plant new trees.

plant new trees“then God said, “let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.” – genesis 1:26, NLT

this past week i saw a flurry of facebook posts about john piper’s latest words about  masculine christianity.  i am pretty out of the blog-reading circuit because there are only so many hours in the day and mine are jam packed with people & kids & more kids & more people.  at the same time, i love that challenging conversations are happening and social media is a powerful tool to raise awareness.

i did not listen to john piper’s presentation or link to the blog post.   i don’t have the stomach or time for it, but i got the cliff notes version from rachel’s blog.  i like her idea of helping people consider other views of God that aren’t specifically masculine.  i have no trouble with God being masculine.  the trouble i have is assuming God is primarily masculine because Jesus was a guy and chose 12 male disciples and then building entire systems upon that thought, utterly dismissing a whole other half of God’s image and essence.  along with that half, i am certain we’re missing a whole lot of other things about God that we have been afraid to explore because the systems & churches we have been part of have kept God so contained.

john piper makes caricatured roles for men and women, over-simplifying the image of God placed in each of us.  this denies not only women of their fullness, but men as well.

whether we want to admit it or not, piper’s theology is deeply embedded into most of standard evangelical christianity.  it just is. men do certain things and women do other certain things.  if each sex would just step into “God’s intention for them” (“appropriate” social roles), everything will work just fine and everyone will be “free.”

when God created humans, God made us in in the fullness of God’s image.  not half, not part.  yes, we are unique and different, and that’s why we need each other to more accurately reflect the fullness of God’s image.  the body of Christ is a reflection of God. if that’s the case, then why is half missing, devalued, and thought of as less somehow?

change in “the church” is coming.  a holy stirring is happening and many people are starting to call it for what it is–oppression, sexism, and a fear-based theology that perpetuates injustice.   however, it has become so innate that merely trying to shake it out of our system isn’t going to cut it.  we’re not a few awesome blog posts away from changing these deeply grooved systems of injustice.

when considering change, there are two natural reactions to it that we think of first:

1.  prune off what’s not working.  if we can prune some of these injustices out of “the church”, we’ll be okay.  this is the idea of changing systems by making some adjustments here and there that will shift things.  raise awareness, start to think differently about it, help leaders become more sensitive to issues of equality, influence change from within.

2. raze the ground completely.  knock it all down.  it’s flawed, it doesn’t work, it harms people.  the whole thing is so jacked up that we just need to walk away from it entirely.

i feel strongly that alone, #1  just won’t work. i’m not saying that some systems can’t be changed from within but i think it’s a pretty brutal road and will require leaders who are willing to shrink their churches & ministries, pay some serious emotional, spiritual, and financial costs, and lose all kinds of things they are used to gaining.  honestly, that’s not super likely on a wide scale.  human nature & self protection will strongly work against such courage.  pruning also dismisses the magnitude of the problem.  we’re talking about deeply grooved systems of injustice that go back to the beginning.  the root system is strong;  a little tweaking isn’t going to bring full equality for anyone. 

i also believe that blowing the whole thing up isn’t really an option.  it works for some people.  they believe in certain scriptural interpretations & hold dearly to their tenets. i may disagree, but i don’t think that means there aren’t valuable things that happen for people through their churches and so scrapping the whole thing isn’t really fair or respectful.

i think there’s a much better option:

plant new trees. 

trees that have the roots of equality from the very beginning.

trees that gain nourishment from a free-er gospel and soil that is enriched with freedom and hope instead of fear and absolute certainty.

trees that have men and women and rich and poor and educated and uneducated and black and white and gay and straight all tangled up together from the beginning.

trees that are tended to gently and naturally instead of pumped with unnatural growth agents & pesticides that try to advance the progression of development to “catch up faster” to other churches that will always have the advantage of time and power on their side.

trees that get their strength from the beatitudes not the latest and greatest how-to-grow books and conferences.

trees that are well-watered by people who are tired of talk and are ready for action.

trees that over time will flourish and bring shade and fruit and all kinds of other goodness for generations to come in the communities & cultures where they are planted.

a diverse ecosystem of trees that more accurately reflect the fullness of God’s image. 

these trees can be all kinds of shapes and sizes–individual relationships, groups, churches, ministries, organizations–little pockets of love & freedom cropping up all over that influence people and model a better way, a free-er way, an equal way, a more “oh, that’s what Jesus looks like” way.

yeah, pruning won’t cut it.  razing isn’t an option.  let’s get planting. i have a feeling some of you are really good gardeners.

* * * * *

here are a few other links i wanted to highlight:

many of you have probably read it, but if you haven’t check out rachel held evans’ post this week: they were right (and wrong) about the slippery slope.  i slipped off the slope a long time ago and sometimes tell those that wonder, “yeah, i completely slipped off the slope and somehow found the most solid ground i’ve ever stood on.” 

our walking wounded online class starts monday february 6th.  registrations are possible until then, so if you or someone you know want to be part,  you can sign up at that link.  it’s going to be good! i also am not sure when we’re planning on running it again so now’s the right time if you’re on the fence.

i wrote a little post for provoketive magazine last month that i forgot to share called stories that matter.

lastly, i posted this on facebook & it made some pretty good rounds, but if you missed it, here’s the trailer from my awesome friend pam hogeweide’s new book, just released at the end of january–unladylike: resisting the injustice of inequality in the church:

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life and online. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Kathy,

    Thank you for this post. I’ve been a little wound up about Piper again this week. My first gut reaction is one of anger…anger over the injustice and the brokenness of the system and what it is doing to women (and men). And then, I get sad and discouraged.


    I LOVE the metaphor of ‘planting new trees.’ That way of thinking is new, fresh, full of hope and life….beautiful.

    For me personally, being in tune with/being in nature is the most spiritual experience (and I am fascinated with trees). That mental image is one I’ll definitely hold on to as I continue along my journey.

    • hey tiffany, thanks for reading & sharing. yeah, i think there is a lot to be angry about, really. the system is just so messed up and because it doesn’t feel like there are any great solutions and the “machine” keeps grinding, it can definitely get very sad & discouraging. i feel it a lot, too. that’s why we really need to tell stories of hope & change and remember that despite the obstacles, there are some shifts happening and to keep planting trees in any way we can!

    • thanks, my friend. i’m so glad there are so many of us who believe in hope and change despite the obstacles. i still have a post swirling around about breaking up the table into kindling that you wrote a while back. your words always linger.

  • Kathy, I love your heart so, so much. I haven’t said a word about all the discussions this week because it’s just too much and where does one start? Well, you have nailed it. This is where we start. Let’s plant new trees. Love it.

    • hey megan, yeah, i know what you mean. sometimes i just keep my head down and stay out of it because it’s just too annoying. after seeing some threads on facebook walls, i can see why caution needs to be employed, ha ha. i am so glad i know you out here.

  • Love! Yes…plant new trees. A very encouraging word in the midst of frustration. Looking forward to walking wounded!

    • thanks, jenn. i am so glad you will be part of WW (well, not really, but you know what i mean. it’s one of those that’s hard to be glad for the need!) peace from colorado.

  • Thank you for this response to Piper. I found your blog through Emerging Mummy’s Facebook page. I’ve experienced a number of unpleasant emotions in response to Piper’s whole “Christianity is masculine” thing. I’m left now with frustration, which, I suppose is better than anger. It’s wonderful to know there are so many others who don’t agree with him and who are trying to create their own, more authentic, Jesus-focused community/church/life. The tone of your blog was spot on. Strong and encouraging and warm…but unapologetic. Glad to have found you.

    • thanks, lindsay. i always love sarah’s stuff. i am glad you found your way to this post and found it encouraging. this is tough stuff with a lot of strong emotions on either side. anger can be a really propelling emotion if we can discover channel it in the right direction! i know i have oozed all over the place & still do, but something has shifted in this past season where i just get too sad & mad if i look too long at the machine and fail to look at the beauty & hope & change i see in all kinds of directions that usually never get much press. thanks for reading & taking time to share.

  • This is a truly constructive response. I’ve tried pruning and I’ve done the razing in my own life, and you’re absolutely right. We need to build something better. It may be that we do all three at some point along the way, but we cannot repair what’s broken without doing something positive.

    Oh how I want to participate in the Walking Wounded class. I’m going to try to get the money together.

    • thanks, joy. oh i know that feeling of trying all 3 in different ways. would love to have you be part of next week’s class, too!

  • I love this post. It reminds me of one of my favorite lines of poetry in the Bible: “Once more a remnant of the house of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above” (Isaiah 37:31). I hope the fruit of these new trees is healthy and good.

    • thanks, jessica. i love isaiah. i think the way to create better fruit is to make sure that we’re not using the same old seeds thinking they will grow something different. it’s a little like the new and old wineskin things. so many of us want new wine, believe in new wine, are trying to make new wine. but we pour it into old wineskins because that’s all we know and over time, the new wine goes bad. we really need God’s help & courage to show us the kinds of seeds to really plant. thanks for reading & taking time to comment.

  • Kathy,

    I have been following the Driscoll/Piper stuff lately, and have been angry along with everyone else. I may have even thrown out a few tweets of my own, to go along with all the other numerous angry ones floating around. And while I think there have been some very good critical posts that have been hopeful as well (Rachel Held Evens’ post, for example), this is by far the most inspring and hopeful response I have read. There is plenty to be angry about in the church. There is plenty that should make us angry. But I love the idea of channeling that anger into planting trees, and not another angry blog post.

    As well, as a male, often my gut response to statement like Driscoll’s and Piper’s is often to make statements back at them, to show that I am not a male like them. But often, it seems, in some of my responses I end up using a tone that sounds more like them than I would like. I would much rather help my fellow sisters, and brothers, plant something new. This sounds nicer than screaming back at them.

    Thank you again for these needed words today.


    • thanks, luke. so glad to be connected to you out here. sometimes screaming feels good but in the end i suppose it doesn’t get us very far. a rant and rave now and then is kind of nice, though, because it does acknowledge that we have really strong emotions about these important justice topics. plus, it really truly is an uphill battle and we need to admit that. yes, good stuff is stirring but we’re a long way away from the tipping point. if we can band together and encourage each other to fan into flame the dreams we have in our heart, over time, we’ll get there. thanks for reading & taking time to share.

  • Kathy, you had me nodding along the whole way, but when you got to the tree-planting part, I felt such a surge of hope and warmth! Thanks for encouraging this tree-planter! It’s hard work, but it’s so worth it.

    • yeah! that makes me happy. you are planting some really pretty trees up there and like us, know how long it takes for them to grow but how worth it it is.

  • Like your image of “planting new trees” !!! I also like your line, “Trees that over time will flourish…” – “over time”.

    Trees are different from flowers, that grow for a season. Trees take time. New tress are needed !! But, trees will take time.

    Personally, I think that John Piper and others are re-acting, not acting, to the fact that new trees have already been planted, and a number of them in various places are beginning to be noticed, are beginning to provide some shade, if not yet abundant crops of fruit. Now, we need to water and tend the new trees, to nurture them to greater life, but also continue finding and planting the best new trees. We have a long way to go.

    However, if I understand Jesus in the Gospels, none of this is surprise. There was lots of dead wood in His day, but Jesus kept planting “new trees”. And, He told His disciples to do as He did, but not to be surprised by still more dead wood.

    “Plant new trees” – a very thought provoking image.

    • thanks, john. yeah, think how long it really takes for trees to mature. a long, long time. the refuge community is coming on 6 years in april. 6 years! and we are still just babies in so many ways, but still very grateful that we have stayed the course and not given up, even when so many odds have been against us. we really need long-haul encouragers who keep cheering on planters and praying for patience and hope along the way. thanks for sharing these wise words.

  • Thank you, thank you! I absolutely agree with you about the “new trees” concept. What a beautiful picture of the body of Christ! May more of us hope, pray, and make way for the kingdom of God. I’m featuring you on my blog tomorrow morning. I’d love for you to check it out and share your thoughts.

  • Found you via RHE. Wow – this was so inspiring and beautiful and encouraging. Thank you for these words!

    • thanks, claire, for reading and taking time to comment. glad it stirred up some good stuff for you!

  • Right on Kathy. Attacking what already exists won’t do much good for anyone. Part of that planting process, perhaps the seeds or water for seedlings, is stories. That’s a big part of the Women in Ministry series at my blog. I just assumed that complementarians were right until I ran into the stories of women used by God as missionaries. Then I began to see all of the other ways that God uses women, and they forced me to look at scripture again. The closer I looked at scripture, the more I saw that complementarian theology overlooks some really important and complex verses. It took me years of study before I changed my thinking completely, but the stories are what got me started down that road.

    • thanks, ed. yeah, the stories make all the difference. i agree. it is what keeps me going, too, not only around this issue but around so many others, too. when concepts become real, it changes everything. thanks for sharing & your heart for the kingdom. it’s beautiful!

  • Excellent thoughts. Just this week I experienced an interesting moment that goes along with planting new trees. While manning a Toastmasters booth with another individual (a male pastor who has, in the past, told me about 1 Tim 2 mandates) was asked by an individual, “Does she speak?” (referring to me). He sort of chuckled and said rather proudly, “Well, let me tell you. First of all she’s a lady preacher. And she writes a blog with some really intellectual ideas. And she’s getting her master’s in theology. And she’s an excellent speaker…” This transformation has come about from me simply remaining planted and growing, and demonstrating to him another way from his traditional understanding of “women preachers”. May we all continue to feed others with the sweet fruit that our new trees produce…

    • that’s a fun story. thank you for sharing! i like what you said about you just remaining “planted and growing, and demonstrating to him another way from his traditional understanding..” in down we go, i share a story about a friend who was part of the refuge and told me how over time he accepted me as a pastor when at first he had a block because of his previous theology & church experiences. i didn’t try to win him over, i didn’t try to convince him. i just did what i had been doing. peace and courage to you from afar.

  • beautiful. it seems botanically true that the baby, new trees need to plant far away from the huge, sun blocking trees.
    my thought: plant far from the depleted soil of suburban, middle-class, giant trees.

    like you said, the soil of the beatitudes is the foundation for truly healthy trees. maybe this is too cynical, but i no longer think the big, old trees can be saved.

    dreams of a new forest…

    • Yeah Karl, and the first thing after picking out a good place to be is to dig a hole, and go down. Do the digging broadly enough that the water will collect. This partnership between your digging and the life giving waters that come down as a gift from heaven results in a vertical channel at the deepest part of the hole where the water goes down, and makes a space for the developing taproot of the tree to grow straight down, strong into the earth. It is this that enables the later things of shade, birds, and tire swings.
      Maybe the big old trees can’t all be “saved”, but I bet they’d yield a lot of good lumber! 😉

      • great thoughts here, i think there’s some amazing lumber in there, all kinds of amazing people whose gifts and talents and passions are being wasted sitting there listening every week & keeping the ministry wheels spinning but longing for something more tangible, more challenging, more real.

    • such a great thought, “plant far from the depleted soil of suburban, middle-class, giant trees”. i think it’s hard because we can’t all go rural but we can separate in our hearts and distance ourselves from all of the ways drawing from that ground will rob us of peace & hope & make us feel less-than. it is so true that if we don’t find ways to have the Sun shine on us & ways to water our soil with pure-er water, we will be stuck in the shade of the old massive trees and never fully fourish. i really like the thought you shared tonight, too, that unless people are willing to leave the safety of the old shade trees, we will never be able to make the changes we believe in on the wider scales. dreaming of new forests with you.

  • I LOVE this post. I am so loving you right now. My husband and I planted a new tree ( and we really needed to hear this. Thank you. I would love your feedback on my blog.

    • thanks, michelle. i glanced at your blog & it looks fab. i need to take a closer look when i get back from a short trip this week, but i really like what i saw. thanks for reading.

  • brilliant post, my dear. so good. and sage, i like the idea of lumber from the big old trees.

  • Thank you for showing me that there is a whole new forest out there, haha. With a lot of snow and love and goodness and &^%# this is hard moments. Best.decision.ever. 🙂

    • snow is definitely not a requirement for good tree-ness, but hey, sometimes you’ve gotta take the good with the bad 🙂

  • Plant all the tree you want but remember:

    “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” (from Matthew 3)

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  • Kathy, this is beautiful. I am in awe. Love your thoughts and love your heart. I’m such a fan. I hope I get to meet you someday. Thanks for commenting on my blog last week. I am so so glad that voices like yours and Rachel’s are out there. I keep wanting to make everyone I know read them. Ha. Anyway, thanks again for taking time to bless the blogosphere with grace. Heather

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  • Thanks for the shout out Kathy! Love what you wrote here! I want to mention that Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) are long time “tree planters” and do such a wonderful job with biblical scholarship. They are committed to effectively communicating to the evangelical world the biblical principle of full personhood for women in all spheres of life. I love their work and want to alert your readership to what a great resource they are.

    Their website is

  • Pingback: Digging Deep; Planting Trees – Jessica McCracken
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  • Pingback: Trashing Labels; Planting Trees | Jessica McCracken
  • This is always an issue that gets the blood boiling in Christian debates. And as such it is a minefield to be negotiated carefully.

    Racheal Held Evans wants what John Piper says to be regarded as “dismissive, hurtful” and you Kathy say you “don’t have the stomach or time”. End of conversation then. If what Evans said is true about Piper being dismissive, then by that satandard, what you say is dismissive. And the dissonance between the two worldviews is affirmed.

    What in my expereince is dismissive and hurtful is a woman saying that Christian men have no balls. Seems to me that in that situation what Piper has to say about masculine Christianity has relevance. Seems to me with what you and Evans say. Piper has no relevance. Of course neither is the truth and yet both are.

    Evan’s assumption is that we are letting Piper get us down. Actually I found what he had to say about masculine Christianty a challenge and an affimation as a man in the light of the complaint made about men having no balls. The reason why I felt hurt and dismissed on receiving that comment was that there is an element of truth in it. However the problem with this is not with the men, but with the culture that produces such men, including the women in that culture.

    So no rachel evens, I don’t want to make a point about positive feminie images in scripture to counterbalance Piper as I am not at war with him. There are of course merits to both seeing the masculine and the feminine in God. The reason that things are communicated in patriarcal terms is because the history of humanity is patriarchal. It’s been like that ever since Adam ruled over Eve. So in th light of then let’s examine what he claims in that churche that flourish most for men and woamn have a masculine feel. Well, similalrly Mark Driscol would argue that going after the men means having th women too. And that in the church he pastors there are equal numbers of men and women. Other churches have what around 65% women? So the point Piper makes is not without validiy. If the men aren’t turning up to church then that’s not good for the women either. and if women are complaining about men not having balls then church needs to be an envoronment where masculinity is affirmed. Seems this is what Piper is doing.

    BUT is this being done to the cost of equal affirmation for women? And this is where it gets tricky and an area where there is much pain and struggle. Yes humanity historically is patriarchal. But that is as a result of the fall, it wasn’t like that before Eve sinned and Adam became thourhg his sin and doing what she wanted a product of sin too. And the sinful Adam ruling over Eve. So it follows that wiith this “rule” and as a result of humanities fallenness we have inherited the idea of God in the masculine Father. Son and Holy Spirt. Then we do get a reaction against that. Mary Daly for example saying that Jesus is an impossible role model for women. However if we dig a bit we do find positive images for women. The Holy Spirit in the Hebrew is described as “Ruach” a feminine term, like other ele ments in that language. And the pronuncaition of “Ruach” has with it the onomatopeic effect of power. Wisdom is described as “she”. And we know fomr Jesus’ ministry, it was often his engagement with women who by thier actions taught the male audience the Canaanite women with the demon posessed duaghter, the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried it with her hair, the woman at the well who went to tell the village abuot Jesus. It was a woman who first witnessed Jesus after the resurresction. I could go on.

    What is sad and quit frankly pathetic in leaders is theis bipolar tendancy to fall on one side or the other. If we truly are living as Christ intended, then we would have no need to argue. The incoprehnsibly frustrating thing about these kind of discussions is that outside of the church, rarely if ever is there a problem. It’s only, at least in my expereince, in the church where fights break out over this kind of thing. The church and Christian leaders really need to sort out this mess, work out a way to get along and stop stupid arguments that do nothing to benefit others but wound people in the crossfire.


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