Monthly Archives: April 2015

Tulip Time part 2, Broken Tulips

Semper Augustus was the most desired, most lauded, most rare, and, therefore, most valuable Dutch tulip of the 1600s. Of course, there are no photos from the time of “tulipomania.” Only written descriptions and paintings survive. The bulbs were so scarce, that few ever saw one. A man who owned a few of these tulips rejected offers of 2000-3000 guilders per bulb–a fortune!  In comparison, the famous Dutch artist, Rembrandt, only earned 1500 guilders for his most famous painting, and a well-off Dutch merchant of that era might earn 3000 guilders in a year.

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anonymous watercolor of Semper Augustus tulip

Semper Augustus was one of a group of fancifully colored tulips, exhibiting streaks, feathers, or veins of contrasting colors such as white or yellow. Common, solid-hued tulips that bloomed white, red, violet, or yellow one year might blossom the next in delightful new patterns.

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These tulips were said to be “broken,” (the original solid color was broken up), and the process of change from a solid color to fantastic streaking was called “breaking.” Of two bulbs of the same color planted together in the same garden bed, one might bloom true, and the other would produce colors that were “broken.”

Tulip growers were mystified. They tried grafting, amending the soil, soaking bulbs in wine, all without success. They did notice that the broken tulips (which had smaller bulbs than standard ones) became weaker each year, until they eventually couldn’t produce a blossom.

Why? They were infected with a virus. Disease-carrying aphids fed on the tulips and transmitted the virus with each “bite.”

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Ambrosius Bosschaert, Dutch artist (1573–1620) “Still Life” (note the “broken” tulips)

The famous broken varieties like the Semper Augustus are gone now, and the only tulips available with similar feathery streaks today are the result of cross-breeding. I find it ironic that the most celebrated tulip’s Latin name means “always” (semper) “majestic” (augustus).

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The white dinner plate slipped out of my soapy hands and crashed to the kitchen floor, breaking into hundreds of tiny shards. There was no repairing, no gluing it back together. I swept the pieces into a dustpan, emptied the fragments into a box, and set the box out by the garbage.

Beyond repair. Useless. Garbage. That’s how we feel sometimes, broken by the weight of our own bad choices, cracked by the pressure of sin that has followed us all since the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve took their disobedient bites, they spread the disease of sin and death into the world. It wasn’t God’s original plan, but it wasn’t the end either.

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God doesn’t discard us when we are broken. He is moved to compassion. He reaches out to us in tender, loving kindness with a new plan.

Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.   Psalm 51:17   MSG

There is hope for us. We are living creatures, and God can make us into grow into something beautiful. He can take the worst of circumstances and use them.

Remember Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers, carried away to Egypt, and yet became second only to the Pharaoh? The Lord was able to take the hatred, violence, and estrangement in Joseph’s family and transform it into a miracle of God’s providence. Joseph recognized the Lord’s hand in the brokenness of his life:

Don’t you see, you [brothers] planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people.

Genesis 50:20   MSG

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He can heal our brokenness of spirit. We can bloom beautifully, like the broken Dutch tulips. We are like the Semper Augustus–desired, unique, treasured, even if the virus of sin lives in us. We are so valuable that God sent his only Son to buy us, to save us.

The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:18   NIV

 

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Refrain:  You are strong
In the broken places
I’m carried in Your arms
You are strong
In the broken places
There’s healing in these scars

Broken Places, from Exhale by Plumb

Martine Red White Tulip

Thanks to Barb Briggs and Martine Burrell for sharing photos.

Tulip Time coming soon

My apologies if you received a draft version of the upcoming Tulip Time post.

The “Save Draft” button is awfully close to the “Publish” button.

A Puny God

Words are interesting and their definitions intriguing, not as fixed in meaning as you might expect. Their definitions may change through time and due to where the speaker lives. These little pieces of language have history, and sometimes their antonyms tell us as much as their synonyms.

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During these last few weeks I’ve watched spring come in small, seemingly weak ways, and during this time, God (who is Word himself) has been teaching me about one particular word:

puny,” a funny-sounding word which means

1. of less than normal size and strength; weak

2. unimportant; insignificant; petty or minor

When I encounter a phrase once–I think nothing of it, twice–I think it’s interesting, but three times–I begin to pay attention.  I had been “feeling kind of puny,” an idiom used more in certain parts of the USA than others. It means that I felt ill, so I had been reading more books and watching more movies than usual. I reread Jan Karon’s Mitford series and was impressed by Father Tim’s indefatigable housekeeper, Puny Bradshaw, who was anything but weak.

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I watched a movie in which puny, frail, would-be World War II soldier, Steve Rogers, turns into the superhero, Captain America. In another film based on Marvel Comics, the antagonist, Loki, asserts that humans and superheroes are beneath him and declares, “I am a god.” Then the Incredible Hulk thrashes Loki as if he were a rag doll and pronounces him to be a “puny god.”

Jesus, too, must have seemed to be a weak, unimportant god as he hung on the cross. The religious leaders and one of the criminals crucified next to Jesus mocked and insulted Him:

save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!   Matthew 27:40   NIV

One of the criminals hanging there made fun of Jesus. He said, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself! Save us!   Luke 23:39

In another telling of the Gospel story,  C.S. Lewis’ Aslan (in the Narnia tales) gives himself up to be tortured and killed. The White Witch believes she has won and that the “forever winter” of her rule will continue.  But the seeming debility turns out to be Aslan’s– and Jesus’–great strength.  Aslan’s death and return to life breaks the “old magic.” The crucifixion prepares the way for the Resurrection, just as spring pushes up through the debris of winter.

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but we preach Christ crucified . . . Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.   I Corinthians 1:23-25   NIV

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As I watched the false “god” Loki overpowered by one of the “superheroes,” I remembered some of the words from songs we had sung just last Sunday in our worship service:  “Mighty is our God” and “He is mighty to save.”

Sometimes knowing what a thing is not helps us to know what it is. “Mighty” is the opposite of “puny.”

for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.    Luke 1:49   NIV

Our God is not a puny God.

He is a mighty God, who rose from the dead and saves us.

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The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.

Zephaniah 3:17   NIV

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