“Are you kidding me?” I asked the hostess at a restaurant in Zanesville, Ohio.
I had just been told me restaurant staff had discarded the speech I’d left behind in my dining booth.
“I’m sorry,” the hostess kept repeating, watching my face redden.
To me, my words were valuable. I couldn’t imagine someone putting them in the compost pile.
“I’m sorry too,” I said. “I have to deliver the speech in the morning, so you’ll have to dig it out.”
I’m embarrassed to tell you how surly I became.
“Don’t you have a lost-and-found? I was only gone 10 minutes! Would you have discarded a book or a purse?”
Soon a regretful staff member returned with my soggy text at arm’s length.
Again, I asked, “Are you kidding me?”
It was the second occasion for the question in the past week.
“Are you kidding me?” I said responding to a call from my auto insurance company telling me my collision with road debris totaled my car.
“I’m sorry,” said the agent, preparing his final blow, “but since your car has a salvaged title, it will only be worth about half of its value.”
Again, I slowly repeated, “Are you kidding me?”
And again, I was a bit surly. “As a company that only insures military officers, I expected more. I’ve paid full premiums on a 2001 model with low mileage. I expect a full return.”
Like the restaurant, the auto insurance company devalued what was, personally, very important to me. Both the restaurant and the company looked at my valuable possessions and immediately dismissed them as something much less valuable.
Not only that, but I felt personally devalued when the hostess identified me as a chaplain from the soggy words on the paper and the insurance agent called me “Chaplain” in that tone a mother uses for your middle name.
The incidents left me with the question, “How does a person of faith react when someone discredits, undervalues or discounts something that you find important?”
Doesn’t Christian Scripture tell us to turn the other cheek?
Yes, but does that mean it would be better for me to accept the disposal of my text or the devalued worth of my car than it would be to fight?
Many folks see this as a command to be passive and to accept the misfortune that comes our way. But I learned another meaning of the phrase.
Picture this: If someone slaps you with their right hand, they will strike you on the left cheek. In some good defensive advice, Jesus urged us to turn our cheek. Turning our cheek toward the direction of the incoming slap makes a second strike less likely because there is no exposed cheek surface.
It’s best pictured by acting it out with a friend, but the point is that turning the cheek is a defensive posture that discourages further blows. It’s not a passive one.
So, no, I didn’t just accept the soggy answer the restaurant gave because Jesus also said, “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
Which means, don’t get cheeky, just be smart.
Remembering that I had my speech on a computer memory stick in my pocket, I pulled out the stick and asked with a smile, “Do you have a printer?”
They did. I left a happy customer.
As for my insurance company, it’s tempting to show them another kind of cheek, but I’m quite sure that’s not what Jesus had in mind.
Burkes is a former civilian hospital chaplain and an Air National Guard chaplain. Write firstname.lastname@example.org or visit thechaplain.net. You can follow him on Twitter, username is “chaplain.”