The Keystone Cops and the Religious Spirit - Kris Vallotton

September 13, 2015

A few years ago I had a situation that reminded me so much of the “Scripture Police” mentality when we flew out of a tiny airport in Modesto California. Kathy and I arrived at the airport two hours early, quite relaxed and in a good mood. As we entered the airport, I surveyed the inside of the small building and noticed that there was only one counter situated about twenty feet from the front door.

Behind the counter stood a tall, skinny, rather naïve looking young man. His company uniform was a few sizes too big for him, which made me wonder if he was a new employee. A couple of portable tables were set up a few feet in front of the counter with two airport security guards standing behind them to search people’s luggage. This placed the security tables right in the middle of the waiting area. Both guards were rather large, middle-aged men with their bellies hanging over their belt. They seemed like the kind of guys you meet who obviously watched a lot of cop movies as a kid and couldn’t wait to strap a gun to their belt.

The passengers looked on in horror as the security guards unpacked every single article of clothing from each bag; spreading them out on the tables in front of them and searching them as if the person was on the FBI’s most wanted list. Bras and underwear were separated into piles on the tables, as were other personal articles (that I won’t mention here). Thankfully, there were only two other passengers in the airport at the time; one sitting in the waiting area and the other standing at the counter in front of us.

We stood in line for 20 minutes waiting as the young, obviously inexperienced, airline representative fumbled around nervously, trying to get a ticket to print for the passenger. I could feel the frustration rising in me. “What a Bozo,” I whispered to Kathy. She glared at me in disapproval and encouraged me to sit down in the waiting area, (which was just a few feet from the counter), while she held our place in line. I sat down with a groan and stared on angrily. Another 15 minutes passed and finally it was our turn at the counter. I got up to join Kathy in the crucible. The airline representative looked up from behind the counter and said sheepishly, “You have to have your bags searched before you can come to the counter.”

I couldn’t believe it! We waited 35 minutes in line only to be told that our bags had to be searched first. There was no sign instructing us of the procedure, and with only three customers in the whole entire tiny airport, no one bothered to say a thing to us. I was just about to come unglued when Kathy reached over, touched me, and said to the young man, “okay sir, we will be right back.” (I knew her touch meant, “Be quiet. I got this handled!”).

We wheeled our luggage a few feet over to the tables were the two security guards were standing there looking like sergeants in a boot camp drill. One of the guards instructed us in a serious tone to lift our bags onto the table. I reached over to unzip my bag and was sternly reprimanded, “Stand back and take a seat until we are done.” Wow, I thought to myself, give a guy a badge and he thinks he’s Dirty Harry!”

Kathy and I sat there with two other passengers as the Keystone Cops searched our bags. They slowly pulled every single thing out of our luggage (including our underwear), inspecting them meticulously and setting them on the table as we watched in utter embarrassment. Twenty more minutes passed and by now Kathy had joined me in righteous indignation. Finally, just as I stood up and marched to the tables to give them a piece of my mind, the security guards handed our two suitcases to the airline representative through an opening in the counter.

The representative motioned to us to come to the counter. We handed him our IDs and travel information. Then I stood there angrily waiting impatiently as he stared intently at the computer screen for nearly 20 minutes without looking up. Every once in a while he would type something on the keyboard and then let out an, “hum…ahh…woe…yikes…” Kathy could sense that the volcano in me was about to blow so she was rubbing my arm to sort of calm me down. “This is ridiculous!” I said to Kathy, loud enough for him to hear. Finally, the printer came to life behind him and I began to feel some relief. For some reason he printed the bag tags first and then carefully installed them on the handles. Without looking up, he nervously retreated back to the monitor staring at it as if some horror movie were playing on the screen. Several more minutes ticked off the clock, as I grew intensely more impatient. He kept pressing buttons on the keyboard and looking at the ticket printer. Finally (in what seem like a last ditch effort) he called the janitor over to help. Without making any eye contact with us he mumbled, “something’s wrong with the ticket printer…the damn thing won’t print!” The two of them ducked down behind the counter whispering to one another, while they pressed different keys on the keyboard.

By now nearly an hour and a half had passed and the plane was waiting at the gate. The young airline representative looked up from behind the counter and said in a tone of voice revealing his anxiety, “I guess…we have no choice…we’ll have to call the tech support line.” He fumbled around for a little while trying to find the phone number and finally made the call. It took several minutes for someone to answer and then they immediately put him on hold. He stood there behind the counter staring at the printer. Several more minutes passed…I felt like climbing the walls. Finally somebody answered the phone and he began to describe the problem.

“Yup…umm…that’s right I can’t get the damn thing to print! Yeah, I tried that… okay, okay let me see if that works”, he continued.

He held the phone in one hand and with the other he pressed a couple more buttons on the keyboard.

“Nope…no that didn’t do it! Oh no! Seriously! There’s no other way to handle this? Wow, that’s the only way to fix it? Okay…okay then, I guess it’s come to that! All right, goodbye,” he said as he hung up the phone.

He stuck his head up from the counter and made eye contact with me. He looked like he’d seen a ghost! “Well,” he said (sounding as if he was going to tell me I had cancer), “We have to shut the entire system down and bring her back up again to fix it!”

“You’re kidding,” I said sarcastically.

“No sir, there’s no other way to fix it,” he said as serious as a heart attack.

He ducked down behind the counter again and located the switch on the back of the computer. He carefully turned it off as if it could trigger some bomb. He counted slowly to 30 out loud and then flipped it back on. The screen beeped and the printers rattled as they came to life. He timidly stared at the screen as the computer slowly rebooted. His eyes brightened as if there was some level of good news. He reentered our information into the computer asking us the same questions we had answered 40 minutes earlier. He hesitantly pushed the button and the printer burst to life printing our boarding passes. He carefully scrutinized our tickets and turned to match them to our luggage.

“Oh no!” he said with a shocked look on his face.

“What is it?” I responded in an angry voice.

“The boarding pass times don’t match the luggage tickets,” he moaned. “The luggage must be searched within twenty minutes of the ticket time,” he continued.

“Are you out of your mind? You must be crazy!” I shouted. “You have had the luggage in your possession since it’s been searched!” I protested.

“I’m sorry, sir! That’s the rules. I don’t make ’em sir, I just follow them,” he snapped, as he handed the bags back to the security guards.

By now the other passengers were on the plane waiting for us. My anger meter was pegged. I couldn’t believe my eyes! The security guards took our bags back through the passage in the counter and set them on the tables. They unzipped our luggage and began to pull everything out of our cases again.

“You guys cannot be serious,” I said in a stern voice to the Keystone cops. You guys just searched my luggage thirty minutes ago! What is going on in this place!” I pleaded angrily. By now Kathy was doing her best to calm me down, but I didn’t want to hear it.

“Stand back from the table, sir! Homeland Security Laws dictate that we search your luggage again,” one cop insisted as they continued to meticulously inspect every piece of clothing in our bag.

The airline representative peered at us with stress written all over his face and said, “You have to get on the plane right now, or the flight will leave without you! I don’t think we’ll have time to get your bags on the plane. We’ll send them to you on the next flight out.”

“This plane is not leaving without us being on it and I am not leaving without my luggage! We have been here for two hours while you guys messed around with our baggage and tickets. Now give me my luggage and put us on that plane,” I demanded.

The airline rep and both security guards were staring intently at me. But I wasn’t about to give an inch. They whispered something to one another and then threw our stuff back in our bags and rushed them out to the plane with us in tow. I have a feeling that none of those guys wanted to call the police and let us tell them our story.

Looking back now, the story is rather comical, yet it reminds me so much of how the religious spirit relates to the Bible. The religious spirit exposes weakness, unpacks our vulnerabilities, assumes the worst, trusts nobody, and looks for evil in every suitcase. This Pharisaical spirit protects the rules above relationships. People under its spell have a slave mentality inhibiting them from thinking through the ramifications of the application of truth. The concept of situational relevance or contextual application is viewed as degrading the Word of God. Much like my friends at the airport who refused to question the spirit of the law but instead insisted on searching our luggage again (even though the bags were obviously under their control the entire time), the Scripture Police scorn anyone who believes that context dictates the definition of the Bible.

The fact is that without understanding the heart of God and believing in the cultural context of scripture, there is only one other option to explain many contrasting passages; the Bible contradicts itself! That’s right! The Theological Police that are running around shouting, “We believe the Bible! We believe the entire Bible! We believe every word of the Bible,” have actually never really thought through the ramifications of their proclamations. They are under the delusion that applying every word of the Bible literally to all situations universally, is practicing the apostle Paul’s exhortation to Timothy when he said, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth,” (2 Timothy 2:15). Actually, it’s impossible to literally apply every Scripture universally. Before you throw this book away, let me explain. God wrote the Bible through forty inspired authors with the intention that the Spirit would lead those reading it. The Word of God without the Spirit of God causes death! Paul put it this way; Jesus made “…us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life,” (2 Corinthians 3:4). Therefore the Bible is written in such a way that you need the Spirit of God to know how to apply the Word of God.

Excerpt from the book “Fashioned to Reign.”

Topics: All TopicsLeadership