By Ann Weissenborn
One afternoon during my first visit to England, I sat in St. James Park, London, to rest, feed the birds, and people watch.
As I sat, I gradually became aware of all the varieties of the color green in that particular place.
I remember counting up to 17 distinct hues in the vegetation—grasses, trees, garden plants—before I lost count in the absolute wonder that there could be so many varieties in God’s creation of just that one location on that one specific afternoon.
Green from a very light, almost white variegation in a garden flower, to just budding yellow-green leaves, lovely lush, blue-green grass, and dark—almost black green—evergreens.
It was an awakening for a person who had lived always in the desert Southwest, where the prevailing color is an unending yellow gold, thus Amarillo.
That infinite variety of green is one way of thinking about a God experience.
As a very young Christian, my knowledge of God was pretty bland—limited by the prescribed boundaries of small-town Texas—a white-green world of God where He was simple, belief was simple, choices of right and wrong were simple.
I could think of my parents, my youth leaders, my favorite pastor; and the answer to “What would Jesus do?” was to think about how they would want me to respond to a situation or a question. I might not always agree with Jean Coleman, but I knew what she taught me in Sunday school. As I went through junior high and high school, it was important that I live the lessons I had been taught by Bill and Ruby Floyd and by Tom and Maureen Brown. As I began to play the organ for church, I wanted the music to praise in the way Mrs. Allen explained it.
Simple, white green.
My God took on greater hues after I left the Panhandle. College, ultimately, was a budding, yellow-green period. It was an awakening to realize that not all the students or faculty at my little Baptist college knew God in the same way I did.
Dr. Moore, in Old Testament class, was a thoroughly grounded Baptist minister. He taught the Bible, but he understood God had a sense of humor, so he also taught us his own version of an Israelite cheer: “Hey, hey what do you say? All the way with Yahweh!” Believe me, that would not have happened in the white-green Texas Panhandle. Dr. H.I. Hester was president of William Jewell College and also wrote a textbook, “The Heart of Hebrew History.”
Urban and rural Missouri students knew my God, the same but with some subtle differences. Vicki Biswell and her sisters grew up on a pig farm in a 150-year old house. Vicki introduced me to her understanding of God through the fields and animal husbandry of her family farm. Her parents reminded us that the pig smell was God’s way of sending her and her sisters to college. And they were willing to sacrifice many of the amenities of modern life to make sure their children had the learning opportunities of Willam Jewell.
Then the international students added other subtleties to a budding awareness of actually how great my God is—particularly Ruby Salvin and Bron Baker. Bron’s parents were missionaries in Nazareth. Bron had been required to register with the Israeli army and just finished our freshman year before the Egypt-Israel war began. Ruby grew up in the Nazareth orphanage that Bron’s parents ran. And we all mourned with Ruby when her brother-in-love was killed in a car wreck. None of us missed that irony.
My God experience took on a more river birch green, with my international experiences—still a bit fresh but getting greener. In Jamaica, God was no longer just the God of white, middle class students at a Baptist college. I learned that He has a heart for the ‘third’ world, where white, middle class people were suspected, feared, and, in many ways, just plainly disliked.
“Did you hear about the riots in Kingston where they killed only white people? Don’t worry; we’ll take care of you.” “You will go to the bush to teach Bible school. Our native workers won’t go there, and those children need to hear the stories.” (It was an active Voodoo area at that time.) And Mrs. Martha Stewart became our first hostess, the secretary of the local Jamaican Baptist Church, as well as the village healer.
We became a face for Jesus (and not necessarily of the preferred color), where it was sometimes harder to answer the question “What would Jesus do?” because the options were not always so obvious in a place where water ran for only two hours a day, ice was delivered in big blocks by truck, and the evening light was an oil lamp.
Yes, we had to grow. And we did grow. We grew to love those little children who came to Bible school each day in the same freshly laundered dress or shirt but with no shoes. We grew to respect the youth who showed up close to the time Bible school was to start (any time with 1.5 hours was considered on time). And we grew to respect the adults who were suspicious of anything American. “Americans lie – even on Radio Free America. No one can walk on the moon,” according to our native Kingston taxi driver.
As I returned to the States, grew older, and became more settled, I found it sometimes more difficult to acknowledge the blue-green periods of lushly resting in God’s grace. We become comfortable with our lives. We go to school, go to work, go to church, run our errands. We interact with our circumscribed circle of friends and acquaintances, believing ourselves comfortable because our friends and acquaintances believe as we do.
We may even lapse into complacency with how our lives are playing out, not too challenging, not too difficult, quite a bit like we perceive everyone else’s to be. Occasionally a sermon or a world event may shake our foundation, but for the most part we are content. We are thankful for our blessings. Answering “What would Jesus do?” is again, easier, because we don’t puzzle about it as much.
But God’s real teaching moments for me have come when the black-green has taken over and the troubles seem endless.
When the pain is deep and heart wrenching, we question all parts of our lives—our choices, our desires, our raison d’être.
Why was my best friend murdered by her husband? Why did our child die? Why did my spouse get fired? Why did my marriage fail? Why was I laid off and not someone less qualified? Why did the hurricane destroy our town? Why did the fire burn down my house? What did I do to get cancer? How can you expect me to go on? What am I supposed to do now? Why me?
In those black-green moments, the answer to “What would Jesus do?” is extremely hard to find.
A natural, very human, thought in that bleakness is “God does not care. He will do nothing.” We look at our lives and at our world. Why is their God not as loving as mine? How can this set of people not value the lives God gave us. This group of people is being annihilated and no one from any other group intervenes. Is there no justice, no mercy? And yet the nuances are there as God twines his lessons through our hearts.
Bleak, yes. Hopeless, no.
An old cowboy once said, “When you are at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on. When you turn around and look up, you are just at the beginning.”
Black-green, but not black. The green is ever there, working toward that next yellow-green awakening.
And now abideth faith, hope, and love: these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
Back to the simple, white green.
And through it all, God is ever green.