The Common Good

What Are We Guarding Against?

As I stood in line at Orlando International Airport, a little girl did not want to go through airport security. She was desperately clinging to her grandmother.

Airport security, Tifonimages /
Airport security, Tifonimages /

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I had already been pondering, as I *always* do, the enormous investment the nation has made in these checkpoints, going on 12 years now, in response to the actions of 19 men. 19 persons. These lines are here forever now, just one more cost of the fall, one more insult to our usual illusion of normalcy.

I'm not inconvenienced by the searches or the scanners, or worried about my personal liberties, though half stripping in public is embarrassing (we men have to take our belts off). At least the posture in those full-body cylinders reminds me that, at a very real level, this ought to be my more constant pose: found wanting, presumed guilty, and in need of throwing up my hands in surrender.

Still, I marvel at the sheer amount of money we must spend for all of this equipment and personnel, hoping this all somehow makes us safe. I'm skeptical.

I saw a television interview with the head of security for Israel's airline, EL AL. He says that Americans have bought a rather expensive "security theater" in which every person, no matter how small or old or frail, is a potential kamikaze. He said it's a tremendous waste and that we ought to train our people, as they do theirs, in scanning people's behaviors, eyes, demeanor, etc., including, of course, profiling.

I often reflect, in the wake of 9/11 and the bombings in Europe, that a world in which we ensure our safety by securing ourselves by ever-increasing measures on the assumption that *every person* is capable of the most wild acts of evil — at airports or anywhere — will eventually make for a world and a manner of living not worthy of our dignity as divine image bearers. Yet, we seem more and more willing to make that bargain: precious freedom for nothing but a sense of absolute security (who can guarantee a world secure from evil but God?).

Still, it's a marvel that people hate vehemently enough to end their lives and those of complete strangers as a solution to their actual suffering or perceptions of injustice. It's expensive to make this means of transportation secure as best we can, to perpetually guard ourselves against the darkness.

What alarms me most is how all of this closes my heart to others, has a tendency to make us deeper strangers, living in cities and landscapes of suspicion, easily frightened and controlled.

Something is lost in the wake of unspeakable violence, and in the restrictions that follow, that perhaps must follow. But we can, please God, be vigilant that we do not allow something in us to die. That something is the risk that God undertook by becoming one of us and making himself vulnerable to every person, vulnerable to suffering, yes, but also engaging our neighbor — whether hostile or welcoming — with the gracious possibility of transfigured life.

The Rev. Kenneth Tanner is pastor of Church of the Holy Redeemer in Rochester Hills, Mich.

Photo: Airport security, Tifonimages /

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