Pruning for an Abundant Life

grapevines at 301

In June, budding bunches had already begun to hang from the grapevines.

This year, there will be many grapes.

My mother planted grapevines at our Maine home who knows how many years ago, trellising them up a white-painted lattice that stands erect beside our century-old barn. My brother, a master gardener, had pruned the vines as anyone prunes ornamental vines. “They’re very healthy,” he told me, as I stood with loppers, assessing the thick mass of red, woody stems.

Healthy they were. And overabundant. If the goal was to cover the trellis wall with leaves, the vines had been pruned well. Dozens of stems competed for space, twining their tendrils around the white trellis frame and each other as they sought to push their leaves into the sun.

As for the fruit, it had become no more than an afterthought in the energetic expansion of these vigorous vines. Longer stems, more leaves, more tendrils – that was the life these vines were allowed to live. And being unconstrained, these vines chose to live with abandon. Fruitfulness? Who cared!

Abandon and abundance. The words echo with the same sounds, but have such different meanings. To live with abandon is to live, in one sense, with abundance. The abandoned life is one filled with an abundance of anything and everything. Like the grapevine inadequately pruned, it demonstrates endless energy and produces even more. Everything it does is aimed at adding to its own flow of resources. More vines make more leaves to catch more sun to produce more chlorophyll to produce more energy to produce more vines to make more leaves … The circle goes on without end until winter brings it to a temporary close. Then spring returns, and the happily abandoned vines begin once again their energetic expansion.

Abundant Life Begins with Boundaries

The abundant life happens when energies are constrained to a specific end. No more vines than are required. Only enough leaves to support the vines that are allowed. Under those limitations, the vines get the signal that their own lives are not the point. They need to make sure they prepare for the long term. And so, they start to form fruit.

Fruit, as we all know, contains the seed for the next generations of life. It also contains the nourishment for generations of other kinds of life. Birds carry fruit away. Insects bore through it to make nests for their young. Deer and other rambling animals nibble at the windfalls. And the people who grow fruit feed the people of their own families, sell to the people of their communities, and allow people in need to glean.

To make a grapevine fruit in abundance, it must be constrained. By one common standard, the gardener leaves only four branches on each vine stem. The branches are selected carefully for their vigor, but the gardener also knows that each will gain vigor by having been selected. Instead of leaving the vines to find their own way, the gardener creates supports that will allow them to find the sun, then helps them find the supports.

Grapevines Ben Horton

This Ben Horton photo of old grapevines in a vineyard
may be purchased at

If you’ve ever seen the vineyard that supports a winery, you understand how this works. Thick vine stems rise beneath the interwoven structures that support their branches. A winter visitor sees little but the stump-like vine stems. In midsummer, a thick canopy of leaves turns the overhead structure into a shady haven. At harvest, the grapes that have been budding below the leaves have at last filled with juicy, energetic ripeness. They are ready to pass the vine’s nourishment along to others.

When you grow grapevines, the choice between abandon and abundance is obvious. Abandon the vines to their own inclinations, and you get lots of vines. Constrain their growth to a limited few, and you get lots of grapes. Fruitfulness comes when careful constraints are chosen.

The ‘Abundant Life’ Lived with Abandon

In life, the choice can be more difficult. Living with abandon has its own kind of abundant rewards. You turn from one activity to another, try one new thing after another, “ping” the pleasurable dopamine rush over and over.

But as the grapevine teaches me, constraints are essential to the kind of abundance that produces fruit to nourish others.

These weeks and months and even years, as I mourn three great losses, feel like times some of the phony abundance of abandoned living is being pruned that I might have an abundance that brings fruit.

I can only hope.

As for the vines: this year, there will be many grapes.

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Freedom of Religion: Religious Pluralism before the American Revolution

This Memorial Day weekend, while we celebrate the many freedoms won by our nation’s military, I found myself using my freedom of research to uncover and map these 30 pre-Revolutionary US churches. Several Catholic and Anglican congregations were started before the Pilgrims arrived; the first Jewish congregations date to the 1650s.

As a citizen of a nation that values freedom of worship, I’m grateful for this graphic reminder that even the earliest European immigrants to these shores were religious pluralists.


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How to Contain the Immigrant Threat


“When they go to the Congress to get laws to watch the Muslims, nobody’s going to do anything about it. It’s against American values.”

“We’re part of the country.”

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz wants law enforcement to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods” — an idea shared by many Americans today. They extend it to protecting our borders from immigrants coming from countries with Muslim majorities. Muslim immigrants who have completed American citizenship courses shake their heads. This kind of talk is “against American values,” they say. “We’re part of the country.”

History students remember that after Pearl Harbor was bombed, American values notwithstanding, we isolated at least 110,000 Japanese-Americans in “internment camps” during World War II. About two-thirds of these were US born American citizens. Still, we feared that any one of them might aid the enemy in Japan and so we put thousands of them into our nation’s version of a concentration camp.

This internment happened even after the FBI had arrested 1,291 Japanese who were leaders in their community, had ties to Japanese cultural institutions, or were considered suspect and worth further investigation. That is to say, these interned citizens — because most of them were citizens — were only rounded up because of their immigrant history.

Lock Up the ‘Enemy Alien’ Italians!

Fewer of us know we also rounded up some 600,000 immigrants from Italy who had not yet completed their naturalization process, out of the same fear. About 10,000 were relocated to camps, like the Japanese. All had to register as “enemy aliens” and carry special photo ID booklets at all times. The FBI raided their homes. “Contraband” possessions were confiscated, including flashlights, shortwave radios, cameras, binoculars, and guns. Thousands of fishermen lost their livelihoods when fishing boats were seized. Many Italian immigrants lived under “house arrest,” with curfews limiting them to their residences from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.

ID Cards for Lisa Scottolines Family

Popular novelist Lisa Scottoline has found the “enemy alien” ID cards her grandparents carried — while their son served in the US Air Force during WWII.

In this context, it’s a mystery to me that we didn’t treat German-Americans as hostiles. We did limit their wartime immigration, however. Anne Frank’s father, Otto, was among those denied entry. Feels a bit like what’s happening with the desperate refugees from Syria, people who so many Americans would like to keep away from our country.

Anne Frank at School

12-year-old Anne Frank at school in Amsterdam. Her father used every high-level contact he had, in a desperate effort to get the family to the United States.

So it would seem, unfortunately, that Muslims in the US who expect good treatment in a world of ethnic- and faith-based war, are appealing to an American ideal that we aren’t always in the habit of practicing. But American ideals aren’t the primary driver for Christians. For us, the more important question is:

What does God say?

Here are some answers from the Bible:

  1. We are responsible to treat immigrants as we treat any other member of our community:

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” Lev. 19:33-34

God gives two reasons why we need to treat immigrants as we treat each other. The most important is because God is God and he commands it. The second is because we ourselves have been immigrants — whether in Egypt, as God reminds us, or to this country. And God formulates this command in the words of what Jesus recognized as the two great, all-encompassing commands:

  • Love the Lord your God
  • Love your neighbor as yourself

2. Our primary citizenship is in the community ruled by God. We are to prioritize the direction of our Ruler over the rules (and fears) of our human community:

Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. … Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world. 1 Pet. 2:11-12

Because we are God’s people, our time in this world is lived as “temporary residents and foreigners.”

The Battle Against Our Soul

What worldly desires are doing battle against our soul when we make political decisions based on fear of terrorists instead of welcoming the immigrant among us?

How God Secures the Community

God says we “secure” our community “against” the immigrant by inviting them in.

He told Israel that immigrants who agreed to the mark of the covenant could join the Passover celebration: “The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you.” (Exodus 12:49)

God made the seventh-day rest mandatory not only for God’s people but for immigrants living among us: “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed.” (Exodus 23:12)

Immigrants throughout all generations are to be governed by the same rules as God’s people: “The community is to have the same rules for you and for the foreigner residing among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord: The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigner residing among you.” (Numbers 15:15-16)

God’s Sustaining Word to Immigrants

God offers many words to sustain immigrants. This is particularly convicting: “The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.” (Ps. 146:9)

May I never be counted among the wicked.

For the curious, more info:

Lisa Scottoline on her grandparents’ status as ‘enemy aliens’

Anne Frank and her family were also denied entry: Washington Post


Posted in Carlene Byron, christian, christianity, faith, faith and politics, refugees, what does god say | Tagged , , , , ,

Denying religious freedom is American tradition

Religious Freedom survey

A December 2015 poll found people in the US still discriminate against people of other faiths, a tradition that began with the Puritans.

The latest AP-NORC survey findings about our American lack of commitment to religious freedom would be frightening if not so in line with our history.

Most of us learned in grade school that the Puritans came to this continent to escape discrimination in Europe. Most of us never learned that once they arrived here, they began practicing discrimination against a wide range of other beliefs, in order to best protect the Puritan “city on a hill” they sought to establish. Continue reading

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Christmas Has Only Begun!

Nativity set without kings

The shepherds have made it to the manger, but where are the kings? By tradition, we celebrate their arrival in Bethlehem on Jan. 6, Epiphany. This nativity, made in Peru, was bought in honor of a friend serving in that country.

It’s nearly 9 on Christmas night. Many of you were awakened hours ago by excited children eager to tear into the packages under the tree. You enjoyed the traditional dinner — whatever that is in your family — and then, after the holiday dishes were washed and put away, have begun thinking toward the drudgery of putting away Christmas as well.

Give yourself a break this year. No need to clean up Christmas yet. Christmas has only just begun. Continue reading

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