Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Juxtaposition

On a quiet Sunday afternoon, a small group of worshipers gathers in a small traditional looking church. The A-frame design bespeaks years of expectation and American church culture. The singing inside follows a tune that is familiar to some, albeit mostly those from older generations. Words ring out with a chorus of, "This is my savior, this is my song. Praising my savior, all the day long." The old hymn's title: "Blessed Assurance."

The small group concentrates on the harmony of the old hymn and memories of Sundays that have played out over the many years before. "This is my song," they sing as the chorus again rolls around. It's a scene from countless churches sprinkled out across the great landscape of the American countryside. It recalls similar gatherings sprinkled back across the years of the small American churches as well. Little has changed in many of these places. Change seems reserved for a few added creases in the bindings of the hymnals and faces of the congregation. Outside these walls, however, change has been unstoppable.

It has been nearly three decades since the Milwaukee Road packed up its bags and left its Pacific Coast Extension to the annals of history. Left behind are lonely places like Acola, MT shown in the photograph above. Once part of a small grain branch operating off the mainline, the grain shipments in 40 foot ribside boxcars have long ceased. The plains and mountains play a give and take in this part of the Milwaukee's haunting grounds. Beautiful sunsets and gentle colors mark the area and nearby are the headwaters of the Missouri River. Cold nights are common here as well. The sky is so clear, the heat of the day - even a hot summer day, seems quickly lost to the black expanses of night overhead. It was to places like these the Milwaukee called home to its Lines West. When it left them, it left depth and reverence. These two elements seem common accompaniment to the memories and stories of those who came before. Acola is just one of many lonely places that exist in juxtaposition.

The old hymn remembers those old times though. Those were the times the Milwaukee Road was marveled around the world for its bold electrification and well engineered route. The one to whom the songs are sung remembers them too. The juxtaposition runs deep: praise inside in a way that seems unchanged over decades, quiet reverence and reflection outside amidst a sea of change and history. Yet the two were never meant to be separate. The inside versus outside defies the original intent and forwards a juxtaposition that should not exist.

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