Sally, our office manager, was on vacation this past week, and so the rest of us took turns picking up the phone when it rang. Hardly a bother, it was nice to talk to a parent wanting to register a child for Vacation Bible School or a volunteer trying to navigate the bureaucracy of the state’s new child protection act.
Hardly a bother, except. Except for those calls that always start the same way, “May I speak to the person responsible for the Verizon bill?” Even, “I need to speak to the person responsible for the PECO account.” Their point, of course, is going to be a pitch for a new long distance carrier or a better electricity supplier. My point is to dispatch them a quickly as I can. Dispatch as in hang up as soon as I can.
I am reading Philip Yancey’s latest book, Vanishing Grace. Yancey says that his purpose in writing the book was to explore answers to questions like, “How can Christians offer grace in a way that is compelling to a jaded society?” and “how can they make a difference in a world that cries out in need?”
I wasn’t thinking about my encounters with the telemarketers when, as I read, I came across this story told by Yancey:
Once, while speaking on the topic of grace in Toronto, I asked the audience about their own experiences conveying grace to others. One woman shocked us all: “I feel called to minister to telephone marketers. You know, the kind who call at inconvenient hours and deliver their spiel before you can say a word.” Immediately I flashed back to the times I have responded rudely or simply hung up. “All day long these sales callers hear people curse at them and slam the phone down,” she continued. “I listen attentively to their pitch, then I try to respond kindly, though I almost never buy what they’re selling. Instead, I ask about their personal life and whether they have any concerns I can pray for. Often they ask me to pray with them over the phone, and sometimes they are in tears. They’re people, after all, probably underpaid, and they’re surprised when someone treats them with common courtesy.”
I know, I wonder the same thing. What about the calls that are “monitored for quality control,” i.e., “go off script and you’re fired.” What about my friends who have had (short) careers as telemarketers and tell stories about the pressure to complete so many dials in an hour. Really? They share their prayer concerns? Maybe things are different in Toronto.
Philip Yancey has become something of the dean of popular Christian writers and his integrity is unquestioned. I trust the veracity of the story about the woman in Toronto who has been called to a ministry with telemarketers.
LPC is not shopping for a new long distance or electricity provider. Before I dispatch the caller quickly, a robot is dialing the next number and the poor telemarketer is getting ready to ask for the person responsible for the PECO bill. I feel no stirring of the Holy Spirit calling me to a ministry to “telephone marketers. You know, the kind who call at inconvenient hours and deliver their spiel before you can say a word.”
Please, however, do not ask Becky about how I share grace with Rachel from card member services.
When Philip Yancey writes about grace, he is mostly talking about a derivative grace. Christians have received grace, unmerited favor, through the self-giving love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. We don’t own grace. We can’t create grace. But we can reflect grace. It is this practical, derivative grace that Yancey wants to see offered to a jaded society by followers of Jesus.
Yancey’s title, Vanishing Grace, makes his point. Ours is an increasingly graceless world. Yes, the fount of all grace is arrogantly disregarded by the captains of our culture. Even the pretense of grace is disdained in a world where success is measured by dials per hour and the absolute exercise of the absolute right to “to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” And, I understand, grace is not fear of rejection. It has a backbone.
A graceless world such as ours needs more grace given, not less.
I doubt if I will pray with the caller concerned with the church’s Verizon bill. But I will try to sound less irritated and remember a single mom trying to make ends meet or a college student with tuition payments due at the other end of the line.
I do not own grace. I can’t create grace. But I can reflect grace. I have been given much grace; abundant grace, the Apostle Paul writes in the letter to the Romans. How much grace I have received! Whether it is to telemarketers or the partisans in the culture wars, a fellow motorist or an irritating neighbor, I am called to reflect God’s grace.
The church, and LPC as a local manifestation of the church, is called to be a community of grace, the grace of God to the graceless given. Pray that we would be so, that a visitor to the coffee hour or a parent registering a child for VBS would sense grace, that in our best and deepest fellowship we would reflect grace. Grace will not vanish so long as the Christians are willing to reflect Christ.