Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Is the Self-Checkout Lane Really Faster?

I have to admit I was a little intimidated when grocery stores first came out with the self checkout lanes. Actually, I think a lot of people must have been intimidated by them because they didn’t seem to be very busy back then. I’d stand in the “express” lane—in quotes because of the inevitable person who ignores the 15 item limit—and look longingly at the empty self checkout lane and think about how much quicker I could be out of the store if only I could use that lane.

Eventually I was with my wife at the grocery store and she headed to the self-checkout. “It’s really easy,” she said, and lo and behold it did seem easy enough to give it a go myself. The next time I was at the store I tried it and now I use it almost exclusively. I’ve gotten pretty proficient with it, too, I have to say.

But now I’m beginning to wonder, is it really faster to use the self-checkout? For one thing, many shoppers have also figured out that it’s easy to use. That’s freed up a a lot of time for store employees to look at National Enquirer and People magazine, but it’s created long lines at the self-checkout.

It’s not a flawless system by any means, which is one of the reasons for the lines getting longer. You see, the most intimidating thing about using the self-checkout is dealing with “The Voice.” The Voice can be very hard to please. She’s got a certain way of doing things and she doesn’t like it when you don’t do things her way. In fact, if you don’t do it her way she’ll just stop working. And there are a lot of things she doesn’t like. If you get something just slightly in the wrong place she says, in a voice you wish was just a little quieter, “PLEASE REMOVE THE LAST ITEM FROM THE BAGGING AREA.” Sometimes it’s not always clear what you did that ticked her off, but nonetheless, she’s intimidating enough to make you scramble to figure out what’s upsetting her. Sometimes it’s something like not putting the milk in a bag that upsets her, and if you can’t figure it out fast enough she just shuts down and says, “an attendant has been notified.” Except the attendant is over at the customer service desk trying to line up a date with a coworker. Or reading People magazine.

But even if you didn’t have to contend with those issues, you’d still be facing the biggest challenge of all when it comes to self-checkout. I’ve “patiently” (in quotes because the APA rules state that anytime patient or one of its derivatives is used in a sentence along with my name it must be in quotes) waited in the self-checkout line and observed the following: one, friends and family members gathered around the checkout carrying on a leisurely conversation while just as leisurely checking out their groceries. I have to say women are the big offenders on this one. If you see guys gathered around one they’re just trying to figure out how to use the danged thing. Second, I’ve watched parents whose toddlers wanted to help check out the groceries, so you stand there while Billy selects the item he wants to scan, which happens to be the item Sally is holding, which, of course, starts a fight. Eventually, a truce is agreed to and Billy scans his item. Then it’s Sally’s turn, except she wants to check out the item that Billy hurriedly picked up . . . which, OF COURSE, starts another fight. And then you’ve got your shoppers who really should just go through an attended line but who insist on using the self-checkout, except they just can’t ever get the hang of it, so you stand there and wait while the attendant walks over from the customer service desk to check out their groceries.

Yeah, I know, I know. I’m really turning into a crotchety old man. Still, I think I’ve listed enough legitmate issues to force a rethinking of the whole notion of self-checkout. Don’t you think?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Get Twitter, Bash Christians!

As a 21st century Christian, I just want to say how grateful I am for modern technology and all it does for us. Oh, how I love my iPhone! Just ask my wife. The other night we went out for dinner and when we got to the restaurant I realized I’d left my iPhone home on the charger. We joked about the trauma it was going to cause me, but it was no easy thing, you know. It was the first time we’ve been apart in over 20 months. Do you remember the first time you left your child in someone else’s care? Yeah, like that. I’m always plugged in, just a few moments away from checking email or reading or posting Facebook status updates. You name it, there’s a lot I can do with that iPhone, including getting myself a Twitter account and bashing other Christians with it, if I decide to.

Yes, we should be truly grateful, for about the time all the old ways we Christians had for bashing other Christians were getting stale and boring, along came Facebook and Twitter to take us to new heights. See, we’ve always been good at beating up our fellow believers, but let’s face it, the old technology, if you even want to call it that, didn’t make it very easy. If you had a pulpit you could attack people from it, but that excluded most folks. The rest of us had to resort to spreading gossip one person at a time, hoping others would join in and help us get the word out that someone had a suspect theological view or was slipping in some area of his walk with God. That, or we could write an open letter, I guess, but that could take weeks, months even, to effectively question another’s theology or character, and if you were a nobody they might not find out your views anyway. I mean, who cares about an open letter from, well, from Chuck Roberts, for instance?

Thankfully, those days are over, which made it so much easier for Justin Taylor last Saturday when he wanted to get the word out about Rob Bell’s new book being full of heresy. By the end of the day it was a top ten trending topic on Twitter. That just wouldn’t have been possible in the old days. Personally, I can’t understand why Rob Bell didn’t tweet something back at Justin Taylor (and all the other Christian leaders who soon jumped on the Taylor bandwagon) unless somehow in all this heresy Bell’s gotten himself mixed up in he’s gotten the goofy idea that Jesus doesn’t like that sort of thing.

By now I’m sure you see through my tongue-in-cheek portrayal of my gratitude for the technology that makes a mess like this possible. Really, I’ve just been sad about it since I first read of it on Sunday morning. Sad, because it’s no way to treat another person, Christian or non-Christian. Sad, because the news of it is everywhere—including CNN.com--for the world to read about Christians bashing other Christians.

I want to be clear that, while I am no theologian, I do care about good theology. I believe it’s important to determine what’s true and to teach it, live by it. Theology affects every detail of our lives, so yes, it’s extremely important. I just believe love is even more important, more important than being right. I think Someone Else believed that, too.

Since what we believe about God matters so much, bad theology certainly needs to be confronted. But not in an unloving way. Not through Twitter. Try sending one of those old-fashioned letters first. You know, the old technology. If Rob Bell is teaching universalism, the idea that everyone gets into heaven, no matter what they believe or how they’ve lived, then I’ve got a problem with that. Is that what his new book is teaching? Who really knows? His book hasn’t been released yet. Justin Taylor just read a few advance chapters and rushed to his Twitter account to out Bell as a universalist. It reminds me of a time a man confronted me about a book I was taking an adult Sunday school class through, saying, “I’ve read the first chapter and the last chapter and skimmed the rest of the book and I don’t agree with a word that man says.” But at least that was said in a private conversation and not blasted to the world.

I want to be clear about another thing. I appreciate Justin Taylor and the Gospel Coalition. I appreciate Taylor’s leadership in putting together the ESV Study Bible, which I love. I am a frequent reader of the Gospel Coalition blog. I’m pretty certain I’m closer in my theology to Justin Taylor and the Gospel Coalition than to Rob Bell. Yet I am often troubled by what seems to be the arrogant mindset of so many in the Reformed movement. There’s so often an air of “we are the beacons of truth. Thank God for us, but it sure does get tiring dealing with all these theological midgets.”

Why is it that so many in Reformed circles seem so mean-spirited? I’m surprised by so many in the movement who write great tomes about Jesus and Paul and issues like forgiveness and yet feel free to say brutal things about another believer in a public forum. How does a good man like John Piper end up reTweeting the link to Justin Taylor’s blog on Saturday along with the words, “Farewell Rob Bell”?

Some apparently interpreted Piper’s words as meaning, “Rob Bell, you’re dead to me.” I think (I could be wrong) he was saying, “you’ve left the faith, so farewell, Rob Bell.” Interesting, because if I’m right it means Piper once considered Bell to be part of the faith, which, I would think, now leaves him open to criticism from others in the Reformed movement who considered Rob Bell to be gone from true Christianity a long time ago. The same way so many Reformers savaged Piper a few years ago for having the audacity to invite the likes of Rick Warren to speak at his conference. It also surprised me that Mark Driscoll joined the fray on Saturday. The same Mark Driscoll who once complained about the way John MacArthur took him to task in a magazine when he said he would have been willing to fly to Los Angeles at his own expense to hear MacArthur’s concerns privately. To be fair, Driscoll didn’t exactly bash Bell. But he did Tweet the link to Justin Taylor’s blog post with the words “Rob Bell Universalist?” That effectively helped spread the word to Driscoll’s many followers, giving them the opportunity to join the pile-on of Bell.

Again, do I think bad theology should be confronted? Yes! Quietly. With love as the guiding motive, not “being right.”

Still, it makes me long for the old days when we used to sit around the youth group bonfire and sing “and they’ll know we are Christians by our truth, by our truth, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our truth.”

Or was that “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Letting God and Jesus Have a Turn

The other day I was trying to wake Linnea up to get ready to go to her day school. Waking her up is seldom easy, but I was trying to be extra gentle this morning because she’d been sick the past two days. On about my second or third trip into her room to say, “C’mon, Linnea, it’s time to get up,” she turned her head toward me—she was lying on her stomach—and said, “shhh, Dad, I’m praying.” “Oh, okay,” I said, and walked out of the room. I figured either she really was praying (her prayers have amazed me at times) or she’d stumbled onto a surefire way to play me for a fool. I was fairly convinced it was the latter, but, in the event she really was praying I didn’t want to interrupt. And I sure didn’t want to get in the way of what God might be doing in the heart of my little girl.

A few minutes later I went back to her room. She was lying on her back now with her hands pressed together like a steeple. Once again, I figured she was either pretty darned consistent; she’d heard me coming down the hall and put her hands together like praying hands to help convince me, when in reality she’d grabbed a few more minutes of sleep, or she really had been praying. A few seconds after I entered the room she said, “Okay, I’m done,” and climbed cheerily into my arms.

“What were you praying for?” I asked.

“I was praying for Uncle Rodney (Susanne’s uncle was in a motorcycle accident last Thursday) and for your shoulder to get better.”

“That’s great,” I said. “I appreciate you praying for me.”

Ten minutes later, as we were eating breakfast, Linnea said, “Dad, I’m sorry I took so long praying, but I was letting God and Jesus have a turn.”

“Letting God and Jesus have a turn. What do you mean?”

“I was letting them say something. It’s nice to let others have a turn, you know.”

“It sure is. And what did God and Jesus have to say?”

“They said they want Uncle Rodney to feel better, too, and for your shoulder to feel better and for me to not be sick.”

“Well that’s great. I sure appreciate you praying.”

Since our conversation, I’ve been thinking a lot about “letting God and Jesus have a turn.” I’ve read a lot about prayer lately, contemplative prayer in particular, and one author suggested that perhaps too many of our prayers are taken up with our talking when, if it’s really a two-way conversation, we should be spending some of our prayer time just listening. It’s rare that I do that. I’m not a great prayer warrior; not nearly as committed to prayer as I both want and sense I need to be. I wonder what I might hear if I let God and Jesus have a turn sometimes? It can’t hurt to listen. Maybe a five year-old has something to teach me about prayer.