Should the experienced serve or be served?
A week and a half ago I experienced a confluence of events that caused me to reflect on an old principle with new clarity.
First, I was reading Christ’s Emancipation of Women, a new release by my friend Lynn Wilson. That reading caused me to reflect on several aspects of Christ’s teachings, including His teachings about the greatest being the servant of all.
Second, I was faced with a series of delays in my flights. This meant I was repeatedly in queues, on standby lists, and for the first time in my life was a client of people employed on the Sabbath.
Third, I crossed some magical milestone number of trips with the same airline and was thus promoted to the next level of accomodations. This meant that I could pass through security via the short line instead of the long one, could be placed at the head of a standby list even if I was not the first one there, and was otherwise given preferential treatment by the airline.
As I was doing my best to keep the Sabbath holy in this trying circumstance, I reflected on how unlike my church experience my airline experience was. In particular, I was struck by how backward the treatment afforded to me as an experienced air traveller was when compared to the experience I have as an experienced member of my church.
When one of my flights was cancelled and I watched the wave of expressions of horror and panic pass over the faced of my fellow travellers Of all the passengers there that day, I was probably the least worried. I’ve been there so many times before, no fear remains in a cancelled flight. In ths spirit of the reflections on Christ encouraging us to be servants, I waited until all my fellow travellers were in the queue to get reassigned to a later flight before I stirred. I, the experienced traveller, could afford to be served last.
But the airline did not cooperate with my desire to help. When I was aided, I was placed at the front of the standby list. This was litterally built into the system; it was not the employee who helped me’s choice, it was fixed by airline policy. After putting in hundreds of flights, the airline was not focussed on serving me.
Many years ago, when I was a young college student, I once heard Thomas Griffiths state (and I paraphrase) “this is the last time the church will be focussed on you. Once you leave college it will be about the children, the teens, the new members and those who rarely come to church.” And, to a degree, he was right. When I go to church now I show up early, stay late, and sometimes miss meetings in order to fulfill my calling to support others. While I learn from each talk and lesson, often the lesson I learn is between me and the Lord because the instructor’s goal is to teach someone other than me about how the gospel applies in circumstances other than mine. And that is as it should be.
There is nothing special about airlines in this story. The wealthy and experienced are served, even pampered, in every walk of life. Indeed, I have found that in almost every circumstance if you identify the people who will benefit the least from kind treatment you have also identified the people who will recieved the most of it. Christ’s teaching of service was novel when he gave it, and it remains novel today. Church is one of the only places in all of my life where the correct priorities exist; where downtrodden may go to be lifted and the untrodden may go to lift others.