“To know a man, observe how he wins his object, rather than how he loses it; for when we fail, our pride supports us – when we succeed, it betrays us” – Caleb Colton
Psalms 119:143 teaches us, “You are right and you do right, God; your decisions are right on target. You rightly instruct us in how to live ever faithful to you. My rivals nearly did me in, they persistently ignored your commandments. Your promise has been tested through and through, and I, your servant, love it dearly. I’m too young to be important, but I don’t forget what you tell me. Your righteousness is eternally right, your revelation is the only truth. Even though troubles came down on me hard, your commands always gave me delight. The way you tell me to live is always right; help me understand it so I can live to the fullest.” (MSG)
I heard a story of an Irish longshoreman who moved to Italy to find work. He found a job in the Italian fleet as a deckhand. He later promoted to the engine room and then onward to the bridge. He was a family man who was a person of the people. He showed up every day, made a living and a positive impact on the people and the environment in which he operated. He was very laid back and there were few complaints about him or around him. Even though he was aware of great imperfections in those levitating above him, he seemed happy and content where he was. One day, a crew from a coast guard boat boarded the ship and compelled him to discuss the shortcomings and weaknesses of his superiors. He dutifully did what he was asked to do and told what he knew about the captain and first mate’s arrogance and unfairness. But, when he realized that the words he spoke were going to be used against others to bring justice to the justified and that his involvement would be made public, he immediately packed his bags and jumped ship. A couple of years later, after the deck had been cleared, the dust settled, and peace had been restored, he returned and reclaimed a place of higher prominence. He returned as the ship’s first mate. His friends from before were elated to see him return.
At first, his presence seemed innocuous. He spoke highly of the people to the people about the people. “If you take care of the people, the work will take care of itself” was his mantra. With self-decreed leopard’s prowess, he surrounded himself with smiling faces and nodding heads. Their smooth surfaces reduced friction and avoided conflict. He began building a maritime community that defined happiness as the absence of complaints. No issues were ever caused by limitations, deficiencies or failures, but were merely personality conflicts that could be resolved through persuasion or negotiation. All seafood catch production was deemed high quality and fishing impact was seconded to happiness. He thrived on the crescendo-ing ride to captain as his pride distended and his illusion of distinction bulged. But overtime, the façade of reputational grandeur thinned and illuminated this calico’s stripes. As clients began to object to the standards of the quality label and stakeholders questioned the product’s impact, his former supporters erupted about their personal oppression by the suppression of their thoughts and ideas. The seaward Silk Utopia quickly denigrated into the aquatic Plateaux du Combat. It was apparent that the tabby captain had built a ship made of particle board and carved lands and grooves into the thin stock. From a distance on a dry dock, its condition appeared pristine. The reality was that the vessel was not sea-worthy. Nonetheless, without seeking the wise counsel of the master craftsman wood workers and machinists who also worked in the shipping yard, he charted a course for his boat that took him into deep water. As the storms approached and the salt water penetrated the hull, the impotence of his singular ideas, the imprudence of his design, the frailness of his crew, and the inanity of his leadership philosophy, placed his crew in great peril and left his investors at a loss.
Once again, he was faced with the images of faults and defects. This time, instead of turning tail and running, he stayed; not to face his flaws as a leader head on but to illuminate the blemishes of others. As more light shone on the mastermind behind the mess, tension from the sailors grew. The crowd’s earlier cheers of praise became chatter about the problems and then chants for a successor. They then mounted a mutiny. Most of the ship’s officers surrounded the captain or cowered on the lower deck. Some hedged their bets on his success while others didn’t know what to do. Still three others disconnected from the corps. Instead of acknowledging his leadership voids, he shifted blame to his crew while he negotiated his exit and re-employment with another shipping company. Meanwhile, the ship began taking on water in the high winds of the storm.
As the Silk Utopia violently swayed to her starboard side, a pressure-bound explosion started a fire in the engine room. Half of the sailors began dousing the flames with foam while the others stormed the weapon’s room and then began searching for the captain. The three outlying officers stayed on deck. One then ran below the deck to help the sailors find the captain. One ran up the port side of the ship to see if the life boats were still attached. She then made a hard right and headed towards the bridge to use the intercom to call the sailors to the life boats, to use the radio to call Mayday, and to set off the beacons and the flares. The third officer ran for the satellite phone and called headquarters to inform them of the situation. Once the first officer accurately steered the searching sailors in the direction of the captain, he returned to the deck to help the two other officers load and dump the life boats into the water. When the three officers realized that there was only one water worthy life boat that held 48 passengers when 84 sailors remained aboard, they each had a come to Jesus moment. They had each jumped into action moments earlier for very different reasons but never imagined that the situation would degrade to the circumstance they were facing separately and as a team. One took action for the satisfaction of seeing the captain get his due. The second officer acted because she wanted to save the other sailor’s lives, and the third because the manual prescribed a specific protocol. Together, they were the only sense of guidance the sinking ship had. What if you dig and what if you find a thousand more unanswered questions down inside; that’s all you find. What if you pick apart the logic and begin to poke the holes. What if the crown of thorns is no more than folklore that must be told and re-told. But what if you’re wrong? What if there’s more? What if there’s hope you never dreamed of hoping for? Nicole Nordeman – What If
Each of us can relate to the Irish captain is some way. Some of us are from humble beginnings while others of us are looking to make a better life for our families. Others still are on a corporate climb, seeking to extend our networks, in pursuit of that next best thing. The truth is our failure is imminent without:
- The armor of our faith
- The knowledge of His word
- The strength of a spirit of courage
- The guidance from prayer and wise counsel, and
- A line of sight of the foot of the cross
Without these, the sores of our humanity gaped open by the arrogance of our egos will ooze the greed of our insatiable appetites for worldly wealth that leads to our demise. As Casting Crowns reminds us, Be careful little eyes what you see. It’s the second glance that ties your hands as darkness pulls the strings. Be careful little ears what you hear. When flattering leads to compromises, the end is always near. Be careful little lips what you say, for empty words and promises leave broken hearts astray. It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away. It’s a slow fade when black and white are turned to gray and thoughts invade; choices are made. A price will be paid when you give yourself away. People never crumble in a day. Slow Fade
More to come on seeing ourselves in the character of the officers. In the meantime, here is where my reflection on the story has me:
- Good leaders cultivate honest speech; they love advisors who tell them the truth. (Proverbs 16:13)
- The honor of good people will lead them, but those who hurt others will be destroyed by their own false ways. (Proverbs 11:3)
- First pride, then the crash — the bigger the ego, the harder the fall. (Proverbs 16:18)
The journey from your mind to your hands is shorter than you’re thinking. Be careful if you think you stand, you just might be sinking. Slow Fade