Get Out of the Water

coming out of the waterI am the world’s worst swimmer.  I can’t even tread water.  I sink like a rock and it’s utterly pitiful to watch me flail.  Sometimes there are people that they say aren’t savable if they’re drowning because they flap their arms around too much – that’s me.  Don’t get me wrong, I can swim from A to B, assuming that the distance from A to B is less than 100 feet or so.  But my motion is so inefficient that I’m tired after only a short distance. 

I can remember a time when I went with friends to Oak Street Beach and as everyone was jumping in to the water, I got a running start and then hit the brakes at the edge.  I peered over the edge into the water having no idea how deep it was.  Despite much derision and laughter, I took the later down.  So, if God ever decided to be a jerk and flood the earth again I’d be SOL. 

Yes, I said jerk.  That’s exactly what God was in the eyes of the one who wrote this text.  When we talk or think about God we usually have such a reverence (read “fear”) that we are terrified of saying anything bad about God or calling God out.  Well, it’s ok.  People used to do it all the time.  That’s why it’s so important to understand these stories as what they are: stories.  The flood account that we find in Genesis is taken, just like the creation account, from Babylonian and other Ancient Near Eastern flood myths.  The council of gods became upset with all of the noise and raucous that humans were making and decided to wipe them out except for one man, his family, and some animals.  Humans didn’t think it was very nice at all and said as much because back then, humans and the gods had it out all the time.  This is the context in which we find our first testament flood story.  For a good picture of direct and candid conversation with God, check out Bernstein’s Kaddish.  It’s long, but it’s well worth the read.

So is that it?  Is this just some ancient lore that should be dismissed as the fiction that it is?  Not so fast.  All of the stories in the Bible and especially in the Old Testament have significant meaning for the life and plight of humankind.  This particular story tells us that the gods we create, i.e. our version of God, will always let us down and we will always let “him” down.  We have to form an intentional covenant with the real and mysterious God to let God be God and let us be transformed by the pursuit of the divine and the embracing of the mystery.  When we do this, we will eventually come out of the waters of the great flood and see the promise of life once again.

Water can be purifying.  Water can be cleansing.  This symbolism is no greater than in that of baptism.  But we know that water can also be detrimental and destroying.  Just ask those who experienced the tsunamis of Japan and Thailand, just to name a couple.  Jesus was baptized and God affirmed his baptism by telling him how pleased he was with him.  The beauty wasn’t in going into the water though.  It’s the fact that Jesus came out of the water and what he did afterward that makes it all beautiful. 

Baptism and Lent are about transformation.  But this transformation goes well beyond the individual.  Everything wasn’t perfect when Jesus came out of the water.  Just as soon as he had been affirmed by God and community, he had to wander in the wilderness for 40 days.  This wasn’t a trial or a test.  Rather it was a formative part of his journey and ours.  We commit, but we also have to wander and let the transformation take hold as we become who we are called to be.  But it doesn’t stop there.  As Jesus showed so well, when we are transformed along the journey, those who are around us become transformed and then they have an impact on the wider circle that they are in relationship with and before you know it, the entire world is transformed.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is anything less than a revolution and that we are capable of anything less than changing the world.  We are powerful beyond measure with the ability to turn a world of me and I and my into a world of we and us and ours.

But we don’t.  Even though we know that we’ll drown if we stay in the water too long, we refuse to come up for air because we’re afraid of the wilderness that lies ahead.  We’re afraid to try because we just might fail, or better yet, succeed at finding ways that life doesn’t work for us.  These instances of holding our breath for longer than we should humanly be capable are all around us.  There are so many ways in which we hold on to that which is with the complete knowledge that it isn’t good enough because we are afraid of the mystery and darkness that awaits in the wilderness, even though we have a promise to be made into our realized selves if we only but choose to take the journey.

I have been attending a number of conferences lately about church revitalization, preaching, church in the 21st century, theology, self-improvement, etc and I think this is good and healthy.  I will continue to attend such events to better myself both for my own well-being and that of the people whom God has called me to serve.  But while that quest for knowledge must always continue, I realized something else.  I should be writing books and I should be giving lectures.  Not because I am wiser than those I have heard or read, but because I have different and valuable knowledge to share with them and the wider audience.  This isn’t a pride issue.  It’s a matter of realizing that we all have areas that we hold a lot of wisdom and knowledge in and need to share it while we’re in the process of gaining new wisdom and knowledge.

Even though we know that there are skills and talents that we possess that can change the world if only we would share them, we stay under the water and wait while we drown.  It could only be fear that keeps us there.  But why are we afraid?  What are we afraid of?  Is it really our failures that keep us under water?  Marianne Williamson said it beautifully when she said

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Being in the water will transform us one way or the other, it will either kill us or make us whole, but it’s our choice.  The water can purify us, but the real transformation comes from getting out of the water and taking that first step toward the wilderness.  When God said “I am well pleased,” God was talking to all of us.  Don’t be afraid of being amazing, because you were made for nothing less than greatness.


One Response to “Get Out of the Water”

  1. John Lovestrand Says:

    Attaboy B! Way to pump it up Big Guy!!

    You may not be Michael Phelps in the pool, but from the pews the view is that you’re another Michael King.

    And yes, YOU definitely should be writing books, and YOU should be giving talks.

    I recently finished reading Pastors Rob Bell (Love Wins) and Molly Baskette Phinney (Real Good Church), and enjoyed them both, each with their own style.

    Mixing metaphors, you’re birds of a feather.

    Resuming your aquatic metaphor, y’all are fish swimmin’ upstream.

    You may not be able to swim, but you can preach Brother!

    And inspire, and support, and encourage, and guide, and write.

    Now go get ’em !

    Your # 1 Fan {compliments of my resident cartoonist/satirist, Jake

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