When I was a kid I always enjoyed watching the Bill Mason’s film adaptation of Holling C. Holling’s Paddle to the Sea. It’s the story of a small, carved First Nations man sitting in a canoe. The artist creates the wooden piece and paints it in bright colours before setting it carefully in the snow. A few days later the snow begins to melt and the figurine slides down the slope, into the creek, and on its way to the sea. It’s a nice story.
A couple of things this past week got me thinking about that story and how it relates to life and the church. We often think we want to leave the small streams and creeks behind as we journey down the river to the sea, which is full of excitement. If we are in a small church, we dream of when the church will be big. We want it to grow because often we believe that a big church is healthy while a small church isn’t. If we live in a small town, we want to upgrade to the city because we feel that’s where a better life can be lived.
And I think we see the problems with this. That is why we work hard at developing smaller groups within the church. But even when small groups are working well, unless they are a part of something bigger, we feel like something is missing.
Yesterday I read a great Twitter thread by Ari Lamm on the tower of Babel. I would consider this a must read. It is a rich analysis of the biblical account that comes to new conclusions not because of the influx of any new modern ideas but by simply looking at the text itself. I highly recommend that you take a look at the thread if you haven’t already done so.
One of the key things that Lamm points out is that the tower of Babel was a means to keep humanity from spreading around the earth. God had encouraged — actually commanded — them to fill the whole earth but that didn’t seem to be something that humans wanted to do. Maybe because we like to be a part of something big?
In reality, life truly happens on the creeks and streams, because that’s where authenticity dwells. That’s where one-on-one interactions happen. That is everyday life. Often in church we are trying to create something new, for example a new community better than the one that already exists. To do this we try to go big. But that is the wrong direction. A new direction is to turn around.
I have noticed this while watching Chef’s Table. One common part of everyone’s story is that they loved food, grew up to study French cooking, started hating food, returned home to their own place, started cooking and loving food again. Food didn’t have meaning unless it was connected to their place.
My childhood friend, Dwayne Harms, pastored a small church in a small part of rural Saskatchewan. I have written about him here. Even though some may see that as being a stepping-stone to something bigger in the future, Dwayne saw it as an opportunity. He said, “Mike, if I was a pastor in a big city church, I would be one voice among a multitude of others. Here my voice is clear because I am the pastor of the Baptist church and everyone knows it.” Dwayne wasn’t looking for fame but for a voice. The Baptist church in his community was one of the originals. It was a known entity. It was an accepted part of things. That meant that as the official representative of that entity, Dwayne was entitled to voice that entity’s concerns. He was already a participant.
That’s authenticity and that’s the direction the church needs to take.
What is your experience with the streams and rivers of life? Have you tried journeying to the sea? How did that work out for you? Please leave a comment below to let us know.
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Image by Adam Rhodes on Unsplash.