Normally, when I think about “attitude,” my thoughts go to how a person behaves. For example, a student that “smarts off” to his/her high school algebra teacher has a bad attitude. But when I use “attitude” in that way I generally do not think about how it might be controlled by other factors. I think of attitude as something that is independent and exclusive to that student at that moment.

Pilots also use the word “attitude” in quite a different way, that is, to define a plane’s position in the air with respect to the horizon. Attitude may be defined by “pitch” which is the position of the nose of the plane with respect to the horizon. Is the nose above, below, or level with the horizon.

Attitude may also be defined by the ‘bank” of the plane, which is the position of the wings with respect to the horizon. Is the left wing below, above or level with the horizon? This has a reverse influence on the right wing; if the left is below, the right will be above the horizon.

Most importantly, the movements of the plane will be controlled by the attitude.

Which makes me think about my “attitude” as a disciple of Jesus or a member of society, or a member of a church. You can always tell what a person’s attitude is if you look at their “position” with respect to some sort of horizon, whether spiritual, relational, or vocational.

I don’t think that most people actually think about whether their “nose” is up or down with respect to the horizon. Decisions and opinions are made solely on the free-floating basis of emotions or prejudices or desires.

Attitude controls behavior, so it’s not unusual to see someone behaving quite selfishly or autonomously without consideration of how that looks with respect to horizon. Or how it is affecting fellow employees or fellow church-folk.

What a difference it would make in the movements of the plane, in this case the person, if the first action would be to look at the horizon and orient one’s life to that. In the case of the Christian, the horizon is Jesus. In the case of a person in a professional vocation, it is according to a code of ethics. In the case of a group member it is according to commonly held values of the group.

The attitude of the plane is controlled by the pilot who has destination, safety, and comfort of her/his passengers in mind. There are often other forces that threaten the plane, so the pilot is diligent and determined to keep the plane on course.

So also, a mature, aware Christian keeps the will and character of Jesus at the forefront of her mind as the horizon that keeps his life on course.