Thursday, April 30, 2009

about the title

Updated: October 21, 2013

"The Patience of Trees"

So, the blog's title has changed. More than six years since I began blogging, and four years after "Chasing Yoder" took shape, the blog's name is now "The Patience of Trees." It may be a silly thing to mess with a good thing 32,000 visits into the adventure. I apologize in advance for all the links I've messed up (though maybe I flatter myself). All of the articles are still there, but there address names will have changed. Anyway, I suspect I will have more to say about the new title in days ahead, but a few initial words may be helpful:

First, the blog, as it evolved, did not engage Yoder thoroughly enough to warrant the old name. The blog was, is, and will be a blog about Christian living. I will forever be indebted to Yoder for the imagination for Christian living his works opened for me, but the title did a disservice to more serious students of Yoder and, increasingly, felt more like an historical marker than a present description of the work on the blog.

Additionally, I probably owe readers a future post about Yoder's much publicized abuses of power with women.  JHY's actions toward women are a great sadness to me. I don't buy the NY Times' characterization of theologians as religious professionals who "counsel others to behave" (an underdeveloped understanding of the work of theology), but clearly JHY's actions are a deep disappointment to those of us who have found life in his works. I remember Sam Wells talking to a small group of us about his own disappointment when these events first came to light, and also of the reminder that came with it that faith is not about equipping us with a purity that does not need forgiveness and the cross. I remember a similar but separate conversation in which Wells argued that divorce in the case of an unfaithful partner should not be a given for Christians, because we have been given resources for a greater imagination. I find myself returning to the twin convictions that 1) what Yoder did was terribly wrong, and 2) this is exactly what the Gospel is for. 

One of the great gifts Yoder gave me was the theological resources to more fully appreciate the book of Revelation. I grew up thinking that Revelation was for Baptists. I was jealous some, but didn't get it. The new title names that to which Yoder pointed me, for which I am grateful. Images of trees and leaves, particularly, long ago emerged for me as grounding images from that book.

I am probably jealous of trees. They do not scurry or fret or appear to be anxious about their levels of activity. Trees are planted to a place and, with rare exceptions, hold no hopes of future travels or explorations. Trees don't long for exotic countries in order to satisfy some sense that doing so will fulfill them or their perspectives on the world. Trees don't write bucket lists.

Most days, trees mock my struggle with temptations to justify my existence. They stand planted over hours and days and weeks and years. The psalmist invites us to be likewise planted. And I think Wendell Berry is helpful for understanding what this might mean, but I do not yet understand. My admiration for trees is great.

It is probably going too far to say that trees do not have ambition. Who knows? But trees intuit the connection between the depth of one's roots and the reach and fruitfulness of one's branches.

But besides the natural patience of trees, Christians marvel at that one, holy tree in particular, at which we meet and learn the patience of God. "We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you. Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world." So redeemed, Christians believe we have been given all that we need to be patient with ourselves, one another, and the world. This blog is my learning the patience of the slaughtered Lamb.

The original 'About the Title' post (Chasing Yoder), 4/30/09:

Conversations about Christian living increasingly frustrate me. An example: It is more and more possible today to have extensive conversations about "life in Christ" that lead to this or that ecumenical agreement--and who doesn't want ecumenical agreement?--without anyone ever risking the question without which any agreement is just a polite refusal to honest engagement, namely, "What is life in Christ?" Really--I mean, what does it look like? Where does it happen? Who does it involve? These are hard questions. And so, anticipating the difficulty of these questions and what it might take to live them out, we can instead agree that, whatever 'life in Christ' is, it's very important.

It's a cowardly concession, but, I admit, it's a concession that years of stale, denominational debates had made seemingly inevitable. And so today we live in a world where new ecumenical agreements--new communions--are formed every day, even as virtually no one suggests the sharing of physical houses of worship. It is enough, it seems, to validate our competing efforts to live life "in Christ."

Not too long ago, I made an unexpected friend at a bookstore. I had been eying a book I'd known for a long time that I was overdue to read: John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus. The new friend grew excited to learn that I hadn't read the book yet; he noted that Politics had changed his life; I bought it, read it, and continue to find in it a picture of "life in Christ" as exciting as the one I'd always prayed God meant; his is a serious attempt to sketch the life unintelligible apart from the crucified and risen Jesus.

The book isn't perfect, but the picture is a challenge to the drivel that accumulates in the dank corners of all of our lame concessions. My wife and I struggle daily to take such a picture more seriously; we see others doing the same; the Body of Christ, striving to be so! So while I hope this place collects lots of thoughts here--and about a variety of things--the pursuit of this picture, the growing into the stature of Christ--is the wrestling match to which I hope to most return, and in which the touch of God is joy.


  1. This book sounds really interesting. Something else to add to my Christmas wish-list, perhaps! I'm glad to have found this blog; I look forward to investigating it.

  2. Hey Katie! Let me know what you think of the book. I'm obviously partial to it. Glad, too, to hear your on the blog as you investigate.

  3. I am reading your September Day-by-Day column and they are lovely. I was interested in the title of your blog, "the patience of trees" but noticed you had changed its name. I am a lover of trees. If I could fit another one in my garden I would do so. Trees are so majestic and supreme, like God.

  4. Forward Day by Day is my introduction too, and glad for it. Thank you for your honesty about struggling to define and live a Christian life.

  5. Jonathan, I recently found this poem by Mary Oliver and thought it might have had an influence on the title of your blog: .


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