FIG

George Bowers Sr. stands beside a host tree killed by a strangler fig.

When Nancy and I were in Florida a few years ago, we visited the Everglades. In addition to an airboat ride, we took a short stroll on a wooden walkway to observe a little of the wilderness of this dense biosphere. We encountered a variety of birds and plants as well as a few small reptiles. The diversity of the swamp is truly amazing, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to have experienced it.

One of the plants we found in the Everglades was the strangler fig. Although there are many species of this tree, they are all parasitic and depend on other trees for their support. Initially, the seed germinates in the top of a host tree, and the plant survives simply on the nutrients it gathers from the air while it begins stretching its stem downward. Eventually, the stem reaches the ground where it establishes roots of its own and begins to grow rapidly.

As the plant develops, it wraps its roots around the host tree, gripping it in a tight embrace. Gradually, these above ground roots grow larger, and as the host also endeavors to grow, it is impeded from doing so by its parasite. In many cases, the fig actually kills the host tree by strangulation or girdling, and only the hollow core remains. This core continues to support the fig until it ultimately deteriorates and rots away, dooming its parasitic dependent as well.

This destructive natural phenomenon reminds me of something that happened early in our nation’s history. Some of our forefathers imported the hideous institution of slavery from England. Without realizing how devastating this practice was to human beings and to societies, or not caring, they encouraged and nurtured its growth.

Gradually, this pernicious evil entwined its tentacles around the very core of our nation and began to choke the life out of its people. Many leaders mistakenly thought this addition was beneficial and helped to support the main tree, while all the while it was strangling not only the soul of our society but the literal lives of many African Americans.

Thankfully, some recognized this enormous injustice for what it was and fought against it, seeking to abolish its stranglehold on the country. Inspired by William Wilberforce and others who successfully eliminated it from Great Britain, they sought to do the same here. Unfortunately, by that time, the institution had attached itself so tightly that it required a bloody civil war and the deaths of 620,000 citizens to separate it.

I rejoice that those days are behind us and the legalized institution that destroyed people, families, futures, and nations is no more. Unfortunately, many of its effects live on. Even though the tree of slavery was severed at its roots with the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, discriminatory attitudes and actions still persist. They perpetually grow new roots determined to nourish the evil that causes hurt, pain, and division and that cripples our nation and our Commonwealth.

The sooner we realize that all humans are cousins through Adam and Eve with varying skin colors, the better off we’ll all be. Whenever we remember that each person is created in God’s image, is precious in his sight, and is one for whom his son died, the strangler starts to wither. One of the best things we can do for Black History Month is to adopt a Biblical perspective and obey Jesus by loving everyone regardless of their skin color. The sooner we do that, the sooner our country can thrive and continue to grow to heights not yet attained, but ordained for us by Almighty God.

Let us learn from the trees in the Florida Everglades and put to death any racism or prejudice in our minds and hearts and let us work together to glorify God and love all the people He has created. In Jesus, George.

George Bowers Sr. is the senior pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren and has authored 11 books including his latest poetry collection, “Valley Verses, Volume IV,” which is available at Four Star Printing and Shenandoah Stuff. He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at gabowers@shentel.net.

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