‘That’ll preach’ and clearing the road

Posted 10/4/19

In the Hebrew Bible, the word “salvation” originally meant to “clear the road.” I recently learned this at an academic gathering of theologians and biblical scholars at my alma mater. We had …

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‘That’ll preach’ and clearing the road

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In the Hebrew Bible, the word “salvation” originally meant to “clear the road.” I recently learned this at an academic gathering of theologians and biblical scholars at my alma mater. We had spent the whole morning talking about abstract ideas using technical words, some of them in Hebrew. But it was simply a beautiful day, so I slipped outside the seminary conference room for a quick walk around the campus quad.

The green grass was collared by a paved walkway. As I strolled, I had in mind the teenage activist Greta Thunberg, who had started skipping school to teach us a lesson about the urgent danger of climate change. Like a biblical prophet of old, Thunberg speaks truth to power by reminding world leaders that they will be judged in the future by their actions today: “I want you to panic. Our house is on fire.” Her fundamental message is addressed to all of us. She holds up a mirror to our sins, pointing out the error of our dependence upon fossil fuels, and prophesies a cataclysmic future unless we immediately change our ways. As of ancient times, she is a voice of truth crying in the wilderness: “If not you, then who? If not now, then when?” This young woman understands and applies ancient spiritual truths: first, we must acknowledge guilt; then, true confession leads to action.

Prophetic actions speak louder than words in any language. The day before my conference at the seminary, I had joined 4 million people striking in cities across the world. As I took one step at a time around the quad, I meditated upon how one person moving full steam ahead really can make a big difference. Greta Thunberg’s story preaches itself.

That’s when I saw him coming — a boy, maybe 3 years old, pedaling like crazy on a tricycle, his legs pumping like twin pistons. His father strolled behind him at a reasonable pace…until he started running toward the large branch that had fallen across the walkway. I hustled from the opposite direction to help the father pull the branch into the grass just before the boy tricycled past. The child never broke his speed. But as he chugged on by, he chanted, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

After this little locomotive of gratitude had powered ahead, the dad smiled knowingly, “That’ll preach.” Salvation occurs when the road is cleared and we change our harmful ways out of gratitude for a new chance to walk forward. For the children’s sake and for ours, let us join together and save our world.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the poet pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church and the author of the book “Gently Between the Words.”

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