Friday, December 31, 2010

The Atonement and the Broken Cell Phone

There have been many, many metaphors put forward for the atonement.  To date, however, no one I know has ever suggested how the atonement can be like a broken cell phone.  I will explain.

I have a wonderful "caboose."  Merilee is the youngest living member of our clan.  I love her with all my heart.  There is little I would not do for her as her father.  I don't know how we knew, but when we named her as an infant it was the perfect moniker for her -- she makes everyone around her instantly "merrier" for having known her.  She rows along through life "merrily," leaving everyone in her wake better for the experience of having known her.

She has what can only be described -- her words -- as "bad cell phone luck."  I just plan on replacing at least two cell phones a year.  The chronicles of her adventures with her cell phones need not be enumerated here.  She would not be pleased if I did.

I will liken this last adventure with a broken cell phone to the atonement on this wise:

She had her last upgrade a year ago -- a veritable lifetime in cell phone years for her.  She was induced at an authorized independent retailer, ABC, located in the town where she attends college to purchase an insurance policy to cover her phone.  I was not with her at the time, I always decline insurance on her cell phones as well as extended warranties of any kind, just as a matter of principle.  However, they must have seen her coming, and she paid out of her own pocket a one time insurance premium for her phone.

The independent retailer, ABC, is authorized by XYZ Cell Phone Company (their name shall remain anonymous for the moment) to sell their own insurance policies.  XYZ, if you buy insurance from them, charges you on your phone bill one month at a time, then a deductible if you need to file a claim.  ABC, however, charges a one-time up front fee for insurance and a deductible when you file the claim.

Not knowing any of these details until last night, my sweet Merilee had a cell phone that didn't work.  KaPUT  went the phone -- it wouldn't charge.  You need to understand, we have a family plan with XYZ, five phones on the plan, and by far the heaviest user (not even close for second place) is my sweet Merilee.  When her cell phone is inoperable, life as she knows it ceases to exist.  The first month she had a cell phone as a high school student, she logged what I thought was a staggering number (1200) of text messages.  Then I learned last night 3200 is not considered excessive in some people's world.  I send maybe twelve, tops.

But I digress.  I had listened from afar for a week as a drama was unfolding in our household.  Merilee is staying with us during the holidays.  Only a few weeks ago before leaving to come home for the holidays, her phone had failed and she had received an insured replacement in the mail.  It was the replacement phone that had failed after a few short weeks of service.  She had dropped her insurance coverage on the replacement phone.  Now it was dead.  She took measures into her own hands, and went to an XYZ store, which really turned out to be only a DEF independent retailer of a different stripe from whom she had purchased the first insurance contract.  The employee with whom she spoke was either new or clueless, but he informed her she had no problem, it was covered under the warranty, and a new replacement was on its way in the mail.

She waited patiently over Christmas, but no phone showed up in the mail.  As her frustrations mounted, her countenance continued to fall.  No cell phone over the holidays was equated to no fun over the holidays.  When your only option for social interaction is Facebook, life can be glum indeed.  Finally, last night I did what every Dad would do.  I stepped in to "fix it."

I drove her and the broken cell phone to a real XYZ store, explained our dilemma, and was told, no problem, looks like it's still covered by insurance, here's the 800 number to call to get your replacement.  So I left the store, dialed the number on the way back home, only to be told that XYZ had no record of insurance on the phone, therefore, no coverage, therefore nothing we can do to help.

Back to the store.  Explained our dilemma once again to a different employee.  Piecing all the details together was not easy, but eventually another employee explained to us how ABC and DEF operate independently of XYZ, and there was nothing they could do to help us.  Finally, I suggested, "Here's the goal.  We want to leave here tonight with a phone that works, so please show us a replacement phone.  I'll be happy to buy it."  (After observing many enraged customers screaming at XYZ employees, it is my considered opinion that if you expect to have to pay more money and not to get anything for free, life will be more pleasant).

Merilee's blood was boiling.  I remained calm, rational, and filled with the expectation that nothing could possibly be done to overcome the details of our debacle.  Our sales agent introduced us to another agent, who once again heard our story as we were standing at the counter expecting to hand her a debit card to finalize the sale.

However, she did something very interesting.  She said, "Just a moment please."  She stepped away from the counter, was gone into the back room for five minutes, then emerged with this announcement:  "LG [the manufacturer] has agreed to cover the replacement cost in full for your new phone."

Let me add at this point that I have been a loyal customer of XYZ for something north of fifteen years.  You can do the math on your own for a family plan over that period of time -- it's a big number.  I don't for one minute believe the manufacturer agreed to do anything.  I think someone looked at the long history we have with XYZ and decided it was time to do something nice.  The reason I don't believe they covered the old phone is that when we returned home Merilee realized her photo memory card was still in the old phone back at the store, and it was now closed.

When she opened up the bag, however, there at the bottom was the old phone and the photo card.

As she examined the new phone and began to set it up with her preferences, her squeal of delight was, "This is an even better phone than the one I had."

* * *

So, tell us how this cell phone story is analogous to the atonement. . .

For many, many years I had "paid my dues" in obedience to the monthly ritual of payment in dollars in exchange for goods and services to XYZ.  I had done everything I knew how to do on my part.  There were months I was late on my payments, sometimes I forgot to pay my bill, and got whacked for a $15/phone reconnection fee on my next month's bill.  But I was faithful to the best of my ability.

All my life I've heard the analogies about our fallen condition and the atonement.  You know the ones I mean -- we're in a hole, we're in debt, we're cut off, we're lost, we're standing on the edge of a deep and wide chasm that cannot be bridged, and so on.  The Savior Himself introduced many of the parables with these images.

No analogy is perfect.  But there I stood last night with my little Merilee, anxious and willing to intercede on her behalf, even if it meant buying a new phone.  Then, completely unexpectedly and unearned on my part or hers, a fourth employee with the approval of her manager behind the scenes stepped forward with a gracious and random act of kindness and paid the price in full for a new phone.  It wasn't just a replacement for that which was broken, it was even better than what she had before.  She was taken to a higher state of cell phone existence, better than where she had been before.

It was a transformation instantly from cell phone purgatory to cell phone celestial glory.  It was as surprising as Paul's vision of Christ on the road to Damascus and Alma the Younger's encounter on the road with an angelic messenger in answer to the prayers of his father.

That's what Jesus does for the repentant sinners.  When we do dumb things like buying an insurance policy we don't need from a third-party provider (no reflection on Merilee -- a lot of people do that), then letting it lapse, leaving us naked before the judgment bar of cell phone outer darkness, but having done the best we knew how to do, He steps forward, takes us gently by the hand and leads us to a higher place than we merited on our own.

We were not forced to come to earth and experience mortality and all its contradictions, ironies, cruel and unfair judgments, deprivations and losses.  Somehow, we believed in the idea that the atonement of Jesus Christ offered us something better if we came than if we did not.  "A third part" opted out.

He redeems us by lifting us higher, not just by lowering a ladder down into the hole.

He pays the debt plus interest and penalties in full, not just by cutting a deal for a discount with our debtors.

He gives us the power to become something so much better with His help than just rounding up the lost souls, loving the alienated and the outcasts, and bridging the chasms of doubt, fear and misunderstandings.

He infuses us with power to overcome and to become something better than we would be without Him.

Everything we become in the end is just better.

* * *

P.S.  The real name of XYZ starts with V and ends in ZION, oops, I meant IZON.  But ABC and DEF shall remain nameless.  Someday when we finally arrive at the gates of the city of ZION, my bet is a GPS chip in a cell phone won't be how we got there.

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