“A tree with a rotten core cannot stand.”
Gerard Manley Hopkins was a poet, painter, mystic, classics scholar, and Jesuit priest. Never famous or even heard of in his lifetime, some believe Hopkins’ poem “The Windhover” (with its dedication “To Christ our Lord”) is the greatest poem in the English language.
Five months before his death in his spartan room at St. Stephen’s Green, he began praying a prayer. Over and over again, he would say these words: “Send my roots rain.”
Almost every page of Christopher Peppler’s new work is a cloudburst so pure, so true, so clear that the life-giving run-off won’t come horizontally from the surface, but vertically from refreshed roots deep underground. Peppler knows that the function of healthy, wet roots is to connect. His image of the church is a root-community of people who live connected lives – relationships intertwined with God’s story and intertwined with each other’s story.
Instead of spending so much time digging up the ‘roots’ of our problems, as modern therapeutics have taught us, Peppler presents an alternative method that gets us up from our padded pews and Freudian couches and focuses on rooting down rather than uprooting, moving forward rather than going back, resiliency rather than revisiting suppressed and oppressive memories. In what is a more African method of healing, this constructive strategy of avoidance is called in parts of Africa ‘active forgetting,’ or what in Western cultures is often known as ‘getting on with things.’ Instead of rooting out what went wrong with the church in the modern era, we are invited to return to our roots where we can live and move and have our being in the gospel truth.
In fact, Peppler’s greatest contribution may well be his demonstration that what releases us from living self-referenced lives and frees us to live God-referenced lives, is truth. And truth is a Person, not a principle. To put on the ‘mind of Christ,’ to live according to the ‘things above’ not the ‘things below,’ is a life lived for the sake of others, not ourselves. The whole language of Christ ‘in you’ is the Bible’s way of talking about our four-fold relationships: our relationships with God, with ourselves, our neighbours, and creation.
“When little is left of the flower
you revisit your roots.”
British poet/novelist D. J. Enright
Christianity is not an ideology. Christianity is not a philosophy. Christianity is a relationship: a story where truth is defined as a Person, not a proposition. Biblical community is not dependent on a ‘leader’ or ‘point person’, other than Jesus, but on the connection. Similarly, conversion is more than a change in direction; it’s a change in connection. The ancient Hebrew word shubh means not viewing God from a distance, but entering into a relationship where God is command central of the human connection.
My mother used to teach us as children, “If you ever get lost in a store, don’t wander about. Stay in one place, eat something, and wait until I find you.” In a world that is constantly in flux, our roots are found entwining the Jesus Rock – a rock more solid than any Jurassic rock, yet streaming forth with more living water than any artesian spring. The Bible does not offer a map, or a plan, or a blueprint for living. The ‘good news’ was not a new set of laws, or a new set of ethical injunctions, or a new and better plan. The ‘good news’ was the story of something that had already happened: “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.”
If Jesus could rise from the dead, we can at least rise from our bed, get off our couches and pews, and get to work joining Jesus in what he’s up to in the world. As Peppler demonstrates, to ‘strive for the things of the Spirit’ is not to remove ourselves from the earth, but to plant our feet more firmly on the earth while our spirits soar in the heavens of God’s pleasures and purposes.
Leonard Sweet, Drew Theological School, George Fox University. www.wikiletics.com