Over the weekend I was chatting with a mate about the two stories we’ve both been taking a particular interest in this week.
The first is the emerging disaster that is the confrontation between conservation organisation Sea Shepherd and the Japanese ICR whaling fleet. The situation is well known, and I don’t need to go over the detail here again. But in some quarters, and in my conversation, the question was raised “what do Sea Shepherd think they are doing, putting themselves in harms way so far from civilisation?”. The truth is, rescuing a stricken vessel in the far flung waters off Antarctica would not be easy. It was fortunate that on this occasion, conditions were relatively calm, and a second Sea Shepherd vessel was close by to assist.
The second story I’m following, and which is a much more “positive” story, is that of solo round-the-world sailor Jessica Watson. Watson, the 16 year old attempting to become the youngest ever to achieve the feat, is currently a couple of hundred miles away from rounding the famed Cape Horn, off south America. Despite a rocky start involving her and an oil tanker, Watson’s journey has proceeded smoothly, and she is well on track with the expectations of her support team. The same question arose though as we chatted. “What is she doing putting herself in harms way like this? Why is a 16 year old all alone in the middle of the southern ocean – perhaps the roughest stretch of water on the planet? What if the worst happens?”
For me, inherent in both these stories is an underlying spirit of adventure. Sure the Sea Shepherd people aren’t in Antarctic waters because it’s an adventure, they’re there to undertake what they believe is a noble defense of whales, but nonetheless, they go knowing it is risky, knowing they will sometimes be beyond the reach of support and assistance, but going anyway.
Similarly for Watson, she knows full well the situation she is putting herself in, the risks she is taking, the potential issues of things go wrong.
But somehow, the human desire to achieve, to go, is too strong. The spirit of adventure leads us as a species to climb the highest mountains, cross the deepest (and roughest) oceans, live and work in the coldest places. Sometimes just because it can be done. Sometimes because it seems it cannot.
And at times, we pay the price. NASA have lost lives in the pursuit of leading humanity into space. Deep sea divers, solo sailors, climbers on Mt Everest and so on. Each year, people pay the ultimate price for their spirit of adventure.
How sad it would be for humanity however, if we lost that willingness to go, to conquer, to explore. How sad if risk management became the dominant lense through which any potentially difficult undertaking was viewed. Humanity would lose something powerful, something precious, something inherently human if we lose our willingness to seek adventure, or to go beyond the bounds of help and support.
I think the spirit of adventure is a God-given aspect of our nature.
What a shame then that it is in danger of disappearing from the western church. How did we go from being a people born out of the life and death of Jesus, standing strong in the face of severe persecution from the Roman empire, to a thoroughly risk averse institution, captive to a risk managed approach to innovation.
What is it that we think might happen if we truly step out in creativity and adventure?
We might fail? True.
We might lose some money, or some buildings? True
We might even lose some people to other churches? True as well.
We might actually offend someone? True.
Tragic, regrettable, but true.
Much worse though if we lose the spirit of adventure, the willingness to boldly go, explore, create, innovate. For in those efforts to achieve the unlikely or improbable, to explore the unknown or risk the impossible, in great risk, there is great opportunity.
There are of course, small missional communities going beyond the rescue mechanisms of the institutional church, going adventuring with the spirit of God. But sadly, too rarely does that happen within the traditional church.
What would it take for that same spirit of adventure to be more readily apparent within? For risks and adventures to be undertaken with the blessing, encouragement and gentle shoving of the traditional, organised, institutional, risk-averse church?
I like that the Jessica Watson’s of our world do what they do. I’ll be happy for her and her family when she makes it home safely but, for the moment, I’m glad she is out there bouncing around in the southern ocean. Humanity needs adventurers. Sail on Jessica.