Weirdly Connected Branches

My next-door neighbor has a mature aspen tree in his backyard that is beautiful, except for one branch. All the other branches up and down the tree seem to be synchronized in their posture and purpose, except this one. It hangs low over raised their deck, even causing a couple of taller family members to bend to the side if they have to go by it.

I’m not sure why my neighbor, a pastor just like me, doesn’t cut it back, but then I look at the apple tree in my own backyard that has a shape that resembles the hairstyle of The Three Stooges’ member, Larry. Both of them have weird branches that seem to be trying to make a run for it.

But, all of the branches, normal and abnormal, are connected to the same tree trunks. Once in a while, a strong wind, or like the 18 inches of heavy snow we received on May 18, comes along and breaks one of the branches. Curiously, it’s always one of the normal-looking branches that breaks off. The weird ones hang around like the neighbor kid who seems to always be practicing his squeaky saxophone.

In a time when people’s opinions are more heated than an Arizona sidewalk in July, it’s good to remember that followers of Jesus don’t need to look alike. They can even stand out and make people avoid them. They can even cause others to wonder why he, or why she, is a part of that church. He doesn’t vote like those other people there, and she doesn’t hold the same opinion about the possession of marijuana as the normal church folk does.

Jesus’ own disciples didn’t always agree on things. In fact, a couple of them were kinda odd. Come to think about it, most of them were about half-a-bubble off-center. But they were all connected to the trunk. A few years down the line, that trunk got sawed and shaped into the main part of a cross. Not many of the disciples were on board with that direction either.

We’ve come to a point in our world where people think they have to agree with everything, and if you don’t agree with me, or me with you, we need to part company and post about “the stupid people” on social media.

Two of my best friends in ministry, Tom Bayes and Chuck Moore, didn’t agree on a number of issues and, in like manner, didn’t agree with me. We were three American Baptist pastors leading three different ABC churches in Michigan, each of us at different points on the theological spectrum. We met for lunch every other Wednesday for 7 years at Finley’s restaurant on the south side of Lansing. We came alongside one another in the difficult times of pastoring, giving advice on how to deal with whiney, irritating people who may very well have given Jesus a migraine. We laughed with one another about the comedy of being clergy. I’ll never forget the story shared about a dog that jumped up on the couch during a pastoral visit, started humping one of our arms, and the owners sitting across the living room and smiling.

We never felt like we had to agree with one another on a variety of theological issues. However, we always were committed to respecting one another. Even today, maybe even more so, the three of us see differently on certain issues that other people separate over. At one time or another, each one of us has been that weird branch that looks like it’s heading to the beer tent instead of the sanctuary.

And you know something? I miss my two brothers. One’s down in North Carolina and the other is on his way back to Chicago after a nine-month interim pastorate in Foxboro, Massachusetts. There is a void in my spirit because of our separation by distance. Every time I see my backyard Larry tree, I think about them.

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