A River Runs Through It

1.jpgI remember the first time I saw The River.  I was 10 or 11 years old. My father, brother and I were joining Bill Carroll and his sons, David and Bill along with Bill Lott and his sons Will and Forrest. We were camping on what we called the “Sycamore Cove” on the Tennessee River between Pickwick Dam and JP Coleman State Park.

I remember the small fishing boat. I remember the rain. I remember the waves. I remember the long boat ride in the dark and reaching out to touch my father for security. It was a frightening night.  So began my love for The River.

There would be other trips. Usually, one a year, in August, before school began, we would go.  We progressed from Sycamore Cove to a houseboat that belonged to Bill Carroll’s uncle. My brother and I contributed a ski boat. A 1957 Crosby with a 1958 50 horsepower Johnson motor which we bought for $300.00 with our lawn mowing profits. We didn’t know that in 1971 our boat was nearing antique status. We kept rebuilding the gears in the foot and pumping grease in to keep it going.

It would be that ski boat which brought us back to Sycamore Cove for a reunion with David Carroll, my brother and me upon my graduation from high school. It was our senior trip. No frills. The River. The fire. The campsite. The cove. Memory.

If you’ve never been on the Tennessee River when it turns ugly, you may not appreciate my fear. The winds blow, and it rains, and the waves reach ocean like proportions. The last time I was on The River in that old 57 Crosby, was one of those days when the storm came without warning. We were a long way from the campsite. We were a long way from my dad. There is nothing worse than being on a river under those conditions and commit the cardinal sin of shearing a propeller pin.

(Those were the days when a two inch steel pin made the propeller spin but if the propeller hit an immovable object, the pin would break to save ruining the propeller.) We committed the cardinal sin. We ran the boat aground on those immovable rocks on the bottom of the Tennessee River. The shear pin was now in three pieces and the only way to reach safety was to piece the pin back together and pray it would hold long enough to reach safety. We reached safety. We also never again ventured out without a spare shear pin.

It was one of the early times in my life when I found prayer to be answered in the midst of a stormy situation.

The Bible is full of rivers. There is the Nile where Moses was adopted. There is the Jordan where Jesus is baptized. And there is The river of life John of Patmos speaks of in Revelation 22. Water. River Water. Baptism. A river runs through us. I’m told that the Tennessee River is a dividing line in this world I’ve come to inhabit. I hear folks speak of the “other side of the river” and they mean the other Annual Conference, not theirs. But there is a song that has been sung on both sides of the river for longer than we care to remember, “Shall We Gather at the River.”

“I’ve got a river of life flowing in my soul,” my children sang upon returning from Camp Lake Stephens near Oxford, MS. That jingle is coming back to me. A River Runs through me. And you. And us.

Shall we gather at the River? 

16 Comments on “A River Runs Through It”

  1. William P. Carroll says:

    Sure am proud to know you Bishop! Memories indeed.
    Bill Carroll, the younger

  2. Sheila Murley says:

    I had to chuckle at the memories your story brought to my mind. My mother was born and raised in the “Show Me” state in the Bootheel only 2 miles from the Mighty Mississippi. Her mother, (a good Methodist) always warned her “don’t go in the water til you learn to swim.” My daddy, born and raised on the other side of the river in Tn. fell out of a fishing boat and “learned to swim very quickly.” (That’s his tale anyway). So, my daddy believed all seven of his children needed to swim and, one by one, as we reached a certain age , we were tossed into the deep end. We learned to swim very quickly as well. My mother almost had seven heart attacks but Daddy trusted that the good Lord was a mighty fine swimmer too and we would be alright.

    A lot of our church folk are afraid to get in the water until they learn to swim. We need to be more like my Dad and jump into the deep end. God hasn’t failed us yet.

  3. Jacqueline Martin says:

    I live spittin’ distance from The River, at the western edge of the TN Conference–on State Route 147. That road dead-ends at the Tennessee River–there is NO BRIDGE. But thank God for the ferry. Lots of people drive for miles out of the way and make a big fuss, trying to find a bridge to get across The River. Maybe because we like to be in control–with a bridge we can get ourselves across. Tenn Conference come and see for yourself–there IS a ferry, and the guy who operates the ferry is The Captain. The iconic ferry at Danville Landing connects Houston County (TN Conference) and Benton County (Memphis Conference). I know that “bridges” hold a lot of symbolism that preach well, but I’ll take the ferry as the great symbol of crossing over The River. There is something about being right down on/in the water when you cross the river by ferry rather than the span of a bridge. I have seen days that the water looks pretty smooth from the height of an Interstate bridge, but take the ferry and you appreciae what The Captain is doing to get you across. When was the last time you went by ferry, not by bridge, across the Tennessee River? It is all about perspective…you realize you are on a dead end road and you look across the river and see The Captain coming to ferry you to the other side….It’ll preach. Blessings, Jacqueline Martin

  4. frankandlindahagan says:

    Having lived on the Delaware River in Pennsylvania and remembering several personal water incidents made your story most real for me! It also brought to mind a 13th Century Spiritualist, Meister Eckhart, who talked about divinity as a great underground river that no one can dam up and no one can stop. This kind of thinking highlights the ancient ecumenical theology that must be rediscovered in Wesleyan tradition. Methodists need to return to the holy and mystical roots of the Wesley brothers and share it with all God’s people. Thank you, Bishop for sharing your stories. Frank Hagan

  5. Linda Winstead says:

    Bishop Bill, enjoyed your message and meeting you last night at Fulton First. This message, too, brought back memories for me. My husband and I were on the Tennessee River at Ky Lake while dating as teenagers. A sudden storm, high waves, and lightening in the distance made us make a desperate run to try to get back to our dock before the brunt of the storm hit. We sheared a pin in the middle of the channel on one of the high waves. We had a spare pin but no way to change it in the middle of the river. With the approaching storm, there were no other boats in sight. After what seemed an eternity (probably no more than 10 minutes) a fisherman in a small boat heard our distress call and came and towed us to the nearest shore. The waves were so bad, we almost swamped his craft. We were able to change the pin in the shallows and make it to the dock safely in a driving rain. The Lord certainly sent an angel to us that day!

    • wtmcalilly says:

      “I go cautiously around corners,” said Carlyle Marney, “for I never know when I will meet Messiah.”

  6. Yes sir, the river is a wonderful place with wonderful memories and it is a dividing line but at the same it connects many places and many people in many ways. I like that song too…”Shall we gather at theRiver.”
    Peace, Steve

  7. prechaphil14 says:

    I grew up in Memphis where the mighty Mississippi separated us from those foreigners over in Arkansas. I often wondered what life was like for them growing up on the side where the “Dogtrack” was that my Uncle “Rooster” enjoyed going. I was taught that was a place where gambling took place and that we (my family) shouldn’t have anything to do with such. So, I stayed away. As I’ve grown older and more reflective, I’ve wondered how many times we have let “rivers” divide us from some of God’s beautiful people, as well as opportunities for mission and service. The people on the other side or on the “wrong side of the tracks” seem to be the ones God continues to call me to. And through 16 different international mission trips my heart has been opened and my life has been enriched. Let’s don’t just gather at the river, let’s cross over to the other side.

    Pastor Phil Ross

  8. Billy McCord says:

    Bill these are super memories and thoughts for not only our Church today but our Nation I too have been on water in a boat an the waves in a thunderstorm threatened. That is one of many many times I was happy I knew the Man who calmed the water. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. billy mccord

  9. Rob Morrow says:

    Sent from my BlackBerry PlayBook http://www.blackberry.com