The View from the Tree

Okay, so it’s been a while. Thanks, dear readers, for following this blog; I really appreciate you and hope that you continue to be inspired, challenged and encouraged by these musings. Recently, I’ve been working on some new projects and thus, I have not been posting here. Look for some exciting news in the near future and more posts! Including podcasts…

Anyway, let’s get on with it. I’ve been thinking a lot about perspective change and how easy it is for us to get caught up in the routine of societal life and to forget that we are constantly changing creatures. I mean, every day is an opportunity to learn something new, reinvent yourself, leave behind something old/from the past. We are meant to be adaptive and evolving people.

But it’s difficult sometimes, isn’t it?

Mostly because society doesn’t really encourage us to reinvent ourselves periodically. In fact, we are conditioned to believe that “staying the course” is what we ought to do and that any type of transformative change in our identity and perspective is nearly impossible once we pass into adulthood. So we stay embedded in the deep forest of society and routine and unfortunately we start to fear losing things rather than believing that change isn’t about loss but about gaining a larger perspective and emerging each day as a new human being.

So what if we climb a tree?

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This is a sycamore tree. It’s just waiting for you to climb it. Now I don’t necessarily mean you should physically climb a tree [though if you’re able it is pretty great]. Of course, I’m speaking in metaphorical terms. Climb a tree. Get above the treeline. See farther. See things differently.

Now some of you may have heard of a story about a man who was “short in stature” called Zacchaeus. I was raised in a Christian home and thus I grew up hearing this cheesy song: Zaccheus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he…he climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see…

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Yeah, I know. Cheesiness aside, it’s a pretty good story. Here it is, from the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. Luke 19:1-10

To sum up, a “hated” Jewish tax collector [the name Zacchaeus means pure by the way] climbs up a tree above the crowds in order to spot Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus spots Zacchaeus and invites himself over for dinner. The crowds mumble and complain that Jesus plans to hang out with a sinner like Zacchaeus. Jesus begs to differ and holds up the hated tax collector as a clear role model for others.

So what gives?

Details, details. First, Zacchaeus was hated by his own community because he worked for the Roman empire. He collected taxes. So he was considered a traitor, and therefore a sinner. He was marginalized. But…Zacchaeus just happened to be giving HALF of what he earned to the poor. So…basically he was using the Roman empire’s money to balance out the corrupt system. Also, if Zacchaeus discovered that he had wrongfully charged someone or made a bad business deal, he would pay them back four times what he owed.

Okay, so I’m going take a wild guess that none of the grumbling people who called Zacchaeus a sinner were giving away half of their money to the poor or four times the reparation monies. Also, may I add that the common, “traditional” teaching of this story is that Zacchaeus was indeed a sinner and a bad guy and then Jesus came along and saved him. Conversion.

FALSE.

Why do we always want there to be a “bad, sinful” person who then converts or is saved by some religion? Zacchaeus, according to the actual Greek text in Luke, was already giving to the poor. So this story isn’t about religious conversion.

This is about new perspective. See, Zacchaeus was hated and marginalized. He went up in the tree to SEE Jesus. In doing so, he was invited to see himself differently. What if we he wasn’t the traitor and sinner that people made him out to be? What if he was, as per his name, a pure of heart person, and “blessed” like Jesus once said in the sermon on the plain? Blessed [which means fortunate] because of his humility, generosity, and compassion? Suddenly, the “wee little man” isn’t so small after all, huh? Jesus gives Zacchaeus a new narrative about himself. Climbing the tree in order to see.

Julia Butterfly Hill atop Luna

Years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet Julia Butterfly Hill [she now goes by just Julia Hill]. Some of you may be familiar with her story.

For 738 days she lived in the canopy of an ancient redwood tree [1000+ years old], called Luna, to help make the world aware of the plight of ancient forests. Her courageous act of civil disobedience gained international attention for the redwoods as well as other environmental and social justice issues, which is chronicled in her book The Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman, and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods.

Luna-2011-C

Thanks to Julia and other environmentalists, Luna still stands and is protected. I encourage you to read more about Julia’s story and how living atop Luna for 2 years changed her life and her perspective. I also applaud Julia for being open and honest about her struggles once she came down from Luna. Sought after by so many for speaking engagements and appearances, overwhelmed with requests to help this cause or the next movement–Julia got burned out. Julia needed to not be Julia Butterfly Hill. She was still changing, adapting, evolving. While Julia’s and Luna’s story is powerful, the story doesn’t end there. Julia’s story continues in a new way, just as she changes.

I hope you can climb a tree, friends. I wish for you the change in perspective, the freshness of transition, the freedom to be a new you–whatever that means for you today. We don’t have to be stuck. We can climb, we can see.

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Josh grew up in Indiana and Iowa before completing a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. He has worked in a variety of settings, including the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC) in Philadelphia, Hawai’i, Mexico, and Michigan. Currently, he serves as pastor of Love in Action United Church of Christ, a progressive, Christian, LGBTQIA+ affirming and interfaith community in Hatboro, a suburb of Philadelphia. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre/Speech from Northwestern College (IA). Josh has worked with youth and young adult programs for 25 years regionally, nationally, and in Latin America. He is also a trained actor and performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, LLC. He has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in worship, youth groups, education, and group-building. Josh is also committed to promoting religious pluralism and partnering with people of all faiths and those who identify as atheist or agnostic to build bridges of shared values and cooperation. He is honored to work with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia as a Fellow and a Consultant. Focus areas include: University alternative spring break and summer programs that incorporate faith encounters and service-learning for students; workplace diversity programs that promote understanding in organizations, corporations, schools, and hospital settings. Josh also enjoys playing basketball, strumming on the guitar, traveling, learning language, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philadelphia and thinks vegan cheesesteaks are amazingly good.

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