A Long Line of Scholars

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.  --  Galatians 6:9,10



Although I really don’t recall what the cause may have been, I have had an appreciation for the art of Bonsai since I was in grade 5 or 6.  Even before David Winter cottages, I appreciated not only the small-scale aspect (at an even younger age, I had a rather expansive set-up for HO scale trains with houses, businesses, and landscape) but the attention to detail.  Whether the bonsai was to represent a tree on a coastline with its growth impacted by the constant winds, or a copse with a pathway or pond, possibly with carved figurines, I was enamored.

Earlier this month I was afforded the opportunity to visit the U. S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. with my friend Ryan (for a send-off gift from SharpTop, we chose a bonsai for him as he shares an interest in the art).  The Arboretum includes the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, which was the main focus of our visit.  Along with exhibits, and gardens through which you could stroll, there were open-air pavilions for Chinese bonsai, Japanese bonsai, and for North American bonsai.  These pavilions were home to dozens of deciduous and evergreen bonsai.

The museum had its start with 53 bonsai and a half dozen viewing stones which were gifted to the United States by Japan as we celebrated our Bicentennial in 1976.  These are housed in the Japanese pavilion. In the Chinese pavilion, there are both bonsai and penjing (miniature landscapes).  Some of the works here have the roots growing over rocks.  Many of the bonsai have been in training for over a hundred years.  The North American pavilion features bonsai from trees found primarily in the United States and Canada, many of which are California junipers.

The thing by which we were most impressed--and here, impressed means something more like dumbfounded--was a bonsai in the Japanese pavilion.  A Japanese white pine.  Compared to many of the other bonsai we had seen, a bit larger.  But what made this bonsai so significant was the placard that indicated the bonsai had been in training since 1625.  Think about that for a moment!  Remember your United States history.  The Jamestown Settlement was founded in 1607.  For nearly four hundred years, a Bonsai scholar has been tending this tree: pruning it, training it, tending it.  

What the placard doesn’t detail is the list of scholars.  I’m curious.  Who was the first scholar to begin this bonsai work?  How many years did he train the tree before entrusting another scholar to succeed him and continue his work?  If each scholar trained it for a minimum of twenty years, that’s twenty different scholars.  I wonder if at some point after the first several changing of hands a scholar began a list of the names of his predecessors.  Perhaps, each new scholar rewrote the list to preserve the history.  Or, perhaps, each scholar trained the tree for fifty years, almost as a life’s work.  That would bring the number of scholars down to eight.  Eight scholars removed from its beginning in 1625.

I wonder, too, if the first scholar thought his work would surpass his lifespan several times over?  I wonder if the scholars training this bonsai envisioned it, not only enduring for generations but as a gift from their country, crossing an ocean and a continent, to commemorate our own Bicentennial.

Reflecting on all this (it’s what INFJs do), I thought this nearly-four-hundred-year-old bonsai was quite the metaphor.  A metaphor for SharpTop?  I daresay, a community based on the mission and values we review each Wednesday, surpassing the lifespans of the current leadership team, would be desirable.  But, think bigger.

I see this bonsai as a metaphor for the Kingdom of God.  We should, I think, consider Jesus Himself as the original “scholar” for the Kingdom.  For three years He poured Himself into a dozen disciples.  Teaching them.  Mentoring them.  Leading them.  Doing life with them.  In turn, this group of men--joined by a few others--carried out the art, not of bonsai, but of discipleship, advancing the Kingdom.  The process repeated.  The Kingdom perpetuated.  We have the list of the original “scholars”, but, as they each invested in relationships, and as those relationships replicated and multiplied, tracing it all would become rather challenging.  The discipleship and mentoring have continued until today.

Some of the early “scholars” still impact us.  Do you think Paul ever thought his letters to the churches at Philippi, Corinth, and Colossae would be read by others outside those churches?  Do you think he imagined his letters would become part of the Canon?  Have you ever wondered if he dreamed passages from his letters would be memorized by countless thousands of believers?

You can look back a generation to the person, or persons,  who invested in you through discipleship and mentoring. From their testimonies, you could trace the discipleship back a little further, perhaps.  You can look forward to the relationships you have in which you are the influencer.  These relationships will continue into the future.  We’re all in this thing of building the Kingdom together.  And we’ve “trained” our tree for several thousand years--I suppose ours is a mustard tree and not a white pine.  Our tree continues to flourish.  It is work.  It takes time and effort.  Sometimes, it is discouraging.  We fail.  But, don’t grow weary.  Our work is of far more significance than “training” a tree.  We are building a Kingdom.