The Colgate Scene
March 2002

Barque of Saviors cover
Barque of Saviors: Eagle's Passage from the Nazi Navy to the U.S. Coast Guard
by Russell Drumm '69, Houghton Mifflin, 2001

Those whose hearts have leapt at seeing the U.S. Coast Guard training ship Eagle in full sail -- or even at quayside -- will envy Russell Drumm. The East Hampton Star senior writer and editor boarded Eagle in its home port of New London, Conn. (the site of the Coast Guard Academy) and sailed with its crew to Panama, a 17-day trip. Barque of Saviors is at the same time a recounting of that journey, a history of the ship, a bouquet to the sometimes underappreciated Coast Guard and a portrait of a Guardsman who is almost as attached to the ship as are its masts.

Eagle was built in Germany a few years before World War II and christened the Horst Wessell for a man the Nazis considered a martyr. Adolf Hitler was present at the christening, with Rudolf Hess as master of ceremonies. For the Germans, too, the ship was a training vessel for future officers -- in this case, for those who would serve in U-boats. Although Hitler ordered that the navy be scuttled if a German victory was hopeless, Horst Wessell's captain took her to port, where she was taken over by the Americans. She has carried the insignia -- and the pride -- of the Coast Guard ever since.

Drumm lauds the Coast Guard throughout the book and offers a thorough description if its service, from search-and-rescue operations to interdicting illegal immigrants to seizing astonishingly large amounts of drugs headed for the United States to, yes, policing the activities of pleasure boaters (which, Drumm says, is the sum total of what many people think the guard does). He could have no better exemplar of the guard's dedication and quality than Boatswain's Mate First Class Karl Dillman, whose story is threaded throughout the book. Dillman is in charge of the foremast crew but seems to know everything about Eagle and to be its gravitational center. He's the kind of teacher you hope your daughter or son will encounter in college, the kind of serviceman you want protecting your shores, the kind of employee you pray to find.

Perhaps the book's most vivid pages, a section of a chapter titled "The Attitude," are not about Eagle at all. They recalls Drumm's chance opportunity to join the crew of a small guard boat called to the site of the TWA Flight 800 crash off Long Island, N.Y. in 1996. The boat puttered among the wreckage like a reaper, accepting bodies picked up by fishermen and larger Coast Guard ships and delivering them to shore.

"A man floats in a standing position in a kind of dance," Drumm writes. "His hair, waving on the surface, is filled with thousands of multicolored sequins, a cargo of Paris-bound party glitter. . . . The condition of the body tells us there is no possibility of survivors. God is not present, so there is no ceremony."

The Barque of Saviors takes its readers on a journey of discovery. In the end, what we find is another reassurance that everyday heroes are among us.

Sensing God: Reading Scripture with All Our Senses
by Roger Ferlo '73, Cowley Publications, 2002

Ferlo, rector of New York City's Church of St. Luke in the Fields, believes that the Christian Bible ought to be a feast for all of our senses. After all, he writes in this engaging small book, the gospels were written to be read aloud by evangelists to non-Christians, not to be studied quietly in lonely rooms. ("The Gospel should not be written but screamed," said Martin Luther.)

Members of early Christian congregations "lived in a deeply sensuous world, one in which the presence of God was experienced by means of all the senses working together -- the taste of bread and wine, the smell of incense, the touch of the laying on of hands in prayer," Ferlo notes.

He describes Jesus's ministry in similar terms. He healed a deaf man by sticking his finger into the man's ear and a blind man by rubbing spit in his eyes. He allowed himself to be anointed with strong-smelling oils. His last meal with his disciples, likely a Passover Seder, featured bread and wine that he likened to his body and blood. "God enfleshed was God possessed of every human sense," Ferlo says.

Ferlo's theses are well presented and intimate, thought-provoking as the best sermon. While drawing us closer to the milieu of Jesus, he gently shows how far we have come from that earthy, full-bodied understanding of our beliefs.

"Christians of all traditions have often tended to think about scripture as a kind of information manual," he writes. "We tend to read scripture for the facts (to find out what actually happened) and for the rules (to find out what exactly we are supposed to do about what happened). But to read scripture for information only is to risk missing the sense of it all -- sense not only as cognitive meaning but also as meaning felt and touched."

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