Jesus said, “let your yes be yes, and your no be no.” Following through on promises counts–don’t make them if you can’t keep them. Truth frees; lies enslave.
Late in 2019, I entered the joy of multiple experiences with troubling customer service. We were finishing up a long, wonderful cruise (with superb customer service!) when it all began with some overly exuberant gift shopping for our large combined family.
We faced a significant packing dilemma–as in, “Ain’t no way to fit all this in.” And I’m an expert packer.
After some consultation with the cruise personnel, we decided to utilize the service of a company that would pick up an extra suitcase we bought on the cheap. The company representative was to meet us at the port in Dubai and have it begin its journey home, to arrive about when we returned home.
No “let your yes be yes” in action here
It did not go well from the start. The person who was supposed to meet us at the Dubai port was over an hour and a half late. Even so, I remained optimistic. Wrongly, as it turns out.
When the bag did not turn up within the promised window of time, plus another grace week, I contacted the customer service department. They discovered, to the dismay of all, that the suitcase was still sitting somewhere in Dubai. They apologized profusely, using words like “Oh we are so sorry” and “you deserve better” and “its a customs issue” (Dubai is a free trade port–there are no customs issues there) comments.
I explained that I needed it immediately as I had planned to wrap gifts that week and have them ready to ship out the coming weekend in time to beat the holiday package rush. They promised it would happen.
After multiple conversations, the suitcase was found and finally started to move this way about two weeks after the original “guaranteed” delivery date. I received a notice when it arrived in Dallas two days later with a PROMISED 10:30 am delivery and then . . . zip. Sorry. Delivery exception.
Back with the customer service folks, suggesting they send an Uber to the facility here (less than 15 miles from where we live) to pick it up and bring it to the house. “Nope, sorry, it is in a container. Won’t be opened for a couple of days. You’ll get it on Monday.”
I admit it. I called them out on that whopper. An hour later, it arrived at the house.
Now, I’m going to assume this is not the standard mode of operation for this company. They did issue a full refund, but the experience left a negative impression. I am unlikely to use them again or to recommend others to do so.
I might have been more sympathetic if this incident had not come on top of an AMEX card that had been hacked and necessitated replacement (“Yes ma’am, you’ll have it tomorrow”–it showed up four days later), a piece of art we had bought in Israel and only the stand for the sculpture had arrived, not the actual art (“Oh my, we are so sorry–it must be a Customs issue” except it was clear that until I inquired the shipping label had not yet been generated), and some other things we had purchased in a small town of Orvieto, Italy didn’t show up and where I had to threaten to report them as an unreliable business to American Express if they didn’t respond to my email inquiries (“we are so sorry, it was a Customs problem.” Sigh).
Don’t make promises you can’t, or won’t, keep
But why talk about these trivial travails of a privileged life? Because they point to a larger, critical issue: the growing lack of trust after a consistent series of failures to live up to promises made.
Simply, following through on promises counts. Don’t make them if you can’t keep them. As Jesus said, “let your yes be yes, and your no be no.”
Tell the truth about things. Wonderfully freeing from the inevitable entanglement of lies.
Does the church let its yes be yes?
So how much truth does the church tell? I think of the many promises made during my years in evangelicalism, in particular, but also as part of the wider, mainline church. A few examples:
“We promise eternal salvation, and you’ll get to see your loved ones again (if they spoke the right words before they died, that is).” Really? And exactly how do you know precisely what happens after death?
“Jesus loves you just as you are.” Unless, of course, you are part of the LGBTQI community, then “Jesus loves you if you change and lie to yourself about who you are.”
“Give ten percent of your income, and God will bless you ten times over.” Works if you are on the receiving end of the 10% and can class yourself as one of the superrich “pastors.”
“It’s your job to forgive and forget as God does.” This phrase is often spoken to women who have been egregiously abused by their [male] spouses. Just forgive, stay, submit, and “trust God” to stop the abuse. Well, it does work, since, in time, many of the abused and forgiving women are killed by their abusive spouses. One less complaining female, after all.
“If you pray hard enough, God will hear your prayers, and you will be healed.” Preach that one to the cemetery.
“The church is a safe place for your children” unless, of course, we keep trading around sexually predatory clergy and never report them or hold them accountable.
“God will protect you from Covid-19 if you come to our church services.” Sigh.
Is “victory over your circumstances” promised in the Bible?
A few weeks ago, I got yet one more oversized postcard from one of the many mega/Bible/”we’ll teach you the real word of God” churches in my affluent neighborhood. This one advertises multiple seminars that promise to teach everyone to have “Victory Over Your Circumstances.”
Took me back to my early days and entrance into the Christian world via Campus Crusade for Christ. I’d hear the teachers put down anyone who said they were doing fine “under the circumstances.” insisting that anyone who had Jesus in their hearts could and more, should, not be living “under” the circumstances but in victory “over” the circumstances.
Shall we run that by those who have lost loved ones, jobs, their homes, and most of their hopes for the future by the Covid-19 crisis?
Well, we could tell them, “If you had expressed enough faith, none of this would have happened to you.” Oh my. Or perhaps such words would have resonated in a Nazi extermination camp. Or maybe it works for starving, ill refugees, fleeing evil and chaos in their homelands. Ya think?
My version of Let Your Yes Be Yes
Church lies are the equivalent of poor customer service. In time, people lose trust and go elsewhere.
At this point, after more than 50 years of choosing to do all I can to serve God through the means of the church, I ask myself, “What is true?”
Let’s start with these:
Yes, the church is comprised of supremely complicated people, most of whom have deep flaws and massive blind spots. They also have the softest of hearts and the most generous of hands.
Yes, the church is always a messy place. Always.
Yes, it is within this community of struggling, flawed, ignorant, often disagreeable, and generally disagreeing people where movements of transformational grace arise.
No, the Bible isn’t very clear about anything, as much as we’d like to pretend/pronounce that it is.
Yes, the one who most firmly one pronounces “this is the absolute will of God as clearly revealed in the Bible,” knows little or nothing about biblical scholarship, and thinks that reading isolated verses in a many-times translated text, far removed from the original and yanked from its historical and sociological context, creates an expert.
Yes, those who claim, without reservation, “God has unmistakenly led us to do this,” will generally feel free to compromise moral principles and run roughshod over those who disagree.
No, it is not true that a community where people have to sign doctrinal statements or membership covenants are healthy. Yes, they are verging into the territory of mind-control cults because one deviation from these “received truths” can lead to expulsion and censorious shunning. Yes, such groups feel safer because they remove the need to think critically and agreement is automatically assumed. No, they are not ultimately safe at all.
Yes, the Bible can and should be read in community, and the truths therein discerned with humility and a willingness for correction.
Yes, biblical expertise is beneficial in this process.
No, being a Christ-follower will not protect you from harm, sorrow, suffering, illness, or death. Remember, our job is to pick UP our crosses and follow Jesus. Never forget where Jesus ended up.
Yes, being a Christ-follower means that those times of deep, profound sorrow and loss can, eventually, be seen through a redemptive light.
No, you will not get rich by tithing.
Yes, you may discover that the discipline of proportional giving brings you into a different and more free understanding of the power and proper uses of your available funds. So you will likely feel richer.
Yes, you should avoid any religious gatherings where the leaders insist on tithing for membership privileges and who also live highly extravagant lifestyles while keeping their followers ignorant of the financial details of the organization.
Finally, yes, the path to true spirituality, centered in the heart of God, is complicated and often seems to be impenetrably dark. And yes, this is where, accompanied by others whom we call “church,” we become more Christ-like because we discover the power of solid, forgiving, reconciling, transformative, sacrificial love.
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