There’s nothing like a little awkward airplane reading. On my trip to Alaska, I spent some time re-reading The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – And Why by Amanda Ripley.
The Unthinkable is a fascinating study of who makes it out alive. It’s not always who you think.
Ripley goes into great detail in regards to human behavior in the face of disaster. She chronicles how most people in the twin towers on 9/11/01 wandered around the building and basically putzed away time before leaving, even after both buildings had been hit by planes. She also talks about the band that sat on the tilting deck of the Titanic, playing a song which many recall as “Nearer My God to Thee” even as the icy waters of the Atlantic swirled around their ankles.
Of course, as I read it, I’m thinking about the church in America, because I see similar behavior among leaders who have watched the entire thing tilt so far in their lifetimes, yet raise a glass and call for another song as if denying that the ship is tilting means that it may not capsize after all. ”Nearer my God to Thee”, indeed.
One of my favorite stories in the book is about the great fire that swept through the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio. The Beverly Hills was a series of huge banquet halls that hosted over 3,000 people the night of May 28, 1977.
A fire started in one room and was unnoticed by most guests. Literally one room was raging in fire as people sat in the next room and laughed at a comic program. Across the hall, hundreds gathered for a wedding reception.
The author of The Unthinkable tells the story of Walter Bailey, an 18 year old busboy. Upon discovering the fire, Walter raced to his supervisor and said “We have to get these people out of here!” His supervisor glazed over and ignored him. He went to another manager and got the same reaction. No one would respond.
Finally, the young busboy ran to the stage, took the mic and told people “You must exit these doors immediately.” Surprisingly, the people listened. Walter ran room to room doing the same thing and led hundreds of people to safety that night.
Interviewed years later, Walter explained why – even though he was at the bottom of the totem pole, he had the boldness to lead people to safety without having been given permission. He flatly said “I had nothing to lose.”
It was true. He had no position, no large salary, no reputation. He simply knew what needed to be done, was brave enough to do it, and didn’t wait for permission. When the building is on fire, protocol goes out the window.
When disaster strikes the church, the church will be led, reshaped and reformed by people who have nothing to lose. When the current systems prove unproductive or inadequate in the pressures to come, it will be the Walter Baileys of the world who lead the remnant to safety.
If you’re unknown, unrecognized and even a little unorganized, rest assured that level heads will prevail in those days. Develop your character but don’t worry to much about developing your platform. Those are all about to tilt anyway.