Roll On River

By the rivers of Babylon,

There we sat down, yea, we wept.

When we remembered Zion…

The city in which I spent thirteen years of my life is like a river. It is still here, but she has spilled out of her banks and is not the same. It is as if cultural gravity has pulled her down her course and changed her very make up. I recognize a bend here and there. I see a few snags, some whirlpools where people gather like so much flotsam to bide their time before shoving off into the current that takes them home or to work or to recreation. But in many ways she is hard to recognize.

I spoke of Jesus here on these banks. Where did those thousands upon thousands of words go? I imagine my words mattering more than they do. I put a lot of value on silly things that are so easily forgotten. I can’t remember what I spoke about last Sunday. How can my words spoken so many years ago, no matter the volume, make a difference to this city?

Everyone has moved on. The current has pulled them along. My words have about as much impact as dust motes swirling in a shaft of light cutting through the living room. They are there, but so what?

What about the life that I have lived? Does it matter here? I find myself wanting to say to the sales clerk at Boulder Running Company, “I used to live here. I ran Green Mountain.” I want to say to the Barnes’s and Noble cashier, “I used to come here all the time to write sermons.” I want to shout to the city, “I used to be here! Remember me!”

But I don’t. They would just look at me like I was a crazy person with some sort of syndrome at a bus station shouting at invisible enemies.

Maybe that’s it. Perhaps I have a syndrome. Not an institutional syndrome, but an original SINdrome. Isn’t that our problem? We want to matter too much down here on this planet. Isn’t that what got me into trouble when I lived here before? Wanting to matter so much, obsessing so much, fixating so much on making a mark. that it didn’t matter who I hurt in the process?

That is what sin is. It is about me. And, as has been pointed out in many a sermon, right in the middle of the word sin is the problem: “I.” When life is about me, I sin. When life is about my ideas, I sin. When life is about my art, I sin. When life is about my beauty, I sin. When life is about my career, I sin.

What I long for is transcendence. I am designed for transcendence. It is a part of Imago Dei. But the challenge is when I try to obtain this transcendence apart from the Transcendent One, I sin.

So what this fluid city has reinforced for me is something I have been learning in the last 13 years or so. It is a truth first uttered beside another river in another time, long ago.

He must increase, but I must decrease.  John 3:30

The river stops for no one.  No need to weep, just sing a new song.  A song of Zion and live and love the River-Maker and rest there.


3 thoughts on “Roll On River

  1. I have often thought this when I return to my growing up years town in Northern Idaho and more recently when I return to Winona, MN. Sitting in the local caffeine hole where I spent millions of hours counseling, encouraging, and preaching. It was a place where “everybody knew my name,” and my poison.
    Now I enter as a no body where no one knows my name and the conversations have melted into the wall paper and have been layered over by millions of newer sound bites. My prayer is that God has used those words to change lives and hopefully they are being added to, recycled and passed on. And, in the long run, it is better that I have been forgotten if Jesus has been remembered.

    Thanks for the post Joe. You are a wealth of wisdom and inspiration.

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