Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Trees, Shrubs & Cacti

Wednesdays are a time when we are often reviewing some book we recently read.  Well the most recent book in my hot little hands was Trees, Shrubs & Cacti of South Texas by Everett, Drawe, and Lonard. Do you want to hear what I learned from it?

During our holiday in America we sojourned at a deer lease in South Texas.  If you've ever been through there you might remember it as the sort of place where you can travel 50 miles between gas stations and where every little town has a Dairy Queen.  From the car it appears to be a barren wasteland.  However, up close my older daughter and I learned a much different story.

My Father-in-law has hunted down on that ranch for more than 20 years.  He recently bought the illuminating little book I mentioned above.  So for a day of homeschooling fun, the 7th grader and I took it out and learned a little botany. 

Glancing across the wilderness towards the horizon I could only see three things: thickets of thorny silver shrubs the size of small trees, round-faced cacti growing in clumps 3 feet across, and short gnarled trees barely bigger than shrubs.  My daughter and I glanced through the book thinking it would be easy to identify the plants.  In the back of the little book were these wonderful sketches of different kinds of leaves and a glossary. Although the key showed three different leaf arrangements, in fifteen diverse forms and five unique complexities, I felt ridiculously optimistic.  So out we went. 

Since the day was the first warm day after a cold wet front had barreled through, we were especially careful to watch for rattlesnakes, and we quickly learned to be careful for thorns as well.  We took the book we'd been perusing and we tried to USE it. 

Peruse.  Use.  Two very troublesome words there.  Flipping through it savoring the new words like "dicot" and "pinnately compound" or snickering as we tried to pronounce the Latin words "Lepus californicus" (Book says that'd be a jackrabbit), we were perusing.  We learned a little but we couldn't DO anything.  When we got outside in the pale winter sun and stroked the long delicate willowy leaves of the unnamed tree by the fence it was time to use the book. 

We turned to the front and looked at pictures.  We turned to the back and decided the type, form, and complexity of the leaf structure. It was far more difficult than we imagined from the safety of the house. We looked at more pictures and tried to decide how high 5 decameters was without a measuring tape (20 inches in case you were curious).  Things in the book that seemed nearly incomprehensible suddenly appeared with crystal clarity before our eyes.   We finally decided that the lovely little tree was a honey mesquite.  

What I thought of as a barren landscape containing one kind of cactus, one kind of tree and one kind of shrub was thrillingly diverse. We found a full 5 different kinds of plants in a single square foot.  I left my girl on a rock with a sketch pad and colored pencils to work, and I went inside thinking.  Whoever created that little book did not do it for people to peruse.  It is organized, intended and pictured for real people to walk outside and identify what kind of plant was growing outside their house.  The words might seem difficult at first, but with glossary in hand my 7th grader could and did identify plants she had never seen before.  

Peruse.  I told you it was a troublesome word.  Take Pinterest.  I love Pinterest. It is the most "perusable" site on the internet.  I can waste half a day looking at projects I'll never do, food I'll never cook and houses I'd never decorate.  I see Bible verses on there all the time.  They are my favorite thing to pin.  

But is the Bible anything like Pinterest? Can we look and not do?  Or maybe its like our trees shrubs and cacti book.  We can delight over words like "atonement" and "propitiation" and we can giggle when we try to pronounce "Mephibosheth."  Do we imagine that the Bible is out of date, out of time, and has little to say to our real lives? 

The Bible was intended to be obeyed.  It can't even really be understood unless we take it out and use it.  Take for an example the first 5 verses of Psalms 119.

How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the law of the LORD.   How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, Who seek Him with all their heart.  They also do no unrighteousness; They walk in His ways.  You have ordained Your precepts, That we should keep them diligently.  Oh that my ways may be established To keep Your statutes!  

Walk, seek, walk, keep, keep: five verses and five action verbs.  Each time the author mentions the law of the Lord, he mentions doing it.  God's word is meant to be taken outside, and used everyday in our ordinary life.  Things that seemed complicated even impossible (take forgiveness for an example) become clear and obvious.  In the doing of it we learn what it means.  
Imagine if the two of us had gone without the book into the world to identify plants. What  an exercise in futility.  Imagine if we had the book and never went outside, we'd be chasing the wind.  Later on in the same Psalm, David writes, "Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes, And I shall observe it to the end." (Psalm 119:32) It's a circle. Teach and observe.  Learn and obey.  Read and do.  It's the only way.   

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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