For all that is our life! by Rev. Andrew Clive Millard
We had a lovely trip to England during the first half of October. We celebrated my father’s seventy-fifth birthday with a special dinner at the inn where my sister was married ten years ago. Olivia spent more time with her grandparents and her aunt and uncle, and she also met her cousin, who is older only by a few days. And we even managed to squeeze in a quick side-trip to Paris, thanks to the “Chunnel”, which was the first time either Allison or I had been there. It was a very full two weeks that went by very quickly, but Olivia took it all in stride, coming home with a bigger vocabulary and a more clearly individualized personality, too. She’s definitely not a baby any more!
Other than a couple of pointless difficulties before we even boarded the plane, our flight home was uneventful. We were actually set to arrive at Dulles early, thanks to a helpful tailwind, but just as the wheels were touching down, we accelerated, rather than decelerating, and took off again. All conversation in the cabin ceased and as we rose, much more quickly and much more steeply than a normal take-off, Allison and I clutched each other’s hands. Olivia was in my lap, wearing a special belt that attached to mine, and she seemed unfazed, but when the plane reached the top of its climb and the engines cut back once, and then again, and we started falling, well, the three of us held on to one another even more tightly.
Thankfully, it took only a couple of seconds for the plane to level out. The feeling that we were on a roller-coaster went away and we started to breathe again. The cabin remained silent, though, all of us desperate to know what was happening. After a few minutes — which, of course, seemed much longer — the pilot’s voice came through the loudspeakers, first acknowledging that, yes, we’d taken off again rather than completing the landing. He went on to explain, in a calm and reassuring voice that we all very much appreciated, that we’d started to run into the vortex wake of another aircraft that had just been on the runway, and so he’d made the call to abort the landing and get away from the turbulence. He didn’t say that such wakes have previously caused planes caught in them to crash, but that sort of elaboration was unnecessary at that moment! Instead, he simply noted that we’d entered the airport’s stacking pattern and would be landing in another fifteen minutes.
This was the first time I’d had an experience like this, more frightening than either in-flight turbulence or landing in a blizzard, something I endured at Cleveland Airport twice in the space of a month some years ago. Perhaps more than the fear, though, I found myself grateful that I was with the people I love the most. And afterward, I was grateful that we had a skilled and experienced pilot who recognized what was happening and was able to make an instant decision to keep us safe.
There are many professions where we expect somebody to have the right aptitude and training, particularly if we’ve given ourselves into their care. And there are good reasons why people entering those professions — from medicine to ministry — are usually required to obtain certification of their competency, in addition to other academic and practical qualifications. Incompetence in such fields does not merely mean that a few minor responsibilities go unaddressed or that some non-essential activities don’t go well; rather, incompetence means that people get hurt and lives are damaged.
Unfortunately, our culture looks with some suspicion on experts, even to the point of looking down on ordinary education. Aside from sports, mediocrity is celebrated more than expertise, and ignorant foolishness is more of a badge of honor than wisdom and understanding, particularly amongst many of those whom “we the people” have chosen to govern on our behalf. And yet none of us want a surgeon who doesn’t know one end of a scalpel from another, or a pilot who doesn’t know how to handle a plane in a questionable landing.
When it comes to making a congregation, of course, a willing attitude usually matters more than formal expertise. Nonetheless, everybody brings a unique mix of aptitude and training and skills and experiences. And seeing everything a congregation does as faith development, there is a place for everyone to share whatever they wish of themselves, to have their knowledge and abilities appreciated and enhanced. I’ve found that it’s not unusual to hear that being an RE teacher has helped someone to be a better religious educator or that being a part of our music program has helped someone to be a better musician. There’s nothing like working with others in a setting of mutual respect and loving encouragement to help us realize that we want to be better! And there are always opportunities: even if you’ve never seen yourself as leadership material, being on a Hospitality Team can be the first rung on the ladder of leadership development.
We Unitarian Universalists may not always be as countercultural as we’d like to think we are, but we can be a place where we thank one another for the gifts each of us brings and where we encourage one another on our continued journeys of self-discovery and personal growth. And when we do: trust me, great things happen!