catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 15 :: 2011.09.02 — 2011.09.15


Baptized in humanity

I stood in the middle of Miami International Airport, arms spread, palms facing up, feet on the two yellow footprints painted on the cement floor.

The female security agent was a foot shorter than I and her brown braided hair came only to my chin.

She pulled on latex gloves. “I’m going to pat you down,” she said, “But when I come to sensitive areas, I’ll use the back of my hand.”

I nodded.

“Would you prefer to move to a private area?” she asked, her eyes softening.

“No,” I shrugged. “This is fine.”

My husband was behind me in line — and another security agent was being summoned to give him the same inspection. We had decided to opt out of the x-ray machine that was scrutinizing everyone attempting to fly out of Miami. The funny thing is that even after passengers were x-rayed, another agent was patting them down anyway. Regardless, the whole process made me feel like a common criminal.

Between the spread-eagle pat down and the already invasive procedure of disrobing and putting the contents of my life in plastic bins, I was feeling overwhelmed by the desperate state of humanity. “What have we come to,” I wondered, “that we are treated with such suspicion — that these procedures have become an acceptable part of the ordinary human experience?”

My entire trip to Miami was an experience of feeling immersed in and overwhelmed by the world. It began with our bus ride to South Beach. The ride on public transportation was only $2.35 compared to the $28 ride on a hotel shuttle. So, hoping to save some cash, we boarded the bus, surrounded by many foreign languages.

The bus had only made one stop when a tall, chesty woman boarded. She had leathery skin, a cowboy hat, bleached blonde hair and a skimpy tank top that was stretched to capacity. She carried a large wooden skateboard with a chain attached to it. As the bus swayed to and fro, she clung to the metal bar like a stripper to a pole.

The entire bus was fascinated.

We were even more fascinated when, as she turned completely around, we realized she was probably a man.

She continued to pose and preen. She would lean out the bus window and flip off random pedestrians, shouting expletives, and trying to catch the attention of the bus riders.  Every one of us purposely avoided her eyes and when she stepped off the bus, we gave a collective sigh of relief.

Miami is a humid blend of humanity. During our weekend visit, we met people from every walk of life. We ate French sandwiches and drank Cuban coffee. We chatted with our taxi driver, an Egyptian who had been beaten four times in his country for being a believer. We ate pizza outside of a club where African American teens were gathered, one wearing a gold chain that read “Free Lil.”

There was extravagant wealth and extreme poverty. My husband and I were blocked from entering the pool area of the Fountainbleau Hilton where guests pay $500 to stay for one night. Immediately afterward we walked the boardwalk and met a woman from Ecuador selling necklaces in the blazing sun while her four year old son played by her feet.

And in a fitting ending, as we walked along the beach on our last night, we saw the woman from the bus standing on a park bench singing and yelling to herself, with her chained skateboard nearby.

Miami was the most vivid example of a melting pot that I had ever seen. It was for this world that Christ came. I thought of this as I stood with my feet planted on yellow footsteps. Scripture tells us that he humbled himself, that he came and dwelled among us.

Graham Greene says it well in his novel The Power and the Glory: “We were made in God’s image. God was the parent, but He was also the policeman, the criminal, the priest, the maniac, and the judge…It was for this world that Christ had died; the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater glory lay around the death.”

Jesus didn’t dwell in a church or cathedral; he rode the bus, walked the streets, caught a cab, wandered on the beach. He willingly stepped into humanity and lived and breathed among us. My public humiliation at the airport dwindles in the face of such extravagant love.

It is for this world that Christ died.

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