April 20, 2018

Paying Attention Is On the Nose

Anyone spot the problem in this picture?

Screen Shot 2018-04-20 at 11.03.49 am

Got it yet?

Yep, after hundreds of flights, and an equal number of safety instruction demonstrations before the flight takes off, you know that you are supposed to put the oxygen mask around your mouth and nose.

You did know that right?  These passengers on the unfortunate Southwestern Airlines flight this past week in which a window blew out and a woman was killed, must be all first time flyers right?

No. Paying attention is on the nose.

In a report out today, and as this photo shows, passengers clearly didn’t remember, or thought they would remember, the most vital piece of information that they are told when they board.

You know that point when you board and you’re sorting out your iPad or your Kindle, or sending that last text?  That point, when you’re being called to pay attention to stuff that might save your life?

Newspaper reports quote the experience of passenger Marty Martinez (left in the photo above):

“That 30-second demo of how to put the mask on properly is such an insignificant portion of most of our lives,” said Mr. Martinez, who used the moments after the window burst to open his laptop and purchase a Wi-Fi connection to message his family, before putting his mask over just his mouth.

“Having to use the oxygen mask for the first time amid all that chaos and the turbulence and fact that there was huge hole out the side of the window made it very difficult,” he said.

The report goes on to say this:

Airlines have tried different ways to get passengers to listen to preflight announcements. Celebrities and exotic locations have become common features of the videos and demonstrations airlines use to convey mandatory safety instructions for seat belts, oxygen masks and emergency exits… But after years of few major airborne accidents in the U.S., this week’s incident puts pressure on them to better convey that information to passengers anticipating an uneventful flight.

In other words we prove that, despite our casualness when the flight is on the ground, despite our “Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know that!” before turning to look at the dinner menu, we don’t have what we call “unconscious competence” when it comes to such a vital, life saving practice.

Unconscious competence is that reflexive response we get when we are so versed in a truth that our actions follows almost without thinking.

I say “almost”, but really it’s the habit of long-term subterranean thinking that has shaped and formed us.  Or as James Smith would say “a liturgical practice that trumps other liturgical practices”.

Like the gospel.  The gospel message is to become so habitual in word and practice in our lives that we take on unconscious incompetence when the chaos and turbulence hits.

Peter says to his readers in 2 Peter 1:

12 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13 I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14 because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.  

We need constant reminding.  The gospel message is not something we learn once and then you’re off flying,  and when you hear it again you’re engrossed in your e-reader in a “Been there, done that, know what to do” manner.

That’s not how we operate.  Because when the virtual window pops out of the plane unexpectedly and we’re in crisis mode, we will follow our liturgical practices. We will, if not prepared,  suddenly realise we don’t know how this gospel thing works; don’t know how it will help us through a crisis; don’t know if we’re going to turn the right way or the wrong way.

And it’s not just Peter.  The writer to the Hebrews says:

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.

We need to be so well versed in the safety manual, that when the oxygen mask drops we act reflexively and breathe the clean pure air of the gospel.  It’s too late during the troublesome events of life to bone up on the safety manual.

As God’s people let’s embed the right liturgical practices in our lives.  Because if we do our reflexive and unconscious competence well one day save our spiritual lives.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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