About The River of God

My last blog told about “Estuary Cultures,” the multicultural ministry theme of my friend, Uday Balasundaram.

Uday has much more to say about how the river of God flows among us.  This ‘river,’ like any other river on the face of the earth has an effect on the landscape.  Where the topography is steep, rivers cut into and erode whatever rock they meet.  Then, when they pour out onto a flat landscape or gentle slope, they deposit some of what was cut from above. The river alters the landscape as it passes through.

Uday showed a slide of a beautiful conglomerate, composed of many kinds of stone – granite, volcanics, quartzite, sandstone. He asked, “Who created this rock?”  His point, I think, is that the mixture is the product of the erosion by the river, and then it is cemented together when the various cobbles rest in place.  He was showing us a geological picture of a multicultural society.

If we see the River of God as the spirit of Christ that flows through us, we can imagine a river that will tumble together many different people from many different cultures, and cement them into a new, beautiful rock which represents the Body of Christ.

I love this imagery.  

In our world of so many things which divide us – politically, racially, culturally – we need ways to picture how our faith can both cut through and unite.  The river analogy does just this.

Estuary Cultures

I heard an amazing presentation by Uday Balasundaram at the Asbury Seminary President’s Retreat last week.  Uday has just completed his PhD in Intercultural Studies at Asbury and after singing an amazing composition with his own guitar accompaniment, he took us on a theological mystery tour that still has me scratching my head.  (in a good way)

He started by saying  things like this: “Otherness is a core characteristic of God in the Trinity.”  “To be human is to be creative. After all we are made in the image of the creator God.”  And he talked about creativity in music and how there must be a theology of music, but he is still working out his “sonic theology.”  We all were struggling to keep up with his quick mind and crisp Indian accent.

Prior to his academic studies at Asbury, Uday worked in music composition in the film and advertising industry in India where he grew up. He has also served in churches in the US and in India.

The first slide had two words and a scripture reference:  ‘Estuary Cultures’ and Ezekiel 47: 7-12 Here is the passage:

Then he led me back to the bank of the river.  When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river.  He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh.  Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live.  Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea.  But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt.  Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”

This vision of the prophet Ezekiel describes perfectly the abundant life and biodiversity that are found in any estuary, where  salt and fresh water mix.   There are many river references in the Bible. In some, the river is a threshold to be crossed, like Joshua 1:2  In others, rivers are metaphors for peace and justice.  The River Jordan is used for cleansing in baptism.   And of course Jesus described how rivers of living water would pour forth from us when we receive his Spirit, John 7:38-39. Revelation 22:1-2 describes a river flowing from the throne of God.

But Uday wanted us to see, as he does, that the Lord creates abundant life precisely where the living waters contact the salty waters.  In the same way,  as conduits of the living water, we partner with God to create new life when we come in contact with the salty waters of the world, the world of many cultures, races, and histories.  At that point, the estuary, we can be creative with God. It is there that the salty water becomes fresh, and we help bring new life in Christ to new believers. Creativity and abundant life go together.  When we embrace our creative roots instead of focusing on our differences, we enable the great biodiversity of an estuary culture to emerge.  When we go with the flow of the River of God, we help create an environment in which many kinds of fish will live and thrive.

Then what? We go fishing!  Jesus said he would make us fishers of men. Uday suggests that our efforts to share the gospel and convert many people will be stunted unless we seek out a mixture of fresh and salty waters.  I think he is on to something. I want to be a part of the estuary culture. Do you?