What can we learn this Holy Week from one marginalized man’s peculiar actions?

No one is quite sure if the man was homeless or mentally unstable, but it is possible that all he wanted when he climbed the giant sequoia tree in downtown Seattle on Tuesday was to be seen.

Or maybe to be seen differently.

man-in-tree3This Holy Week has already been full of suffering in the world and in our nation, giving us many stepping stones by which to follow Christ to the cross in our own practices of empathy, prayer, and perhaps even weeping over our own losses. As the presidential primaries near their end, the political climate in our nation seems more hopeless and polarized. We all awoke to news stories about the terror attacks in Brussels on Tuesday morning. But then Tuesday around noon, something strange happened in our little Cascadian neck of the woods that grabbed our attention – even more than politics and terrorism.

A man climbed up into a 40-foot sequoia tree in front of the downtown Macy’s in Seattle.

At first it was interesting and odd; very “Seattle.” By late afternoon there were crowds and police negotiators and streets shut down. The man was moderately violent, throwing apples and then breaking off a top section of branches to build a nest for himself, while casting some branches away. But, as a Seattle Police Department tweet stated, “The issue appears to be between the man and the tree.”

This is, from a certain perspective, pretty hilarious; and from another, quite unsettling. It is very likely that many of us passed this very man sitting on a corner on our way into Macy’s last weekend; or under a blanket on a bench last week. But we didn’t notice him.

Now he has become a strange Seattle mascot. He had a Twitter feed created in his persona within hours of his tree ascent. Last night #ManInTree was in the top three trending hashtags, and is still trending today. Why did this man grab our attention – and even national attention – when there are very real crises in other parts of the world?

man in tree 4As a nation we love drama. In Cascadia, we love quirk. We are obsessed with developing our identity, both as individuals and as a region. And we fancy ourselves compassionate, people who care for the poor, the un-housed, and “the least of these.” These cultural core values collided as a marginalized man climbed a majestic tree for no apparent reason and refused to come down for a full day. Our Cascadian weirdo-helper-identity levels went through the roof (or up a tree).

I cannot help but think about Zacchaeus. He climbed up in a sycamore tree “to see what he could see.” And he saw Jesus, and Jesus saw him. As we continue to walk with Christ to the cross, let’s ask for open eyes. To see the unnamed man in the tree as more than a spectacle or a project.

Let’s notice him when he is on the ground, too.