One August, a number of years ago, my wife and I decided to have a different kind of vacation. We packed the car, made arrangements for the cats, withdrew some cash from the bank, made sure we had our credit cards, gassed up the car, and headed out to destinations unknown. No, literally, unknown. We had no idea where we were going to wind up. At the highway, I asked, “Left or right?” We turned right. And that’s the way it was on our two week vacation to where-ever-ville.
Given the choice to head north or south, she chose north. Every time there was a place to choose one direction or another, we chose. And that’s how we wound up in a place called York, Maine. We obtained a room on the Atlantic Ocean in a 100+year-old hotel that was next to a beach. She was tired and wanted to nap but I was eager to check out the ocean. I donned my trunks, grabbed a towel, and said that I would be back later.
The ocean was the bluest blue I had ever seen and, in addition to the sandy beach, there was an abundance of rock formations. It was glorious. Tossing down the towel, I kicked off my flip-flops, ran down the beach, and jumped into the surf. I froze. I mean, I really froze. The water was so cold it was like jumping into a glacier. It’s a wonder my heart didn’t just stop in protest.
It was then that I noticed that, with the exception of a 7-year-old boy with blue lips and chattering teeth, I was the only one in the water. I could imagine one of the Mainers (or “Down Easters,” pick one) saying to his wife, “Ah, I don’t think he’s from around here, Ethel.” With Ethel replying, “Ah, yup.” Or whatever the citizens of Maine say. If Ethel had been Southern, she would have said, “Well, bless his heart!”
Being a man, I chose to do the manly thing. I decided to stay in the water to prove to the beach visitors that, “Yes, it’s colder than Pluto, but I meant to intentionally do this and I enjoy it!” So, in the water I stayed. While the heat leached out of my body from the tummy down, I explored a rock formation and discovered hundreds of starfish thriving in the cold water.
Eventually, numbness replaced the pain of the cold and I decided to get out of the water. The problem at that point was that I couldn’t make my limbs do what I wanted them to do. The 7-year-old was long gone and huddled next to his mother and shivering under a towel, leaving me alone in the water.
In all honesty, I should point out that water wasn’t literally freezing. The water temperature in August in the Maine Atlantic is 52 degrees. In contrast, the water temperature at Destin, Florida in the Gulf of Mexico (to which I am accustomed) in August in 87.1 degrees. However, in water that is 50-60 degrees, one is expected to die in one to six hours and become unconscious in one to two hours. I lasted about 40 minutes before I finally forced my limbs to move and shuffled out.
As far as I can tell, no one else ventured into the water the whole rest of the week that we were there. This is probably why, to this day, I stick my foot in the water before I leap. One needs information before one jumps.
This practice has served me well in other areas of life. Several years ago, in 1982, I was asked to be a candidate for the position of pastor in a rural southern church. After spending a few days with the people and leadership, we entered into serious discussion. Things went along very well until we hit on the church growth and evangelism subject. The town, in the 1980 census, had only 580 people. The population of the entire county was 14,755.
The racial makeup of the town was 49.90% black and 48.96% white with a smattering of other minorities. In the 2010 census, 72.5% of the county residents were African-American. When I mentioned that, to grow, we would have to invite all the residents to attend, I ran into a snag. “We’re not racists,” one board member said, “and we don’t mind if you start a separate service for black folks on a Friday or Saturday night.” They said they thought the church wasn’t ready for that yet and then said they’d pay for my kids’ tuition in the town’s private academy, which, by the way, just happened to have no black students. I was voted in 100% and they were less that happy when I told them, I would not be coming. Consider before you jump.
Seven or eight years ago, my oldest son and I looked into membership in a motorcycle club. They said they were law-abiding but we didn’t just take their word for it. We investigated and did due diligence and decided that what they were saying was true. We entered as prospects and six months later became full members. We were active for five years and they were, indeed, law-abiding. Not all motorcycle clubs are. Consider before you jump.
I have been encouraged to join or at least throw my support behind a number of groups, ministries, or causes over the years. Some I can and do, and some I can’t and won’t. It all depends on what the “water temperature” is. I can’t just jump into something without knowing the details, the players, the history, and whether this is a worthy group, ministry, or cause. Some people are “bandwagon” people. They see a bandwagon and they jump on it without giving much thought to where the wagon is going.
I learned a lesson in York, Maine. Before you just jump, consider what you are jumping into. It may be just fine. Or it could be deadly.
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the crisis, the church is live streaming at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays at http://www.facebook.com/cctksharpsburg/ He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]