Help! I’m being held hostage by product reviews!

In the good old days before online shopping, I would go to the store, look over the available products, and select one to buy. I’d pick the one that looked good, felt good, and was priced right. Do you remember those days?

I shop on line now. As do many of you. This means I buy a lot of things sight unseen. So I read the reviews. Positive reviews. Negative reviews. And some in-between. In a crazy, scary way, these reviews control my purchases. People I don’t even know are controlling my shopping habits.

And here is what I have noticed: negative reviews wield much power over me. A product may have, let’s say, one hundred reviews. 90% are four or five stars. I will read the one star reviews, the ten percent, to learn why this product is junk and the seller a piece of slime.

The negative responses usually go something like this:

  • “Worked for ten minutes, then quit.”
  • “Instructions were vague; assembly took three days.”
  • “Poor quality, missing pieces, shoddy craftsmanship, disappointing purchase.”
  • “Too hot” “Too cold” “Too hard” ” Too soft” “Too big” “Too small” (Goldilocks responses.)
  • “Arrived broken, seller unresponsive, and my life sucks.”

You know what? I tend to listen to the negative. I read about all the things that go wrong, and decide I need to buy something else. Something better. Something of quality. Whatever. People I don’t even know are controlling my shopping habits!

OK, Bill, take a deep breath. Who is writing these reviews? “Verified purchasers?” How do I know that’s true? Satisfied customers? Unsatisfied customers? Who knows.

Most of the time – the majority of the time – I’ve been happy with my purchases. And they had nothing to do with the reviews. I am not a bad judge of quality. I know that my purchase comes from China (duh!). And I know I can send it back for a refund. No harm. No foul.

You can either choose to be controlled by someone else’s opinion. Or your own discernment. My inner voice is valid, too.

“Will you bless this for me?”

examiner-size-cross-in-handWhen I was getting ready to perform a wedding at a non-church venue in St Augustine last fall, the bride’s aunt took a cross pendant next door to the Basilica to have it blessed before giving it to her niece. Someone looked toward me and asked, “Why didn’t you just have him do it?” She just shrugged. 

A week or two later, someone took me aside before worship and showed me a new cross necklace they had just received and asked me to bless it. I was caught off guard, since I wasn’t in the habit of blessing things. But I said a prayer with that individual, asking God to let that cross be a powerful reminder of everything that Jesus had done for them.

Every month the prayer shawl ministry of our church puts on display all the shawls that have been crocheted over the past month so that we can pray for those who will receive one. Of course we don’t know ahead of time who will receive them, but God does, so we commend them to his care. We keep a supply, and members of the church will request them and take them to people who are sick or have something else going on.

Sometimes, a shawl will be finished and given to someone in-between those monthly displays. Well-meaning members will bring the shawl by for me to bless. Rather than blessing the shawl per se, I pray for the healing, comfort, and safety of the recipient.

After doing this a couple of times I began to wonder, “What’s the big deal about blessing something?” Where did this idea come from? Should I be better at doing this? It is true that in the agenda (a reference volume of special ceremonies) there are rites to bless things like organs, church bells, paraments, buildings, furnishings and homes. These rites, however, are a way of reminding us that we are setting these things aside for special use in ministry. However, when people have an object blessed, I fear they may believe this object will now guarantee good fortune, as if it were now a good luck charm. In other words, if an object in their possession has been blessed, they will receive blessing from it. Superstitious at best, this borders on idolatry in my book. 

I can guarantee that an object is just the same after I pray over it as it was before. I am not able to make a cross or a bible or a crocheted prayer shawl any more effective in protecting, healing or blessing anyone. I have no problem praying for somebody who will wear or use or hold one of those things. But give an object special powers? That’s way above my pay grade!

Allegations, protection, and common sense

D145_250_179_0004_600Suddenly the whole Mike Pence strategy of not being with a woman who’s not your wife has a whole lot of value. Initially he was ridiculed, but now, as celebrities, politicians and news personalities fall one by one to claims of sexual misconduct, the wisdom of setting and maintaining such boundaries makes a whole lot of sense.

I was taught very early on by some very wise mentors to never put myself in a compromising position. Don’t ever be with a child or young person alone and don’t meet behind closed doors (especially secretly locked doors) alone with a woman who is not your wife. When we designed our new church building, we made sure there were windows in all the doors. When I meet with a woman, I make sure someone else is around. When I’m with kids, it’s always in a group, or with parents present. I am even cautious when going out to visit women twenty, thirty or more years older than me! All it takes is one accusation, and you are fighting for your reputation, ministry and life.

These are not new ideas. In many circles these safeguards have been required practices for years (Cf. Good News Clubs, Boy Scouts, preschools). As allegations of sexual misconduct make daily news headlines, I can’t help but wonder how they didn’t know. Did they really think they would just get away with it? Were they oblivious to the potention dangers? No one saw this coming?

I am thankful for those who were watching out for me, our children, and other adults. Being safe and above reproach isn’t so hard to do. Just have someone else around on site or in the office. Protect yourself and them.