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Airline agent returns Buzz Lightyear to his owner: Four steps to relationships that transform

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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In this Saturday, June 23, 2018 photo, Buzz Lightyear dolls are among the merchandise items available to purchase at Toy Story Land in Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
In this Saturday, June 23, 2018 photo, Buzz Lightyear dolls are among the merchandise items available to purchase at Toy Story Land in Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Here’s the best story I’ve seen in a while: the Washington Post is reporting that a Southwest Airlines employee returned a toy left on an airplane to its owner. How he did what he did, and why, is worth our time today.

Two-year-old Hagen Davis was flying with his family from Sacramento to Dallas to attend his great uncle’s funeral. He left his beloved Buzz Lightyear action figure on the plane. The aircraft then flew to Little Rock, Arkansas, where Beth Buchanan, a Southwest Airlines operations agent, discovered it. She noticed the name “Hagen” on the bottom of Buzz’s boot and decided to scan the passenger list. 

A ramp agent named Jason William Hamm saw the toy sitting on his colleague’s desk. They confirmed that Buzz belonged to Hagen, and Hamm decided to get it back to him. He emailed the family to let them know he had located Buzz and to ask for their address so he could return the toy to them. Then he decided to convince Hagen that Buzz had been on a mission before returning home. 

So Hamm, an aviation photographer, took pictures of Buzz in front of an airplane, an engine, and a cockpit. He wrote a letter from Buzz to Hagen explaining his “mission” and the photos. He decorated a cardboard box with drawings of Buzz, stars, planets, and classic Toy Story sayings, including “To infinity and beyond!” Then he mailed Buzz, the letter, and the photos to Hagen. 

Why did Hamm go to such lengths? “I have an autistic son, and he gets attached to toys. If he loses a toy, I know how hard it is for him,” he explained. “It’s the dad in me, I guess you could say.” Hagen’s mother said, “For Jason to go above and beyond for someone he did not know, and to take that much time and effort, it’s just incredible.” 

Polygamy is here 

From good news to bad: the New Yorker is carrying a very long and very supportive article on “how polyamorists and polygamists are challenging family norms.” 

When the Supreme Court discovered a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in 2015, Chief Justice Roberts noted that the majority’s reasoning “would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage.” Many of us have been warning that polygamy and polyamory were the next stages of this devolution from marriage. Same-sex marriage activists have dismissed such fears as “scare tactics.” 

Unfortunately, we were right. 

How can evangelical Christians most effectively persuade those who reject biblical morality that biblical morality is best for them? 

The key to persuasion 

In The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, author and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt notes that “people bind themselves into political teams that share moral narratives. Once they accept a particular narrative, they become blind to alternative moral worlds.” As a result, “We do moral reasoning not to reconstruct the actual reasons why we ourselves came to a judgment; we reason to find the best possible reasons why someone else ought to join us in our judgment” (his emphasis). 

Consequently, persuading someone that they are wrong is especially difficult when they are convinced that they are right. I am just as adamant that polygamy is wrong for the polygamists in the New Yorker article as they are adamant that it is right for them. 

The key to persuasion, according to Haidt, is relationships. We must earn the trust of the person with whom we disagree on a level that lowers the defensive barriers to genuine discussion and debate. This requires that we listen to the other person, not to point out where they are wrong but to learn why they think as they do and to find places where we can agree. 

Haidt quotes Henry Ford: “If there is any one secret of success it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from their angle as well as your own.” On this basis, we can build a foundation on commonalities as a bridge to constructive dialogue and perhaps transformation. 

Four transforming steps 

Jason Hamm saw Buzz Lightyear through the eyes of Hagen Davis and created a memory for his family that will last a lifetime. According to tradition, St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Trinity to the Irish. 

When Jesus called fishermen to be disciples, he promised to make them “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). When he met a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, he started their conversation with water and led her to his “living water” (John 4:7–10). When Paul preached in synagogues, he quoted from the Hebrew Bible (cf. Acts 13:17ff); when he spoke to Greek philosophers, he quoted Greek philosophers (Acts 17:28). 

As I noted yesterday, CNN commentator Don Lemon made headlines this week by telling the pope and the Vatican that they were wrong about God. Lemon added a suggestion, however, that we would do well to hear: “Instead of having the pew hinder you, having the church hinder you, instead of being segregated in the church or among yourselves, go out and have a barbecue and meet people and start breaking bread with people and getting to know them.” 

Once we decide to build relationships with those with whom we disagree, we should take four biblical steps: 

  1. Ask the Lord where and how to begin, confident that he will lead us to those he is already preparing for our initiative (cf. Acts 16:9–10).
  2. Pray for the humility to learn what we do not know and to change what we need to change (Philippians 2:3; Proverbs 18:12).
  3. Ask for the words to speak and the grace with which to share them, knowing that life transformation is not our work but that of the Spirit (John 16:7–11).
  4. Trust the results to the God who knows our hearts and loves us unconditionally (1 Samuel 16:7; Romans 5:8).

A prayer for protection Jesus always answers 

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus was right: “It is impossible for a person to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows.” 

Would you join me in praying for the humility to learn from those with whom you disagree and the courage to share biblical truth with them? Would you ask the Lord to lead you today to the people he has already prepared for your engagement? Would you trust him to use you to plant trees you may never sit under and to use your faithfulness for his glory and their eternal good? 

As you go, Jesus goes with you (Matthew 28:20) and you can make St. Patrick’s prayer for protection your own: 

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise. 

This is a prayer Jesus always answers, to the glory of God.