A Metaphor of American Culture

During the last few days, Oklahoma has seen a tremendous ice storm (there are plenty of blogs and news articles about it) and while this post won’t primarily focus on that, there was some deep theological reflections I made during the storm. Most notably is that of the Bradford Pear tree.

For those of you not in the know, the Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryiana) is a cultivated variety of the Callery Pear. It is mostly grown for its quick growth cycle and beautiful foliage. In Autumn the leaves turn a bright to deep red. Because of the ornamental beauty and quick growth, the Bradford Pear is a very popular tree especially in suburban areas.

But it has a major flaw. It does not stand up to the harsh weather in Oklahoma. During the spring time, when wind gusts can get up to 60mph (and sometimes much stronger), the tree often just snaps. This ice storm destroyed many a Bradford Pear in my neighborhood. In fact, our neighbor to the West lost the whole tree (and his tenant lost a windshield and driver side window as well as adding some nice big dents to his car). As we drove around town looking for some place warm to thaw out all of the Bradford Pears I saw were down for the count. And I don’t mean just missing a limb hear or there. As can be seen by the picture, most trees looked like they had just exploded. And that’s when it dawned on me. The Bradford Pear is a great metaphor for current American society.

Today, we like things fast. We like things pretty. We like things with as little hassle as possible. We like things now. We don’t want to wait a couple of minutes at a traffic light. We get down-right livid if we have to stand in line at a store (especially during the season of perpetual love and light). We don’t want to wait for the old way of doing things. We shouldn’t have to. We have been told that we ‘deserve’ to have the very best. That it is our right to demand the very best. And to get everything our greedy little minds can think of right this bloody second!

We want to look the very best (especially if it means that someone else is made to look less). We are so concerned with our appearance that we even bleach our teeth and skin. We have ‘cosmetic surgery’ so that we can look like ‘America’s Next Top Model’. We have ‘entertainment’ that is all about the ‘pretty people’ and makes fun of all the ‘Ugly Betty’s’ out there.

This is exemplified in the Bradford Pear. You can almost hear it talking to the other trees. ‘Look at how short you are! Hey ‘shorty’ are you ever going to grow up? I was planted a year after you were and I’m already twice your size. And look at how pretty I am. This Fall I am going to kick your butt in the local Autumn foliage pageant. And they call you the ‘Might Oak’. More like the wimpy croak!’

But, the ‘Mighty Oak’ gets its name because it can stand the test of time. It takes a long, long time for it to grow. And during that growing cycle, it develops the tools it needs to withstand some of the worst that Mother Nature can throw at it. Not so with the Bradford Pear. When things get a little turbulent, it buckles. There is no depth. No substance. Oh, sure, it’s pretty. But that beauty is only on the surface.

As our Mother’s taught us, however, beauty is so much more than just what we see on the outside. True beauty comes from deep within. From the very core of our beings -- when we are tested and go through it with God’s help -- True beauty, the beauty of Christ, comes through. The grace and mercy of God beams through us like a tree ablaze during the Autumn season. And that takes time. Time and patience. And, like it or not, a lot of pain.

When we look into the eyes of an elderly person there is a depth there. There is a wisdom. And, yes, there is a beauty. What makes them beautiful only comes from years of developing the tools needed to stand during the tumultuous times. We call that ‘character’. It is something that the Bradford Pear promises but never delivers. When the winds of struggle comes sweeping down the plains, we need to stand under the strength and security of the Mighty Oak knowing that we will be safe.

What is the outcome of all of the downed trees in my neighborhood? I heard that the city will dig huge pits in the earth, collect all of the debris, fill the pits, and burn it all away. That, too, is another metaphor for our culture. I seem to recall the New Testament making similar claims in a variety of places. If we continue to go the route of the Bradford Pear, let’s not be surprised if we find ourselves in a pit ‘where the fire never goes out.’

We still have time. We can learn from this metaphor that God has graciously placed in our midst. But it is up to us. Are we going to continue to go for the gusto now and not care who is dehumanized in the process or are we going to slow down and build some depth and character, loving our neighbors as ourselves? Are we going to continue to buy into the lies of us ‘deserving’ to have the ‘very best’ when the ‘very best’ leads to our down-fall and the down-fall of all things around us?
There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. (Proverbs 14.12)

Peace be with you.



J.W.M. said…
nicely done, Jack - but now you have to write a post that explains the Way out...
Odysseus said…
I think I would point those so inclined to my series on reconciliation.
Odale said…
Great analogy and blog all together! Am interested to follow your New Testament series, as well.
Have you read about Yellowstone being "America's Time Bomb"? (I seem to be one of those people who are "the last to hear" about events--it's b/c I can't get fast access internet 'out here' yet ;-) Between super volcanoes, declining dollars and "American Idol", it always thrills me to find other believers who study! Whatever's coming, here's to prayer for all to 'seek His face'.
God's Blessings and Merry Christmas!

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