misquote: it is a misattribution of a misquote. Aslan-of-the-screen did not say these words. Rather, Coriakin-of-the-screen did, per the Confirming C. S. Lewis Quotes page (CCSLQ) of the meticulously researched Essential C. S. Lewis site. I highly recommend it.

I don’t know if this makes things any better. Or worse. To misattribute a misquote is two too many missteps. To misattribute to a false Aslan something said by a false Coriakin is beyond reckoning. It’s Dufflepud-ish, if you will. It’s as difficult to imagine Coriakin saying these things as it is to imagine Aslan saying them.

Coriakin is, by his own estimation, the least of Aslan’s magicians. He oversees the Duffers, who would drive anyone mad. But he never once lays on them platitudes about overcoming inner darkness, pride, or stupidity. Nor does he presume to deliver supposed Aslan-esque platitudes to them regarding their petty and outlandish stubbornness, not even to the Chief Duffer, who would drive anyone sky-high-batty after just five minutes. Coriakin’s ethos and discourse runs more like this:

Lucy followed the great Lion out into the passage and at once she saw coming towards them an old man, barefoot, dressed in a red robe. His white hair was crowned with a chaplet of oak leaves, his beard fell to his girdle, and he supported himself with a curiously carved staff. When he saw Aslan he bowed low and said,

“Welcome, Sir, to the least of your houses.”

“Do  you grow weary, Coriakin, of ruling such foolish subjects as I have given you here?”

“No,” said the Magician, “they are very stupid but there is no real harm in them. I begin to grow rather fond of the creatures. Sometimes, perhaps I am a little impatient, waiting for the day when they can be governed by wisdom instead of this rough magic.”

“All in good time, Coriakin,” said Aslan.

“Yes, all in very good time, Sir,” was the answer. (Chapter 11, VDT)

Actual-Lewis’s actual-Coriakin is surely not someone who would blather about defeating inner darkness in order to defeat outer darkness. He knew better. Much better. The Chief Duffer, on the other hand…