Friday, March 21, 2014

How to Travel Like a Christian. Second Edition: Respecting People, Also Known As God’s Creation

(This post is the second in a series. The first post in the series is "Caveats & Privilege," which you can read here.)

Dear Fellow Business Travelers,

Don’t be a jerk.

No, I’m serious. Don’t be a jerk.

This goes for all travelers, not just the business ones, and not just the ones who are Christian. I do think that being a Christian means acknowledging that all people are children of God. All people are sacredly human. And we are radically equal in terms of our created-ness.

Here are a few examples of how to live into that belief that God’s creation is sacred.

A flight attendant once told me one of his least favorite things a traveler can do is hold up her or his trash without looking up at the human being collecting said trash. Just because someone is there to serve you (and arguably, flight attendants are there for way more than to serve you) doesn’t mean you get to ignore them. It’s rude. Also, you know enough not to yell at a flight attendant, ever. Or throw anything. Or get really, really drunk and act out. Right? Good for you.

Yes, you travel every week, or twice a week. I feel that. That doesn’t give you (or me) license to give that poor parent dragging two kids and a bag down the aisle the stink-eye. You know what? That person is responsible for raising the people who will be running the world when we need care because we’re old. Be nice. Help that parent out. Be patient when the kid cries. Kids cry. Get over it. If we were more honest with ourselves, we might cry a whole lot more. Yes, I have almost whipped around and grabbed the little foot that was kicking my seat (thanks, Dad, for modeling that move for me in the car when I was a child). But what works better and is more appropriate than touching a child you don’t know is to say something to the parent. Kids don’t know! But the parents should. And if they don’t, their parents are probably to blame. So help a person out, yeah? Carry a bag, help fold up a stroller, let the parent/kid board with you if you board earlier than they do, etc.

Tip the housekeepers and the restaurant servers. This is because these are hard high-risk jobs that typically pay very little. Servers are on their feet, carrying heavy things, and have to be nice every single day. Housekeepers have to flip over heavy mattresses several times a day, because travelers like myself enjoy a really nice bed. Housekeepers have very little time to turn over a room (they only have one eight-hour shift to get through 10-30 rooms, or more), so pick up after yourselves. I have often asked to not have my room made up every day, in an effort to save time for housekeeping. But I just learned that if I and other guests opt out of housekeeping for the day, it could mean some housekeeping staff aren’t called in to work and lose out on a day’s wages and tips. Now I always get housekeeping, and I always leave a tip. Being a housekeeper in a hotel can be one of the most high-pressure jobs there is. The sloppier you are, the harder it is for these folks to do a thorough job in the time they have allotted to do so. These are also very underpaid positions. Do you know what happens when low-wage workers have enough money? They spend it on rent or food! It helps the whole economy!

Now, the exceptions to the rule.

Here’s the thing about being a jerk. Most of us (ahem, at least me) have been jerks at some point to someone because we sometimes have a bad day. Not like, “that last person I talked to was condescending,” but like, “my [insert relative here] just died, and I have three reports to write up, and someone hit my rental car in a parking lot, and I still need to get my kid a birthday gift and if I miss this plane I’m going to miss my kid’s party.” It happens (for me, it’s minus the kid, but you get the picture).  
Jesus was probably a jerk once or twice, if you count overturning tables and disrupting someone’s business being a jerk. And the yelling. But I seem to recall he was a jerk when merchants and money-changers were taking advantage of people who were trying to be diligent practitioners of their faith. It’s safe to say that if you stand up for someone, like call a fellow traveler on inappropriate behavior, that could potentially qualify as Christian.

Additionally, there is this funny thing called grace. If we slip up, and do something that isn’t very nice for no good reason whatsoever, we’re still loved with total abandon. Crazy, right? Nope, just Godly. Thanks, God. Let’s practice extending that same grace to others.

Here’s a story from a fellow business traveler. You may know that airlines are constantly changing their policies about who can pre-board (well, all their policies). At some point, this airline she was flying only allowed disabled people and people with very young children who had their own seats to board. She was in the boarding area when a mother with an infant-in-arms approached to pre-board. The gate agent wouldn’t let her pre-board, because her infant didn’t have a separate seat. Of course this parent is totally stressed out. She is traveling alone with a baby. The amount of stuff any kid requires is mind-boggling, and she would have to disassemble the stroller for it to be gate-checked at the end of the jet bridge, while carrying the baby and a bag. The gate agent was upholding the existing policy, and also being a jerk.

All the women in the boarding area are getting angry, and telling the gate agent that they could wait for this mom and baby to board. A middle-aged white man, waiting to board with the first class cabin, said to the woman, “Don’t go anywhere. Give me your boarding pass.” When the boarding for first class was called, he and the mother and infant approached the gate agent. The gate agent said, “She can’t board yet.” The man in first class said, “I believe you have the policy that I, as a Platinum member, can bring someone traveling with me when I board. She is traveling with me.” And the gate agent let them pass.

Dear business travelers: sometimes the drama happening in front of us between people we don’t know is something we can help change from drama to grace. Just a tiny bit of kindness.

Next Edition: How to Travel Like a Christian, Flying Edition

Creation and Humanity: The Sources of Christian Theology
Edited by Ian A. McFarland

Genesis and the Goodness of Creation (3 day retreat design – downloadable)

Covenant Economics: A Biblical Vision of Justice for All
By Richard A. Horsley

Seeking Social Justice (Being Reformed Curriculum)

And a resource for preachers:
Preaching God’s Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary (3 volumes)


  1. Nice. A good reminder that a little niceness goes a long way and usually costs almost nothing.

    1. Yes! Today I saw a woman who didn't speak English getting very anxious about all the flight changes from ATL to SDF. So I spent the time with her helping her get to the right gate and in the right seat, and let her use my phone to call her daughter. Little things can help a lot.