1.2.07

Immovability and Irrelevance

To the observant driver, two phenomena play out on the Midwestern landscape. I call them immovability and irrelevance. The miles pass, on seventy going seventy, and field gives way to field and that to wood until the eye falls upon a line stretched between two trees. That line is an old bridge, the once only-way from here to there, wherever one went: Once the bridge that all would take, before the road moved. That old road is gone, and why one would leave the bridge standing there, between two trees—like a prisoner being guarded and ushered to death row—I can’t know. So I guess. I guess that the digging hands that pulled up old blacktop and stone came upon the bridge and stopped. Perhaps the sun hung hot and high in the sky. Perhaps night set on. Perhaps rain fell upon them. And in the sun-maybe-rain-almost-night someone said, “Let’s let it stand. Leave it be until it is surrounded by grass and tree and fallen leaves, as a joke, a gag, something to make the passerby think or, at least, laugh. Better yet, let it stand awhile and testify to the fact that the road always moves,” because the road always moves.

So it stands: that old line of a bridge of stone, grown over with vine and weed. Irrelevance. I doubt many notice it. Whether they do or not, certainly none come to it or go from it. Where once it was the way, the only way, no more. Irrelevance. Where once two friends might pass upon its trusses and greet with a wave as they pass, no longer. Where once a boy might kiss a girl and mark that moment engraved upon the stone, never again. Irrelevance: the road always moves.

Ominously, beyond the tree-guarded bridge that comes and goes nowhere—against the pale of the sky—a church stands. Here I am on a Sunday evening, driving through the wilds of Indiana and a church stands lighted from steeple to gilt like a light upon a hill. And yet, her windows are dark, empty. From the expanse of gravestones marked all around, she was clearly once a loved and attended church. Perhaps no longer. Perhaps none come to her and none go out. Perhaps she too has become irrelevant, lighted only on whimsy, as one saying to another, “Let her stand awhile and testify to the fact that the road always moves.” Perhaps…irrelevance.

But even irrelevance eventually meets immovability. Mile upon mile, the two sides of the interstate traverse the unbroken landscape, separated by a ditch of tall grass. Once can almost see the brutal hands of the woodcutters who made no end of sawdust and limbs and felled trees, whose bloodthirsty lust could not be satisfied till every last tree fell. Hands blistered as longsaws and hacksaws moved to and fro, as axes and hatches swung. Flames engulfed the carnage behind. One can almost hear the old tune: feed it and it lives, water it and it dies.

But then the insatiate met the immovable, and there rose a tree to defy the saws and axes and blistered hands. Sawdust stuck to sweat as the singing stopped; the fires died, and the men stood to face a massive oak some two hundred years and more. The ancient tree spread its boughs like arms and would not yield. “You shall not pass,” the tree seemed to say, like Gandolf upon the bridge in Kazadoom. “You shall not pass.” Immovability.

I imagine the blood-lusty men dropping weapons of destruction and falling to their knees in repentance. I imagine them turning back from their path crying, “No more. The roads need not run so close together. Let the tree stand. Let it be.” I can find no other justification for why, after endless miles of northwest running, the lanes would separate. Immovability.

So the road always moves and every bridge, every church, risks irrelevance; risks becoming a byway, a byword. Meanwhile, the road of culture, of bloodthirsty men, always turns from the way laid out before it—always abandons the invitation to come, find rest and easy of burden—and sets upon a path of its own choosing; that is, until it meets immovability. And whether it be some ancient oak or the imaginary Gandolf, or the man of God, when immovability meets the changing road and declares, “You shall not pass!” something happens. Men change. The road turns back. Axes and fires are abandoned as the once-futile take up farming and shepherding and bringing crops and life to the barren places of life.

So what will we be in the coming years: my family and I, the Seminary, the PCA? Will we be the symbol of irrelevance, the bridge to which none ever come and go, and only the passing eye occasionally glimpses in the setting sun? Or will we be known as the symbol of immovability, taking a stand against the ever changing road to say—with kindness and love, with compassion and grace, and the knowledge that today is the culmination of redemptive history—“You shall not pass!”? God only knows, though I am left to wonder—to wonder and to pray, and to wander in and out of the endless possibilities—as night falls, consuming all. Work while it is day.

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