What Is Your One Word for 2016?

Mihee Kim-Kort, author of Making Paper Cranes, writes:

There’s a sermon that I often heard during the summers of 2002 and 2003.

At the time I was a backpacking guide for a ministry for high school students called Wilderness Ranch. It was my seminary internship for one summer, and an excuse to be in Colorado again for another one. I needed to get out of New Jersey for a few months. For seven days two guides would take a group of high school students from all over – Texas, Georgia, weirdly, New Jersey – through the Rocky Mountains. At the end of the week back at base camp the director, Skeet Tingle, would always do the same talk using the scripture from the Transfiguration.

I remember this as I sit at a table looking out at the lovely Blue Ridge surrounding Montreat, a Presbyterian conference center that hosts college students every year for a few days. How it’s easier to see at a height. How some things begin to make a little more sense up here. How you feel braver and truer when you are surrounded by trees and your Creator. How the air is clearer and you can breathe better.

The topography of a space has to include peaks and valleys, bright sunlight and a large sky, and a nibble of winter for me to come back to myself. Good preaching and the sound of 1100 college students singing Come Thou Fount and the Canticle of Turning helps, too. The epiphanies come like breaking waves and rolling clouds, and like Peter, I am eager to pitch numerous tents to hold onto those revelations. Reality begins to blur a little, and I see signs in the poetry being read on stage, paintings, a still lake, and even my dreams become undeniable.

And so that’s going to be the word for 2016. Dream.

Read the rest on Mihee’s blog

So, what is your one word for 2016?

Eulogy for one tree, birth announcement for another

A year ago today was the first Monday of 2015 — the first day back at work after the Christmas/New Year holiday, which meant lots of email and lots of work. Grateful to be back at work, I spent the afternoon digging out and didn’t notice the subtle shift in my office’s lighting, from a pale fluorescent blue to a brighter midday white, then, as the day’s final sunlight streamed through old windows, a soft purple.

Sometime around five o’clock, I looked up and realized my office had never been this color before. After a quick glance out my cloudy glass window, I grabbed my cellphone and scrambled outside.

Beyond the quadrangle at Eden Seminary, the sky of the west-southwest burned as the sun reminded us it is truly a star burning with inconceivable energy. As it eased below the horizon, it threw yellow and orange to the treetops. Above that — was it pink or magenta or another color whose name I didn’t know — high cirrus clouds stretched halfway up the sky before smearing into the cobalt of late-afternoon sky. I am from the Great Plains, a land of magnificent sunsets, yet this particular sunset was perhaps the most amazing I’d ever seen.

I snapped a few photos with my iPhone, but they didn’t do this masterpiece justice. Then I took a dozen steps north to put a massive American Elm between the sunset and me. Its dark, lanky, bare silhouette framed the sunset perfectly. That was the photo I posted on Facebook and eventually Panoramia and Google Earth.

Sunset, January 5, 2015, Eden Theological Seminary
Sunset, January 5, 2015, Eden Theological Seminary

In the few days after Christmas, when historic rains softened the ground too much, the old root system couldn’t hold the tree upright one second longer. When the tree crashed down, the ground must have shaken, and it must have made an incredible racket, a holy racket. It fell to the south and toppled a smaller tree; if it had crashed to the east, it likely would have toppled into my office. The tree had to be four feet in diameter, enormous in mass.

Yesterday afternoon, a work crew finished three days of cutting and hacking, leaving a muddy smear in the winter grass. The wood has been hauled off, and all that remains is the sawdust and wood chips from chainsaws and bulldozer tracks. The roothole is filled, the ground smoothed, and I imagine the grounds crew will next address the issue when it’s time to plant grass.

Eden quadrangle, January 4, 2016
Eden quadrangle, January 4, 2016

The seminary displays historic photos in the main hallway of its academic building, and I examined them today to see if I could spot the tree as a sapling when the campus was under construction in 1924. I didn’t see it, so my guess is that the tree was planted in Eden’s first few years. In those succeeding decades, that tree shaded some incredible thinkers like the Niebuhrs, Reinhold and Richard, and Walter Brueggemann and thousands of pastors who have baptized, married, educated, counseled, and buried countless Christians and non-Christians alike. Under its branches have walked those who conceived astounding visions for how church could evolve in a world none of them could imagine.

That tree shaded some incredible thinkers like the Niebuhrs ... and Walter Brueggemann ... Click To Tweet

If a new tree is planted tomorrow, it will take decades to grow as tall as the one that likely serves as firewood tonight or mulch in the spring. If we are lucky — and I believe we will indeed be lucky — that tree too will see its share of great thinkers and astounding visions.

That new tree will, eventually, replace the old tree. If we nurture it and care for it, if we are careful to give it the nutrients and respect it needs, it will grow. Surely the new tree’s branches will look different, and it may be a different species of tree altogether, but it will fill the same role: shade on a hot day, shelter for birds and squirrels, carbon dioxide processer and oxygen generator for those of us who need to breathe, silhouettes for the artist, home base for neighborhood children playing in Eden’s fountain on a muggy day.

And so it is with all of us, and our institutions, our churches, and our world, which changes sometimes in the matter of seconds, of a few words said or unsaid, of ideas shared or hoarded, of possibilities followed or abandoned. When the old dies, we replace it with the new. It will be the same, it will be different, but it will be.

I hope they plant a new tree soon. I already miss the old one.


Update 5:14 pm CST: Tonight’s sunset is a good one, too. Must be something about January 5.

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