Ruminations from a Metal Tube at 30,000 Feet

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An airplane is such a sterile but dirty environment. It’s sterile in an aesthetic sense, plastic and vinyl and white luggage racks, like a line of drawers in a morgue, or bunks on a Navy battleship. It’s dirty because everyone is breathing the same air in a closed environment, and thousands of hands that have been who-knows-where have touched everything.

On an airplane one has absolutely no control over one’s life. It is a total act of faith to get on a plane, especially these days. We use our reason to determine that most planes make it to their destination; we subconsciously calculate the risk of malfunction or fire or the captain suddenly becoming a paranoid schizophrenic. We mentally and often subconsciously calculate these risks, then make a leap. Any action is a leap; it’s just that some see more risk than others, and some folks lack the faith necessary to leap.

But we must leap, even to get out of bed. We have no idea what the day may bring. Will it be another routine day, with a shower, breakfast, the paper, a kiss for the wife and kids, Starbucks on the way to work, lunch, work, the drive home in traffic with the monotony on the radio, dinner, a movie, and sleep?

Or we can be met by natural disaster, a tornado or earthquake that wipes out our possessions, or even our family.  The phone rings. An accident, or a stroke, or heart attack. That kiss to the wife was her last – or ours.

We try to console ourselves with routine, with keeping our heads down, by thinking like an ox treading out grain, round and round the circle of days, trying to believe that nothing  is changing, that life is linear, living with no aerial view, no overarching vision. But to be in time means to change. The body ages daily. The muscles weaken. The reflexes get slower; the mental faculties diminish. Time-bound experience isn’t linear; it’s often jagged, soul-piercing at times.

From a solely human perspective, there is no such thing as hope. Death is the great equalizer. It brings down king and peasant, celebrity and nobody.

So it makes sense to start with the inescapable Fact of Death and work backwards. What do I want my life to have meant? What will be the sum total written on my tombstone? What do I want the Lord Jesus Christ to say when I stand before him? This is the aerial view, seeing the end from the beginning. It is Sanity.

We can hide from this Fact through hedonism, materialism, technology, and routine; we can be cowards and pretend everything is linear. This is what many of us do. I have often done it at times. But it burns up our most precious resource: time. Living for mere pleasure or possessions gains us nothing and ultimately costs us everything, like playing video games for eight hours a day, eight days a week.

I want to live my life in light of the Facts, especially that of standing before Christ to account for my life.

Jesus said the only way we could bear much fruit is to abide in him. I want to abide, every day, and bear much fruit. Too long have I hidden in the shadows, like Theoden, living in fear and self-delusion, not taking up the mantle of my kingship – the rule of Christ, through me, as if it were me living, in my domain, my circle of influence.

Theoden had a mighty destiny, but the false counsels of Wormtongue stole many years from him. I have felt many years stolen from me by my own Wormtongue, the satanic counsel that comes into my own mind – fears, feelings of inadequacy, the desire to hide away at home and simply enjoy the blessings given through my work. But, like Theoden, right now is always the time to choose what is right.

It would have been easier for Frodo, and Sam, and Merry and Pippin, to stay in the Shire and hide their heads in their hobbit-holes, to pretend that the world wasn’t being covered by darkness. But they were caught up in a story that wasn’t merely about their little hobbit-lives; it was about the life of an entire world, and each of them had a vital part to play in it.

Many of us have our little hobbit-holes, those places of contentment and comfort, ease, where the steady supplies of garden vegetables, good ales and Longbottom Leaf keep us mired in the illusion of permanence. But we can’t stay there, not as a hiding place, if we want a life that resounds with the Eternal. While the Great War is on, Hobbiton can be a place of respite from my journeys, but I have a mission, a purpose, and the forces at work in this world are not going to sit back and wait for me to fulfill my calling. It will all pass me by, and someone else will be used in my place unless I step out in faith. Blessed is he whose trust is in the Lord.

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


11 Comments

  1. Jason

    Much thanks for the reminder Ron. I’ve recently discovered this site and it has daily been a source for refreshment.

    After reading something like what you’ve written, I inwardly smile and feel the warmth of getting away from the computer screen and reaffirming that the Time will be used for much better purposes.

    And yet I sit.

    Thanks for the reminder to step out in faith.

  2. Eric (not EP)

    Ron:

    What a great piece of writing.

    Coincidentally (as if there is such a thing) this morning, I was reading Tozer from The Knowledge of the Holy. On page 63 he states, “Our insistence upon seeing ahead is natural enough,but it is a real hindrance to our spiritual progress.”

    Thanks for reminding us of the eternal importance of trust and faith in Him every second of our time here.

    Eric

  3. Mark Cook

    Ron, thanks for your thoughtful essay. I needed it this morning. You are right, involving ourselves in relationship with God and with others is about the most dangerous thing we could ever do, so no day we live is “easy”. I was a little confused, however, by what you meant when you were saying that humanly there is no such thing as hope. Could you flesh this out a bit more?

  4. Dave Z

    “my own Wormtongue, the satanic counsel that comes into my own mind – fears, feelings of inadequacy…”

    Hey Ron. Starting a new Sunday evening sevice at church soon, and it’s all “mine.” All the responsibility, that is, and it’s a bit intimidating. That word “inadequacy” sure caught my eye. I’m there. Julie said yesterday that it was the enemy whispering to me. That idea had not entered my mind. How easily I can forget. Her words reminded me and yours have confirmed. Thanks. Still don’t know what I’m doing, but I feel better about it. Hmmm…that sounds dangerous.

  5. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Mark, I meant only that in purely natural terms, if God doesn’t exist, there is no such thing as hope. Death is the final word, the great equalizer. The universe is running down and will eventually be a mass of solid material at a uniform temperature. When someone dies, we never see them again. No matter what I achieve in this life, it is all a waste – Ecclesiastes type of thought. A Godless universe is a hopeless one.

  6. Aaron Roughton

    Ron, just finished Donald Miller’s “A Million Miles In 1000 Years” yesterday. Between that book and this post I have received a gigantic spiritual kick. Thanks. I think. Now what?

  7. MargaretW

    Ron and Rabbit Room Hosts,

    Lately I am wondering if you realize the gravity of the challenges you present to us readers, although I am certain they are tests you have presented to yourself at one time or another. I take readings like this very seriously. I have been struggling for a great while with my heritage and destiny in Christ. Well, maybe destiny isn’t the right word. But I’m asking questions like “What is my place in the family of God?” and “What are my priorities in Him?” This post takes me to task in ways I don’t want to be taken, humanly speaking. I want to hide in my hidey hole, away from the prying eyes of those who would ask me to do things I don’t want to do. You are leading me from afar, and try as I may to discard the words I read here, I can’t.

    I am sure that it took a great deal of effort to write these words and maybe you wonder who will be reading them. After all, we don’t have the privelege to sit with you and hear them from your mouth. But you are having an impact in my life in ways I would have never expected. I came to the Rabbit Room to enjoy myself and relax, but what is happening to me is the exact opposite. I hear the Lord calling me to action.

    Thank you for taking time to express your heart and mentor me by proxy. I am beginning to step outside of my comfort zone and trust the Lord to work through me more and more. I did a very painful thing yesterday because of words I heard Jason Gray speak at Hutchmoot. It was the right thing to do. But definitely not comfortable or easy. May God bless you all and continue to speak through you to others who need the same encouragement I do.

  8. kelli

    Ron…thank you for this beautiful portrayal of truly living. It reminds me of one of my favorite passages from The Wind in the Willows…

    “The weary Mole also was glad to turn in without delay, and soon had his head on his pillow, in great joy and contentment. But ere he closed his eyes he let them wander round his old room, mellow in the glow of the firelight that played or rested on familiar and friendly things which had long been unconsciously a part of him, and now smilingly received him back, without rancour. He was now in just the frame of mind that the tactful Rat had quietly worked to bring about in him. He saw clearly how plain and simple–how narrow, even–it all was; but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him, and the special value of some such anchorage in one’s existence. He did not at all want to abandon the new life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back on sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to come back to; this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome.”

  9. Leanore

    Thank you for this, Ron, it was an affirmation and encouragement. You posted it a couple of hours after I had sat overlooking a dark lake, thinking about the abiding-and-bearing-fruit passage, as I contemplated (read: dreaded) a new challenge that must be undertaken. The image of the ox is perfect – you can get comfortable in the same yoke polished smooth by years of wear, following the same old oxen-paths. When an unexpected event changes your course in uncomfortable ways, you really just want to go on being an ox, instead of a vine that’s getting pruned.

    So I had to spend some time in that passage yesterday, and what I came up with was astounding. First, Jesus is going to reward faithful service with pruning. If my service has borne fruit, he wants more of it, and that means some of the green growth, growth that might cause a bit of pride, has to be cut back. That doesn’t feel much like a reward, but – the real reward is still ahead.

    Second, that abiding passage has some of the most amazing promises and commands attached to it:

    If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it shall be done. To be honest, if I’m skating on the surface of my Christian life, and not abiding deeply in Christ, what I ask for may not reflect something he desires for me. That’s a reality check right there. At times when I have lived this deeply in Christ, it’s true: he gives the desire of my heart.

    By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. Okay, so first I’m in a position of some fruit-bearing, which might have been painful enough, but he wants more fruit, which will mean more pain. That fruit, borne out of my pain, will glorify the Father. But Jesus bore the ultimate pain first, enabling me to do greater works. If I shrink back…what does that say about my real commitment?

    I have loved you just like the Father loves me. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…This I command you, that you love one another. Wow. That, THAT, is the test of my love for Christ? Not, do I love humanity, or even the ungodly, but do I love my fellow Christians? Maybe it’s time to stop protecting myself so much, and be a little more up-front with people, some of whom aren’t like me, whom I may not understand, who, to be honest, in this generation are carrying some baggage. This calls me to get out of the hobbit hole – I think of it as my “cottage lifestyle.” I’ve realized that I’ve spent my whole adult life trying to create this cottage lifestyle, where at the end of each day I can tuck everything in and call it good. Not being able to tuck everything in hurts. Love for Christ seems to be compelling me to live outside those neat boundaries, and that means living with hurt.

    I have told you these things so that your joy may be full. I do want that full joy. It promises to be about the only thing that will offset the painful abiding-and-bearing-fruit lifestyle. But boy is it not looking like anything easy, like anything superficial. Knowing this is the life he is calling me to, and what it’s going to be about – that’s a hard-won joy. Not pleasure, not contentment, not happiness. Joy.

    So thanks, Ron. I did need that encouragement. Still do.

    And, to all the writers/artists/musicians/ thinkers here, I’m really loving all the new thought spinning out of the Hutchmoot. This is some deep reality of the soul for me.

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