Monday, March 30, 2009

Living water or flood waters

Friday and our weekend were spent repairing one plumbing issue after another -- all at the kitchen sink. Aside from the frustration of fixing one problem, only to find another and another, and having to make multiple hardware store trips, the comical element in our frantic endeavors won't be fully appreciated until much later.

There is also the metaphorical aspect. Maybe it's apparent because I've been studying the gospel of John recently. Flowing water goes everywhere, and I mean everywhere! Try to stop it! The problems began to arise for us during the interim when we didn't realize that there were leaks and before the repair work was completed.
Problem water is the water that is accumulating, pooling, flooding and spreading where we don't want it to go.

I remember the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Agnes in Pennsylvania's Susquehanna Valley when I was a child. The devastation took decades to erase, and the immediate costs were tremendous -- financially, materially, and psychically. My prayers are more fervent and heartfelt for the families along the Red River in North Dakota & Minnesota because of those memories. Almost 2 years ago, my son and I stopped to visit the university where my grandfather was president for 3 1/2 decades. The campus and buildings had been badly damaged by the floodwaters from Agnes in 1972, and the city had just recently faced down the spectre of another flood. We met the current president, and Tim shared with us how surprised he'd been by the level of fear the river caused among the valley residents. My response was to recall for him the devastation and the toll it took on the people. Raw, physical pain and fear are accessible only to those who've borne the experiences. We cannot grasp it through intellectual, academic or abstract understanding; even our imagination or analogies in our own lives fall short.

We need pure, living water for life and fruit-bearing. (cf. Psalm 1) Flood waters, however, bear illness, bacteria, chemicals, waste and disease, not to mention vast quantities of mud. What isn't damaged in the heavy flow of water will be damaged by the pooling, the mold and mildew, the stagnant waste left behind. If any area of one's home or buildings is left uncleaned, undrained, or untreated, the stench will witness to it. First, there is the mud, the smell and the trash of destroyed homes everywhere and festooned in the trees, then the incredible dust when things begin to dry out. Homes needed to be gutted down to stone and framework, cleaned and rebuilt again.

The labor isn't solely physical and the cost isn't merely financial. Tragedies and trauma take their tolls on us. These memories are embodied within our very being. Ask anyone whose been through a major flood anytime in their lives to visit another flooded area, and the smell, the sights, and the pain of the victims will physically affect them and will resurrect images and memories long-since buried in more recent events. Ministering to refugees from Katrina brought back some of those memories a few years ago.

It's up to us to redeem history, just as many of the people of Fargo and Moorhead have created life in their fellowship of sandbaggers. The relationships we've formed will sustain us or let us down. We need to invest in new life, in the living water that never fails us, always sustains us, and gives new hope out of darkness. Will we build our community on the rock who is Jesus Christ, or on the shifting sands of our preferences, intellect, culture, race, ethnicity and natural inclinations? New life takes work and sacrifice, too, but the boundaries are more certain than the banks of the rivers we may live near. If we missed this flood, there will be another one. Building new life is the work of being reconciled to God and to one another. May we have the courage to take on those challenges and develop community that is eternal. If you're not familiar, yet, with Mavis Staples' album,
Have a Little Faith, check out the solid faith through injustice, hard times and troubles expressed in this album. In "God is Not Sleeping" Mavis repeats the line, "everything I have is temporary / only love is necessary." Do we act on that belief in our relationships?

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