Saturday, April 30, 2011

One out of Ten

Recently a new restaurant opened its doors.  People in the neighborhood were excited to try it out.  A few weeks after it opened, ten people who had a meal at the restaurant were surveyed.  How did they like it?  Would they go again?  Would they recommend the place to their friends?

Nine of the ten just loved the place and most of then have already been there at least twice.  The consensus was that they loved the food.  It was fresh, interesting, new and delicious.  The service was friendly. One patron said that she felt like one of the family now.  Most thought the prices were fair to excellent and many bragged about taking home a "doggie bag" each time they went because such huge portions were served.

One person who was surveyed, however, did not agree with the prevailing view.  He thought the service was slow and his waiter crabby.  They didn't get his order right and he had to wait over forty minutes to get his new meal after he sent the other one back.  He posted his poor opinion online, on the dining websites: yelp, metromix, and

Upon hearing about the poor experience of the one person, the owners of the new restaurant did everything they could to earn back the customer's favor.  They refunded his money and offered to give me a free drink with his next meal.  When the customer said that wasn't good enough, they said that they would give him dinner for two on the house if he would erase his poor review.  (It didn't look too good for the new restaurant to have only one review online, his scathing attack.)  When he said he would do if the meal also included two bottles of wine, they gave in and he erased his review.

The next Friday, Mr. Poor-review dined at a table right next to one of the positive reviewers from the survey and by coincidence they both had the same waitress.  At the end of the meal the waitress asked each of them, "how was everything."  As he handed over his Chase debit card to the waitress Mr. Positive said: "fantastic, I just love this place."  Mr. Poor-review had a different story to tell the young lady, as he handed her his free-stuff voucher, "My food was cold again... and again you guys were so slow.  I'm not coming here anymore."  But of course, that was not the case at all... for you see, Mr. Poor-review did eat there again two weeks later... and once again his meal was free.

We live in a world where the cliche "The squeaky wheel gets the grease" reigns as divine truth.  When services businesses depend on happy customers and 100% job satisfaction, a great deal of power is given to the one who likes to make noise and has very little ability to see things that are positive.  From auto sales, to daycare centers, to faith communities when a person is upset a great amount of time, energy and resources are spent to try get that squeaky wheel to stop making so much noise.  Nine out of ten is not good enough... ten out of ten is was is strived for.

Unfortunately, the loser in this whole equation is the one providing the service.  A system that empowers the tiny percentage of complainers is a system that is hijacked by said complainers.  The first few months of a new restaurant's life is precarious.  A poor review or two can kill it, even if the motives and personality behind the poor review is suspect.  They must do all they can to make it "right."  The mantra of this "Squeaky Wheel" world is that "the customer is always right."  Even when Mr. Poor-review is wrong.

The other loser in this is the other nine customers who also are "always right."  They don't get the grease the restaurant would like to give them.  They are telling their friends about the new place, but can easily go without notice.

In John 20 we are given a story that's not all that different from our 2011 restaurant opening.  Jesus' disciples were gathered together in a room.  No word is given to us in John about what they were eating.  The story is not about reviewing a meal.  Instead it is about the appearance of the risen Christ.  Jesus appears to them and breathes the Holy Spirit upon them.  Thomas is not present, and when the disciples tell him what happened his response is well known.  He's a distant relative of Mr. Poor-review: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

It's a good thing there was not a yelp or metromix or  for faith in the first century.  I'm sure Thomas would have been right on there posting his doubts and opinions.

Jesus, the Son of God, responds to Thomas with love and compassion.  No surprise there, after all God is love.  At first it appears that Jesus is going to give Thomas the equivalent of a free meal for two to get him to change his mind.  Go ahead and feel my wounds.  Put your finger through the hole in my hand.  Put your arm into the wound in my side.  Thomas is changed.  He believes.  "My Lord and my God!" is his response to Jesus' love.

But Jesus turns the table on this squeaky wheel system.  The church will not be hijacked by Doubting Thomas and his descendants. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Walking by faith and not by sight is a gift and a blessing from God.  The living faith we express in our families, communities, churches, and workplaces is a living faith that is born out of these events.  We do not believe because we have seen.  We believe because the Holy Spirit has been breathed upon us through our baptism.

No name is given to the other disciples in this text.  They go without a name, and without notice, like so many wheels that don't seek attention through threats, complaints, and overall disdain for much of what they encounter in the world. 

Living faith does not seek such satisfaction and the mission of Christ will not be hijacked by the pessimism of the few.  Jesus' ministry is a living example of pressing on and persevering through the reactivity of others who are suspect of anything different and afraid to see the amazing things God is doing in the world.  Jesus' followers are warned that ministry will not be easy.  Jesus warns them and us bluntly: you will be ridiculed, oppressed, and shown scorn... even by those you love.   

But in it all we all are given reassurances: "blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe."  We are blessed with knowledge of the truth.  We are blessed with a faith that changes the lives of others.  We are blessed by being instruments of God's work in this time and this place.  There is no better way to experience the spiritual power of the Lord than to simply give yourself to him and allow him to shepherd you into service and action.  A living faith that cannot be seen is a living faith that is best experienced when you live it.  That's right live it.

And we live it... even when one out of ten want to suck the energy and life out of the system.  We will live it... even when the voice of skeptics is heard in the back ground.  We will live it because such living faith is the power of God.  We will live it because with it the breath of God comes to us and a gift that we cannot receive anywhere else:  PEACE.