Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Witness Trees

Do not move an ancient landmark or enter the fields of the fatherless, for their Redeemer is strong; he will plead their cause against you. – Proverbs 23:10-11

A few years ago, an old gentleman passed on to his reward and left behind his farm of substantial acreage, divided roughly in half between two of his children.  There were fences that separated the man’s land from his neighbors’ properties.  There were also cross fences, for he had been a cattleman and kept various pastures and hay meadows for convenience and management of stock and grazing. 

Since the farm had been one prior to the man’s death, he had placed those cross fences to serve his particular purposes.  When the heirs received their divisions, there was some dispute over whether the division was based on actual acreage or the existing fences.  The parcels were not square but lay rather like one "L" nested against another.  To settle the controversy objectively, one heir hired a surveyor who, on an outside corner, located a “witness tree” with survey data inscribed.   The other heir was less than pleased with the results, but there was really no doubt left about where the dividing line between the properties fell. 

Cultures have their preferences and traditions, things that are done and things that are not done.  Like the cross fences on a piece of land, those cultural norms and ethics may be convenient and useful in context.  Individuals within a culture and outsiders may or may not abide by every local custom, depending on the situation and how willing one is to possibly offend those who hold to it.  

But there are absolute lines that may not lightly be transgressed.  These transcend cultures.  They are the morals and laws which define us as human.  The Decalogue did not create landmarks.  It merely uncovered those ancient cornerstones.  The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights did not mark new witness trees but recognized and blazed again the existing ones.  The reality of the One True and Living God, the foundational nature of family, respect for the lives, liberty, and possessions of others, the need for both justice and mercy, these are the lines we cannot cross, the cornerstones we dare not move. 

A dark age, violence, and devastation threaten humanity in every time and every place where we begin to think that we know better than those who set those stones so long ago.    

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