Repainting the Boat

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Not too long ago, back when my wife and I lived in Massachusetts, we decided to take a sunset drive from Salem to Gloucester, Massachusetts. We had traveled this road many times before—a beautiful, twisting-and-turning road that hugged the rocky coast—and it was “magic hour.” That particular hour just before sunset when everything is bathed in warm, but vibrant yellow and orange colors. We hopped in the car, rolled down the windows, and breathed in the cool, salty air.

Once we reached Gloucester, we were on a mission to find the best place to watch the sunset. Our quest took us around Gloucester Harbor in the direction of Rocky Neck art colony. However, because of poor signage and a maze of one-way streets, we soon found ourselves on a dead-end road leading us straight into an old shipyard. In the shipyard, our view of the sunset was obstructed. However, something else—something even more interesting—caught my eye.

In the shipyard was a collection of boats. Some were being prepared for the Winter months; others were in plain ol’ disrepair. One such boat, the largest in the lot, had to have been at least 100 years old. And there, on the scaffolding erected alongside it, we saw a bunch of people with paintbrushes in their hand. I put my foot on the brake and then put the car in park. I was mesmerized by the simple act being played out before me: a man took a paintbrush and dipped it into a tiny can; the bristles on his brush met wet paint; the brush met a plank of weather-beaten wood; and that old, beloved boat was being made beautiful once more.

Clearly, the boat had been painted once before. By whom? Nobody remembers. And now a new coat of paint was being layered upon the first. By whom? Nobody will remember. Their names will not be etched on the boat. Nor will their names be recorded in a register: “On such and such a date, Tom, Sue, and Billy painted the….” These men and women will die, and if the boat doesn’t sink, it will need to be repainted once more. And if it does, when that time comes, the third repainting will be an anonymous act done by anonymous men and women.

Repainting a boat is an act of faith and an act of trust. One must trust that one’s dignity and worth transcend the little task we are given this day, in this lifetime. If we are to be judged by what lasts, then what I saw in that Gloucester shipyard was one of the stupidest, inane, meaningless activities ever imagined. Yet, what I saw that day was hardly a waste of time—it was the exact opposite of that. What I saw in that shipyard that day was beautiful, purposeful, careful, and timeless. Yesterday I saw imago Dei repainting a boat.

Someway, somehow, we are all repainting a boat. The work we do in this lifetime will fade; if it does not fade into oblivion entirely, someone else will paint over it. That does not mean we should not paint the boat. That our work today will need to be repainted by successive generations doesn’t render today’s work in vain. It is good and right to paint the boat. It is a painfully beautiful act. And it’s okay too. We do not find our dignity because we have fashioned immortal things. Rather, our things find pride because immortal beings fashioned them.

Bible Reference: 2 Chronicles 24:12 And the king and Jehoiada gave it to those who had charge of the work of the house of the Lord, and they hired masons and carpenters to restore the house of the Lord, and also workers in iron and bronze to repair the house of the Lord.

About the Author: John Meinen is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He currently serves as the campus minister for Reformed University Fellowship at the University of Vermont (www.rufuvm.org). John lives in Burlington, VT with his wife Megan, daughter Willa, and dog Coulter. They love the outdoors and are grateful for the opportunity to serve college students in America’s ‘least religious city.'”


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