Recognize your shortcomings and confess them to God

I’m not exactly a frequent flier, but this month as I flew to Colorado, Florida and Ohio to speak, I had to keep in mind there is nothing like air travel to test my faith.
No, I don’t have a fear of flying. It’s just that air travel tends to bring out my impatience. When I get impatient, I can be a bad example of what faith should look like. In my tradition, we call it being a bad witness.

Several years ago, I recall boarding a flight and vowing that this time I’d behave like a real minister. I took the last available seat.

Unfortunately, the seat was a wing seat and a middle seat. I already was mumbling about that when my witness took a hit with the blinding reflection off the wing.

“Excuse me,” I asked my travel mate, “would you mind lowering your window shade?”

Looking up from her travel magazine, she said, “I got this seat for the view.”

Unwilling to relinquish her view – of the wing – she returned her gaze to her virtual view in the travel magazine.

Recalling the biblical admonition to “pray for those who spitefully use you,” I buried my face in my hands. Perhaps if my seatmate thought I was praying for her, she’d close the dang shade.

As righteous as it felt, my prayer disintegrated into more vengeful thoughts.

Bright sunlight can make me sneeze, I recalled. If I stared into the light long enough, I could baptize this woman with a good sneeze. Wait, that would be a sprinkling and Baptists don’t sprinkle.

“Bad chaplain, bad chaplain,” I scolded myself.

No matter, I still tried it a few times. It didn’t work. The sneeze I needed would require me to pluck a nose hair. I wasn’t up to that – yet.

You needn’t say it. I know that in my heart I was being a jerk. Fortunately, the plane eventually turned enough to change the angle of the sun, and I took a nap.

The Bible speaks of another jerk, Saul, who also was blinded by a great light. A bit more powerful than the light I got off the wing, Saul’s light confronted him with a message of change.

But even after that blinding revelation in which God changed Saul’s name to Paul, he still could get tangled in less-than-perfect attitudes. In Romans 7:19 he wrote, “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.”

Occasionally, I get an e-mail from someone who can’t believe someone in my profession would say or do such-and-such. I’ve even been told that some of the things I confess to in this column “are not to be excused in the clergy.”

The truth is, if all my sins were lined up end to end, there’d be enough to build a stairway to heaven – or maybe even a stairway to the basement place.

The plane event became just another way in which we bring holy intentions to plain events. If we choose to encounter these irritations as moments to remember God, they can become a reality check on how we want to walk in this world, and that is called progress.

In the end, I realize that all I have left as a creature of God is not my ability to be perfect, but my ability to realize imperfections and confess them to a forgiving God. And on that score, I’ll always be a frequent flier.