“Troubled Waters or River of Life?” Conference – Christ Episcopal Church Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

“Troubled Waters or River of Life?” Conference

Christ Episcopal Church

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Ezekiel 47:1-2, 6b-12; Psalm 104:1, 10-13; John 7:37-39

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

When I was a child,

one of my favorite picture books

was this one,    [showing the book]

read to me by my father at bedtime . . .

 

far too many times for him, I’m sure . . .

 

“Scuffy the Tugboat

and His Adventures Down the River.”

 

Little did I realize that

in following Scuffy down that river,

I was enjoying

a small ecological parable . . .

 

Given that the author and artist

were creating this wonderful adventure

in 1946 –

a time of ecological innocence –

or ignorance –

 

I’m sure they didn’t intend

it as a parable –

 

 

These Little Golden Books

were first books for children

meant simply to open their eyes

to the world

beyond home and neighborhood,

with perhaps a little moral tucked in.

 

 

Scuffy was a red-painted toy tugboat

with a blue smokestack

whose story begins in

a toy store owned by a man called

“The man with the polka dot tie.”

 

Scuffy sulked on his shelf in the store.

He was cross.

“A toy store is no place

for a red-painted tugboat,” he said,

“I was meant for bigger things.”

 

To cheer him up,

the man with the polka dot tie

took him home for a sail

in the bathtub.

 

But Scuffy would not sail in the bathtub,

“not even down to the faucets . . .”

 

“A tub is no place for a red-painted tugboat,”

he sniffed,

“I was meant for bigger things.”

 

 

The next day,

the man (with the polka dot tie)

and his son, called “the little boy,”

took Scuffy high into the hills,

“through two meadows

and across a field of young, green corn”

to sail in a laughing, singing brook,

“still chuckling over some joke

it had heard high in the hills

where it started.”

 

The book is wonderfully written.

 

It was spring, and the water moved in a hurry,

“as all things move in the spring.”

 

Seized by the current,

Scuffy was on his way,

exulting as the brook

swept him around a bend,

“This is the life for me!”

 

On and on he sailed,

and I sailed with him

through the marvelous illustrations

depicting all the wondrous details of his journey:

 

 

The little brook

winding its way

through meadows bright with cowslips

and little woods filled with violets.

 

Women were washing their clothes

in the clear waters,

while thirsty cows, standing knee-deep,

drank their fill.

 

Into the dark forest ran the brook,

pooling into a pond

where a fawn came to drink

and a skunk and her babies

walked in a line along the bank.

 

In the night,

fish nibbled at Scuffy’s bottom,

and an owl,

blinking its  golden eyes,

hooted from a branch.

 

The brook joined other brooks

and became a stream,

carrying Scuffy merrily

past the little villages on its banks.

 

He might have been sailing

right through the psalm

we just sang.

 

 

And then there were rocks and rapids

and the stream joined other streams

and became a river,

 

and you could see lumberjacks

floating their logs,

a flour mill and its waterwheel turning,

and the river getting bigger and bigger.

 

Through towns it ran,

under bridges,

crashing over a dam . . .

and down, down went Scuffy with it . . .

 

And then the river widened

into a harbor,

surging past docks and wharves,

great ships and barges . . .

 

past the big port city

and the noises of traffic and horns

truck motors roaring and streetcars clanging

and people shouting . . .

 

great buildings and smokestacks

billowing out smoke . . .

 

and just beyond it all –

the vast stretch of the sea . . .

 

 

“Oh no,” cried Scuffy,

“There is no beginning and no end to the sea.

I wish I could find the man with the polka dot tie

and his little boy . . . “

 

Do not worry.

 

Just then . . . of course . . .

(Little Golden Books are not tragedies . . .)

 

Just then,

from the very end of the very last piece of land

before the sea,

the hand of the man with the polka dot tie

stretched out to snatch Scuffy up.

 

We last see Scuffy sailing happily

from one end of the bathtub

to the other,

saying

“This is the place for a red-painted tugboat

and this is the life for me.”

 

 

The story is not just the story

of the comeuppance of a tugboat

with an exaggerated opinion of himself.

 

 

It’s the story of a river,

of all rivers,

and, inadvertently,

of what was already happening in 1946

and is the crisis we face

over 70 years later . . .

 

It’s the story of clean, clear waters

flowing down

from the pristine mountain temples

of their origin,

to east and west,

north and south,

toward the sea,

 

living waters giving life to

flowers, trees and their fruit,

grains and vegetables of every kind,

and insects and fish and birds

and animals and people . . .

 

the story of how people

gathered along the banks

of brooks and streams and rivers

to make their homes

and share in that gift of life and sustenance . . .

 

as part of a blessed, a sacred, web of being . . .

an interplay

of giving and receiving,

receiving and giving,

a vibrant exchange

that meant the thriving of all . . .

 

 

If we view Scuffy’s journey

with the concerned eyes of today –

we do see a tragedy.

 

Driven by a hunger and thirst

for the ever bigger things

we thought we were meant for . . .

 

(the Adam and Eve “sin-drome”)

 

we went after those bigger things

with little thought

to the effect of our cravings

on that sacred web of being . . .

 

the effect of

our dams and mills and bridges,

cars and trucks and trains and

steamships and tankers

and airplanes,

bigger cities, taller buildings,

for electricity and the fuels that run it all
and the impact of their production and use,

for more stuff than we could ever need

and the pollution of air and waters and land

from the manufacture of that stuff

the drive for greater profits . . . the greed . . .

 

 

Well  . . .  all that wasn’t in the mind

of the foolish red-painted tugboat

who had to learn his littleness

the hard way

as he sailed from the bucolic beginning

of his adventures

to their urban end . . .

 

nor was it in the mind of the child

who loved (and still loves) that book . . .

 

But it had better be

in our minds now.

 

For we have not recognized

our littleness,

 

We have not

respected that intricate web

of relationships,

 

We have failed

to live in healthy balance

with all the beings and things

that share the holy waters,

the holy land,

the holy air.

 

We have become a disease

threatening the health

of the living whole

that is this dear planet.

 

 

Our conference began

at the baptismal font,

 

that place where we were brought

through the waters into

the living web of inter-relationship

that is the body of Christ

across all time and place,

(and denomination).

 

We, this body of Christ,

have come here, first,

to be nurtured by

grain from the fields,

grapes from the vineyard,

nurtured themselves

by rain and snow,

rippling brook and running stream . . .

 

Grain and grapes

by human hands made bread and wine

soon to be the very life of the risen Christ

given for our life,

that we may be

life, not death, for the world . . .

 

A small piece of bread

just a sip of wine . . .

they satisfy and yet we must not be satisfied . . .

 

 

for surely,

as the hunger and thirst

with which we came

are for this moment assuaged,

 

a greater hunger and thirst are awakened . . .

a hunger and thirst

for the healing of God’s good creation

which has given us these things . . .

 

healing,

the heart of Jesus’ ministry,

the restoration of right relationships.

 

We are sent out from this space

this morning

past the font and its waters

to speak and think

and pray about these things.

 

May we,

when we are sent out from this conference,

act on them.

 

Jesus said,

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,

and let the one who believes in me drink.

As the scripture has said,

‘Out of the believer’s heart

shall flow rivers of living water’.”

 

Scuffy the Tugboat and His Adventures Down the River

By Gertrude Crampton, with pictures by Tibor Gergely

Little Golden Book #30, copyright 1946 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.

and Artists and Writers Guild, New York 20, New York.

 

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