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June 18, 1994

The Picture of Roots

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The story of Ruthie is a grand picture of someone with roots. And none were stronger than Community. Community necessarily has a geographic element to it. It is a place. Roots need locale. We may think social media and virtual communications can substitute for real neighbors, but Ruthie didn’t buy it. Community, real community—the kind where you can touch and even smell another person, is built on deep relationships. It has texture and that certain something that can’t be “webbed” on the World Wide Web.
When life hits the wall, spins out on the curve, overwhelms us, confounds even the sharpest of us, totally beats us down or just simply disappoints us, this is when our roots are tested. Or when we happen upon magnificent success we find a testing of a different weather pattern. Those of us who spend the time to cultivate deep roots will find that thriving doesn’t equal good times or bad times. Thriving equals endurance.
We all have a sub-surface structure that exists as the foundation of our life, a root system within. That interior roots, made of belief, conviction and truth can really only do so much. They must be supported and nourished, even healed, by something from without.
Thankfully, we also possess an exterior roots system, the kind made up of the people and places around us. In a world where suffering not only exits but is a constant presence, pounding us each day, it’s no secret that our community of family and friends carries much weight.
I love how Eugene Peterson captures this truth in his own paraphrase of a famous verse in Ecclesiastes. “By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.” (4:12 ) This is put so well, its truth is self-evident. We’re better together.
I may be a mystic hillbilly fisherman, but I don’t live on an island and I don’t live in a mountain cave. I’m not so naïve, or so old, that I don’t realize the importance and even need for the digital applications that enhance our communications. Technology enables us to communicate in ways our forefathers never dreamed. But I will never substitute the real for the virtual. I try not to give precedence to my phone when a real person is standing in front of me. We’ve become distracted by our gadgets and often miss out on the real moments of life. As you read this page, you’re living in the now. When you set this book down and discuss it with you friend, you’re living in the now. But more and more it seems like folks would rather be somewhere else—not in the now, but in the land of Over There.
If we’re not careful, we’ll jeopardize the intimacy of relationships because of distraction. Nothing great happens in this world through unhealthy distraction. Singular focus, on the other hand, does produce greatness. The singular focus of enjoying dinner with friends—no devices, no notifications—produces deep friendships and memories. The singular focus of worshipping at your church with the family of God produces spiritual intimacy within your congregation. The singular focus of throwing the football with your son or dressing up like a clown with your daughter produces trust and a relational bond not easily broken. The singular focus of working on a project with a colleague can produce a cultural good, a deep friendship and innovation. When we’re not distracted, we’re present. And when we’re present we water others. We deepen ourselves. We thrive.

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