Elevating Christians

Several years ago I was in Barnes & Noble with a friend. It was a random, exceedingly boring weeknight in small town Maine, so we were doing little more than wandering. We eventually sat in some random corner of the store, talking about whatever. As we were doing this, I had grabbed a rolled-up, tube-shaped world map that I was idly spinning in my hand. This prompted an older employee to approach me after some time.

Are you going to buy that?

No, I replied. I hardly realized it was in my hand.

Well, then you need to put it away!

She marched away proudly, elated that she had really put a random stranger in his place.

It wasn’t that she merely stated that I needed to put the map away, fearing I might damage it. It was the way she said it. She was rude, immature, and treating me as a mere child. Had she nicely asked me to put the map away, I would have promptly realized that, yes, she’s right, I might cause some damage to the merchandise. But she chose to go about it an entirely different way.

After gathering my thoughts, I calmly approached her. I began by offering leeway:

I know there are a lot of middle school kids who come in here during the summer and I know they might tend to mess around and I know retail is no picnic, but I feel like the way you approached me was inappropriate.

I continued to explain my position, being sure to approach the situation in the most mature manner I could muster – that is, in precisely the opposite way she chose to approach me. But she wouldn’t budge. I was wrong and she was right and it was fine and dandy that she treated people like that.

Having exhausted my attempt to reason with the woman, I addressed the manager. I ceded that, sure, spinning a map in my hand, as actually harmless as that is, probably isn’t the best thing I could be doing; my issue wasn’t in being told not to do something. I emphasized it was the way I was approached. The woman was immature and childish. That much is objectively true insofar as their are any standards for what constitutes immaturity and childishness. Insofar as subjective assessment is concerned, I suspect being in her 40’s and in retail has led her to an internal bitterness that causes in her a desire to show superiority towards others.

When relaying this story to a friend, two issues came up. First, I was accused of doing this for myself. Of course there’s an element of my own personal desires involved; there has to be. But this had a principle behind it. If this woman was willing to treat someone in his 20’s that way, how did she treat kids? Or even other adults? Even if I prevented her from being immature towards one person down the road, I did something worthwhile. Just like with the elderly, bitter couple from T’s Golf, it’s important to stand up when people are treating each other like shit.

The second issue was that there could have been a better approach. This led to a story.

There were two men who got into an argument. One man punched the other, a Christian man, square in the face. The Christian man fell to the ground, slowly rose, but did not punch his attacker back.

The story was slightly more detailed than that, but that’s the jist of it. Rather than seek revenge, the Christian rose above his anger. (Note, this assumes that the first issue, the one of this being a personal vendetta, is valid; it isn’t.)

We all understand the point and we can all appreciate it. We may, in fact, wish to apply it in relevant situations: rise above our anger, turn the other cheek. But notice the qualifier for the second man. He’s a Christian. There is no particular reason this needs to be so. It’s a superfluous detail in the story. Anyone, not merely Christians, can rise above their anger (though I had a principle to drive home that had the potential of benefiting others; there was little anger above which to rise).

As a counter to this undue elevation of Christians and Christianity, I noted this scene from Happy Days (relevant portion begins at 1:40). I think it ends this post succinctly.

One Response

  1. One of the best, most honest pieces I have read from you Michael, and I have to say I agree 100% with your points. The suggestion that one can only make the right/moral choice if and only if that being is religious, Christian or otherwise is absurd. Anyone, could and should rise above the anger. That woman’s approach was indeed, in my opinion, immature and certainly uncalled for…not like you were burning books or something. I also suspect your assumption about her own personal rage is correct.

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