Paul Windsor, who spoke at our last Grow Camp writes a regular blog at https://paulwindsor.blogspot.com, and I've pasted below his thoughts after reading a biography of Ernest Shackleton, called 'Endurance'.
My first brush with Ernest Shackleton did not end happily. I was on one of those long, lonely trips — and feeling so inadequate as a leader. With me to read, I had Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer. But I felt battered by it. It made things worse. I don't do heroic so well. I gave up.
However, when I read my friend Ben Carswell's Lessons from Endurance (link), I decided to give Ernest a second opportunity to shape my life. 'Shackleton's Incredible Voyage' is a staggering story. Fleetingly, the word 'incredible' sidetracked me to the story from my childhood of two dogs and a cat (although the dogs and cat in thisstory get shot!) — but I was soon back on track, entering into a story about 28 men whose 'plight was naked and terrifying in it simplicity' (10).
Attempting to be the first people ever to walk across the Antarctica, they are within a day of reaching port when they are caught in the ice and then crushed by the ice, with their ship dying like a groaning beast. They float on ice floes for months, including 79 days of total darkness, and then take to three 22 foot lifeboats and somehow land on Elephant Island, 'a refuge of rock and ice', with 'a meagre grip on a savage coast' (221). Six of them hop into one of the boats to seek help from South Georgia Island (where they started) and cross The Drake Passage, 'the most storm-torn ocean on the globe' (155) on what has been referred to as 'the greatest small boat journey in the world'. They land on the wrong side of the island and so three of them walk across untraversed snow mountains and glaciers, at one point becoming 'tobogganers without a toboggan' (338) as they wooshed two thousand feet down an unknown mountain before knocking on someone's door, asking for help. All 28 men returned to London safely, two years later, only to find Britain in the depths of World War I and being accused of dodging the war. A number enlisted almost straight away, with one man dying in the trenches of France one month later.
It is not so much staggering, as ridiculous. Incredible, as in In-credible.
Shackleton was a remarkable leader. He had this optimism about him that 'set men's souls on fire' (129). I enjoyed the three discernment-passages in the story: (a) when selecting the initial team (18-21); (b) when assigning tents after being cast off the boat onto the ice floe (91-97); and (c) when deciding who to take and who to leave, on the dinghy-trip across to South Georgia (235-236). He had such insight, such instincts: 'intensely watchful for potential troublemakers who might nibble away at the unity of the group' (91). His determination to care for his men — yes, even through a gruff exterior from today's vantage point — is the engine that drives this story to its triumphant conclusion. In his own way, he was attentive to his people: 'Of all their enemies — the cold, the ice, the sea — he feared none more than demoralization' (111). He knew how important it was to 'make every effort to remain cheerful in order to avoid antagonisms' (304).
Yes, there is a 'but' — I do have questions.
1. How helpful is the heroic?
So few of us can scale these heights. I go 'wow', but how useful a 'wow' is it? I come back to the distinction between the inspirational and the aspirational. The inspirational story, like this one, can light a fire — but for the fire to be stoked and sustained it needs the aspirational. It needs a person that feels accessible, a character that feels achievable. The 'wow, I could be like this, I could do that' — this is the 'wow' that seems more valuable to me. For me, Shackleton is too untouchable. I am drawn far more to the members of his team and to their loved ones at home who live a brand of heroism that is more touchable for me. That is where I find myself in the story.
2. How critical is character-driven leadership?
It is everything, isn't it? As a Christ-following, biblically-shaped leader, it is 'where it is at'. Every one of us exerts influence on someone else. We all start out with potentialities for leadership and for its nurture, it starts with character. Because if you don't have character, what do you have? For all I can find out about Shackleton, I am not drawn to him as a character at all. He oozed charm and had an ego-driven ambition. Yikes! 'Shackleton was not an ordinary individual. He was a man who believed completely in his own invincibility and to whom defeat was a reflection of personal inadequacy' (128). Double yikes.
Like others have done, I cannot accept the way Shackleton handled Harry McNish. He was the oldest one on board. Yes, he was stubborn, but suffering from some serious stuff (piles, rheumatism) — and at one early point he was insubordinate, mounting a 'one man mutiny' (118). But he proved himself again and again, not the least in keeping that dinghy to South Georgia sea-worthy. Shackleton said he'd never forgive him — and he didn't. So vindictive! When it came to Shackleton handing out Polar Awards, on the return to Britain, McNish missed out.
Eventually, McNish emigrated to New Zealand, picking up work on the Wellington docks. He died destitute, sleeping under a tarpaulin in the wharf sheds, and buried in Karori Cemetery (with Thomas Orde-Lees, who also had an uneven relationship with McNish, buried 28 plots away in the same cemetery, having come to New Zealand via Japan!). The McNish grave was unmarked for 30 years — and then 64 years after McNish's death, Mrs Chippy (his beloved cat, whom Shackelton ordered to be killed, understandably, together with all the dogs) was added.
While I'd love to go to Shackleton's grave (he died of a heart attack on his next visit to South Georgia and is buried there), I am excited about my upcoming pilgrimage, on a date as yet undetermined, to Karori Cemetery...
3. Can foolishness be laudable?
As I read around the story, it is clear that Shackleton, while waiting on South Georgia, was cautioned by experts on Antarctica not to take the trip because the ice was especially bad, and early, that year. Yes, he did wait, but did he wait long enough? Probably not. Did his ambition, even his sense of adventure, cause him to make a mistake and put the lives of all these men at risk? Probably so. I know it was a different time and his team members knew the risks they were embracing, but still, I am not convinced...
4. Where is God in this story?
I suspect that Lansing was an irreligious man. God is nowhere to be found in the narrative. Lansing appears far more comfortable with coincidence, than providence. At one point, McNish is mockingly referred to as 'a devout Presbyterian' (138) and you can't help feeling that his troublesome presence in the team is being linked to his self-confessed Christian identity. It reminds me a bit of Shantung Compound where the seriously religious people tended to be problematic rascals, while one Eric Liddell shone brightly as he lived his intriguing Christian life under such pressure. I don't discern an Eric anywhere on the Endurance!
Reading around the story, those three who made the 'toboggan' trip — the most in-credible part of the story in my mind — down the slopes of South Georgia's mountains did bear witness, independent from each other, to the sense of having a 'fourth man' on the trip with them, guiding and protecting them. Maybe God was in the story?! But most historians seem to do no more than affirm that 'Shackleton was a lucky man' ... and leave it at that. Hmm. Not sure about that one.
Let me finish with a lovely picture of heaven from the very final page of the story. The six in the dinghy finally return to Elephant Island to rescue the other twenty-two, possibly as much as three months later than was hoped — and so when hope was virtually dead...
Certainly no great urging was needed, and one at a time they jumped from the rocks into the boat, leaving behind them without a second thought dozens of personal little items which only an hour before had been considered almost indispensable (353).
This Sunday: Living Wisely for Others
Last week we looked at Paul's idea of the Christian life, with the metaphor of "putting on new clothes".
This week, we continue looking at the letter to the Colossian community, and the challenge to live wisely for their community.
Our Sparks and Blaze programmes will resume are back! Looking forward to seeing you there
Join our yr 9-13 Youth Group!
Time: 7-8:30 PM
Date: Every Wednesday during school term
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Time: 10 am (during the Sunday morning gathering)
Date: Every Sunday during school term
Our theme for Prayer and Self Denial this year is Renew Together, which run for 3 consecutive Sundays. This year, they will be 31 July, 7 August and 14 August.
Bible Study Connect Group
Come along next Thursday at 10:30am, either physically or on zoom as we continue studying Paul's amazing letter to the church at Ephesus.
Worship This Sunday: Gathered AND Online
It was so exciting to be back together in our church building again! We will be doing it again this week at 10am (with masks and vaccine passports)!
There will also be an online service available to view, and a link will be sent out to you at 10am on Sunday morning.
Prayer Connection Points
Come along to a prayer gathering at the church lounge Thursdays from 11:30am-12:00pm. Masks are required. Also, On Mondays from 12:00 – 12:30pm there will be an Online Prayer Gathering for half an hour via zoom. Contact the office if you would like the meeting link and passcode.
Remuera Baptist Men’s Group meets monthly – this is generally on the first Saturday of the month. Our next Men's Breakfast will be at 8am in the church lounge on Saturday 8 August. Come along!
Baptist Missionary Fellowship meets at 10am on the second Wednesday of every month. This is usually at the home of Olwyn Dickson, but the venue if changed, will be advertised here.
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We run mainly music sessions during the school term every Tuesday, 10am in the RBC Auditorium. If you have kids or know of anyone who does, please invite them to come along! Please also keep the attendees and volunteers in your prayers.
Thursday Morning Bible Study Group
Every Thursday morning at 10:30am in the church lounge. We are currently looking at the Letters that Paul wrote to the Church of Ephesus. Please email the church to be added to the Facebook page, and check Facebook for updates of what we have going on. We'd love for you to join us! Please note that masks are required.
Thursday Prayer Group
Every Thursday in the church lounge from 11:30am - 12:00 pm. Contact the office for more information. Please note that masks are required.
Monday Zoom Prayer Group
From 12:00 – 12:30pm on Zoom. Contact the office if you would like the zoom link to be sent to you.
Thursday Night Book Club
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Young Adults Home Group
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Wednesday Night Home Group
Thursday Morning Home Group