No Middle Ground

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
Default image

"Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love each other, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us."

1 John 4:11-12

In the summer of 1985 during college, I took a job as a fisherman in Alaska. The hours were long, the work was hard, and the skipper was a nightmare—your typical lighthearted summer job. I was the deck boss, which at first I thought meant the skipper trusted and liked me. But I quickly realized it meant that I was to bear the full brunt of his wrath when anything on board went wrong. On board fishing boats in Alaska, things go wrong all the time.

Needless to say, that summer marked my transition from boyhood to manhood, for which I was woefully unprepared. The skipper didn’t like me, that was clear, and a few times I wondered if I’d actually make it out alive. When your boss is two-fisting a fifth of whiskey and a 30/06 rifle, and you’re ten miles out at sea, things get interesting. A 40-foot purse seiner has only so many places you can go to get away.

Enter Mark Sipowicz, a fellow deckhand and a dead ringer for Clarence, the angel that saved George Bailey’s life in the Frank Capra Christmas classic. That’s exactly what Mark did. I wasn’t contemplating suicide, but something akin to it—I was considering quitting. I didn’t need this treatment from a psychopathic malcontent with a gun, regardless of the monetary reward at the end, and the reward was substantial. But the cost of quitting midseason was enormous, too, for me and the boat. My quitting could very well have ruptured any attempt the boat might have had at a decent season. The stakes were high.

On a beautiful summer night mid-season, Mark and I were atop the pilot house on the open sea under a million stars, and I was pouring out to him my concerns, fears, deep ambivalence about both staying on the boat and the alternative. Mark listened patiently, asked me some questions, and then he gave me the most salient piece of advice I have ever received. He said there are only two legitimate ways to approach a problem: deal with it or rise above it. No middle ground. I hadn’t done either—hadn’t approached the skipper with my concerns, nor had I risen above the situation. I had brooded for two straight months and kept it all inside. But when Mark said this, I knew instantly what I was to do. To approach the skipper to talk with him about my concerns—would be sheer folly. My only choice was to rise above the lunacy and enjoy my remaining time. And so I did. My circumstances didn’t change, but I had, and that made the difference.

When our Lord was confronted with a problem, He always dealt with it or rose above it. When accosted by the Pharisees, He looked them straight in the eye and spoke the Truth. When confronted by his accusers at his trial, He rose above the finger-pointing and, for the sake of the world, was silent.

Got a problem? Deal with it or rise above it. No middle ground.