Friday, April 29, 2011

Reflection for May 1, 2011

Look before you leap?

As a member of a research firm many years ago I was part of a team assigned to produce a consumer guide for homebuyers. The idea was to get people to look before they leaped, to spend time drawing up a precise list of their housing needs before making a commitment. The list might include: size of the house, size of the lot, style of house, garage space, ground maintenance, commuter distances, proximity to schools, quality of schools, proximity to markets and churches, price, lenders, points, utility costs, crime rate, future development, etc.

In other words buyers were to spell out every residential concern they had, even to the point of square footage, mileage distances, traffic decibels! Of course, once you had people thinking this way it’s not inconceivable that they might even want to inspect the resumes of local elementary school teachers - but we never encouraged them to go that far. But, then again why not? Because, after all, we were trying to get them to think like researchers, to go about purchasing things in a scientific way - to diminish their chances of making a mistake, a bad investment.

Now while the logic behind this approach to home buying was beyond dispute, I don’t think our consumer guide had a snowball’s chance in hell of being of any ultimate use to most human house hunters. I mean, I could just picture a couple (the wife with a thumb worn checklist of rational criteria open on her lap) turning down a shady lane and coming upon a “For Sale” sign in front of an ivy-covered cottage right out of Peter Rabbit - and exclaiming: “This is it! We love it!” And the basis for their judgment? Not the checklist but the charm of the place, its appeal to a need deep within them that made all their rational requirements irrelevant.

We never produced such a consumer guide for fellows looking for a wife. You know: getting him to develop a similar checklist defining the precise woman he might need to suit his temperament, career ambitions, etc., like five foot two, eyes of blue, college degree, a touch of Irish, a girl just like the girl that married dear old dad! Again, what would be the use! Love can never be reduced to a science. Into the lobby walks this girl who in no way conforms to the fellow’s checklist. She speaks “and the angels sing” and the checklist is last seen bobbing in the wake of a cruise ship en route to Paradise.

Thomas the Apostle would have loved to have been a member of our consumer guide team, because from what we know of him he was the type who preferred to look before he leaped. He had to see, to touch, to examine those wounds before he would invest in the tale told him by those starry-eyed disciples. But like all such folk who insist that reality bend to their requirements before they accept it, Thomas felt his checklist slip from his fingers to the floor (a dead letter) in the presence of the Jesus who confronted him. There’s no suggestion that he even thought of inspecting his wounds, for the Jesus he saw probably looked to him more like the Jesus in the opening chapter of the Book of Revelation: “The hair of his head was white as snow-white wool, and his eyes flamed like fire; his feet gleamed like burnished brass; his voice was like the sound of rushing waters; out of his mouth came a two-edged sword and his face shone like the sun.” And all Thomas could say in the face of such a reality (which appealed to a need so deep within him, far deeper than his quibbling mind) -- all he could utter was: “My Lord and my God.”