Yesterday before church services, some of the little ragamuffin population of our congregation decided it would be a pleasant thing to consider me a tree and to act accordingly. Although from time to time I have joked about my partial resemblance to the doomed ents of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, although I am vastly smaller and talk vastly faster, I tend to find it somewhat surprising that people would think of me as rather tree-like, as that is not the sort of image I have for myself. After all, trees tend to be solidly rooted in one place, and that has never been something I have said about my own life . I could see myself as tumbleweed far easier than seeing myself as a tree. Even so, these children rather persistently saw me as a tree and acted accordingly. It was one of the more bizarre examples of objectification that I can remember, but it was one that I thought was worthy of puzzling over a bit.
So, being the sort of person who likes to ask a lot of questions and investigate matters that puzzle me, I queried the children about the sorts of qualities I had as a tree. The more verbally fluent one among them had a rather vivid imagination, pointing out rather obviously that I was not a very large tree (being a bit under six feet tall, for example), and when I asked about what sort of fruit I had as a tree she replied that I had sweet green cherry fruit that tasted like lollipops, which I found to be an amusingly odd answer. Meanwhile, while all of this was going on the children were trying to climb up the tree trunk and hang off the branches and so on. For the most part I found this enjoyable, except that I found it a bit distressing when they they tried to hang from me with their arms around my neck, which is not a sensation I particularly enjoy or appreciate, being someone who has had more than a few problems breathing on occasion and someone more prone to panic than most people do.
I suppose if one is compared to objects that a tree is one of the better objects that one can be compared to. At least aside from slightly feral small children, most people do not go out to actively harm trees. At times trees grow too close to houses and are cut back or cut down, but for the most part people tend to think highly of trees. They serve as a home for squirrels and birds and other generally well-regarded animals, often bear fruit and provide a sense of shade and comfort, and have an image of solidity and permanence that tends to make people feel at home. At times the presence of trees can serve as a windbreak that makes areas more enjoyable to live in and makes winters less harsh, and trees and other plants help keep the soil of an area in place, allowing for a more rich soil and less runoff into creeks and rivers. All of these are, in general, good things. All things considered, being called a tree is on balance a good thing, even if it can be done merely because children–and I was such a child myself–enjoy climbing trees and see trees essentially as places of enjoyment and pleasure and fun.
As might be expected, the Bible itself offers its two cents on how human beings can be like trees, most notably in Psalm 1:1-3: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” Do I see myself as this kind of tree? I certainly do a lot of meditation on God’s laws and how they apply in my life, but by no means do I feel fruitful and that whatever I do prospers. There are aspects of my life, in fact, that I find impoverished to a degree that threatens my enjoyment of life as a whole. If I may be often a blessing to other people, I do not find that my life gives me all that much joy, as much as I would wish it so.
Am I thought of as a tree by anyone other those those who would want to climb all over me? Do others think of me primarily based on their own fears or wants or based on a reasonable understanding of what I am? Is there a wide gulf between the way I see myself and the way that God sees me? God may, in fact, see me as bearing far more fruit than I do, and may see me as being more deeply rooted than I have found, but if that is so that is because His perspective would be more charitable than mine is. I suppose there are worse things than being considered as a tree, far worse things that I am considered to be in fact, but I wonder why it is that I feel so ambivalent about it.
 See, for example: