A phone call to my cell service provider provided just the information I was seeking. And there was no long wait on hold, so I thanked her.

Then a text message appeared — seeking an evaluation of my customer service experience. So, I gladly offered five stars.

Apparently, that was not enough, and the company knew they had my attention. So, a series of texts began to show up — asking additional questions about my brief, helpful conversation. I didn’t have time for those.

Almost every transaction now is followed by a request for evaluation. Often the emails are persistent.

“How did we do?” they ask, with hopes that our five-star rating will be forthcoming and then shared on social media.

One could spend a lot of time providing such feedback when tied to everything from renting a car, to spending a night in a hotel, to visiting a tourist destination, to making an online purchase of any kind.

Of course, that one customer experience that was a real bomb never seems to provide such an opportunity to unload.

Rating nearly every commercial transaction fits right in with the outsized dimension of our lives as primarily consumers. And there is so much we consume.

This consumer approach to life, however, must be kept in check. It is not the way Jesus taught his followers to live.

It is wise to be on guard against well-marketed transactional expressions of religious faith as well when Jesus called for relational ones.

Consumerism revels in the good deal I got for myself — regardless of whether anyone else was overcharged or left out. It sets high expectations for the way we want to be treated. It’s tied exclusively to getting rather than giving.

Jesus never asks if his call to self-denial and sacrifice gets our highest ratings or if we found a better deal elsewhere. We are to live in that particularly selfless way because it’s right, faithful and meaningful — as well as demanding.

One dimension of a misguided, consumer approach to faith is that we become hypercritical. We look first to see what’s wrong with something — or, rather, what we don’t like about it according to our preset expectations.

Individuals, as well as churches and other organizations, are often judged that way — with an expectation of absolute agreement. Anything less is unacceptable.

Moving into a new year is a good time to rethink our high expectations of others that we don’t want to be held to ourselves. But there is a balancing act here.

How do we hold to important convictions while not being complicit through silence, yet at the same time not be overly critical? At least, how do we avoid moving too quickly to the point of dismissing or excluding those who view God and the world in vastly different ways?

I have more questions than answers.

One hopes the feedback we provide to businesses is taken to heart and used to better the customer experiences of many. Constructive criticism is a good thing.

Criticism (as well as action) is warranted, even demanded by our faith, when the social systems in which we participate are harmful and demeaning to those with less power.

Our voices should be elevated when the name of Christ is misused as an excuse for wrong-minded beliefs that lead to misguided behaviors at odds with the life and teachings of Jesus.

Injustice is never to be ignored or excused by our timidity — or our feigning peacemaking when cowardice is the real source. We must be attuned to the ways we can advocate for those whose suffering is the result of fear, prejudice and greed.

Hypercriticism, however, can be harmful when applied to every person and experience we encounter. When rating us, God uses grace. Perhaps we should too.

Several years ago, I was invited to join a group of pastors serving historic congregations that had experienced much social change since the “glory days” of the 1950s and ’60s, and had declining memberships.

One pastor told of enlisting nominal and non-members with particular gifts to assume leadership roles in the church that fit their gifts. This was quite a change, he noted, from the elaborate nominating committee process that once filled the expansive committee structures.

Another pastor, however, expressed concern — suggesting that doing so might “lower the standards” churches tend to hold for its leadership.

Soft-spoken, but always-insightful Mike Smith of Knoxville, Tennessee, now retired and serving as an interim pastor, said: “It’s hard to have a lower standard than grace.”

Grace calls for seeing that which is redemptive beyond faults and failings. Five stars aren’t required for acceptance.

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