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A River

By Dan Baumgartner on
Dan Baumgartner
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May 09 in Musings
Once again I am musing with you from 40,000 feet up. Literally. It's Tuesday morning, and I'm on a brightly-colored Southwest Air plane that will eventually deposit me in Missoula, Montana. Once a year I meet for a retreat with seven younger-than-me pastors, one of whom lives in Missoula. We will stay at a cabin about 40 minutes out of town. We will hike, talk, eat well, talk, worship, get the idea. This year we read two books to discuss during the week. One is Kate Bowler's Everything Happens for a Reason- the same book our pastoral staff just read. The other is the short novel from Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It. If you remember the Robert Redford-directed movie from 1992 (Brad Pitt), you will know why our group chose this book. The story takes place in Montana in the exact area we will be in, and the main characters are two sons of a local Presbyterian pastor!
It is the story of those two brothers- Paul and Norman- that has been rolling around in me these last weeks. In some ways it is the old story- Cain and Abel, the prodigal and the elder brother, the rebellious son and the one who toes the line. As grown men, Norman and Paul live on opposite ends of a spectrum, still held together by deep bonds forged in fly fishing the beautiful Montana wilderness. Norman lives his life with a certain amount of caution. His careful nature and responsible choices may cause him to miss the adventures of life, beauty and freedom. Paul, on the other hand, lives recklessly and with abandon. He plays hard, loves hard and fishes with artistic grace, yet his poor choices eventually prove insurmountable.
It seems to me we are all on this continuum somewhere, particularly when it comes to faith. Yes, we are called to be good and wise stewards, obedient disciples with a firm grounding in God's Word. But we also walk in the light of God's forgiving grace and are thus free to live in joy with kingdom riskiness. Too much of the first leads to shallow legalism. Too much of the second leaves us prone to selfish licentiousness.
In my honest moments, my struggle is probably too much Norman. Too much concern for checking boxes or living cautiously, and not enough sense of wonder and freedom. I'm still learning.  I wonder which end of the spectrum tilts toward you? Are you growing in obedience? Or grace? We are all learning, all the time.
Just one more thing.  As I read A River Runs Through It, I couldn't help but think of another river the Bible talks about, at the end of time in the New Jerusalem. "Then the Angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life...and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations."
A river does run through, right through our lives here and now. And there and later.  In the end, the Lord knits us together as whole people. And good news.
See you soon,
     Pastor Dan

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