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.

The Gospel: Rest > Work

Men and women are destined for work. Researchers recently discovered that people who retire before 65 are 11% more likely to die within ten years of saying farewell to the old cubical than those who retire after 65. The creator of Peanuts, Charles Schultz, died within hours of drawing his last Snoopy cartoon. Work grounds the human soul, providing income, direction, and a sense of purpose. If a teenager wants to impress a room of grumpy, old adults, he or she needs to only mention the creation of the snow cone business. We were made to work.

Because work proves so essential to our earthly identity, we can be tempted to measure our spiritual identity by our earthly works. We talk of the mission trips we have gone on, the checks we have written, the songs we have sung, the Sunday school pins we have collected, and the hours we have served in the nursery. We put our shoulder to the old grindstone and attempt to push our way to heaven.

But no matter how hard we work to gain God’s approval; we still feel far removed from the Lord of Heaven. He finds fault with our efforts. Even our best days contain little lies, a mean thought, or a word of anger. To make up for our mistakes, we work harder, promising to abstain from premarital sex, to finish school, and to pick up litter on the weekends. Still, the smile of God remains elusive.

How Do Get God’s Blessing?

If you are working hard to earn heaven or to earn back the favor of God because you have sinned, I encourage you to stop working and to start resting. We cannot work our way back to heaven. And, we don’t have to. Jesus came under the law to fulfill all righteousness because he is the beloved son of God. In Matthew 3:13-17, the gospel author details the baptism of Jesus to remind us of the sufficiency of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. We know longer have to work for heaven because Jesus has accomplished all righteousness.

Jesus Did It All

When Jesus asked John the Baptist to baptize him, John objects. After all, Jesus has not sinned. As the parallel passage in John 1:29 makes clear, Jesus is the Messiah, “the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He did not need to repent and get baptized for he was the answer for sin. But what John missed and what we often miss when we read this story is that Jesus came to save sinners by walking in their footsteps. Jesus came to do what you and I can never do. He came to perfectly obey God. He came under the law to fulfill the law. Because God required his children to be baptized, Jesus embraced the waters of baptism. As Jesus told John in Matthew 3:13: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus did it all. When he died on the cross the work of paying for sins was complete. He paid our debt in full.

To reach heaven, men and women do not have to do penance, travel to a South Pacific island, or perfectly attend church for a year. Christ did it all. All we must do is repent and believe. Even baptism ceases to be a requirement for heaven. While all Christians should long to be baptized as it is a sign of faithful obedience, grace exists for those who cannot enter into the waters because of illness, imprisonment, or other physical limitations. The thief on the cross could be with Jesus in paradise without baptism because Jesus had fulfilled the law (Lk. 23:43). Our salvation does not depend on us. It depends upon the work of Jesus. He did not do 90% or even 99% of it. He did it all. Rest in him.

Jesus and the Blessing of God

But such a rest makes sense only if Jesus is God. It is one thing for Jesus to identify with sinners. But we can only be confident of the efficacy of Jesus’s work on earth if we are certain that the Father delights in the work of the son. It is one thing to claim heaven. It is quite another for heaven to claim you

What set Jesus apart from every other spiritual prophet and teacher is that Jesus claimed heaven and heaven claimed Jesus. Immediately after his Baptism, Matthew records,

The heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased (3:16b-17).”

The Holy Spirit anoints Jesus as the new prophet, priest and king, the new Adam who comes to usher in a new kingdom. And then the Father declares Jesus to be his beloved son with whom he is well pleased. Because Jesus is the holy son of God, the Father delights in him.

Though we cannot please the Father, Jesus does. And he does so not just for his benefit. He does so for us. The baptism of John pictures how Jesus redeems sinners. After fulfilling all righteousness, Jesus dies on the cross for sinners, submerging himself under the waters of death to pay for all of our sins. Then, he bursts forth from the water, shattering the stone that blocked his tomb and revealing that all who repent of their sins and trust in the life and death of Christ for salvation will be raised to eternal life. In other words, the Father delights in the sacrifice of Jesus. No other works or promises are needed.

Moreover, if we know the saving power of Christ and have once again stumbled like the disciples were prone to do, we do not have to cry a certain number of tears, we do not have to give X amount of money, nor do we have to stay away from church for five weeks to gain forgiveness. We do not have to work to re-earn God’s favor. God has fulfilled all righteousness. The forgiveness of God remains forever sure for it depends not upon us but upon Jesus. Draw near to God and he will always draw near to you.

Conclusion

Those who work for their salvation with great zeal do not prove themselves to be grand saints. They prove themselves to be grand fools. The Father delights in the work of Christ.

If we stop working for heaven, our earthly identities will perish, our friends will change, and we may experience all kinds of loss. But we will gain something far greater. As Jesus said in Matthew 16:25,

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Stop working and rest in the Jesus for he is the fulfillment of all righteousness the beloved son of God. All who stop working and repent and believe find eternal life.

Are you ready to retire?

Yes, That’s Your President!

While the pundits speculate about how the presidents-elect’s agenda will unfold during the first 100 days of his or her presidency, a good number of American will sulk about, muttering “That’s not my president.” Those who sob through their candidate’s concession speech often struggle to come to terms with the election results. To comfort their souls and to stick to the system that betrayed them on election night, the members of the losing party will spend the next four years telling anyone who will listen, “That’s not my President.”

Admittedly, the phrase does not always represent a denial of reality. At times, defeated voters on both sides of the political spectrum toss out the phrase to remind their listeners that they disagree with the President. When asked why President Bush, Obama, Reagan, or Kennedy did this or that, those who did not vote for these men can conveniently and rightfully distance themselves from the discussion, reminding the room that those men were not their presidential candidate of choice. That’s not my president, agenda, or goal for America.

But often the phrase contains a more sinister meaning. The speaker uses the expression to imply a level of disrespect and defiance. Instead of honoring, supporting, and praying for the man or woman who has been elected to the Presidential office, the defeated voter seeks to create a safe space from which she can attack, insult, and belittle the President, using whatever means are necessary: conspiracy theories, lies, insults, and riots. That’s not my President often equals “I am free to rebel and to destroy.” Such thinking proves detrimental to society. It also proves to be antithetical to the Scriptures.

Election Theology

Christians should avoid the rebellious use of the phrase “That’s not my President” and confess, “That’s my President.” The statement is not inherently political. Nor is it about party affiliations or about one’s understanding of policy. Rather, that phrase is a theological confession of God’s loving sovereignty.

In Daniel 2:21 God reminds us that, “he removes kings and sets up kings.” Or as Paul says in Romans 13:1 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” When Christians refuse to honor and respect the President, they act as if God does not reign. They imply that someone snuck into the White House while God was caring for orphans in Africa. But that is not the God of the Bible. He reigns over all human affairs and every American election cycle. His power knows no limits and cannot be out maneuvered, cheated, or overwhelmed. God’s purpose always come to be. Though we may not like the November outcome, we can be confident that the outcome of the last election was God intended outcome. “The Lord of Hosts has sworn: “As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand (Isa 14:24).” John Neuahas rightly noted,

Jesus Christ is Lord. That is the first and final assertion Christians make about all of reality, including politics.

Moreover, we should be confident that the outcome of the last election is consistent with God’s goodness. Psalm 136:1 reminds us to “Give thank to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” God’s faithful love was not on the last ballot. All events represent God’s exercise of his sovereign power for the good of his people. Romans 8:28 famously states “all things work together for good” for those who love God. That includes all things political. Even the political realities that get under our skin still further God’s good plans for his church and for you. Consequently as Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes clear:

Christians should never get excited about the state. They should never get excited about politics. They are to be interested; they are to vote; they must be intelligent and informed; but they should never get excited about one political party or the other…to they extent that they do, the come under the condemnation of the Scriptures.

What is God Doing?

In the cosmic sense, I do not know why candidate A prevails over that candidate B. I cannot detail what God is doing; no one can. Even historical investigation faces limits when seeking to discern the purposes of the heavenly Father. God has declared, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD (Is 55:8).” Be suspicious of those who proclaim that candidate A is a symbol of divine blessing and that candidate B is a symbol of judgement. God’s world is far more complex than that. Philistia, Babylon, and Assyria all had good runs at Israel’s political expense. But God was not with the pagan countries. Today’s win or loss is not the end of the story.

Closing Thoughts

Though we do not know what God is doing in the short term, we do know who is. He is the good and sovereign Lord of the universe who works all things together for our good. We can say, “That’s my President” giving respect to whom respect is do and praying for good to come from the administration currently in possession of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (1 Tim 2:2). The failure to do reveals that we have betrayed our Lord and equated the kingdom of God with a political party.

Of course, we can disagree with any President’s agenda. The presence in office does not prove the righteousness of their causes or policies. Might does not make right. We have the freedom in Christ to vote for candidates that will overturn the current administration’s policy wins and the next.

Lastly, the church must advocate for truth and justice, sharing the gospel with rulers as Paul did and rebuking kings who openly defy the direct commands of Scripture as John the Baptist did.

But even in those moments of evangelism and rebuke, the Christian must still confess, “That’s my President.” God’s goodness cannot be thwarted by crooked senators or deceptive Presidents. Even when its not ok; it is ok. God reigns.

All Christians should be able to say, “That’s My President.” What say you?