About a month into Confirmation class I decided that the absolute BEST gift I could give my eight kiddo’s would be an apple tree.
So, anyway, I wanted to buy them each an apple tree that would be planted along the outer wall of the memorial garden. I loved the symbolism of the memories of our saints sheltered from the piercing of the sun by the growth of those whose lives contain the future fruit of our faith. I loved the symbolic presence of a promise that in this very soil our youth are free to grow fruit, free to dig roots. I imagined the presence of the tree speaking to the youth no matter where they might wander, no matter how lost they may become.
One day, I thought, they will drive by this church and they will see the apple tree and know they belong.
One day, I thought, they will bring their children back to the apple tree and tell them the story of our faith in the harvest of the apples and the pruning of the branches.
This, of course, is never going to happen. We will not be planting apple trees anytime soon. About two seconds into my “I-should-plant-apple-trees-for-them!” epiphany the two sides of my brain experienced an irreconcilable difference and decided to split off into two directions. One side is still busy drafting the Life Time Original Movie outlined above. The other is rapidly chasing after the first with a metal bat, listing off the overwhelming obstacles involved in the pragmatic side of planting an apple tree in an institution.
Spoiler Alert: the idea side will be beaten to death by the pragmatic side and here’s why:
I’ve been in ministry for seven years and I can say with confidence this would never be approved. And, even if it were to get approved because Jesus showed up at Ad Council with a stone tablet proposal signed by God, I estimate it taking until my Confirmand’s grandchildren were being Confirmed to actually happen. This isn’t any one person’s fault. It really isn’t even the systems fault. Fruit freaks us all out.
And there are legitimate issues surrounding the planting of an apple tree. For starters, planting and caring for an apple tree isn’t cheap. It’s a commitment that requires a financial investment and I can tell you right now there isn’t a budget line item for apple trees. Secondly, apple trees are permanent structures that need to be cared for … for forever. This is not an easy endeavor. To be fruitful, apple trees need to be pruned in a manner that ensures a person can easily harvest the fruit. In the beginning, they need ties and extra protection from the elements. Their buds need to be treated with oil to protect them from being raided by bugs and bacteria. They need rain and sun and even if a strategic plan was effectively drafted regarding the long term care of the apple trees the reality is they would still make a mess. If everything went ‘right’ there would be apples all over. There would be roots popping up in the lawn. And the first time a root breaks a sprinkler line or apples litter the memorial garden I can predict it would be the apple trees being memorialized.
Logically, there is zero doubt that planting the apple trees is a nightmare waiting to happen. After bludgeoning the apple tree idea to death in my mind, I feel like the second best thing that could happen is they are planted only to slowly wilt away. The best thing, of course, would be to not experience the pain and risk of the planting at all. It’s not like there aren’t other options of gifts they could be given; framed letters, signed books, necklaces or bracelets….you know, dead things. Safe things. Things that require a one-time payment, things we can control, things suited for memory chests and musty attics.
That’s the part where I can’t let go… if I am honest, there just isn’t anything better to give the Confirmands as gifts.
In Michael Pollan’s book, “A Gardner’s Education,” he writes that planting trees is a complicated act.” “Tree planting,” he says, “is always a utopian enterprise….We wager on a future the planter doesn’t necessarily expect to witness.”
It seems like the planting of an apple tree is just the wager we owe them. The commitment to offer up this soil that they too might have space to grow and bear fruit. In this context, any other gift, for me, becomes the symbol of a false promise on our end because planting apple trees is exactly what the church is doing when youth are confirmed into the church… wagering on a future we don’t necessarily expect to witness.
These kiddos are my apple trees, OUR apple trees, and the hope should be that they blossom and bloom and shoot apples all over this place because if everything goes ‘right’, they are going to take everything they have learned and make a beautiful mess of this institution.