What on earth is that? I thought to myself.
I stepped closer and noticed that there were two Barbie dolls in the tree, along with a rubber snake.
I turned around and asked one of our neighbors who was picking up his blankets a few feet away if he knew anything about the tree.
Do you know who did this? I asked.
Yes, Dennis replied.
Did you do this, Dennis? I asked.
Yes, Dennis replied.
Well what is it, Dennis?
It's the Garden of Eden, said Dennis.
Of course, it's the Garden of Eden.
Dennis had created an incredibly creative visual of the story found in Genesis 2 and 3. The story begins with God placing man in the garden of Eden to till it and to keep it. "And the Lord God commanded the man, 'You may freely eat of every tree in the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."
God then makes woman, and the two come together, becoming one flesh.
In the beginning of the third chapter of Genesis, a snake appears. The snake is "more crafty that any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, 'Did God say, 'You shall not eat from any tree in the garden'?"
The woman replies, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'"
And guess what happens? The woman takes the fruit from the tree and eats it. She then gives some of the fruit to her husband. Their eyes are then opened, and they know they are naked.
The story of the garden of Eden is the story of the first human transgression and the punishment that comes with it. It is the story of man's first sin. Everything was perfect before the man and woman ate from the tree in Eden.
I spent the day wondering why Dennis created his version of the garden of Eden on the church's lawn. Did this creation serve as his reminder that there was a time when everything was right -- when those who had too much shared with those who had too little, when people were not greedy, when all men and women dwelled together in unity?
And why is it that Dennis chooses to sleep in the same place each night -- not next to the church where it might be safer or on the porch where there is a covering, but in the open, under a tree -- a few feet away from a wooden cross? Why does he go away each day only to return to this same spot each night?
While Dennis told me tonight that he wasn't thinking theologically when he created the garden, I think Dennis knows a few things that we don't always remember. There was a time when everything was right -- when there would be absolutely no reason for anyone to be without food or shelter. This time is represented by the garden he created.
There is also a time coming when everything will be made right. Jesus came so that we might have life and life abundant. Through his life, he taught us how to live -- how to share and care for one another. Through the cross, he triumphed over sin and death -- assuring us that he will always have the final word.
Dennis' garden was taken down today. Someone removed the things from the tree, along with his collection of blankets hidden in the bushes. When I asked Dennis if he needed to go to a shelter tonight, he assured me that he would be just fine. He was disappointed that his things were gone, but he was still smiling.
I look forward to seeing Dennis tomorrow. And, I'll be keeping my eye on the tree. It won't be long, I am sure, until more things will appear in the tree. And if I keep my eyes open, I may learn a thing or two.