The Ship of America: A Parable

Complimentary Story
Editor, Wisconsin Christian News:

June 2024

   Once upon a time a group of young, ambitious entrepreneurs bought a large ship, wrote a ship constitution, hired their own captain, and set sail to make their fortunes, serving as deck hands on their own ship. While owner-operated small boats were common, as were the occasional pirate ship, back in the day, large ships needed beefy captains and tough officers to rule large crews of unruly deckhands. Everyone knew that it was ridiculous, even immoral, to expect deckhands to manage a ship. That was the captain’s job. Deckhands would just argue amongst themselves until the ship ended up on the rocks.

   Everybody sat back to wait for the shipwreck.  They waited. And they waited some more.  But a strange thing happened — or didn’t happen. The ship sailed peacefully from one success to the next. Captains came and went peacefully while the owner-operated ship became the most successful ship on the seven seas — so successful that more owner-operated ships joined them.  This privately owned fleet brought prosperity and peace wherever they sailed.

   The owner deckhands of the flagship soon became so rich that they ordered the captain to hire a crew to do the work, leaving them plenty of time to enjoy the cruise: to play pickle ball, to drive golf balls off the aft deck, to gamble in the casino, and to enjoy long happy hours. And it was all good.

   But soon they noticed that the ship frequently lost power and often drifted toward the rocks. It seemed to be cruising aimlessly.  The captain and crew were eating more and more of their supplies.  The paint was beginning to peel.

   When they spoke to the captain about the sorry state of their ship, he pointed out that he was captain, they were passengers, and that they should mind their own business.  He added that mutineers were subject to keelhauling and being hanged from the yardarm. Then he ordered them off HIS bridge.  

   They didn’t know what keelhauling or yardarms were, but they knew that the ship was THEIRS, not HIS. They adjourned to the bar to discuss their options. The extremists advocated throwing the captain and his crew overboard while the moderates argued that since they had forgotten how to run a ship, they had no choice but to obey the captain and hope for the best. Soon, furious arguments broke out featuring harsh words like “lily livered lefty weasel” and “red-necked illiterate wingnut.” They began to loath one another even more than they hated the captain and his crew who was stealing their ship.

   When the extremists stormed back to the bridge to confront the captain, armed with the original ship constitution that declared them to be OWNERS, certainly NOT passengers, the captain tore up their constitution, calling them “deplorable illiterate dingbats” who didn’t even know that their ship constitution was ALIVE, not dead. It was a living document, and his grown-up version declared that THE CAPTAIN was the true owner.  They were passengers, not even crew.  He then pronounced them insurrectionist mutineers and ordered his loyal crew to lock them down in the hold.

   The moderate owners, muttering, “We told you so,” retreated to the casino to hope that their luck would improve. Suddenly, their play was interrupted by a loud “NOW HEAR THIS!” followed by the captain’s amplified voice, booming throughout the ship, ordering all passengers to report to their lifeboat stations. 

   Without even apologizing for the inconvenience of having no lifeboats, he continued.  As the ship had encountered a serious EMERGENCY, brought on by depleted supplies and toxic carbon emissions, all passengers must immediately ABANDON SHIP to enable the valiant captain and crew to fight for the life of a sustainable, carbon-neutral ship.

   They froze as the voice continued. The first to be jettisoned would be the extremists, now locked in the hold, whose mutinous conspiratorial attitudes threatened the very survival of captain and crew, not to mention the ship. The last group to go overboard would be moderate passengers.  They breathed easier.  It could be worse. They could be first.

   They broke into cheers when they heard the final announcement.  Moderate passengers who volunteered for the unpleasant but necessary job of assisting the extremists over the side would be allowed to join the crew — at half rations, of course.  They rushed to volunteer, thanking the captain for his generosity. 

   Meanwhile, the extremist owners, buffing up on prison push-ups in the hold, waited for their opportunity.

-Art DeJong,
Sheboygan, WV

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