Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. -Philippians 2:4
We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. -Romans 12:5
I recently heard a story on our local NPR station about the work of Suzanne Simard. Simard is a Canadian ecologist who has spent the last four decades studying forest floors and tree survival.
Thirty years ago, based on lab experiments, Simard decided to go out into the field and test how trees were connected by placing a bag over fur and birch seedlings individually. Then she injected a bag with radioactive carbon 14 gas and waited for the tree to soak up the carbon, turning it into sugars, and sending it to its root system. She used different carbon gases on different plants.
What she discovered was shocking. Over and over again, the tree which had received a large doses of carbon (a good thing) passed it on underground to it’s neighboring tree. The results could be noted on the neighbor tree with a geiger counter! Trees shared their resources, and it was discovered in the coming months that they would even send carbon back and forth to each other depending on whichever tree was lacking it more during that season.
This led to years of new discoveries about the interconnectedness of the forest. Trees are not nearly as isolated and competitive as we once thought. In fact, we now know through isotope tracing that larger, established “mother trees” can send carbon and other nutrients through an underground pathway of fungi to new seedlings far away that are cut off from the sun and need additional help to survive. Astoundingly, there was even information from older trees passed to younger trees that allowed them to be more resilient in the face of future stresses.
Simard learned that trees are not primarily competitors… in fact, they are communicators and collaborators. Amazing. See where we’re going here?
Trees talk. Trees can even care for each other.
It’s kind of embarrassing that we often don’t, huh? I mean, we have brains and opposable thumbs, after all.
We are all too quick to embrace a competition over cooperation mentality. We look at what other people have, what they think, what they believe, and how they look- and our first instinct is often comparison and critique. We are convinced we are in competition. Maybe we need to keep learning from God’s good world around us.
Jesus offers us a different way: one that reflects our truest identity as beings created in the image of God. We are called to care for one another, to see ourselves as connected, and work for each others good. We are not isolated individuals, even though we may try hard to convince ourselves of it. Jesus constantly gave a vision of people that, rather than being in competition with each other, were moving toward radical cooperation instead.
And today, as everyday, we are presented with a choice.
We can choose to see ourselves in light of Christ’s mercy, or we can try to go it alone. If we chose the former, then we are given the ability to see others through that lens of grace as well. We look for the best in each other. We call out the good. We seek understanding in misunderstanding. We seek forgiveness when we wrong another. And we look for opportunities to serve. We are, after all, cooperative beings, who can only survive if we choose cooperation. Competition will kill us all- body, spirit, and soul. But Jesus brings life.
Thoughts for today:
What resources do I have that could benefit and encourage those around me?
Am I more prone to look critically at other people, or look cooperatively at them?
Do I find joy in knowing that I belong to God’s transnational and transhistorical family?
Jesus, don’t let me believe the lie of isolation.