The Story of the Story: A Review of the Boys in The Boat

Poughkeepsie. Most sports fans have never heard of this word that once filled the sports pages of the major newspapers. Those industrious enough to do a quick Google search of the term will discover a short definition of the word, a map, and a Wikipedia page that contains a few paragraphs about a sleepy town at the edge of the Hudson River. The amazing sports history tied to this term has almost completely faded from the American consciousness.

A Quick Overview

In all honesty, I too knew nothing of the word until I discovered the book, The Boys in the Boat, written by Daniel James Brown. In the span of 403 pages, Brown introduces his readers to the Poughkeepsie regatta and to the western college boys who overcame a world of adversity to best the Ivy League rowing crews at Poughkeepsie before securing Olympic gold in Berlin. I commend the author for rediscovering and then retelling this heroic tale of fortitude and perseverance that was accomplished by Joe Rantz, Roger Morris, and seven other determine, college students. As the pages turn, Brown places the reader on the edges of the Lake Washington, the Poughkeepsie and of the Grunau as he recounts the Washington University’s team’s various training exercises and multiple victories. Brown’s vivid details allow the reader to feel the boys’ powerful strokes as their racing shell, the Husky Clipper, glides past its competitors boats one seat at a time. Brown’s fulfills his mission to tell the narrative of the boys in the boat who made the 1936 Olympics. It is a story well worth remembering.

The Story of the Story

Though the book was phenomenal, I found the need for the book to be as thought provoking as the story printed on its pages. 

As Brown notes, rowing has not always been an obscure pastime. The author reminds us that, “In the 1930s and 1920s, collegiate crew was wildly popular, often ranking right up there with baseball and collegiate football in the amount of press it received and the crowds it drew.” In 1939, 125,000 fans came to watch the Poughkeepsie regatta. Radio listenership for the major rowing races came to rival the Kentucky Derby, the Rose Bowl, and the World Series. Kids even swapped trading cards of their favorite crews.

What exactly happened to the sport of collegiate rowing pushes beyond the bounds of this book. But its modern obscurity remains a fact. Where it not so, this book would not be necessary. The author recounts in the prologue how Joe Rantz’s gold medal had gone missing only to be discovered years later in a squirrel’s nest tucked away behind a wall. Picking up on the anecdote, Brown writes, “it occurred to me that Joe’s story like the medal, had been squirreled away out of sight for too long.” I am thankful that Brown was able to retrieve the story of the Husky Clipper.

Fame Does Not Last

But the fact that Joe and his boat could almost disappear from the American, public consciousness reveals that the philosopher Albert Camus was on to something. Our earthly legacy does depend a great deal on those who survive them. If one generation forgets us, our story can be lost from the halls of history forever. If a team of world-renowned fame can almost completely disappear from the modern consciousness, most of us average Joe’s and bland Betty’s face even worse odds. To quote the wise king Solomon who was reflective in his own right, “the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten (Ecc. 9:5).” If you doubt Solomon, I challenge you to recall the name of your grandmother’s grandmother without referencing your genealogy. How did that go? Don’t feel bad, I can’t do it either. We can all be easily forgotten. To quote Solomon again, “a living dog is better than a dead lion (Ecc 9:4).”

To his credit Joe Rantz was happy to be forgotten. The man who was content to let a squirrel steal his gold medal while he hauled logs down a mountain lived for much more than the fame of the moment. He enjoyed life with his bride and his children whom he loved deeply as evidence by their ability to share Joe’s various stories with Brown. To some degree, I think Joe Rantz understood that life was more than sports fame which can be lost far easier than it can be won.

Solomon also understood this principle, declaring most things to be vanity except the fear of the Lord. The story of Joe’s story reminds us all of the importance of heeding Ecclesiastes 9:13 which offers this overview of human life, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Sports Fame is fleeting. The Fear of the Lord lasts forever. Choose wisely.

Final Thoughts

The story of Joe Rantz and the boys in the boat could easily be one of the best sports stories of all time. Brown should be commended for having preserved this captivating tale for yet another generation of readers. But I find the epistemological meaning found within the story of the story to be of even greater value. To stand atop the platform of eternity, men and women must do more than strain for earthly gold. To achieve that which cannot be destroyed by rust or faulty memories, men and women must heed the wisdom of Solomon and pursue righteousness, trusting God to care for the rest.

In other words, don’t waste your life pursuing that which can be stolen by a squirrel.

Memo: A Critical Few Days – April 2021

Yesterday, April entered a critical phase in her breast cancer battle. As many of you know, she began her new treatment plan this past Tuesday, April 27. But before the first pills had time to dissolve, April began to develop a discomfort on her right side. Over the last 72 hours, that pain has gone from the level of a muscle ache to a life-altering level of anguish. After spending a few hours talking with April’s medical teams, we know that the cancer tumors in her liver are producing this intense pain as well the nausea and the general sense of unwellness that has slowed her a halt. Thankfully, April’s liver has not yet reached the point of failure. That line is still a some week’s walk away. The plan today calls for April to keep taking her new potent regimen of the new clinical LY drug and the Everolimus. If the medicine works, the cancer should begin to shrink over the next few days and her liver function should increase, resulting in a far better quality of life. As we wait for that day, April will have to continue to manage her pain and nausea with prescription painkillers and nausea pills. On Tuesday, her blood tests will provide some indication of the effectiveness of the new drug. We pray that that day will bring good news.

If this plan fails, April can still fall back upon a chemotherapy treatment plan which promises to quickly shrink the tumors in her liver and elsewhere. But the move towards Chemotherapy while expedient would also exhaust most of her treatment options, shifting April’s breast cancer trajectory into a less favorable position. With a heart full of fortitude, April is pressing forward on the dark path of pain and anguish, hoping today’s suffering will produce health tomorrow.

Please pray for God to reduce the tumors in her liver. Pray for God to sustain her body as she suffers. Pray for God to comfort her soul as her body remains at war with itself. Pray for our kids to know the comfort of Christ during this time. Pray for April and me to have wisdom as we parent our children through this time. And pray that these critical days will conclude with good news.

Thank you for all of your love, support, and your messages. However, we may be slow in responding to them due to April’s health at this time. As always, we will continue to post updates here.

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Churches need Families and Families Need Churches

Christians should champion and defend the family because it serves as foundation for all civic institutions. At this juncture, Christians find great commonality with the advocates of natural law who assert that the family is the foundational building block of society. A quick scan of the Scriptures reveals that the family existed before any other human institution. Adam and Eve walked about the Garden of Eden, petting animals thousands of years before Paul started sailing around the Mediterranean planting churches. Similarly, the philosopher John Locke believed couples mated and formed families long before tribes, cities, and nations began to dot the English countryside. Both worldviews proclaim that the family is the most basic, simple, or natural societal unit. To quote the great Puritan Pastor, Richard Baxter, “The Life of religion, and the welfare and glory of both the Church and the State, depend much on family government and duty.” The family sets the trajectory for both all of society. When family units break down, the church descends into chaos and society falls into anarchy.

Following this thinking many in the church have assumed that the church was birthed out of the family. But while this line of thinking aligns with the naturalistic understanding of the universe, it proves incongruent with narratives of creation, fall, and redemption found in the Scriptures. Christians need to reexamine the purpose of the family in light of the church.

The Fall Reshaped the Family

When God created Adam and Eve, he did not stick them on a desert island. He placed them in the garden of Eden in community with God, indicating that God sustained the family through tabernacling with them. The creation mandate to be fruitful and multiple was a mandate to bring all the earth under the glorious and full rule of God. Adam and Eve were not expanding human society apart from God. They were expanding the tabernacle to encompass the whole earth. In short, they were to turn the globe into a grand church, a grand garden.

Sadly, the first couple never fulfilled their mission. They listened to the snake and plunged the world into death. The effects of Adam and Eve’s sin radical altered every aspect of the natural order from economics to gardening. As expected, the family unit fell under the corruption. In Genesis 3:16, God tells Eve, ““I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” Redemption could not be found through genetics, marriage, and procreation. A new family was needed.

The Spiritual Family

Jesus came as the new Adam to be the first born of many brothers and sisters. He created a spiritual family that called men and women to be “born again” by the spirit through faith (Jn. 3:7). In Mark 3:35, Jesus defines the spiritual family according to belief proclaiming that, “whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” This exchange proves more than permissible This new family picks up the creation mandate of the first Adam. The new Adam has commissioned his new family, the church, “to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:16).” In the church, the new spiritual family once again resides in community with God for the purpose of glorifying him through kingdom expansion. The keys to God’s kingdom have been given to the church. 

The Family Church Relationship

The nuclear family still remains the important foundational block of human society. From the family arise culture, society, and government. Civil society cannot exist without mom, dad, Jimmy, and Sally.

The institution also works in tandem with the church to support spiritual flourishing. A faithful marriage provides both the husband and the wife countless opportunities to experience God’s sanctifying power as they learn to love one another. Children remain a blessing from the Lord providing couples with social connections and economic security.

The fruits of marriage also facilitate evangelism. To perpetuate the gospel, Christians need to reach children. Procreation, adoption, and foster care all beautifully facilitate the great commission through family framework. The goals of the Christian family align with the mission of the church, and the mission of the church should align with the goals of the family.

Lastly, the family serves as a good gauge of the a culture’s health. When families descended into relational chaos, both society and the church should take note for the gospel is not going forward and chaos stands ready to invade our culture (Micah 7:6).

The Limits of the Nuclear Family

But for all of its benefits, the biological family cannot rightfully claim to be the foundation of the church. Though the family and the church support each other, Jesus is the bedrock of the church. A wife can come to faith apart from her husband and a husband apart from his wife. The arrival of children also does not instinctively produce faith in either the parents or the children as seen in the legacies of Cain and Nimrod. Salvation comes through the preached Word administered by the local church in coordination with the sacraments. As Baxter noted, the church through the ministry of the pastor upholds “the world, to save it from the curse of God and to perfect the creation, to attain the ends of Christ death 112).” The church supports and redeems souls.

Thus, Paul can encourage singles “to remain single, as I am (1 Cor. 7:7).” Both the married couple and the single adult can glorify God through worship and love of neighbor. Moreover, in the new heavens and the new earth, family structures will pass away. But our identity in Christ will remain. The church sustains the family which in turn helps to sustain both the church and the culture.

Conclusion

The new covenant established by Christ’s death and resurrection has fundamentally altered the definition of God’s people. The family of God is no longer defined by biology. It is defined by the Spirit. The church is the bride of Christ. We should not neglect the local church for our families. Rather, we should locate our families in the church, hoping to guide them all into Jesus’s family. The garden came first and then Adam and Eve.

To fix society, we must advocate for health churches, which in-turn will produce healthy families that produce healthy churches and healthy societies. In other words, those who are Christians must recognize and teach that the Christians understanding of family differs from the natural law view of family.