The Chicago River in January: A Parable

One of my favorite things about working where I do is that I'm on the 27th floor of a fantastically-windowed building, working for a company whose CEO has set up the office according to her aesthetic: open, visible spaces, without much in the way of offices or walls. This means that I always have a picture-window view of downtown Chicago. The east wall of the building looks out to the lake, and my building is on the north bank of the Chicago river. As winter has gone on, and as the wintertime temperatures here in Chicago have fluctuated from mid-thirties down to double-digits below zero (it was -17 when I got up today!), I've had the chance to watch the river freeze and crack, break into pieces and then freeze all over again. It has, oddly, become my favorite thing to look at (even though I have so many great skyline views, a killer sunset view, and beautiful views of Lake Michigan).

What fascinates me about the river is that it can go through so many transformations and that it manages to reign in the ice that forms over the top of it, no matter whether this ice is one solid sheet or a series of cracked, independent trapezoidal pieces. Somehow, all of the strange angles and sharp corners of the broken chunks of ice fit together via softer borders of melted water like a strange jigsaw puzzle. No matter how big or small or strange the ice, it always remains contained in the flow of the river.

The more I think about the church and the challenges it faces, especially in terms of dogmatic disagreements, the more it seems that every denomination, faction, sect, and member become like one of those weathered, sharp-edged, self-contained pieces of ice. And I think that, all too often, the church and the media tend to focus on those sharp edges - the way that they jostle against other sharp edges, the way that triangles and squares and trapezoids don't always fit together nicely. We focus on what defines us, and therefore focus on what divides us.

But maybe the frozen Chicago river has something to teach us. Maybe, if we were to be a little more content to let our harsh edges melt a bit, if we were able to take a step back and look at the whole of the river - the good news of God's saving grace in Christ - then we might realize that we are all part of the same flow. We might realize that it's because of the movement of the river that we are all held together as one holy, catholic, apostolic church.

In an age where individualism, self-determination, and self-identity are so valued, it becomes easy to forget that we are part of something bigger - that there is more to life than our own selves. We forget that there might be anything to unite us. My hope is that I can be but one small voice (hopefully among many more!) reminding us that we are, at the end of the day, all part of the same flow, no matter how much we bump against one another along the way.

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