Robert Frost is the quintessential American poet. Because of Frost’s work, and the masterful way in which he found words to bring to life rural America, there is no shortage of commentary regarding his poetry. I believe I was in Junior High (about seventh or eighth grade) when I first read Frost’s poem, Good Bye and Keep Cold.
Good Bye, Keep Cold seems to have as many meanings as there are commentators. In the poem, Frost is telling an orchard which was planted “on a northerly slope” near a farm house good-bye for the winter season. Frost laments as his imagination considers all the possible injuries which could occur to the orchard while he is away.
The hill which obscures the view of those in the house, could possibly allow the buds on the trees and the tender limbs to be eaten by rabbit, mouse, deer and grouse. He wishes the orchard would call out for his help when he writes, “If certain it wouldn’t be idle to call I’d summon the grouse, rabbit and deer to the wall and warn them away with a stick for a gun.” Frost’s desire to protect his orchard is evident in his desire to see its protection from the coming hungry wildlife.
Frost ends his poem by giving anthropological voice to his beloved orchard when he says, “I wish I could promise to lie in the night and think of an orchards arboreal plight when slowly (and nobody comes with a light) its heart sinks lower in the sod.” In this, Frost is exhibiting a fatherly empathy for the feelings he envisions his orchard may have in the dark of winter’s night. Yet in the equivalent of an audible sigh, Frost pens, “But something has to be left to God.”
As a pastor, I cannot find anything which would allow me to assume Robert Frost knew God intimately and personally; yet I cannot ascertain that he did not. Yet Frost’s life is filled with a gentility and sensitivity which allowed him to exhibit great empathy. In the case of Good Bye Keep Cold, Frost could expand this rapport to even nature itself.
Yet the crux of this poem, its main warning, to an unsuspecting and vulnerable orchard facing wildlife and oncoming winter, is this: “No orchard’s the worse for the wintriest storm; but one thing about it, it mustn’t get warm.” The very thing most would associate with vitality and growth and all that makes springtime and harvest possible, our poet warns against. But why?
The greatest danger to an orchard is an early spring followed by a late freeze. The buds, dormant on the limb, are waiting, indeed anticipating the coming warmth of spring. For temperature to advance too quickly could end up killing the potential of the harvest and perhaps even kill the trees themselves. This is why Frost advises, “How often already you’ve had to be told, keep cold, young orchard. Good bye, keep cold. Dread fifty above more than fifty below.”
While some paint Frost’s work with a brush depicting the sadness of his words as a reaction to the bleakness of the world around him, this is not what I see. Frost understood that while in its dormant state, no sub-zero temperature could cause any damage to his orchard; it was asleep and safe until it was awoken. Yet he was not providing mere “arboreal” insight in this poem; there is also great truth regarding the human condition.
Our society seems to desire great acceleration in many areas while at the same time it consistently retards and hinders natural growth in others. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the Western proclivity to stimulate sexual and physical maturation of its children while simultaneously discouraging mental maturity.
While many reject God as Creator and designer of humanity, I embrace this as an absolute truth. Humanity is separate from all other creation due to the fact we are created imago dei, in the very image of God. God, in His wisdom, chose a timeline for humanity to follow spiritually, physically and mentally. Humanity has uniformly rejected its spiritual heritage, but it cannot seem to overcome the physical changes which are inevitable in healthy people.
Parents today, while protecting their children from maturing and even discouraging responsibility, seem to quicken the physical appearance of their children—especially girls—through either proactive choice or willingly being held captive to the latest cultural style. Now for those without a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ, this is to be expected.
Yet for those who profess to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, this is nothing less than willful rebellion and the offering up of their children (permanent, enduring people with souls) on the altar of the immediate and passé.
This brings us back to Frost’s Good Bye Keep Cold. Humans are beings with appetites. These appetites are God-given and for them to work appropriately, they must be exercised according to God’s principles. For children especially, to awaken the appetites God has reserved for those who are mature in body and spirit is the equivalent to exposing them to the dangers of which Frost warned; the “fifty above” rather than keeping them in the proverbial “winter of their content” and prematurely exposing them to discontent.
The writer of Ecclesiastes informs humanity, “There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven….and a wise heart knows the right time and procedure” (3:1; 8:5). The rights and autonomy of humanity has not been infringed on by taking away our rights and freedom to choose. The problem with humanity is we have lost both the discipline and patience to wait for the right time.
And the wisdom to keep cold.
A Marriage of Convenience
There are some things I do not believe I will ever understand.
I went into a McDonald’s a while back and there was a sign hanging on the wall: “Braille menus available.”
Who is that sign for?
There were a couple of songs on the radio in the early seventies which have always given me fits. One was MacArthur Park: “someone left the cake out in the rain, I don’t think that I can take it, ‘Cause it took so long to bake it, and I’ll never have that recipe again.”
Seriously? Forget the cake; what about the hash brownies the writer obviously inhaled before writing this jingle?
One of the thornier issues facing Christians in general and myself as a pastor in particular is same-sex marriage. Over the years I have heard some very good men make some incredibly gifted attempts to claim the existence of same-sex marriage undermines the existence and value of heterosexual marriage. One pastor used the image of marriage being a boat and the proponents of same-sex marriage were doing the equivalent of boring holes in the bottom of the boat. In other words, if any other definition of marriage is allowed to occur, the whole of marriage would be destroyed.
I cannot more vigorously disagree.
Heterosexual marriage, in practice, doesn’t exactly have a “moral high ground” in this matter. The divorce rate in America still hovers around the fifty (50) percentile mark; those who identify themselves as Christians are not far removed from this mark. Yet it seems some of the more strident voices against same-sex marriage emanate from those claiming to be Christians—and some of the verbiage they are using gets pretty ugly!
As a pastor, I teach the entire Bible. Some believers have been trotting out the passages in Leviticus which describe the results of “men being with men” (my paraphrase) and “women being with women.” Those words are there and God was serious when He wrote them—He still is. The Bible states homosexuality is sin—along with many other activities as well. I also realize there are many people, some of whom I am friends with—who are homosexual.
If you are reading this and have chosen this lifestyle, then I most likely have hacked you off bad enough for you to throw your computer across the room! I would not recommend that action.
I do not dislike homosexuality any more than I dislike divorce, lying, over-eating, greed or any other sin. In fact, I can state along with the Apostle Paul, “I am what I am by God’s grace.” If there is anything I or anyone would consider good in my life, it’s not because I’m better or smarter, it’s because God is good.
Same-sex marriage is going to be what “is” in our country. Christians are going to have to come to grips with this. It doesn’t change what God’s Word says, it doesn’t change my responsibility to be obedient to God’s Word. We live in a democracy. If the people in this country decide this is okay, then believe it or not, God isn’t shocked one bit.
Allow me to channel my father’s words to me when I was ten years old: “I don’t care what the neighbor kids do—you belong to me!”
Our responsibility as believers is to love people with the love given to us by God and demonstrated by Jesus Christ on the Cross. This “love” is not sex, the “warm fuzzies” nor are we to embrace the definition our culture demands and then has called “good” what the Bible calls “evil.” True love is lived, it is demonstrated through our action and obedience to Jesus Christ in our lives. We do not and cannot demand obedience from those who are “not part of our family.” They may do as they choose. We are called by God to demonstrate truth through obedience.
The normalization of same-sex marriage is an opportunity given by God for us to prove the truth of our God and demonstrate our relationship to Him through our obedience. Christians should strive to have marriages so everyone who sees them would desire a marriage just like them! This is the whole point of living for Christ: demonstrating the love Christ has for this world through our obedient love for Him!
God has placed American Christians in America. He understands democracy and the great freedoms it gives. He also understands the human heart. When people reject His commands and His offer of salvation, believers should not react in hate and anger. People who reject the tenets of Scripture are not rejecting Christians or our sensibilities (so we need to get over ourselves): they are rejecting God.
Of course, the demand by the proponents of same-sex marriage who say I must state their cause is just and right are just as unfortunately wrong. I am not called to approve actions because of social pressure; I am called to be obedient to the Lord. Just as in first century Rome when the Church was in its infancy, Christians were not persecuted because they believed in Jesus Christ or Yahweh-God. Christians were persecuted because they refused political correctness and would not call Caesar “Lord!” Our obedience to Christ will always make us incredibly unpopular.
For far too long Christians have allowed Satan to get them off task by focusing too much on what those who are outside of a relationship with Christ are doing. Should sin be identified? Yes it should. But the identification of “sin” should be motivated by the same love a mother has for the child who gets too close to a hot oven: the warning is clear, it’s strong and its concern is for the safety of the child. It’s because the mother loves her child.
If we speak out against the sin in this world, let us make sure it’s because we love people like Jesus does. Our responsibilities are the same as they have always been: to love others.
This isn’t convenient.
It’s love and obedience.