A 600-year-old oak tree under which George Washington and Marquis de Lafayette---the Frenchman who bankrolled the American Patriots with cold hard cash--picnicked in its shade.
Rank and file soldiers rested under it, gathering strength before going on to defeat the powerful British Army---the greatest in the world at that time.
Church kids have climbed in it, couples have taken wedding photos in front of it and people have loved it.
Now, standing in the cemetery in front of Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church, experts say the Great White Oak is dying.
The New York Times reports that arborists say the tree is at least 600 years old. Arborists consider it one of the oldest trees in North America.
Last week, in an effort to save it, arborists sliced into it with a chainsaw, trimming back some of the branches.
The experts say the tree is dead, but "it's really hard to talk about---I really wanted to save it."
"But a dead tree," they say, "cannot be saved."
The history of the tree, the church, and the cemetery is woven into the fabric of the community,---one that sits just 40 miles from Times Square in downtown New York City.
The tree is about 600 years old; the church itself will be 300 years old next year, the current church building is 177 years old, while the oldest headstone in the cemetery is 280 years old.
The church has pictures of services---revival meetings with the congregation seated under the tree. There are stories of children through the generations climbing on its big limbs after Sunday School when they had been told not to. There are pictures of couples standing under the tree, celebrating their wedding.
Americana---Norman Rockwell, comes to mind.
This tree was alive and growing when Britain defeated the French in the Battle of Agincourt and when Gutenberg invented the movable press. It stood in its youth when Columbus made his discoveries.
There is a mystery about this tree.
How did it survive all these years?
Somehow the tree was not squeezed out before the settlers arrived. Other fast-growing trees could have risen above it, blocking out the sunlight before the settlers even arrived, but that didn't happen. It was left alone in cold winters, even though the settlers needed firewood.
By the time Joyce Kilmer wrote his famous poem, "Trees," this tree was 75 feet tall and still growing.
Great white oaks generally live about 300 years---this one has lived twice that long.
It was the summer heat of 2016, they say, that finally killed the tree. The church plans to have a ceremony on November 6, and the tree is scheduled to be cut down sometime in 2017.
Some say this could be a metaphor for American democracy.
Our Founders said they studied both Greek democracy and Roman republicanism in crafting our Constitution and form of government.
As Ben Franklin left the meeting where the decision was made, a woman asked him, "What kind of country have you given us?"
Franklin's response was, "A Republic, if you can keep it."
In Plato's "Republic," Socrates and his friends are discussing the nature of different political systems, and how they can evolve into something different over time. In this discussion, Socrates says, "Tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy."
Sobering. What did the writer Plato mean by that?
Plato believed that democracy was a political system of maximum freedom and equality, where every lifestyle is allowed and public offices are filled by a lottery. And the longer a democracy lasted the more democratic it would become, in his mind.
He believed and taught that deference to any sort of authority would wither; tolerance of any kind of inequality would come under intense threat or heat, and multiculturalism and sexual freedom would create a city or country like a "many-colored cloak decorated in all hues."
Like a rainbow flag.
To him, an evolving culture was necessary to achieve ultimate democracy.
In Plato's democracy, established values always cede to popular ones, causing views and identities to become so diverse they are indistinguishable to any traditional values or identities.
When the barriers to equality, formal and informal, have been removed; when everyone is "equal"; when traditional beliefs are despised and everyone can, with legal right, do whatever they want, you have arrived at what Plato considered "late stage democracy."
In this world, things are true because "I believe them to be so" and all behavior is "normal" because it is consistent with "my personal orientation."
My friend Kirby Anderson, has written a great deal on this, and other issues.
He says, "Doomsayers have, for many years, been predicting the decline and fall of this country. And while many of these short term predictions have proved inaccurate, there is some truth to the prevailing belief that this nation will fall like every great nation before it. Apart from revival and reformation, this nation is destined to decline."
Kerby, an evangelical, gives us a reasoned, detailed, and accurate account of how nations decline and die---and how they continue to be reinvigorated through spiritual revival and restoration.
While our Founders studied the experiences of Greece, Rome, and other nations, they crafted a nation with foundations in eternal, biblical Truth, not human ideology alone.
Historian George Santayana has said, "Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it."
Winston Churchill said, "The thing we have learned from history is that we don't learn from history."
Our Founders correctly remembered and learned from history.
We, their posterity, have not.
The decline and death of nations happened throughout the Bible, and to Greece, to Persia, to Babylon, and to Rome. And if it happened to them, it can happen to us.
Unless we return to the godly principles of our founding, it is inevitable.
While America slogs through the politics of it all---and slog we must, millions of us are praying that God will forgive our sins, hear our prayers as we humble ourselves before Him, and heal our land.
I'm humbly believing for restoration.
The ancient prophet Jeremiah defined what a healthy tree (and nation) looks like:
Jeremiah 17:7-9New King James Version (NKJV)
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear[a] when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.