Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Vikings ... no, not those Vikings!

Just finished watching the Vikings beat up on the Philadelphia Eagles. Boy, was THAT fun! But this post has nothing to do with that game, or even with football.

On Christmas Day, I won the my-side-of-the-family white elephant gift exchange. That is, if you don't count my sister, who walked away with a gross of contraband bottle rockets. But I got the decorative viking ship -- well, half a viking ship, designed to hang on the wall as a symbol of all things Scandinavian, or all things medieval, or all things daring and courageous. Or something. The ship is about three feet long. Standing in the prow is the leader of the company of adventurers. He bears a spear and sports a beard and looks past the prow into the future. In the stern is the steersman, responding to the directions of the leader and using his brawny arms to shift the rudder back and forth. With these subtle changes, slowly, he turns the ship. In the bottom of the ship are the oarsmen, each bending his back to move the ship forward with long oars. These oars are striking the blades to the waves in perfect tandem, directed by the rhythm of a song or a drumbeat. One of the miraculous facets of this cheesy piece of mass produced Scandinavian wall decor is that each of these oarsmen has an individual face. Some are clean-shaven, others bearded, others with long sideburns. Some have long hair, others short, some with hats and others bare-headed. Some are old and grim, others young and smiling. Each one also has a unique shield. This viking ship is a tawdry tribute to my ancestors of a millennium ago who went a-viking across Europe as raiders, traders, explorers, and adventurers.

I'm going to hang it on the wall of my office.

One of the earliest metaphors for the Christian church is a ship. In fact, the name for the main part of a church -- the "nave" -- comes from a Latin word for ship, the same word we get "navy" from. Why a ship? Lots of reasons. It's a rich metaphor, and it grows richer as you dig into it. A ship contains a crew all united toward a common goal. The crew shares a common mission, but each person has their own diverse role to play. The ship is buffeted by adverse weather, often in danger of being overcome.

I think of those viking mariners from a thousand years ago and I think we need to rediscover a bit of their spirit in the church of Jesus Christ. What would it mean for us to be willing to take risks, to accept challenges, to go beyond the carefully charted shorelines into vast unknown waters? What would that mean for us as a church?

One of the sacred duties of any ship throughout history has been to aid those who have been shipwrecked or who are in danger on the sea. So we in the church have a sacred duty to help those who are adrift, foundering, lost.

If you see a ship in port or at anchor, there's no turbulence in the waters around it. But as soon as that ship starts to move, the water around it begins to swirl and rage. So those in leadership in the church would do well to remember that if you're going to get your ship out of port, it's going to encounter some turbulence.

These are just a few of the parallels between ships and the church. Can you think of others?

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