Evangelism at High Altitude
I fly a lot, so I know how to do it. My friend and author Ron Deal and I once compared notes and came up with three rules for travel – especially if an airplane is involved. They are as follows: (1) Eat when you can; (2) Pee when you can; (3) Don’t pack more than you can carry. Those rules have served me well. In one three-year stretch, I counted up 100 plane trips. That might not put me in the Road Warrior Hall of Fame, but it means I travel more than most people. I could probably walk through the Atlanta airport blindfolded, and there was a time when I was on a first name basis with most of the people at the Hertz counter in Cleveland and San Francisco. My sister called me and left me this voicemail once: “It’s Friday. Which airport are you in today?”
Travel was, for a few years, just part of the rhythm of my life, and I’m here to tell you: strange things occur when you travel – odd, bizarre things you could never predict, so it’s wise to be ready for just about anything.
Over the years I’ve developed my own personal preferences for airline travel.
For instance, I prefer to fly Delta, and I prefer a window seat in an exit row. It’s not that I like to look out the window. In fact, most exit rows are over the wing, so you can’t see much anyway. I just hate having to get up and let the person seated next to me out to use the restroom.
I want to get in, sit down and be left alone. Don’t ask me about Biscoff cookies or pretzels. I will take a club soda with a lime, but, other than that, I’m not real chatty on the airplane. I prefer to work on my laptop or read or do some other solitary activity like sleep or stare blankly into space. I have three kids and a really needy dog at home. I don’t get a lot of alone time.
Sometimes things don’t work out the way you like, though.
I was flying to San Francisco once, and the guy next to me was really friendly. He was from Ruston, Louisiana, and if you don’t know where that is, it’s okay. I do know where it is. In fact, until I was about 10 years old, I lived just 30 miles from there – a detail I now realize probably should have been kept secret from my traveling companion.
He was traveling to the Bay Area to root for his beloved Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech in a college football game against someone – San Jose State, maybe? Or Cal?
I’m not sure if he had had a few or if he was just nervous. One thing I do know for sure is if you’re ever strapped into a hollow, metal tube hurtling through space at 500 miles per hour 30,000 feet above the ground next to a nervous and slightly tipsy Louisianan, you’re in for a conversation.
And, boy, did we talk. We talked about college football (I’m a big fan), whether there should be a playoff system, who should win the Heisman, stuff like that. Our conversation was going along swimmingly. I resigned myself to getting no work done and settled in to talking to my new friend. But then it happened – the inevitable fork in our conversational road.
He innocently asked me, “So, what do you do?”
Now, I should know better. This has happened before. When I am asked this question, there are a couple of ways I can respond. I can say, “I’m a writer,” and the conversation will probably go a certain way. I can say, “I’m a consultant for churches,” and the conversation will go a different way. Or I can say, “I’m a pastor,” and – more than likely – the conversation will be over. But for some reason I cannot explain, I said it. Very nonchalantly. “I’m a pastor.” I guess I thought we had a rapport going. We had established common ground with the whole college football thing. I know where Ruston is!
But the look in this poor guy’s eyes…I couldn’t quite tell whether he was going to start crying or throw up. I’m sure he began to pray silently to himself, “Please don’t talk to me about Jesus. Please, God, don’t let him talk to me about Jesus.” I could practically see his lips mouthing the words as beads of sweat broke out on his forehead and upper lip.
See, the only thing worse than being strapped into a hollow, metal tube hurtling through space at 500 miles per hour 30,000 feet above the ground next to a nervous and slightly tipsy Louisianan is being the nervous and slightly tipsy Louisianan and finding yourself strapped in next to a pastor.
I felt really bad for this nice man sitting next to me. He’d stepped right into it, and he felt trapped. I could see him going back through the conversation we’d had in his mind – like he’d asked the court reporter in his head to read it all back to him – scouring the transcript for any bad words or irreligious statements he may have inadvertently made.
Why does it have to be like this?