Every time I travel, I get very anxious about the security systems. First there is the problem of the machine that goes “bing!!” I do everything to prevent it from going of, like taking off my belt, and shoes, and watch, but nothing ever seems to be enough. Last time it was my cross, worn under my clothes that had to be taken of (first time ever!). And now they have these full body X-ray machines for people! All I want to do is to know the rules in advance, and know what I have to do to get through without trouble, but nothing works. I am tempted to take off all my clothes and walk through naked, as a protest. One security officer told me that sometimes the machine just goes of at random, so there is no way of getting through!
And the staff! It is as if they have had a psychology test for the staff to choose the most unpleasant, authoritarian people they could find to do this job. Anyone who is pleasant, who will be will be kind and will try to lower my anxiety by talking to me seems to have been ‘screened out’ of getting a job in the first place.
Much of all this trouble I put down to the ‘theatre’ of security, because if anyone wanted to do real damage, they could get a job as a baggage handler or some other ‘air side’ job.
And then, if you actually say anything, apart from being silently compliant, like lambs led to the slaughter, the whole weight of the security apparatus is brought down upon you.
Imagine my pleasure and surprise when this week, a tidal wave of complaint was unleashed upon the talk-back radio when an elderly woman rang up to complain that, when she was called aside for a ‘pat -down’ by the security staff, someone stole her handbag from the X-ray conveyor belt, took all of the contents, and then put it back. Worse, the security staff would take no responsibility for it.
So the business of travelling just got a whole lot worse. They require us to be separated from our property for a ‘pat-down’ but then also require us to take responsibility for the theft.
The great number of callers to the talk-back radio said to me that I am not alone in my worries about the security process. It is as if we have all suffered in silence for such a long time: living with the anxiety, the sullenness and authoritarian nature of security staff: until now! It is like another “#Me Too” has begun about how we are treated at airports.
In the #Me Too movement, the floodgates have been opened on the alienating effect on women as they feel powerless in the face of men who can damage or promote their careers, or who are physically stronger than they are.
And about the Church too: We have promised so much and delivered the opposite. It is not surprising that a number of prominent people have been targeted for the ire of a lot of alienated people in the face of the Church’s protectiveness of its own reputation.
But the book of Revelation talks about the battle between the ‘beastly one’ and the ‘human one’. Being under the thumb of ‘the beast’ produces the very anxiety and alienation that the #Me Too movement, and the complaints about the security at the airport are point to.
Christian faith points to the fact that we are all worth more than ‘many sparrows’ and that every hair of our heads is numbered. Far be it from any one else to treat us differently.
Christian faith points to the fact that since the Incarnation, it is possible to be ‘visited’ by God in Christ by anyone we may come across.
This goes for every person who is demeaned by the beastly behaviour on the part of security staff, and for everyone who comes across a security staff member who is perhaps demeaned by the way in which they have to do their job!
Do you remember the story of the vicar who went to his new congregation on the Sunday before his induction? He dressed up as if he were a homeless person, in order to test whether the congregation would treat him as ‘Christ’ or whether they would tell him to go away.
For my money, part of the solution to the problem lies in this: That we try as much as possible to ‘humanise’ the ‘beastly’ process of security checks.
This has been done in lots of places. I remember particularly the clowns and comedians that they had to ‘humanise’ the waiting in line that was part of the Expo in Brisbane. I was impressed!
I remember that a traffic jam in driving to work was made almost pleasant by a traffic policeman who smiled and greeted people as they passed his traffic point.
Why can’t security personnel be trained in the same way? But for me, can I put aside my focus n my own anxiety to make an effort to see each staff member as ‘Jesus in disguise ‘ too? Moistly at the moment I sing to myself, and pray in the hope that this will relax me. It has to a degree.
That said though, it seems to me that the airline security system is one that could do with a good dose of Christian humanising.