Ash Wednesday in an Airport

Yesterday, I was stuck in the Minneapolis airport.

I was flying home from San Francisco after meetings on how we might create an app that would encourage and facilitate deeper prayer. (More on that tomorrow on Executing Ideas.)

We sat on the runway for 50 minutes, then had to deplane. While others grumbled and waited around to figure out next steps, I called, got on a later flight, and suddenly I had an extra three hours. I smiled.

I could go to gathering to worship Jesus…in an airport…in a random city…with strangers…on Ash Wednesday.

This was a great opportunity to intentionally slow down, pause and consider Jesus in the midst of the hustle of travel, and to be marked as different.

Lately, I’ve felt that we Christians—particularly Protestants and specifically Evangelicals—are not accorded the same respect as other people of faiths. It might just be in my head, a result of Evangelical fear-mongering culture wars and my own insecurities.

But I think if I were to wear a yarmulke or robes or some other external sign of my ancient faith, I might receive a bit of esteem for being part of a stream that is thousands of years old, that has done a lot of good for humanity, including those beyond the boundaries of our camp. (Yes, I know evil has been done by my tribe, too, but we would do well to consider both.)

But, if I say I’m a Christian—or worse, an Evangelical—I suspect my audience calls to mind all the worst caricatures from the word. Think of what you have in mind right now upon reading Evangelical. You may be my proof.

Occasionally I read something from someone outside of the Church that indicates we Christians should just change our minds about something in the news, some social issue. “Why don’t you just change your mind and leave that hocus-pocus BS behind?” is the subtext.

Perhaps Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Jews experience this at times, too. I do know that often wonderful, faithful people have to deal with ignorant people because of the ease of identifying them. But I wonder if external, physical markers in clothing or elsewhere might gain some cognitive space with more sophisticated critics, along the lines of “You are different from me. I can see it. You are part of something ancient, and that is worth respecting.”

I think Christians in North America deal with an impression from the wider society that others know who we are. “We get you,” may be the sense of our friends who don’t share our faith. They may not say the same about other world religions. (I wonder how many of you hit up Wikipedia while reading this to learn about Sikhs.)

So given all this, I was happy to sit for a few minutes with other Christians from other traditions to be marked, to have an external symbol of Lent, this somber season of contemplation and repentance.

And as I boarded my plane with ashes on my forehead, I made eye contact with people. Most looked quizzically or averted their eyes. No one else had ashes on their foreheads. But a few looked for a moment longer, their faces softened, and they nodded every so slightly.

In respect of an ancient faith that just might be true.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.


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