“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,”
“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,
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 . . .)
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,
“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,
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
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 . . .
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
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
We have not
respected that intricate web
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,
We, this body of Christ,
have come here, first,
to be nurtured by
grain from the fields,
grapes from the vineyard,
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 . . .
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 . . .
the heart of Jesus’ ministry,
the restoration of right relationships.
We are sent out from this space
past the font and its waters
to speak and think
and pray about these things.
when we are sent out from this conference,
act on them.
“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.