Sunday, August 9, 2015

Lesson from RMS Titanic

On April 10, 1912, the Royal Mail Steamer (RMS) Titanic set out from Southampton, England on her maiden voyage to New York, with 2227 people on board, mostly wealthy people in first-class cabins and immigrants transported like cargo toward the new world. 

The Titanic was already famous. She was touted as "the unsinkable ship" - the safest ever to be built - and so confident were her designers of that "fact" that there were only 20 lifeboats on board: only enough to carry a scant half (at most) of the passengers on that voyage. The mood was festive. Nothing bad could happen. 

Late on the night of April 14, at 11:40 pm, the ship struck an iceberg, about 400 miles south of Newfoundland. April in Atlantic Canada is far from springtime. 

To one eye-witness, the sound of the ship hitting that iceberg was like fabric ripping. The passengers who were awake felt the ship shudder, and many just lay back down and trusted the "safest ship ever built" to take them to their destination. Some asked members of the crew if there was a problem. They were told that as far as they knew, there was none. 

There was a problem. The problem was that the ship had struck an iceberg, and the pilot of the ship believed the propaganda that the ship was unsinkable, and so delayed his distress call. The passengers - confused and disbelieving - were not warned early enough, and when they were warned, the crew started calmly handing out life-preservers to the passengers.

While most passengers got a life preserver, many more people died than needed to die, because of (1) the arrogance of the designers (2) the implicit trust people had in the media hype [in other words, they believed what they were told], and (3) too few lifeboats and too little instruction on their use (based on reasons one and two). 

Photo "Titanic Ship Sinking At Night" by
Victor Habbick at |
Again, from eye-witness accounts, the RMS Titanic sank bow-first beneath the waves, looking much like an incredibly slow-motion dive that a duck might make, eventually at a 65-degree angle as the stern slipped beneath the waves. The sinking took two hours and forty minutes. 

Those left on board during that time with no life-boats left to save them, huddled near the stern, still clinging to the vain hope that the great ship would not sink. More and more of them let go, unable to hang onto the railing (or each other) any longer, faced with two realities: the cold numbing air of the North Atlantic and the force of gravity that pulled them sharply downhill. The icy water killed over 1,500 people in mere minutes from their entrance into the water - those who had their life preservers but who were too late to get into the lifeboats. 

Those in the lifeboats could barely believe that the ship was doomed and so they lingered near it until it became obvious that the media hype was wrong; they rowed away clumsily because most of the crew had gone down with the ship and they had no instruction on how to navigate the huge rowboats, each holding about 35 people. 

Over three hours they stayed in the lifeboats in the freezing cold, pressing close together for warmth, calling out the names of their loved ones out over the dark water ... for answers that never came. As twilight turned to dawn, they could see the outline of a ship, a proven ocean liner whose captain had heard the delayed distress call and was waiting to pick up survivors. The Carpathia took aboard 705 survivors that morning. The rest of the Titanic's passengers and crew had died - one thousand, five hundred twenty-two people. (*)  The enormity of that loss was unprecedented: nothing like that had ever happened on such a large scale.

The only ones who survived were the ones who got off the ship and into a safe place, at great personal and emotional cost. 

We are aboard another Titanic - the religious system we call the church (notice I use the small letter c??) - and we are so caught up in the hype of the gates of hell not prevailing against it (in other words, indestructible) that we forget that the real Church isn't about the system or the vehicle (so to speak); the Church is about the people: real people with real lives. Unfortunately, what we settle for is being lulled into a false sense of security by the propaganda and the ritual and the expectation that the deck beneath our feet will hold and stay steady ... we are settling for doing church instead of being the Church. 

What we have called the church (the building, the religious system) is waterlogged and already beginning to tilt, and it has been on its way down for decades. It was never indestructible; it is man-made!! The real Church is created by Jesus - and besides, when Jesus said "the gates of hell would not prevail against it ... He was talking about the Rock upon which He would build the Church - that Rock being the truth that He is the Chosen One, the Son of the living God - the Good News, ... not the vehicle.  

"And we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." (2 Cor 4:7) WE are the Church. WE carry the Good News, this treasure, the love of God shed abroad in our hearts. We don't need to go to a special place, or say certain words, or do certain things in a specific way or order. The building, the organization, panders to the control freak in us, the need to feel that we are in control of something ... when the truth is that there is nothing that we can do to make God love us more OR less than He always has. 

Photo "Couple Having Breakfast"
courtesy of Ambro at
If WE are the carriers of the Message, if we are the dwelling-place of the Spirit of God (and by faith in His Word we ARE) then the structure (seen or unseen) is not important and may actually detract from what God is doing. What matters most is our willingness to listen to His leading. 

The safest place for us is not on board a sinking ship. We don't have to "do" church; we never did! We ARE the church - and that truth makes Jesus' words come alive: "Wherever two or three are gathered in My name, there I am in the midst." (Mt 18:20) We don't have to have two hymns, announcements, offering, a sermon and a prayer. We can be who we are, share what God is doing in our lives, and lift one another up without the benefit of clergy, a building, or even singing if that's not where the gathering goes. I've been in such gatherings - in coffee shops, living rooms, restaurants ... they are amazing, energizing, and precious.  The moment we legislate such a living thing with the word "should", it is re-infected with the cancer of man-made position and influence ... and dies a painful death. 

Why would I want to participate in that? 

The way I view "what the Church is" ... has been undergoing a transformation lately. I'd been seeing it as the narrow (so narrow you can see through a keyhole with both eyes), traditional definition for so long ... that the idea of informal, unstructured gatherings any old time with other believers had to be called something else - like visits, or sharing, or whatever else happened. The reason for this was that (obviously) there was no pastor or worship leader, so it couldn't be church, right?  Really though, what I experienced in those impromptu get-togethers in random places ... was the Church. I just didn't recognize it because I was so used to the Sunday-go-to-meeting kind of ritual gathering where it feels 'safe' - (like the Titanic was for those four days...) surrounded by the ornate trappings and beautiful music and such, playing on the emotions and relying on manipulation to get people to respond. (Oh of course you've heard it and seen it happen: "Can't I get an Amen?" or "We'll sing that verse one more time and sing it like you mean it!"  etc., etc.)

I've since realized and been able to recognize the Church at work even when my husband, my daughter I have breakfast on a weekday morning and end up (as we usually do) talking about God. He's part of our lives, our everyday. Such times are when we feel most encouraged, in a safe place with each other in our relationship so that we can be honest about our feelings and help each other to grow in our faith. 

And I find myself less and less willing to board the ocean liner. The luxury accommodations just aren't worth it. 

(*)   -  Information retrieved from 

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