I have always hated to fly. No, that’s not quite fair, I used to enjoy flying when I was five, blissfully unaware of the fact that we were hurtling along, miles above the ground, relying solely on two metal wings and physics. Once I understood that, I hated flying. I hate that we need to fly places. I know flight and airplanes have made what would have been a sixteen-hour drive a three-hour flight. But, I do not like airplane seats, or airplane food (though now, most airlines have quit serving it). I do like smooth flights that make me forget that I am in a large metal canister suspended in air. I should not be so melodramatic, but I really don’t like flying. However, in this day and age, flying is a necessity, especially when traveling from Huntsville, Alabama, as I did last week.
My memories of previous bad trips came back to me when I was leaving Memphis on my flight home from Huntsville. I was tired and had just smeared vegetable cream cheese on the garment bag I was carrying. The airport was hot and muggy, like the rest of the South, and the cream cheese had melted. When I started to eat the bagel, I got the cheese on my hand and then touched the garment bag. I had to use three napkins from the ice cream kiosk to get it off and the ice cream server did not look happy with my repeated trips to the napkin stand, especially since I had not purchased their product.
But when I approached the gate, I was finally holding a clean garment bag. I sighed and handed my ticket to the gate attendant. The ticket scanner beeped ominously and red lights began to flash. This was not a good sign. I know because my little brother sets off alarms at airports all the time. He has a fairly all-American name, which of course, is on the terror watch list. I guess they think that it would make a good alias. But he’s sixteen and only travels with my parents. Every time we travel, they randomly select him for an extra security question at the ticket counter and an extra security search at the metal detectors. I would believe he just had bad luck on those random flaggings but the truth is, it’s really not so random. But each time he flies, they have to call the CIA or FBI or some group to ensure that this sixteen-year-old kid with braces and a generic name can actually be trusted to not violate national security.
So my ticket did not scan properly. They checked the computer and my name was not on the passenger manifest. (A very special thank you to the television show Lost for teaching me the meaning of “passenger manifest”). After several different combinations of my last name, first name, seat assignment and ISBN number, they found me, issued me a new ticket that was exactly the same as the last one and let me on board. Actually, that ticket also set off the scanner’s alert systems, but they let me fly regardless.
I got to my seat only to find two teenage girls sitting in my row. It turns out they were friends who wanted to sit with each other but, since another woman and I both showed up to sit in Row 19, they were separated. I’m sure it was fine. I was in the middle seat, which I mentally complained about, though it’s really not a problem since I am five foot four. I am still not a fan of it. But I was seated between an older African-American woman who was reading Jackie Collins’s latest novel, something about death and romance, and a fifteen-year-old girl who read her Bible. I rolled my eyes at both- one was reading less than intellectual literature and the other was well, reading her Bible on a plane.
The fifteen-year-old girl next to me was also writing a letter, which I tried not to read over her shoulder. However, she wrote in fifteen-year-old girl handwriting that means it was big and bubbly and hard not to notice. Dear friend, I wish you were here in Memphis with us. I was at church camp and you should have seen me. I was so filled with the Holy Spirit. My eyelids were all swollen. I chuckled silently as she leaned forward so I could not read the rest. I laughed because I am sure I have written letters like that before, though I did not know that the Holy Spirit caused our eyelids to swell.
I then realized that it was rude to read over someone’s shoulder, especially a fifteen-year-old girl writing to her friend. I would have been mortified if I knew that people had read my deeply personal thoughts about God and the Holy Spirit. So I quit reading over her shoulder and started reading Life and Style, which is almost as embarrassing.
Then she put away the notebook and reached into her overstuffed purse to withdraw a bright blue book with a plasticized cover. It was almost holographic with the image of bubbles imprinted on the cover but only seen at certain angles. It wasn’t until she opened the book that I realized it was her Bible. I am constantly amazed by the diversity of Bibles out there. You can walk into Barnes and Noble or Borders and find entire bookshelves full of Bibles- NIV, NKJV, KJV, NCV, The Message, The Guidebook, Bibles for teens, for preteens, for adults, for singles, for couples, for mothers, for grandparents. It’s not just diversity of editions; Bibles come in all sizes, shapes and colors. We have Bibles that look like old leather journals (probably designed for the rugged, intellectual Christian), Bibles with quilted covers (generally for mothers), bright pink or orange Bibles (for teenage girls) and Bibles that look as though they are covered in ads for MTV (for teenage skateboarders and indie rockers who need to carry a Bible but also need to look scene). It’s the same word of God, the same story, the same words (for the most part). We just wrap it up in plastic or synthetic leather or fabric to make it seem more relevant and less nerdy to carry our Bibles. I often wonder what God thinks about all this fancy marketing of his Word. Does he feel like Shakespeare did after the latest remake of Romeo and Juliet? Does he feel like people are getting rich off redecorating his message to us? Does he ever feel like people are missing the point?
As this teenage girl next to me read from her hip, plastic Bible, I wanted to make fun of her. I wanted to laugh inside and think, wow, honey, get a grip and read a novel. I wanted to hand her my In Style magazine and let her read something else. I also wanted to tell her that all the Bible reading the in the world wouldn’t keep us from crashing to the earth in a giant ball of fire. Like I said, I hate to fly. But I couldn’t do it. I could not do much more than smile and hope that she reads other books. I don’t know if it’s because God has dramatically changed my heart and made it harder for me to be sarcastic and relish in it. I think it was more that I saw myself. As a teenager, I thought that reading my Bible was the most important thing and the best indicator of what a good Christian I was. I read my Bible in hope that the person next to me would say, “What is that you are reading? Oh, tell me more about Jesus.” And I would get more points toward the fanny pack. Everyone knows that planes are good places to talk about religion because the person next to you cannot move. I wish someone had told me that it is okay to fly without holding a mini-revival in the aisle. And I wish someone had told me that there is a whole world out there to understand as we read our Bible.
Don’t get me wrong- I in no way am advocating putting away our Bibles. They are important and tell us about ourselves and a God who loves us. I am, however, arguing that we keep our Bibles next to Pride and Prejudice, Crime and Punishment, To Kill a Mockingbird, Things Fall Apart and the latest John Grisham novel.