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.

Does God Help Your Kids’ Team Win?

baseball-kids“Please let us win” was the my sum total of my petition to the God who create the universe. I wanted nothing more than to win that little league championship game. I was firmly convinced that second place was for losers. Moreover being a well-trained sinner, I found pregame prayers to be calming.

I am sure that the little two-field complex located at the Little Rock Boys’ and Girls’ Club was hotbed for such game-day prayers. Had there been a sports prayer monitor over the field, I am sure the dugouts would have shown up as bright red as boys and girls pleaded for victory.

Although I have not donned a batter’s helmet, velcroed my Franklin batting gloves, and stepped into the batter’s box in some time, I have no doubt that children all across America on every kind of sporting field are asking God for victory.

I believe we should encourage our kids to pray for victory for little championships and soccer tournaments are ruled by God. Moses reminds us all of God’s ultimately sovereignty in Deuteronomy 32:39 writing,

See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I would and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

The God of the Bible is our God. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob reigns supreme. God gives success and he sends failure. God gives health and sends sickness. No one can go against his will or frustrate his plans. No little league team can win without his permission. No soccer team can lose without his divine decree. God gave your daughter her first place trophy and ordained for your son to be on the team that never wins a game. Everything that happens in the universe, including our children’s seemingly insignificant games rest firmly in the hands of God. He rules the stars and knows when sparrows die (Matt. 10:29). He raises up kingdom and brings them down. He punishes sinners and mercifully restores them. He creates dynasties and sends sanctions. Thus, we should encourage our kids to pray for victory and to thank God for championship rings.

While we all recognize that our God reigns supreme, we still have to do something about all the rival prayers being tossed up to heaven before kickoff.  The great Peyton Manning famously touched on this dilemma when he said,

If the Colts were playing the Cowboys and I prayed for the Colts and Troy Aikman prayed for the Cowboys, wouldn’t that make it a standoff?

Such prayers do not create a standoff. But, they do reveal the divine reality that success on the field has nothing to do with our earthly righteousness.

My beloved Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 2016 because God was being merciful to me and to generations of players and fans. But the Cubs organization and their fans were not more holy than the fans of the other 31 major league baseball teams in 2016. Ben Zobrist had a great testimony. But there are Christians scatters all throughout the league. Plus some of the Cubs players were not the nicest guys in the world evidenced by their affairs and complaints. The Cubs won because God decided to bless them over the other teams.

cubs free use

I cannot tell you why. Nor can I explain why God made the Cubs slog through a rough patch spanning a 108 years. Our human wants, desires, or impulses do not force God’s hand. He does not tally up the prayers and give victory to them team that talked to him the most. He chooses who wins according to his righteous, just, loving and good character. God does that which brings him the most glory. God ordains the team to win that will bring him the most glory. There is no standoff because God always knows which outcome will bring him the most glory. He always chooses that result.

If God chooses our kids’ team, we should celebrate. But we should celebrate humbly, realizing that all the skills, all the incredible catches, great hits, and must see moments came from above. Neither our kids nor we are inherently better than the kids on the other side of the field. God gave us the victory.

And when we lose, God gives us the loss. He ordains that our kid will strike out, drop the fly ball, and twist his ankle. All things comes from his hand.

I missed this reality as a child. I truly equated God’s favor with the wins and loss column. But God’s favor is not tied to earthly wins. His favor is tied to the cross and salvation. All who have Christ are truly blessed regardless how the championship game goes. God’s divine love is not measured by our sporting goals. His love is measured by the cross.

We should encourage our kids to pray for God to bless their sporting efforts. More importantly, we should encourage our kids to pray that God uses their sporting endeavors to grow their faith. We should help our kids to trust Christ through both victory and defeat, teaching them to humbly depend on God in every circumstance. God ordains our kids perfect game and their ligament tears.

Are you ready to live our Deuteronomy 32:39?

God’s Gifts Won’t Make Our Kids Happy

Regardless of their budget, culture, or age, parents enjoy seeing their kids happy. They take them to Disney World, build those ridiculously hard to assemble Little Tikes Toys, and even buy them a goat. They do all this and more becaue they love their kids. Jesus put it this way,

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him.

In a very real sense, we love giving our kids things because this reflects the heart of our creator. It’s a natural impulse because God create us to follow him. god's good gifts

But as with all human impulses, this impulse can become tainted by sin. As we try to give our kids good things, we can sometimes miss the mark. We can sometimes give them things that actually lead them away from Jesus. So how do we ensure that we give them the right things all the time?  We look to Jesus.

Look To Jesus

In Mark 3:7-10, we discover that Jesus is really popular. He was more than trending on social media. His ministry blew the roof of the media world of his day. The stories of miraculous healings and exorcism had reached a fevered pitched. People from all over the ancient world were flocking to Jesus. They were all desperate to touch him and be healed. And what did Jesus do? He withdrew. He got into a boat and sailed a little way out to sea. That’s right, Jesus put an end to the healing frenzy. He stepped away from some of the neediest people of his day. And why?

He wanted to offer them something more. He wanted to give them eternal life. While Jesus knew that healing was a blessing, he also knew that his blessing did not save. God’s good gifts of heal and wealth did not fix people’s sin problem. And so, Jesus withdrew to preach, to teach, and to offer them that which never expires. He offered them himself, eternal life, peace with God.

As parents, we need to learn from our Lord and savior. We need to realize that good gifts do not equal God. We need to understand that paying for a kid’s college education, buying them a car, or sacrificing everything for their sports career does not equal their salvation and happiness. And we need to come to grips with the reality that it is possible to focus on and enjoy God’s good gifts and yet miss God.  As Jesus later said in Mark 8:36,

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

From Gifts Back to God

So how do we keep our kids focus on God? How do we be like Jesus and make sure our audience knows that Jesus and not cars, careers, or trophy’s satisfies? First and foremost, we preach the gospel. We teach our kids at home via family devotions, conversations, and our actions. Second, we pull back worldly gifts when we see them leading our kids away from Christ. If the gift of a great education leads our child to sloth, if a car makes our child irresponsible, and if focusing on their sports career leads them to boasting, we pull all these things back. Again none of these things are wrong or evil or bad. But if they lead to sin, we should pull them back in hopes of refocusing our kids on Christ.

At the end of the day, we will all reach a point when God’s good gifts stop having value. We will all die. And when death comes, what will our kids be trusting in? Will they be trusting in God’s gift or the savior who came to seek and save the lost?