Why Leadings?

Not to lead, but to be led            -- by the Holy Spirit.

See Leader, Servant, or Slave? in the section below, "Walking the Walk".

Jack in Denali National Park, 2012.

God's Wrath

Why was Sodom destroyed? Ezekiel tells us in chapter 16, verse 49: "This was the sin of your sister, Sodom: Pride, full-ness of bread, and abundance of idleness. Neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy."

That's also why Jerusalem was destroyed.

And now, with greed as our national virtue, what hope is there for the United States of America? We are afflicted by imperialistic pride, obesity, and entertainment addiction, and we are all called to do our part to "strengthen the hand of the poor and needy".

"Strengthen the hand" is the King James wording. Modern translations say "help the poor and needy." And there's a world of difference between the two. Helping the poor = as little as throwing some cash in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas time. That's charity. It's doing for, not doing with.

My Grandmother was right about charity. On a below-zero day, she went out on the back porch with a skillet to throw hot grease on the back-yard snow. She shivered as she re-entered the kitchen and said, "Wooooh, colder than charity."

Strengthening the hand is much different. We get personally involved with another person who needs help, and we work with her or him to get the needed help. That's risky. You're vulnerable. It takes prayer, time and patience. You need knowledge and wisdom from the LORD. There are great rewards, however. You get a brother or sister.

Strengthening the hand is great work for our churches -- which we ignore far more often than we perform. Why? Because we're afflicted with the Ameri-can curse of individualism. Christians are to be a tribe -- a tribe that takes care of each other. In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls us "the Israel of God" -- the new 13th tribe.

Jesus said, "The poor you shall always have with you." He didn't mean that as a curse -- the notion that the poor are an inevi-table nuisance and expense, to be hidden in the slums. Rather, He was saying, "You shall always be among the poor."

When you strengthen hands, you fulfill Deuteronomy 15:4-5: "However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God . . ." It's a glorious responsibility and promise.

And how do prosperous Americans fulfill that promise? Generally, by making sure they have no contact with people who are poor -- and we have been that way from our beginnings in the 17th century. Early villages in Massachusetts solved the problem by out-lawing poor people. Today, we deal with the same problem by confining the poor in urban reservations, our slums.

As the Supreme Court Bailiff says at the beginning of each session, "God save the United States of America..." 

Monday
Jun062011

THE MAN WHO PLANTED HOPE

By Jean Giono                                                                                                             Published in Vogue 

In 1913, when I was 16, I took a long trip on foot over mountain heights unknown to tourists, in that ancient region where the Alps thrust down into Provence, in eastern France.  When I made my long hike, all this region was deserted, barren and colorless.  Nothing grew but wild lavender and coarse grass.

I crossed the area at its widest point, and after three days' walking, found myself in the middle of desolation.  I passed the remains of an abandoned village, whose six stone houses were roofless, gnawed by wind and rain. The tiny chapel had a crumbling steeple.  All life had vanished.

It was a fine June day, brilliant with sunlight, but over this unsheltered land the hot wind blew with staggering ferocity.  I was parched and light-headed.  I had run out of water the day before and was desperate to find some.  All the earth I could see was cracked and dusty, with scattered blades of grass..

In the distance I glimpsed a small black tree stump.  But, as I neared, I discovered it was a shepherd. Thirty sheep lay about him on the baked earth.

I asked for water, and he graciously shared life-saving liquid from his water gourd.  Later, he took me to his cottage where he drew his excellent, cool water from a deep, natural well.  Above the well, he had built a primitive winch to ease his work.

The man spoke little.  This is the way of those who live alone.  He was a self-assured craftsman.  He did not live in a cabin, but in a stone house.  I could see the evidence of the repairs by which he had reclaimed this ruin. The wind on his roof tiles made the sound of the sea on the shore.

The house was in order:  The dishes were washed; the floor swept; his rifle oiled.  His soup was heating on the fire.  I observed him:  He was cleanshaven; all his buttons were sewed on; his clothing had been mended with the care that made the seams almost invisible.

He invited me to spend the night.  The nearest village was still a day and a half away.  It was sure to be occupied by surly, impoverished charcoal burners who would curse a stranger, rather than welcome him. In this desolation, the ceaseless wind rasped the nerves.  This was a land which bred murder, insanity and suicide among its sparsely settled residents.

The shepherd fetched a small sack and poured a heap of acorns on the table.  He inspected them, one by one, with great concentration, and separating the good from the bad.  I offered to help, but he declined with thanks.  "It is my job," he explained.  When his pile of good acorns was large, he counted them out by tens until he had a hundred.  These he replaced in the sack.  He said good night, and we went to opposite corners of the house to sleep.

In this house, I felt peace.  So, the next morning, I asked whether I could rest here for a day.  He agreed.  I had a second motive for wanting to stay -- I wanted to know more about my host.

He opened the pen to lead his flock to pasture.  Passing the house, he plunged his sack of selected acorns into a pail of water.  For a stick, he carried a four-foot iron rod as thick as my thumb.  At the pasture, he left the little flock in charge of his dog and climbed to the top of the ridge, about a hundred yards away.  There he began thrusting his iron rod into the earth, making a hole in which he planted an acorn.  With his foot, he carefully scraped dirt to cover the hole.  He was planting oak trees.

I asked him if the land belonged to him.  He answered no.  Did he know whose land it was?  He did not.  Nor was he interested in finding out who owned it.

He planted the hundred acorns with the greatest care.  For three years he had been planting trees in this wilderness.  He had planted over a hundred thousand.  Of the hundred thousand, twenty thousand had now sprouted.  Of those twenty thousand, he expected to lose about half, to rodents, or the harshness of nature, or one of his straying sheep.  There would remain ten thousand oak trees growing where nothing had grown before.

I wondered about his age.  Fifty-five he told me.  His name was Elzéard  Bouffier.  He had once had a farm in the lowlands, but he had lost his only son, then his wife.  He had withdrawn into this solitude, where his pleasure was to live leisurely with his lambs and his dogs and his acorns.

"Why do you plant trees?" I asked.

"The land is dying for want of trees."

"Why should you plant them?"

"To tell you truly, young man, I do not know.  It is what the good God told me to do."

"Three years ago?"

"Yes."

"In 30 years, your oak trees will be magnificent."

"If God grants me 30 more years, what I have done so far will be like a drop in the ocean."

We sat in silence for a long time before he spoke again.  "Jesus wants me to plant other trees as well.  Soon I will begin planting beech trees also.  In the little fenced area near my house, I grow seedlings from beech nuts.  The seedlings are very beautiful."  More silence.  "I am also thinking of planting birches in the valleys where there is moisture a few yards beneath the soil."

The next day I left.

In August the following year, the World War began, and I was a soldier for the next four years.  I did not think much about trees.

After the Armistice in 1918, I received a tiny demobilization bonus and a huge desire to breathe fresh air.  I again took the road to the barren lands of Provence.

I had seen too many men die during those four years.  So, it was easy for me to expect that Elzéard Bouffier had also died.  At 20, one regards men of 50 as old men with nothing left to do but die.  But Elzéard was not dead.  In fact, he was extremely spry.  Now, he had only four sheep, but more than a hundred beehives.  He sold the sheep because they threatened his young trees.  The war had not disturbed him at all, and every day, he continued to plant.

The oaks of 1910 had grown for nearly a decade.  They were taller than either of us.  We spent the whole day walking in silence through the forest.  He had carried out his plans, and beech trees, as high as my shoulder, spread out as far as the eye could see.  He showed me handsome clumps of birch, planted five years before -- that is in 1915, when I had been fighting at Verdun.  He had set them in all the valleys where he thought there would be moisture.

Creation seemed to come in a chain reaction.  He did not worry about it.  Rather, he just did the job which the good God had given him.  As we went back to his house, I saw water flowing in brooks that had been dry for decades.

I knew that some of the dreary villages had been built on the site of ancient Roman settlements.  I also knew that archaeologists had found fishhooks in these Roman ruins.  There were 2000 year-old fishhooks in locations where cisterns were now needed to assure a small supply of water.

The wind too had scattered seeds.  As the water reappeared, so there appeared willows, rushes, meadows, flowers, and a sense of the land coming alive.  But the transformation took place so gradually that it caused no astonishment.  Hunters had climbed into the wilderness in search of hares or wild boar.  They had seen the growth of little trees, but thought it was nature at work.  That is why no one meddled with the work of Elzéard  Bouffier.

In 1933, Elzéard was 75, and he received a visit from a forest ranger.  The ranger told him about an order against lighting fires out of doors to prevent damage to this natural  forest.  The ranger told him that it was the first time he had ever heard of a forest growing of its own accord.

In 1935, a government delegation came to examine the "natural forest".  The beauty of these young trees cast their spell over the delegates, and they decided that something must be done.  Fortunately, they did nothing, except one helpful thing:  They saw to it that the whole forest was placed under the protection of the state, and charcoal burning was prohibited.

A friend of mine was in the delegation, and I explained the mystery to him.  A week later, we went to see Elzéard  Bouffier, and we found him hard at work about six miles from his house.

This forester was not my friend for nothing.  He underestood values, and he knew how to keep silent.  I delivered to Elzéard the eggs that I brought as a present.  We shared our lunch, and spent several hours contemplating the countryside.

Thanks to this officer, both the forest and Elzéard's happiness were protected.  The officer delegated the protection of the forest to three young rangers, and he so terrorized them that they were proof against all the bottles of wine that the charcoal burners offered as bribes.

The last time I went to visit Elzéard  Bouffier was in 1945.  He was 87.

I returned to the wasteland.  Now, in spite of the disorder in which the war had left France, a train ran between the Durance Valley and the mountains.  As I rode the train, I was apparently going through new territory.  I did not realize that I was actually in the region that had been all ruins and desolation 32 years before -- until I saw the name of a village I had known,

On the lower slopes of the mountain I saw little fields of barley and rye.  Deep in the narrow valleys, the meadows were turning green.  The train arrived at Vergons.  In 1913, this hamlet had twelve ruined houses, but only three inhabitants.  They had been savage creatures, hating each other and living by trapping game. They were like prehistoric men.  In 1913, nettles had fed on the remains of the abandoned houses, and they were beyond repair.

Now, everything was changed.  Even the air.  Instead of the harsh, hot, dry winds that used to attack me, a gentle breeze was blowing.  It was laden with the scent of flowers.  A sound like water came from the mountains.  It was the wind in the forest.  Most amazing of all, I heard the sound of water falling into a pool. Around a corner, I discovered a fountain.  Someone had planted a linden beside it -- a symbol of the resurrection.

Vergons showed the kind of effort that requires hope.  The ruins had been cleared away, and five new houses were built.  Now, the community had 28 inhabitants.  Four of them were young married couples. The new houses were freshly plastered, and they were surrounded by gardens of vegetables and flowers in lush confusion:  Cabbages and roses, leeks and snapdragons, celery and anemones.  It was now a village where one would like to live.  Lazarus was out of the tomb.

Since 1945, it has taken only eight years for the whole countryside to glow with health and prosperity:

•   On the site of ruins I had seen in 1913, now stood neat, cleanly plastered farm houses.

•   Old streams flow again.  They are fed by the rains and snows conserved by the forest.

•   On each farm, fountain pools overflow onto carpets of fresh mint.

•   Villages have been rebuilt.  People from the plains, where land is costly, have resettled here.

•   Along the roads you meet hearty men and women, boys and girls, who understand laughter and have recovered a taste for picnics.

Counting the former residents, who are now unrecognizable because they live in comfort, more than 10,000 people owe their happiness to Elzéard  Bouffier -- and to his good God, Jesus, who told him to plant trees.

This one man, guided by God and armed only with his own resources, was able to cause this wasteland to become a land flowing with milk and honey.  And when I think of this, I am convinced that humanity is admirable -- even in spite of our two World Wars.  When I think of Elzéard's greatness of spirit and his faithfulness to his calling, I am humbled.  My friend Elzéard, an elderly, illiterate peasant, was able to complete a work which honors God as much as any cathedral.  [And perhaps more]

Elzéard Bouffier died peacefully in 1947 at the hospice in Banon.

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Jean Giono's original essay can be found in The World in Vogue, The Viking Press, New York, 1963, page 308.

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Purpose of this blog is to compile a book for my grandchildren to read in 25 years.

Copyright © 2011 by Jack Towe

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