Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited for saying: “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” There certainly is truth to the concept that one’s lifestyle becomes the basis for their reputation.
I guess there are many examples of where a person articulates one thing and by example represents something very differently. When I think about a position as lofty as being an administrative law judge, I think of someone who values justice, fairness, and a sense of equity in upholding the law. Consequently, I was surprised to run across what I’d consider egregious disregard for justice.
In 2005 an administrative law judge in Washington D.C. filed a lawsuit against the Korean owners of a dry cleaners for misplacing a pair of trousers. There was a “satisfaction guaranteed” sign in the store. The lost trousers, coupled with his dissatisfaction reportedly were the basis for the judge filing a $67 million dollar lawsuit. I guess you could say he was really attached to those pants.
In the course of attempting to settle the case, the judge turned down a settlement offer of $3,000, $4,600 and $12,000. The owners of the business seriously considered moving back to South Korea. Who could blame them? Being sued by and administrative law judge was enough for them to question the United States justice system.
Perhaps the administrative law judge came to his senses and opted to be more reasonable. He reduced the lawsuit to $54 million. Among his requests was $500,000 in attorney’s fees (he was representing himself), $2 million for “discomfort, inconvenience, and mental distress”. The judge also requested $15,000 to cover the cost of a car rental every weekend to drive to another dry cleaning service. The remaining $51.5 million would be used to help similarly dissatisfied D.C. customers sue businesses.
On the first day of court, the plaintiff broke down on the witness stand. He was in tears explaining his frustration over losing his pants. Consequently, a short recess had to be called. The court ruled in favor of the dry cleaners. The legal proceedings only cost the cleaners $87,000. How’s that for justice? Fortunately, a legal support website was set up for the cleaners and enough donations were secured to cover the legal fees. By the way, I failed to mention that the cleaners located the trousers two days after they were lost, but the judge refused to take them back.
“Unbelievably ludicrous” is the term I’d choose to describe that scenario. When a judge doesn’t walk the talk, it is an embarrassment to the court system. The same thing is true for individuals. A person’s lifestyle is the basis for their reputation.
People, who are thought of as kind and caring, are folks who invest their lives in kind and caring acts. They actively respond to meeting the needs of others. The same is true for a church. It is easy to talk about God’s unconditional love. It is easy to talk about the need for the church to be loving, but unless we roll up our sleeves and become personally involved, what we articulate falls on deaf ears. For a church to have the reputation for being a loving church, there must be a correlation between what they articulate and what they actually do.
Saturday was a unique opportunity for our church. We were privileged to serve a family who hasn’t had an on-going relationship with our church. We opened our doors to help because there was a need. It was the right thing to do. It was a loving thing to do. We were privileged to be provided an opportunity to serve.
The church was packed for the funeral of a fifteen year old who took his own life. There were students, parents, teachers, and family members present. It was an occasion wrought with sadness and emotion, but there was also the message of comfort and hope.
Anything I share worth remembering doesn’t come from me. I simply have the privilege of writing it down. Saturday, I shared two thoughts. Both had been rolling around in my head all week. Each came from Scripture: “We see through a glass darkly” and “Jesus wept”.
There is no way, this side of eternity that any one will ever know the magnitude or the level of pain that resulted in the teenager’s death. Until we’ve walked a mile in the shoes of another, we have no right to judge or even begin to attempt to find answers for the unanswerable. On the other side of eternity, the answer won’t matter. Tragedy is the unanswered puzzle of life. Having answers doesn’t alter the outcome. When we see through the glass darkly, we don’t always get it right.
The thing we do know is that God cares. The scriptures recall for us a time when Jesus wept, that, too was on the occasion of the death of his friend Lazarus. He knows the level of pain associated with loss.
Following the service, a lady introduced herself to me and said she and her husband had purchased land in the neighborhood. As soon as they sell their home, they hope to move. She assured me that our church’s response to a need touched her heart and that her family would be coming to our church.
A second lady was equally complimentary of the love and support expressed through our church. She then shared a story with me that hurt my heart. It was very much out of character with my perception of how a church should respond to need. The actions taken certainly didn’t promote the concept of God’s unconditional love.
The lady said, “I have a very close friend whose son committed suicide. The church where he and his family belonged refused to allow the funeral to take place at their church. The church also would not permit burial in the church’s cemetery. The church turned their back on this family. I am so grateful that your church was willing to meet the need. It means a lot.”
“Unbelievably ludicrous” is the term I’d used to describe the court scenario. I can’t find the words that convey the harm and hurt a church creates when they choose to withhold love. It seems like such a contradiction to the words of Christ: “ For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me”.
“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25: 35-40)
All My Best!