I got on a flight to Chicago last week with two books in my bag. That's what I do on planes. Unlike many of my traveling companions, I can't sleep on a plane. I'm really not into games on my phone or watching video content. Most of the time, the people I'm seated next to are reading their own books, playing games or napping. I once flew 15 hours to Africa seated next to a lady who slept the entire flight. She apparently took a sleeping pill and had the bladder of a camel.
I settled into my seat for the two-hour flight, noticing my seatmate was reading her own book. I got out my book and started reading. Through the drink and snack service, my seatmate remained immersed in her book.
About an hour into the flight she got tired of reading and wanted conversation. I signaled that I was doing important reading and couldn't be distracted. She sought to engage our other row-mate, but he had earplugs in, eyes dialed into the screen of an iPhone.
She turned to me and began asking questions, ignoring my subtle hints that I was busy. Why was I going to Chicago? What kind of conference? Where would it be held? What did I do for a living?
One of the reasons I don't like conversations on planes is once people discover I'm a pastor, the conversation can get weird. Sometimes people start telling me how religious they are, or they begin to tell me everything wrong with the church, or they tell me why they don't believe in God (I believe that if the plane spiraled out of control, they might be quick converts). This lady, however, didn't really react to me being a pastor, other than mentioning she was Catholic. She had recently moved from Chicago to Florida because, she said, the winters were much better. I told her I understood. The great American writer Lewis Grizzard said Chicago has two seasons: winter and Fourth of July.
I asked her what was taking her to Chicago. Her face lit up. It all began, she said, in 1979. I've learned when people begin an answer with a date 40 years in the past, I'm in for a long story.
She told me that in 1979 she went to her first Dan Fogelberg concert. For those of you who missed the 1970s and 1980s, Fogelberg was part of the acoustic pushback to techno-pop and disco. He recorded hits like "The Leader of the Band," "Same Old Lang Syne" and "Run for Roses." Fogelberg's music touched her deeply, and she saw him eight or nine more times in concert. When Fogelberg developed prostate cancer and did a farewell concert, she and her sister bought expensive tickets and made the trip to hear him one last time.
After his death in 2007, a tribute fan group formed. She was one of the first members. Each year they would meet at a site that was connected to Fogelberg. One year they went to his house in Maine. Another year they went to Peoria, where the lyrics of his songs were carved into stones along the river. They had danced in the streets of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, with Jean, Fogelberg's wife, to benefit prostate cancer research. Another year, they had a concert where Dan Fogelberg impersonators sang his songs. Apparently, there is a whole Dan Fogelberg subculture I knew nothing about. With the passion of a Clemson football fan, she told me how wonderful each gathering was and how hearing Fogelberg's songs with fellow devotees inspired her.
She and her sister were on their way to Danville, Illinois, for another Fogelberg gathering, celebrating some connection he had with that town.
About this time, the wheels of the plane squealed, announcing our arrival in Chicago. My new friend was not deterred. She continued to tell me about her favorite Fogelberg songs and share Fogelberg memories. The rows ahead of us were emptying. I told her I enjoyed talking to her (listening, really) and wished her well. Her face beamed as she wished me a good time in Chicago, obviously thrilled she could share the good news of Fogelberg with someone.
As I trudged up the concourse, I couldn't help but think about her passion for Fogelberg. At times she spoke as a woman who attended church regularly, who had a faith connection with God. But it was plain that her passion was not for Jesus, it was for Fogelberg. For her, Fogelberg was an obsession.
I admit I felt a little judgmental. She should be more passionate about Jesus than Dan Fogelberg. Then I heard a whisper from the Holy Spirit: "You didn't say one word to her about Jesus. Are you as passionate about Jesus as she is about Dan Fogelberg?"
Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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