Monday, June 20, 2011

Trips Not Taken and God's Way with Time

·         From the Gettysburg P.O.
A volcano in Chile changed the seminary president's schedule for the last 9 days; read about the trip not taken in his latest from the Gettysburg PO
by Michael Cooper-White, President

As I suspect is the case for most of us, there have been times in my life when a long-anticipated trip could not be made as planned.  During my years in California, a thrice-postponed trip to Israel finally evaporated altogether when the tour company that held my fairly substantial deposit went out of business.  Shorter trips have been cancelled or postponed as a result of illness, family circumstances or weather.  Most recently, a nine-day sojourn in Argentina, where I have been doing some consulting with the United Lutheran Church over the past several years, became impossible as a result of the ash cloud that closed Buenos Aires International and many other major southern hemisphere airports for several days following a major volcanic eruption in Chile. 

To be sure, there was a measure of disappointment when it finally became clear that the window had closed for me to deliver a keynote address and conduct several leadership development workshops.  Hours of preparation came to naught, though perhaps I can use some of my “material” for future events (not many invitations come to speak and facilitate group work in Spanish!)  While my hosts down south insist they want to schedule a future time for me to again be in their midst, calendar challenges being what they are suggest that’s not likely to occur any time soon. 

It felt strange returning to Gettysburg from Dulles airport, with eight days totally unscheduled suddenly on the horizon.  While I knew plenty of catch-up work awaited me, I did not want the gift of unscheduled time to just be filled with business as usual.   I quickly scheduled a couple of visits with Seminary supporters who have become wise mentors and confidantes; and what a gift it was to spend some leisurely hours in their presence!  Remaining stateside in mid-June also allowed me to be present when the news broke that Pennsylvania’s new governor finally released the $4million grant committed by his predecessor, the cornerstone funding for our Schmucker Hall rehabilitation project that has been in the planning stages since I became president eleven years ago.  Being on the turf also provided me the opportunity to make an unplanned drop-in visit at the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod assembly, thereby making connections with a number of the synod’s leaders and many of our Seminary alumni.  Finally, the gift of time at home resulting from the South America trip cancellation provided some extra family time and the chance to catch up on some long-deferred personal projects as well.

Despite Jesus’ assurance that the very hairs of our head are numbered (Matthew 10:30) I have trouble with the kind of theology that points to a God who micromanages the universe.  Some who subscribe to this brand of divine providence believe that everything is a direct result of God’s direction or intervention.  My problem with those who say it was God’s doing when a loved one missed a flight on an airliner that crashed is the implication that it was therefore somehow God’s will that all those who made the trip perished.  When the Cypress freeway structure in the San Francisco Bay area collapsed after the Loma Prieta earthquake, just 20 minutes or so before I would have been on its lower deck, I did not attribute my fortunate timing to divine planning.   While I am not of the opinion that God micromanages the timing of events good or bad, and to whom they happen, I do nevertheless believe that all time, events, and all people are held in God’s loving embrace.  I think that’s what St. Paul was saying when he declared in Romans 8 that “neither life nor death, nor things present nor things to come . . . nor anything in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   St. Paul, of course, experienced his own travel interruptions, including at least one shipwreck and several times when his departures were delayed due to being held in prison as a result of his faithfulness.  To the oft-heard suggestion that, “it’s the journey, not the destination, which matters,” there may be a rejoinder, “sometimes neither journey nor destination are possible; remaining faithful just where you are may be the most important thing.”

As always, I am eager for some “reader feedback,” hoping to hear from a few of you out there in cyberspace about your own trips, both taken and untaken.  What did you learn when your travel plans went awry?  If you’re on the road or rails or especially the airways this summer—for work, vacation or time with those close and dear to you—stay away from ash clouds, tornadoes, thunderstorms and other perils.  And always and everywhere that your travels may take you, ¡Vaya con Dios!



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