The Poison TreePoison Tree Bette Lynn Dickinson Liquid Acrylic and Oil on Claybord

In 2017, after watching the movie 13th and being stirred with sadness and anger through learning more about the systemic racism in our justice and political system, I spent time in lament and prayer. Ok - let's be honest - first, I started cleaning the house frantically. I didn't know what to do with my sadness, my anger, my sense of helplessness. As a white woman, I had the choice on whether or not to enter that pain - that's part of my privilege. So I chose to ignore it and try to control what little I felt I had control over in the moment - the sauce stains on my counter.

God gently tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Bette, stop what you're doing and lament." Hesitantly, I stopped and brought my restlessness and helplessness to God. I asked God what He wanted me to see, what He wanted me to know about how He sees things. In my mind, I saw a picture of this tree that had been cut down, but its roots were still under the surface and new shoots were popping up - spreading further and wider than the first tree, but seemingly unnoticeable at first.

I was confused by the image, because usually I see trees as a good thing - something that brings life. But there was something ugly and dangerous about this tree. I did a little research and found that there is a tree, native to southern US called the Manchineel.

It is one of the most dangerous trees in the world, because its fruit and leaves resemble an apple tree, but it is poisonous. All parts of the tree contain toxins and is fatal to any who eat its fruit.

I felt like God was showing me a picture of racism in America, and He wanted me to paint it. Many believe that we have "cut down the tree" of racism through the Civil Rights Movement, but the reality is that the root system still exists under the surface, and new sprouts spring up from it every day. I have heard about them in the stories of my friends of color who have seen the shoots all their lives. They grow on sidewalks on campuses, in their front yard, in their cars and driveways. They grow under their very feet and are choking the life out of them. It's just that now they have grown enough that they are making the news, and white people are beginning to see them. (see diagram on right for how this root system grows in often unnoticed and socially accepted ways).

We (the white community) have laid down our ax as though the work is finished, but it is far from complete. We are beginning to see that now. We are beginning to realize that it will take something greater than an ax to uproot what grows under the soil in the U.S. and perpetuates the problem of race in both the spiritual and natural realms.

Lord, uproot racism in America. Help us to listen. Help us to yield in repentance where we need repentance. Help us to look closely to see the shoots in our own hearts and in the world that are a part of something much bigger - a poisonous system of white supremacy that continues to grow rapidly without vigorous, tenacious attention.

This painting has become one of the images

Jonathan Tremaine Thomas has used in his ministry of Civil Righteousness that pursues racial reconciliation and restorative justice in the US. His ministry is also hosting the Isaiah 58 fast for prayer, fasting, and action the next couple weeks. Let's do the work of uprooting racism together.

If you would like to purchase this piece for download or print, proceeds will go to Civil Righteousness ministry and InterVarsity black staff who are also trying to fundraise right now while going through this trauma. Go here: