Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:1-2)
When boarding a Southwest flight this summer I was bone weary and in no mood for idle airplane chat. Dressed in my best attitude face, I attempted to look busy and to appear not to be the best four-hour travel companion. It didn’t work. A polite man, just about my age (none of your business) asked if he could sit next to me—remember this is Southwest. I said, “Yes” in a tone lacking all social graces or as my Nana used to say, “home-training.” I knew better, but I was too tired to prove my Seattle upbringing had not failed.
You see, I had spent the last two and one half days in a non-stop working frenzy to help our board members as they strategized on new social justice tactics and creative ways to fight what acclaimed author Michelle Alexander has brilliantly coined, the New Jim Crow—the mass incarceration of those caught in the unequal grip of our penal system. So, hey, I just didn’t have time to be friendly. I had work to do.
Then it happened, my window seated partner started to talk. And with an outstretched hand and in an oh-so-gentle-manner, he called me on my “stuff.” He asked why the “face” and on what was I so hard at work. Then I started to talk. I spoke of our work at SDPC. I talked about our newly-released study guide, our commissioned companion piece to Alexander’s book. I told him of our mission, our goals, our struggles and our current campaign to give voice to those who often cannot find theirs and the justice they seek but do not find behind bars and through our criminal system.
He was interested in what I had to say. Turned out he works daily to help the very people of whom I had been speaking—the disenfranchised, abused and those caught in the unyielding cycle poverty. As he told me his story, my face readjusted and that deeply embedded “attitude” chip dissipated. As a licensed therapist with the theological degree from a noted mid-west seminary, he said his current work was his real ministry and calling, for the press of the pulpit and daily parish life had not beckoned as had the lives of the least of these.
Wow, strangers on a plane.
As our chat winded down and baggage claim was coming into view, I made promises to send him our SDPC information, our Study Guide and an invitation to our annual February conference in 2012. Then we exchanged names and techie-info and—wait for it—I find out he grew up with my husband and his family, and was and is an enthusiastic fan of my brother-in-law’s ministry. He follows him on Twitter and Facebook daily for inspiration. No longer were we strangers on a plane.
Why this story? For me, the answer is simple, human and maybe a little theological. For the work of SDPC, social justice and the social gospel to make a difference, we have to champion the cause and actively proclaim our convictions, not hide them behind an artificial shield, cloak and the comfort of easier livers—or um, a MacBookPro computer, as I attempted on this summer flight. We have to be present participants in our own beliefs and ministries.
Lessoned learn, and just another thing Nana taught me—mind your manners. You never know who you’ll meet or the impact that person might have. “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
So let’s not be strangers. Our lights remain on and we still hope to hear from you. Talk to us. Tell us what you are thinking or comment on those articles already posted. And, oh, by the way, you might not want to ignore the person in the window seat of your next cross-country flight. Doing so might be a missed opportunity for true fellowship and ministry. Angels do walk among us. They come in all forms. Try talking to one; you never know where a Prophetic Conversation might lead.
It’s your turn now. Tell me your story.
PS. One more thing, my brother-in-law who is friends with our
so-called stranger on a plane, just wrote an incredible piece about the New Jim Crow work he is doing with and through his church. It’s following our General Secretary’s letter. But you can click here as well to read and comment. Check it out!