I wrote a parable and published it HERE. The original might be best for classically-educated students and anyone else who’s pretty good at literary criticism. (That is the version I read to my homeschool students.) But, if you need your lessons to be a little more explicit–then here is a version of my story, with Author’s notes.
The human mind is like a fertile ground, where seeds are continually being planted. The seeds are opinions, ideas, and concepts. You plant a seed, a thought grows… the human mind is so fertile!Don Miguel Ruiz
(Note: Pay attention to the title and the quote at the top. Those were chosen for a reason.)
Once upon a time, a man decided to grow an orchard.
He wanted the trees to be strong and beautiful… And, he wanted them to serve an important purpose in the future, to make it worth all the time and effort to cultivate them. But, the man wasn’t entirely sure about which type of fruit he wanted to grow. And the problem of indecision gave him a lot of trouble when it came time for planting.
This man knew it would be several years before his orchard was ready to give him a harvest.
(Note: Let’s call our Man “Mr. Henry Rent.” His grandkids might call him “Pa.” Pa Rent…. Pa Rent… Hmmm… I wonder what his character is meant to represent?)
“I can’t know what purpose my trees will need to serve in 10 years, or more!” the man reasoned. “What will be most beneficial to my community? Who’s to say?”
Oranges? Apples? Or nice, sturdy oaks?
Or maybe a combination of several varieties?!
The man struggled to plan his orchard, for fear he was limiting his options. He couldn’t imagine making such permanent choices with something so important.
… The man chose a packet of Neutral Seeds to plant, and keep those options open.
(Note: people often say education should teach the basics. They want public schools to handle reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, so Pa Rents can add the religion and morality on their own time. Many Pa Rents want to plant Neutral Seeds.)
“I’ll plant these Neutral Trees and water them daily,” the man told himself. “I’ll weed and trim and cover the plants when it’s cold outside. And, after many years of hard work and tender care, THEN my farm hands and I can add the fruit later, according to what we believe.”
And so he put his plan into action.
Lovingly and tirelessly, the man nurtured his seedlings, anxiously watching for signs of bugs or disease.
This man was not lazy. He poured his heart and soul into his task, and he smiled as his efforts began to pay off. The baby trees turned a lovely shade of green, and their leaves uncurled toward the sun, one by one.
Seeing this, the man became excited about The Future, as he imagined all the possible fruits these trees would be able to grow, when the time came.
(Note: Pa Rent truly wants what is best for his orchard. He loves the fertile land, and he wants to make the best decision. He’s just a little confused. If you find yourself hating Pa Rent as you read this story, you’re not being very empathetic. Pa Rent isn’t a villain.)
But, one day, the man saw something that disturbed him. Small buds had sprung up on the tips of his little plants–hideous, dark brown wart-looking blobs, which the man called “flowers” for lack of a better term.
Needless to say, the man didn’t expect to find Ugly Blob-Flowers in a grove of Neutral Trees. So he spent a few days trying to identify what kind they were. He read everything he could find on the subject.
If these had been the buds of apples or orange trees, the man might have left them alone and celebrated the happy accident. (He hadn’t intended to grow fruit at all, but he wouldn’t complain about Good Fruit!)
But, no matter how hard he tried, he could not identify the weird-looking flower, growing bigger and uglier every day.
And so, when the man could stall no longer, he finally ordered his farm hands to snip all the brown blossoms off.
(Note: People often notice there’s a problem with their education curriculum or philosophy before they understand what’s causing it. Whenever there’s an increase in violence/bullying or a drop in test scores, the first decisions often involve clipping buds.)
“I chose to plant Neutral Trees for a reason!” the man explained. “It’s better to keep all the fruit out of the orchard, and just stick to the Basic Tree… We’re concentrating on roots, stem, and leaves. No fruit!”
And with that, the man and his farmhands returned to their diligent work of feeding and watering their trees. They grew taller and stronger every day.
(Note: We could give names to the Hired Hands, if that helps. Think of them as being cousins in the family, with the last name “Jucator.” All of them have the first name “Ed.” They are not villains any more than Pa Rent is. All of the Ed Jucators who work in the orchard are just trying their best and following orders.)
The first year passed, and the man was very pleased with his Neutral Orchard. He thought all the drama was behind him, until one shocking day when–AGAIN–the young trees began spouting strange fruit, out of nowhere!
(Note: Do I need to explain this image again, or are we still clear that buds are symptoms of a problem–not the root problem itself?)
Some budded faster than others. But all of the trees showed unmistakable signs of a brown, bulbous tumoring. The man was furious, thinking an enemy had broken into his orchard and corrupted his trees. What else could cause such Strange Fruit to grow?
In any case, he knew he had a bigger job on his hands than he originally imagined, and he wasn’t too proud to admit when he needed help.
“They say it takes a villiage,” the man mused out loud. “So, I will give each farmhand his own tree, to cultivate according to its individual needs. Perhaps each tree will thrive in a specially tailored environment.”
And, immediately, each hired hand got busy treating the trees with his own, unique Good Fruit Formula.
(Note: Ah, now all the Ed Jucators get to show off their problem-solving skills…What have been some stategies for dealing with all the nasty fruit?)
One worker painted the brown buds red.
Another started playing beautiful music for his tree, in hopes it would inspire beautiful growth. (Although, this upset the farmhand who was working on the next tree over, because he insisted OTHER trees would be influenced by the music, which he described as “White Imperialist Indoctrination.”)
One worker added extra earthworms and bumblebees and other organic elements to make the environment more natural.
And, still another immediately dug up his tree and transplanted it to the Orange Grove next door, where the “rain was better.”
(Note: Remember these trees represent ideas/philosophies that have been planted in a human’s fertile mind. The mind is represented by the soil. So, don’t get confused in thinking the trees represent invidual children. All the hired hands are trying to heal the “neutral” belief system, using different tools.)
The Orchard Owner kept one little tree for himself as well.
He chose to cut off the ugly, brown fruits completely, rather than trying to change their color or location. He had planted neutral, Plain-Jane, Bare-Bones trees, and he was taking it pretty personally that the plants kept sprouting fruit, despite his best efforts.
(Note: This would be a good time to reflect on the title of this parable again.)
So, the man snipped the brown fruit for a second time and waited many weeks, to observe the trees closely. He crossed his fingers AND said a little prayer, hoping the fruit was gone for good this time.
(Note: Pa Rents and Students are still allowed to pray in public school. Let’s see if that works…)
When enough time passed, the man began to relax. He spent many hours admiring his nice, clean, Bare, Neutral tree, finally excited about The Future again. He felt a renewed sense of optimism about his Vision; he remembered why he wanted to plant an orchard all along.
With excitement and energy, the man was ready to tackle the next phase of his plan: adding the Good Fruit.
He diligently pulled out his glue and stapler…
(Note: It’s physically painful for me to have to explain this part, because I love that last line so much. The mental image of a man glueing fruit to an already-grown tree was what caused me to write this parable. YOU CAN’T GET CHRISTIAN FRUIT TO STICK ON A SECULAR TREE, GUYS!)
Many, many years passed, and the man sat on a broken down porch, looking out over his deserted orchard, full of weeds and garbage. Most of the hired hands had long since given up trying to work with their individual trees. Glue and staples dangled pathetically from several brittle branches.
One of the trees had been felled by a storm several summers ago, and it had taken a couple others down with it. One tree was spray painted by some vandals. But MOST of the trees were producing HUGE, brown, bulbous “fruits,” which refused to be tamed by snipping, buzzing, fumigating, or chopping… The man had tried it all.
(Note: There are many things that could go wrong with a person’s mind. Please notice some of the damage in the orchard had natural causes. I’m trying to acknowledge that acts of God happen. And some thoughts are corrupted by violent abuse.)
It turned out, the brown “flowers” smelled like sulfur in the summer and tasted like rotting meat by Fall. Last year’s crop was piled on the orchard floor; not even the flies were interested.
The brown blobs were absolutely everywhere. Even the transplanted Neutral Tree in the Orange Grove was hunched over with putrid blobs. (So much for “better rain,” the man thought bitterly.) Everywhere he looked, he saw destruction and death and failure.
Everywhere, that is, except for ONE beautiful, orange-fruited tree in the very center of his orchard.
There it stood, a mysterious symbol of health and success in a sea of disaster. But it puzzled the Owner more than comforting him. All these years, he couldn’t explain why that one tree stood, tall and lovely.
Slowly, painfully, the man got up and walked toward that thriving tree. He could see the Hired Worker who had tended the tree all these years, reading a book under the tree’s shade. The Owner hadn’t spoken to the Hired Worker much in all the decades. (The two of them had very different Philosophies of Farming.) But, lonely and defeated, the Orchard Owner decided to do something he should have done long ago: he struck up a conversation with the Hired Hand who grew the beautiful Orange Fruit.
“I poured my life and soul into this orchard,” the Owner began.
“That’s true, Old Friend,” his Worker replied. “You toiled in the hot sun every, single day, because you love these trees.”
“But you simply worked harder?” the Owner asked, with a slight shake to his voice. “Did you put in more effort than I did?”
“No, I don’t think anyone worked harder than you,” the Worker answered, completely sincere.
“It’s just a roll of the dice, then, isn’t it?” the Owner asked sadly. “I just can’t help that a storm whipped through here…and the vandals, of course…”
“That’s true, too.” The worked agreed. “Many things are outside our control.”
There was a long pause, while the Owner thought about these words. For a moment, he considered turning around and walking back to the porch, telling himself he could always plant again someday…and use stronger glue.
But, he stayed where he was and let the silence linger, while he found the courage to ask the question he had wanted to ask all along.
“How, then?” the Owner whispered, almost inaudibly. “How did you grow a Neutral Tree that gives such beautiful fruit?”
(Note: it’s not easy for a Pa Rent to ask what he did wrong and then listen to correction. It’s even harder when he has spent years investing in a certain idea, and he’s surrounded by damage.)
Here, the Worker smiled a sad smile, and he looked up at the orange fruits overhead.
“This tree,” the worker said, as he pointed, “is not a Neutral Tree… I pulled out that tree the moment you gave me this plot of land to tend.”
The Owner didn’t know how to process this information.
(Note: The Ed Jucator did not pluck/kill a child. I can’t stress that enough. He plucked out the bad idea about “Neutral Education” being desirable.)
The Owner had given the Worker HIS TREE–not his land. He found himself mourning for the old Neutral Tree and fighting anger toward his Hired Hand for playing such a nasty trick. But he remained silent while the Worker gently continued:
“Neutral Trees grow Neutral Fruit, which is actually a rotten fruit of its own. Knowing this, I quickly dug up the Neutral Tree, and began replenishing the soil. There were big holes that needed to be filled, and there probably are still roots of the Neutral Tree, hiding down deep under the earth. It will take many more years before those get absorbed. But after a little while, the ground was healthy enough for a new plant. So, I asked for some Good Seeds from your neighbor. This tree, which gives tasty fruit and a home for birds and a back-rest for an old man who likes to read, is not a Neutral Tree…”
The Worker said no more.
(Note: Another name for a Neutral Tree is a Godless Tree. Parents are sending their kids for a Godless Education, and then being surprised when they grow Godless Fruit. They think they are growing something plain or vanilla, which they can sweeten up later. But Neutral Trees don’t grow Christian fruit. Neutral Trees grow Neutral Fruit, which is actually a rotten fruit of its own…Godlessness.)
Sensing The Worker was finished speaking, the Owner looked up at this single, Not-Neutral-Tree one more time, before turning to go back toward the farm house.
He had many, many things to consider before he started planting again.
Could Good Seeds really make all the difference?…