There are few times when you realize that you’re not just seeing or reading about history, but you’re touching and hearing it in a way that is profound. I’ve had a few of those moments, but this one was unique. Not long ago I went to the Restoration Center for the Museum of Flight in Everett, Washington. I went to see a plane, but walked away with something unexpected. This event led me to believe we need more irony in ministry.
Being a plane buff, and not losing my awe and wonder aspect from my childhood, I just had to visit the center (I was afraid to fly as a child, ironic). The main reason for my visit was in having hopes fulfilled of boarding a de Havilland Comet. The Comet was the first jetliner, designed during late WW II in Britain. To actually board one was a dream come true. I remember seeing pictures of it in books or web sites about aviation. It was a beautiful plane. Amazing how the one I was on flew in 1959, ten years after the first one flew. (It was also a bit ironic to be onboard a British made plane that was used by a Mexican airliner only yards away from the Boeing factory.) So, mission accomplished, I set my mind to look at the other stuff, and then head for home.
Irony is the state of affairs that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects to find. As I interacted with some of the volunteers who restore aircraft, I was amazed by the quality of their work and the amount of time they took, normally about 10-15 years per aircraft. These guys in their retirement years seem more productive then many my age. A whole blog post could be written on their work ethic. Some of the guys took us to a photo album and shared stories about war stories, lost friends or projects they had done. This moved beyond the seeing history to hearing and touching it in a profound way. One gentlemen really stood out, though. Ironically again, he doesn’t like planes, he just loves electronics.
This gentleman grew up in Eastern Europe and started to head West during WWII. He learned multiple skills, languages and talents to gain the “freedom” (as he put it) of the West. This eventually led to him being able to come to the New World. Feeling a lack of education, he had a passion to be a life-long learner and still pursues that, though his time is invested more in reflection now. Visiting with me at the time was a friend who works regularly with electronics. My friend stated, “This man has already forgotten more than I’ll ever know.” The gentlemen worked on technologies still employed successfully today, and is still hard at work using his skills. His story was the interaction of history, passion, family, love, pride and work. His last words to me were: “Pastor, I don’t know why God put me through all this and allowed me to go through what I did. But, I pray the Lord’s Prayer every night, in the five languages I’ve learned. This gives me great peace.”
The conversations with these seasoned men was a profound experience. It led to a greater appreciation for life, freedom, hard work, and friendship. Reflecting on this experience, I wonder how many people would actually hear and understand the implications of what these men shared. Then, I realized some would. It may be one, it may be more, and the epiphany may come years down the road. It happens at ironic moments.
Here is the Why Not:
We need to cultivate irony. Preaching and teaching cultivates and readies the ground for the ironic moments of life to take route. Learning may happen during teaching and preaching, but change, understanding and epiphany often occur in the most weird or unexpected venues. It occurs in the hallway, the older person sharing a story or comment, bed time conversations, but rarely in the classroom. Training your ministry team to cultivate and prepare for irony, or the unexpected, is just as important as training to teach well. And this thought came from a person who was scared of flying as a boy, is a plane buff… well, you heard the story. But, here is the thing: The one group of people who have the ability to fully produce irony in our ministries is seasoned saints.