Lent Reflections: The Unsettling Smell of LaGuardia

New York City, New York: It’s been a year since I was last in New York – but hardly feels like it was that long ago. The flood of memories come back as the smell of LaGuardia fills my nostrils: excitement and anticipation; fear and terror.

I have a love-hate relationship with New York. When I was traveling for consulting, I had an intense 6 weeks in Manhattan in February-March of 2012 during the navy seals version of my consulting career: mergers and acquisitions. This was the deal that was in the public headlines, that was the reason why people went into consulting, and was an amazing opportunity. It was even a good ethical decision by the C-Suite. It was (on paper) the dream job.

But I barely kept my head above water in that deal. Stepping off the plane at LaGuardia, the smell just filled my nostrils and I wondered, “What is going to go wrong this week?”

Then I returned last year in 2014 to New York to volunteer staff a conference here – for Believers in Business, where the best MBA students talk about how God can shape their endeavors to shape the world’s most influential companies. It had to have been the most thought provoking teaching I’d heard that year, but it started out with far from intrigue and more like sheer terror. I lost my wallet on the plane.

Read that again: I lost my wallet on the plane.

In New York City.


I get nervous maybe once a year. Fear is not one of the negative emotions that I experience often. (Since it is Lent, I’ll confess that anger is more my cup of tea…which is actually more like a double shot of whiskey)

But honestly, I’m beyond unsettled. I’m terrified.

And that smell of LaGuardia is not helping. So after thankfully having my cell phone to connect with a friend, I got $30 to ride a shuttle to get to the bank, to get $200 in walk-around money, and then land at my Hotel for the conference.  I’m a really, really lucky guy.

(And Southwest mailed me back my wallet in a week. Can you say, “loyal customer for life?”)

So when I get off the plane today, a year later, I check my pants pocket AT LEAST 10 times. My wallet that I once lost is still there.

And so is that God-awful smell of LaGuardia. It fills my nostrils as I walk through the familiar terminal and the flood of memories returns. Ugh. My stomach is unsettled.

Before Lent began I watched one last movie: Up In The Air. I watched this before I landed in consulting, and found it incredibly intriguing. I haven’t watched it since I switched from campus minister to consultant.

Upon rewatching it, and no longer traveling for work, it brought up so many mixed memories of life on the road (or up in the air.) What is so intriguing to me about the movie is seeing George Clooney unsettled. His life is all figured out, he’s on the motivational speaker circuit, and he’s the coolest of the cool kids sporting his salt and pepper, and of course he’s from a small town in Wisconsin…

And through a plot twist that NONE OF US see coming, he’s unsettled. We are no longer seeing the coolest of the cool kids. We see a frail, unsettled man whose comforts no longer comfort him. The anticipation of the moment he has wanted most in his life, the 10,000,000 mile club…exposes his frailty.

I think Lent in it’s purest form is unsettling. I went to a more traditional Ash Wednesday service, where ashes are placed on my forehead. It’s unsettling to listen to a sermon that starts with the saying, ,”Today we remember that someday we are going to die.”

Whenever I see ashes on the forehead on this day, I’m unsettled. Because it’s awkward. It’s weird. It’s not normal. I don’t wanna think about dying today.

And when I’ve given up Facebook and meat and alcohol in non-social settings, that craving is unsettling. Because I know I want it. I really really do. The fix of seeing others air-brushed lives, or the satisfaction of a steak, or chicken, or ribs, a juicy burger from Fatso’s, or…God all of those sound good right now…with a beer…New Glarus Spotted Cow…maybe I’ll be just like a good Wisconsinite and have Friday night fish here in New York and the local wheat beer on tap…

But that is the point. When Jesus “set his face to Jerusalem” it wasn’t to settle me – it was to invite me to the unsettling way of the Cross. That his self-sacrificing, others-focused love is not only what he has for me, but what he calls me to.

This is why I have a love-hate relationship with Lent. When I remove my creature comforts, the smell of LaGuardia pales in comparison to the stench of my sin – my inability to carry out that self-sacrificing, others-centered love. And I know the Gospel takes away my sin. More on that on Resurrection Sunday.

But today, I’ll be reminded of the Ash on my forehead and think about confession.

And feel OK being unsettled. Because today’s bright sadness will usher in a new day tomorrow.

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February 2015

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