‘What’s the holdup?’
IN SUNNY APRIL it’s hard to remember that my city had a couple of weeks in January that brought the place to a standstill more than once. Two heavy snowfalls, with smaller storms between, brought us over a metre of snow, more than we are accustomed to, and more than which systems could cope.One major casualty was public transport. Trains, subway, streetcars, the transport that travels on rails, were especially vulnerable, not just because people did dim things like park their cars on street car tracks, but because the equipment, especially unnoticed equipment like switches, was in poor repair and not up to the increased stress that the cold and snow brought. It was a sobering lesson for a place that built a good transit system years ago, but for the last decades has done more bragging about it than caring for it – let alone expanding it. The problem was often poor infrastructure. “What’s the holdup?” The things that should be supporting the system, “holding it up” in the literal sense, were delaying it, “holding it up” in the wrong sense. Infrastructure is like the root system of a tree. It’s invisible, but if it’s unhealthy it will cause the tree to fall. And if it is not cared for, it becomes an invisible cancer that rots the tree. In the church, I often think that our infrastructure, our roots, are found in our past. The whole of our tradition, most fundamentally the Scriptures, is the place from which we draw nourishment, the mechanism which makes the system function. If we neglect that past, or if we do not understand it, we run the risk of not functioning as we are intended to do. But the past, like the roots of the tree or the switches in the track, is not all there is to Christian life. Trees need a trunk, branches, leaves, blossoms and, most of all in the imagery Jesus used, fruit. Transport needs cars, fuel, and electricity to fulfil its purpose in the scheme of things. Roots and switches are crucial, especially because they are invisible, but they are just a part of the whole construct. These images also have a place in my personal life. My infrastructure arises out of prayer and worship. If I neglect them or let them slip, the more visible and audible parts of my life and my calling soon begin to suffer. The quality of service to others, my ministry, begins to wither from drought or to creak and groan from cold and strain.The habits of prayer and worship we try to inculcate in our children and sustain in the Christian life of adults are not simply valuable in themselves. They are also an investment towards times when wintry moments in our life test us and push the systems to the maximum. The degree to which our switches are serviced and our roots are strong quickly becomes the sign of how we shall weather the storm. A transit system is evaluated by the service it renders to passengers. Jesus pointed to the fruit of a tree as the standard by which it will be judged. Our lives are measured by the actions we do and the words we speak, and all those outward and visible things are dependent on many other things which we cannot see and which we neglect at our peril. Archbishop Michael Peers is Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.