27. Blackberry Theology

BLACKBERRY THEOLOGY

 I have a “love/hate” relationship with Blackberries!  On the one hand, I’m not sure if there’s anything made with Blackberries that I don’t like – Blackberry jam,  Blackberry pie,  Blackberry ice cream, Blackberry syrup,  Blackberry cobbler, ETC…..  On the other hand, since Blackberries are a native plant species here in the Northwest, I fight a constant battle to control the Blackberry bushes around my house.

For those of you who don’t live in the Northwest,  Blackberry brambles grow incredible fast, spread rapidly, and can quickly take over almost any area if allowed to do so unchecked.  By definition they are a “rough, tangled, prickly shrub with thorny stems”.   All I can say is, that’s an understatement.

However, my personal “love/hate” relationship with Blackberries has a much deeper meaning than just how tasty the berries are or how difficult the plants are to remove.  About 25 years ago my family and I were returning from our All-Church campout at the Oregon Coast.  We had a great week, climaxed by a Sunday morning worship experience on the beach.  We had taken both of our vehicles with us for this trip – my Mazda pickup to carry all our supplies and our Ford Aerostar van for my wife and kids.  When we left the campground that Sunday afternoon my oldest son decided to ride in the pickup with me while my wife and two other kids drove behind us in the Aerostar.

About halfway home through the winding road between the Oregon Coast and the Willamette Valley I saw something in my rearview mirror that shook my world!  It was our Aerostar going off the road and over a cliff on a particularly sharp corner.   I slammed on brakes, almost throwing my oldest son through the windshield, then raced back to the spot where the van had left the roadway.  Evidently the van had veered just a foot or so off the pavement and into the soft gravel along the side of the road, preventing any type of corrective action. The van had plummeted almost 300 feet to the bottom of the ravine.

I had seen the bottom of the van and driver side tires on the front and back both off the ground when it went over the edge so I feared the worse!  I was sure the van must have rolled over numerous times before coming to a stop.  I could only see the back of the van at the bottom of the hill as I began my panicked descent.  The van had cleared about a 10’ path through a huge bramble of Blackberries and was completely engulfed.

Incredibly, the Blackberries had evidently kept the car from rolling over, bouncing it back and forth from front to back, side to side, on a miraculous journey to the bottom of the cliff.  When I was able to dig through the tangled mess to open the back lift gate, I found my wife and two children all scared but virtually unhurt.  In fact, the person who got the most injuries from the accident was me —- the result of numerous cuts, scrapes and bruises from running through 300’ of Blackberry stems!!  Blackberries literally had saved the lives of my wife and two kids!  Therefore, when it comes time for me to cut down Blackberries it’s always with mixed emotions.

Recently I once again took on the chore of cutting down the Blackberry bramble that sprung up this spring behind my house.  It took the better part of two days to cut down and gather those pesky little vines.  If you’ve never seen the thorns on a Blackberry bush then you don’t realize how tough that can be. Imagine a rose bush with 25’ stems all tangled together with other 25’ thorn covered stems!!  Cutting them down, pulling them apart, and trying to rake them into some type of pile can be exhausting and “painful” work.  Even if you wear heavy jeans, long sleeves and use leather gloves, if you get out of such a chore with just some scratches on your arms and legs you’ve done well.

With all my mixed feeling about Blackberries, as I was cutting, pulling, raking, and saying “ouch” this time,  I couldn’t help but notice several things about the process that seemed to communicate a “spiritual lesson”.   I know that may seem a bit out there, but perhaps there’s a message in such experiences for us all.

First,  it always amazes me how fast these vines can spring up and grow.  Once they took root, the spread quickly and start new vines along the way.  Before too long the vines become entangled with other vines, making them stronger and harder to remove.  To me that’s a reminder of how sin and bad habits can creep into our lives.  A little compromise here, an indiscretion there, and before you know it you have a “bramble” of problems that must be dealt with.  If we let such things take root in our lives, they will quickly spread to other areas and engulf us in places we don’t want to go.  The only solution is to stay vigilant and not let such things take root.

Second, removing Blackberries is not easy….and not without a significant investment of time and usually at least a bit of pain.  You don’t just go pull a Blackberry push out of your yard.  The vines can be thick, stubborn and obviously covered with thorns. They put up quite a fight, but they can be removed. The same is true when dealing with bad habits or sin in our lives.  Once entrenched, removing such things can be difficult. God will certainly help us, like my chain saw and pruning shears do when I tackle the Blackberries in my backyard.  But I have to wield those tools, invest the time, and deal with the minor injuries that come from tackling such a “sticky” situation.  Many things in our lives that need to be removed will not give up without a fight!!  Yes, we may have to pay a price to do so, but with God’s help they can be defeated and we can be freed from the bramble of such things.

Third, when raking up the pile of vines I had successfully cut down, I couldn’t help but notice how they stuck together.  You don’t rake one vine into the pile….it pulls along as many others as it can.  There’s both a positive and negative connotation to that!! We tend to gravitate to what others are doing!   The crowd we hang out in will pull us one way or the other.  It’s not just peer pressure….it’s a group mentality.  Individuals get excited when they are in a crowd because others are there experiencing the situation with them. That’s true whether it’s a positive situation or a negative situation.  Therefore, we need to be careful to make sure we’re hanging out with the right crowd and the pile is moving in the direction we want to go.

I don’t think I’ll ever find Blackberries referenced in my theology books, but perhaps they should be. These are just three of a number of lessons I’ve learned in my ongoing “love/hate” relationship with the Blackberry!   As I stood there the other day nursing my minor wounds, these things became simple reminders of some eternal truths.  That realization didn’t make the job any easier, but it gave it more meaning.

Jesus had a way of looking around at the “ordinary” things that surrounded him and finding “extraordinary” truth.  If  Blackberries can save my family’s lives and offer some simple but profound truth for me to consider, I guess I can deal with the inconvenience of keeping them under control in my  backyard.  Perhaps I should teach a class on Blackberry Theology – seeing God’s truth in spite of the thorns.

Thanking God for the “Blackberries” in my life!