Reflections From the Seat of a Bicycle
“Why are you riding Sea to Sea?” I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked this question by others riders, local strangers, or people we met at churches. It’s a good question, but every time I give a slightly different answer that is never a complete thought. In order to sufficiently answer this question, I need more than the 20 second window that the inquisitors have to offer.
To illustrate my feelings I want to begin with this short essay (even though I think this story is a bit cliché).
An old man had a habit of early morning walks on the beach. One day, after a storm, he saw a human figure in the distance moving like a dancer. As he came closer he saw that it was a young woman and she was not dancing but was reaching down to the sand, picking up a starfish and very gently throwing them into the ocean.
“Young lady,” he asked, “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”
“The sun is up, and the tide is going out, and if I do not throw them in they will die.”
“But young lady, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it? You cannot possibly make a difference.”
The young woman listened politely, paused and then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves,
saying, “It made a difference for that one.”
The old man looked at the young woman inquisitively and thought about what she had done. Inspired, he joined her in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.
Loren Eiseley’s essay, “The Star Thrower”
Sea to Sea did not cure poverty. It did not end world hunger or cure the endemic of HIV/AIDS. The organization was not a perfectly operated or executed non-profit. But just because it didn’t do it all, doesn’t mean that it didn’t so something. Sea to Sea did do something and it was good. It raised funds for the supporting international organizations. Grants were given out to combat local efforts. It spread awareness across the continent of the problem of the poverty. Participants gained knowledge and insights from each other about a variety of issues. Look at all that progress. Sea to Sea may only be saving one starfish in the vast ocean of global problems throughout the decades, but we know that it was also part of something bigger.
A quotation from Friedrich Nietzsche can be applied to this theme: “the essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” Sea to Sea is part of a long obedience in the same direction. It was one more step in the same direction. This right direction is not a quick and easy road to travel. It is a long and toilsome journey that requires perseverance.
Similarly, C.S. Lewis exclaims in The Weight of Glory, “I have received no assurance that anything we can do will eradicate suffering. I think the best results are obtained by people who work quietly away at limited objectives, such as the abolition of the slave trade, or prison reform, or factory acts, or tuberculosis, not by those who think they can achieve universal justice, or health, or peace. I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can.”
The problem of poverty is an immediate evil. Sea to Sea was part of a journey of limited objectives and long obedience in the same direction as best it could to fight this evil.
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa highlights here the importance of each of us taking action, no matter how big or small. The power of one can make a difference. Sea to Sea helped one person, one family, one community, one state, one country, one starfish at a time.
In summary, I want to share one of my favorite poems. It encapsulates these thoughts of the power of one (person, movement or organization) and speaks volumes to the idea that the whole must be made up of small steps.
“It helps now and then to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a small fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about: We plant the seeds that will one day grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it well. It may be incomplete but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.”
Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador (1917-1980), possibly original to Bishop Ken Untener (emphasis added)
Avoid the paralysis of the “too big.” Be liberated by realizing you can’t do everything. Avoid stagnation and the fear of not being perfect. Rather, do something. And do something well. Take action. Make just one difference. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.