“For every tree is known by its fruit.” James, 6:44

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians, 5:22-23

I have been working on a short story for the last several nights, and it draws on those two Bible verses for inspiration. And, honestly, not in a very good way.

If you look around America right now, in what quantities would you be able to measure any of those fruits? And, if that is true, how do you assess the excellence of the tree that is modern American life?

Self-control? I think — maybe it’s just me — you just have to look at our last president for the answer to that. Or the sidelines at any youth sporting event.

Gentleness? This one, I actually do have a little bit of hope about. One of the weird side effects of the pandemic has been the glut of animals available for adoption. And, judging from Colorado Puppy Rescue (a wonderful organization), it would seem that people still love puppies. And, no matter how rambunctious the puppy, once it gets sleepy, even the roughest person settles comfortably into a gentle place.

Faithfulness? Please. Faithful to our spouses? Our families? Our commitments? Our country (“fundamentally transform”)? Certainly, to our tribes, but… I’m not sure that counts for much.

Goodness? Exactly how do you define that, that you would be able to arrive at it? I mean, when our definition of “good” has become purely subjective and individual, a matter of “my truth,” I suppose you could make the case that it still exists. And, perhaps it still does, in isolated pockets. But, as a people?  

Kindness? I would refer back to “gentleness,” but, rather, I think the cultural corruption of this ideal is best typified by a car I see occasionally in my neighborhood. There, side-by-side on the trunk, are two bumper stickers: “Kindness is Everything,” and “Eat the Rich.”

Forbearance? Hardly. As a cultural value, the ability to delay gratification, to show restraint and tolerance, is rather passe. Instead, we value rashness, clown culture, reality-TV celebrity, and sensationalism.

Peace? Some of the very wise, who have deleted their social media accounts, don’t watch television news, and who focus on making each day great have peace. But that is a shrinking demographic. And when riots become our default (Minneapolis, Portland, the U.S. Capitol….) I think we’ve crossed a Rubicon.

Joy? I see joy. I see it when families play at the park, I hear it on playgrounds when kids are allowed to play with their friends, I feel it when my children are having fun together (usually making fun of me). But, it seems to be isolated to small instances. Our response to the pandemic has tinted even large celebrations with fear, such that Joy is always mingled with sadness.

And Love? Many versions of Love are thriving right now — I refer you again to Colorado Puppy Rescue. But the sort of sacrificial love, the one that puts the needs of others above the needs of self, that asks the strong to step in front of the vulnerable and bear the costs of society, that kind of love — the kind that holds a nation together — that has been replaced by tribal loyalty and envy as a civic virtue.

The fruits on the tree of American life are sour.

But, we have a chance. We have an opportunity. The month of November is dedicated to Gratitude (ironically, not on Paul’s list), and Gratitude is a varietal that fills many cups. Then December comes, and we have a chance, in the long, quiet nights, to rediscover Peace and a deep, profound Joy, in celebrations of what is Holy.

Seize this opportunity. Turn off the TV (except to watch Charlie Brown), sign out of social media, get out in the world. Rehabilitate the little branch of the tree that is within your reach.

Michael Alcorn is a former teacher and current writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Valkyrie’s Kiss,” a finalist in the ScreenCraft Book Competition, is available now at mjalcorn@comcast.net. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.