“You know what? I pray for these opportunities all of the time, that God will give me the chance to tell someone about the good news, about Jesus, about what it means to live with hope in a challenging and difficult world. And this one is presented to me on a platter and I’m being churlish about it? Toughen up McAlpine! Or soften up at least.”
I’d just settled into the plane for the five hour flight back home across this great brown land called Australia, and I was tired. The Friday night flight from Sydney to Perth is invariably late taking off (a thunderstorm this time? Nice move, didn’t see that one!), and inevitably jam-packed with sweaty businessmen and over-perfumed ladies playing Tetris with their hand luggage in the overheads.
I had boarded the flight then, as usual, flicked my personality to “introvert flight mode”. You know that mode? It’s the mode where you switch on your noise-cancelling headphones, grab your Kindle or book, slump into your chair and give off “leave me alone” vibes. And after ten trips this year, with too many Friday night flights home, I was ready this time. I’d even paid a bit extra for an exit row seat to stretch my legs and sleep for that last 90 inconsolable minutes.
I am responsible for helping create online content and assisting Christians and churches explore where their “third space” is. You know what I mean by third space? That place where people can have conversations with non-Christian friends about matters of life and faith. A sort of neutral zone in these increasingly hard secular times. And I love those sort of third space conversations. I love having them, leading them, encouraging them.
But put me on a plane, and the introvert beast within me awakens. Sure, if we’re going down in a fiery ball of flames; the lunch cart careening down the aisle taking out people at 30 mph; the person sitting next to me shaking my arm and yelling “What must I do to be saved!”, I just might toss them a Two Ways To Live tract before assuming the brace position. Otherwise leave me alone.
James did not want to be left alone. Nor did he want to leave me alone. I got on board early – thank you Gold Frequent Flyer pass – and he was standing there waiting for everyone else to board. Gold Frequent Flyer too eh? All six foot seven of him, tall, slim, athletic looking, red hair and short beard, and by my estimation in his mid-to-late thirties. He was annoyed at the late flight, annoyed at paying for leg room that is free on other airlines, and annoyed that he’d been away for a week.
I sized up the sizeable situation. 5 hours and five minutes sitting next to James. I thought I’d been smart getting an exit row seat. Now my plans were dashed, unless I went super grumpy and turned to the side, and rudely ignored him. Besides, I had a sermon to write. Didn’t he know I had to speak at a church on Sunday about how to best represent Jesus in our work settings? Whoops.
My plans were dashed. I sighed inwardly, switched the Kindle off and sat down. He was wearing a Garmin. Salvation right there!
“You run?” I asked, seeking a contact point. By the way, have I told any of my readers that I run?
“Cycle,” he said.
“Oh, a runner’s deadly enemy who hunts in packs of twenty and tries to get as close to our ankles without actually hitting them?” I inquired?
Not really. I didn’t say that. It was a Garmin, but not the best point of contact. We had a chat about running and cycling, pausing long enough for the air stewardess to show us how to calmly and gently open the window once the plane was on the water, passengers were screaming and saying Hail Marys, illicitly stowing their hand luggage under their shirts; and there were no raging flames outside from the thousands of litres of fuel that had miraculously not reached ignition point.
We settled in. We talked about work. The dread question. He worked in cyber security. That rolls off the tongue impressively, doesn’t it? Cyber and security.
“What do you do for a living?” James asked.
“I’m a used car salesman with a speciality in selling lemons to unsuspecting teenagers who have just gotten their licences,” I replied, adjusting my glasses to make it look as if I really loved my job and wanted to talk about it.
I didn’t say that. But when you say you are a pastor of a church and you work for an organisation that helps people with questions about faith and Jesus, it’s got pretty much the same effect.