Posted on September 9, 2010


My family are not boat people.  Growing up, the closest the Larsons ever got to boating  was the time we went for a cruise around on my uncle’s boat in Tennessee.  I got it in my head that we were going to run out of gas, be marooned on the water and die.  I distinctly remember my uncle lying to me and telling me that the gas meter was backwards, and that we were actually gaining gas as we tooled around the lake.  This was ludicrous, even to an 8 year old.  Nowhere in the Bible had I found the account of Jesus multiplying diesel fuel. 

Later we started vacationing in Michigan,  at a cabin on the shore of Lake Huron.  There, for one week each summer, we were surrounded by boats, which interested us as much as being surrounded by 11 different types of manila folders.  Canoes, Sunfish, kayaks, catamarans, sloops- we had our choice of water-borne transportation, and still it took almost 12 years for my brother to become the first Larson with seamanship.  He’s still the only one.  I can’t sail- I think the wind is coming from whatever direction I happen to be facing at the moment.  But I’m an excellent first mate on any boat my brother is sailing, which means that I do what I’m told and don’t weigh very much.  My kayaking is improving, although my path through the water typically looks like calligraphy.   And I can also wakeboard.

Wakeboarding is great because it’s not water-skiing.  Wakeboarding is simple.  There’s only one thing to keep track of.   It only has one element- a lone board strapped to your feet.   If you can stand on it, you can ride it.  Water-skiing is too complicated- if wakeboarding is a pony ride, water-skiing is like  saddling up a velociraptor.  You put slender boards on each of my feet and then demand that my brain process information and coordinate movement on both while I’m skipping across a lake at high speeds?  Is this really what the Founding Fathers had in mind?

Thomas Jefferson:  Gentlemen of the Continental Congress, something has come to my attention that requires our most ardent and ferocious observance!  Something monumental!  Something affecting the very meaning of the phrase ‘the pursuit of happiness’!  Something that will finally help Paul Revere pick up girls!  I’m talking about Benjamin Franklin’s invention of something called “water-skiing”.

Paul Revere (from the back): Not cool, bro!

John Hancock:  Yet another innovation!  What a colossal genius this Franklin is!  An intellect touched by the divine! 

Benjamin Franklin:  Indubitably.  During a moment of bathtub fervor, I envisaged a way for a man to ride behind a swiftly moving boat on top of a flat panel of some length.  I tested this theory using a door I stole from the French courts on my way out of the country, and the getaway boat I chartered.  I later substituted two small planks on each foot for the door, and voila!  Water-skiing.  It was great jolliness, and I must say this:  Mr. Revere, the ladies found it very well.

Revere:  Please excuse me, gentlemen.  I must go take a door off the hinges.

Hancock:  A maestro of all things scientific!  Ben Franklin, a titan of knowledge among our Lilliputian intellects!  Without peer!  Huzzah!

John Adams:  Ben, what were you doing in the water in the first place?

Franklin:  I sought relief in the sea-water from a curious bout of inflammation I picked up during my time in Paris.

(room goes quiet.)

I think it was food poisoning.

Jefferson:  Mr. Franklin, that is well and good with your invention- we all see clearly its virtue.  In fact, as I look out the window, I notice Mr. Revere putting on his life-jacket with several of the town’s more winsome damsels.  But I must call to attention that in inventing water-skiing, you violate Ockham’s Razor through needless complication.  Two boards is too many, and not everyone can do that; it’s aristocratic.  Use one board alone, call it “wake boarding” and be done with it.  The common man wins- the American dream! 

Adams:  I must interject with my own thoughts here, as they are of the most vast importance, and prudence dictates that I ponder them in my heart alone no longer!  Can we pass a bill requiring that, should someone make a television mini-series about my life, George Clooney or someone of equal handsomeness be cast to play myself?  I have heard rumors that Paul Giamatti will star.  This is unacceptable.

Franklin:  I stand by my invention!  Two boards allows for a most pleasing slaloming action that allows me to do a 360 with massive air.   

Jefferson:  I motion that we censure this poppycock with great haste, in the name of democracy!  Who stands with me?  It is only reasonable!  Point of fact:  I have heard that just recently didst General Washington wakeboard across the Delaware. 

Adams:  At least let Katie Holmes play Abigail.  I have a screenplay idea where I’m a detective infiltrating the Triads with Jet Li, and I think it will really play in Peoria. 

Hancock:  Thomas, you might want to get out there.  Revere is giving hands-on instruction to Martha Jefferson and he’s wearing his “100% American Beef” shirt.

Franklin:  Has anyone seen my lotion?

One of the most difficult parts of learning to wakeboard is standing up on the board.  You start off bobbing in the water as you try to put the board on your feet, occasionally tipping to one side like a depressed sea lion.  Once strapped in,  you make futile attemps to grab the rope as it floats by.  After several go’s you realize that this is a briliant idea for a workout video (“Splash desperately as you reach for the rope.  This really works your traps and delts! “).  Finally, the rope firmly in hand, the boat accelerates, dragging you several feet until you pitch, face always first, into the lake, enjoying the sensation of water clearing a snowmobile trail through your sinuses.  You then resume bobbing, waiting to try again, now furious at Benjamin Franklin.

The trick to standing up on a wakeboard is to let the boat do the work.  At first this doesn’t seem natural.  Every instinct tells you to pull yourself up, but those instincts, so well-sharpened for landlubbing at normal speed, are poorly calibrated for water movement at Mach 8.  Microsoft Water-Ski Simulater cannot prepare you.  You are not instrument rated for this.   And you will fall.  A lot.

We’re not really instrument rated for the life of grace, either.  The whole thing leaves us confused.  You mean I don’t do anything?  Like the wakeboard, we want to haul ourselves up and stand, never bothering to notice that the boat is already going, that it has its own power it pulls us with, and that we really don’t need to do much to get moving.  Grace, God’s goodness to us through the person of Jesus, provides all the forward motion we need.  

Grace is propulsive because it’s the truth, and our acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice hitches us permanently to it.  We’re buckled into the wakeboard the moment we kneel at the cross, and then we’re off.  The boat speeds away; God will never let us go.  All we have to do is stand up.

This helplessness is what is really meant by that old Christian cliche of ‘broken-ness’.  Typically we think of broken-ness as groveling, or affecting a lowly station in life, or inner despair over our sin.  We pursue these through internal self-destruction: I’m so this, I always do that, Lord I’m awful, I’m vermin, don’t let anything good happen to me, etc.  And when the battering is over, we justify it by saying that we just want to be more humble, more obedient, more broken.  And it works, too.  We break.   

I know we do this because I’ve done this.  I still do it.  But I don’t do it because I want to be humble.  I do it because deep inside I think that I’m unworthy.  That’s self-loathing.  “How dare God build something beautiful inside me,” I say, and then I tear that building down.  “God doesn’t know who I really am!  He doesn’t know my secret nature!”  Except he does.  And he doesn’t care.  That’s the ‘me’ He loves, and died for.  That’s grace.   

Broken-ness may have made SonicFlood rich enough to buy their own archipelago, but what broken-ness really means is that  we trust Him enough not to wrestle with the rope we’re holding, or argue that we’re too sinful to be allowed to ride.  God pulls, and we stand.

Grace never throttles down either, through sunshine or storm.   Like the Dawn Treader, it goes all the way to the very edge of the world and then over.  We must be broken enough to stand, but confident enough to ride there.  And smart enough to keep Paul Revere away from our wives.

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