God Bless the Busted Boats

We drove back home today - to home from home, as it were - and our wheels spun away the miles over frozen fields and under tree branches that dripped with wet snow. It was lovely, and my heart beat fast with the fullness of the weekend.

We turned on Jason Isbell, a favorite for long drives, and in quiet anticipation of seeing him live this evening just up the street - a meeting of souls, a sacred hour of storytellers and song-weavers - my favorite kind of folk.

New South Wales strummed through the speakers, my favorite on Isbell's Southeastern (an album I played unabashedly on repeat all summer, a series of anthems about loneliness and recovery and redemption that took me by the heart and didn't let go).

"I love this song," I said dreamily - my feet tapping to the sweet and simple melody. The violin started, and I turned to my quite fiddle-competent husband and asked him to learn it for me.

"And the sand that they call cocaine cost you twice as much as gold

You'd be better off to drink your coffee black                                                            

But I swear, the land it listened to the stories that we told                                      

God bless the busted boat that brings us back"

"A song about drug recovery?" he asked. "You want me to play this for you?"

I smiled.

"Aren't we all in recovery?"


My mind rolled backward to a conversation I had yesterday with a sweet friend, over the low hum of a crowd sipping barrel-aged beers in a packed room. We spilled words and beer and hope and prayers all over the place, as she told me about a church she found that she loves - a church that is far, far different from mine and yet it's the same. It's a place of recovery.

My busted boat is a stone building not far from here, with stained glass scenes of Paul teaching, and a pipe organ and a promise to hold tight to the strength of Scripture.

Her busted boat is a few hundred miles from here, with a different spin on Scripture that anchors her community in the flood of a broken world, and that swears by the most lovely church slogan I've ever heard - a place for sinners, saints and skeptics.

In a week where the blogosphere has been flooded with responses to a popular writer's post about everything that's wrong with the Church, I have been so pleasantly surprised at every click of my mouse that has revealed someone else defending Her. Voices I disagree with on so many different issues mingled with the voices I love the most - but all rising to the occasion with the same commitment - a commitment to community, to communion, to sacraments and to worship and to liturgy and to lectures, to brokenness and failures and pain, to healing and to hope. 

And here's what I love about the busted boat that is the Church - there's a boat for everybody, and that's the beauty of it. That collectively we form one Bride, one voice - but every boat is built a little differently. My boat looks really different from my friend's boat, but they are both floating and they are both in the business of recovery.

I have the deep pleasure of working across denominations and churches in ways that stretch me every single day. And the further I get down this road, the more I understand that even if everyone doesn't think exactly the same way I do, it's ok. We're the body of Christ - a hodegpodge of hands and arms and feet and brains that each bring a little something different to the table where we take the bread and the wine.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12 -

For the body does not consist of one member but of many.If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

I've always thought about that scripture in light of the people in my immediate community. Oh, she's good at teaching - but he's good at prayer - spiritual gifts on an a personal scale. And I do think it means that. But I think it's also about the Church, and how different churches and denominations and emphases reveal to us different aspects of God's character. Some churches prioritize the work and speaking of the Holy Spirit, and some the importance of social justice and caring for widows and orphans. Some churches do musical worship so beautifully, while some seek to feed us with deep, Greek-filled dives into Scripture each week. Some do all of the above. Some focus on digging in deep with small groups and community, while others bring large groups together to go through a liturgy of the ages. And I think it's a beautiful thing, the way all these different churches reflect the multi-faceted, beautiful, complicated person of God to us in so many different ways.


I don't know if Mr. Isbell's busted boat was a church. But mine is. And I know it's busted, but I know I need it. Every day.

Melanie R.Comment