On a recent vacation in Stockholm, Sweden, last week my wife and I visited the citys major tourist destination, the Vasa Museum. Within its walls is housed a large wooden ship from the Thirty Years War of the 1600s. The whole thing. Massive and threatening, still.
We waited in line a long time and when we entered the building the first thing we noticed was the subdued lighting. It was almost dark. That was to protect the ancient ship, but it also added to its mystique and wonder. There in front of us was a Swedish fighting vessel, the largest in the history of their fleet a ship built with an extra canon deck to add to its ferocity, but a ship that never actually saw any combat.
On its maiden voyage, Aug.10, 1628, the Vasa set sail from its mooring in front of the royal palace, and moved slowly and gloriously out toward the open sea. Tragedy struck, however, with the first real gust of wind filling the ships sails. The top-heavy vessel was blown on its side, water poured through the canon ports, and the ship promptly sank in the 105 foot channel. Because they were still basically at port, most of the crew managed to survive but what an embarrassment, and scandal. There was a big investigation, of course. But when the paper trail led all the way back to the kings personal design modifications, the inquiry came to an abrupt stop.
The Vasa lay at the bottom of the channel for 333 years, buried but not forgotten. Finally, in 1961, modern technology allowed for the raising of the ship, intact, and so I was able to stand alongside it, almost close enough to touch and get a splinter.
Theres really no mystery as to the reason for the debacle long ago. The ship was built to intimidate the enemy and flatter the king. All the colors are washed away now, but originally there was brilliant, multi-colored art work rising high into the sky so as to be seen at great distance.
Quite simply: the ship was too tall. There was too much above the water line and not enough ballast below to support it. It was awesome to look at still quite impressive to me in the 21st century but it could not do what all good warships are meant to do, fight and win battles.
Youve seen people just like that, Im sure. They can almost strut while sitting down. Image is everything and they spend a great deal of their time seeing to appearances. Little if any attention is given, though, to what is below the waterline, their interior self.
Well, why bother? Who sees that? If the right degree is framed on the wall and the clothes are of a certain designer and the house has the proper address, other things dont matter. And it does take time to develop the soul. Better, maybe, to advance the career now and leave family, relationships and inner peace for a more convenient time.
But then the strong wind of political reversal blows in, or a sudden, temptation to sexual or financial trespass. It seems to the casual observer that a sudden, unexplainable collapse has occurred. But no it was inevitable. Not enough below to carry the extra weight of position and status above.Theres just more eyes to see the disaster, and more press coverage, too.
We were in Scandinavia on a long anticipated Baltic cruise. Our ship, the Star Princess, was the biggest, most impressive cruise ship I had ever seen. Beautiful and elegant for sure. But after visiting the Vasa Museum I started wondering about that part of our ship that I couldnt see. Hoping they spared no expense there, either.
Don Davidson is pastor of First Baptist Church of Alexandria.