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The So Much More

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Yesterday evening, Boeing rolled out their next generation airliner, the 787 “Dreamliner.” A high-tech, mid-sized, wide-body, twin engine jet airliner, the Dreamliner is being hailed as a great technological innovation, primarily for its use of composite materials. These materials make for a much lighter aircraft which in turn leads to significant fuel savings and allows the aircraft to land on shorter runways. It should even allow the aircraft to support higher internal humidity which will make for a more comfortable journey under more natural conditions.

The initial photographs and prototypes of the aircraft show a cabin that is amazingly impressive. The lights are subdued and change color and intensity as the flight progresses in an attempt to help bodies adjust to time spent sitting and to time zones crossed. The seats are wide and spacious, looking more like living room recliners than airplane seats. It looks like a basketball player could easily stretch his legs and have a good nap while flying. The aisles are wide and look as if the flight attendants could pass by without knocking against the elbows and shoulders of people sitting in the aisle seats. The interior looks like it was designed by an award-winning interior decorator (which, as I understand it, is exactly what happened). All-in-all, the plane seems like it is poised to revolutionize flight. While flying still has an exciting mystique, it quickly grows tiresome. The experience rarely lives up to its billing. But the 787 Dreamliner seems poised to change all of that.

But it won’t. There is a radical difference between these prototypes Boeing is so proud to display and the cold reality of what you and I will experience when airlines begin to receive these planes in the spring of 2008. The reality is that the Dreamliner will soon look pretty much like every other airliner we’ve ever flown on. The comfortable seats will be nowhere to be seen and will be replaced with tightly-packed rows of the usual “not-quite-wide-enough” seats. The legroom will be cut down radically so that the knees of any person six feet or taller will be pressed against the seat ahead. The floors will be littered with crumbs and the chairs will be stained with the remnants of a million drinks and meals. The much-anticipated LED lighting will not be there in most cases and in the end the experience on a 787 won’t be much different than that experience on a 777 or 767 or any other of Boeing’s planes. After all, the airlines need to make money and they do so by cramming as many people as possible into the planes and charging as much as people will pay to get them where they are going. This is the way it has been and the way it will continue to be. Call me a pessimist if you want, but I think I’m just being a realist.

I read about the Dreamliner with bemusement, knowing that the reality is going to be so far from the sales job done by Boeing. They want to get people exciting about this jet but are getting people excited based on a serious of “could be true” scenarios. Sure, it’s possible that some people will outfit 787s with only the best seats and the most comfortable legroom. But the vast majority of us will be treated like cattle, just like we are today. Moo.

It’s no great secret that I read a lot. And as I read I continually encounter books written by and for Christians that pretty well stick with the Boeing marketing tactic. Boeing knows that the vast majority of people are underwhelmed by the experience of flying and they take this into account in their marketing. “To this point you’ve been treated like this, but now we’ll treat you so much better. Take heart. These five simple innovations will make your life better. Just you wait.” I have shelves full of books (not including the many that end up in the trash) that make this same claim. “To this point your Christian life has been like this. But take heart. Here are six easy steps that will revolutionize your life. Just you wait.” They promise a Christian existence that is so much better and so much greater than what we experience now. They promise plains without the hills or the valleys, joy without sorrow, peace without pain. They promise but never deliver. If I had just a dime for every book offering six easy steps or five hidden secrets to Christian success I’d be a rich, rich man. But I don’t think I’d be any happier or more fulfilled.

The more I live this Christian life, the more I know that it is a life filled with sorrow. There is joy, too, to be sure. But so much of what we experience in the here and now is toil and sorrow. By the sweat of the brow do we enjoy this life. Too often we look here for what we can truly only have later. It is in heaven that we will have the full and ultimate fulfillment. It is there that we will experience the fullness of joy. These books, which arrive time and time again, always neglect the future joy, promising full and abundant joy and satisfaction right now. But they over-promise and under-deliver.

I don’t mean to seem a killjoy. I do love this life. This morning I was filled with joy and praise during my time of prayer as I surveyed the responsibilities God has entrusted me with–my wife and children, my church and home, my work and writing. But with the joy is always a measure of sorrow. My wife has been sick for a couple of days and we’re having trouble finding effective ways of disciplining one of the children; work has proven difficult for the past few weeks and I’m stalled out in preparing a study guide for the book. Lingering beneath the surface of the joy is sorrow and discontent. It’s a discontent that cries out for the fullness of joy; it’s a discontent that anticipates the fullness of joy that will only come when the Lord returns or when I go to be with Him.

Life is good. It truly is. But so much of me longs for the so much more that I know is coming. Behind every joy is the knowledge that these joys, as wonderful as they are, are but the smallest foretaste of the great joy that is coming. And some days I feel like I can just barely wait.

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