Several months ago on a Friday, I prepared to board an early morning flight in San Jose heading home from a work trip. As luck would have it, I received notification for a free upgrade to first class. These occur on occasion, but not too frequently. I would imagine that first class is usually sold out or people with higher airline status than I receive an upgrade, but when it’s not, I get bumped up.
As I settled into my seat, I was greeted with a complimentary pre-flight water, as the rest of the plane is boarded. After all passengers boarded, some guy named, Brad, who had been chatting with the flight attendants, started shaking hands beginning with the first class passengers. His greeting was warm, and was occasionally accompanied with a pleasant handshake and a “Thanks for flying with us today.” . This continued past first class and into coach as Brad made his way to his seat. Clearly, Brad was an Alaska Airlines employee, but low enough on the totem pole to warrant a coach class seat. As he sat down, I realized that he ended up very close to where my seat used to be. Curiosity took over as I attempted to Google “Brad Alaska Airlines.” My search produced a Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Airlines, with a nice picture of the Brad that boarded our flight. For a minute, I concluded that CEO Brad may have given up his first class seat in order to upgrade one of his customers. My opinion of Brad was quite high as I realized this possibility. After speaking with a flight attendant, it turns out this wasn’t the case though, and Brad had always been assigned his coach class seat. My opinion of CEO Brad was even higher now.
A few things I learned from Brad:
- If anyone had a rightful claim to a first class seat, it was Brad. Not only did he not go for an upgrade, but he didn’t purchase a first class seat to begin with.
- Brad didn’t approach us with fancy titles or assumed authority. It wasn’t, “Hi, I’m CEO Mr. Brad Tilden, or the Honorable Mr. Tilden, or our Beloved Brad. It was just Brad.
- He was genuinely kind and appreciative. I get that his job is to be that way to his staff and customers, but I felt Brad was genuine in his kindness. Fake or pompous CEO Brad would have shown through, I suspect. With great power comes great responsibility. I like the idea of humble leaders that serve.
I think our society might have a skewed view of effective leadership, which is quite evident in today’s world. Do people really want a leader lording over them, making rules and decisions for them, claiming titles and accolades and superior knowledge, sitting in the chief seats looking down upon their people for adoration? I would suspect that deep down, people don’t want that. They want to be guided perhaps, or pointed in the right direction, but ultimately be left alone, and more importantly be allowed to make decisions for themselves. It’s unfortunate maybe that people have become too reliant upon leadership. I think this is one of the ways cults are formed.
God is probably the perfect leader, or one that we should look to for a more perfect study of leadership. I don’t believe that God is an interventionist. I would describe God more as a suggestionist. It seems as though he generally lets us do our own thing. We learn from the garden of Eden story that agency was ultimately preserved. He doesn’t sit around forcing us to do things that please him. I think he’s there as a guide, but ultimately allows us to make our own decisions and respects those decisions we make. Agency seems to always be preserved, which makes God a good leader. I suspect he’s less like CEO Mr. Brad Tilden, President of Alaska Airlines, and more like regular Brad than we think he is. From the scriptural and other accounts we have of God appearing to people, God forgives when he shows up. The accounts show that the people cower or are ashamed, so God forgives them. He tries to make you comfortable in his presence so you can have a conversation without focusing on the massive divide between God(s) and humans. It seems difficult to have an authentic relationship with someone who is unapproachable or critical or who we think is constantly looking down at us for our shortcomings. Even the angels have taken a page out of his playbook. “Fear not,” is a common first utterance we read in the scripture available to us.
Side bar, but not so far off the topic. Maybe it is the topic. This guy’s idea of God floors me. What’s up my dude?!? I love it!
I’ve taken some liberties here, but nothing outside of my belief system. The point is that God is trying to be like normal God and we approach him like CEO God, originator of death and destruction and famine and hardship. We look at him as sitting in first class God with his headphones on, not acknowledging all the people walking back to coach class, with limited elbow and leg room and no complimentary pre-flight water bottle. We don’t expect God to go around shaking hands with the people, saying, “Hi, I’m God. It’s really nice to know you,” on his way back to his seat among the people. We set him up as unknowable and unapproachable. “He’s God of both heaven and earth. Why would he bother with me?”
Lest I be accused of blasphemy by some who believe I should get back in the box of a correlated belief system, I do believe that God has earned all the name titles and accolades and is indeed the God of both heaven and earth, but I don’t think he wants that to stop us from being able to carry on a conversation with him while seated together in coach class. Sure, if anyone deserves the first class seat, it’s God, but God also descended to be with the people. He gives us life and is in us, which is to say He is right there beside us sharing a flight to wherever we want to go, and he’s giving us the armrest too. He will allow us to throw on our headphones and ignore him during the flight, but if we decide to take them off, I think he’s right there ready to have a conversation.
I’m not to the point where I fully understand “how” God communicates with me so it’s a little misleading to claim I’m having conversations with him. However, his words are becoming more clear to me and I do hear him speak, and suggest, and persuade when I decide to stop talking and start listening. The purpose of this post, I guess, is to put forth my idea of what I believe a significant part of God’s character is. And without understanding God’s character, how can you have faith?