Saturday, July 30, 2011

The TSA Guy on the Train

Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed. And those who have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brethren, but rather serve them because those who are benefited are believers and beloved. (1 Tim 6:1-2)

My wife was remarking to me the other day that there's just something about the way a Christian carries himself that is different from the way nonbelievers do. The context was what people choose to talk about and how they express themselves, but she also said that some people even without speaking seem to give evidence that the Holy Spirit is guiding them. I would have to say that if she's not right, she's not far from it.

One would expect that those who have a right relationship with their maker would give evidence of that, even unconsciously. When I hitchhiked across the country in December of 1972, I was picked up just outside Kansas City in the middle of the night by a carful of random college-agers, and during the course of the conversation, I let it slip that I was a Christian, at which point a couple of them in chorus said, "We knew there was something different about you." They sounded as though they thought that was a good thing, so maybe they were Christians (though other things said during the trip didn't leave me thinking they were), but the evidence supporting the thesis is even stronger if they weren't.

My wife's words came home to me in a less pleasant way recently when I had to work late into the evening a couple of times.

On the first of those evenings, I sat on the train in my seat of choice, the end seat that faces forward, looking at the rearward-facing passengers in the rear half of the car. Two rows ahead of me was a fellow, a thirty-something, perhaps Hispanic, in a TSA uniform that looked like he had just gotten it out of the box.

My view of TSA people has been colored by the horror stories and viral videos of infants, Congressmen, oldsters, and beauty queens considering themselves molested and worse by the TSA. My "favorite" is the attractive twenty-something woman who did not want her one-year-old's bottled breast milk irradiated and, when she refused to have it confiscated, was forced to stand for an hour in a glass cage guarded by a marginally female couch potato who did literally nothing the whole time but casually survey her surroundings and fold and unfold her arms. (Reality check: would I have been so offended if the guard had been foxy and the prisoner unattractive?)

Every line of work attracts a different personality: engineering and art and teaching and lumbering and sailing each tend to attract people with not only the requisite skill but consistent personality types. While the guard in the video is precisely what I would expect of a TSA agent, this fellow isn't. His hair was meticulously brushed, and even his facial expression as he read said that he takes everything in life seriously. I would guess that if his daily duties include groping people, he doesn't engage in it for fun; I would expect him to be serious, as respectful as the poster-boy Boy Scout, and minimally intrusive. Nor would he be a pushover in a discussion of the morality of Uncle Sam's undertakings and the part he personally plays in them.

I heard it said of a man I know from church as a generous gentleman with a hearty sense of humor that he becomes a completely different person once he dons his policeman's uniform. The same is likely true of Officer Newshirt: He would likely tolerate no deviation from the obsequiousness we mundanes are now required to render our masters.

Had he been in anything but a TSA uniform, I would have wanted to get to know him. Even as things are, I'm sure he has a story to tell.

So I was not overly surprised to see him on the trip home two days later reading a hardback study Bible.

The morning of the first day I saw him, I had read the passage I quote at the top of this post and realized that I have a lot to learn about counting the reputation of the kingdom of God more important than my own freedom. I find it frightening to think that God values his own reputation more than he cares whether those he has appointed to positions of authority "do justice, love mercy, [or] walk humbly with [their] God," even if those people are Christians. Where Ayn Rand and others say that we are only as oppressed as we allow ourselves to be and advise the oppressed to be as uncooperative as possible, Jesus tells us to treat our oppressors with respect, not only fulfilling their unjust demands but going beyond what they ask:

If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matt 5:40-42)

(I don't measure up. How about you?)

Yet for all the deference we must show such people, they are people "whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron" (1 Tim 4:2), as described by C. S. Lewis:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. ("The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment")

US Christians may hate politicians—or say they do—but they love the armed agents who carry out those politicians' desires, as shown by the special days churches hold to honor the military and the police. By contrast I've never heard of one prominent evangelical uttering a syllable of thanks to those who predicted that the fall of Vietnam would not be the first stage of the fall of Southeast Asia, or that the war in Iraq would be a quagmire, nor to those who predicted that the Community Reinvestment Act would inflate a bubble that would eventually take down most of the US economy. And so, while I have yet to hear of a church holding a TSA Appreciation Day, I expect Officer Newshirt gets plenty of attaboys when he goes to church.

What response would an evangelical pastor get if he preached an exegetical sermon that followed all the established rules of hermeneutics and homiletics and concluded with the admonition that young adults to stay out of the military, police, and TSA, that it was unwise to indenture oneself to ungodly leaders who pass ungodly laws? My guess is that he would be looking for a job within a month.

Are the ungodly laws passed by our ungodly politicians still "good enough for government work" that a Christian will not run afoul of God by enforcing them? For that matter, have there ever been any laws passed in the US that Christians should not have enforced? Are any on the books now? If so, how long can a Christian remain in government employ without enforcing them?

What scares me most about my view of Officer Newshirt is that I hate him. He is my brother in Christ, yet I not only hate everything he stands so proudly for, I hate him for standing proudly for them. I can understand why an unbeliever who can't procure other employment or who simply enjoys bossing people around would work for the TSA, but I can't see how someone who reads his Bible and shows every sign of seeking to be guided by the Holy Spirit would take such a job. But there we are, and God wants me to be more concerned with my attitude toward Officer Newshirt than about the depredations that his colleagues, and possibly he himself, commit.

Someday there will be no conflict between obeying God and obeying his ordained authorities. Meanwhile, those of us who suffer under official depredations must learn to treat those who carry them out with respect. And the hardest ones to respect may be our fellow Christians.

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