Moby Dick. When was the last time you opened that iconic novel? In a recent article describing the most influential books for ten Christian leaders, Moby Dick was mentioned by many of them.
Eugene Petersen includes an analogy to one of Melville’s lines in his memoir, The Pastor. From Melville’s Moby Dick he quotes: “To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet from out of idleness, and not from out of toil.”
“The harpooners of this world.” Wow, what a line. I have imagined myself in many settings and vocations. But myself as harpooner? That would be brand new!
Petersen specifically has the vocation of pastor in mind. Pastors must see themselves as harpooners, rising to their greatest task from a position of focus, not from the busyness and distraction of the oarsmen. For those of you who know your 19th century whaling strategy (really?), harpooners do not row.
My fellow scholar and California historian relates a parallel to the Aleutian sea hunters who designated one warrior to throw the spear in the pursuit of sea otter.
Are leaders of every kind also harpooners? I would suggest so.
Our western busyness resists this analogy, yet it bears several implications for leaders. First, how distracted are you? Second, in your personal leadership what is your “harpooning” duty? Third, can you live with stillness amidst the chaos?
Leadership is not “doing it all.” We call that obsession.
Petersen muses, “Our culture publicizes the opposite: the big, the multitudinous, the noisy. Is it not, then, a strategic necessity that some of us deliberately ally ourselves with the quiet, poised harpooner, and not leap frenzied to the oars?’’
Many of us may resist that last sentence. I do. It challenges us deeply. We talk of the work of parenting, the work of ministry, the work of leading. Work, work, work.
Make no mistake. Even while waiting, the harpooner is in the hunt and on a very wild ride. Jarring slaps of a wooden boat against high seas; soaked in chilling wind-tossed sea spray, with a 40 ton ocean creature just yards away! It makes me nervous picturing this harpooner. It haunts me.
Yet, maybe there is something here for us. Staying still and focused is a work in itself.
Lord, help us to hear your voice in the noise of it all. Give us focus and calm to lead your way.
Dennis Nichols, Lead Faculty, Master of Arts in Leadership