Of Shipbuilding

by

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” – Antoine de Saint Exupery

What do you long for most?

Of the kazillion possible answers to that question, at least one emerges common to all: sense of purpose. Significance. To matter in some shape or form. In his book, Summoned to Lead, Leonard Sweet put it this way: “Everyone is searching for a ‘higher purpose.’ Everyone wants to be part of a mission that they care about, a mission that will change the world. Mission is what gets people motivated… People will put in time for a job; they will give their lives for a mission.”

From this particular starting point however, purpose splinters into a million pieces. Some people live to collect Star Trek memorabilia while others sweat blood to win Yard of the Month. Some daydream at every opportunity of the perfect vacation while others see their life’s calling to make everyone they encounter as miserable as themselves. Bank accounts and fishing boats, mansions and marriages, there are endless options when it comes to life aspirations.

Yet once recognized, it seems a healthy thing to do to consider our life’s longing with a dose of perspective. Corporate consultant, Charles Handy, told this story, “I once sat up on stage with a C.E.O. in front of the senior members of his company. The C.E.O. said his goal was to create the world’s largest organization. He wanted to grow at a truly astronomical rate. I said to him that the two largest organizations in the world today are the Red Army in China and the British National Health Service. And I asked him whether either of those two models was what he had in mind. He was rather embarrassed. Suddenly, growth for its own sake seemed to be a very funny notion.”

So I ask again, What do you long for most? And once said out loud, with perspective, is that worth your life? (Even if the answer is, I don’t know. Maybe especially then.)

The author of Ecclesiastes asked these sorts of questions and came up with a conclusion that God’s way is the way to go, and though I happen to agree, I have to say it’s a bit easier said than applied – mostly because God’s designs on us seem to vary from person to person. Noah lived for a rainy day. Abraham lived for a foreign country. Joseph lived for an odd dream, while Moses lived for a rescue mission. Jesus lived for an execution.

So what is your uniquely designed mission? And what is mine?

I ask because, though I hate to admit it, I’m afraid much of our religious ship-building is long on wood-gathering, work-division, and order-following, and sadly deficient of yearning for a vast and endless sea. And the result is reflected in the quality of the ship.

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12 Responses to “Of Shipbuilding”

  1. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Jesus lived for an execution.

    This goes back to the conversation under “Relevant Ministry,” but — and this is going to come as no surprise to you, Al — I think that’s a rather gross misperception of Jesus’ life. Jesus lived to help people. He also died to help people. But he did not live just to die, and the help he gave people in dying wasn’t the only help that really mattered — to him or to us.

    The way Jesus is talked about in churches, someone who knew nothing of his story could easily get the impression his life went something like this: he was born to a virgin, laid in a manger, some wise men gave him stuff, and a few minutes later he was crucified.

    Birth, death, and resurrection. Jesus is not the sum of those three parts. His life wasn’t pretext. It wasn’t the setup for his death and resurrection. All those things he did between birth and death are every bit as full of meaning as the endpoints, every bit as important, and every bit as salvific.

  2. Al Sturgeon Says:

    You’re right. Mel Gibson’s movie did not sum up Jesus’s purpose in life.

    My overall point was that Jesus did not live w/o purpose in mind, but my characterization of that purpose was off-base.

  3. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Roger. I more or less knew that was what you meant, but given the recent discussion, thought it might be worthwhile to clarify.

    That purpose thing, that’s a tough one. Most people seem to locate it in their children, which has all sorts of unintended consequences.

    Personally, I’ve no idea what my purpose is, which puts me somewhere south of Naven Johnson. I’ve thought I knew it a couple of times, but it sort of evaporated when I tried to grab hold of it.

  4. Michael Lasley Says:

    Mad props for the Naven Johnson reference.

  5. Terry Austin Says:

    (He hates these cans! Stay away from the cans!)

  6. Capt MidKnight Says:

    1. juvenal_urbino said…
    Roger. I more or less knew that was what you meant, but given the recent discussion, thought it might be worthwhile to clarify.

    Juvenal and Duane
    Just FYI, I added a final comment on the Relevant Ministry post just pointing out how much of Duane’s last couple of comments I agreed with. I doubt if you saw it since the post itself had dropped off the radar screen by then. I just wanted you all to see that we weren’t as polar opposites as it seemed at one point. It just took a while for me to figure out what your thinking really was and to get my comments to say what I meant.

    What do you long for? Big question.
    I knew some folks in college who knew what they wanted to do and what they wanted out of life with some clarity, and seemed to pursue that goal. Most of us, though were pretty much clueless. As for me, instead of having a goal and going for it, my life has unfolded mostly as a reaction to outside influences. In a way, it’s sort of fun, not knowing which way you’ll get bounced next, and it’s probably turned out better than any plan I might have cooked up when I was 21 years old.

    Sometimes I feel bad about not having some burning desire to achieve some worthy goal, but, so far, I’ve had my hands full trying to be prepared for the next surprise God hands me.

    Al and Juvenal … amen.
    As for Jesus, I doubt there was ever another life lived with as much purpose. His first day and his “last” (on the cross) get a lot of attention, that’s true, but every other day of those 30 plus years in between was filled with purpose too – not the least of which was showing humans what God was like (John 14:8-11), a pretty big job in itself.

  7. Whitney Says:

    Cap’n, you said:
    Sometimes I feel bad about not having some burning desire to achieve some worthy goal, but, so far, I’ve had my hands full trying to be prepared for the next surprise God hands me.

    Sometimes I feel bad about this, too. But our life is pretty uncertain, as you fully understand being retired military. I take the punches dealt (and try not to complain) and try to see where God needs me in each situation. Some times are harder than others and some places will certainly be harder than others. I just maintain the knowledge that God knows why he sends us where he does. Hawaii…..here we come. (And I don’t think playing host to every person I know is God’s calling for me in Hawaii, but my friends and family are sure to disagree. smile.)

    So far as my career and my personal life, I feel so extremely blessed that I couldn’t hope for more. Tony Robbins’ kid happens to be in my class this semester, and he swears that I can’t be that satisfied, but I really am. It is impossible for me to explain.

    So far as my spiritual life, I feel that I’m constantly working for more because the gift God gave us defies every really being able to live up to its worth. He deserves so much more than I as a weak human am possible of giving back. But I do keep trying. I don’t see it as a goal so much as a pathway to a way of life.

    Al, I loved the post. Thanks.

  8. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Whitney

    Hawaii…..here we come. (And I don’t think playing host to every person I know is God’s calling for me in Hawaii, but my friends and family are sure to disagree. smile.)

    Hickham AFB? Or are you Navy. I forget.
    My daughter’s Navy and did two years at Kaneohe. The last few years I was flying for FedEx, Honolulu was my second home. It was a dirty job, but I was a team player.
    Don’t expect any sympathy.

  9. juvenal_urbino Says:

    my life has unfolded mostly as a reaction to outside influences . . . and it’s probably turned out better than any plan I might have cooked up when I was 21 years old.

    That’s what I’ve been hoping will be the case for me, Cap’n. It’s what I’ve always told myself — and anyone else who’s asked me about my life goals. That and, “There’s no point in making long-range plans because the unfolding events of life will knock them off their rails about this time next Thursday. Better to keep your knees loose.”

    I’ve been having second thoughts about that, though. Well, not exactly second thoughts; more like I just look at the idea and frown. Maybe I’m just at that age.

  10. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Juvenal
    “There’s no point in making long-range plans because the unfolding events of life will knock them off their rails about this time next Thursday. Better to keep your knees loose.”

    I’m not sure that there anything with long range plans, but the part about keeping your knees loose has a lot to recommend it. Sort of like the old Army dictum “No plan survives the first shot.”

    I had my 61st birthday a couple of weeks ago, and things look a lot different than I thought they would when I was 21 (or 31 for that matter). For one thing, I thought I’d be a lot smarter by now. Guess I’ll have to settle for good looking.

  11. Al Sturgeon Says:

    You are one handsome man, Cap’n.

    I don’t think “long-range plans” and “keeping your knees loose” are mutually exclusive. I “think” I’ve learned that long-range plans most often get derailed about next Thursday, but what I’ve come to believe is that long-range plans seem to get me moving in a general direction, and that if I learn to keep my knees loose, I’m at least in a position to do something at the scene of the accident.

    Does that make sense?

    I know you are sick of hearing about it, but case in point, Hurricane Katrina. I’ve had some very nice people say complimentary things of me in regard to our response to that disaster, but I never had that sort of thing on my personal radar (even when it was coming straight at us). We all just reacted, but I “do” think that all the long-range plans I had fussed over for the past however many years of my life landed me in a position to react with some sort of purpose attached to it.

    I don’t know if I’m making sense, but maybe I won’t derail the discussion…

    (Won’t be responding today – going to a college visit today with my eldest daughter, including a college baseball game tonight between Southern Miss & Mississippi State…)

  12. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Okay, I’m not gone just yet… So let me try once more to explain myself.

    From a Christian standpoint, I see 1st Peter 4:10 as a starting point for life purpose: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

    I’m not much on “spiritual gift inventories” and the like, but when you honestly see a talent you’ve been given (cf Romans 12:1ff), its to be used in the “gospel” sense Juvenal described recently – to bring justice to a world of injustice (administer grace).

    Have at it. That’s purpose in life.

    It’s the practical aspect of all that that’s hard to determine (for me at least), which is where planning/direction, etc. comes into play.

    Example: I’m an organizer. Now there’s a million ways to do that to serve others, so how do I go about doing that? Well that’s the question. Not easily answered. My approach is to pick a direction, go for it, learn to keep my knees loose, and go through open doors when they appear.

    In essence, I think 1st Peter 4:10 is THE life purpose all Jesus-followers share. It is our individual playing-out of that purpose that makes us unique. And to go full circle back to my original post, I feel as if our unique playing-out of that purpose might just be our ultimate yearning.

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