Cultural Winds Have Shifted • We Must Learn to Swing the Boom

In celebration of my fortieth birthday, my wife, Linda, pulled off a very beautiful and loving surprise. First, she blindfolded me and drove us around for more than an hour. Then, leading me by the arm, she walked me down what I later realized was a pier. Music was playing in the distance, and the farther we walked, the clearer it became: it was the band Styx blasting through speakers as they sang, “Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me.”1 Once my blindfold was removed, I saw ten close friends aboard a sailboat. They greeted me with birthday wishes, and together we set sail.

Prior to that day I had never been on a sailboat as large as that one, with such tall masts and large white sails. Coupled with all that Linda had done to pull off the surprise, it was all very exciting!

Soon after we left the dock, however, the boat stalled. The problem? No wind. That’s right: we were dead in the water. Nevertheless, we made the most of the day and, more important, my wife was later commended by all involved for going to such lengths in my honor.

Not surprisingly, ocean sailing requires wind. “Granted, wind isn’t normally in short supply on the open ocean—until you hit the doldrums. For centuries mariners have feared this equatorial region [the doldrums] for its tendency toward sailor-stopping calms.”2 In other words, even the biggest and best of boats can stall for lack of wind.

There’s a maneuver in sailing known as tacking. Tacking is used by mariners to keep a ship moving when the winds have shifted and a ship is unable to make forward progress because the wind is blowing toward the bow, that is, when the boat is heading upwind. “Tacking allows the boat to travel forward with a wind at right angles to the boat. The boat travels for a time at an angle toward its desired course, to the right for instance, then the captain swings the boom of the sail and tacks back across the desired course at an angle to the left in a zigzag fashion.”3 In this way, tacking allows a ship to make forward progress in spite of prevailing frontal winds.

Similarly, cultural winds have shifted in our lifetime and for all intent and purposes, our boat, the church’s collective witness seems at the moment dead in the water. Where Americans once embraced the church and Christian values, if not our message, a significant percentage of the country today rejects those values. Why? In large part because our sails remain fixed for past winds while we wait and hope that somehow the winds will pick up again. But they won’t. Those days are gone. Indeed, we are no longer sailing with the wind at our backs; rather, we are sailing against it.

In order to advance the gospel, the church, and the kingdom of God in this day and age, then, we must swing the boom. We must learn to tack in the prevailing, ferocious headwinds of our times and culture… and that’s what this year’s conference is all about.

Indeed, it’s no secret: Americans today remain stubbornly divided along the lines of color, class, and culture as well as religion and politics. But Christians, too, are often at odds with one another over these very same things and such division is literally tearing churches apart.

This is not the time, however, for Christ-centered pastors and peacemakers to give into personal or professional discouragement; to lose faith in people or the church, in believing that together we can be more than we are and make a difference; to set aside calling in pursuit of an easier path.

Rather, we must tack to the wind.4

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1 Dennis DeYoung, “Come Sail Away” performed by Styx, ©1977 Almo Music Corporation and Stygian Songs, www.lyricsfreak.com/s/styx/come+sail+away_20132868.html

2 Mark Shrope, “The Doldrums: Sailing’s Dead Zone,” National Geographic (2001), www.nationalgeographic.com/volvooceanrace/geofiles/01/

3 Stephen Portz, “How Does a Sailboat Move Upwind?” Physlink (2016), www.physlink.com/education/askexperts/ae438.cfm.

4 Excerpt from Disruption: Repurposing the Church to Redeem the Community by Mark DeYmaz (Thomas Nelson, 2017)