January 16, 2009
Miracle on the Hudson
The remarkable story of Flight 1549 carries lessons for church leaders.
by Gordon MacDonald
This morning I took a few minutes to watch video of the remarkable rescue effort in the Hudson River yesterday. For a long, long time, this will remain in the minds of people as a highpoint in the American experience. It appears to have brought out the best in just about everybody. And it provides a dramatic contrast to those who, in recent months, have ripped off people for billions of dollars and cared only for themselves.
These themes come to mind from the so-called "Miracle on the Hudson River."
The way of an airline pilot (age 57) who has spent his professional life becoming an expert in safety. He is a glider pilot, a military pilot, and an airline pilot. It looks like there could hardly have been a better person at the controls. In the impenetrable mysteries of a providential God, does He nudge a man prepared like this into the pilot's seat for that flight? Just wondering.
Story-tellers will celebrate his quick decision-making. He had less than a minute or two to decide whether to try to land at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey or land on the river. No small decision. Made in seconds.
Some will highlight his courage in sticking with the plane, walking the aisles twice to make sure everyone was evacuated. Would you and I have done the same?
Then there's the co-pilot who, in the process of exiting the plane, took off his shirt and gave it to man who, apparently had taken off his coat, to give to a woman who had none. There's a Christian thought here.
And what of the flight attendants who prepared the passengers for the hard landing on the river and then directed the exiting from the plane. I wonder if any of the faculty at the training school for flight attendants are smiling in great satisfaction today.
Outside, on the river, were ferryboat captains, police boats, and Coast Guard boats who, within minutes, converged upon the plane and coordinated their efforts to rescue every passenger - from age 85 to age 9 months. Videos show divers jumping into the water from helicopters, boats positioning themselves to prevent the plane from sinking, boat-men slipping into the water to help hypo-thermic passengers into rescue craft.
At about the same time this was all going on, I was sitting in a meeting to discuss how we might teach DMin students to "collaborate" in learning issues and problem-solving. Collaboration is a word which describes how people work together like a team and accomplish what no one person could do by him- or herself.
Ironically, what we were talking about in the conference room - collaboration - was happening in the Hudson River during that very hour.
There are all sorts of lessons we can all take away from this "Miracle on the Hudson."
In the actions of the pilot we see what is possible when a person is trained and disciplined in advance to face the unexpected hour. Lives were saved because a person was prepared. Know any biblical examples that teach the same lesson? Anyone see the value of what happens on a campus like ours?
In the teamwork of all the rescuers (crew, boatsmen, et al) we are seeing a hint of the remarkable beauty in God's original design of human beings. We were made to work together in such a way. "It is not good for man to live alone?" "This is bone of my bone?" "The two were naked and unashamed."
God never intended for us to be lone rangers. It appears to have been his primary intention that we work in concert in much the same way that we see the Trinity doing its work together. When you see people reflecting this great capacity to collaborate - whether it's an athletic team, an orchestra, a seminary staff and faculty - you get a wonderful feeling in your soul. This is how it was meant to be.
One might see in the dramatic video on the Hudson the picture of redemption and its great work. "Rescue the perishing, care for the dying?" the old song goes. You get a picture of what that looks like when you see the assorted rescue efforts that surrounded that downed plane.
Oh, then there's this. One or two ducks (geese, whatever they were) apparently brought down a multi-multi million dollar airplane. Ducks - like the birds we see everyday on our campus! Just little birds with great destructive power. What's the message here when you liken those destructive ducks who refused to get out of the way to the tiny riffs of conflict, self-centeredness and envy (to name a few) that clog our spiritual engines? Just asking.
Finally, there is one back story of a passenger who, while evacuating the plane, insisted that she be able to take her carry-on luggage with her. That in itself offers some preacher a fun sermon illustration. Imagine being so tied to "stuff" that one is willing to risk the rescue of scores of others. In the midst of beauty, there is also a hint of self-centeredness.
It's a great story, this "Miracle on the Hudson." It speaks of our reverence for life, courage, discipline, team work. I hope we might reflect it in the church.