A small airplane napkin
On a United flight to Denver last year, I ordered my customary cranapple juice to sip while reading a book. The napkin beneath my drink struck me as worth saving. So I did. It reads: “Planes change. Values don’t. Your priorities will always be ours.” I don’t know what ad agency came up with that short set of claims, but those words raise some questions.
Some values do change and should change. Using blackface on Halloween, for example, might have been acceptable a generation or two ago. But given the inextricable link between blackface and the historical mocking and ridiculing of a people who were dehumanized for 250 years, applying blackface is inappropriate. Greater racial awareness today helps us know that being ignorant to the history and consequences of racial bigotry is not an option.
As for the airline’s promise that “your priorities will always be ours,” what if one’s priorities are all screwed up? What if what I want in life is largely misguided from what Jesus would want of me? Most of us have a certain subset of priorities that suggest our individual story is central to the universe. We celebrate self-centeredness without even intending to do so. Getting for ourselves often eclipses giving of ourselves.
Seventy-five years ago, Harry Emerson Fosdick, the famed preacher of New York City’s Riverside Church said that one of our principal assignments in life is to get ourselves together – to bring focus to what otherwise amounts to chaos in our lives. Given the different priorities and desires we settle upon, we need to sort through matters so that we can end up with a congruent way of being. How can we be people of constancy who can be trusted to be who we seem to be, complete with commendable priorities?
Fosdick noted that three different types of people emerge from this struggle to sort out life. There are those whose lives remain scattershot and ineffectual, a tangled mess of competing priorities. There are those who decide to center their lives on superficial matters related to money, status, and self-importance. Finally, there are those who live with high purpose, sorting through their complicated selves and mix of concerns to actually make “a concentrated impression on the world.”
It’s this last type of person we want to be. We want to cultivate a way of life that has some focus to it and a set of priorities that bless the world as much they bless ourselves. Christians profess that Jesus helps us be who we need to be so that we don’t have to try to be somebody we’re not. He doesn’t appear to ask us to change our activities, pace, or even the number of things that are important to us. But he does speak of the necessity of changing our hearts – moving our hearts into a place where his Spirit can be central. That’s a high calling, worth our every effort.
Think on these things which come your way courtesy of a little napkin, imprinted with a few words, handed to me at 25,000 feet up in the sky.