catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 20 :: 2007.11.02 — 2007.11.16


Aargh, are ye me matey?

Perhaps it’s a result of being born on International Talk Like a Pirate Day (though the holiday wasn’t established until 1995), but I always seem to find myself on the side of the pirates wherever I go.  Some explanation needed?  Probably.

I first named my identity as a pirate when a friend of ours was training me and my husband to take over her position at one of the largest evangelical liberal arts education institutions in the world.  In the course of orienting us to the institutional community, she gave us some insight into where we might find some pirate allies. 

Pirates are folks who tend to be pretty anti-establishment, even as many of them continue to work within and give power to the establishment.  They display varying degrees of despair and hope, but always some measure of both.  They are radicals who occasionally even do the things they dream about in secret, raising their collective voices against unjust systems. They blend into society until someone raises the flag of ire.  They imagine that they see “things as they really are”—and often, I think, they imagine correctly.

I feel a little sheepish talking about pirates.  For one thing, I feel like I’m revealing a secret; pirates tend to huddle in small groups, talk in hushed tones and be very skilled at appearing to conform to the status quo.  For another, defining such a term publicly tends to draw lines—you’re either a pirate or you’re not.  Now, I do believe that piracy, like many other identifiers, is a spectrum rather than a black-and-white category, but inevitably, some folks will ‘get’ pirates and some won’t.  So here’s a handy quiz, to determine your pirate quotient.  Take out a paper and pencil to keep track of your answers:

  • Does your inner voice often say that you complain too much?
  • Do you daydream about how you might organize some heroic action that would dramatically shift the opinions of the powerful?
  • Do you regularly use the terms the man, The Matrix or the system?
  • Do you feel like an oddball in your immediate or extended family?
  • Have you ever written a letter to the editor?
  • Do you consider being called idealistic a compliment?
  • Do you regularly feel like you’re fighting a losing battle and nothing’s ever going to change?
  • In a competition in which you have no stake, do you automatically root for the underdog?
  • Do you ever feel completely exhausted and threaten to move to the set of Northern Exposure?
  • Do you frequently remind yourself that you’re part of the problem?

Okay, tally up your ‘yesses’, multiply by seven and divide by three.  Anything over eighteen and you can embroider your score on your eye patch, because you’re certifiable.  And believe me—being a pirate is definitely not in this season.  Or last season.  Or any season.

And yet, regardless of piracy’s popularity, I would argue that all Christians ought to be pirates to some degree.  While displaying a radical love for the world—he died in the course of its redemption, remember—Jesus turned the tables, told the rich to divest themselves of wealth, commanded spirits (who listened!), spoke healing words to social outcasts and yet refused to speak when it could have saved his life.  One might come to think: if you call yourself a follower of this Jesus and there’s not something just a little bit odd about you, perhaps something needs to change.  But if your most “normal” family member thinks you’re anywhere from charmingly quirky to severely cracked, while you mostly just think he or she is dangerously ordinary, chances are you’re on the right boat.

But let’s look at it from the other side again.  It’s easy to make an idol out of always being against the establishment.  There’s something energizing in being part of the secret society that occupies the dangerous waters on the margins of civilization. It gives us a sense of self-importance to believe the whole world’s going to hell and we’re the only ones who see it. 

Indeed, much of what we see is worthless—gold-coated plastic—but all mixed in with it is true treasure and the Master of it all lets us see it, touch it, taste it, smell it, feel it, hear it every day…maybe even every moment, if we’re ready to receive it.  But let us not become so enamored with the glimmer of real gold that we can’t see how people are suffering under the weight of the bad stuff.

So, pirates, unite!  For God’s sake, convert all of your law-abiding neighbors to your scurvy ways—and even if they won’t surrender, give them a part of the stash anyway.  There’s so much more than enough to go around.  It’s right there on your tattered map, so read closely.  And seek the company of others.  And believe.

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