American Airlines has three direct flights a day from New York's LaGuardia airport to Nashville. I had a window seat in row 21, the emergency exit row, on the 12:30 pm flight a couple of days ago. On my left, in the middle seat, was a white guy. He was about 40 years old; a smallish man, softly thin, maybe 150 pounds, with receeding hair and wearing casual clothes.
I did not pay particular attention to him until the mid-point of our flight. That's when I glanced over and noticed his reading material. He was looking at a body-building magazine. He was reading about some contest that had taken place.
I don't understand body-building at all. And I have no desire to know anything about it. Pictures of body builders make my skin crawl. Why anyone would want to build up the size and shape of their muscles to such a grotesque and functionally useless state boggles my mind. And why anyone would watch others do this is also something I just don't get.
But, there he was, reading about this contest. OK, not my thing. But, no big deal. I love football, I love talking about it and watching it and even reading about it. But I don't play it. So, I think, this guy is into these contests as sport. He's a fan.
I go about my business. A few minutes later, he's on to another article. This one is about exercises that body builders recommend in order to bulk their abs. And he's reading it. Minutes later, he is reading an article about huge-calorie diet supplements. I realize this guy is reading each article, this whole magazine, cover to cover. He is studying it.
Here is what I'm thinking now. This guy is reading all of this information about how to be a body builder. But he is obviously not a body builder. I am bigger than he is, and I don't even suck down "Mongo Max Milk." I can understand enjoying a sport, but is he thinking about actually doing this stuff? Why else read about it?
So, now I am in the land of judgment. I come to the conclusion that, unless this guy is a researcher or something, he is reading hypocritically. He is reading how-to material that he is obviously not now, and probably not ever, going to put into practice. In my mind, he is reading this material in order to grow in this sport, but its all a big fantasy.
Judgment made, I blissfully go back to my PSP.
Later, though, a thought struck me. When I read the Bible, or the writings of the great saints, I am a lot like that guy. On one hand, I am reading for entertainment. I am reading because I enjoy the topic. But when it comes to the "how-to" sections, I am kind of like a 150 pound middle age man reading instructions for developing enormous biceps. It all sounds good, and it seems do-able if I have enough discipline, but how much of it am I really going to put into practice? And how guilty do I feel when I look in the spiritual mirror and realize that I am nothing like the guy on the cover of "Muscle and Fitness"?
I guess this is where grace comes in. I'm going to have to live my life as my self; and if, by God's grace, I can get up in the morning and love those around me, I'm doing pretty well. So, I'm going to keep reading the Bible, and keep reading the saints, but I'm going to do it knowing that I am a weakling reading a muscle magazine. I read these things hypocritically. And, somehow, I pray to be O.K. with that.