Unprecedented (Thoughts from a Bus Driver – Part 3)

A few months ago we experienced in much of our country an extraordinary winter weather event. In Fort Worth, Texas, there was the kind of multi-car pile-up that we just never see in our part of the world. The icy road conditions were far worse than anticipated in a place that rarely sees icy roads at all. More than 130 cars were involved. 6 people lost their lives.

If you’re from much colder places than the southwest, it might be easy to criticize the lack of driving skills or experience in such conditions, but the kind of unexpectedly treacherous and often virtually invisible ice on the roads on that day were, to use an over-worked adjective, unprecedented to the good folks on the highway that morning.

We’ve had a belly full of “unprecedented” over the last couple of years. There isn’t a leader in the world that had been in a leadership role during a global pandemic. I just finished a master’s degree in leadership a couple of years ago, but we never covered anything remotely resembling what we experienced in 2020.

I’ve suggested to you that leadership is a lot like driving a bus. Somebody has to take the wheel for the group to get anywhere.

But imagine being a bus driver with a full load of kids on that icy morning in Fort Worth. The huge beast of a vehicle doesn’t respond the same way as it always has. The road may not even look too much different but the brakes don’t grab like before. Stopping to pick up that last kid is a terrifying thought. Turning on to the expressway seems unwise, but you’re expected to arrive in a timely manner.

Meanwhile… any teacher will tell you that you don’t have to look out the window to know that the weather is crazy. The behavior of the kids reflects it long before any weather warnings pop up on our smartphones. They sense something is strange and their unconsciously nervous energy causes a lot of behavior that needs to be monitored closely, redirected gently, corrected firmly.

Now think about the weight in that driver’s seat. This person has taken on the responsibility to transport safely, monitor attentively, and manage effectively the precious cargo—each of which is the most precious treasure of their parents and family. And they must do it while trying to navigate the same streets that are causing others to crash. They must do it without allowing the reckless behavior of others around them to affect their task.

Every decision could have tragic costs. Every action and reaction is questioned in their own head and will likely be questioned at length by others around them.

My friends, that tension you can imagine in your gut when you imagine yourself in that driver’s seat is exactly what most leaders have been living with over the past year and a half. We’ve never led through a pandemic. We’ve never seen anything like this.

Many leaders have been constantly criticized (whether spoken or just through stern looks) for driving too close to one ditch or too close to the other. Some want us to hole up in our bunkers and wait for the storm to pass. Others want us to live freely as though the storm was a smokescreen to cover the leeching away of our freedoms. And those who seek to find the wise path between these extremes get pummeled from both sides.

I know ministry leaders that have had families that refused to participate if they were asked to wear masks and other families that refused to participate unless everyone did wear masks. All we can do is seek to walk a path of prudence which is, in most cases, somewhere between the extremes.

Why am I drawing this to your attention?

I want you to understand that leaders are facing pressures and circumstances we’ve never seen before. I want you to remember that relationships matter more than our politics and theology. And let’s be honest; if either of those cause you to hate people, it’s broken

Please, my friends, have a little grace for the bus drivers in your world—literal and otherwise.

In The Driver’s Seat (Thoughts from a Bus Driver – Part 1)

You’ve probably ridden on a bus at some point in your life.

But have you ever driven a bus?

From the perspective of simply operating the vehicle, it’s not terribly complicated to make it go and stop. The pedals and the steering wheel and the turn signals all operate pretty much the same as most cars or trucks. The transmission may be different than you’re used to, but most of them have automatic transmissions and really function in a familiar manner to a driver of any experience.

But when you see that big console of switches and realize there are a lot more lights on this thing than your car, it starts to get a little more challenging. What are those flashing yellow lights and what’s up with the stop sign attached to the side and what are the places you have to stop where other vehicles may not?

But those are mostly simple details that just have to be learned. It’s not a huge hill to climb.

Back in my public school teaching days, I had to get my school bus license. I had to learn all of the unique regulations for large passenger vehicles. But then I had to learn all of the particular regulations and operational practices for driving a school bus… such as all of the proper safety procedures of stopping on the side of the road for passengers to enter or exit the vehicle and what must be done to ensure that your precious cargo would arrive at its appropriate destination (and in proper working order, of course).

We had to study all of the regulations and talk through all of the strange situations we would likely encounter. But then we had to actually get in the bus and go practice. We had to drive around town learning how to make right turns with climbing the curbs or knocking down mail boxes. We had to learn how to back up a 40-foot vehicle without somehow going sideways. We had to practice the very important sequence of steps for crossing a railroad track.

Continue reading In The Driver’s Seat (Thoughts from a Bus Driver – Part 1)

Any Old… Donkey Will Do

I have a number of heroic figures in my life. One of them is my dad. I think there are a number of folks that would put him on their hero list, but the biggest reasons I do are ones that most of you would never know.

There was a man I knew to be a contradiction that my dad had the dubious honor to pastor. He claimed to have a ministry on the weekends at the fishing docks of a popular lake. He was almost never actually in church. He was a stubborn, difficult…

Well, he reminded me a lot of the story of Balaam (Numbers 22). He was a prophet that had been solicited by an enemy of God’s people for the purpose of cursing the people of Israel. He just couldn’t do it because God wouldn’t let him. But there was an interesting exchange when he was going along to attempt to help this enemy. Balaam’s donkey was spooked by the presence of an angel – which Balaam could not see. After a couple of serious beatings, the donkey spoke to Balaam.

What the donkey said is not particularly important. Balaam listened because she spoke truth. There is a powerful point to this simple but marvelous account: when God has something to say to us, any old… donkey will do.

This man that reminded me of Balaam’s story was a lot like that donkey. He confronted my dad about the horrible shortcomings of his ministry and proclaimed that he would never set foot in that church again as long as my dad was the pastor. He was right. He never set foot again. But he did roll in once.

Continue reading Any Old… Donkey Will Do