Shall we gather at The River

Posted on August 11, 2010


The Goosenecks of the San Juan River

Forget about The Masters (on CBS). The true “tradition unlike any other” is rafting down the San Juan River in southern Utah with some of the great people from the Los Alamos Church of Christ in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

There are so many things that I enjoy about this tradition that I unknowingly (and thankfully!) married into- the scenery, the the feeling of being completely disconnected from civilization, that first shower after spending the better part of a week covered in dirt, bugs and mosquito bites. The natural beauty that surrounds this river gives new meaning to that old American spiritual that says, “Gather with the saints by the river that flows by the throne of God.” If those goosenecks don’t look like God’s throne from the bird’s-eye-view of that picture, I assure that from inside the canyon while floating down that river, it’s unmistakable.

But even the huge canyons and rock formations that guide this river to Lake Powell can’t compete with the beauty of the way these people from Los Alamos interact with each other.

This group from the Los Alamos church serves as an outstanding example of what I call an intergenerational church. In an intergenerational church, everyone has meaningful interactions with each other regardless of age. This means that the kids actually enjoy spending time with the adults, even when the interaction is centered around more grown-up activities, and that the adults, while increasing in age, remain young at heart by doing activities with the kids that most adults are “too old”- a.k.a. unwilling- to do. In my opinion, it’s a beautiful picture of what all churches should be.

It’s hilarious to watch grade school-aged kids feel comfortable enough with my senior citizen father-in-law that they would run circles around him in the mud on the river bank so that he would eventually sink and fall in the mud; it’s also special that he would let them do it.

It’s great fun every time the 15 to 30 year-old-dudes set up a card game after a day on the river; it’s even better when the 8-year-old boy who desperately wants to be one of the guys asks if he can play and is never turned away (even though everyone knows it will slow the card game down to a crawl).

It’s great that minister Tim Stidham and his wife Tanya are willing to lead this motley crew down the San Juan year after year; it’s even better that they go out of their way to make the relative outsiders on this trip like me feel welcome and valued while still finding time to follow my daredevil brother-in-law down a mud/water slide inside one of the washes in the canyon.

It sounds awesome because it is.  But too often, people in my generation miss out on this brand of human interaction. After spending our lives in the education system quarantined from other homo sapiens who are too much older or too much younger than us, when we graduate from high school or college and are suddenly expected to have the social skills necessary to interact with homo sapiens of all ages, we don’t know what to do. So we do what we’ve been taught: we join churches or social circles because “they have more people my age” or “this church has ____ program for young adults,”  and in the process, we isolate ourselves from the other 90% of humans that aren’t in our age bracket. Permanently. This is a tragedy with the most devastating of consequences for our churches and our communities, and I believe that when he sees it, Satan gives a congratulatory fist bump to his cronies down under.

I am thankful that there are still church families like the one in Los Alamos- imperfect like any other person or group of people, but whose gatherings at The River each summer for the past fifteen-plus years testify to what they value, and what they believe God values: hearts.

Music I DARE you to listen to

Dare: At the RiverAaron Copland (click “At the River” to listen via Youtube)

It’s no stretch to say that a lack of interaction among the generations means that there is a giant chasm between the generations when it comes to something that most everyone is passionate about: music. If we only listen to what is current, and older folks only listen to what they listened to when they were growing up, we eliminate more than 99.9% of all music that has ever been created. So sad.

If you are an American, this melody from “At the River” is in your blood. Maybe you just don’t realize it yet, just like we didn’t realize the structure of our DNA until James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the double helix. Uncovering this music in my blood was like making an historic archeological discovery after digging through levels and levels of more recent history. Maybe you could make that same discovery within yourself.

Sure, it’s possible that this melody isn’t inside of you in the form of western art music with an orchestra backing up a famous British opera singer who rolls his “r’s” (in my opinion, the worst part of the recording- what self-respecting American would do that?), but if you listen carefully, you’ll find that it’s there just the same; uniquely American, uniquely you.

Try and listen to the operatic singing voice without judging it. This is short, so I request that you listen twice, maybe even three times. I hope you enjoy, and I’d love to hear your thoughts- positive, negative, or otherwise.

Until next Wednesday, you stay classy planet Earth.

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Posted in: Faith, Life, Music