Showing posts with label biology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label biology. Show all posts

15 February 2014

Heart of a strawberry

The strawberry crown is the heart of the plant; all the other parts (such as the leaves and roots) grow from the crown and remain attached to it. In the same way, Jesus is at the heart of the church. In him we grow and through him we are attached to one another.

A strawberry crown
A strawberry crown
What is at the heart of a strawberry? I don't mean a strawberry fruit; I mean the plant that bears the leaves and the flowers and the fruit.

If you examine a strawberry plant carefully you'll notice leaves and roots, flowers and fruit, and the runners with young plants on them. But notice something else.

Unlike many plants the strawberry has no stems and no branches. From the deepest root to the tallest leaves and the longest runners, every part is joined together in the centre.

Does this sound familiar? It should do!

The centre of church life - What is at the centre of the church? Jesus is! The heart of a strawberry plant is called a 'crown'. The leaves, the roots and the rest all spring direct from the crown. The strawberry crown rests at ground level and planting strawberries too high or too low will cause them to grow poorly or even die.

Jesus needs to be at 'ground level' in the life of the church, and everything about the church springs from him [Tweet it!]. We all inherit his nature; we all need to stay in touch with him. And being in touch with him implies that all of us will be in touch with one another also because we will all be where he is. The different parts of a strawberry plant stick out in different directions, but they are all joined to the centre. And that's exactly how we are in Christ.

And that's why, in the context of church, we must always focus on Jesus and recognise that his proper place is at the centre of everything we are and do.

Questions:

  • Is Jesus at the centre of all you think, say and do?
  • If not, who is?
  • Having everything joined to the centre keeps a strawberry plant small. Does this affect your view of church?

See also:

14 February 2014

How does a strawberry grow?

Strawberry plants reproduce vigorously by means of runners. Each year a plant can produce several more which will root themselves in the soil before the connection with the original plant is lost. If strawberry plants didn't die we would soon be inundated.

Strawberry runners
Strawberry runners
The humble strawberry is a powerful example of the explosive growth of movements [Tweet it!].

A strawberry plant is not very large. It is not tall like a tree, and it's not wide like a bush. You will rarely see a strawberry plant wider than about 30 cm or higher than 20 cm.

The plant has a small root system and a central growing point with anything up to about thirty leaves.

It is not protected by spines or thorns or poisonous compounds, it carries small flowers with white or pale pink petals, and it produces the beautiful fruit that most of us love to eat with cream in the summertime. And that's more or less it.

Oh, it also produces runners...

Here's what happens when a strawberry is planted and left alone to grow.

Runners - In late summer, strawberry runners appear as little shoots growing from the centre of the plant. At first they grow upwards, but soon begin to bend under their own weight. At the end of each runner, a small strawberry plant begins to form. Eventually the runners are long enough to touch the ground, looping up and out and down. By this time the little strawberry plants at the end of the runners have started to grow roots. These take hold in the soil and the baby plant grows. Finally the runner shrivels and dies and the new little strawberry is on its own.

And strawberry plants are very good at making runners. It's not unusual to find a runner making another runner, even before the first baby plant has taken root. In fact, this can happen several times so that the mother plant has a daughter, a granddaughter and a great granddaughter all at the same time! Not only that, the original mother plant will probably produce three or four runners, or maybe more.

Twelve months later, all these young plants will have rooted, become independent and will be producing strawberry fruit (and more runners).

Can anyone spot a parallel here with the way the church grows? It might not seem at all obvious, but it's there. Maybe there's little resemblance to church growth in terms of the institutional, denominationl systems that are all around us, but what about the early church as represented in the New Testament? Think about it!

Questions:

  • Assume a strawberry plant makes eight new plants each year. How many plants will there be after two years? (Each of the new plants and the old plant can produce eight more.)
  • How many plants will there be after three years?
  • Why doesn't church grow like a strawberry? Or does it? Can it? Should it?

See also:

19 August 2012

Is the church alive?

Jesus says we are his body here in the world. He is alive so his body is also alive. We are to do the things he did (and even greater things). We are to say the things he said. We are alive, not just as individuals but as his body expressing his love, his wisdom, his authority.

Biological processes
We are not just able to express love, wisdom and authority individually, but communally. It is not enough that you and I express our own love. It is not even enough that we individually express Christ's love.

The mystery is that the church herself, the Bride of Christ, is also able in her own right to express Christ's love. We are not a bunch of loosely associated individuals, we are Christ's Bride.

I am deeply troubled that the Bride is fragmented and damaged. So many different forms of church management and government compete for our loyalty. Differences in doctrine, in faith, and in tradition are everywhere.

So let's take one of the many ways of understanding church and see if we can usefully extend it.

Church Multiplication Associates considers that church life, like biological life, depends on its DNA. The idea is that her DNA determines the nature of church, in particular how she is structured, functions and expresses herself. See Neil Cole's article 'What is at the heart of the organic church movement?'

Controlling DNA - Taking this a little further we might recognise that a living organism is more than the product of its DNA. There are subtle factors at work controlling how and when that DNA is expressed. For example these factors are responsible for the fact that babies in the womb do not develop ears on their legs. Every cell in the body contains the full set of instructions, but cells only act on a subset of the DNA.

It's the same in the church, we all have the same DNA which is the nature of Christ, and we all partake of that one nature. Yet we are not, as Paul points out, all ears. Why not?

The Holy Spirit - One factor I can identify immediately is the prompting of the Holy Spirit in the moment. How I behave is controlled, not simply by the DNA, but also by what I am hearing at this present moment. The DNA is not diffused throughout the entire body. Every cell, whatever its function, has a full set of DNA while only using a subset.

Perhaps we should not expect every member of Christ to express all of the DNA. Or, even more significantly, perhaps we should not expect any member of Christ to express all of the DNA!

Instead, perhaps we should expect that particular parts of the DNA will be expressed by particular individuals at particular times for particular purposes, and that each individual will do so based on constant communication with the Holy Spirit.

The environment - Another important factor in living systems is the environment. The expression of DNA is affected by the environment. For a simple example consider the effect of sunshine on human skin. Too much sun causes damage - burning in the short term and perhaps skin cancer in the longer term. Melanocyte cells in the lower epidermis respond to exposure by creating increased amounts of a dark pigment called melanin. The DNA contains the instructions for making melanin, but the environment determines when and how much it is expressed by skin cells.

In the church, one such factor of the environment is persecution. The persecuted church is different from the unpersecuted church.

Prompting by the Spirit and environment both affect the appearance and behaviour of the church. We should not overlook these factors.

Can you think of other factors that might control the expression of the the church's DNA?

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