My name is Jeff and I'm a pastor of a small, local, Christian fellowship

It's a wonderful thing to love your work; to know that when you do it you are doing something that you were born to do. I am so fortunate to be both. I don't say I am the best at what I do. God knows that are so many others who do it better. But I do feel fairly lucky to be called by such a good God to do work I can only do with his help, to be loved by a beautiful woman, and to have a workshop where I can work my craft. These musings of mine are part of that work.

Friday, January 13, 2017

God in the banana tree: A reflection on God's extravagance


Musa species

Common Names: Banana, Bananier Nain, Canbur, Curro, Plantain

Growth Habit: Bananas are fast-growing herbaceous perennials arising from underground rhizomes. The fleshy stalks or pseudostems formed by upright concentric layers of leaf sheaths constitute the functional trunks. The true stem begins as an underground corm which grows upwards, pushing its way out through the center of the stalk 10-15 months after planting, eventually producing the terminal inflorescence which will later bear the fruit. Each stalk produces one huge flower cluster and then dies. New stalks then grow from the rhizome. Banana plants are extremely decorative, ranking next to palm trees for the tropical feeling they lend to the landscape.
Source: California Rare Fruit Growers

I just returned from a 10-day trip to Belize and while I had a plethora of good experiences that included meeting lots of wonderful people, I learned something there that, forgive me, blows my mind: a banana tree grows but one cluster of bananas and then dies.

Tocho by anybody's standards is a wealthy man
Everybody knows that, right? Well, before taking a stroll with my new Belizean friend, Tocho, through his yard the day after New Year's, I sure didn't. After all, I live in the neck of the woods where apple trees bear apples year after year as sure as raspberry bushes produce raspberries and blueberry bushes blueberries. But a banana tree is literally one and done. As I stood there looking up at his banana trees and ruminating on this little fun fact, I was stunned by the weight of it. All this energy and time and natural resources thrown into making one “hand” of bananas [Note: technically, a cluster of bananas is called a “hand” and the individual bananas referred to as – yes - “fingers”]. And yet, Tocho doesn't seem to worry about. It's life as he knows it in Belize. This tree will bring forth its fruit in due time and then will be cut down. In fact, scattered here and there in his yard that day were the remains of old banana trees like yesterday's trash. At the same time younger banana trees are growing out of the base of the stem of the current tree, ensuring a seemingly endless supply of future hands.

The longer I mused on this the more I marveled at God's largess, his reservoir of incalculable abundance, even after the Fall, that he has put in the earth. I think of the psalmist's words as he meditated on the God's lovingkindness,

Your love, O LORD, reaches
to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the
mighty mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
O LORD, you preserve both
man and beast.
How priceless is your
unfailing love!
Both high and low among
find a refuge in the shadow
of your wings.
They feast on the abundance
of your house;
you give them drink from
your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain
of life;
in your light we see light.”
Psalm 36:5-9, NIV

In the KJV translation, the word “fatness” is used instead of the NIV's “abundance” to describe the bounty of God's house. Maybe it's because on January 2nd I am not accustomed to being outside in sandals and shorts admiring banana, papaya, coconut and mango trees. Maybe my North American mind was having difficulty processing this truth about the banana tree in particular. But whatever the case even though we live in an age where girth is frowned upon “fatness” was just what I was feeling as looked up at Tocho's banana trees. It was something akin to a epiphany.

My new friend, Tocho

Well, you get the drift...
I think I believe too much in a stingy, Northern God – one who metes out his blessings piece-meal, whose pockets are large but not deep and Who withholds some of his provision because, well, you never know – one bad frost can wipe out your apple crop (like it did a year or so ago). It causes me to be careful, to be cautious, to withhold “just in case.” But the God of the tropics is not that way at all. He's a spendthrift who throws his wealth around as if it's going out of style. Like the Jay Leno Doritos® commercial years' ago where the tag-line was, “Crunch all you want. We'll make more,” God's awesome creation of the banana reminds me that his lovingkindness and goodness and mercy simply never runs out so he invites me again to “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8, NIV).

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