Lessons from the Bamboo Tree / Favorite Books of 2020

Rev. Aaron Payson

This month’s Touchstone Ministry Theme is “Consolation and Desolation”.  Included in the material shared for this theme is the following story:

     The farmer’s plot of land ran along the bank of a river. Years ago, he planted a bamboo plant, which grew straight and tall and beautiful. He called the plant, Esay. In turn, Esay started other bamboo plants. The farmer would cut these down. While he sold some of the bamboo in the market, he used other pieces to make bamboo flutes. His favorite flute was called “dizi,” but he also made other flutes like the “xiao” and “koudi.” No one knows who “invented” bamboo flutes, but legend suggests that the dizi was made by order of the Yellow Emperor, who wanted a musical instrument made out of bamboo.

     In the early evening of each day, the farmer would take his son out to the bamboo grove. The farmer would play a flute as Esay swayed in the gentle breeze and his son danced to the beautiful, soothing music. Esay looked down, grateful for the farmer’s compassion. After a while, the little boy would lie down and fall asleep. The farmer stopped playing, picked up his son, said good night to Esay, and carried his son back to their simple home, and put him to bed.

     This evening ritual began to change as the boy grew older. He would no longer dance to the music, but he listened attentively to his father’s music. He no longer fell asleep and had to be carried, but before they both left to go back home, the son, whose name was Wu, would go to Esay and lovingly rub his hand up and down along her green stem. It was his way of saying goodnight.

     Wu decided that he wanted to make flutes like his father. He assumed the responsibility of selling bamboo at the market. He was quite good at bartering with customers, and often got a very good price for the bamboo. His father put aside the extra money. Eventually, there was enough money to buy the empty plot of land to the east. This was to become Wu’s farm. The only problem was a big problem. There was no source of water that Wu could use to grow bamboo.

     The farmer knew what had to be done. He went to Esay and said, “Esay, I am sorry, but I have a problem. I can only solve it if I cut you down.” Esay began to weep, as did Wu, but eventually she agreed. There was heartache all around for Esay had towered over the bamboo grove for more than 20 years. After cutting her down, the farmer then said, “Esay, while I hate to do it, I must remove your braches and leaves.” Esay, was even more distraught for she had always thought that her leaves were quite beautiful. Nonetheless, she agreed. Finally, the farmer said, “Esay, I must now split you in two and hollow you out.” Since there was no turning back, Esay again agreed, although she had no idea why any of this was necessary.

     When all of this was done, the farmer instructed Wu to help him carry the two long pieces of bamboo. One end was placed at the riverbank. The second piece was connected to the first. The two pieces were so long that they reached all the way to Wu’s farm. That night, the farmer and Wu went to the river bank. As the farmer played a flute, Wu scooped up water using a bamboo bucket and poured it into the bamboo trough. It was then that Esay realized why she would always be loved. It was her job to carry the water to Wu’s farm so that he could start and grow a bamboo grove. Knowing she would bring life to a whole new field, she smiled as she listened to the beautiful music.

As we say good by to 2020 it occurs to me that the lesson of the bamboo tree is one of heart-ache and hope.  So much has changed and so many have been lost to the ravages of disease that it is hard to imagine what life will be like without the presence of so many that we cherish.  And, I submit, that the lesson of the Bamboo Tree for us is to imagine the ways in which our lives will continue to resonate with the spirit of all that has gone before.  And our effort is to turn our experiences of loss and fear into ways that we continue to honor the spirit of what has been lost by living lives of meaning and purpose.  Love itself never dies, but it can feel absent during times of great transformation.  It is the memory of that love and solidarity with its purpose that can give us a sense of hope and meaning.

So what now of 2021?  Let us resolve to bring our loves be bear on the hurts of the world and welcome new life and renewed ways of being in the process. 



Favorite Books of 2020

Rev. Aaron Payson

In response to many who have asked what books inspired me this past year, I offer the following partial list, in alphabetical order by title for your consideration!  I hope that this inspires you in your reading.  What is listed here are books that inspired my thinking and preaching. I have not included novels read for pleasure.  Blessings, Aaron

The American Way of Death Revisited – Jessica Mitford

Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live – Nicholas A. Christakis

Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own – Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

Black Pioneers In a White Denomination – Mark Morrison Reed

Charles Dickens: The Christmas Books – Charles Dickens

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America – Richard Rothstein

Conflagration: How the Transcendentalists Sparked the American Struggle for Racial, Gender, and Social Justice – John A. Buehrens

Do Fathers Matter?: What Science Is Telling Us about the Parent We’ve Overlooked – Paul Raeburn

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ – Daniel Goleman

The End of Policing – Alex S. Vitale

The Ending of Time: Where Philosophy and Physics Meet – J. Krishnamurti

Equity, Growth, and Community: What the Nation Can Learn from America’s Metro Areas – Chris Benner, Manuel Pastor

Faith Formation 2020: Designing the Future of Faith Formation – John Roberto

The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race – Jesmyn Ward

Liberation of Sita, The – Volga T. Vijay Kumar & C. Vijayasree

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload – Daniel J. Levitin

A Peculiar Indifference: The Neglected Toll of Violence on Black America – Elliott Currie

The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times (Shambhala Classics) – Pema Chodron

Radical Joy for Hard Times: Finding Meaning and Making Beauty in Earth’s Broken Places – Trebbe Johnson, Susan Griffin

St. Paul: The Apostle We Love to Hate (Icons) – Karen Armstrong

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II – Douglas A. Blackmon

Sleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast: Reflections on Fatherhood – Matteo Bussola

Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining – Shelly Rambo, Catherine Keller

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America – Ibram X. Kendi

Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States – Andrew L. Whitehead, Samuel L. Perry

Teaching the World to Die – Edward Searl

This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life – David Foster Wallace

To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings – John O’Donohue

The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Inter-Religious Dialogue (Wiley Blackwell Companions to Religion) – Catherine Cornille