In a sermon this last Sunday (2/15/2015) one of our pastors mentioned Cortés’ famous “burning of his ships” during his conquest of the Aztecs around 1519. For Cortés this was done to prevent a growing mutiny and is often used as an analogy for cutting off all forms of retreat, forcing ourselves to dedicate 100% to a chosen path. The idea of burning ships reminded me of another ship torching that occurred a few centuries later in 1804; the burning of the USS Philadelphia. I have written about the event previously, but here is the short version:
The Muslim Barbary States of North Africa and the U.S. were not on good terms. We sent the USS Philadelphia over there to kick some tail but ended up running aground causing the vessel and crew to be captured by the enemy. Lt. Stephen Decatur led a daring expedition, disguised as Maltese sailors, to free the American crew and, if possible, sail the Philadelphia back home. The plan mostly worked. Decatur and his men defeated the Tripolitan soldiers aboard the American ship and freed the crew, but the ship was in no condition to sail. In order to keep the frigate out of enemy hands, they decided to scuttle her by setting her ablaze. The fire and subsequent explosions (she was still stocked with gun powder) helped the men escape.
As it turns out, today (2/16/2015) is the anniversary for Decatur’s burning of the USS Philadelphia, so I thought I would use these moments in history to share some thoughts on how we can apply them to our own manful living.
As a side note, it turns out Cortés may not have actually burned the ships but scuttled them, or rather, sunk them. The goal was the same even if the method was different. I’ll continue to use the ideal of burning them since that is how the story is the most well-known.
Our “Ships” to Burn
When Cortés sabotaged his ships it was for the purpose of preventing retreat and solidifying in his men the mindset of victory as the only option. Decatur, on the other hand, burned his ship to prevent it from falling into enemy hands and having it later be used against him. However, the ultimate reasons are not all that different; both scenarios prevented future failure.
I doubt many men reading this blog will find themselves in the same position as Cortés and Decatur, yet there are likely some figurative ships we need to burn. Burning our “ships” doesn’t guarantee success, but it does prevent some of the easy routes off the path of manliness that we are inclined to take. Here are a few ships I see myself and other men inclined to board that could use a well placed Molotov.
The USS Divorce
There was a time when divorce was such a socially shaming thing that it kept a lot of people married. I like to think that wasn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes we just need a reason to get us through the hurdles. Now-a-days divorce is so common it’s very likely that people keep it as their “ticket out” of marriage should it become more difficult than they anticipate — but likely not more difficult than every married person told them it was going to be.
Sure, people say their vows, “till death do us part” and all that, but the commitment isn’t there like it should be. Fellas, if you commit to a woman before God and family, your very honor is on the line to hold to that commitment. Burn the USS Divorce and go all in for your marriage.
The USS Comfort
Here’s a scenario: A fat guy realizes he’s fat and has back problems. He sets a goal to lose weight, but why? So his back issues go away. He immediately sets himself up for future failure. As soon as he loses a few pounds (or sometimes several pounds) he wafts back into comfort and eventually gains the weight back.
The USS Comfort sails on many seas: food, time management, relationships, parenting, pornography etc.. We know, as men, that comfort is not our friend. I don’t mean we shouldn’t have time for relaxation, I am talking about the abdicating laziness that we see all around us and far too often in ourselves. Yet, we leave the ship in the port, sails hoisted. In practical terms, the cookies are still in the pantry. The snooze is still set on the alarm. It’s easier not to have “that” conversation with someone. It’s time to scuttle the USS Comfort and board the manly frigate, the USS Earned It! Aboard the USS Earned It, the seas are rough and hard, but the men are strong and capable. While they can’t tame the sea, they find joy in sailing through rough water because they find joy in being useful. And, on the days when the seas are calm, they enjoy it like few men can.
The USS Boyhood
On the USS Boyhood, you get to have a beard but you don’t have to grow up! How cool is that, bros!? It’s often that you see parents sailing with their adult children, making sure the life-rafts are always ready for an emergency escape should the vessel sail too near the squalls of adulthood and responsibilities. For the guys stuck in perpetual boyhood, there are a couple of things that keep them from moving on.
The Fear of Failure as a Man
The process of moving from a boy to a man is supposed to be done in increments. Fathers, uncles, grandfathers, even mothers and aunts, test and provide recognition of the “becoming of a man”. The first time you split a decent size block of wood. The first time you shot a squirrel. The first time you actually caught something fishing. Hammered a nail. Washed a car without being asked. Lifted the toilet seat and placed it back down and even cleaned up when you were done so it didn’t look like a lemonade stand filled with pubic hair exploded in the bathroom. You know, the little things . A lot (and I mean a lot) of guys never have those moments of affirmation. Now they are going into a world were men are not only expected but are sorely needed. They feel it, and they shrink.
The Selfish Fear of Losing Fun
Some guys just don’t want to give up the freedom and fun they have being selfish. Just when they have figured out life as a boy, they are supposed to move on to adulthood? What? So, they find other guys and girls with boyhood expectations and wrap themselves in that world avoiding anything that looks like a permanent commitment with inescapable responsibilities.
Fellas, there’s plenty of room aboard the USS Manhood. It sails the Legacy Sea with occasional stops at the islands of Pride, Confidence, and More Bacon.
Put to Death The Mutinous Excuses
When Cortés found out some of his soldiers were planning mutiny, he not only had the ships scuttled, but also had the two ringleaders hung and several men flogged. Decatur had to kill the enemy soldiers aboard the ship in order to free his men. For us, it is our excuses that need a-killin’.
Sometimes the excuses are way in the back of our minds, too far out of reach to know they are there until the moment comes when they are needed (or rather, wanted). Other times, they are in the forefront and we are just waiting for the right scenario to put them in place. It is as if we have made an agreement with ourselves, under the table. When (fill in the blank) happens, I have the right to (fill in the blank). For example, if I get really busy at work then it is OK to eat out even though I am on a diet. If my wife doesn’t change her attitude on thus and so, I am in the right to divorce her. If I feel personally offended, then the friendship is off.
Excuses are like our gangplank (the ramp people use to board a ship. Stay with me here!) They get us from the safety of the shore to our vessel of escape without getting wet. Rout them out, invalidate them, and throw them into the sea.
Burning our ships may take some time. We may not even know what our “ships” are unless we are looking for them. Also, there are ships we want to keep floating and in good condition, though they may provide some form of escape. We don’t always need to jump in feet first without a life-preserver. However, if you find yourself being pulled out to see by the same vessel time and time again, bring out the Zippo and Kerosene.