I hate those self-service checkouts.
I know that supermarkets say that they’re for our ‘convenience’ but what’s convenient about them? They are so NOT for our convenience … they’re so the supermarkets don’t have to pay more people to work the checkouts! And that’s rubbish anyway; nine times out of ten you need to wait for an assistant (usually half your age) to come and let the checkout machine know that you’re old enough to have that bottle of wine or DVD!
They’re so fiddly and temperamental to use; it takes what seems like fourteen times longer to scan in a packet of biscuits or tin of beans or whatever it is you’re buying … there’s the stupid messages and questions these checkouts blurt out in that sing-song voice of hate! I genuinely think that the voice was purposely picked to pick away at your sanity, a little ice-pick right behind the eyeballs type of voice, all perky and self-satisfied smugness!
What do you mean, “Unexpected item in the bagging area?” What’s unexpected about it?! I just put it there! I’m expecting it to be there!!!! Where do you think it should have gone?!!! Just pay attention you stupid machine!!!! And what do you mean by “unexpected?” I’ve just scanned it in; the thing went ‘beep!’ – it came up on the screen and everything, why aren’t you ready for it? Or, in your robotic ignorance did you think my tin of beans should have been a packet of rice? Or a piece of cheese? Or a carpet? Chimpanzee, maybe? Why don’t these things just work!!!!!!!
Genuinely, I try to use checkouts that are manned by real, honest to goodness people now – even if I have to wait a little longer. Of course, when a real person is scanning in my shopping there’s still a chance something might go wrong. The scanner might not work, or the barcode might be missing, but the real person can work that out straight away, they can ask a supervisor for help, they can press their little light and wait for the checkout captain to answer their distress call … things happen! You see, people can – and by and large do – cope with the ‘unexpected’; we adapt, we respond, we rise to the occasion, we don’t just sit there repeating “Unexpected item in the bagging area!”
I know the checkout machine is just programmed to respond to the barcode scanner and the weight sensors in the bagging area but it still induces a near homicidal rage in me when it doesn’t work. The problem with those automated self-serve checkouts is that things have to be a certain way for them to work properly; you have to scan properly, you have to pack properly, you have to fit in with it. Any personal foibles (be honest you’ve all got your particular packing methods, haven’t you? Or is it just me?) are almost guaranteed to cause havoc. I know there’s no ‘fault’ and no-one to ‘blame’ when the technology hiccups but it still doesn’t stop me thinking that its nuts that I should put up with it!
My latest contretemps with one of these satanically inspired machines put me in mind of something though … I’m not sure exactly how I linked the things together but I found myself recalling a story I’d heard of a deacon in a before church prayer meeting. As the rest of the team prayed for the preacher, the meeting leader, the Sunday school, the worship leader, the notices , that the projector would work etc., etc., this fellow found himself praying simply, “Oh Lord, Please let there be something happen that isn’t on the bulletin!”
I feel like that a lot!
It’s that whole thing of don’t let the form of things be the point – whether it’s the way I have to scan and re-scan, then scan again at the checkout, or whether I have to sit through twenty minutes of notices and the hymn-prayer sandwich and another forty minutes lecture before I’m offered a (usually fairly restrictive) chance to respond … Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-liturgical – in fact I’m rediscovering a certain sense of beauty and focus in the restraint of liturgy – but surely the point isn’t whether or not my shopping can be processed properly or that the corporate expression of my faith keeps to the bulletin and timings on the order of service!!!!
The point is that there should be some chance of interaction, some chance that something unexpected might just happen that will upset the carefully balanced applecart of our theology and orthodoxy.
I remember a conversation with a pastor that I think/hope was a little tongue in cheek ; when asked how they’d feel if, when they got up to start their sermon, the Holy Spirit broke out and people started falling over and laughing and all that sort of Toronto blessing type stuff. The pastor (again, I hope he was being humorous – although I’m more than a little convinced there was a real honesty about the response) said “Well, I’d be a little annoyed! I’ve spent all week preparing this sermon, I don’t need God turning up and wrecking it!” As an occasional speaker in churches, I’m more than a little sympathetic to the idea that a lot of preparation goes in to a good sermon, but I’m also conscious that the least important thing that should happen on a Sunday is that someone should sit and listen to me spout off for half an hour! If the Holy Spirit came and ‘interrupted’ me, even at the point in my sermon where I was about to launch into my best/funniest/most important point, illustration or application then I hope I’d be at least open to it! To be honest, I pray for that regularly … even whilst preparing!
Surely, the point of us meeting together is to experience God upsetting the applecart, the Holy Spirit invading and inspiring us, breaking up our narrow little worldviews and depositing an “unexpected item in the bagging area!!” Shouldn’t our corporate expression of faith be more dynamic and challenging than ‘insert tab A into slot B’ type prayers, songs and sermons. Shouldn’t we leave our churches on Sunday shell-shocked? Or at least Spirit-shocked?
Wouldn’t you want to go to church a little apprehensive? A little unsure as to what He was going to do when He showed up – knowing that He does and He will and He wants to meet with you and change you, form you, comfort you, hold you, challenge you, unsettle you, inspire you, heal you, empower you, excite you, inspire you, lift you up and stand with you … and even leave the place with you so that He’s just as much there on Monday morning!
Rather than the same old same stuff same time next week … don’t you ache for something “unexpected in the bagging area?”