Flying Elvis

Tension leads to Release

There is something very powerful about a release, whether it be edifying or destructive. There is that moment when all the harnessed energy comes to the point where inaction is no longer possible, it releases, and the tension is gone. Even if it is destructive, this flash of release is gratifying. However, the moments that follow are what determine whether or not the release causes additional stress or bliss.

Like the archer in slow motion who grasps her bow. She grips it in her support hand in just the right position. She knows as soon as she picks it up whether or not it will need adjustment. Even though her eyes are fixed on the bow, the mind is fixed on the target, the distance, the trajectory, the wind, crowd, competition, results, consequences, muscle response, pain, equipment, pull, tension and ultimately, release. A flurry of senses, thoughts, calculations all happen at a subconscious level and the bow has not even been raised. Eventually, it is, and muscle memory brings extreme tension, calculated mental action, and reaction, and then release. If all is well accomplished the arrow will strike center.

A few years ago I was in Orlando Florida, and as I so often find myself, I was sitting at the desk in my hotel room rummaging through the paperwork of the day and the tension demanded release. I jumped up with a start and remember murmuring to myself; “I am so out of here!” You see, there comes a time as a leader when the fog of data and systems clouds the creative response. Hear me! In those moments it is time for your creative pause, it is time to check out. It is time to let the subconscious go to work and you need to go and play. It is not an option.

Drive… No Direction

Thrust into action with only one thought–getting on the highway and seeing where it would lead–I found myself in Kissimmee. I turned off the highway and began driving small gravel roads as if pushed forward by the tension of the hotel room and the earlier meetings of the day. There I was, glancing side to side, looking for a yard sale, a flea or farmers market, something brainless. That’s when it happened. As I rounded a long sweeping turn between small homes on large parcels, I broke through the trees and my eyes and mind were drawn to it like a moth to a flame. I was on an airstrip of beautiful green grass. “Oh yeah!” I muttered underneath my breath, “Play Time!” There was definitely fun to be found here.

Walking into a glorified shed with a sign above the door that identified its offering as “Glider Rides,” and after reading the necessary disclaimers and a release of liability, I took my pen and signed my life away to an old friend named New Experiences. Little did I realize the adventure would reflect the events of the day so closely.

Systems Birth Stress

The tension began to increase as I signed the release of liability. Basically, I was putting my life into the hands of a bearded Neanderthal of a man I had just met, and if I die, says the release, it’s on me.

Cool! No tension there!?!

With a grunt, he leads me out into a field and to his glider which looks like it was built back when Elvis was overweight, sweaty, dressed in white leather with red stripes and could barely walk the stage. In fact, this antique reminded me of the king, flipped up collar and gasping for breath between songs. No composites here only aluminum and rivets, and yes, painted white with red stripes. This thing was vintage.

Much to my surprise, he dragged Elvis into place with one hand as he walked this wannabe retired airplane to where the “real” airplane was going to hook on for the ride. I remember thinking; I am 6′-4″ and 215 pounds and I am going to sit in something that can be dragged onto the airfield with one hand by a man whom I am sure just smirked at me through the side of his face as if to say, suckerrr.

Our eyes meet, and he says, “Get in!” He then begins to put me in a five point harness and pulls it really tight. At this point, I am feeling the panic of claustrophobia and the canopy is still up. He leans over and points to the release lever. “When I yell ‘Now!’ pull it.” It was in that moment that I realized my head is sticking way out of the natural body lines of this glider, and I say, “I don’t think I’m going to fit.” He proceeds to try to close the canopy. I cock my head as far as possible sideways and it was still not close to closing. His next words; “Get out!” Our man of many words now begins to rip the seat out of the glider. No joke! And in some sick replay of other dumb decisions I’ve made in life, I actually go along with this. I climb in and sit on bare aluminum in the cockpit and Mr. Wax Eloquent checks the canopy and starts strapping me in again. Each of the five points of the harness seems to gauge my increasing tension. Meanwhile, the real airplane has appeared and connected itself to me without my noticing. In a nonverbal acknowledgment that everything was a go, my new friend slaps his hand on the canopy as if to say… Well, I’m not really sure what it said. Good luck perhaps?

The next thing I know, I am experiencing a very rough rush of forward acceleration as the real airplane takes off down the runway. “Um, what do I do now?” “Wait for me to say ‘Now!’ and pull the release handle.” came the reply. I remember thinking to myself, he actually speaks in sentences? It brought small comfort. We continued to climb. Tense and stressed, I was absorbed by the chaos and found it very difficult to focus on the beauty around me with the constant noise, bumps, drops and clatter of being dragged–by a rope–where I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go. Then, piercing all the mayhem and propelling me from the fog to hard reality came the cry, “NOW!” I reached out and pulled…

Silence

As if God Himself had reached into my reality and turned the volume knob from eleven to one, everything became clear. My mind which had been trying to process the inundation around me had cleared. My ears heard little but the wisp of outside air. My eyes focused on the tow plane as it seemed to fall tragically from the sky, leaving me behind, then to the breathtaking beauty of my seat in the sky. My hands were no longer shaking but steady and sure on a now smooth (previously vibrating) control stick. It was bliss.

For forty-five minutes I swept through the sky like a bird without reservation, smooth and fluid, embracing positive and negative gravitational forces alike. Even the discomfort of sitting on the aluminum structure of the glider ebbed away. Tension had given way to release and the experience was, well… Clear. It’s the only word that describes it. I had traded the stresses of the procedure and systems for the joy of flight. I felt inspired.

As leaders we each must learn the lesson that I was privileged to learn that day, that is: Clarity comes after the systems and procedures are necessarily worked, and unless you are willing to subject yourself to the tensions they create, you will never see the fulfillment of your dream. Altitude is gained through struggle and if the struggle scares you, and you stay on the ground, you lose. Leadership is not like the third grade where everyone receives a ribbon. Some win, most do not. I had traded the tension of a hotel room surrounded by paperwork for the tension of a seat-less cockpit in pursuit of my creative aha! I found it, and clarity, at 5000 feet.

Postscript

Could I have found that moment alone? No! It took a pilot, a plane, and a landing strip. Skilled people had to assist me in getting there. I had a team. Without them, I would have never had the experience, or I would have tried it alone and killed myself in the attempt.

If you are a leader/church planter, you want to fly. I get that. Remember that you cannot fly without partners that can actually get you airborne. A mentor to strap you in, to train you, challenge you, grunt at you. Prayer partners who provide the airstrip to launch you into the exciting unknown. Financial partners that will attach themselves to you, provide the horsepower, and empower you to a higher level and are willing to yell “Now!” Ultimately, the ride of your own leadership begins when you respond and pull the release. Then, and only then will you soar.