I woke up this morning whistling an old Disney classic, Johnny Appleseed; a little movie that taught me a thing or two as I grew up.
“The Lord is good to me,” go the lyrics, “and so I thank the Lord, for giving me the things I need, the sun and rain and an apple seed.”
Johnny Appleseed’s real name was John Chapman. Born in Massachusetts a couple of years before independence, he became known for his love of nature, his love of apples, and his love of God. He was an itinerant evangelist and environmentalist (Johnny was a vegetarian) who would plant apple trees – always apple trees – and preach the gospel to anybody who would listen. Often times he would show up out of the blue in front of settlers houses, and in exchange for a few apple seeds and a Christian story to the children, Johnny Appleseed would receive a floor to sleep on for the night and dinner. The next morning he was off. Widely respected by the Indians for his gentle touch, even the most war-like tribes admired him and let him pass unharmed; considering that he posessed "the Great Spirit." In fact, in his time wandering through Indian lands he brought a great many into his faith. As the book, “Johnny Appleseed: A Pioneer Hero” best puts it:
“There must have been some rare force of gentle goodness dwelling in his looks and breathing in his words, for it is the testimony of all who knew him that, notwithstanding his ridiculous attire, he was always treated with the greatest respect by the rudest frontiersman.”
One day, at the age of 72 (after more than forty years wandering the land), Johnny Appleseed entered the house of a settler in Allentown in Indiana. He accepted some milk and bread, read the beatitudes to the children, and curled up on the floor to die. The physician who was called said he had, “never seen a man in so placid a state at the approach of death.” But Johnny was contented. He had dedicated his life to apples and to spreading Christianity. For his wellbeing he depended only upon God and the kind charity of strangers.
I wonder what Johnny would think of our America today? I wonder if he would recognize an America of entitlements and anger; of divide and conquer politics; of disdain for (or outright rejection of) God and his role in creation? Johnny was said to have always been in a good mood; with positive admonitions springing from his gratitude for his creator as he planted a seed – quite literally – as the physical representation of a wonderful world which he loved so very much.
I recognize that Mr. Appleseed was not political (which was probably why he kept his joy); so with his indulgence I am going to stray slightly from his approach in my following reflection. As I watched the Republican National Convention speeches yesterday, one stuck out in my mind. Ann Romney seemed closest to embodying the spirit of an America that Johnny would have recognized. She didn’t talk about us and them, the 1% or the 99%, or split America into groups in her attempt to deliver her message. She talked instead about a love story; a love story between her, her husband, her family, her God and her country. About how grateful they were that they were made so successful; not grateful to a big government but to a big God. And how they had been allowed by their success the opportunity to give back freely to the country they love.
She talked about the hard times; times of stress and illness – not to decry the system or make a cheap political point but to tell about how it brought her and Mitt even closer together. And she talked about the satisfaction of hard work and the joy in personal achievement.
This is a story that I’m sure Johnny would have understood. But more importantly, Ann Romney’s America is a place where Johnny would again be not only welcome but valued. There’s a special kind of healing that comes with sacrifice, charity, generosity, discipline, family and faith. We felt the start of that healing last night – a healing that America so desperately needs. So we look to our families, our faith and our future to bring this healing; and we honor the spirit of Johnny Appleseed who reminds us how things once were and can yet be again.