TSA and the Christ Child

Previously by G.C. Dilsaver: Christians and the Pro-life Ploy

I have the blessing of being associated with the good monks of Our Lady of the Annunciation Monastery of Clear Creek, Oklahoma, many of whose founding fathers were led to convert to Catholicism in the late 1960's after studying in the Integrated Humanities Program under John Senior et al. at the University of Kansas. This program, based on the ancient wisdom and reasoning of the West, was extremely popular and truthful, and therefore extremely subversive and threatening to the University's "effete-elite" who finally silenced it; but not before it had done some serious damage. This "damage" still lives on and is indeed thriving at Clear Creek Monastery. Indeed, in addition to the monks, many agrarian "off-the-grid" type families have also relocated to the area.

To spend some days praying, working, and sharing meals with the monks is to spend days being immersed in reality. Indeed, this is a cloister that works not to keep anything in but to keep the unreal out: it is a refuge of reality in a world of lies. But inevitably the day comes when a visitor such as I must leave those cloistered depths of reality to make the hour drive to the Tulsa International Airport. So after pre-dawn Matins and Lauds followed by Holy Mass I bid farewell to Our Lord, the monks, and monastery. An extern brother loads my bags into a car and drives me past the grazing sheep and the watching Great Pyrenees. We proceed down the hill and out the log gated entrance onto the rocky back-roads of a town appropriately called "Lost City."

The road turns to pavement and then to highway and with each mile out a foreboding anxious, slightly nauseous feeling slowly rises, as does the city of Tulsa on the horizon. As I am dropped-off at the airport, I say one more slightly distressed goodbye to Brother Driver and the monastery and reality he represents. As I hoist my bags and turn to look into the craw of a twilight zone of demonic machinations I attempt to fortify myself by taking one last draught of the somehow still lingering pre-dawn monastic air. But this remembered air nuanced with the bitter-sweet smell of incense and vibrating with the chant of ancient Latin psalms is overcome by air tinged with the acrid smell of jet fuel and pierced by mechanical paranoid voices stridently barking about terror alerts and suspicious activities and people. Indeed, the air is filled with an insidious fear and the subliminal message is clear: "We're at war so don't dare step out of line!"

My foreboding this time is increased by a previous run in with Topeka TSA a year earlier. Then I had brought home with me a piece of the monastery, a large wheel of monk's cheese. My departure flight that day had been delayed and I was hurriedly trying to catch an alternate flight that was departing momentarily or face a three-hour wait. But as I tried to pass through security I was detained. TSA agents ominously confronted me, "Is this your bag?" "Yes." "What's in it?" "What do you mean?" "Unzip the bag!" By now there were four or five TSA, or KGB Wanna-Bes, gathered around, including a supervisor in a suit who had an uncanny resemblance to the late Gary Coleman. I opened the bag. And there it was in plain sight, as big as can be, a ten-pound wheel of monk's cheese wrapped in clear plastic, with my cell phone and charger I suppose suspiciously placed on top. Commissar Coleman, was absolutely flabbergasted! "What do you think you're doing?" "Excuse me?" "What this suppose to be?" The other TSA agents are starting to suppress smiles and I, exercising prudent restraint, refrain from saying the obvious word "bomb:" that four-letter word that would immediately get me cuffed if not tasered. "It's cheese, monk's cheese to be exact." Commissar Coleman's eyes bugged out even more than they were while he makes comments that question my sanity and level of intelligence. So I say as sardonically as I can, "I didn't realize cheese wasn't allowed to be carried on." Commissar Coleman looks at me like I am the lowest form of life (reminiscent of how my Marine Corps Drill Instructors used to look at me). He tries a few more times to provoke me and to elicit the word "bomb" but I don't take the bait; and after taking some pictures from various angles of "the incident" he sends me back out to check my cheese. Of course I protest, because I won't be able to catch the alternate flight and because there is no reason to do this; but of course reason has nothing to do with the reasonings of the State; and of course because I protest I am threatened by the Commissar with being detained and not being able to fly at all.

Now in retrospect I wish I had said something like, "Does the cheese-ban only apply to monk's cheese or is it all-inclusive, and if so does that even include cream cheese." Or maybe, "Now I can understand Cheese-Wiz, since it is made out an unknown non-biodegradable and most likely toxic substance that is designed to be propelled through the air, maybe into an unsuspecting stewardess' eye." But with my anger starting to noticeably rise above my prudence I could only utter the feeble mocking parting suggestion – and though feeble it seemed to push the limit – that maybe "the entrance signs should have cheese listed as forbidden along with handguns, explosives, and bottled water" and then skadoodled out as the oh-so-serious Commissar glared at me with taser-like intensity.

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No monk's cheese this time around though. However this time around TSA Topeka does now have in place the dreaded "strip-scanners:" known to be harmful to body and soul. It is my first encounter and I know I should refuse and resolve to do so as I check-in and make my way to security. But as I wait in line I observe that absolutely no one else in the many lines before me is selecting to opt-out! I advance in line almost to the end and still no else has opted-out and I am beginning to hesitate. But right before it's my turn a man immediately before me apparently "opts out," and without any fanfare goes through the metal detector and gracefully walks away. That is all I needed as I confidently inform the TSA agent, or more appropriately "minion," that I am "opting out." Immediately he loudly informs the entire area, "We have an opt-out!" I am herded through the metal detector and then to the public search area. Here I am offered an intimate private search behind closed doors, to which I respond: "Yeah, right," and "No thanks." At this time, the pat-down was not yet the "new enhanced pat-down," but still it was wrong and violating. As I was being frisked the minion simultaneously swabbed me down and then tested the swab for explosive chemicals.

And still the whole time no one else had opting-out save myself and the guy right before me who had sailed through. So feeling alone, somewhat humiliated, and definitely indignant, I go over to collect my shoes, clothing, and bag and begin wondering if I had made the right choice. "Is this your bag?" "Yes." "What's in it?" "What do you mean?" "Unzip the bag!" "There's no cheese in it." "What?" "Cheese." "Open the bag please." Before I follow orders I unhurriedly finish putting on my shoes and blazer, which causes the minion not an inconsiderable amount of consternation. I then unzip the bag and reach in. I always reach in myself to retrieve whatever it is, since it is my stuff, and I am always asked to back away, like it is not my stuff at all. The inspecting minion, watched by other TSA minions, unwraps a gift my family and I had been given of 14 inch figurine of the Blessed Mother holding the Infant Jesus. The minion lifts the statuette out, and I forcefully tell him to "Be careful!" but my all too prevalent lower nature is urging me to say "Get your stinking hands off my statue, punk!" And then, lo and behold, my anger is replaced by dumbfoundedness as the minion proceeds to frisk and swab the statuette the same way I was frisked and swabbed, first along the figure of Our Lady and then along the figure of the Christ Child! (In retrospect I wonder if it was just profiling: Middle-Eastern and all that). Anyway, nothing is found on either of them and they and I, still dumbfounded, are allowed to pass through.

Maybe I wasn't much of a Saint Joseph in suffering fools well, be they innkeepers (LK2.7) or gatekeepers; but at least I, like him, then took "the Child and his mother" and fled (MT2.13). And though I still felt the humiliation I was able to thank God for it. I knew I had done the right thing in resisting evil by opting-out, for in subsequently enduring being frisked and swabbed I ended up being in very good, indeed the very best of company. And maybe that guy that went before me was really an angel of God that didn't even need to take a plane to fly but was there to guide me; alternatively, and maybe more likely but no less providentially, he was someone more in league with the fallen angels, like an upper echelon State minion.

But in any case, I was confirmed in the righteousness of my resisting this particularly sensational symptom of the ever-increasing totalitarian state. In addition to being so confirmed, I am also informed by the ancient wisdom and reasoning of the West (as conveyed, for example, in the Integrated Humanities Program and as lived at Clear Creek Monastery) that one cannot acquiesce to evil but must prudently resist it. But by submissively going through a physically and morally harmful strip-scanner one is passively acquiescing in evil. That is why opting-out, though not morally mandatory, is the more righteous thing to do even if in doing so one must face a frisking. However, it is quite understandable, and absolutely no culpability is entailed, if one discerns he is not emotionally up to enduring an immodest frisking and therefore goes through the strip-scanner under protest.

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Yes, relative to the strip-scanner an immodest frisking is more humiliating because more personal. But because it is more personal it is also more confrontational and hence a prophetic witness against evil. In addition, I for one would rather see the whites of my enemies' eyes. Nor does this immodest and dishonoring frisking render the person being frisked immodest or dishonorable. For, nota bene, modesty and honor, like all virtue and moral goodness, cannot be taken away but rather can only be lost if freely surrendered. In a case like this the frisking, and this can apply to strip-scanning as well, is a violation that one endures but does not consent to (made manifest by stating, for instance, "I do not consent to you touching me inappropriately and will file a complaint and/or legal action if you do so.").

Yes, paradoxically resistance may lead to further humiliation. But humiliation can be the process of becoming humble, and ultimately it is only the "meek and humble of heart" (MT11.29), like the Lamb of God Himself, that will have the courage to confront and topple pride in all its forms (even in its nationalistic "American Pride" form); while it is the proud and timid "sheeple" afraid of embarrassment and censure who freely succumb to evil and degradation. I must admit, however, that I don't know what I will do if I am subjected someday to an "enhanced pat-down," that is, I don't know if I will decide that the need to fly in the specific situation is a good that entails my enduring, but not consenting to, being violated; or, if deeming the good of the trip in question not sufficient, I will decide to forgo the flight by simply refusing, which risks moving up to the next level of humiliation (and as such heroism) with the sting of the taser and arrest.

However, I do know that flying is expendable but modesty and honor are not. So perhaps it is best if one finally opts-out totally by slowing down a bit: by taking a car or bus or train, or maybe a donkey. Or as the saintly Dominican friar and anti-state agrarianist Father Vincent McNabb (1868–1943) wrote:

“Buy boots you can walk in. Walk in them. Even if you lessen the income of the General Omnibus Company [or United Airlines] or your family doctor; you will discover the human foot. On discovering it, your joy will be as great as if you had invented it. But this joy is the greatest, because no human invention even of Mr. Ford or Mr. Marconi is within a mile of a foot.”

But put our collective foot down we must, or the jackboot of the state with come down upon us! A blessed and peaceful Christmas to all you of good-will and may you heed your God-inspired dreams and thus avoid the Henchman of Herod.

December 25, 2010