Together, We are a Forest

Creation Time 2, Lectionary Reading for September 19, 2021; Psalm 1

My favourite place in the world is the Giant Cedars Boardwalk in Revelstoke National Park. I’m a bit of a tree nut (ha ha), so walking that short path through the ancient trees is a highlight every time we drive through the mountain parks. Right off the highway, it’s a place of wonder: 500-year-old trees towering overhead, the keystone in a precious ecosystem. Walking in this place feels sacred.

European colonialists saw the forests of the Americas, Africa, and Australia as a commodity. Capitalism asks, “how much money can I make by turning these trees into toilet paper?” But I think even the most hardened capitalist might soften after a quiet half-hour spent under the giant cedars. It’s impossible not to see the connections between living things if you spend time in a forest. At first, you might only notice that a certain kind of fern prefers to live at the base of the younger trees, and that another kind of moss thrives on fallen trees. But the more you look, the more you see. Scientists in the past decade or so have made stunning discoveries about trees and how they communicate, support and protect each other, and interact with other organisms in the forest. Indigenous people in many parts of the world have long understood the importance and sanctity of trees, and western science is just now catching up.

The writer of Psalm 1 compares the righteous to a tree planted by streams of water, and the comparison is fitting. When a tree has a generous water source, it thrives and grows strong and fruitful. What’s more, that strong and fruitful tree can share nutrients with other trees further from the stream, via a network of fungal strands in the soil. As children of God, we live and grow near streams of living water. The psalmist encourages us to meditate on the Lord’s law day and night so we may prosper.

If we loved our neighbours like trees love theirs, if we lived as a forest and not just as individual trees looking out for number 1, how would our communities change? Maria Gianferrari’s book Be a Tree shows that we have much to learn from our woody neighbours. We can protect each other, take care of one another, and support the natural world in which we live. This beautiful book teaches readers about the many fascinating things science has discovered about trees and draws parallels to our human lives. It’s a great opportunity to talk about how everything in God’s world is connected to everything else. When we love our neighbour, we nurture those connections and strengthen us all.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • What are some things you know about trees?
  • What are trees good for?
  • What do trees need to be healthy?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • How are people like trees?
  • How are families like forests? How are churches like forests?
  • What do you think it means for people to be planted near streams of water?

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How Do We Teach Children Safety, Without Making Them Afraid?

Year B, 3rd Sunday of Easter, 1 John 3:1-7; Lectionary reading for April 18, 2021

I really wanted to focus on the joy of the first verse in this reading:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!

1 John 3:1

Unfortunately, there is more to the message of this passage that needs to be addressed. Our world is full of wonder and goodness, but there is evil here too. There are people who refuse the designation “child of God” and choose instead to hurt others and destroy creation. Our children need to know that not everyone is trustworthy. It is imperative that we teach them to stay safe.

In our age of 24-hour news channels and instant disaster updates sent straight to our phones, stories of evil can be difficult to escape. As adults, we can filter this information with what we know of the goodness of the wider world. Children cannot. The world can seem to be a very frightening place when the adults around them discuss murder and mayhem within earshot.

Michael Leannah’s book Most People is a simple and comforting antidote to that kind of fear. It gently explains that while there are some bad people, most people in the world are kind, helpful, and safe to be around.

Most people want to make other people—even strangers—feel good. Most people are very good people.

Michael Leannah

Jennifer Morris’s illustrations back up this message by depicting an impressive array of diverse people doing good things in a variety of circumstances. She draws people of all sizes, colours, abilities, and lifestyles, which gives readers an opportunity to talk about the expectations we have about certain groups of people.

This book does not deny the existence of evil, and I don’t suggest you do with your children, either! Until God’s will is fully done on Earth as it is in heaven, we need to teach our children ways to keep safe without making them fearful. We are all children of God, and most people live up to that calling. Let’s give the children in our care a message of hope along with our necessary messages of caution.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • What should you do if you get separated from your parent/family/caregiver?
  • Look through the illustrations and ask the children what they think about a few different people, and ask them why they think that.
  • Do you think people are mostly good or mostly bad?

Discussion after you read:

  • Go back through the illustrations and talk about people the children had earlier said looked mean, scary, or bad.
  • Can you tell if a person is bad by looking at them?
  • What is the difference between being cautious and being afraid?
  • Remind children that if someone makes them feel unsafe, they should always find an adult they trust.

Please be mindful of your audience when reading this book. If you work with children who have experienced trauma, this book could help them understand that not everyone is as scary as they might think, but they might also feel like their experience is being minimized. If you know little about the children in your care, please make sure your questioning is gentle and that you in no way try to minimize or dismiss any child’s experience of trauma.

This book is really one of a kind, and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s tough to talk to our kids about staying safe without also making them more afraid, particularly of people who look different from their family. Most People can start important conversations in your home, church, or wider ministry.

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Leannah, Micheal. Most People. Tilbury House, 2017.