Jet lag- the bane of every overseas (or at least long distance) traveler! We’ve been in it this past week since our return from Germany, trying to “reset” our internal clock by seven hours. It’s made for a bunch of really early mornings!
But jet lag isn’t just for weary travelers. This morning I saw on CNN a story about the challenges of farmers throughout the Midwest as they struggle with one of the wettest 12 months in history. The story included a picture of a farm in Illinois. Curious, I checked out the town on Googlemaps, and noted a Lutheran church. Still more curious, I checked out their web site, including their current newsletter. September, 2016. Now, there’s jet lag!
It is tempting, sometimes, to stop the clock for a moment, and stay where we are. Maybe September of 2016 was a good month for them. The council reported a new toilet in the parsonage. Maybe that was worth hanging on to for a while. Maybe jet lag isn’t so bad after all!
Time, however, doesn’t stop. It keeps moving. Kind of like a river.
I’ve been reading another book this week – Old Man River: The Mississippi River in North American History, by Paul Schneider. Like the first book I read, 1491, Old Man River spends a significant amount of time on the history of the Mississippi basin well before European contact and presence. Lots of Native American culture and life around the river!
But Schneider also focuses much of his time on the basin, not just the river. Schneider asserts (rightly, I think), that the history of the Mississippi needs to include the history of the tributaries, of all the waters that eventually gather in the river. He points out, for example, that from St Louis, where the rivers come together, the Missouri is longer back to its headwaters than the Mississippi is to its headwaters. Really, then, the waters of the Missouri travel farther than the Mississippi. Or the Ohio River, where it joins the Mississippi, is wider and much larger looking. And while the Wisconsin or even the La Crosse Rivers are not as mighty, they too contribute to the whole. His story then, spans the continent, from areas out west all the way to the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania.
And as he tells the story he occasionally includes a reflection of his own experience of the river(s) and the wonder of the flowing water.
Which brings me to my point and the connection with jet lag. Schneider notes that rivers are always moving. The water in front of you is gone, flowing downstream. I love lakes, especially up north. Lakes, however, even when they have some flow of water, are more collections of water than a flow of water. For example, experts say that if the inflow of all waters into Lake Superior ended, it would still take over 200 years for the lake to be emptied.
But if you dammed the Mississippi at Winona, and halted the Black and La Crosse rivers, how long would I take for the river bed in front of La Crosse to go dry? The water is moving, and it’s not stopping!
And yet, that is the wonder of the river. The movement of the water gives the river its life. Wildlife and plant life to be sure. And of course, it also gives life to the traffic of the river. There are several reasons why New Orleans grew as a port, not the least of which is that grain and other goods could flow down the river. That river waters flow makes the river of immense value and gives it a purpose – gives it life!
But the movement of the water, at least for a “delta” river like the Mississippi, also grows the river. Experts say that the Mississippi delta in Louisiana grows every year, but also that the bottom of the river drops by a centimeter every year as well. All because the movement of the river water brings silt from upstream to downstream. Even floods do that – dropping new soil on the old land.
The river moves, never stopping, always alive and always changing.
Just like time. I’d like, sometimes, to stop the clock. To just stay where I am for a moment. To relish the spot I’m in. To some extent, I need to do that. I need to “stop and smell the roses.” But I can’t stay there. Time, like a river (to use words sung by Alan Parsons, Michael Johnson, and probably a host of other musicians) keeps flowing by. Trying to stay in one spot, trying to keep time from moving, that’s were my jet lag really comes in!
I’m finding that true as I reflect on church life from a distance. Both “Forward: Fearless and Faithful” (FFF) and “Stewardship for all Seasons” (SAS) are cruising along during these summer months. I’m grateful to both teams, and to Pastor Jean who is working with them. They are making great progress (I hear), and without me. That’s one of the benefits of a sabbatical – congregations and pastor learning that ministry is not about the pastor doing it all – it’s about God’s people at work together!
Both FFF and SAS are about movement and motion. They aren’t taking us back in time, but instead, like the lively river, they are moving ahead, embracing the change, and growing. And discovering new things. Good thing too, because one of my favorite passages in Scripture is Revelation 21:5 – God speaks and says, “I make all things new!” Faithful congregational life is always about new things, new things because God is at work in us.
That’s the promise of the river, the river of life, the river of new life. Not “Old Man River,” but the river of God’s grace flowing from the crucified and risen Jesus. We move forward, or maybe better, we allow the current to move us forward, because we have confidence in God’s work within us. Yes, deep down inside I’d like to go back to days of greater certainty, when churches were packed and everyone wanted to be a part of the community of faith. But I can’t dwell there. To stay there is to embrace “jet lag” and become stagnant.
Instead, the river, the flow carry me – carry us – along, as we live faithfully. Not stuck in the “good old days,” or even in September of 2016 (with a fabulous new toilet!) But rather, to where there is life and the renewal of life.
Watching from the distance of my sabbatical I’m seeing that in some new ways. Seeing it in the work of FFF and SAS, in the life of the congregation that I miss and look forward to rejoining at the end of the summer, and maybe too, seeing it just a bit in me.
No jet lag, just life moving on, renewing and refreshing!