Thursday Reflection: We Don’t See You Back There

It happened that I am traveling during this current spate of flight delays and cancellations.  Scheduled to leave early Tuesday morning, we didn’t get out of town until late in the evening.  And the second leg of the journey by plane didn’t happen until Wednesday … but that’s when the surprise came.

We found ourselves in “Business Class”.  This may have happened as an attempt by the airlines to appease my wife.  She had to make four trips to the airport to try to straighten out the entangled mess we were in.  Phone calls and on line attempts were futile because of the “high volume of calls”.  At one point she found herself with a reservation … except they had the wrong name.  It was only because of her superior sleuthing that she discovered the error and was able to set it right.  We think that’s when she acquired the status of “Pre-Screened” for security – she went through the short line and didn’t have to remove either her shoes or coat.  And we think that’s when both of us got the “up-grade” – we were “Preferred Status” and in “Business Class” for the 2 hours and 45 minutes of the flight south.

For me, this was a first.  And as I stretched my legs luxuriously while sipping on my pre-take-off drink of cranapple juice (having resisted the temptation for something stronger – it was still early in the day), I was reading Christopher Evans’ book: Liberalism without Illusions.  The book traces the history of the Social Gospel and tracks the early years leading up to and into theological liberalism – from Rauschenbusch to MLK, with significant nods to folks like Georgia Harkness.

I was reminded of the Seinfeld episode that did a touch down on “First Class & Coach“.  Humor has a marvelous way of first presenting, and then unraveling our discriminatory tendencies.  And it really hit me when the warm wash cloth was offered to us prior to lunch and the warm oatmeal chocolate chip cookie arrived for dessert.  The twenty of us in “Business Class” had three flight attendants at our beck and call.  The napkins were cloth.  And having that restroom all to ourselves – that’s the coup d’etat, isn’t it.Carol Burnett

“Lavatories are located at either end of the aircraft.  Please use the lavatory located in your section.”  In other words, no “coach derrieres” allowed where our “business class butts” might alight.

As fascinating and important as the histories of the development of evangelicalism and liberalism are, it’s too much to include in this post.  I highly recommend Evans’ book.  Suffice it to say that personal salvation can’t long exist absent social holiness.  Being “saved from sin” can’t exist apart from the struggle for justice.  And high hopes for the better angels of humankind to emerge can not undo the fact of human sinfulness.

The problems with “Business Class”, as I see it, are myriad.  They include, but are not limited to, the way in which the folks “back there” become invisible.  The Mom traveling with two small children – it seemed to me she deserved the classification of “Preferred Status”.  They made their way through our section, never to be heard from again. Resources are made available because some people can pay for them.  That doesn’t mean that all of us don’t pay a price.  It is too easy to begin to believe one deserves the privileges.  Of course, that is the very nature of “privilege” – the expectations of worthiness are as real as is the invisibility of other societal needs.

So ,,, there I am.  After watching my wife claw and fight (always politely) to get herself to the conference her agency had already paid for, I found myself sitting with the elite.  The catch is this: While I would never pay for such a seat as I had, I am in a position to find myself there.  That, too, is the nature of “privilege”.

The fact is, I felt “saved”.  And while munching on the warm cookie and reading the book, I felt in me a desire for all people to be “saved”.  (That’s what Jesus will do to our good times.)  The point of conviction is where my desire for others intersects with my willingness to sacrifice.  (What if I had offered my seat to the Mom with the small children?  That might have caused a ruckus!)  This is where many of us need forgiveness … and stand in the need of prayer.

We will be flying on Friday (hopefully).  We will rejoin the folks on the other side of the wall – heading back to where the unseen live.  I just wonder … how far back is my eyesight good for?


For Carol Burnett’s take on the difference between First Class and “No Frills” – from an earlier age in air travel – click here.

Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.