Friday, September 23, 2011

Angel in 22D

Over Labor Day weekend, my wife and I took an extra day off of work and flew to Denver to visit some friends. It was a fantastic time, a time of laughter, good food, and relaxation. We took in the Allison Krause and Union Station concert at Red Rocks. We drove up to our friends’ cabin in the mountains. We hiked the garden of the Gods. We saw Boulder. We saw Golden. We held our niece’s baby, our great niece. We had a wonderful time.

The flight out to Denver was uneventful….just the way you prefer that a flight be. We moved smoothly through security without the need of a personal pat-down, our flight took off and landed on time, and our friend was there to meet us.

It was the flight home that I’d like to share about.

But before I get to that, I want to say that I must have one of those faces. Some people have faces that others would just as soon avoid. Scary faces. Mean faces. Faces that make you want to look the other way.

I guess I have a face that makes you want to talk.

It’s not really new to me. I’m sort of getting used to it. Sometimes I go into a brand new restaurant and say “hi” to the waitress, and the next thing I know, she’s filled me in on the details of her life…where she’s from…why she’s where she’s at…what she’d like to become…

Sometimes it’s ordinary stuff. Sometimes it’s difficult stuff…stuff that breaks people down.

Once, on a flight home from Albany, New York, I caught a connecting flight in Detroit. The guy in the seat next to mine started talking to me as we taxied to take off, and he stopped talking to me as we exited the plane in Indy. He shared that he and his wife were separated. She’d had an affair with a friend who was staying with them. He claimed that he was to blame because he had gotten caught up with online porn. By the time we were done talking, I knew all about his business, I knew why he was coming to Indiana, and I knew that he loved his wife despite the mess.

I don’t really know why people feel so free to talk to me. I have friends that I sit down with at lunch, and the next thing they know, they are telling me stuff. I have customers that spill their personal lives into my lap. I’ve come to expect it and it just happens, and usually I am happy to listen and if needed, I try to help.

But, sometimes, I just don’t want it to happen.

Sometimes, I just want to relax. Sometimes, I just want to enjoy a trip with my wife.

Now back to my flight home from Denver. We were in the terminal, and we were early, so we found some seats facing our gate. My wife sat down first, there was an open seat next to her and then there was a seat that had a guy’s stuff on it. The guy with the stuff was in the next seat after that. He was taking up a bit of space, so being courteous, I said hello as I sat down.

I guess that opened the door.

He started talking to me. He said he flew a lot. He told me that he had been in the military. He used to be married, but he left when his wife got bossy. His brother was still in the military. He was coming to Indiana to go on a religious retreat. He thought Eli Manning was a much better quarterback than Peyton Manning. On and on.

He also fidgeted a lot. He couldn’t sit still very long, and kept rubbing his face, smoothing his straggly beard. It didn’t take me very long to decide that he didn’t have all of his mental screws tightened down.

He made me feel uncomfortable.

I really just didn’t want to talk to him, but I didn’t want to be rude. I didn’t want to outright shut him down. However, I also didn’t want to encourage the conversation, so I didn’t carry the conversation forward. I only spoke in response to something he would say or ask. I kept hoping he would sort of understand that I didn’t want to converse. Despite my stoicism, he kept talking to me.

Silently….I said a little prayer…

“Please God, don’t let him sit next to me on the plane.”

Now, there were dozens of people on this flight. It was basically full. The chances of him sitting next to me were 100 to 1, but I knew as soon as I said that silent prayer that he would be right next to me.

My seat was 22C. It wasn’t five minutes later that I learned that his seat was 22D. He was directly beside me, across the aisle.

Maybe I should have gotten the hint from that fact, but I still didn’t want to talk to him.

Our flight boarded. I sat down. He sat down. I was sort of in luck in that there were two cute young women who were sitting on the other side of him, so they got some of his attention also. I felt kind of lucky, but I also felt kind of guilty.

Still I didn’t want to talk to him. So, I took the freebee ear-buds that Frontier Airlines gives you so you can hear the sound from their little seatback TVs, and I put one in my ear on his side to discourage him from bothering me. I watched a little TV. I read my book. I ignored the slightly crazy guy in 22D.

For the most part it worked. He only nudged my arm a few times during the flight. The rest of the time he sat and fidgeted, or talked to the girls. I flew in peace, and….

…I failed the test!

When you think through this whole thing, does it really sound to you like a coincidence? I mean, what are the chances? I already shared the odds.

Now, maybe he was just a slightly wacked out former marine. Or, maybe he was something more. There’s just something about this thing that’s been gnawing at me.

Consider Hebrews 13:2

“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Would it have been so bad to have spent some time talking to him? Could I have opened my heart up to a stranger and made him feel safe and cared about? Could I have taken some of the burden off of the two young college-age girls who sat on his other side? Did he need a friendly ear?

Would it have been too much to ask of me to sacrifice a little bit of my personal satisfaction on a two and a half hour flight home? In retrospect, I think not.  I failed.

My “angel” in 22D is still on my mind. He reminds me that I have some growing to do…in compassion…and, in dealing with my own personal selfishness.

Next time, I’ll do better.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Cross and the Bumper Sticker

This is now my 100th post on this blog. I’ve wanted it to be a memorable one, but I think now I’ll just settle for it being interesting. You see, I haven’t posted for a while. I just haven’t felt “moved” to write anything. It’s been like I just haven’t had anything on my mind that I thought other people would care to read. You might call it “writer’s block,” or it could just simply be that I really haven’t had anything to say.

If you keep talking without really saying anything, you are simply wasting everyone’s time.

Today is September 11, 2011…the 10-year anniversary of the World Trade Center attack.  I haven't watched much of the coverage.  I'm too much of an emotional guy, and I got choked up a couple of times with what little I did watch.

This morning, as we drove to church, my wife and I discussed how things had changed in our lives in the last ten years…

1. Our small girls are now grown college women

2. My mother became a Christian, and then later that same year passed on

3. Our dog Sally died, and we have two new ones

4. We attend a different church

5. My wife has a different job

6. We have a different family car

7. Some friends and family members have married, and some friends have divorced

The list could go on and on.

Even technology is different. Flat screen TVs were waaaaay expensive ten years ago, and very few people had them. Now they are everywhere…even I have one. Whoever heard of a smart phone or an I-pad? In my job, I had a desktop computer, and I carried a paper calendar everywhere. Now, I have a laptop and a Blackberry. We had Mapquest, but GPS? What was that?

In the days that followed 9/11, one of the main catchphrases that seemed to be everywhere was: “God Bless America!”

For a very short time after the attacks, many otherwise lackluster Christians turned to their faith in earnest. It was a spiritual awakening for many people. As I look back on it now, it was kind of like spinning a bike wheel. You know, when you were a kid and you turned your bike over on its seat and handlebars and spun the wheels. You’d give one wheel a good hard spin and it would seem like it would go on forever. However, as the seconds ticked by, the wheel began to slow and unless you spun it again, it would eventually stop.

In essence, for many, it seems that their spiritual wheel has stopped spinning again.

“God Bless America!” became a popular bumper sticker. However, lately I’ve been seeing another one: “America, Bless God!”

I think this new version makes a good point. We. We. We. Want. Want. Want.

“God! Bless us!” Us. Us. Us. Don’t expect anything from us, God. Don’t go looking for our presence in church. Don’t expect us to GIVE TO YOU. Don’t expect our hearts to be drawn to you. But, please make sure you continue to bless us! We are special after all. We are America!

It’s a good thing that He loves us…along with everyone else. Why else would He ever put up with our obvious pride, self-indulgence, and spiritual ambivalence?

I want to share two more things with you. One is a bit of a coarse comment I made, but it really is a comment on the state of modern Christianity. The other is another bumper sticker I saw last week.

First, my comment….

This comment was made in the midst of some very close friends that my wife and I feel very comfortable around. It was a joke, of sorts, made as we were trying to unravel a tangled gold necklace that carried a cross as its focal point. One of the group jokingly said: “How would people know that I’m a Christian, if I don’t wear my cross?”

I replied as a comment on some women’s method of displaying their “faith”….

“Yeah, I could tell she was a Christian by the cross in her cleavage!”

We all burst out laughing. It was a funny moment. It’s funny because one obviously runs counter to the other. But, then….when you think about it…it’s not really funny is it? It’s true, but it’s not really funny. It’s not funny because that symbol of our faith that should draw us back to Christ and the amazing sacrifice that he made has been relegated to a piece of jewelry that apparently means very little to some of the very people who display it.

I’m not just picking on the girls. It was just how the cross is sometimes displayed by women that brought this to my mind. As a PEOPLE…men and women, many of us simply do not take Jesus Christ seriously enough to allow his sacrifice to affect how we live our daily lives. The cross is just some ambiguous symbol on church buildings and jewelry. Should it not, rather, be a beacon that calls us, that hearkens us back to humility at its foot? The foot of the cross on which the Savior of the world GAVE his life? Should it not drive us to change? To amend our lives into conformity to God’s direction?

Now, the bumper sticker…

As we were cruising around Denver with those same friends last weekend, I saw the following bumper sticker: “Try Jesus

Now, I’m sure that the motive behind this saying is very good, and in the sense it was meant, it is a great statement to make. People are searching for fulfillment in their lives, and the suggestion to try Jesus for that fulfillment is good and right. However, it did bring to my mind another fault in our American version of Christianity. We tend to portray Jesus as the answer to every life problem. Try Jesus and your financial problems will be over. Try Jesus and your marriage problems will end. Try Jesus and your boss will love you. Try Jesus and you’ll never have a flat tire again! Try Jesus and you’ll never have another problem in your life!

In my mind that day, the saying struck me as kind of a test drive. “Take Jesus out for a spin.” “Doesn’t he just handle beautifully?” “This is the faith for you! It just fits your image!”

The trouble is, Jesus didn’t die so that we could USE him. He isn’t a tool for our manipulation. In fact, he wants us to change enough so that we can be the tool in his hands to reach others. Clearly, he never promised that our lives would be without trouble if we “tried him” out. Just examine the outcomes of the lives of the apostles and the early followers. Death and persecution followed them around everywhere they went.

However, he did die to save us. He did promise us a spiritual future that is beyond measure, and a spiritual family with God as the father, and the church as our brothers and sisters. We can have hope. We can have a purpose. We can have a mission. Like the old saying goes: “Working for God doesn’t pay very much, but the retirement benefits are out of this world!”

I guess that’s enough rambling for now. I’ll catch you all again soon.