Boys in the Boat


Last night at choir practice I was thinking about how much fun I am having going to choir at Bear Creek.  As a music major in college I majored in voice and French horn.  And as a voice major I have always kind of been THE bass singer in whatever choir I’ve been in.  And sometimes I’ve had to “give it a go” at tenor just to balance things out.   But at Bear Creek I don’t even have to lead!   I can sit back and rely on the people around me!  There’s a bass next to me that is a bit better than I am!  A couple tenors that are amazing!  How cool is this!  I don’t have to feel like I need to sing out to get the part out, so now I can listen and blend, and even follow their lead! And because of that, the Irish side of me dances a jig every time I go to choir! It is so fun to be able to trust someone else!

Cyndy and I are re-reading some of our favorite books this summer.  One of our favorites is “Boys in the Boat!” It’s a book about the 1936 Olympic rowing team from the University of Washington.  (If you don’t want to read the book you can watch a PBS special on it called “This American Experience: The Boys in the Boat.”  One of the key players on the team is Joe Rantz.  Joe had a terrible childhood.  His mother died when he was 4, and when his father re-married, his step-mother never accepted him. Add to this the stress of feeding a family in the depression, and you have a recipe for heartache.  One day Joe came home from school and found his family packing up suitcases and piling into the car.  He asked his dad what was going on and his dad, head pointed to the ground to avoid eye contact, told Joe that they were moving. Joe started for the stairs to pack, but his dad grabbed his arm and mumbled, “Joe, we’re leaving you behind.  She (Joe’s stepmother) doesn’t want you to go and we just can’t feed all of you.” As Joe watched his family drive off, he was haunted by the image of his younger brother in the back window of the car crying, and the last words he hears, coming from that same brother, “But what about Joe?”

Joe is a big, strapping young man.  Every time he steps into a boat as a freshman at UW his boat goes faster.  But, as things go on, his coach notices that after a couple of weeks in the same boat, his boat slows down.  Why?   Because Joe doesn’t trust his team.  He’s always trying to “do it all himself”.  As the coach tries to understand Joe he realizes that this need to excel comes from Joe’s past issues of abandonment. Why would Joe trust anyone but himself!?  But in the end, Joe learns that “the boat” is more than a personal vessel…it’s really the people in the boat and the trust they have in each other that matters. And once he embodies that great things start to happen.

In the book the author, Daniel James Brown, writes about these “holy moments”:  “It was when he (Joe) tried to talk about ‘the boat’ that his words began to falter, and tears welled up in his eyes…Finally, watching Joe struggle for composure over and over, I realized that ‘the boat’ was something more than just the shell or its crew. To Joe, it encompassed but transcended both – it was something mysterious and almost beyond definition. It was a shared experience – a singular thing that had unfolded in a golden sliver of time long gone, when nine good-hearted young men strove together, pulled together as one, gave everything they had for one another, bound together forever by pride and respect and love.  Joe was crying, at least in part, for the loss of that vanished moment but much more, I think, for the sheer beauty of it.”

Last Saturday, our church had a work day and 32 folks from our church and 11 scouts “strove together, pulled together as one, gave everything that had for one another” for a work day at the church.  As I knelt beside folks and pulled weeds, something “holy” happened to me and I hope others…I felt what I think Joe Rantz may have felt in that boat when he was giving his all and knew everyone else was doing the same!  In rowing they call that “swing.”  “Swing comes who you really have that harmony, that synchronicity.” I praise God for those moments in my life when God’s spirit “swings” into the group I am working with and creates something holy.  Saturday at Bear Creek was one of those moments for me.

(On a side note, sometimes when you are in one of those “swing” moments, as I was as I was pulling weeds with my crew on Saturday, the conversation often turns deeper.  As we were pulling weeds someone mentioned a book they loved about dieting. As I listened, my head turned down to the weeds as my heart was overshadowed with shame.  I’ve been frustrated with my weight as of late.  I’m a stress eater and what I call a “road trip eater” (I always have chips and a candy bar wherever I go), and all these new staff hires have been a bit stressful for me, I admit.  I’ve also struggled with weight these last 20 years, really.  Putting on 5 pounds a year. And as I listened to yet another diet idea, I felt myself shutting down.  But there was something about the spirit of those around me that made me work through the shame and share my struggle.  As I shared, I don’t think I showed it, but inside there were tears of burden flowing.  But I shared anyway (laughter is my way). And as I shared I felt the truly caring nature of this group.  Their responses to my struggle were so encouraging as they acknowledged their own struggles.  I felt a trusting presence there that allowed me to surround my weakness not in shame but in trust. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with all of that yet, but I can tell you this…it gave me the strength to consider trying again.)

Your friends and pastor, learning and loving the “swing” of Bear Creek,

Tim Schaaf