|Courtesy of deedtheinky.com|
Sometime is the late 1870s some chap came up with a one liner that, in my modest opinion, has done more to skew the delicate balance between rights and responsibilities than anything else. Indeed, it is the very statement that has caused me most verbal abuse in my adult life, and has turned ordinarily nice folk into slavering demons.
Apparently, the customer is always right.
Pish and pother (if you are in possession of the Cloakean Babel Fish, you will know what I meant to type).
Yesterday's gospel reading (for those of us who do lectionaries and bibles in church life) was from Mark at the time when two of his followers wanted to be up-close and personal and take up habitation in none less than the armpits of the Lord, one on the right and one on the left. They wanted to be the beloved armpit apostles, closest, snuggly, cherished. Jesus told them to get a life and the other disciples simply sucked air through their first-century dentitions (in a sort of ecclesiastical Ena Sharples sort of way). It was a story about mastership and service, that kind of thing.
In enlightened 21st century western life, the Almighty Dollar (pound, Euro, frogskin, green, dosh, wonga) seems now to buy you not just products, but rightness. The transaction often falls into the following frame:
drip, drip, drip, oh my word I have a leak, I know nothing about plumbing, let me call a plumber, plumber arrives, oh plumber help me I know not what to do, plumber fixes problem utilising training and experience, you left a mark on my skirting board, I am the customer so I am always right, I will canvass for the plumber to pay me money because I have a smudge on my skirting board, you are wrong and I am right because I paid you thirty quid and made you a mug of sweet tea
You know I speak the truth. You may even have been that limpet who got gusset-rotated about the job you are not gifted in performing, but blessed in the right to judge. Yes, you!
Frankly, the customer is not always right, or indeed often right in my experience (and if they were, the skilled trades would be redundant of course)
The situation is clear to me - that the world seems to pursue its rights at a rate ten to one over its pursuit of its responsibilities. I think this is part of what Jesus was thinking about or alluding to in Mark's Gospel. Day-time telly is awash with voting-age progeny-producing adults who can drive a fast car to work but who feel compelled to take the wrong ladder for a job and render themselves as road-kill on the tarmac below. Then they sue their employers for damages. Or the neatly presented business women teetering on shoes with shiny soles and who power-walks across a marble floor on a wet day and slips over - more dosh please. Your fault. Not my fault. Never my fault. In the blame-claim world, my brain and ability to make my own value-judgement is long gone. Atrophy.
Jesus broadly says "if you want it, it'll cost you" and then "and I doubt you really know how much". The church is danger of fuelling this too - talk of leadership that isn't mitigated with healthy amounts of talk of followership becomes much the same as the call of the disciples to sit at the head-table. Equally, how often, in an original act of service do church-goers then go one to take that servitude and make it a weapon to exert power over another.
It seems to me, as I sit here at vicarly computer in my vicarly study, there the world is fast losing its heart for generosity in many ways. The relationships born of transaction and contract are now fairly devoid of a common graciousness beyond the clauses of the agreement. Too little love. Survival of the fittest? Maybe now it is survival of the person most right or the person with the greatest authority and power. Maybe even the survival of the person who paid the money. In end, I wonder if Jesus is trying to tell is that it is survival of the one who loves most and takes least. No, I don't mean that either. I don't think that Jesus ever thought it was about survival.