Saturday, November 03, 2012

Mark Driscoll has shifted transportation metaphors

It looks like the bus/car driving analogy reached the end of its shelf-life.  Now that people have been thrown off the bus and under the bus and that analogy has been made available to the public it was good for an inside joke ("They're on a bus") and the driver analogy was fine for God's Work, Our Witness that went along with the previous annual report and a request for more money. 

But times change and so do transportation metaphors (except for who's steering).  Now the topic is whether or not you trust your pilot.  The analogy is unfortunate because Driscoll's knowledge of flight seems mere window-dressing for another defense of decisions a "pilot" may make that ruffle the feathers of people who are presumed to not have the "data" the people in the cockpit have.

That "data" matters more in very bad weather conditions and at night.  For those who don't remember the death of a certain Kennedy that death was discussed by pilots who noted that the dead Kennedy decided to take a flight at night when he was not yet licensed or registered for instrument-only flight.  Now those who know more about this are welcome to make corrections if the following analogy breaks down.  Pilots who have more data would get that data from the instruments and from a control tower guiding them in particular situations.  The thing is that when a plane is in a difficult situation almost anyone with half a brain will have 1) noticed something already or 2) that something was starting to go wrong would be signalled by the instruments (if they're working properly). 

But how well-calibrated are the instruments for the plane?  You can have a great pilot but if the plane has inherent problems in design or mechanics then the pilot must compensate for some fundamental design weaknesses in the plane that would kill a less experienced pilot.  Take the famous Sopwith Camel, with a nasty torque rate that made certain kinds of turns deadly for the pilot and other kinds of turns deadly for adversaries in combat.  Some planes were dreams to fly so long as you didn't have to land the thing with that inverted gull wing.  More people died trying to land the Corsair than died in combat. 

If Driscoll wants to push the pilot analogy, okay.  This invites a set of necessary questions about the quality of the plane itself, how well calibrated its instruments are, whether the propulsion has any inherent dangers that an experienced pilot would need to know about that make left-hand turns dangerous and right-hand turns very tight.  Is the powerplant a radial engine, perhaps?  Or a piston-engine?  Does the plane have fule injection? 

Then there are questions about the pilot.  What flight school did the pilot train at?  Who decided to license the pilot?  Is the pilot registered for instrument-only flight at night or only for flying during the day?  Is the pilot licensed to fly fixed wing aircraft or helicopters?  Did the pilot perform an adequate pre-flight check-up on where simple things like the switch for the auxilliary fuel tank was placed on the plane?  Did either fuel tank have adequate fuel? Not checking for things as simple as that before take-off can lead to catrastrophe and death. 

Driscoll explains that sometimes an abrupt turn has to be made.  What constitutes an abrupt turn?  A change of course?  Well in that case an abrupt change of course could be something like a deal for what is now Mars Hill Downtown nearly not going through in 2011 because someone didn't want to sell the real estate or give up influence over it that then went through in 2012 by way of a long-term lease.  What changed?  Not the disposition of the owner of the property but of those people inside Mars Hill who came to a different perspective.  The executive elders in 2011 seemed to be Mark Driscoll, Dave Bruskas and Jamie Munson.  The executive elders in 2012 were Mark Driscoll, Dave Bruskas and Sutton Turner.  If that was all the difference it took for executive elders to come to a different conclusion about what terms would be acceptable in gaining new real estate perhaps, just perhaps, some of the "data" are available to people who aren't even on the plane.  After all, there are things that can be observed by the flight control tower and people on the ground that not even the pilot can see from within the cockpit. 

Let's take the five points in reverse order.

5. Trust the pilots
Assume that they have way more data and training than you. Assume they see stuff out of their window you don’t see out of yours. Assume they did the right thing, even if you are wearing your drink, your luggage came flying out of the overhead bin, and you need to buy new underwear to replace the ones you were wearing. Just maybe the pilots saved your life and spared you from a less disruptive turn that would have ended in a fiery crash you never saw coming.

It all comes down to trust. If you don’t trust your pilots, then you will jump, panic, storm, or trash.
Who is most likely to trust the pilots? Frequent fliers, those who have been on board long enough to have survived hard banked turns before. And former pilots who have themselves sat in the cockpit of an organization and had to make the same kind of tough decisions.

Who is least likely to trust the pilots? First-time fliers, those who are new to leadership and/or new to the organization and subsequently lack the experience to simply buckle up and ride it out. Also fans of flying who have studied flight and/or visited the cockpit to peer over the pilots' shoulder enought to maintain an illusion that they know how to fly and could do a better job themselves, even though they have no hours in the pilots' chair.

This is where we would be led by the nose.   The thing is that assuming the pilots have more data and training is something that happens in air travel because pilots get tested, pilots get licensed, pilots take instruction from control towers, and pilots advise passengers mid-flight when things go wrong and what those changes entail for decisions.  Driscoll's analogy breaks down at precisely the point where airline pilots responsibly inform passengers of what is going on and how it will effect the flight.  A pilot who refuses to explain what's going on when a plane hits turbulence

Fans of flying who have studied flight are probably more likely to trust pilots because they understand that a certain amount of turbulence will buckle the wings and that wing-buckling is what you want to happen.  Better that the plane buffets and moves than that the wings sheer off and you've got no lifting area.  As the study of flight goes Driscoll hasn't even reached the level of a dilletante.  He probably hasn't even given a thought to concepts like aspect ratios or lift/drag coefficients or what the significance of a thrust-to-weight ratio would indicate for aircraft in difficult situations.  The thing about "book learning" that Driscoll wants to dismiss with respect to flight is that it's not necessarily any more valid for pastoring than for flight. 

Years ago someone I know participated in a few flight simulator games.  As sometimes happens gamers discuss topics of history and in flight simulator settings that deal with war an occasional debate pops up about the relevance of dicta Boelke (go look it up as this segment presupposes knowledge of dicta Boelke).  The person I know has never flown planes but participated in flight sim communities a while and got in a debate with someone about whether dicta Boelke still applied.  The other someone flew jets in the Navy and declared that in no uncertain terms dicta Boelke was not relevant to modern combat.  At this point a war veteran who flew missions in Korea (I think) jumped in and said that my associate may not have flown a plane but that if it came down to actual combat missions he'd invariably trust the person who took dicta Boelke seriously enough to see how it applied even in contemporary combat to some jet jockey in the Navy declaring that dicta Boelke was passe.  Why?  The war vet said clearly that understanding dicta Boelke saved his ass in actual combat situations. 

Life and death is not just about flight hours but the hundreds and thousands of mental exercises and processes of thinking through contingencies so that when the deadly moment comes up and you only have roughly 30 to 90 seconds at most to make decisions in aerial combat that mean life or death for you that you'll have trained yourself to make the best (you hope!) decision well before being on the plane and getting into a combat situation. 

Mars Hill and Driscoll in particular spent years saying they laughed at people who had seminary degrees in their resume because they had no "real" experience.  Book learning was a punchline for them.  Real dudes learn by doing and the great motto used to be that Mars Hill did not call the trained but sought instead to train the called.  The possibility that the "called" could end up being people who simply agreed with the vision-casting of Driscoll was not necessarily examined.  If we wish to take Driscoll's analogy about piloting on its face then it's not unreasonable to ask what flight school Driscoll attended, who gave him his pilot's license, who considered him a competent pilot, and which control tower he contacts when something comes up and a call has to be made what to do with the plane. 

The pilot is merely one person among legions of people who ensure that planes fly safely and Driscoll's analogy breaks down precisely because even the most trustworthy pilot (assuming, as Driscoll seems to want, that we assume that Driscoll's credentials as a pilot are actually impeccable) will crash the plane and kill everyone on it if someone botches the fuel check in the pre-flight check-up.  Given that a new "ceiling of complexity" was reached last year and the pilot arrangement got shuffled a bit with a new addition whose gifts were described as badly needed by Mars Hill for a long time who's to say that even the pilots wondered whether or not there was a need for a different pilot.  After all, Munson's gone and Turner is in (for now at least).

Unquestioning trust rather than second-guessing is clearly valued.

4. Trash the pilots after the plane arrives at its destination safely

Assume the worst, that the pilots are incompetent, uncaring, unloving, drunks, dangerous, thrill seekers, asleep at the wheel, etc. This can be mumbling quietly to those around you, talking loudly to make a scene, confronting the pilots on your way out, cussing someone out at the service desk, writing a nasty letter to headquarters, or posting your critiques online in a flame-throwing exercise.

More people complain about airport security and TSA then about pilots in the experience of this blogger.  That Mars Hill disciplinary approaches and rules could be likened to TSA is a post idea we'll leave to some other blogger. This one is rhetorical and mostly pointless.  People complain about bus drivers, too, and if Driscoll doesn't want people complaining about how he believes he should do his job he needs to remember it comes with any job a person does. 

3. Storm the cabin

Decide that you know what is really going on and that you are a better pilot, try and get some other passengers to agree with you, form a team, and try to storm the cabin and take over the plane with you as the new captain, saving everyone from the fiery doom you are certain is imminent.

In earlier metaphors this might have been represented as saying there are some people who want to take turns driving the bus who have to get thrown off. 

2. Panic

Just absolutely melt down. Get anxious, sweaty, angry, cry, cause a big fuss, get everyone worked into a frenzy, pretend you know what is going on, stress yourself out, and just fall apart.

The only people who won't panic in a high g turn "may" be trained pilots and even they will panic because high g turns are most likely to come up in life-and-death situations.  Panic is understandable but one of the things a pilot will do is to control his own panic response so as to placate the panic response of others.  A parent can learn that there are times when a baby figures out to panic because the baby sees the parent panic.

This point is essentially an ad hominem based on a dim understanding of physiological responses to a stressful flight situation.  Driscoll has not likely done anything more than appropriated a few interesting but useless concepts from flight and attempted to apply them to a defense of what may be unpopular changes at Mars Hill.  There are some names of historical significance within Mars Hill history that have dropped off the radar this year and nobody with any history at Mars Hill could have failed to notice who may have been the subject of Driscoll's #1.

1. Jump out of the plane
Stand up, freak out, make a scene, grab a parachute, and jump out of the plane with your résumé in hand hoping to land a job somewhere else. If you are really freaked out and negative, you can try and take as many passengers with you as possible, which is in your mind some kind of heroic act.

"Maybe he's wondering why someone would shoot a man before throwing him off a plane."

Sorry, couldn't resist the nerd reference.

A few years ago Driscoll said that there were guys who were off the bus and under the bus.  You probably know where to look by now and if you don't Chris Rosebrough's got some audio for you to hear. If the analogy has changed from bus to an airplane then some people could be said to have been thrown out of the pilot's cabin and out of the plane. 

In the First World War there were people who jumped out of the plane because the plane was on fire and if you were going to die anyway then it was better to die hitting the ground while also not being simultaneously on fire.  In the First World War for some time the British didn't issue parachutes to their pilots on some odd reasoning that it was unmanly to make use of one when you were about to die.  The Germans were not beset by this particular idiocy around the same time (if memory serves, and it may not) and were perfectly okay with using parachutes.  During this time the technology of flight had fits and starts, some of which led to deaths.  If you want a pet project to research this weekend dig into how Manfred von Richtoffen and Anthony Fokker had some falling out over the quality control on some plane stuff.

Number #1 is the most interesting of the 5 because of some presuppositions that appear to be built into it and the significance #1 has in connection to the older analogy about the bus.  In the past those who attempted to take turns driving the bus were described Driscoll as guys who needed to be thrown off and/or under the bus because they wanted to drive the bus somewhere else.  There were people who had to be run over by the bus and that analogy hardly befits a plane because a pilot who isn't on a suicide mission isn't going to "run over" someone.  But it's not a big shock if guys get ejected from the cabin and aren't on the pilot side of things may decide it's better to jump off the plane. 

Now how many people could have jumped off the Mars Hill plane in the last few  years?  There's a lot of guys in pastoral and deacon jobs at Mars Hill but some of the better-known names in the history of MH pastors seem to have dropped out.  Where's James Noriega?  Where's Kyle Firstenberg?  Where's James Harleman? Where's Chad Toulouse?  Where's Scott Thomas?  Where's  Chris Pledger, former legal counsel to Mars Hill?  These aren't questions for Wenatchee The Hatchet, who knows where these men have ended up for the most part, they're questions for the reader to consider as possible background to this new fascination Driscoll has with planes after having no previous interest in aviation.  Just suggesting that for those familiar with some of the long-standing names in Martian history there are some absences that are kinda hard to just not notice. 

Driscoll's #1 seems calibrated to tell current pastors to not jump out of the plane in the wake of what some might interpret as a case of leadership hemmorhaging.  No member would jump out of the Mars Hill plane with resume in hand hoping to land a job somewhere else but a deacon or a pastor who had been bumped out of being one of the pilots would have plenty of reason to jump out of the plane, particularly if ejected from the cabin. 

Maybe some things came to light about the pilot this year that a whole lot of people on the bus, er, plane, didn't know about him before.  We're not going to insult your intelligence by outlining where those things got documented.  The average joe with internet access can find them if desired, though of course the average joe may not be interested. 

Jumping out with a parachute in hand sure beats being thrown off the plane without one, let alone getting shot at after you've been thrown off. 


Juniper said...

Assuming this particular analogy:

If I were a passenger on a Mars Hill flight with MD as pilot and watched him throw his co-pilots out of the plane mid-flight after bashing them about the head and ears, I'd grab a parachute and jump.

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

In the First World War for some time the British didn't issue parachutes to their pilots on some odd reasoning that it was unmanly to make use of one when you were about to die.

As I understand it, the RAF didn't issue parachutes because the pilot might bail out before doing everything to save the Crown's aircraft. Thus preventing avoidable losses of valuable aircraft. (Remember this was the same WW1 military that rationed ammunition to the grunts in the trenches to five rounds a day to save ammo replacement costs.) Well into the jet age, British combat aircraft were notorious for poor pilot escape systems. Even the RUSSIANS had better provisions for getting out of a dying aircraft.

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

There's a lot of guys in pastoral and deacon jobs at Mars Hill but some of the better-known names in the history of MH pastors seem to have dropped out.

Where's James Noriega?

doubleplusunperson, Long Live Big Brother?

Where's Kyle Firstenberg?

doubleplusunperson, Long Live Big Brother?

Where's James Harleman?

doubleplusunperson, Long Live Big Brother?

Where's Chad Toulouse?

doubleplusunperson, Long Live Big Brother?

Where's Scott Thomas?

doubleplusunperson, Long Live Big Brother?

Where's Chris Pledger, former legal counsel to Mars Hill?

doubleplusunperson, Long Live Big Brother?

Where's Mark Driscoll?

Long Live Big Brother!

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Some got laid off in the last year (though they may have presented the transition as voluntary); at least one definitely got fired a year ago (and MH PR inadvertantly gave that one away trying to quell enquiry about Andrew); one may have had to fall on his own sword; and some may have just voluntarily jumped off the plane when they realized that in ten years the place had turned into everything they distrusted about corporate churchiness in their youth.

Not that I'm necessarily saying who was who there but longtime readers may already have the score on that stuff.