CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith and Life from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter…
“It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”  That’s what Duke Ellington sang, and that’s what The Boys in the Boat learned.
It’s false spring here for a couple of days, then back to the deep freeze, the way it has been really cold where we live now, below zero, sometimes way below, for days at a time. It feels like being back in the UP . It started at Christmas, which means for us it’s not been too bad, because we have lots of new Christmas books. We can just stay inside and read. Helen says that one of the chief benefits of raising smart children is that they pick out good books to give as presents.
Helen has enjoyed especially Julia Keller’s Fast Falls the Night and Celeste Ng’s Little Fires.
I have enjoyed Michael Connelly and Lee Child and JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy and, especially, Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat.
Sports writer supreme Bob Hammel says that The Boys in the Boat is slightly overwritten, and he is right, but he agrees that Brown has done a masterful job of writing sports history in such a way that it’s a page turner. Even though you know that those boys will win the eight man rowing competition in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, even as Hitler tried to stack the deck against them, Brown keeps you keep turning the pages to see just how the boys got their swing.
That’s what you call it in rowing, when all the rowers are in such complete harmony that they no longer even exist as individuals. It’s only one boat, not eight rowers. It’s the same thing in barbershop singing, when all four voices are so completely in harmony that no one, even those singing, can hear anything but one voice. In barbershop, it’s called ringing instead of swinging. It’s the same thing.
But those University of Washington boys in the boat did not have that swing in the beginning. They had great individual talents, but they weren’t together.
The tale of the boat is told through the story of Joe Rantz, a Great Depression boy, basically abandoned and left to fend for himself when he was ten years old.
The break-through to swing came when boat-builder and rowing guru, George Podock, told Joe that he was rowing like it all depended on him, like he had to do it all by himself, the way he always had. He did not know how to trust others, because all those he had trusted had abandoned him. The boat would be the boat, and not just 8 strong boys [plus the coxswain], when he learned to trust the others in the boat with him. He could not do that just be trusting his oars to them. He had to trust himself to them. He ventured out in fear, into trust, and the boat got its swing.
In theology, we call that atonement. At-one-ment. Atonement is spiritual swinging and ringing. It’s trusting God so completely that we become at one with the universe and others and our own true selves.
We are all in the boat, together. But it don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing.
I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.
1] 1931. Music by Duke Ellington. Lyrics by Irving Mills.
2] The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] Having met and married while at IU in Bloomington, IN, we became Bloomarangs in May of 2015, moving back to where we started, closing the circle. We no longer live in the land of winter, but I am in the winter of my years, and so I am still trying to understand Christ in