Why The Ships of Tarshish Isn't Just a Sweet Band Name

I get monkey mind during the Scripture reading on Sunday mornings, and phrases like "the glory of Lebanon shall come to you" are why.

It comes from Isaiah 60. I like the part where violence is no longer heard in the land, or where the forsaken misfits are made majestic. I don't mark my Bible up around the rams of Nebaioth doing ministry - other than doodling a ram in a deep V-neck with one paw outstretched on my shoulder - and I'm not sure why to get excited about sucking the milk from nations.

In that same key, Isaiah says the glory of Lebanon will come to God's future city, specifically and its lumber, along with the ships of Tarshish.

Andy Crouch explains why this chapter isn't just source material for garage bands in search of a name:

"... the glory of a nation is simply its greatest and most distinctive cultural achievement-- the camels of desert merchants, the carefully cultivated timber of Lebanon, the large and sturdy ships of Tarshish. It is precisely these very non-Israelite, non-Christian cultural goods that will be the furniture of [God's future city]." (Culture-Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, p. 168)

I didn't always grow up in the evangelical tradition, but when I did, it seemed like every activity, job, or hobby was meaningful only insofar as it made a way for me to tell you about Jesus.

You're in a softball league so you can tell people about how Jesus ran away with the victory on Easter. You do 8 - 4 at Wells Fargo looking for ripe moments to tell people about how Jesus paid off your debt and made a righteousness transfer into your account. You serve tables all bright-eyed and giggly, peering around for people to ask where you get that joy from.

I have often thought this way, and it isn't bad. Just incomplete. And suggestive, maybe, that the only reason Christians are on earth is to convince people to escape it with them before it's too late. And, if I can just lay my cards right out, lacking creativity and imagination.

Which is exactly why "the ships of Tarshish" and "timber of Lebanon" matter. They are ancient examples of excellent artisanry, of what human beings are capable of creating together. It's an invitation to see that all of our activities could actually carry over into the coming world that God is actually making through Jesus, if only we do them with uncompromising excellence & sincere delight.

Asking exactly how our work will carry over exaggerates our ability to understand what we've never known, like expecting a child in the womb to grasp a world of mountains and minds, smiles and shimmering trees.

Don't ask me how exactly it would carry over. I don't know how the 27-minute experience the server has with a table who acts as if he's invisible could ever find its way into the new creation. But I do know that it could somehow, and that shapes our work & play entirely.

It means that the new sound the softball player tries to make as he drives bat to ball might just be heard again someday. As I plunge into writing as a craft, plodding through thousands of blah sentences, it means any random morning I might just pen a few paragraphs that will be read aloud to a resurrected audience. I don't have to sacrifice a commitment to beauty & excellence in my craft just to include a few abstract truths about sin & redemption at the end.

It means all our "ordinary" activities - smiling at neighbors we've never met and attempting empathy with ones we have; putting fingers to keyboard and paintbrush to canvas; befriending the lonely and forgiving the archnemesis (again); the gardens we plant in the morning, the papers we write in the afternoon, the feet we massage in the evening, and the fledgling love that animates it all: it is not just waiting to be thrown away.

After all,

"You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that's about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that's shortly going to be thrown on the fire... You are-- strange as it might seem, almost hard to believe as the resurrection itself-- accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God's new world. This is the logic of the mission of God."

(N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope)


#beauty #ordinarylife