Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Grace, Gratitude and Humility

The times I've been the most lost were when I was sure of myself and thought I knew what I was doing!  When traveling somewhere new, I follow directions closely,  Check and recheck maps, and back track quickly when I've missed a turn.  It's the second and third times I go places I've been before, when I think I know my way, that I've gone well beyond the turn before realizing my mistake.  Here are two of my life stories.

During my first pastorate, I was fortunate to be selected to be a part of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Group to visit Brazil.  Five weeks...all expenses paid!  I was in my glory because I knew Brazil well having lived there for 2 1/2 years working as a mission worker with the Presbyterian Church. I was comfortable traveling there.  I was the only one in the group who spoke Portuguese, so a translator traveled with us.  Every conversation was translated.  After five weeks of immediate translation, my Portuguese was very good.  I had arranged for an extra week following the tour to visit the community where I had served and lived.  So at the airport in Rio, I said good bye to my travel companions, and want to wait for my flight to Brasilia, where I had arranged to be met and hosted by a mission couple I knew there, before another flight north to Imperatriz and Porto Franco.  I was feeling very confident in myself.  However, the time for my flight came and went and there was no call for my airline's flight!  When I finally inquired, I was told, "Sir, that flight has already gone!"  What I did not understand was that every flight from Rio to Brasilia was called Ponte Aerea no matter the airline.  I thought Ponte Aerea was another airline and was waiting for my airline to be called! Turns out Ponte Aerea means "air bridge."  Sigh!  That was a shock to the system!  They got me on a later flight.  I arrived in Brasilia in the wee hours of the morning, my hosts long gone. I had to find the office where my luggage was being held. I took a cab to a cheap hotel, hoping the driver was trustworthy.  I called my worried friends, and arranged to meet them in the morning.  All was well, but I was much humbled.  My trouble was, I thought I knew what I was doing and stopped asking questions, stopped paying attention, stopped being open to ways other than My plan.

This summer I had another adventure.  This one kayaking on the Kalamazoo River with my friends Jerry and Janet Duggins.  I have an old kayak which I have used just a couple of times.  We finally scheduled an outing.  The weather was beautiful. The river was smooth.  The current nicely taking us down river, with little effort. I was out in front enjoying myself, fully confident in my abilities.  Then there was an island.  Should I go to the right side or the left?  I went right.  Then there was a fallen tree in the river, which was now half as wide.  There were two openings I could see to get through,  I choose the one on the right.  Jerry and Janet went left.  They passed through fine.  I got caught in a fast current around the tree, went broadside, and in a split second capsized.  I was not expecting that!  There I was, standing in a strong rushing current up to my chest, the kayak's nose was jammed in the tree limbs,  Stupid kayaking rookie me.  I should have expected and prepared to get wet.  There I was with my smart phone was in my pocket, my car keys in my fanny pack in the kayak, not around my waist.  Yikes, I didn't know if it they were still in there or not.  I got my phone out as quickly as I could and held it and my paddle up out of the water with one hand while trying to free the kayak with the other.  It was not budging.  The current was too strong.  I didn't think I was ever going to get that kayak free!  I was stuck! Some pretty dark thoughts entered my mind!  Then Jerry and Janet, who had worked hard to paddle back up river to help arrived.  But, if they came too close, the same thing would happen to them.  I handed Jerry my phone and paddle, and finally with two arms I was able to lift one end of the kayak out of the current, free it, and float down river behind it until we found a place to beach it, empty it of water, and rest.  It was then, that I realized that my hat was gone, my glasses were gone.  The fanny pack and keys, whew...were OK in the kayak, as was I.  Yet, it took just the rounding of a bend, a fallen tree, and a split second to go from self assured confidence to crisis mode.  Again, another time when I thought I had life in hand, and was rudely reminded, not so!

Self confidence, dare I say, arrogance is NOT a very theologically correct stance. We live and serve but by the grace of God, AND the airline workers who patiently deal with irate frustrated travelers, and taxi drivers, hotel servers, who get us to safe places and tend to our needs, and kayaking friends who drag us out of the river, and wait while we catch our breath.  GRATITUDE is the only appropriate response for any of us!  For I suspect, and Paul and Augustine remind us, we all fall short of the glory of God, and stand in the need of grace!  

How appropriate then, while some of us on all sides of the issues of the day, are cock sure of our theological and ethical positions, that the leaders of our beloved denomination chose "Grace and Gratitude" as the theme of the Big Tent Conference in Knoxville this summer.  Grace is the gift our Lord Jesus gives us! Gratitude is our proper response!  Humility is our proper stance.  And just maybe, what is true for me is true for you, we are most lost and get in the most trouble, when we think we know what we are doing, and are convinced we are right! 

So to my fellow traveling adventurers, I say, Grace, Gratitude and Humility!