A couple weeks ago my wife and I made another of our trips to Denver, Colorado. We celebrated our granddaughter’s second birthday and had the great, good fortune to spend a week babysitting her. It’s 630 miles from our house in the eastern suburbs of Kansas City, Missouri, to our daughter and son-in-law’s house in that fast-growing and always busy city on Colorado’s Front Range, where the Rocky Mountains rise impressively from the plains.
Many folks in KC like to joke that crossing Kansas and eastern Colorado is a journey best undertaken at night (unless you take an airplane). There is some wisdom buried in that advice, I suppose, but I have yet to follow it.
Kansas, as it turns out, is not nearly as pancake-flat as its stereotype would have one believe. In particular, there is a peculiar beauty to the Flint Hills, starting west of Topeka and stretching to almost mid-state. True, from that point on and including much of eastern Colorado, there is a noticeable amount of “non-hilliness” (I know that’s not really a word, but bear with me). I say that because I’ve driven across southern Manitoba on the Canadian Prairie, through central Illinois, and in much of the east central part of the lower penisula in Michigan. And so I know just how flat a landscape can get.
There are no forests along this stretch of Interstate 70 in Kansas and Colorado, unless you count the growing number of giant wind turbines. Mostly it’s land for pasture or crops, particularly wheat, corn, and soybeans. A few trees can be spotted here and there. Occasionally they’re planted around isolated ranch houses and, of course, in the towns and small cities along the way. Most trees outside populated areas, however, grow along creeks and riverbeds. The reason is obvious: that’s where the water is, at least after a hard rain. Without access to water, trees simply will not grow. Even with creek water, many trees still can’t handle the harshness of cold, windblown winters and blistering summers.
The state of Colorado, bless its collective heart, over the past couple decades has begun replacing wooden snow fences with long double rows of short evergreen trees along the north side of the interstate highway. While the highway still closes during blizzards, I’m sure those trees make winter driving a little safer at other times.
This is a long, roundabout way to get to the suggested lectionary psalm for this week. Psalm 1 is not just the first one but serves as a kind of introduction to the theological understandings that unfold later on. I can’t help but think of driving to and from Denver when I read the psalmist’s words:
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law [torah, which means teaching or instruction rather than legal code] of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. –Psalm 1
The trees growing by creeks and rivers all along that long stretch of prairie are, perhaps, descendants of trees that have grown by those same waterways for who knows how long. Within the worldview of trees, they prosper through the seasons and years and decades and perhaps even centuries.
The psalmist offers us this wonderful metaphor of the choice between prospering and perishing. Life is filled with choices and, as a result, consequences. Biblical writers often offer their readers choices.
Although many people think of the scriptures as a rule book, it’s really much more a framework for the living out of what results from those choices. How we humans respond to this “living strream” of scripture can make all the difference in our individual, communal, and congregational lives.
My most recent book, Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile, is up on Amazon in both print and e-book formats: 161-page Book ; Kindle e-book. The ancient Hebrew prophets can serve as guides for modern-day prophetic communities to engage in actions for peace and social justice. Each of the 10 chapters includes questions for reflection and discussion, making this great for class use. My previous book What Was Paul Thinking? is also available on Amazon in both print and Kindle e-book editions.