For the Love of Trees

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Image by Diane Walker@Contemplative Photography

I have had a lifelong love affair with trees. Trees have inspired and strengthened me in many ways. The huge magnolia tree from my troubled childhood was a place of safety, giving me a place to hide from danger, offering to me a place to feel protected.

Miss Martha’s sprawling fig tree on the edge of our back yard bore wonderfully unusual fruit, soft and sweet and delectable. Her plum trees were loaded with plums, sweet and sour and delicious both ways. The fond memory I have of Miss Martha’s trees is punctuated with an angry Miss Martha catching us stealing figs and plums, yelling at us with an ominous voice, and chasing us from her yard.

The African plains graced my life with the gift of watching giraffes feeding on flat-topped thorn trees and elephants pushing their weight against misshaped baobab trees. The colorful swaying of ten foot tall bougainvillea trees was a mesmerizing sight. And in Africa, poinsettia plants are trees, trees like I had never before seen.

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Beyond this crash course on botany, and dendrology, I share a heart-and-soul love of trees. It is almost a spiritual connection for me, one that keeps me fully grounded, one that represents life, growth, rootedness, protection and sheer enjoyment.

My friend, Elaine, writes a beautiful blog entitled The Edge. In today’s blog post,Β Elaine shares a quote about what we learn from trees written by Diane Walker. (https://theedgeishere.wordpress.com/2017/08/10/contemplative2017-rooted/)

It’s possible, you know β€” we learn it from the trees β€”
to be full of grace and humor, dancing in the light
while remaining fully grounded,
rooted in the gravitas of being . . .

– Diane Walker

God is pleased, I think, when we dance in the light full of grace and humor. We learn it from the trees, Diane Walker says. I believe she’s right. So today, I will be spending a few moments sitting in the shade of our Chinese Tallow tree and swinging underneath a towering Pin Oak. Perhaps in the leaves that rustle gently in the breeze, I will hear God’s Β whispers.

 

 

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Sanctuary

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Churches vow to offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants: At least 450 churches are prepared to act as Trump-era “Underground Railroad”

Sanctuary . . .Β A sanctuary, in its original meaning, is a sacred place. By the use of sanctuaries as safe havens, the term has come to be used for any place of refuge. For people of faith who are providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants, a sanctuary is indeed a holy place, sacred and inviolable.

Jeanette Vizguerra is a Mexican mother seeking to avoid deportation. As she held her 6-year-old daughter, Zuri, she spoke during a news conference in a Denver church where she and her children have taken refuge. But when Jeanette Vizguerra walked into that Colorado church, she also walked into the forefront of a possible clash between Donald Trump and many sanctuary churches across the country.

Vizguerra has lived in the U.S. since 1997 with four children, three of them born here. She was due to check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Instead, she took sanctuary inside the First Unitarian Society of Denver.

“I did not make this decision lightly,” Vizguerra said through an interpreter. “I was thinking about it for weeks. But I think that I made the right decision in coming here instead of going to the immigration office.”

The pastor of the church, Rev. Mike Morran, said, “It is our position as a people of faith that this is sacred and faithful work. We know Jeanette. We know her to be an honorable human being.”

But critics say the church is violating the law. While it has been for years federal policy not to do immigration enforcement in churches and other “sensitive locations,” such as schools, unless absolutely necessary, today that may be a lapsed policy.

“President Obama’s administration thought it was prudent to avoid rounding people up in places like hospitals or churches,” says Richard Garnett, director of the program on Church, State and Society at the University of Notre Dame Law School.

But Garnett says if the new administration changes that policy, it could set up a conflict between President Trump’s push for tougher enforcement of immigration laws and his administration’s support for religious freedom.

“Sanctuary works,” says Seth Kaper-Dale, pastor of the Reformed Church of Highland Park in New Jersey. “I can tell you from our own experience that all nine people who lived here have kept their families together, have been able to raise their children, have been able to go back to their jobs. Is sanctuary brutally hard? Yes. But it is a tool that we will use if we’re forced by a brutal regime to use it.”

Sanctuary churches across this country are living out their convictions because of their faith in a welcoming God. The government will, no doubt, enforce immigration law. The Church will live into the law of God . . .

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

– Leviticus 19:33-34 New International Version (NIV)

The invitation from God’s people proclaims, “In the name of God, come! You are welcome in this holy place of refuge.”

 
(Information about Jeanette Vizguerra is from David Zalubowski/AP.)

Fourteen Cows

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In a beautiful gesture of sympathy following the 9/11 attacks, the Kenyan Masai tribespeople gave American diplomats 14 cows.

For the Masai people, the cow is valued above all possessions and the gift of a cow is the highest expression of regard and sympathy

The cattle – regarded as sacred by the Masai – were handed over to William Brancick, deputy head of the United States embassy in Kenya, in a remote village near the border with Tanzania.

The gift was arranged by Kimeli Naiyomah, a Kenyan-born man who was studying in New York at the time of the disaster.

“This is the ultimate gift a Masai can give,” Mr Naiyomah told Reuters news agency.

“I knew my people, I knew they are merciful – they can be fierce and deadly when provoked – but they are also the type of people who can easily cry for the pain of other people.”

The ceremony was marked by tribespeople in traditional red robes and jewelry, some of whom carried banners saying “To the people of America, we give these cows to help you”

The US national anthem played as the herdsmen handed over the cattle.

What a gesture of generosity and compassion, given by a people who have so little . . . no running water, electricity, or means of communication with the world outside of their villages. Would that we who have so much might be as generous to those in need.

This story was reported by BBC News: World Edition on Monday, June 3, 2002.

Remembering Uganda

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It was so many years ago, but I remember it as if it happened yesterday. The two of us, my husband Fred and I, stepped off of a plane in the Nairobi airport to begin a new life. As very young missionaries headed to Uganda, we had no idea what we would face in the days to come.

Getting to Uganda from Kenya was a long, dusty ride through the most beautiful places we had ever seen. Through bush country and savannah, through banana groves and rain forests, through tea plantations on mountainsides and the rushing waters of Bujigali Falls, we were getting acquainted with this continent. The terrain was ever-changing, and the way was marked by the majestic beauty of elephants, giraffe, cape buffalo, gazelles, flamingos and Ugandan crested cranes.

We were filled with awe and excitement. But the most moving sight of all was the people, barefoot and downtrodden, wearing rags and carrying heavy water containers. Their country had all but been destroyed by the evil dictator Idi Amin, who orchestrated the genocide of 100,000 to 500,00 Ugandans.

Churches were burned to the ground, schools pillaged and all but destroyed, roads were in shambles. Children were left orphaned in a country of widows. Their faces showed the wear of grief, their bodies the mask of mourning.

They are why we have come, sent by God to comfort a grieving people in small ways. The days ahead would find us digging water wells, distributing agricultural tools and vegetable seeds, giving out books, bibles and sewing supplies, bringing in simple medicines and vaccines.

I can never think of the Ugandan people without recalling Lamentations 5, a scripture passage that was read in a church service to describe the plight of the Ugandan people. As the reader read through her tears, the entire congregation wept, mourning so many losses. I offer the text here in its entirety:

Lamentations 5 New International Version (NIV)

Remember, Lord, what has happened to us;
look, and see our disgrace.
Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
our homes to foreigners.
We have become fatherless,
our mothers are widows.
We must buy the water we drink;
our wood can be had only at a price.
Those who pursue us are at our heels;
we are weary and find no rest.
We submitted to Egypt and Assyria
to get enough bread.
Our ancestors sinned and are no more,
and we bear their punishment.
Slaves rule over us,
and there is no one to free us from their hands.
We get our bread at the risk of our lives
because of the sword in the desert.
Our skin is hot as an oven,
feverish from hunger.
Women have been violated in Zion,
and virgins in the towns of Judah.
Princes have been hung up by their hands;
elders are shown no respect.
Young men toil at the millstones;
boys stagger under loads of wood.
The elders are gone from the city gate;
the young men have stopped their music.
Joy is gone from our hearts;
our dancing has turned to mourning.
The crown has fallen from our head.
Woe to us, for we have sinned!
Because of this our hearts are faint,
because of these things our eyes grow dim
for Mount Zion, which lies desolate,
with jackals prowling over it.
You, Lord, reign forever;
your throne endures from generation to generation.
Why do you always forget us?
Why do you forsake us so long?
Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return;
renew our days as of old
unless you have utterly rejected us
and are angry with us beyond measure.

Idi Amin was deposed. God did restore Uganda , and those who had lost so much found life again. Their mourning turned to dancing, dancing filled with joyful gratitude to a compassionate and faithful God. Amen.

Dance Then, Wherever You May Be

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Some people just know how to endure grief and difficulty. While many of us cave in the midst of grief, others thrive, meeting their dark moment with unconquerable inner joy. Such were the people of Uganda in the terrible years of Idi Amin’s reign of terror. He was a monster bent on genocide and on destroying the country that was called “The Pearl of Africa.”

For eight years, Amin carried out mass killings within the country to maintain his rule. An estimated 300,000 Ugandans lost their lives during his regime. Aside from his brutalities, he forcibly removed the entrepreneurial Indian minority from Uganda, which left the country’s economy in ruins. Schools were gutted. Churches were banned. Wildlife was destroyed by poaching. Amin’s atrocities were graphically accounted in the 1977 book, A State of Blood, written by one of his former ministers after he fled the country. Now a country of widows and orphans, Uganda suffered greatly.

At the end of Amin’s reign, my husband and I moved to Uganda to help with the country’s long recovery. We worked with villages digging water wells, distributing seeds, fertilizer and gardening tools, bringing in medicines, vaccines and protein supplement, and offering books, bibles and sewing supplies.

During that time when grief was still very acute, we worshipped at St. Andrews Anglican Church in Jinja, Uganda. Expressing their faith, the congregants also expressed their intense emotions of grief and loss with tears, prayers, and testimonies. One congregant read the following prayer from Lamentations 5:

A Prayer for Mercy

Remember, O Lord, what has happened to us.
Look at us, and see our disgrace.
Our property is in the hands of strangers;
foreigners are living in our homes.
Our fathers have been killed by the enemy,
and now our mothers are widows.
We must pay for the water we drink;
we must buy the wood we need for fuel.
Driven hard like donkeys or camels,
we are tired, but are allowed no rest. . .

Murderers roam through the countryside;
we risk our lives when we look for food.
Hunger has made us burn with fever
until our skin is as hot as an oven.
Our wives have been raped on Mount Zion itself;
in every Judean village our daughters have been forced to submit.
Our leaders have been taken and hanged;
our elders are shown no respect.
Our young men are forced to grind grain like slaves;
boys go staggering under heavy loads of wood.
The old people no longer sit at the city gate,
and the young people no longer make music.

Happiness has gone out of our lives;
grief has taken the place of our dances.
Nothing is left of all we were proud of.
We sinned, and now we are doomed.
We are sick at our very hearts
and can hardly see through our tears. . .

But you, O Lord, are king forever
and will rule to the end of time.
Why have you abandoned us so long?
Will you ever remember us again?
Bring us back to you, Lord! Bring us back!
Restore our ancient glory.

Good News Translation

The people were on their knees in prayer, some crying silent tears, others wailing out their grief. One woman began to sing and quickly was joined by the whole congregation.

Dance, then, wherever you may be
I am the lord of the dance, said he
And I lead you all, wherever you may be
And I lead you all in the dance, said he.

In the midst of their tears, they sang this joyous tune, and then, all over the building, they began to dance. That is the way they endured their unspeakable grief and loss. That is how they embraced life after a time if deathly evil . . . with singing and dancing.

“You have turned my mourning into dancing; you took off my sackcloth and clothed me with a garment of joy.” – Psalm 30:11

Out of Africa

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Sunset over the Nile River in Uganda

One never comes out of Africa. It is said that once you have been to Africa, you will never come all the way back. I can identify with that statement. Coming back from living in Africa was one of the most difficult times of life for us. It was a magical place to live, filled with wonderfully friendly people, acres of lush banana groves, rolling hills spotted with growing things, verdant tropical rain forests and mountains capped with snow.

On the plains of Africa we saw elegant giraffes, gazelles, zebras, elephants and cape buffalo meandering through swaying grasses that move with the breeze. The hippos splashed in the water only an arms reach from our boat. The Ugandan kob ran gracefully across the vast expanse. The great Rift Valley invited a sense of awe with cliffs several thousand feet high.

It was an experience to remember always. But even more significant than the natural beauty of Africa was the experience that we shared with the people of Uganda. Stripped from all of life’s comforts by the brutal reign of Idi Amin, the people were so eager to move into a better life. We joined them right after Idi Amin was deposed. It was a time of digging water wells, taking seeds, fertilizer and gardening tools into villages, offering blankets, medicines, protein supplements, sewing supplies, books and other educational materials, sports equipment and Bibles. It was a time for grieving their losses, healing, and rebuilding their lives. Sharing that time with them made it seem unfathomable to leave.

But we did, and we returned to America with a huge piece of Africa in our hearts, where it remains after more than thirty-five years. It is really true: once you’ve lived in Africa, you’ll never come all the way back.