I love watching trains do their work. An unassuming appearance bristling with grime and raw power. There is no subtlety in these machines. They have one purpose: hauling massive payloads. Often, the payloads are so massive, it requires multiple locomotives to complete the task. Recently, I waited for over 15 minutes as approximately 150 cars and locomotives passed by in the central Eastside industrial area of Portland.
This particular yard is located further south. Notice the smoke stack in the distance, rising above the headlight? The sign of it’s appearing and of its labor as it prepares to connect to a long train of cars.
The final shot gives a perspective much further back, offering a hint of the entire train’s length thus far. There was no way to know whether more cars were yet to be added, although it seemed a safe bet.
Trains are logistically complex. So much goes into their preparation, much of it far beyond my understanding. Weight, payload, HAZMAT factors, multiple destinations, bills of lading, time frames, power capacity, speed at various points, inclines, declines, elevation, and the list goes on, I am sure.
Yet it is so easy to watch them pass by for fifteen minutes as in a impromptu graffiti art installation without comprehending the complexity of their transit. When they are gone we continue on our way, putting them out of our minds.
Who knows? Maybe some product we will soon purchase is in one of the many containers? Maybe the fuel for our vehicles is sloshing around in one of the several tanker cars?
Trains seem so simple, but they are complex, both logistically and in terms of their impact beyond the journeys which transport products from place-to-place.
In a way, trains are like people. Simple at first casual glance, but exceedingly complex when explored more deeply. Question is, are we willing to apply our curiosity to know people and be known by them? Are we willing to cross the social tracks (to apply the train metaphor) to love them without expecting anything in return, but allowing them to love us in return? Do we dare expose to them our frailty, our weirdness, our neediness, as well as our authentic love for Jesus?
These are questions worth considering in a culture which is jaded toward anything Christians have to offer. Missional living provokes us to tear down assumptions and barriers so we may do real life with real people where we all live daily. Outside protected ecclesial strongholds and into the neighborhoods where hearts cry out for hope.