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Disheveled Theologian: Row, row, row your raft

Becky, a family friend of the writer's parents, rows a homemade raft. (Special to The Globe)

There are very few summer activities that are better than picnicking on the beach. When I was a kid, whenever relatives came to visit, we would fill brown paper grocery bags and head down to the beach for the afternoon. There was so much to pack: baked beans (to be heated up on the edge of the fire in Grandma’s old blue and white spatterware pan), hamburger patties (formed by hand and placed individually between squares of waxed paper), hotdogs, buns, chips (a rare and exciting food in my family), cookies, ketchup and mustard bottles, a huge thermos of lemonade, hand-held grills, newspaper, matches (a true tragedy if forgotten), hot pads, plates, cups, napkins, and plastic utensils.

While the dads were busy lighting the fire and the moms were organizing everything, we kids would run off to play, which always involved getting one’s Keds soaking wet because it’s impossible not to wade in the water when on the beach.

We’d glance over at the grown-ups from time to time, gauging the status of the fire, testing the air for the scent of burgers and baked beans. When the food was ready, the fathers would holler and we’d all drop whatever we were doing and come running awkwardly across the stony shore to stand around the fire while Dad prayed for our food and our mouths watered impatiently and our eyes couldn’t help but peek at all the bounty before us.

On one picnic, which has become family lore, someone decided it would be a good idea to cook some mussels. They gathered up as many as they could easily pry off of the rocks and boulders nearby, cooked them, and everyone who was willing to partake could do so.  

My cousin Peter, a couple of years older than I, chose to do so.

As the mothers chatted away, Peter’s small hand reached up to the cooling mussels. He’d watched everyone else eat these blue things. Why not him?

Chubby fingers clumsily tossed the mussel into his open mouth. A strange look crossed his face. A confused look. A pained look.

Chomp. Crack. Crunch.

His eyes bulged in surprise and, with a monumental gagging sound, he opened his mouth and spat.

Lesson learned: remove the mussel from the shell before you eat it.

On another picnic, several years later, when old college friends of my parents were visiting, their daughter, together with my sisters and our fathers, built a raft.

I was far too small to be of much help in this endeavor, but I was able to scout along the beach and find driftwood logs which were the appropriate size and length. I would holler that I’d found a good one, then I’d perch on the log, banging my legs absently against it until someone much larger and stronger came along to approve (or disapprove) of my choice.

A dozen or so logs were found, and they began roping them together. It took all afternoon, but by combining their skills and their muscles (not to be confused with the mussels!), they made a seaworthy craft. Finally, a long piece of wood was found for use as a punter and they slid the raft into the water and climbed aboard. Success! Cool beyond measure.

Amazing what we can do when we work together. We can take the trunk of a fallen tree and turn it into a boat. Or we can take the message of the Gospel and live it out in our community. When we do that — when we live out a unified message as God’s people, working together to communicate God’s love in a genuine and loving manner — we are pleasing to God. It takes effort, yes, but when we do it, it’s cool beyond measure.

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Psalm 133:1

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is gcodon@gmail.com.

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