Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dolphins and Sharks

"Look, over there, there are dolphins in the water!"

Somebody shouted this to me as I began a several-mile run along a beach during a vacation. This stranger was absolutely right. Three dolphins playfully leapt up out of the water and, in tandem, we raced down the South Carolina shoreline for almost an hour. And most of that hour I reflected on that moment when the gracious abandon of a stranger, who might not otherwise have greeted me, alerted me to one of God's wonders.

Running for me is a time to meditate. Like a Buddhist walking meditation, its rhythm gives me peace and a place for thought. And what I thought was that this stranger had played the preacher-that this is the purpose of any exhortation-to awaken us to such wonders. Because I believe each one of us may serve as a minister, it occurred to me that this is our role, to shout,

"Look, over there, there are dolphins in the water!"

There's something about the shore that gives us permission to talk to strangers. I think it's the elation, even the ecstasy, that we experience in nature-whether manifest in shores or dolphins. It awakens the child in us that freely enters the commonwealth of God.

The stranger speaking to me about the dolphins was purely gratuitous, an occasion of grace. He had nothing to gain by it other than the thrill of sharing the experience. But I proclaimed his gospel to all I passed in my run along the beach,

"Look, over there, there are dolphins in the water!"

The next day, our last full day along the shore, it rained. And instead of wading into the Atlantic, I waded into all those e-mails I had avoided all week. It was sobering, to get back to business. There's nothing natural about sitting in front of a laptop, reading a screen and plucking keys on a keyboard.

And I had another thought. Earlier in the week on the beach, we had met a couple who alerted us to a shark in the water. It occurred to me that our job as "ministers" (remember, all of us) is not only to point out the dolphins, but warn others about the sharks.

Many of us got too many sharks growing up in our churches and too few dolphins. Like the preacher in the novel and movie Pollyanna, egged on by Pollyanna's stern and bitter aunt, we heard preachers who focused on the curses found in scripture rather than its blessings. Pollyanna, the orphan of missionary parents, who herself had every right to be bitter, pointed out to this preacher that there are many more blessings than curses in the Bible, many more dolphins than sharks.

Progressive Christians recognize the sharks infesting the waters of our faith tradition: biblical literalism, fundamentalism, prejudice, exclusion, patriarchy, condemnation, and so on. It's important that we warn others to stay out of these waters. But it's equally vital-or all the more vital-that we point out the dolphins of our faith tradition: grace, mercy, justice, compassion, inclusion, blessing, wonder, storytelling, and spiritual truth.

"Look, there are dolphins in the baptismal water!"


  1. Welcome to the blogosphere, Chris!

  2. Another hearty welcome to blogging, Chris. It will be terrific to have your voice regularly pointing out dolphins and sharks to us. I look forward to reading it!

  3. I was brought here by a post on Facebook. I've bookmarked your blog and look forward to enjoying many more posts such as this one.

  4. Lovely, Chris. Thanks for sending it along. Hope you're well.

  5. Definitely glad to have this new connection with you. You'll possibly hear from me more than you even want to! Blessings.

  6. Very Beautifully Presented, as usual, bro!!! You are indeed 1 of the dolphins whose wonders I've enjoyed experiencing!!!

  7. I share Andy's comment. While sometime alerting us to the presence of sharks, your voice celebrates often the dolphins that gracefuly leap at our side. You minister many more of us than you may think of.

  8. I love your analogy.

    It occurs to me, as i think about it,
    whether we are sharing beauty or warning danger

    we can STILL be IN Jove, Joy, Peace, etc
    and obviously not in Fear, Hate, etc.

    We can allow God to bless us through All; even the scary, painful bits!

    thanks, Chris!