Recently my pastor made an astonishing admission in church – “You know, there are some days when I behave like a real jerk!”
The source of his epiphany was a recent plane trip where he’d prayed that he’d find a seat far away from people so he could get some “real work” done.
Following disapproving groans from the congregation, my pastor admitted that he realized that people are his work and his confession was a challenge for us all to reach out to others.
The following month, I too boarded a plane and, vowing to behave like a real minister, I took the last available seat and waited for the right moment to tell my seatmate about God’s love and my exciting life as a chaplain.
Unfortunately, we had a wing seat and as the plane began its ascent, the sun suddenly bounced off the wing directly into my eyes.
“Excuse me,” I asked, “would you mind lowering your window shade?”
Looking up from her travel magazine, she said, “I got this seat for the view.”
And unwilling to relinquish her view of the wing, she added, “I’m sorry” and returned her gaze to her virtual view in the travel magazine.
I sat there – imagining. Forget the pastor’s challenge. I’ve got 40 minutes remaining in this flight. How could I use them to make things” interesting”?
Remembering the Biblical admonition to “pray for those who spitefully use you,” I buried my face in my hands – thinking, maybe if she believes I’m praying for her, she’ll get so shook up she’ll close the dang shade.
As righteous as it felt, my prayer quickly disintegrated into thoughts of revenge.
I smiled as I recalled a funny quirk I have that causes me to sneeze in bright sunlight. I glanced toward the wing hoping to catch a spectacular glimpse of this glaring view. If it made me sneeze on the lady, I’d
apologize, call it a baptism, and hand her a towel.
No sneeze. The sneeze I needed would require a pluck of a nose hair and I wasn’t up to that – yet.
You needn’t say it. I know I was being petty. I prayed harder. “Forgive me, Lord, for thinking such terrible things. Amen.”
Then I saw it – the mother of all flying fears- the airsickness bag.
I put my hand on it. I shuffled the bag wondering what it would be like to deliver that famous Clint Eastwood line, “Hey, Lady, do you feel lucky?”
I leaned back and looked at the ceiling. “I’m sorry, God. I guess my pastor and I can both be jerks.”
The Bible speaks of another religious “jerk” named Saul who was also blinded by a great light because his religious message had been more about hate than love.
But even after that blinding revelation in which God changed his name to Paul, like me, he could still get entangled 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 a letter from someone who can’t believe that someone in my profession would say or do such-and-such, and that shortcomings like that “are not to be excused in the clergy.”
The truth is that, 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 what my pastor and I both have left as creations of God is not our ability to be perfect, but our ability to realize our imperfections and confess them to a forgiving God – and on that score, we are both frequent flyers.