A New Territory

In just a few weeks, we’ll be celebrating Easter at the Dunk. A Providence Civic Center was proposed in 1958.  14 years later, in 1972, it was constructed, and in that year it hosted concerts by Pink Floyd and Frank Sinatra. The 14,000-seat Dunkin Donuts Center offers 31,000 square feet of arena space, a ceiling height of 86 feet, a 25,000-square-foot concourse, a 9,000-square-foot lobby and, 20 luxury suites.  

…It is a whale of a building.

166 weeks ago, 78 people attended the first New Life New Bedford Sunday morning service. As part of that service, I remember the mention of New Bedford’s most famous statue,  the “Whaleman’s Memorial.” That statue depicts a bronze man with a harpoon, leaning outwards from a whaleboat riding a bronze wave. The scene vaults into life from a flat granite slab inscribed with a quote from Herman Melville: “A dead whale or a stove boat.”

When a small whaleboat leaves the side of a larger whaling ship, it launches onto the greatest wilderness on Earth: the ocean. As the expansive west was to the first pioneers, the ocean is a vast unexplored prairie upon which every wave is a hillside. Whereas pioneers on the prairie ride over endless hills of grass, the sea’s waves pass under the boat. As each mammoth wave slides underneath their little boat, the whalers won’t see great herds of buffalo but rather, at last, the sweeping effort of arms and oars will reveal the leviathan, the whale. On that Sunday morning, we were just like pioneers and whalers. We shared their raw electrified energy as we launched a church into the great unknown.  “A dead whale or a stove boat…” What a perfect way to convey the collective sense of our New Life team: “We are all in!”

It’s not the first time God has asked a group of ordinary people to be “all in.” When the Lord directed Moses to, “Send out men to explore the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to the Israelites” Moses sent 12 men into the promised land. Those 12 men were all in. You can’t scout a mysterious and potentially deadly land without being so! Just like the whalers of old, leaving the safety of their ship, the 12 scouts left security and headed into the unknown.

But imagine if the whaling crew had seen a whale, maybe even harpooned it and in fear abandoned the chase. Imagine their distress as each oar splashes furiously against the waves. Their panicked gallop back to the larger ship means they’ve lost their purpose: “a dead whale or a stove boat.” When the 12 scouts returned with their reports of a magnificent and glorious but also unnerving and menacing land, 10 of them lost their purpose. They no longer trusted God. Ten of them tried to convince the nation of Israel to go back to Egypt and return to slavery. Rationalized fear turned their abundant faith into unbelief. Their faith-turned-to-fear transformed an 11-day walk into a 40-year journey. Such is the consequence when “all in” turns to “maybe later” or “I’d rather not.”

…The Dunk is a whale of a building.

The Dunk may have been imagined in 1958 and built in 1972.  Its massive architecture may have hosted Elvis and Springsteen, Cher and Aerosmith.  But this Easter, as all four campuses of New Life embark on a journey to meet as one family, the Dunkin Donuts Center is hosting the King of Kings, the Rock of Salvation, the Creator of the Universe. Perhaps the Dunk isn’t nearly big enough!

We, the fearless, cultural descendants of New Bedford’s whalers know our commission; it’s as clear, challenging and uncompromising as “a dead whale or a stove boat.”

The only question left is: are you all in? See you at the Dunk!