The Taxi to Hell

I caught an episode of “The Apprentice” this weekend. Sixteen hopefuls lined up respectfully and submissively before Donald Trump and his lieutenants, who happen to be Ivanka and Donald, Jr., his children. This season, apparently the would-be apprentices are all victims of the economic downturn – they’ve already all been fired or let go or otherwise vocationally dumped. They’ve gone from highly successful professionals to unemployed, desperate, and very hungry wannabes. Mr. Trump is the golden ticket to Wonkaland.

As in each episode, the contestants are given a project, and the two competing groups select a project manager to bring the assignment to completion and success. The next 30 minutes or so are full of chaos, questions, backstabbing side conversations with the camera, whispered mutiny, ineptitude (real and alleged), sweat, anxiety, and finally a few moments of impossible panic just before Trumps sweep in for an inspection.

Then there’s the boardroom. Dark, foreboding judgment. The Trumps on one side. The miscreants on the other. And those questions… Questions designed to divide, insult, enrage, accuse. And it sure worked. Particularly with the women. There are words for that kind of female repartee, and they’re not nice words. Oh, no. The caricature goes live.

The contestants exit the room. The Trump Trinity confer. They see all; they know all; they judge all. The contestants return.

And then, boom, “You’re fired.” And a disdainful sweep of his hands. “Go on, leave, get out of here.”

The discarded one walks alone, takes the elevator alone, leaves the building alone, gets in the reject taxi, and drives away into the night.

And then I had a dream, of sorts. A nightmare, really – a recognition that that whole episode says a lot about my fears of the Judgment Day. What if it goes like an “Apprentice” episode?

I’m a wannabe for Wonkaland, for sure, and I’m pretty desperately trying to pull together the Assignment and avoid being Fired (literally). As Project Manager of my life, I often feel over my skis, as they say. I can’t seem to figure it out, don’t know what I’m aiming at or how to get there. I’m wondering what my office colleagues, neighbors, family members, and friends are saying offline about my ineptitude. The Boardroom terrifies me. There across the Table sit the Trinity, asking all the hard questions. And then? You’re Fired. And I take the Taxi to Hell.

Whew. Truly a nightmare. Can I hope it won’t be like that? Even if I am a Project Manager disaster?

The opposite of “You’re fired” would be “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25.14-30). And the ones in that parable who got the commendation were the ones who took the master’s money, invested it, and got a tidy return. The only one who ended up thrown “into the darkness” was the one who did nothing but keep it safe. But what if there were another sort of character in the story – one, say, who took the master’s money, invested it, and lost it all? Bad investments, short-sightedness, twisted thinking, overconfidence, whatever. What might have happened to such a one?

Perhaps I’m looking at it all wrong. Perhaps it wasn’t the servants’ success that won them the commendation, but the faithfulness of their actions. They did what he asked, even with the risk of failure. And the condemned one? It wasn’t the lack of return on investment, but his craven fear of the master, a fear that characterized him as a hard, harsh, and ultimately merciless master. That fear drove his actions, and ultimately flagged him the Taxi to Hell.

Fear of disappointing the master you love is different from fear of wrath and punishment at the hands of an angry taskmaster. The former is Fear of the Lord; the latter is Fear of Retribution.

Ah, well, “The Apprentice” is only a show. Donald Trump is only a guy with a very bad haircut. The contestants are only media bunnies … for a while.

Me? I think I’ll find a different show to dream about.

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