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Trains

I have the good fortune to be the grandfather of twin girls. Today they are grown, married or almost married, and working as nurses in a hospital in Pittsburgh. But when they were little, we spent a lot of time together. Twins are special, and they always attracted a lot of attention.

My wife and I took them to an animal park one day when they were about five. We had great fun feeding and petting the animals, riding ponies, and watching the antics of the monkeys. A little red train ran through the park, pulled by a colorful old locomotive. When the girls saw the train, they immediately wanted a ride. So we lined up in the station and waited for the engine to chug to a stop.

Amanda chose to sit in the seat with me, but when we suggested that Melissa sit with my wife, Helen, she rebelled. She wanted to be a big girl and sit in a seat all by herself. Of course, we let her, although it was a minor disappointment for Helen.

The train pulled away amid the squeals of dozens of children. We were sitting in one of the last cars, and I turned around frequently to check on how Missy was doing, all by herself in the rear. It was an interesting contrast. While Mandy, alongside me, was looking at all the displays along the way, pointing and commenting on each one, Missy spent most of the ride examined every inch of her private seat. She looked at the floor above which her feet were dangling, felt the shiny red metal on the side of the car, and joyfully explored the space toward the rear of the train that was her private domain for the remainder of the trip.

As a preacher, I couldn't help but notice the contrast between the way the girls were experiencing the journey. One's mind was inside the train, the other's was outside. What a metaphor for the way in which people experience life in the church.

For many, the whole world of truth is confined within the walls of the church - the traditions, the ritual, the statements of faith, the systems of belief. The church is an escape from a threatening world. For others, the faith journey never ends, and constantly takes them to new places where they continue to learn about the larger truths of God.

Is one of these modes right and the other wrong? Perhaps not. Missy, for instance, was learning independence while Mandy was discovering the world. We all learn what we need to learn at our own pace. Before we can go into the world as mature spiritual people, we need to learn the fundamental truths that have been passed down through eighty generations of Christian history. But we also need to remember that Jesus is not trapped in the past. He goes before us into the future, and he promises us that he has much more to tell us.

It would be a mistake for five-year-old Missy to insist that the only purpose of the journey that day was to watch her feet dangling over the little red seat at the back of the train.

Posted 3-01-05

Copyright: John W. Sloat 2005