Monday, January 29, 2007

Some Things I Learned From Working At Dunkin' Donuts

As you may know, I spent a year out in Ohio and while I was there, I worked at a nearby Dunkin' Donuts to start to pay down my student loans. Looking back, I'm not even sure what motivated me to start working there aside from the fact that it was less than five minutes from our apartment and offered more than minimum wage. Oh, and I like coffee. Anyway... I started working there and was one of the few employees to still be there a year later. It was the first "real" job I had, and was fascinating on a number of levels, but I won't go into all of that now. For now, I'll just say that last May when I ceased my employment there I decided it'd be good for me to write down a list of things I'd learned throughout my year of working there. I wanted to do this for a couple of reasons: for one, it seemed like a good way of convincing myself that I hadn't "wasted" a year by not doing something else with my life. By making a list of things I'd learned over the past year, it showed that it wasn't a completely useless experience. After all, I filled a need, and I did it well; I was a servant in one of the lowest and most humble senses of the word. It was almost like a cultural experiment in a way. ....Another reason I wanted to make this list was to show that, while I worked my butt off, I had fun sometimes. I can't tell you how frustrated I was, especially toward the end, but... but it was fine. It really wasn't that hard of a job at all, despite the complaints and verbal abuse. Anyway... here goes. Enjoy.

Some things I’ve learned from working at Dunkin Donuts...

For good or ill ~

  • If a family of Benevolent Consumers comes seeking a particular Confectionary Delight of which we are sold out, a good parent is one that suggests an alternative to their child. A bad parent is one who yells at the underpaid/overworked confectionary peon for what is almost beyond a doubt not their fault.

  • Sold out means sold out. It doesn’t mean that someone wasn’t necessarily doing their job and not ordering enough of something, it means sold out. It means that someone bought all of what we have. Is that then somehow the fault of the underpaid/overworked confectionary peon?

  • You never want to run out of your star product. If you sell coffee and you’re responsible for making it, you need to, well, make it. Hands down, that should be your responsibility and priority.

  • High schoolers/teenagers these days are indeed different from myself when I was in high school. Apparently, what’s in fashion nowadays with this age group is to act be irresponsible and expect to get paid for doing nothing. Despite your indignation, whoever’s calling you or texting you on your cell phone has no right to do so, and you have no right to respond. You are working. Which leads us to…

  • You are getting paid for doing work. Let us go over this once again. The Benevolent Consumers give our Great Employer money in exchange for goods and services. Our Great Employer in turn gives us underpaid/overworked confectionary peons money in exchange for our labor. If you’re not working, you shouldn’t expect to get paid, plain and simple.

  • I had not known until working at this job that needing to smoke was some sort of excuse for not doing your job, that it’s some sort of natural right. Smoking is like any other vice: do it on your off time, not when you’re working. What would you say if I had to go have a drink every hour? Or drugs? “I’m sorry, I’ve gotta go take five minutes and sniff some glue. I’ll be right back.”

  • If you come seeking a particular Confectionary Delight of which we do not have, and drive away in a huff (or otherwise berate the underpaid/overworked confectionary peon), you have bigger issues than simply not getting your particular Confectionary Delight; i.e. - If not getting a donut is going to ruin your day, you have a deeper issue.

  • It’s fun to joke about and all, but if you really need your Caffeinated Beverage before you start to think for the day, you’ve got a serious problem.

  • Inspections, by any sort of Higher-Ups, are a complete waste of time and energy. You know why? Because they know you cleaned everything up special for them- jees, were they born yesterday? There’s no doubt that you should always try and do your best, keep the store its cleanest, etc., but to clean it up in anticipation for an inspection seems so foolish- they know you’re going to fudge things so they look right. Let’s just all be transparent about it, and let the chips fall where they may. Why isn’t that counter clean? Because we’re getting to it, it’s on the list. So is everything else. We know what to do, we’re working on it.

  • Big corporations aren’t nearly what they’re cracked up to be. If they can’t even manage routine maintenance of their stores (machines working properly, sinks actually draining, etc.), then how can you believe they manage their money properly? All the shareholders should go and interview store managers and underpaid/overworked confectionary peons to see how efficient the company’s really being.

  • Computer software designed for POS terminals are really that, POS. If I had the programming skills, I’d design an interface that’s ten times as good as what is currently in use. Why is it that the pictures for the “up” and “down” arrows can have intricately designed icons that are carefully beveled/lit, and yet some items/submenus have obviously been designed by a two-year old; why do some buttons exist as thin rectangles with a small vertical height? If the button is smaller than your finger, it’s harder to touch it, and makes things that much harder for the underpaid/overworked confectionary peon. At least some adherence to Fitts’ Law would be nice. Oh, and 32MB of RAM? You’ve got to be kidding me. The last time a consumer machine was sold with 32 MB of RAM was 1998. Way to go, Radiant Systems.

  • It’s bad to outsource your tech support. We used two different companies, and neither of them knew what they were doing: their frequent solution was to reboot the computer and see what happens, and then they’d send out a tech in a [read: two to three ] day[s]. I guarantee it’d be more efficient to have your own IT support that knew what they were doing and could help a store much more personally. After all, how hard is it to use Remote Desktop and see what’s going on with the system yourself? And while we’re at it, modernization needs to happen quickly. Aside from the “lack of RAM in the terminals” issue, no one should be relying on DOS-based programs anymore. You can’t even copy/paste between programs! You have to re-type everything! What a complete waste of time and money. There’s no reason why even Excel can’t keep track of all the data you need and export it to various formats/layouts. It’s something an Apple Automator workflow could do, and that’s consumer-level stuff. What a sad, sad waste.

  • Choice, contrary to popular belief, actually breeds dissatisfaction, not more satisfaction. An abundance of choices means an abundance of products that we might, and often do, sell out of. I’m sorry you can’t get your medium decaf caramel crème latte with skim milk and whipped cream and an everything bagel lightly toasted with veggie cream cheese on the side, but we’re out of veggie cream cheese. I know, I know, tragedy. I’m sorry.

  • Contrary to popular belief, Benevolent Consumers do not know everything. They do not know when shipments come in, what’s on them, or other such Inner Workings of the store. It boggles my mind how some Benevolent Consumers have this imaginary store in their mind of what we are and then judge us according to this fictitious store. When I’ve been in a situation where I’ve been a Benevolent Consumer, I have never assumed such things as I’ve seen others assume all the time. I’m sorry, sir, but you don’t know how things work here, and I would never go to your place of business and assume how things are run/work.

  • A current job can be a good place to get your next job. In my time at Dunkin’ Donuts, I received about three or four job offers, just because of the way I treated my customers, just because of my personality.

  • The customer is not always right.

    Just take a minute to really take that in.

    We, as a society, have somehow gotten this notion that a Benevolent Consumer should always get what they want, at any cost. I think we’ve lost something in this culture where we don’t want to offend anyone, and have lost the feeling of cooperative teaching of our past, where elders were able to rebuke children of the community and constructive criticism was welcomed. Why is it that now we’re so afraid of our mistakes that we go to the lengths of making ourselves right, even when we’re not? Can we not admit our own faults in front of each other? Can we not simply say, “Oh, you’re right, I was wrong” anymore?

    …at any rate, it seemed to happen few and far between in my time at Dunkin’ Donuts. More often than not, customers would be wrong about a particular issue, and I’d have to apologize for it, as if it were my mistake. And they expected me to do so. That bothered me, and not just out of minor annoyance: it seemed like a symptom of a greater problem, a glimpse of a cultural disease that has burrowed itself so deep that we barely even notice it anymore.

    But… but we are sinful, fallen creatures. And we need to realize/remember that. We need to admit it to each other- that we make mistakes, that we’re not perfect. That is who we are: beings who make mistakes, but nevertheless still strive for perfection… and we need each other along the way: to build up, and to tear down if need be.

  • We all need Jesus a whole lot more than I ever realized. I came across so many people who… who never smiled, day after day… who always yelled at their children… who were never satisfied at what we had to offer… who seemed to strive to find fault with whatever I did… who looked tired and beat-up from the world… who had obviously lost hope and have given in to bitterness and, as Lewis calls it, “the sulks”… ….and they all needed Jesus so badly. And the more I encountered them, the more I wished I could show Him to them. …but it didn’t seem like I did a good job. :-(

  • Everybody should be a Morning Person. It just makes the world a happier place. :-) In case such a rule cannot be carried out, it should at least hold true of people who work in businesses whose main income is through morning activities. Why are you even working in the morning if you can’t think clearly? If all we see is your worst, why bother working? Work at a job where you can do your best.

    As a corollary to this rule, I suppose, employees of any business should actually enjoy what they sell; I was one of the few people working at Dunkin’ Donuts who actually enjoyed coffee.

  • Tipping is not an obligatory task for the “quick-serve restaurant” business. Now, tipping has always boggled my mind, but I found it fascinating that Benevolent Consumers would come through, order many things that I personally made, and then would feel no obligation to leave a tip for me. The money isn’t the issue; I could care less about fifty cents here or there. It’s the principle. Why is tipping obligated in a sit-down restaurant but in almost no other service industry? If I receive personal service/advice at an electronics store or a hardware store, I don’t feel any obligation to tip them, and they don’t expect it, and yet if I go and sit down to eat somewhere and don’t leave a tip, I’m seen as rude. Does this make any sense? I never expected people to tip me when I was at Dunkin’ Donuts, and yet people did, often. And you know what? They did it because they wanted to, because they enjoyed my service and wanted to show some sort of gratitude. That’s how tipping should be for any industry.

  • There are some really weird people out there. And many of them have little to no social skills. I wouldn’t consider myself outgoing, but compared to a lot of the Benevolent Consumers I served, I was exceedingly suave and charismatic. I don’t need to hear stories about your urinary tract infection, thank you, nor do I want to hear about how you’re going to get plastered tonight. Who shares this kind of information, anyway? Weird Benevolent Consumers, that’s who.

  • I’ve also learned that a lot of people are just really very lonely, and that’s why they share personal information about their urinary tract infection. There are so many of us out there that are so disconnected from each other that we’re grasping for straws, searching for anyone that will listen to us, anyone that will seem to care, that will show us some personal attention for even a few minutes. It seems to be yet another sign that we’re too isolated in our current society. The system’s just not working. We don’t do anything together anymore, we don’t… we don’t know how to be so honest with each other, how to be so intimate, and that’s why we reach out to each other by sharing random personal information with strangers: because maybe… maybe they’ll care, maybe someone will care, maybe someone will invest something in me, in my life, maybe there’ll be friendship… etc.

    ….it shows me that we, as humans, have a need to connect with one another, to share the human experience with one another.

  • There are people out there who have no regard for others. I have seen underpaid/overworked confectionary peons treated with such malice as to make my blood boil, and have often been at the receiving end of it, and yet these Benevolent Consumers didn’t think anything of it. They want things their way now, with no regard as to how it affects you or anyone else. People would sit in the drive-thru at rush hour and ask us to list all the donuts we had in our case. They’d order complex things while five cars waited behind them, Poor Souls just waiting to get a Caffeinated Beverage and a Confectionary Delight before their daily drudgery. These people have come through drive-thru at rush hour and casually order seven dozen donuts, without regard to how it might affect workers and other Benevolent Consumers alike, and they have come inside, complained about how they’re overworked, and then order twelve dozen donuts and expect it to not phase me. People have also said such biting things to me, berated me for things that aren’t my fault, and, once again, not considered that they themselves might be at fault. ::sigh::… we are a broken people…

  • Your job is only as fun as you make it; it is only a burden if you make it out to be. Some people claimed that work had become “a drag” after they were made to, you know, work. But it doesn’t have to be so. Conversations about which donut would win in a fight, belting out Disney songs at 6AM, patting each other with powdered-sugared hands… it made times worthwhile, it made them enjoyable. You don’t have to give in to the “grind” unless you want do.

  • Capitalism isn’t just about making money, it’s about making more money. The stock market judges businesses on growth, not solely on profit. It took me a while to realize it, but now I see it for how ridiculous it is. A company can be making a lot of money, it can be making a huge profit, but if a company isn’t growing, it’s stock declines, people don’t invest. It’s sad, but mostly true.

    As an addendum to this rule: businessmen are snakes. See, they’re not out just to get your money. No, they’re out to get more of your money. They’re constantly thinking, “How can we increase our profits? How can we get more money out of the pockets of the people and into our coffers?” …and out of this comes things like this: when I started working, we had two sizes of milkshakes, a “regular” for $3.19 and a “large” for $4.19. After a time, word came that we were changing things and going to “small”, “medium”, and “large” sizes. The prices were thus increased, the price for a “medium” (the old “large”) was to $4.39. Price increases happen, I realize, but the trick was this: the explanation of size modifications was that many people would not opt for the new large size (at a price of $5.19), but more would now get a medium than they would have when it was the “large.” And, now they were earning more because of the price increase, to boot. The snakes.

  • A company that can’t even be consistent with itself is doomed to stay in a rut/fail.

    On the machine that dispenses it, it’s called “hot chocolate.” On the bag of said product, it’s called “hot cocoa”, and on the order form its “hot chocolate.”

    On the box of these, they’re called “sprinkles,” the brand on them is even “Sprinkle King,” the very donut’s name is “Sprinkles” and yet what’s on the order form? The ill-fitting (and sounding) Massachusetts’ term of “jimmies.” [it’s someone’s name, not a thing, people]. Consistency matters- it sets a clear tone for Great Employers, underpaid/overworked confectionary peons, and Benevolent Consumers alike.

  • Grammar and word choice is very important and apparently other people don’t realize it yet.

    The world greatly suffers from misplaced modifiers; the term “senior coffee” makes no sense. Is it a specially-aged brew? Is it a certain way of making coffee that seniors particularly like? Oh, it means you have a senior discount. Hmm. [sarcasm] Well, that makes sense grammatically. [end sarcasm]

    A “chocolate chocolate” donut tells me nothing except that you might be stuttering and is not in any way to be construed as the correct term for a “double chocolate” donut, etc.

    A “manager’s special” donut is not a specific type of donut that Dunkin’ Donuts carries. It’s a… [wait for it] ….special. That’s right, it might change tomorrow, and you should never expect a “manager’s special” to be the same from day to day or from store to store.

    “Regular” does not and shall never refer to “cream and sugar.” Ever. Regular has always meant “non-decaf” everywhere I’ve ever been, and it’s awfully presumptuous to assume that most people like both cream and sugar in equal amounts in their coffee and that everyone that doesn’t is some sort of abnormality, some irregularity.

    While you, oh Benevolent Consumers, may fall victim to branding techniques, believe me when I say that stores have different names for things. Call it a “café mocha” if you like, but it is a mocha latte, regardless. (As a random aside, “mocha” is a flavor, it’s not a name for a drink, so don’t ask for it that way. After all, you don’t ask for “a caramel,” or “a French Vanilla,” do you?). It’s not a Croissanwich, we’re not McDonald’s. Don’t try and argue with me when I call it by its appropriate name of “Coffee Roll”, it’s still a cinnamon bun/roll, I’m just trying to educate you. Oh, and for the last time, none of our frosted donuts are glazed, which brings us to…

    Glaze. A noun. 2 a (1) : a liquid preparation applied to food on which it forms a firm glossy coating… b : a transparent or translucent color…
    …as everything in the world defines it, a glaze is a glossy, clear coating. Glazed donuts, it is generally understood, have this clear coating on them. It makes sense then, would it not, that a “chocolate glazed” would also have this clear coating? Therefore, if you ask for a “chocolate glazed,” receive one, and then are taken aback that it does not have chocolate frosting on it, you need to think about what you’re saying. If you’re going to use glaze and frosting interchangeably, you’re wrong! They are not interchangeable, they mean different things! Icing and frosting can be the same things, that’s fine, but a glaze is different, and that should be obvious. And don’t make your grammatical error my fault, as if it’s me who’s wrong or stupid or something. Then again, I sort of understand your confusion at times, because as we’ve point out before, Dunkin’ Donuts isn’t exactly consistent. On the tub of it, it’s called “maple dipping icing.” Icing. Okay. Naturally, you would draw the conclusion that the name of the donuts with said “icing” would be called “maple iced.” But you’d be wrong. They’re “maple frosted.” Whose screw-up is that? Consistency, consistency, consistency.

    We have too many words in the English language that mean the same thing, and not enough to distinguish between different things. The icing/frosting debacle as an example of the former. The issues between “light cream cheese” and “lite cream cheese” being an example of the latter. (one last rant about naming – why is it called an “old fashioned”, and yet with chocolate frosting it becomes “chocolate-frosted cake”? Shouldn’t the plain cake donut just be “cake” or the frosted one be “chocolate-frosted old fashioned”? Man.)

  • It is quite possible to spend over a year moving dirt around and actually accomplish nothing. There was massive construction across the road from our store, and yet in the year that I worked there, I didn’t notice a single change in the landscape, besides a lot of dust.

  • The War on Drugs in this country is at least active, if nothing else; there were five drug busts in our parking lot in three months.

  • We like confidence. It’s something that we expect from others, and we should try and expand in ourselves. Benevolent Consumers expect to deal with confident employees, and honestly, I couldn’t stand dealing with squirrelly customers. Just speak up, sir, and tell me what you want. Mumbling is not an option, just state your business and be done.

  • Sometimes your Great Employer might ask you to lie.

    Don’t. They shouldn’t. It doesn’t feel right, and is not a kind of foundation on which we should construct our society.

  • Some of the most sympathetic people are those with similar jobs as yourself- other fast foot people were usually the most congenial and understanding.

  • When it comes to choosing icing colors for an ice cream cake, some people have no sense of color coordination. Maybe there are just a lot of people who are color-blind.

  • I had some sort of notion beforehand, but… but wow, I really understand now: the wages in this country are woefully inadequate to provide for anyone. I worked over 40 hours most weeks, and my legs were so tired from standing all day that when I got home and on the weekends, I’d do anything I could to avoid standing. I worked my butt off, and there was no way I could’ve supported myself if it had come to that. I would’ve had to work two full-time jobs to make ends meet, and I can’t even begin to imagine how tired I would be, not to mention having no time for anything else. I… I can’t imagine how single parents feel, trying to balance two low-paying jobs and spending as much time with their kids as they can. It’s a terrible system.

  • I have seen the hours before 4 AM, and they are not pretty.

  • Most of the frustrations in the world stem from poor design: good design really matters. I can’t do justice to all the problems we faced because someone didn’t consider how a certain appliance/surface/workspace would be actually used. The drainage system was a joke and would constantly overflow as a result, some of the appliances seldom worked consistently and often worked erratically, water pressure was nonexistent, the drive-thru suffered from a terribly sharp curve, storage space in the back would have been greatly improved by even a foot expansion in every direction, tight spaces abounded where it made much more sense to make them wider, the list goes on and on. Why does this one lever break? Because it wasn’t designed for everyday use, of course, and has gotten more work than it was intended to. Why does this mop bucket constantly frustrate us? Because in the two hundred years of mop buckets, apparently no one who made one has actually used one.

    I have a feeling that things used to be designed better, that the things which used to give convenience to life in older times actually did aid life: now, it seems like modern “conveniences” seldom are that, and usually add to frustrations rather than detract from them.

    Atmosphere is a part of the design process. Dunkin’ Donuts was obviously trying to compete with Starbucks on several levels, but what they didn’t seem to realize was how their design hindered them. The store was too antiseptic, too bland. They had these nice warm tones of purple and orange, such great signature colors, that they then made cold and unwelcoming. The store was frequented by blue-collar workers and white collar workers alike, but it seemed like the white-collar group treated it more as a necessary evil, as if Dunkin’ Donuts was closer and more convenient, but probably wasn’t the same caliber as Starbucks, Panera, Brueggers, etc. I suppose they probably made a good balance between the two kinds of customers, but there were no comfy chairs, no carpets, no events that “coffeehouses” thrive on. It wasn’t somewhere that I’d want to stay and sit and have a cup of coffee or read a book (and thus spend more money), and I think they need to realize that.

  • People make random, short-term gambling trips to Atlantic City and return at 5 AM and, presumably, go to work shortly thereafter. Weird. I wonder if their employers know.

  • Marketing should be closely aligned with reality. Unfortunately, it usually isn’t. Marketing for the Dunkin’ brand was outsourced, I believe, rather than done internally by either the Dunkin’ corporate people or our own franchise corporation. Thus, what would happen is that we would have promotions that wouldn’t be advertised until it was almost over or was over. Then customers would tell us of the commercial that they just heard, and we’d have to honor whatever request it was. How foolish. Can no one coordinate that kind of thing? And who designed the $2 gift certificates for Baskin Robbins? They don’t fit in the registers! You have to fold them twice! Is it that hard to make it the size of a bill, like the Dunkin’ gift certificates? ….marketing, ::sigh::…

  • I can do a 10 hour shift without a break, though with severe tiredness in my legs the day after. I can do 8 hour shifts without a break consistently, but my legs still hurt. They haven’t felt rested for a year now.

  • People don’t listen, and cell phones are destroying human interaction. Benevolent Consumers would come through drive-thru all the time (and sometimes inside, too) and not listen to a word you said because they were too busy talking on their cell phones.

  • You can find some of the most happy and encouraging things in the smallest packages. Like friendly Benevolent Consumers and their comments, smiles, etc.

  • Strawberry Dipping Icing is a shade of pink unknown to nature.

  • Parents are an interesting bunch. They can be extremely overprotective, even when they have no logical reason to be so. They also seem to put the considerations of their children, however minute or beneficiary to them in the long run, above anybody else. In short, they spoil their children at the expense of the overworked/underpaid confectionary peons or whoever else is in their path. Once, a woman was extremely upset at us because she had left her credit card with us, and we couldn’t get it for ten minutes. She was overly-agitated because, she said, her son was starving. She was, of course, taking him to the Waffle House down the street, she said. Wow. First of all, you’re at a restaurant, and fine, if you want more substantial food then maybe I could understand, but… but you lost me when you said “Waffle House.” I feel bad for your kid, lady.

  • Drive-thru speakers really are as bad as they’re always made out to be. Sometimes they’d work fine, but more often than not they’re hard to hear out of, they’re hard to speak into, and they’re a poor facsimile for actual communication.

  • Common sense is not common sense to all people. Oh, how I’ve learned that is true.

  • I’ve learned that we are very much creatures of habit, and that you can become identified with your habit, whether you like it or not. [Coffee cake muffin lady, medium cream and two Equals, medium Caramel latte extra extra caramel, etc.]

  • As if it hasn’t come through clearly enough yet, I’ve found that humans are communal beings. We like to be in community with one another, we are sensitive and desire affirmation… we want encouragement in our jobs, to know that we’re doing something well and worthwhile. Things can offend us, and we might shrug them off, but down inside we don’t want to shrug it off, it bothers and festers because what we want is to know that we’re doing some good in this world, that we’re contributing something to it.

  • There are people in this world who don’t want to do their best at their job. It eludes me. If you’re not going to do your best, why even bother showing up?

  • Upselling is one of the most annoying things imaginable. When I’ve been a Benevolent Consumer, I hate it and see right through it, so why should I attempt it when I’m an underpaid/overworked confectionary peon? It clearly annoys virtually everyone, and for what benefit? To make another dollar or two? And in the process annoy your Benevolent Consumers? Way to go Great Employer, great advice.

  • Everyone has the potential to be a leader. Some people have more than others, but everyone has the potential to lead others, if nothing else than by example.

  • A few things about leadership:
    • Leaders don’t blow things off. They do what’s expected of them and more. If they don’t do any more than those that serve them, how are they leaders? Who are they leading? A case of the blind leading the blind?
    • A mark of a good leader is one who is still willing to serve, even to those “beneath” him. If a leader isn’t willing to do the dirty jobs, they’re just a high-paid priss.
    • Delegation is important, and unfortunately micro-managing is sometimes necessary. You should avoid it, though, by…
    • A leader should try and help others become leaders. You shouldn’t be worried about job security: your job is to help everyone else to become the best they can be. A knight and nine squires isn’t as powerful as ten knights, you know? You should try and nurture the leadership capabilities in others…
    • …keeping in mind, of course, that there must always be a mixture of those willing to lead and willing to serve. Sometimes, the roles might be reversed, but you can’t have a group composed only of leaders or only of servants.
    • Initiative and ambition can be both curses and blessings. Initiative can be helpful by shepherding people along the path to leadership. Unfortunately, its usual result is pride. Too much ambition and authority result in pride and, therefore, arrogance.
    • It’s hard to guide those that drown in apathy. :-(
    • Leaders should never ask you to do something that goes against your moral judgment. Feeling uncomfortable with a task is one thing: pushing your comfort zone is usually an important step in the leadership path. However, being asked to lie or falsify records, etc. is just wrong, and shouldn’t be expected of you. You are called to higher purposes, and integrity is more important than loyalty, always.
  • Loyalty, on the other hand, I’ve found is extremely important as well. We like loyalty in ourselves and each other- people have brand loyalty to Dunkin Donuts, we have loyalty to certain people or TV shows or any number of things, and we do it because we… we like being recognized. We like loyalty because we like others to be loyal to us. That’s why “Cheers” was so identifiable and so popular: it was a place where people were loyal to each other, where everyone knew their names, where people were comfortable in companionship with one another. Sometimes, the sight of a loyal, friendly Benevolent Consumer is all it takes to brighten an overworked/underpaid confectionary peon’s day, and vice versa.

Snowy Pride

On the heels of Philemon, I read another small book the other day, the account of the prophet Obadiah.

Mostly, what struck me as I was reading it was what the chapter conveyed about pride and why it's a sin. I find it very unfortunate and dangerous that pride as a sin is often misunderstood. How is it misunderstood? Well, because it seems that non-Christians often have this view of God as someone who never wants you to be happy with yourself: who, if He could, would go back in time and not create Man in the first place; that we are loathsome creatures and He ought not to have even thought of creating such filth. He's a God who never wants you to be happy and always wants you to remember how terrible you are.

This is, of course, completely wrong. But hey, it sounds good if you're going to blast Christianity. (As an aside, that's how you always make your case against something: position it as being something it doesn't come close to being, then rail against it. In the minds of atheists, that's how to prove God doesn't exist: create in your mind an idea of what you feel God should be, then talk about how He doesn't meet these expectations you just made up. Brilliant!) The truth: God wants us to be happy. He wants us to be joyful, elated, ecstatic. But, more than wanting us to be happy, He wants what's best for us.

Now, feeling good about ourselves is important for our self-esteem and general well-being. I'm fairly certain that God wants us to feel a sense of accomplishment and worth. But here's the kicker: He knows more than we do. Being the God of the Universe, He knows that a sense of worth and accomplishment is important, but what's more important is knowing who you are: of knowing your limits as a human. Here in Obadiah we read:

"The pride of your heart has deceived you... you who say to yourself, 'Who can bring me down to the ground?' "

Why is pride a sin? Because it deceives us into thinking that we're better/stronger/faster/wiser than we actually are. It deceives us into thinking that, perhaps, God isn't necessary after all. The Israelites were constantly running into this problem: God blesses them, they attribute their blessings to themselves, they start to think they don't need God, they act as if they don't need God, God shows them that they do need Him after all, and that all the success was only because of Him in the first place. Then they realize how much they do need God and they repent. The rest of Obadiah mentions other aspects in which too much of something that was intended to be good instead turns into something bad. (Justice is good, revenge is bad; victory is good, boasting is bad. C.S. Lewis talks about this often in his works.)

Confidence is a good thing. Self-worth is a good thing. But too much of these things turns into something that isn't confidence and isn't self-worth: it becomes pride in oneself that begins to think that God is not necessary for survival. Let us strive to learn the lessons explained so clearly throughout the Bible: He is.

Reading Obadiah was one thing, seeing the principle acted out in my life is another. The other night I was driving back from church to my apartment and the roads were terrible. For some reason, the plows hadn't been out, so it took me at least half-again as long to get back than it should have. I had to go very slowly, and came across two people in ditches. About halfway back here, the road was much better. The problem came when the opposite traffic flew by me going at full speed. Several cars and trucks, without too much distance between them, barreled right past me, not knowing that about a hundred yards in front of them the roads were going to change drastically and, if they didn't slow down now, they'd probably get in an accident. ...I flashed my bright lights at them, but I'm not sure if they took any sort of caution.

Since I haven't heard of a six-car pile-up, I'm assuming they made it safely to wherever they were going. But all I could think about as I was passing them was, "Hey! You don't understand! You think you'll be able to handle it, but you can't! If only you knew what you don't know!" .......that's what pride is. As another great cultural reference teaches us as well: our overconfidence in ourselves deceives us, and lures us into thinking we don't need God.

We do.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Apostle Paul of Tarsus = precedent for Steven Paul Jobs of Cupertino?

So I was reading through the wee book of Philemon today. Now, it's not like I haven't read the book before, but that's why we continue to read the Bible throughout our lives, isn't it? To glean from it things we haven't noticed before, or to see things in a different light. So I came to the end of the book and, I kid you not, I almost spit coffee out onto my computer and Bible. For what was before my eyes? Could it really be a two thousand year-old tradition, established by the Apostle Paul and carried into the 20th and 21st centuries by Steven Paul Jobs, the Apostle of Apple? Well, you read it and decide:
"One thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers."

"One thing more?" "One more thing..."?


...or not. I mean, I suppose the most logical explanation is that it's just good presentation. You set up a good letter/speech by using certain words, phrases, and meter to establish a tone in order to take your audience to the place you want them to be. Then, for effect, you "boom!" them; you shock them. It comes out of left field and gives them all something to look forward to. In this case, Paul sort of wags his finger at Philemon and almost orders him around. But after all that, he says, "Oh, and by the way, get a room ready for me. I'll be there in three weeks. See? I don't hate you, I still love you and you're still my brother. You thought I was mad at you? Pshaw. Regardless of what you decide to do with Onesimus, you are important to me, Philemon."

In my NIV Study Bible, a text note says, "Luther said, ‘Even as Christ did for us with God the Father, thus Paul also does for Onesimus with Philemon.’ " I find that pretty powerful. Paul could've ordered Philemon to do what was right (verse 5), but he didn't. Instead, he pleaded with him and, get this, leveraged his positive relationship with Philemon to help lead him [Philemon] in the direction of Christian growth. On the surface, the subject of this chapter would be the fate of Onesimus. But it's not. The real matter at stake here in Philemon is how we interact with our Christian brothers and sisters, especially when they're doing things that we don't feel is right. Don't judge, and don't conditionalize your love: show that you care and really want the best for the person involved, and remind them that no matter what happens, you love them.

One of the things I look forward to as I'm reading through my Bible now is the transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament. I've been working my way through the Minor Prophets (with a break today in reading Philemon) and they've really opened my eyes in a way the OT hasn't before. I've actually been reading the OT almost exclusively for the past two years or so, and it's been very interesting to see the theme of redemption repeated throughout. I just can't wait for Malachi (or, as you may pronounce it, muh-lah-chee). I can see it now: "God, these people are terrible!" "Tell me about it! Malachi, I want you to preach to these people about their sins and how much they need me. Oh, and one more thing..."
"And she shall bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins."

Postscript: Phil. 22 seems like a good verse from Apple's perspective, too, circa 1996. They weren't doing so hot, and there were some who believed that Jobs should have never left. Well, at the end of 1996 he returned, an answer to many a prayer.