Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fake Trees, Darwinian Leaps and Changing Priorities

For most of my life I’ve been given to statements that reflect a fairly absolute view of the world. Mind you, there are absolutes in life and we do well to state them. I just had the knack of seeing black and white in even the most marginal areas.  I’m spending a lot of time on the downslope of life repenting and recanting most of them. I used to say, “I will never use an artificial Christmas tree.” I said it with the same conviction as a person defending personal honor, the lives of thousands and freedom as we know it.

Well so much for that.

We've put up an artificial tree this year. It helps that there’s been a Darwinian Leap in the fake tree biosphere since I was a kid. My dad brought home an artificial tree in the early 60’s (as a supplement to our very real tree.) It “looked like” a Christmas tree in the same way a frozen TV dinner “looks like” a meal. You know what it’s going for but nobody’s close to being fooled. Not so with current faux-trees. The approximation is a lot closer

There’s another reason. Dawn and I are facing a new season of life. Our three children are all in college/post college emerging adult phase and that means our motivation and energy for some things are changing. And when it comes to all things associated with the an eight foot Douglas Fir in our living room, we just can’t be bothered.

I think I may get part of that impulse from my mom. She raised seven children and when it came to her brood of young grandchildren the vibe was clear. She loved them but she had zero interest in anything resembling a second round of parenting. Been there, done that and now time for something else. Bear hugs, bragging on, and big presents were happily there. Changing diapers, extended babysitting and parental advice were never part of the equation. We didn’t take offense and my kids never did either. In fact they still think Nanna is pretty cool.

When it comes to our walk with God, it’s inevitable that we find ourselves seeing things with different priorities over time. A lot of that is connected to seasons of life. The stage we’re in becomes, understandably, of primary interest to us. Our issues, felt-needs, struggles and hopes are often bound up in in the specifics of these stages.  When we pass through them many of these begin to recede.

Other times it’s simply a case of growing in wisdom (no matter how painfully slow.) The New Testament book of Hebrews is an eloquent and well reasoned argument that genuine spiritual maturity is about changing priorities. For Christians being addressed in the letter it meant moving away from an obsession with forms of the Old Covenant (which was good) with it’s elaborate attention to outward ceremonial requirements and toward embracing the realized work of Christ in the New Covenant (better).  St. Paul speaks of putting “childish things away” and all I have to do is look over sermons I subjected God’s people to early in my ministry to see how necessary that is.

It applies to the visible church as well. Some churches focus on people in particular seasons of life or a particular cultural zeitgeist or popular trend. Others only circle around what Hebrews calls “elementary truths” and never on “solid food which is for the mature.” It may sound harsh but the danger is that, left unchecked,  this trajectory leads to the spiritual version of that frozen TV dinner. I see what you’re trying to do, but it’s falling really short.

The poet Sir Thomas Wyatt wrote, "The eye is the traitor of the heart." Wisdom and growing up is the process of realizing how so much of what we've laid our eyes and hearts on betrays either a passing phase of life or muddle-headed priorities. Hanging on too long to either of those is just a bad idea.

My kids look at our fake tree and see it as a sell-out. I get that. But I see it as something different. Life is changing and I'm looking at things a bit differently. I can only hope that is a reflection of a broader and deeper change in seeing the world around me.

Merry Christmas. God bless us, everyone.


  1. I love it when a church mixes rather than segregates generations, when the young can learn from the old (and sometimes the other way around.) When I was in junior high and high school, I really needed some perspectives of wisdom and years and I am grateful to have gotten some of that at First Presbyterian Church in Tuscumbia.

  2. Great post tom. My prayer is that we will be "awake" enough to realize these changes, and oportunities to change, are a part of god's revelation of himself to us.

  3. Fine post as always. The question in makes me ask, more about myself than about you and Dawn, is this: is what I call Christian maturity, and wise prioritizing in the Christian life simply a case me just getting older and not having the energy for the same things as previously? Is my growth in grace because I just don't have the steam for plural expressions of foolishness anymore? Or actual work of the Holy Spirit? I don't know if I want the answer