• Jim Farrell

Of Scraggy Trees and Me

For whatever reason I have developed a fascination with scraggy trees. We are presently in Utah visiting national parks, and have been repeatedly stunned by the magnificent monument-mountains that are spectacular rock formations raised up from the desert floor (or exposed after Noah’s flood). If these stone edifices aren’t glorious enough on the landscape, there are also the deeply cut canyons that run like ribbons across the desert, often below remarkable sheer-sided mountains.

All of these sights are truly spellbinding, but I am particularly drawn to see throughout the landscape these scraggy, often blackened, dead trees, that are just standing there. Utah Pinyon Pine trees and Juniper trees are prolific in this region of Utah. They are joined by an occasional Pear Cactus and Mormon Tea bush (yes, they made tea from it), and a few other hardy plants and bushes. But these scraggy trees! It’s as if they jump out at me!

Most of them appear to be dead Juniper trees. Probably, they were once green and verdant, putting off those blue berries (some kinds of medicinal and edible variety, but I don’t know which ones, so I’ll pass on trying that). The landscape, at least where we have recently been would be absent of any green if it were not for the prevalence of the green Juniper, and, these dead, black, scraggy Junipers still standing, with a few hanging off a cliff’s edge.

But most of them are standing. O, there are a few broken branches, and some without bark. Most of them are standing tall, branches pointed outward and upward, as if the only thing that changed is the absence of the green that used to clothe them. The various shapes are amazing. Their presence and appearance seem to declare that “yes, I’m not what I used to be, but I’m still here, standing tall. Some seasons were rough, temperatures extreme, wind fierce, drought and flood, desert and rock. But I’m still standing.” I think because of all of that, I am fascinated by the scraggy trees.

I’ve pondered lessons in the appearance and presence of the scraggy tree still standing tall in the high desert landscape. I acknowledge that I’m not what I used to be insofar as having vigor and vitality of childhood, youth, young adulthood, and middle-age. My life and activities these days are filled with tremendous good and blessing, for which I am most thankful. But I have to also acknowledge that things in the world have been quite challenging. Seasons of life have tough times in them. Conditions of politics, society, and human behavior are fierce. Resources are increasingly costly, supply unpredictable. Hostility seems increasingly evident. Injustice manifest. Being Church is not what or how it used to be.

Yet, the message of the scraggy tree is this: nevertheless, sister and brother in Christ, stand there! Remain steadfast in the faith and truth! Be not defined by what comes against, but more specifically, by WHO gives life and purpose. In Christ Jesus, we are made and kept as Kingdom of God people. So stand tall! Keep standing, even though in a lot of ways you and I may not be what we used to be.

I’ve come to appreciate a beauty in those old scraggy trees, especially the ones still rooted, still standing right where they were probably for years. Yes, when enough time elapses, the scraggy tree will eventually, naturally fall in decay, and return to the earth. But you know, that too is like every single human being in our natural selves. Until those in Christ Jesus are raised to glory!

Bottom line, from the scraggy tree: until the end, stand tall for the faith we profess in Christ Jesus and the hope of the coming Kingdom of God.

…and the journey continues, Pastor Jim, from Moab, Utah

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