These days, I’m feeling a lot like Johnny Cash singing, “I’ve Been Everywhere.” In the past few months, I’ve been to San Diego, Denver and Honduras. In the upcoming months, I’ll be in Las Vegas, Seattle and Charleston.
Since I often fly on an airline that doesn’t assign seats, I’ve developed a strategy for finding the best seat. Unfortunately, sometimes my strategy fails me, as it did a few years ago when I took the last available seat: a wing seat.
As the plane began its ascent, the sun bounced off the wing directly into my eyes.
“Excuse me.” I asked my seatmate. “Would you mind lowering your window shade?”
Looking up from her travel magazine, she proclaimed, “I got this seat for the view. Sorry.”
Unable to suppose how anyone might consider an airfoil to be picturesque, I began to fantasize how I could convince her that it was in her best interest to close the shade.
First I took the biblical highroad, trying to “pray for those who spitefully use you.” But I had mixed motives. I was secretly hoping that the sight of me praying with face in palms might intimidate her to close the dang shade.
That didn’t work. So, remembering how easily I sneeze in bright sunlight, I glanced toward the wing hoping to catch a glaring view. I figured that if I sneezed, she’d close the shade. Then, I’d apologize, call it a baptism, and hand her a towel.
No sneeze. God bless me. I even thought about evoking a sneeze by pulling a nose hair.
You needn’t say it. I know I was being petty. I prayed harder. “Forgive me, Lord, for thinking such terrible things. Amen.”
But my prayer failed to restore my spiritual equilibrium — quite the opposite, really. I reached for the airsickness bag and played with it a moment, wondering if I ought to recall the famous Clint Eastwood line, “Hey, lady, do you feel lucky?”
I leaned back and looked at the ceiling. “I’m sorry, God. I guess I can be a real jerk sometimes.”
Then I thought of another religious “jerk.” His birth name was Saul, but God struck him with a blinding light to rebuke him for preaching hate. But even after that blinding revelation in which God changed his name to Paul, he still found himself entangled with less than perfect attitudes.
In Romans, 7:19, the renamed Paul 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 believes that my shortcomings, such as these, “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 hot basement place.
The plane event became just another way in which we bring unholy intentions to plain events. However, if we choose to encounter these irritations as moments to remember God, they can become a reality check on how we walk in this world. Those realizations are called “progress.”
In the end, I realized that it is not my ability to be perfect, but my ability to confess my imperfections to a forgiving God that makes me such a frequent flier in God’s grace. In that regard, please join me in the second verse of “I’ve Been Everywhere, Man!”
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of No Small Miracles. He is a board-certified chaplain in the Association of Professional Chaplains and works both as a VA medical chaplain and Air National Guard chaplain. You may leave recorded comments at 321-549-2500, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send comments to P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Visit his website at thechaplain.net.