Finding Peace Where You Least Expect

Finding Peace Where You Least Expect

Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton


My mind has been dizzy lately. There is SO much going on! I have been swirling in a sea of activity, changing hats everyday with something else to do: disaster recovery in Puerto Rico, re-writing the Book of Discipline, Council & College of Bishops, the “Way Forward” and, oh yes, appointment season! It’s just been crazy.

My mind has been dizzy lately. There is SO much going on! More shootings, children and youth protesting, the struggles with DACA and immigration, teachers’ strikes, and, oh yes, appointment season. It’s just been crazy.

My mind has been dizzy lately. Work on our mission, vision, and core values, budget proposals, an endless string of committee meetings and appointments in the midst of what seems to be weekly travel and, oh yes, appointment season. It’s just been crazy.

My mind has been dizzy lately. Remembering the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr., the 50th anniversary of the formation of the United Methodist Church, and the 50th anniversary of the dissolving of the Central Jurisdiction. So much to remember. It’s just been crazy.

My mind has been dizzy lately. Recent struggles with the health and well-being of my parents in Florida, trying to work out times with our daughter as she anticipates the birth of her first child and our first grandchild, and a water main break at the episcopal residence that has added a whole other layer of things to do. So very much going on. It’s just been crazy.

My mind has been dizzy lately. So dizzy at times that it’s a bit hard to know where to start, when to stop, and how to navigate it all. My mind and body have been weary as of late and my spirit has been taxed. And in those seasons, the one who is called to minister to others feels, at times, a need to receive ministry from others. 

And when I least expected it, it happened.

His name was Barue. His nametag said “James,” but his real name is Barue. He was my flight attendant on a recent trip back to New York from one of those endless meetings. I fly just enough to get “bumped up” to first class every so often and this was one of those times. A bigger seat and a little more legroom . . . and Barue.

When I settled into my seat, Barue approached me and asked about my pin. My bishop’s pin is a real point of curiosity for those in the non-United Methodist world. When I told him what I did, I assumed that I would once again have to be “on” again. But Barue took a different approach.

“You must get really tired in your work,” he said. “I can’t imagine all of the responsibilities you carry. I hope that you’ll let me take care of you during this flight. If you need anything, please let me know.”

That was nice. But it got nicer. Before I knew what had happened, Barue was addressing all of the customers in first class.

“Before we start our flight,” he began, “I wanted to say a special word of thanks to each one of you for your business on our airline. We don’t say it enough but we wouldn’t have a job if it weren’t for you. So, on behalf of the thousands of employees at American Airlines I want to thank you for helping us have a job. During our flight today, if there’s anything I can do for you, I’ll try my best to do it.”

People started talking.

“We’ve never heard that speech before from a flight attendant,” one man said. The person in front of me turned to her seatmate and said, “I wish they all had that kind of spirit.” Another said, “What a nice young man.”

During the flight there was turbulence. It was rocky enough that they had to suspend the beverage service. Barue got on the intercom to make the announcement. I’ve heard it before, “Ladies and gentlemen, due to turbulence there will be no beverage service today.” And when that speech ends, you almost hear a sigh of relief from the flight attendant—you know, the “I’m off the hook on having to serve them” attitude. But Barue went a step further, “Ladies and gentlemen, due to turbulence there will be no beverage service today . . . And I really apologize for that. We enjoy serving you. In fact, it’s what we do. I’m really sorry that we can’t help to make your ride more pleasant. And, I’m really sorry for the turbulence, but you’ll have to take that up with someone else besides me.”

People starting talking again. 

When we landed, Barue appeared with his suit jacket on. In the few minutes it took the plane to taxi to the gate, this man reached out his hand, shook the hand of every passenger in first class, and called each of us by our first name (although he did call me bishop instead of Tom). To each of us he said, “It’s been a pleasure meeting you and I hope you have a really pleasant remainder of your day.”

When I was leaving, Barue shook my hand again and said, “Thank you especially for what you do. I don’t know a lot about your job but I would guess you have a lot of responsibilities and a lot of people to take care of. I’ll be remembering you.”

I may never see this man again in my life. But I will never forget him. 

In the rush of activity called life and in the midst of ever-rising tensions and anxieties, we are often more consumed with our own feelings and needs than the cares of others. And, when we offer ourselves freely in service to our work, there are times when we get tired and weary. It’s then, I have found, that God has a way of sending an angel or two to minister to your need. It speaks to scripture verses like these:

  • “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” (Hebrews 13:5),
  • “But even the hairs on your head are counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:7)
  • “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

The list goes on and on. These verses are written and serve as reminders on the journey that no one is on an island in the heart of God. But more than that, we have the gift of living reminders in our midst. People that sense a need are caught in a spirit of gratitude and made aware that what they have they have received from someone else. And when they understand how much they have, they respond in kind. What they have received, they freely give.

It’s what we are called to do. It’s how we transmit the faith that we claim as our own. Flight attendants can be short-tempered, non-conversant, and aloof. So can we. But remember, there is someone somewhere today who needs exactly what you have been given: grace, love, kindness, and joy. And when we do, life in the crazy, dizzying world seems a little bit more survivable in the mind of the one who you cared enough to bless.

My mind has been dizzy lately. But my equilibrium returned on American flight 2050 from Charlotte to LaGuardia.

Thanks Barue.