Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Sunday, February 19, 2017


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter

“That’s no way to run a railroad.”

That’s what Mr. Gray always said when he disapproved of something. He assumed that once he had said that, the discussion was over.

Mr. Gray was well named. He was definitely the gray eminence, the elder statesman, of our congregation. He had been the vice-president of a large meatpacking company in Chicago. He and his wife had no ties to our community. They had retired to the hills just because they liked the scenery. Our people were delighted when the Grays decided to come to church in our village instead of going to the big church in the county seat town. Whenever Mr. Gray said, “That’s no way to run a railroad,” they whispered to me, “We’ve got to do what he says. He was the vice-president of a big company in Chicago!”

“But he’s wrong,” I would say. “He doesn’t know anything about this community. And a church is not a railroad. You can’t run them the same way.”

Mr. Gray didn’t actually know anything about running a railroad, of course, and neither did I, but that was not the point. It was a phrase everyone used back then, about anything. It simply meant: That’s not the right way to do it, whatever it might be.

I was like the folks in that church. I did understand them and the community. But I was young. And I was poor. Business success and money were assumed both then and now to be marks of intelligence.

One of the reasons the people were so pleased the Grays came to church there was they assumed Mr. Gray would be a generous giver. He was not. That finally got them to thinking that maybe railroads and churches were not the same thing.

Mr. Gray assumed the discussion about anything was over when he said “That’s no way to run a railroad.” The problem was, the discussion ended not on how to get “it” done, but how it couldn’t get done. He didn’t know the right way; he just knew what was not the right way.

It’s ironic. Everyone claimed to know the right way not to run railroads, but no one knew the right way to do it. That’s why railroads are so irrelevant to us now. The right way to run a railroad was the standard for running anything and everything, but no one entrusted with running a railroad got it right.

I’m coming to the end of the line. I still don’t know how to run a railroad, but at least I’m still on the track. Maybe that’s good enough.


I tweet as yooper1721.

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