I usually write about theological matters, and seldom go outside that for my topics. Some folks like that, some don't, and most don't care. Nevertheless, today is an exception.
Sunday afternoon, Mother's Day, after three days of being sick, then struggling through a fun but exhausting birthday party with about 35 Burmese refugee friends at our house, we went for a ride "up the river." Now, there are a number of rivers in this region - the Illinois, the Meramec, the Missouri, the Kaskaskia, the Des Peres - but around here, "the river" is the Mississippi. The River. We drove up the highway along the Mississippi, giving this country boy a chance to get out of town and regain his sanity.
Every time I go there, I am amazed at this place God created. I see a river of unimaginable power, birds of breathtaking grace, delicate flowers, and exquisite beauty. And I see the works of man, of whom God said nothing is impossible (Genesis 11:6), for better or for worse.
We have a large lock and dam complex near here, one of a series of 27 or so that hold back the mighty Mississippi, making it a series of pools or lakes from St. Louis to Minneapolis. No free-flowing river. They do this to guarantee a minimum water level for barge traffic, thus making the Mississippi a major artery of commerce through the heart of America.
As I watch the barge traffic - a "tow" on the upper river is normally a boat and 15 barges, though the "tow boats" don't pull, they push - as I watch them, I am reminded of the inventive power of the mind of human beings, and the great potential for good. If I may bore you with a few numbers from the Iowa Department of Transportation:
1 large semi-truck hauls 26 tons/910 bushels
1 jumbo hopper railroad car hauls 100 tons/3500 bushels
1 100-car train hauls 10,000 tons/350,000 bushels
1 barge hauls 1500 tons/52,500 bushels
1 15-barge tow (standard on the upper Mississippi) hauls 22,500 tons/787,500 bushels
From another perspective, 1 15-barge tow is a quarter mile long. An equivalent train would be 2.75 miles long. A convoy of semi trucks would be 870 trucks, bumper to bumper, stretching 11.5 miles.
I don't know if this fascinates you as it does me. I sit by the river for long periods, watching, thinking what a great and wonderful God must be behind all this. What a God who creates things of astonishing power, exquisite delicacy, and breathtaking beauty, all together in the same place. And a God who creates people, like you and me, who share a measure of his intelligence and his creativity, and who can use God's good creation to make life better.
What a wonderful thing.