Perhaps you're a visitor on Long Beach Island. Maybe you haven't been in Church for a while and would like to start back. Whatever is going on in your life, you are welcome at Holy Innocents. Your past affiliations don't mean nearly as much to us as your present affiliation with us.
Dear Friends in Christ Jesus:
When does a dream become a goal? Dreamers with whom I have any acquaintance say they don’t know. I think the transformation from dream to goal sneaks up on most people, the dream only becoming a conscious goal when the prospect of failing in the attempt to realize it is less painful than the prospect of not attempting it at all. And that revelation may be slow in becoming apparent. When does a vision take-on observable form? A vision takes on observable form first in the person who’s seen it, and then, more importantly, it takes form when people see how the vision has changed the visionary.
Some people’s dreams live, or die rather, in the place marked “No. Not possible. Don’t even think it.” Life gives us all setbacks and losses that mark us. These setbacks and losses train some people to try again and others not to try again…some become less willing to engage life over time, still others shut down completely, and some persist, figuring out how not to repeat the latest failure, and go on. Who responds how is internally derived, beyond our sight and at first perhaps beyond the conscious knowing of the visionary her/himself.
Nurturing their vision’s flame brings dread to many, their strength drained away in the light of their historic losses. They cannot imagine life beyond their own bewildered pain; they cannot see past their growing catalogue of hurts. My maternal grandmother said it well: “When you’re the biggest thing you see, your World is too small.” Yessum. Such folk sabotage themselves, defeating themselves preemptively rather than suffering the blow from any other source. These are the folk who take umbrage at life, instinctively looking for the difficulties rather than the opportunities in the various venues of their lives. They live in a place where “can’t” relieves them of accountability…these are the excuse-makers, the workers who blame the tools or the materials…these are they who live in a tightly constructed matrix where unless all is well, nothing is…and we know those odds. They do themselves in before anything or anyone else can. Self-inflicted pain of this kind is as damaging as more violently abrupt versions of the same behavior.
Others affect a bright enthusiasm to mask their anxiety, doubts and dreadful emptiness, figuring that the best emotional defense is a good offense. And oftentimes such folk are offensive indeed.
I have been put in mind of these questions while living at The WoodenBoat School in Brooklin, Maine. The School is an outgrowth of WoodenBoat magazine. WoodenBoat magazine is the dream-become-goal-becomereality of Jon Wilson.
Jon Wilson began WoodenBoat publications in 1974, at a time when the American boating industry was going hammer-and-tongs for fiberglass, portraying it as an affordable, assembly-line-produced alternative to wood. The principal selling points (deceptions?) were affordability and ease of maintenance, though the real reason was a wider profit margin for those owning the boat building firms. 1974’s conventional (erroneous) wisdom relegated traditional wooden boats to that part of life we call quaint and anachronistic. As if to prove that point, Jon Wilson began WoodenBoat in a small cabin in North Brooksville, Maine; his telephone was nailed to a tree ½-mile away. (The ‘phone-nailed-to-the-tree part of the story is still remembered in Brooklin, told simply and without fanfare, to communicate some of the etiology of WoodenBoat). He self-published the first edition of the magazine and took 400 of them to a boat show where he sold them all, and signed-up 200 subscribers. The wisdom and skill to build wooden boats was deemed irrelevant, and it was assumed that with coal-oil lamps, and smokehouses, and washboards, building wooden boats slowly would be forgotten. Jon Wilson’s WoodenBoat dream could likely have been described as an hallucination rather than as a dream in 1974.
Yet this is written to you from an old guesthouse now owned by WoodenBoat for use as a student dormitory - a dormitory for students from all over the World. Two Dutchmen, a Turk, a Kiwi and two Frenchmen have been here this Summer so far…indeed, far more exotic places- places like Arizona and Arkansas and Alaska have been represented since I have been in residence. And my time here isn’t over, so who knows? Surgeons and financial advisors, pediatricians and military planners, seminary professors and mechanical engineers, a senior Disney executive, a brewery owner, software writers, two other Episcopal priests and a hard hat diver from the Royal Canadian Navy have come here while I’ve been here. I have had classmates ranging in age from 13 to 85. Their presence each and all demonstrates clearly that Jon Wilson’s vision was not a ‘70s hallucination… many, many people “get it.”
As stunningly obvious as they are, the point is not the virtue and value of traditional wooden boat construction. The point is that somehow a dream became a goal, and that goal was achieved and it is vibrantly alive over 40 years later. Personal alchemy was worked in a human heart, transforming the lead of “what if” into the gold of “is.” People unborn when Jon Wilson envisioned it are coming to WoodenBoat as students of arts that are not dead but flourishing. Jon Wilson stepped past fretful hand-wringing at the perceived decline of a way of life (if he ever did fret or wring his hands) to dare failing, failure being an option preferable to whining. Far from winsome reminiscence, traditional wooden boat construction, rigging and metal work, coastal navigation, seascape painting and so many other things are respected and taught here, and people spend very good money to come here from all over the World. They will cross oceans to work with the people who have written the book  - literally written the definitive texts- in pursuit of this knowledge and this way of life.
“Where there is no vision the people perish.” 
“Where there is no prophecy, the people cast off restraint” 
“Where there is no vision from God, the people run wild”
“Where there is no prophetic vision, the people die ungovernable”
They’re all Proverbs 29:18a. Each translation gives a slightly difference nuance, doesn’t it? Regardless of any particular translation’s evocation, the intent of Proverbs coalesces several strains of older wisdom literature to comment on events in Israel as the nation struggled to rebuild itself while the exiles returned from Babylon sometime after 539 BCE.
Proverbs are proverbial because they bear vast wisdom on few words; this one is clear- without a dream the nation runs amok and will persist in doing so, and the outcome will be far worse than merely regrettable. The outcome will be disastrous. (Current applications of this proverb are multiple, readily apparent and as timely as when the proverb first appeared, but that’s another essay.)
Proverbs 29:18a has other, more modest implications. The consequences of no vision as seen in the lives of nation-states are no different than the consequences of no vision when observed in individual lives. Like countries, persons who have no vision perish, cast off restraint, run wild, die ungovernable. What a damning phrase- die ungovernable…a life run wild will indeed end dying ungovernable. What an ignominious end (literally and metaphorically) to conclude life ignorant, obstinately brutish and unaware.
Jon Wilson is safe from such an end. He is permanently inoculated from the ills this proverb diagnoses not because he loves wooden boats but because he had a vision and acted upon it. Jon Wilson’s example is worthy of emulation by anyone reading this; he saw bigger possibilities and convinced others to walk with him. Even a failed vision can focus life and provide meaning, and look what happens when the vision is realized! What about you? They didn’t include Proverbs in the Hebrew scriptures because a few people needed some coaching. Proverbs 29:18a would be irrelevant if more people desired and risked seeing a vision and dreaming a dream. Jon Wilson’s dream made real encourages me to persist following my own. If the proverb is applicable in your life, I pray your first vision will be to seek the vision itself.
I am grateful for my time in this place, where the vision of one human being became a goal in his life, and that goal was communicated to others, and it has been achieved for the common good of many. I am better for it. Thanks, Jon.
Love you. Please pray for me.
1 Monnie Davis Mayes… born at Sulphur Rock, Arkansas in 1906 and a clear sign of God’s love for me… graduate of the 8th Grade, fryer of chicken, deviler of eggs, consummate needlewoman, philosopher
2 It is attributed to Jaroslav Pelikan: “Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. The Tradition is the living faith of the dead.” It is not contrived Traditionalism but rather the authentic Tradition that is alive in Brooklin, Maine.
3 My teachers this Summer have included Harry Bryan, Greg Rössell and Rollin Thurlow, each of whom is the actively practicing published authority in their respective discipline. I have been privileged to spend extended time at Brooklin Boat Yard, where Joel White’s son Steve sustains that great naval architect’s legacy of brilliance. I have cruised with Myles Thurlow and Jim Lobdell aboard MALABAR II as that 1922 John Alden gaff-rigged schooner demonstrated a lesson on the harmonic interplay between standing and running rigging better than Myles ever could in the rigging shop. In spite of, or perhaps because of, his brilliance Myles knew this and let the schooner talk. I have spent time with Brion Rieff, whose shop is rebuilding a 1930 Herreshoff Fishers Island 31 (Herreshoff hull no 1156), one of only 14 ever built; Brion is stewarding a priceless object and he knows it, and he has the courage to cut and fit and restore her to her proper, exquisitely dynamic function. “Sitting at the feet of the master” takes on a vibrant immediacy here.
4 Proverbs 29:18a KJV
5 Proverbs 29:18a NRSV
6 Proverbs 29:18a The Voice
7 Proverbs 29:18a Orthodox Jewish Bible
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