On Fred Phelps’ Death, Westboro Baptist Church, Excommunications and Funerals

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/20/westboro-baptist-fred-phelps-death-statement-_n_5002608.html

Here’s a quote from the Westboro Baptist Church blog:

“The world-wide media has been in a frenzy during the last few days, gleefully anticipating the death of Fred Waldron Phelps Sr.  It has been an unprecedented, hypocritical, vitriolic explosion of words.”

Unprecedented?  No.  Hypocritical?  Phelps and the church developed a practice of protesting at funerals of fallen soldiers that was deliberately disrespectful and disruptive, precisely to draw media attention to themselves, and get free publicity for their message.  The media is not hypocritical in reporting on it, but Westboro is most definitely hypocritical in criticizing the media.  Vitriolic?  In the mainstream media, it’s merely been reporting of fact.  That may sound like vitriol, especially to Westboro members, but the facts are that this man and this church generated a lot of negative feelings.

There are some positive effects that Fred Phelps, and the Westboro Baptist Church, have had on the Christian community.  A lot of Christians have searched the scriptures, not only with regard to their theological views, but with the actions they’ve taken, claiming a Biblical mandate.  It is always a good thing when Christians study the Bible with the intention of clarifying their theological views or examining their own behavior.  And while some have used what they found to judge Phelps and Westboro, others have determined that their own behavior will reflect Jesus, and their own beliefs will reflect the scripture.

Personally, I am in no position to judge where Fred Phelps will spend eternity.  If, at some point in his life, he received the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, then he will spend eternity with Jesus in heaven.  His sin has been forgiven.  Whether or not I think his actions reflected that he had this testimony in his life, it doesn’t really matter.  I’m in the same position, and my eternal destiny depends on exactly the same thing.  And really, when we are considering sin in our lives, when compared to God’s expectations and standard, what’s the difference between us?  Now Fred would tell you that the difference could be that he was among those chosen from creation for predestination to salvation, and I might not be among those.  I don’t believe it is a matter of predestination as much as it is a matter of free will and submission to God, and that everyone gets a chance in this life to repent, and receive God’s grace.  If Fred did that, he’s in.  If he believed what he preached, he’s going to be really surprised to see me there.

His family says that there will not be a funeral, because their church doesn’t worship the dead.  I don’t know enough about the past history of their church to know whether that’s a statement consistent with their previous practices and beliefs, or whether it is a dodge to avoid having pickets and protesters gather for Fred’s funeral.  It would certainly be tempting to exhibit the same kind of behavior at his funeral that he and his church members have exhibited at the funerals they’ve picketed.  I can only imagine that the anger and frustration that many people feel toward Fred Phelps and his family and church because of their actions would generate thousands of hostile protesters at his funeral, ready to dance on his grave.  But that would be the wrong thing to do.

It’s been reported that Fred was excommunicated from Westboro Baptist Church prior to his death because he wanted the church to take a gentler approach, and because he supported one of his daughters in a power struggle.  The church denies that.  Even so, since most of the church is made up of his family, I believe the best way to handle this is to step away, and give this family and church the respect, and the peace, that they have denied to so many others in their grief, whether they are grieving or celebrating, or both.

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
    if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
    and the Lord will reward you.  Proverbs 25:21-22 NIV

For the families who were hurt by the protests at the funerals of their fallen children and loved ones, this is the path to healing from the hurt.  Being vengeful only aggravates the wound.  Extending grace, whether it is acknowledged, welcomed, received, or not, will bring genuine healing and peace that can only come from God, and no protest can prevent the receiving of God’s grace.  That’s the kind of action that demonstrates God’s truth.

 

 

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Moral Inconsistency, Part 2

The application of Christian morality to any area of life is complicated.  We’d like to think that it’s not, and that it is simply a matter of reading the black and white print of the Bible, and doing what it says.  But reading the Bible, and interpreting the Bible in the context in which it was written, with the discernment to understand what that means in the culture in which we are trying to apply it, requires getting out and away from our tendency to rely on our own wisdom and reason, and depend on the Holy Spirit.  By the Spirit, we are able to interpret the written word, and that leads us to application.  It is a matter of spiritual maturity and life experience, and even when that is present, we’re not always going to get it right.

The absolutes are easy.  It’s not difficult to discern the value that Jesus places on human life, and it isn’t hard to find Biblical evidence that points to conception as the beginning of it.  Taking another human life is wrong, and that’s one of the principles which can easily be interpreted by reading the black and white.  The whole principle of relationships that lead to family development is pretty clear as well.  It involves one man and one woman, and the commitment of a lifetime.

Jesus emphasized the fact that, after years of “religious thinking,” changes in the way people interpreted scripture, and lived their lives to please God, were necessary.  The theme of the Sermon on the Mount, including the beatitudes, is characterized in Jesus’ words, “You have heard that it was said…but…I say unto you…..”  And that turned most religious philosophy, which had been watered down by years of human reason, intellect and wisdom, on its ear.

Obviously, most of what Jesus said and did was intended to directly impact the culture and time in which he lived.  It laid the groundwork for the establishment of the Christian church, which was that part of the Kingdom of God that was intended to move forward from that point, underlined by the tearing of the veil in the Holy of Holies, and eventually the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  That was something that Jesus predicted, and interpreted, for his disciples, who recorded his words in scripture.  But most of what Jesus said and did was also intended to directly impact the culture and time from that point forward.  And while there are a lot of specific subjects that Jesus did not directly address, there are others on which he was crystal clear.

Jesus had a lot to say about personal wealth, its acquisition, its use, and its abuse, and about money and the philosophy around it by which Christians are instructed to live.  He had a lot to say about ministry, not only to the poor, but to the lost.  He revealed God in a way that he had never been revealed or understood before.  He undermined the religious structure of his day that had established a hierarchy of privilege and power, pointed out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, and rectified injustice, sometimes miraculously, and at least once with a whip in his hand.

If we “get it right” on issues like abortion, and same sex marriage, we need to be consistent on issues like health care, wealth management, business dealings, and human relations.  A lot of attention is given to the debate on same sex marriage, but very little attention seems to be devoted to the divorce crisis in the US, which is far greater in scope, and which the church seems powerless to address because within its membership, the divorce rate is as high as it is in the population at large.  Likewise, we are focused on the sanctity of human life when it comes to pre-born babies, but we are not concerned that 40 million Americans, most of them children less than ten  years away from the womb, do not have health care coverage, which is also a sanctity of life issue.  The racial inequities in the application of the death penalty are an indication that there is moral inconsistency in there somewhere.

And we still can’t seem to get away from war as a means to resolving problems.

That’s probably enough for now.  Let it sink in.  Christian faith and secular politics really don’t mix well, if you are genuinely serious about bringing in your Christian values, because you will have to be consistent in their application and there are going to be some things that won’t fall in line with your political agenda.  You’ll be forced to either change your view, or ignore the moral side of the argument.

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Moral Inconsistency, Part 1

There are a wide variety of opinions about the effectiveness of Sunday School.  Mine is that it was quite effective.  Perhaps that is because I was fortunate to have three of the most gifted Sunday School teachers I’ve ever known during the time I grew up in the little Southern Baptist church I consider my home congregation.  From the days when the classes were known as “beginners,” “primary,” and “juniors,” I had three women who were both dedicated and knowledgeable when it came to the Bible, and who actually believed and lived everything they taught.  They weren’t selective about it depending on their life circumstances, either.  If the Biblical principle was clear, and they understood it, they taught it and then they lived it.

They were so effective, that when I went off to college, and had to take a semester of Old Testament Survey, and a semester of New Testament Survey, I did very well in both, because I’d remembered a lot of what I learned in Sunday School.  It was almost as if all three of them had read the textbooks written by H.I. Hester himself, though I am sure that the lesson commentaries they’d read to prepare for class provided them with a whole lot of knowledge, and their willingness to be obedient made them effective teachers. Their consistent application of the truths of scripture, translated into personal morality, was a powerful teaching tool.

I don’t profess to have perfectly consistent moral beliefs or practices in my Christian life.  Part of the reason for that is a lack of understanding, on my part, of everything in the scripture that teaches us how to walk in the way of Jesus.  In both college and seminary, I took a lot of courses in Biblical studies, to help me understand, because I really wanted to know, and I wanted to pattern my life in just that way.  It seems, though, that for every concept that I seem to learn, there are a variety of applications and life situations that don’t lend themselves to a perfect alignment with the principle.  That’s where the illumination of the Holy Spirit is supposed to help, but I must admit that my discernment is not perfect in that regard.  Sometimes I give up, because it is too hard, or because I know that what I will learn is contrary to my own will.  Is that where we need to pray, “Lord, help my unbelief”?  I think it is.

It is always easier to spot inconsistency in someone else’s morality.  That’s why I am prefacing what I am saying with the previous paragraph.  I’m not going to approach this from the perspective that I have immaculate perception, and the way I see things is the way all Christians must see things, or they are wrong, according to the scriptural interpretation that I happen to accept.  But I am going to ask the questions, because I see the inconsistency.  There may be a perfectly logical and reasonable explanation, or it may actually be that the perfection which often eludes me, is also not part of the reasoning that is creating the inconsistency.

The foundation for much of what is expressed in public is solid.  Christian morality is determined by God, and revealed through the inspired writers of the Bible.  It does not evolve through the pressure of public opinion, though within the church there are influences which attempt to distort, change, or otherwise water down the principles and precepts that are laid out in the Bible.  Our wisdom and reason, the essence of our identity and humanity, does not take kindly to moral absolutes that give evidence of being handed down by God.  So there is a lot of study, debate, discussion, attempted reason, and logic, from human, not divine sources, that influence what we think and how we behave.  And the Christian community has some code words that it uses to distinguish between its own members in order to be able to identify, and associate with those whom we hold strong, common convictions.

As conservatives and evangelicals, our code words tend to identify those who we consider to be “on our left” in their interpretations of the Bible and their beliefs about morality, as “liberals” and we identify as “Bible believing,” as opposed to those who do not believe the particular interpretation of the Bible at which we have arrived, who do not share that label.  But there are some inconsistencies in the moral perspective that many conservative evangelicals hold, and those are most visible in the world of money, corporate business, and politics.

Are you interested now?  Read on.

Conservative Christians are in almost unanimous agreement when it comes to moral issues like abortion and same sex marriage.  And their views are drawn directly from the Biblical teaching that they claim is the foundation of their belief and practice as Christians.  Frankly, if you are going to arrive at a different perspective on either of these issues, it does require departing from historical and traditional interpretations of the Bible, especially among most Protestants, and interjecting what the scripture calls the “wisdom of this world which is foolishness” into the interpretation.  Most conservatives will also insist that these principles are universal expressions of truth, and that they are to be considered applicable by those responsible for making the law of the land.  There is no doubt that Christian morality has been a strong influence in developing the rule of law in this country, whether we want to acknowledge that or not, even under the constitutional principle of religious freedom.  It is hard to create a “secular” morality that doesn’t have a Christian element, but I don’t believe that’s necessarily a constitutional violation.  Church and state separation is not the literal interpretation of the constitutional principle of religious freedom.

There are some real limits to the influence of Christian morality on government, however, that conservative Christians endorse, practice, and even fervently push.  Abortion is immoral, wrong, and is a violation of the sanctity of human life.  So is murder.  Biblically, it is the same thing.  But if human life is sacred, then how does Christian morality view the death penalty?  War? Poverty that robs people of the quality of life, or of its blessings, or of their health?  Where does Christian morality address predatory lending, or interest rates that exceed the Bible’s definition of usury?

Part 2 will address those issues.

 

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History Repeating Itself in Ukraine, Crimea, Russia

You’ve heard that old expression about history many times, haven’t you?

No politicians have ever blamed a President of the United States for an invasion of sovereign territory by Russia or the Soviet Union.  To do so now is hypocritical.  Russia invaded Georgia during George W. Bush’s term in office, and the President’s political party would have been absolutely livid had the Democrats accused him of foreign policy weakness, and blamed him for the invasion, as well as the resulting inaction.  Bush, essentially, verbally condemned the invasion and didn’t even offer sanctions.  In this case, the President sent the Secretary of State to the Ukrainian capital, proposed sanctions and pulled the plug on Russian investments in the US.  The fact of the matter is that Putin would have invaded the Crimea in this particular scenario no matter who was in the White House.  You can’t blame that on the President.  So that settles that argument.

Nor did Sarah Palin’s brief mention of the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine hit anywhere near the ballpark of the context in which it was made.  She was speaking of an imminent invasion, not one five years into his presidency, and it was forgotten, along with most of her other historical and political gaffes and mis-statements of the 2008 campaign.  There, the politics of the whole situation are clear.  Now let’s get down to the real facts.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the establishment of a number of free “republics” that once made it up, including Ukraine, Russia was left with limited naval bases.  In spite of the fact that it is the largest country in the world, and remained so, Russia has very limited access to the ocean.  The only ice-free seaports available to Russia year round are Murmansk, in the North, Vladivostok, in the far, far Siberian west on the Pacific coast, and along the Black Sea at Sevastopol in Crimea.  But when the Soviet Union dissolved, the Crimean peninsula, jutting into the Black Sea, became part of Ukraine.  Russia negotiated a lease on the naval base at Sevastopol, to continue having a year round, ice free port for its navy, but the base was now on the sovereign territory of Crimea.

The Crimean peninsula has always been a strategic military base, and it has drawn all kinds of conflict, including war with Great Britain involved, and the invasion and conquest of the Soviet Union by Hitler, whose air force leveled the city of Sevastopol.  His planned conquest of Asia depended on holding the Crimea as a naval and military launching point.  It was the scene of the Yalta conference between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt at the end of World War 2.

With unrest in the Ukraine, and a pro-Russian prime minister being ousted from office, the Crimea became the center of Russia’s military attention.  They feel threatened by a pro-Western Ukrainian government, and it puts their naval base at Sevastopol in “enemy territory” so to speak.  Sort of like the US and Guantanamo Bay.  It didn’t take a fortune teller to predict that the Russians would do something.

Not only that, but during all the years that Crimea has been part of the Soviet Union, and Russia, most of its population has become “Russian.”  But as a province of Ukraine, it’s government is supposed to be loyal to Kiev.  While I don’t think a pro-western government in Kiev would put the Russian citizens of Crimea at any kind of risk, I can see where they would feel uncomfortable about it.  And what we don’t understand, as Americans, is that while Ukrainians and Russians all look very much alike, and their languages sound very much alike, and their culture is difficult for us to distinguish, there are some very distinct differences between the two, mostly related to ancient hatred that goes back more than a thousand years.  The similarities haven’t smoothed over historical animosity that is rooted in a legacy of oppression, exploitation and cruelty that runs deeper and occurred over a longer period than the American Civil War.  Eastern Europe, including Russia and the Ukraine, have never known the kind of freedom that we have.  The whole area has been repeatedly ravaged by war and the poverty that accompanies it, most recently during the German invasion in World War II.  The devastation that occurred in the Ukraine, Crimea, and in that part of Russia was the worst ever inflicted on any of the world’s people.

Let’s look at it from a purely American perspective.  We expect the countries that border on the United States to be friendly to us, and in reality, to be willing to take on some of our causes.  During the course of our history as a nation, we have interfered in the affairs of the sovereign nations in hemisphere on more than one occasion, partly because we can, and partly because we wanted to guarantee our own security.  That includes Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, Cuba and Grenada, just to name a few.  The reason we’ve given each time is protecting our own sovereignty and national security.  We’ve found it particularly difficult to tolerate the presence of a communist regime in Cuba, and we’ve worked very hard to prevent that from occurring elsewhere in our hemisphere, particularly in Nicaragua.  I can only imagine what action the US would take if there were any danger of the Mexico falling into the hands of a communist dictatorship.  Sure, it’s not a direct comparison with what is happening in Eastern Europe right now, but it’s the language Putin is using.

It’s not an issue of “weak foreign policy” on the part of the President.  Russia invaded and occupied Georgia during the Bush administration, and, like this action, it had nothing to do with the foreign policy strength or weakness of the United States.  The fact of the matter is that the US didn’t have the ability to do anything about it.  Likewise, we don’t have the ability to do anything about his either, except the sanctions and restrictions on the Russian economy.  And we’re actually getting a lot more cooperation from our allies and friends than the previous administration was able to muster in its foreign invasion ventures.

But that’s where things need to be left.  This is not a problem that the US can resolve.  The door was left open for this to occur when the Ukraine became an independent country, and continued to lease the naval base at Sevastopol to the Russian Republic.  The Ukrainian people are going to have to figure out how to handle this.  Sanctions, and the pressure of having the Secretary of State in the region may cause the Russians to back off, but it will be difficult to justify much else, since the majority of the Crimean population is Russian anyway, and the world has recognized Russia’s ownership of the Black Sea port access.

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Arizona Governor Brewer’s Veto of Senate Bill was the Right Thing to do

If less government intrusion is a principle at the heart of your political preferences, then Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s veto of Senate Bill 1062 was the right thing to do.  Arizona didn’t need the law, she said, because the implications of such a broadly written piece of legislation would open doors no one had thought of.  Besides that, there were no situations in Arizona that provided examples demonstrating a need for such legislation.  And after the veto, nothing has changed.  In Arizona, if you go into a private business, and they tell you they prefer not to serve you because your lifestyle isn’t consistent with their religious beliefs, you have the simple option of seeking out another business that will serve you. 

There are some aspects of this whole issue, however, that are somewhat troubling.

Rush Limbaugh blamed the pressure that was put on the governor as having come from what he calls “the drive-by media” and the liberal “establishment.”  Those are deliberately ambiguous terms that he frequently uses to buck up his straw man arguments, but in this case, he was dead wrong.  The pressure came from the corporate business establishment within the state of Arizona, a group that is relatively enthusiastic in its support for the Republican party.  To be sure, there were more than likely thousands of true political “liberals” in the huge crowds that gathered in front of the state capitol for a week.  The Republican dominance of Arizona politics is already shaky, and handing their opponents an issue like this in an election year was not a wise move, to be sure.  But the real pressure brought to bear on Governor Brewer came from the big corporate interests with substantial investment in Arizona.  And personally, I think the pressure from professional sports may have been the clincher. 

Governor Brewer, whom no one would ever mistake for one of the state’s better governors, only had to envision what would happen to Republican control of the state legislature if the Super Bowl had pulled out.  They would have, too.  Arizona’s first Super Bowl was delayed by several years because the state refused to recognize the federal holiday for the birthday of Martin Luther King.  To lose another significant event like that, along with the media attention and the money that it brings in would have created a backlash at the polls that would have been monumental.  The Republicans lost two important congressional races in 2012, and the state’s congressional delegation is now majority Democrat.  They also lost some standing in the state legislature.  An issue like this, on which the loss of the Super Bowl would have been blamed, would have had major impact. 

Then, too, there was pressure from the state’s tourism industry, which is huge, getting bigger, and also involves professional sports because half of major league baseball spends its spring training there, and the all star game in Arizona is coming up.  Along with that, Delta Airlines, which is expanding in the Phoenix area, used pressure and their spokespersons talked about moving a lot of jobs to Arizona from Atlanta if Georgia passes a similar law, and Arizona rejected SB 1062.  They were not lonely voices, either.  A plethora of corporate interests became involved in putting pressure on Governor Brewer. 

Now the governor may have already decided to veto the bill, and she may have taken those few days to sit on it and contemplate what she was going to do.  But as things became clear, in spite of the rhetoric in her relatively short, and comment-less speech, the pressure came about as a result of pressure from big business with big money.  And that was a big deal.  It also appears that issues regarding same sex relationships are going to come down on the dividing line between moderate Republicans and the various tea party interest groups.  Big money interests are always self serving, and that should give a hint about what will happen politically in the future. 

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The Day has come…

Like most people, I am concerned about my health.  As I’ve grown older, more and more of my peers have had to deal with things that I think we probably never thought were down the road when we were younger.  Those were things that happened to “other people.” 

I did have one incident, in my mid twenties, that caused me some problems down the line.  I had a bad case of pneumonia, and a doctor who was treating it mis-diagnosed it.  The pneumonia spread to the pericardial tissue around the heart, and eventually to the heart itself, causing a chronic atrial fibrillation to develop, and leaving me with permanent, regular medications to take for the rest of my life.  It has progressively been treated to the point where it is a minor annoyance, now.  I stepped into the world of diabetes in 2008.  That was sobering, and so was the surgery I had to have on my leg to remove an abscess caused by it.  But bouncing back, taking medication and being good with measuring blood sugar and using insulin has seriously reduced the effects of the disease.  The biggest fear, though was still in the background.

Cancer.

For years, I’ve clung to the assurance that I have good heredity when it comes to cancer.  No one in my family has had it.  Until now. 

A week ago Wednesday, I visited an emergency room because I thought I had a bad case of the stomach flu.  Without a fever, they were sure I didn’t, and fortunately, there was a doctor there qualified enough to realize that the pain I was having, along with fluctuations in the blood chemistry, indicated some kind of bowel obstruction.  They took me to surgery that afternoon, to run a camera down and see what was going on, and I emerged from the recovery room with about half of my colon removed.  The next morning, my wife told me that the obstruction had been a tumor, and we would wait three days for the pathology results to come back. 

When they did, it was determined to be cancerous, but all of the other indicators of further issues were not present, the lymph nodes were clear, and the doctors are sure they “got it all.”  I’ve heard that before, and watched, within a two to three year period of time, the person die from a tumor that formed elsewhere.  That’s scary enough.  Even though the survival odds of this particular tumor are high, and recurrence is low, the bridge has been crossed and there’s no going back now. 

I’d like to think of this as an isolated incident.  After all, the prognosis is good, and the long term prevention plan may not include chemotherapy.  Even the odds of recurrence of this type of tumor, cited by the doctor as a point of good news and comfort, are quite low.  That’s what I’d like to think.  And I know that a lot of people who’ve had cancer, even in higher stages than mine, are treated and survive it.  That is very encouraging.  It is entirely possible, about a 90% chance according to the medical experts, that I will never face another cancerous tumor or growth anywhere else in my body.  That is also very encouraging. 

But I have crossed the threshold.  I’ve had cancer.  And that scares me.  I imagine that over the next weeks and months, I will go through several stages of reacting to this news, from fear of what could be down the road, to relying on my faith in Christ to get me through it.  I’ll admit that sounds like a crutch, but that’s probably because it is.  And that’s OK.  It will help me get through this.  I already know a dozen or more cancer patients who are in remission, or have been delivered from its curse altogether.  And I think that’s the way faith in Jesus works.  He sends people your way, maybe well in advance of the time you’ll need them, so they’ll be ready to minister to you when the time comes. 

Living one day at a time is no longer a cliché.

 

 

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If the Airlines Operated Like Wal-Mart…

…their customer service standard would draw so many customers, they couldn’t handle the increased business.

One of my recent trips prompted my thinking on this subject.  The contrast between attitudes communicated by the airline, and Wal-Mart, to their customers is remarkable.  Wal-Mart became the nation’s largest retailer by building its business on asking questions about what its customers wanted, and by providing it.  Finding a way to offer the lowest prices on their retail goods was at the top of the list, along with the expectations of customer service.  There are, of course, other factors involved, but those two are the cornerstones of their success.  My experience with most airlines suggests that they could benefit considerably by operating with similar standards in place.

On a recent business trip from Pittsburgh to Nashville, the contrast in standards was painfully noticeable.  I won’t mention the airline.  But at almost every encounter with its employees, and the service that was provided, they fell well below the expectations that accompany the price they charge to provide them, and that standard business practice would consider acceptable.

The expectations that accompany an air fare in excess of $400 for the round trip are simple, from my perspective, anyway.  I should have a comfortable seat with enough room to stretch my legs and arms without interfering with the customer seated next to me.  There should be enough space allocated for me to carry a reasonable amount of clothing, personal items and business necessities without being charged an extra fee for checking the bags, and if I do check bags, they should always arrive at the destination with me.  I should expect to arrive at my destination within a reasonable window of time according to the schedule, with an understanding that delays caused by safety concerns are completely acceptable.  Questions should be answered courteously and as quickly as the information can be accessed.  Employees of the airline should be friendly, and smile occasionally.  A partial refund should be made for any part of a flight that doesn’t meet the expected level of service.

The recent trip I made, paid for by a non-profit organization for which I volunteer, to attend a training event, missed the mark in a lot of ways.  The organization’s travel department made the reservation, so the price of the ticket wasn’t an issue for me, and they book enough flights to get priority discounts, so that was not an issue, but the actual price of the ticket, over $400, seemed high considering the distance of the destination and the price of tickets I saw on line.  Personally, if I were booking the flight myself, I would pass that fare up pretty quickly.  I understand that the market has an effect on prices, and that smaller market airports like Nashville and Pittsburgh have less volume of traffic, but I think that fare is out of line for a priority customer.  I found fares on other airlines today at half of that amount.

The plane was in the category of equipment referred to these days as an “express jet.”  I also understand the switch to smaller, more fuel-efficient aircraft, especially when serving the smaller markets, but with such limited cabin space, a lot of comfort is sacrificed, and I don’t think that’s necessary.  One row, three seats, could be removed and it would make all the difference in the world.  A lot of passengers on the flight back to Pittsburgh on Saturday were really unhappy about being required to check their bags on the gangway, because there was not enough room in the overhead bins to accommodate them.  There’d be a whole lot more room if there was not a fee for bags.  People would stop trying to cram their belongings into small cases and bags and carry everything on the plane.

The worst part of the whole trip was the service related to the schedule.  I had been given over an hour to change planes at O’Hare Airport going in both directions, and that was not enough.  Both times, coming and going, the plane landed and then waited more than an hour on the tarmac before a gate opened up.  On the flight to Nashville, when a gate did open up, there was no one there to either guide the plane into the gate, or roll the gangway out to the plane, and we waited another ten minutes, during which I would guess at least half of the passengers on the plane missed their connection.  On the return, the same scenario, not quite, but almost an hour wait before proceeding to the gate, and discovering that the connection, once again, would not work.  This airline either needs more gates, more personnel to operate the ones they have, or fewer flights through that particular airport.

There was a time when something like that would generate an “I’m sorry, Sir,” from the airline employee handling the alternative arrangements.  Nothing like that occurred this time, nor was there an offer made to find the next available flight, regardless of the airline, and secure a seat for those who had missed flights because of the delay.  There was also a time when the airlines would have refunded part of the fare for an occurrence like that.  The re-booking kiosks only offer flights on the same airline.  Getting the airline employees to move their tails and work to get you to your destination as quickly as possible is less likely these days than getting Congress to pass a bill.  I got re-booked when I took the initiative, called the travel service that originally made my reservations, and they used their clout to get me a seat.

In terms of meeting my expectations, this airline receives a grade of “F”.

If they’d employed the kind of customer service that is par for the course at a Wal-Mart store, there would have been a full refund, quick action securing an immediate alternative flight, regardless of what airline it was, and an apology.

There are some things about Wal-Mart that I don’t like, and which limit my shopping there.  Customer service is important, as is price, but so is principle.  I don’t particularly care for the way Wal-Mart stores treat their employees in terms of salaries and benefits.  I know that the cost of doing better could easily be absorbed by the company without price increases, so when the opportunity avails itself, I do my grocery shopping elsewhere.  Some of the grocery store chains in our area are unionized, pay their workers good wages and benefits, and in most cases, compete head to head with Wal Mart on prices, providing a larger selection of brand name merchandise.  So principle trumps customer service, though on occasion, one of their competitors will have a staff that is just as courteous and efficient.

Given the wages that airlines pay, and the profits they collect, there is no reason for them not to do as well as Wal Mart when it comes to customer service, or worker pay.

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