Despite the impression rendered in most contemporary movies and TV shows, men do have brains. In the last thirty years, most popular shows depict men and fathers as bumbling idiots. One inspiring exception is the recent movie Dunkirk, a real “man movie” that portrays the intelligence and nobility of men by land, sea, and air: men of all ages and professions, working together to defend “their Island” of England. We men actually have keen analytical minds. So a good man does not charge into danger. He analyzes a situation, and based on that data makes calculated, intelligent risks so as to be able to achieve an objective.
Bridges are a great story of calculated risk. In 1869 engineers told John Roebling that spanning the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn could not be done. He died trying, along with 26 other men. But just before dying, he handed the project over to his son Washington Roebling, who spent the next 14 years supervising the project from his bedroom window. Like his father, Washington himself had sacrificed himself for the project (from decompression sickness while supervising tower excavations deep below the East River). But the bridge opened in 1883, a triumph of human ingenuity. Have you ever walked the pedestrian terrace over the Brooklyn Bridge? One strides above vehicular traffic on the bridge deck and river traffic below that, gazing up at the Manhattan skyline. Such a one cannot fail to acknowledge that this was a risk, and a sacrifice, worth making. At least John Roebling and sons thought so.
Fifty years later, few thought that building a bridge over the 1.3 mile Golden Gate Strait was possible. Construction would have to deal with notorious tides and currents, in 372 ft of water on the Marin side, in ferocious winds and blinding fogs. It was an Irish immigrant, Michael Maurice O'Shaughnessy, who did not shrink from the challenge. He had already spanned the 200 miles between the Sierra Nevada and the Pacific Coast with an aqueduct that delivers plentiful mountain snowmelt to our city’s water faucets. Whoever decided to build the Golden Gate Bridge, however, would have to span the greatest distance ever spanned. He would have to build towers taller than any bridge towers that could withstand unparalleled ocean forces. He would have to finance it all in the depths of the Great Depression. Eleven men lost their lives building the most photographed bridge in the world, still the tallest in the United States. The men who risked and lost their lives teach us that some risks are worth taking. To be a Christian, indeed, is to make calculated risks for ones we love, because that is what Our Savior did. He risked, and lost, his life to provide what only He could provide. And God raised him up. All Christian adventure takes its meaning from the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the greatest of all adventures.
It is good for men to take prudent risks and to set out on adventures. God gave us a longing to seek goals, even if we don’t know what those goals are. We seek what is yet to be found. We plan these adventures, we analyze costs and benefits, and we set out. We stretch our muscles and push our limits to provide for our wives and our children and our communities.
Consider King David, Israel’s most beloved ruler. The people loved this man because he took risks—he defied the giant Goliath unarmed for his people, trusting in God more than himself. If I ask you what is “David’s sin,” you will say “Bathsheba,” and the murder of her husband. But King David’s greatest sin was staying home. “In the spring,” we read in 2 Samuel 11, “at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king's men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.” The King’s job was to defend his people from enemy aggression, but “David stayed in the city.” While his men fought Ammon, this man lounged on his roof with nothing better to do than look at things he shouldn’t look at. “Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king's house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful…” Notice that David arose from his bed “at evening.” He was laying around all day, bored out of his mind, and decided to look around for some excitement. Today the internet has made voyeurism very easy for us. But if we are doing our jobs, engaging the adventure of Christian manhood, we won’t have time for pornography. Mother Teresa can help us men here: she told her sisters, when the devil tempted them to thoughts of lust, to say to him quite simply: “I’m sorry, but I do not have time for that right now.” She kept her sisters quite busy in prayer and service, and we must do the same. We simply don’t have time for lust, because we are busy building God’s kingdom on earth for its full realization in heaven.
It was King David’s sheer laziness that drove him to great sin. He should have gone to war with his men instead of staying home on soft pillows and throw rugs. We men, who are given to laziness, must go out of our doors, into danger, from time to time. Adventures steel us, challenge us, and prepare us to defend what must be defended. One of the great adventurers in Western History has been largely forgotten. In second grade I learned a ditty, which we used to sing every October 14.
In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He had three ships and left from Spain;
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.
He sailed by night; he sailed by day;
He used the stars to find his way.
By the end of the fifteenth century, a few men had attempted to find the end of the vast Atlantic Ocean, but none had ever returned. Cristoforo Columbo was the son of tavern keeper from Genoa. He was a bright boy and loved reading about the seas and continents and winds. When he grew up, he spent ten years planning and raising support for a voyage that would double the size of the known world. He set out on August 3 with three ships, the largest of which was shorter than many of today’s average pleasure yachts. He faced an unknown and seemingly endless ocean. Over two months he and 88 men suffered hunger, thirst, the fear of losing their way, storms and heat and cold. He held his desperate crew together as they were on the point of dissolving into mutiny. On October 14, 1492, he was the first European to kneel on a beach in the New World. With tears for the immeasurable mercy of God, he named the island San Salvador. Christopher Columbus wasn’t perfect, and he wasn’t a saint, but he was a man. He used the gifts of his manhood given by the good God to expand our world and provide for his fellow men.
The Bay Adventure
Every man should keep himself sharp and ready by smaller voyages of discovery. Who knows when God will call us to be another Christopher Columbus or John Glenn? A few weeks ago one of our young adults asked me to take him kayaking on the bay. We checked the tidal charts and set out. The wind came up, however, and the currents swept us out under the Golden Gate Bridge into the mighty Pacific. Joe’s kayak overturned and began taking on water. He had to learn how to keep calm even as overwhelming currents were carrying both of us into the open ocean. After some initial panic, he stabilized his boat and got back on. We made for the far shore, regrouped, and fought our way back through the choppiest water I’ve ever seen. I was sure he would capsize again, and I with him, but we concentrated on keeping the paddles in the water, taking long deep strokes, and made it past the worst of the current. We attained a high water mark of our endurance and skill, a new level of confidence, and a greater capacity for teamwork.