In the fall of 1993, James Lane was driving his Volkswagen on the back roads of the Oregon coast. He was forty-one, born in the year-of-our-Lord 1952.

Around the time of James’ birth, a seed pod dropped from one of Oregon’s towering western red cedars and took root in the loamy soil of the coastal forest. It grew rapidly—as cedars do. By the fall of 1993, the cedar was almost one hundred feet tall and weighed many tons.

Healthy cedars often live for over 1000 years. But cedars have a weakness—their root system. The roots of cedars spread broad rather than run deep. A strong wind … excessive rain … and the roots give way. The tree comes crashing down.

It had rained for a solid week before the fall day James Lane drove along that narrow road lined with majestic cedars. The ground was saturated. And the roots of our cedar could no longer sustain the weight of the tree.

Deep in the earth came a cracking and tearing. The soil around the cedar began to buckle and lift. The tree started to list and then began a slow stately fall.

In an odd and tragic intersection, the tree fell right on top of James Lane’s Volkswagen. It crushed the roof of the car. It blew out all four tires. It smashed the frame of the automobile into the pavement below.

When the roof of the Volkswagen collapsed, James Lane’s head was in the way. His neck bent and broke—a classic C-4 injury that left James a quadriplegic.

In the fall of 1993, a tree fell on James Lane. He survived the encounter. But he was never the same again.

The Tree and Saul

In the spring of ad 36, something very similar happened to Saul of Tarsus. He was out riding on a spring day, headed to Damascus, determined to rid the world of every story told about a Nazarene who had been hung from a tree. There was a bright and blinding light … a voice from above … Saul on his face in the dust. In an odd and catastrophic intersection, the tree on which Jesus died ended up falling on Saul.

When his world collapsed, Paul’s heart was in the way. His pride bent and broke—a classic humbling that left him a permanent penitent.

In the spring of ad 36, a tree fell on Saul of Tarsus. He survived the encounter. But he was never the same again.

For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ… We are weak… We are dishonored… To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.

We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment. (1Cor 4:9-13)

The Tree and Me

I want to be Paul without the tree parts. I like the parts about having visions of God and writing Holy Scripture and exercising apostolic authority. I like the notion of being beloved and respected and obeyed.

Just leave out the tree parts! All that stuff about suffering and pain and doubts. The rejection and ridicule and disrespect. I don’t want to be weak and hungry and persecuted. I don’t want to be treated as the scum of the earth. I certainly don’t want to die!

Oh, I don’t mind a little tree! Bumping into the tree on occasion. Brief encounters causing minor damage. I don’t mind talking about the tree or recommending the tree to others. I just don’t want the tree, the whole tree, and nothing but the tree. Nothing catastrophic … nothing traumatic … nothing that marks me and leaves me changed for the rest of my days.

Perhaps you know just what I mean.