Monday, I hiked up Shaw Butte, a peak in the North Phoenix Mountains, which rises out of the earth just north of downtown Phoenix. It’s a great date spot (Rachel is visiting!) but while I expected a pretty view of the city, we walked in on something completely different altogether. At the top of the mountain, preparing to lift off, was a guy wearing a large parachute, and what looked like a duffle bag on his back. Moments after we reached the top, we watched a paraglider lift off the ground, being pulled into the air by the wind.
Not too long after, another person grabbed hold of a hang-glider and started prepping for his own lift-off. Moments later he literally (not joking) jumped off the mountain. The wind (and probably his falling) quickly filled the wings of the glider, and lifted him into the sky.
I learned pretty quickly that there are at least two ways to think about hang-gliding/paragliding.
The first was what I hear: moments before the hang-glider lifted off, I hear one of the guys on the ground coordinating say that sometimes, if the wind is too gusty, it will lift the glider, and then quickly blow back into the mountain, slamming whoever it is flying into the rocks, probably creating a lot of hurt and pain.
I also hear the guy who stayed on the ground to coordinate describe the takeoff of the hang-glider as “a little shaky.” Once in the air he flew several miles, pretty quickly, and seemed to have it down. So the idea that this guy, who appeared to know what he was doing, would botch the takeoff makes me even more apprehensive about my future participation in the sport.
And then there was Rachel’s response: “How do I do this?!?!?!”
I’ve never been much of a risk taker, and what this means besides not being prone to adventure sports like paragliding, is that I spend a lot of time thinking things through, measuring consequences and expected outcomes, weighing risk and possibility, etc. etc. to the point where I talk myself out of participating.
This Sunday we’re reading Isaiah 65:17-25 in church (because when you’re preaching, you get to use whatever you want). The passage begins with the powerful words “For I am about to create a new heavens and a new Earth…” powerful language that rings of transformation. It’s the kind of language that I usually read and think “that would be nice, but the world doesn’t just change; it’s burdened by itself, by it’s realities, by it’s evils.”
And then, Isaiah, as Isaiah does so often, continues verse 17 with “the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.”
Risk, whether paragliding or transforming the world, requires a forgetfulness. It requires pushing aside what we know about what can go wrong because we’ve seen it before, and instead turning to what can go right not becuase of what we’ve seen before, but because of what can happen.
Okay, so I’m not jumping off a mountain anytime soon. Paragliding and hang-gliding, and whatever are still terrifying.
But I’d like to forget that the world never changes because of how things have always been.
Also, a quick shout out to International Women’s day (and feminists everywhere):