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Let us blossom in defiance of wrongness

by Rev. Mark Wiley, Lead Pastor, Claremont United Methodist Church

One of the most beautiful roads in the world is called “Going to the Sun Highway.” The road crisscrosses Glacier National Park in Montana, and climbs to 6,600 feet over the Rockies at Logan Pass.

You can’t drive the road now because it’s buried beneath snow that often accumulates to more than 12 feet. The road usually opens by the end of June or early July. The views will take your breath away, and restore your soul.

The road itself is full of curves, very sharp hairpin turns, and cutbacks. It was built in the 1930s, at a cost of more than $100,000 a mile. The road is barely enough for two lanes: with a solid wall of granite on one side and a sheer drop off on the other side. There are width limits for motorhomes, and almost no rest stops.

Ice, fog, snow, rocks and big horn sheep can make driving the road even more challenging. (Not to mention other drivers just as scared as you.)

I think of the road now at the beginning of the year, because it is more than a road. For me it’s a symbol of being able to envision, plan, create and sustain doing the impossible.

Creating the road across and up through the backbone of the Rockies was an overwhelming and seemingly impossible task that is now a scenic and national wonder. For me it’s a tangible witness to the Bible verse “I can do all things through God who strengths me.”

But the road also provides me with a warning. It was built in a different time with a different national ethos. The Conservation Corp, which helped build the road, was based on a philosophy that we need to recover. The idea was that one person’s economic pain and social struggle were shared by all. The plight of the one diminished the whole.

The struggles of the homeless veteran, the child in foster care because her parents were opioid victims, the refugee fleeing cartel violence and the hardworking but functionally poor single mom weaken us and harm us as a nation if we do not lift them up.

Today we seem to have replaced the earlier philosophy with the notion of winning, of trying to better ourselves by diminishing or devaluing others. We think we can win by making others the targets, or victims. Individual triumphalism threatens community well-being. And doing the impossible seems less likely.

I was taking a walk in Claremont earlier this week and noticed a seeming impossibility. A house had California poppies blossoming. Their bright orange flowers were wide open—in winter. It was the wrong season. It was the wrong weather. It was the wrong temperature. It was the wrong time and place. But the poppies were blossoming in defiance of all the wrongness.

We all face great struggles against odds that are insurmountable. We can recite litanies of ways we have been wronged. We can all raise our tears and laments over sorrows and tragedies too great for coherent words. The ache in our heart and in our bones never leaves us.

Years ago, I went as part of a work team to Sierra Leone. We were building a church parsonage. We knew the country was poor, but the reality was far worse than we imagined.

The construction manager, for example, earned $1.50 a day. While attending church one Sunday, the preacher asked for a second offering, “We need to take an offering for our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia because they are poor and do not have enough to live.” This was a “Going to the Sun” moment. Those who had nothing were gifting those who had less than nothing.  They were making a choice to care for others as part of their witness.

Each of us, and our nation as a whole, can blossom in defiance of the wrongness. We can choose to lift others up. We can build roads through impossible terrain and find beauty along the way. We can make “Going to the Sun” moments not only possible, but also make them part of our personal and national character. 

I suspect that when we do so, we will not only find that we have strengthened others but also that we have gained something of heaven’s strength as well.  For we would have made visible and tangible the Bible verse, “Beloved, let us love one another. For God is love, and those who love know God.”