So, it’s a New Year. 2020! Already the Internet is awash with jokes and commentary about a “clearer vision” for the future.
The Internet is filled with New Year’s resolutions on how to get there – Ten Steps to a Better, Happier You, Five Way to Lose 5 lbs!, 100 Ways to Be More Creative. We love it when we can map it out – The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, The Eightfold Path, The Ten Commandments, the Four Spiritual Laws.
Life is full of maps, guide books, steps, and techniques for living it better, for getting us where we want to go (or at least where we think we ought to be).
We are creatures of habit, oriented around a linear way of living. It’s conventional wisdom. We like the idea that B follows A and C follows B and life ought to be pretty predictable.
So, most of us get out our road map to life — have followed a fairly prescribed path (perhaps like our parents), went to school, got a plan, followed a dream, met a guy (or a girl), had a family. And so it goes (until the flower becomes the seed again and the seed another rose).
But the trouble with plans (and some road maps) is that life is often more about the unpredictable than the predictable. I shared this story a few years ago, but it seems like a good one to repeat here.
Early in our marriage, Linda and I were in Eureka Springs, Arkansas (a town clearly guided more by a sense of being than a sense of timing).
I found a curious wooden drum on display in a gift shop along one of the hilly side streets. It was unique! So, of course, I had to have it!
But it wasn’t for sale. It belonged to the shop owner who simply had it out to play while folks perused her store “to connect them with the rhythm of life,” she added. And then she went into a lengthy monologue about rhythm, social orders and global changes, and something about a butterfly’s wings here can change the weather on the other side of the world.
“But,” she smiled, interrupting herself, “if you want one of these drums, the guy who makes ‘em lives just a short drive out of town.” Linda, who has been on more of these “journeys in search of odd treasures” with me than any human ought to endure, said reluctantly, “I’ll go get the car.”
“GPS’s and phones don’t work out there, so best take this down,” the woman directed me. I pulled out a scrap of paper as she dictated – “Take a left on Main Street, it’s just down this way (she pointed). It snakes through town a while. When you get just out of town, things level off into some pastures and you’ll come to a Farm Road — 167 or something like that. I never notice the actual numbers.
But there’s a big oak tree — I mean, it’s really big — probably a hundred years old. I used to climb in it when I was a kid. My brother’s best friend, Dickey Penderson, broke his arm falling outta that oak! I had to carry him on the back of my bike all the way back into town, bumping up and down on the road, Dickey’s arm swinging at the elbow. He screamed every time I hit one of those bumps! It’d just been dislocated though and he was back to climbing that oak in a week!”
I’d stopped writing and was falling into a trance. “Uh-huh,” I mumbled.
“Well, anyway,” she laughed, “turn right at that tree. Now you’ll go, I don’t know, maybe 5 miles, and you’ll come to another intersection. It’s a county road, #55, I think. But you can’t miss it. Old Mr. Sansom leaves his tractor there, on the right. Seems like he’s always plowin’ that field. Well, you turn left at that intersection and . . .”
Well, you get the picture. There were dozens and dozens of big, old oak trees at most of the intersections — Arkansas is a woodland state! County Road (not Farm Road) 167 was actually 716, and Mr. Sansom’s tractor was apparently in his barn that day.
The only thing that proved helpful was that she told me, “Once you get out on those old county roads, there’s only one farmhouse out there. That’s where Buddy Anderson has his workshop and makes these drums. You can’t miss it!”
After driving around for more than an hour, we decided to go up to the first farmhouse we saw and ask for directions. And, you guessed it – Buddy Anderson’s place!
Of course, we hadn’t bothered to call ahead of time to see if he’d even be there, much less if he had any drums on hand.
But that’s another story . . .
Life isn’t always as linear and predictable as we’d like. We know that. We can try to get control, make resolutions, map it out. . . “Every story has a clear beginning, middle, and end,” we’re told in elementary school.
But, in truth, sometimes it feels like it never got off to a good start, or an ending comes right in the middle of things. Life is less about the conventional and more about the unconventional.
So, for the next few Sundays in eleven:eleven, downtown, I want to take us “off road” a little bit. Explore the unconventional paths toward a more whole-hearted and healthy way of being. To experience a more deeply rooted sense of balance in the midst of imbalance. To embrace impermanence as a way of being in the world, of being in Christ.
This Sunday, January 5, 2020 (Epiphany Sunday), join us for our new series, “How to Save the World (in 3 or 4 easy steps).” Perhaps we’ll experience a few epiphanies along the way. The Revolution Band will help guide us on our journey with music from Talking Heads, Philip Philips, and Peter Himmelman.
See you Sunday!
Rev. Tom McDermott
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven