“Tanks, Tractors, and Tremblers Before God” Part IV: Fig Trees and Vines

fig and vineFor NWYM Peace Month, I am continuing to look at one of God’s great visions of peace from the Old Testament, a rich vision of shalom that God gave to the prophet Micah during a turbulent time of war and invasion, followed by a time of exile and slavery. Micah’s unique vision of peace has always held a special place in Friends movement. In this blog series entitled “Tanks, Tractors, and Tremblers Before God” I will look deeply at these symbols of God’s vision of peace from Micah 4 and explore the biblical roots of the Quaker Peace Testimony. There is indeed an interesting intersection between God’s rich vision of shalom and various, often untold stories of how Friends have uniquely tried to live out their commitment to peace. You can find part one in the series here.

Micah 4:1-5

1 In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and peoples will stream to it.

2 Many nations will come and say “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”

The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
3 He will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
4 Everyone will sit under their own vine
and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the LORD Almighty has spoken.
5 All the nations may walk
in the name of their gods,
but we will walk in the name of the LORD
our God for ever and ever.

The third set of prominent symbols in Micah 4 are the fig trees and the vines. These symbols remind us that God’s vision of shalom is one that is holistic, stable and everlasting. In God’s vision, every person is sustained and poverty is no longer the silent killer of humanity. This part of God’s vision was lived out in the early church amongst itself in Acts 2. In pastoral terms, this symbolizes sustenance and security.”No one will make them afraid” has echoes of the restorative vision of Revelation. It speaks of the perfect love that casts out fear in 1 John 4. How often we forget that we are loved by a God whose plans are beyond anything we can ask or imagine? How often do we forget God knows our needs even before we ask for them to be met? Yet a closer look at our actions reveals we often live in ways that are dominated by fear. We hoard. We covet. We do not look to God to meet our needs unless we have first done our best on our own. We no longer look to meet the needs of the stranger, and we would rather die than put ourselves in that uncomfortable place where the stranger would even have an opportunity to meet our needs.

“Pragmatism” or “realism” are the biggest obstacles to seeing the world around us with the lenses of the kingdom. They cut away the fat of possibility long before it can flavor our thoughts and actions, and replace it with a myopic vision of short-term goals. We look at global problems like poverty and use their sheer scope and scale to, in the end, justify doing nothing. Luther believed pride was the root of all sin. I think his view missed the mark completely. Generally, I do not think women struggle as much with pride as men do, and so this response to sin is, at best, potentially only half of the existential answer. Also, the further I have personally delved into pride, the more my awareness grows within me that it is just fear glossed over with a snowy white blanket of denial. Pride is seen on the surface level of some, but fear is the universal root of sin that is unseen, unacknowledged, and ever pulling the strings of our inner marionette. If you don’t believe this, reread Paul’ struggle with being caught in the grip of sin in Romans 7. In your mind replace “sin” with pride and then fear, and reflect on which one fits your experience the best if you are honest.

God’s vision of peace is not only one that speaks only to “spiritual peace,” but peace that looks to the physical needs life, its cycles and order. The Hebrew shalom speaks also of the physical peace of human welfare, or wellbeing. Micah reminds us that when God decides for the nations of the world, His second decision removes the experience of poverty from humanity. This is the most challenging to me because it calls me personally to respond to the constant needs around me. It is far too easy to glibly sing along to Christian music as we drive past the homeless man on the overpass. Far to easy to let fear based purity codes gut the sincerity right out of our gospel. Far too easy to do nothing personally in the face of the challenges we find in our truly globally connected world.

As I mentioned in my first post of this series, the Friends Testimonies where conceived of as ways of proclaiming the gospel with our actions. Far too often, we either err by on the one hand, proclaiming the gospel with good actions but never getting around to opening our mouths about why, or on the other, by opening our mouths about the wrong things and never letting the gospel connect itself with our actions. We are ruled by fears: fears we will go without if we risk giving in love, fears we are being taken advantage of while we do the giving.  Fears we are growing too callous if we do not give, and fears we are growing too shallow as we go through the mental process of the fear based mathematics of weighing consequences… Often fears of rejection make us fearfully reject “the other” in advance, if only to save ourselves all the time and energy and risk of relationship.

While it is not a direct opposite, love is God’s answer to fear and at the root of His vision of peace. Love pushes us to integrity between thought and action by challenging the assumptions behind these hidden or unhidden fears. Love helps us to see the needs around us as more than excuses for fear to control us. These opportunities of love are a great mercy to us if we are willing to be stretched in faithful growth.  It is painful to let God pluck out these puppet strings and help us see what loving liberation looks like. Yet God is always up to something amazing if we can stand to trust for long enough to see it.  One story of how some Friends have lived out this vision is that of Dave and Debbie Thomas and the Moringa trees. It is not an old story but a current one, being lived among Friends now.

Dave and debbie

David and Debbie have spent a great deal of their lives as missionaries in Rwanda. They have done much to live out this vision of shalom by planting a “business as mission” endeavor that equips Rwandans to help repair a land broken by genocide, by providing economic and spiritual leadership that helps guide the future of that country. This endeavor involves a wonderful creation of God called the Moringa tree. This tree has many, almost miraculous attributes. Chief among them is that one cup of its leaves can nourish a human body for a whole day, providing for most of its nutritional needs. Moringa leaves can be dried and used as a food supplement that keeps and transports well. Its bark even has  medicinal value. It can be mixed with water and drank to kill dangerous parasites that can also compound malnutrition.

This tree has the potential to one-day end hunger in Rawanda, and perhaps chief among those who are propagating it and teaching people how to steward and use it are Dave and Debbie Thomas. They do not just give trees away to people who need them, but work with people to include them in their vision and journey. They steward this vision in a way that is as sustainable as possible, for the largest impact over the long haul. Dave, Debbie and their family are empowering people not only to feed themselves but also to find joy in working to produce food for others, earn income, and improve the future for their families and nation. I am not sure what they would say about how living out the peace testimony has affected their ministry, or what their exact thoughts are on God’s vision of peace from Micah 4. But nonetheless, this holy vision of peace they are living in speaks to us all of God’s creativity and love. God’s vision of peace is not only one of hope, but also one of healing and safety. They truly are working toward a Rwanda without poverty and where “no one would be afraid” because they hear and walk with God according to what He has spoken. Can we break free of the grip of fear long enough to do the same in our context? To work personally to the healing and safety of those around us?

Query: Does your vision of peace respond to the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of others in the name of Christ? Do you offer more than just prayers for those who are in need?

 Continue on to the Conclusion

For more information about the Thomas’ ministry, or how you can help support it financially click here

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About jtower11

Hi there! I am James Tower: A husband, father, dreamer, visionary, thinker, poet, mystic, metal-worker, and scholar. A former atheist trying to find my way as a Quaker minister. A former drop-out trying to find my way through an M. Div program at George Fox. A former addict who, over twelve years ago had a life changing encounter with Jesus that has altered the course of my life forever. I am a creative person called to pastoral ministry, spiritual direction and discipleship. I love "conversations of consequence" with people who are willing to wrestle through the deeper truths and messiness of life. I have found God in my brokenness, and He has shown me how to use that personal knowledge to work toward healing and reconciliation with others. I love the outdoors, camping and recreation, an eclectic blend of music and arts, and creativity in general. I am passionate about expressing my faith in Jesus, and allowing God to transform every area of my life and every decision I make. Together with my wife Liz and daughters Sophie and Greta, we are on a journey to figure out where, when, and how to live out the call God has placed in our hearts. For more about me check out the "about" or "my story" pages. View all posts by jtower11

4 responses to ““Tanks, Tractors, and Tremblers Before God” Part IV: Fig Trees and Vines

  • Michael Snow

    Shalom! You may appreciate some of Spurgeon’s quotes on this topic. Not many Christians are familiar with them.
    http://spurgeonwarquotes.wordpress.com/

    • jtower11

      Sorry to get back to you so late Michael. I have not heard of Spurgeon’s quotes on peace. I will have to look more into it. Do you have a favorite you would be willing to share? Thank you for pointing me to something new!

  • speakpeacealways

    It is so true isnt it that so much of our lives is driven by fear. And as I have searched my heart, I realise that behind fear, there is unbelief that is fueled by a ‘small vision’ or ‘wrong understanding’ of God, and much leaning on my own wisdom and my own understanding. And it is true that how I live life would completely change if I were to take hold completely of the love of God… Thank you! I’ve been greatly blessed and challenged by what you’ve written.

    • jtower11

      Hello again Speakpeacealways! It is true that behind fear is usually unbelief. I would add also that in my experience, right next to it is often a lack of love. I am right there with you in trying to put myself in that position of total submission to God. I appreciate the encouragement. May God bless us as we seek to be peacemakers, and as we yield fully to God’s transforming power in our lives, may our fears cease in the face of His love.
      Agape,
      James

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