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8 November 2018 | St Albans, UK [Victor Hulbert]

It was one of those surreal moments – half asleep on an early morning flight from Oslo to London.  The plane had taken off and was heading towards cruising altitude as a member of the cabin crew announced a warm welcome onboard this flight from Oslo to Montenegro!

My eyes shot open – but I tried not to panic as the sign at the boarding gate had clearly stated we were heading to the UK. [Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash]

Why the mistake?  Perhaps she was new at the job, perhaps overtired from a long shift the day before.  I suspect she was a novice as several more mistakes followed the first, including an announcement that the captain would be switching on the seatbelt signs in preparation for landing in about 20 minutes – immediately after the captain informed us that we would be landing in 15 minutes time.  Her final ‘thank you for flying with us’ announcement broke off mid-sentence, then a male voice came on to provide the final instructions.

Neither her, nor her male stand-in were waiting by the door to say good-bye as we left the aircraft.  I suspect she was whisked off quickly by supportive cabin crew, taking her away from further potential embarrassment.

It is difficult to know the best way to react in such a situation – but our response may determine future outcomes.  Scorn?  Laughter? A dismal comment on the state of modern-day flight attendants? 

Where am I heading thumb[Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash]How will that affect her?  What will it do to me?  Should I also reflect on my previous flight when an extremely efficient and pleasant hostess helped everyone find overhead locker space on a jam-packed flight, and whose pleasant spirit easily resolved a problem near me when two passengers both believed they had the right to the same seat!

Our attitude can make a massive difference.

We normally look at Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector in terms of understanding Righteousness by Faith. [Luke 18:9-14]  The Pharisee’s self-righteousness not only lost him the day, but also lost him salvation.  The tax-collector, fully knowing his lack of self-worth, hid in a distant corner, not even lifting up his eyes to heaven, calling out, “O God, be merciful to me, the sinner that I am!” [Luke 18:13 ISV]

How different that story could have been if the Pharisee had squatted down beside the Tax-collector, listened to his story, and had perhaps shared some of his own experience and insecurities.  Just imagine: the two opposite ends of the social and religious strata, listening to each other and praying together.  Imagine the impact on others in the courtyard, watching and seeing practical godliness in action.

John bell panoJohn Bell [photo credit: Asun Olivan]I have a great respect for John Bell, a preacher, broadcaster and hymn writer. He is also part of the Iona Community, a religious group dedicated to bridge-building, peace-making and social justice.  During the recent Beach Lecture at Newbold College of Higher Education, he confessed that he did not like country music.  He wasn’t against it.  It just did not touch him.

About 20 minutes further on into his excellent lecture on music in worship, bridge-builder or barrier, he shared the experience of being called into a large church to help reduce tensions between three different worship groups that all worshipped at different times, in the same building.  Sunday morning saw a very traditional service with a robed choir.  Sunday afternoon the style turned to Country and Western, while in the evening the service was contemporary, accompanied by electric guitars and drums.  Each group got satisfaction from knowing that they were superior to the other two.

Bell’s solution was to put them all in the same room together.  No structure for the first half hour – just some light refreshments.  From that he led them into discussion groups – the one criteria being that you had to sit in a group with people from the other two services.

Over a period of a couple of hours, the three disparate groups started to listen to each other – and instead of criticising the others’ musical style, came to appreciate beauty in ‘the other’.  Checking back several months later he discovered that now there was some cross-over between the services.  The contemporary band sometimes accompanied the robed choir in a more modern piece.  Members of the choir supported the two other services.  Instead of disparaging, they changed to encouraging.  The church was transformed.

Listening and understanding ‘the other’ can make the difference. 

Croatia crisis trainingCommunication training at the Croatian Conference office. [Photo: Victor Hulbert]Those lessons are being reinforced for me as I travel, teach, and learn across the 22 very different countries that make up the Trans-European Division.  Teach a seminar in Croatia and the discussion groups will be loud, active and intense.  It will be a job to stop the talking.  Run the same seminar in Norway, and following quiet and dignified discussion, you will probably finish 30 minutes early.  Different styles that ultimately achieve the same goal.  This past Sabbath I attended a church where everything started half an hour late.  Two weeks earlier I was at a day of fellowship where the sanctuary was half-full almost an hour before the start of Sabbath School.  Their music was also very different.  But I learnt, listened and worshiped, by accepting both.

As a result, I aim to become slow to judge.  What is the reason behind someone’s action?  When two people are in dispute, what can I do to help each one to actively hear the other?  Even perhaps, as on the Oslo to London flight, to put myself in the shoes of the other, showing new empathy and support.

Ultimately, following the lyrics of one of my favourite hymns, I need more of the ‘Not I but Christ’ syndrome. 

Not I, but Christ, be honoured, loved, exalted;
Not I, but Christ, be seen, be known, be heard;
Not I, but Christ, in every look and action,
Not I, but Christ, in every thought and word.


tedNEWS Staff: Victor Hulbert, editor; Sajitha Forde-Ralph, associate editor
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