Posted by: sailingspirit | November 12, 2012

Who is Really the Bad Apple?

The saying goes, “The bad apple spoils the bunch.” Who is the Bad Apple?  Someone “over there”?    Someone within?  Satan?  A crook?  You?

Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, and…Yes.  Including you.  (!)

There’s plot to rot, so here’s how to save everything from your own fruit to community pie to America.

The saying goes, “The bad apple spoils the bunch.”  It does NOT go, “The bad apple spoils it for the bunch.”  Anyone over the 3rd grade who understands English should be able to explain why those two sentences are different.  If you are an English speaker above the 3rd grade level, go ahead and prove it to yourself by pointing out why they are different.  Because before you wave that away as something you’ve already known for years and it’s too elementary for you, stop to realize you’ve probably been doing the latter and are the Bad Apple because of it.  Yes, you.  So go ahead and prove you’ve graduated from the elementary by explaining the difference:

“The bad apple spoils the bunch.”

What is getting spoiled?      _________________________

Who suffers?  ____________________________________

“The bad apple spoils it for the bunch.”

What is getting spoiled?      _________________________

Who suffers?  ____________________________________

NOT THE SAME, is it?  So which one have you really been believing all this time?  How does that affect your behavior?

The battle of the blotch may be one thing in the confines of your refrigerator, but in real life situations, the difference between these matters greatly.  Moreover, spoilage and suffering is often multi-layered and more extensive.  Here’s a common scenario:

A community is hard-hit by a down economy and many people need supplementary assistance of some kind.  At the local Sharing Center, it’s the first of the month and the turnout is far larger than usual.  The volunteer staff are trying their best to help as many as they can, as quickly as they can, but the more people there are the longer it takes to do.  One cranky person in the over-stuffed waiting room starts grumbling aloud in complaint against the staff, the Center, and everything else, pointing out every little mistake and starting rumors that aren’t even true.  After a while many of them are grumbling about the free help they’re going to receive.  Later that season, the Director announces to the staff that over the previous quarter the needy patrons have been stealing anything and everything in the Sharing Center that wasn’t nailed down, no matter how well they tried to label the items as belonging to the Center.  Replacing items is taking up too much of the budget, so the Director concludes that it isn’t good to be too giving, because the people just get greedy, lazy, develop an entitlement attitude and take advantage.  He fears the people they serve will destroy the Center, so he decides it’s better to crack down and offer less.  He strips away all the extras that tried to make the Center nice, even so far as to take the soap out of the bathroom.  He figures “something is better than nothing,” and that it’s actually better to have everyone partially needy than achieve complete deliverance for a smaller number of people.

Which Bad Apple spoiled the bunch?  The first grumbling patron in the waiting room, who made many of the patrons’ attitudes go rotten.

Which Bad Apple spoiled it for the bunch?  The patron(s) who stole things from the Center, resulting in everything being taken away from all the patrons.

Those are the easy answers, but is that all?  No!  Look again: multiple things got spoiled including attitudes, beliefs, relationships, budgets, facilities, services, opportunities.  Are bad patrons to blame for everything?  No.  Look more closely: the rottenness of the patrons caused the Director’s attitude to go rotten, too, and quite likely his spoiled attitude will rot those of the staff.  Depending on how they interface with others about it, affiliates might also be affected such as regional directors, inspectors, resource solicitors, donors, neighboring businesses, nearby residents, the city council, law enforcement, other needy or homeless people in the area, etc.  And if the problem really gets bad, then others may choose not to move to that area, commerce and real estate suffers, etc.  And if the Sharing Center was a Christian organization, the Body of Christ and God Himself might end up with a bad rap at the end of all this.  So you see how how it ripples?  If a Bad Apple or two can spoil that much, even so far as to besmirch God, this isn’t just an elementary ol’ saying to brush off!  Getting this right matters to everybody.

This is why it’s critical to stop and examine which statement you’ve been operating under, whether you’ve become a Bad Apple, and most critically what is the most effective way to deal with rot.  But if your stomach is turning, don’t fret: the answer is surprisingly simple.

Apples and Oranges?

We’ve been talking apples, but the same principle applies to produce of all kinds.  You cut off the bruised corner of your peach before eating the rest, dig out the eyes of your potato before baking, and pluck fuzzy, mushy grapes off the bunch to preserve the integrity of your snack.  Notice that the way we handle our produce is often starkly different from the behavior we produce.  When talking chop, we apply three basic principles: 1) identify spoilage by looking for certain specific evidence, 2) separate the bad from the good as early as possible to prevent the bad from spreading, and 3) the good parts are still worthwhile, so toss only the bad parts.  Simple enough.  But in life, do we do the same?  We’ve already given one example, so let’s try something different for comparison.

Let’s say you’ve got great friends but a history of being late.  If you don’t stop, they’re going to stop inviting you places so they don’t keep missing out on the fun.  Evidence of spoilage: missing fun, frustrated friends, frustrated texts, awkward car rides, strained relationships.  Separation is likely to happen soon to salvage the social life; do we get rid of them, or you?  Hopefully it’s obvious that the mold is with you, not them.  Do we throw out all of you, or just the bad habit?  Nobody wants to be discarded, so let’s keep the good (you), and change what’s not so good (the habit).  So you see, whether apples or oranges the Produce Principles are valid.

Back to the Sharing Center example:  Though the scenario is quite common, you saw how damaging the far-reaching effects of that management method was.  What if the Produce Principles had been applied instead?  1) The sour complaints of the waiting patron were evidence of a spoiling attitude  2) That patron could have been separated from the others early on  3) and told “In a free food pantry, everything rotten gets thrown out right away–including a rotten attitude.  Shall we throw you out, or are you going to grow some gratitude?”  By isolating the individual from the bunch everyone else’s attitude would be preserved, but isolating the behavior from the person’s inherent value also helps preserve a lot–her dignity and power of self-control.  If you don’t want your friends throwing you away because of one dark spot, we shouldn’t throw others away.  Giving a choice in behavior and attached consequences means everyone has a fair chance, a second chance in order to learn, and nobody has to be the “bad guy.”  If she makes the wrong choice, well,  “Charlie!  This one isn’t ripe enough to make good choices yet.  Please take her outside for some more sunshine.”  The problem is both handled and made an inspiring example for others.  Now consider that ripple effect again after the Produce approach: how many other people’s attitudes toward receiving and giving would be preserved this way?  Might cracking down on small behaviors early prevent the reduction in quality and quantity of services?  Even improve the reputation of the Center?  Yes!

The truth is, God sees every one of us as worth keeping, still growing even if bruised or festering.  Jesus  commanded us to love others as He loved us, which means we ought to treat them the same way we’ve been treated.  He loved us even in our mess, and gave us another chance to learn to do differently/better.  All the while He told us He loves us, even if He doesn’t love our behavior.  Given the opportunity, Jesus will cut out the icky parts and, in His Divine Ability, fill in the holes with perfect goodness.  We all can become the shiny, blue-ribbon winners if we let Him tend to us.

Aim For the Root, Not Low-Hanging Fruit

It seems like patron’s bad attitudes spoiled things at the Sharing Center, and cracking down on services was the quickest way to solve the problem.  But it didn’t really solve anything, in fact it made it worse, so either the problem or the solution was mis-diagnosed.  With both the patrons and the staff, these are just surface symptoms of a deeper dis-ease, sickly fruit indicating an unhealthy tree.  Roots always exist in dark places, well under the surface, so problems at the root won’t be seen unless you make a point to dig a little and look.  Let’s dig.

Did anyone go to the Sharing Center that day intending to make God look bad?  Probably not.  Who does go around trying to give God the black eye?  Satan!  He may not have taken a number or a seat, but he sure did take a moment to plant a pinch of leaven in the dough of thoughts, raising some hell that day.  If more of the people had been on the lookout for that kind of spoilage, Satan would have gotten the rightful blame instead of the patrons.  Any one of the people in the place could have snapped him off like a dry twig, including the patron he was whispering to, and shifted the momentum for obviously preferable results.  The Director, especially, was at the decision-making crux of greatest power, because he had the most influence over how the staff would react, how Center policy would react, and what message got passed along outside the Center.  He could have changed direction and enforced it.  So why didn’t he?  Why did his reaction make things worse, not better?  The problem was at the root of his reasoning.  He was (unknowingly) mixing the World’s System and the Kingdom System–incompatible systems.  His intentions were good, but like God says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”  In this case, it was the people and their work–The Sharing Center–that suffered.

You see, there’s two ways of operating: The Kingdom System, and the World’s System.  Most of the time the two are actually the opposite of one another!  We are free to choose whichever we prefer, but they’re not very compatible so we’ll either get a mess or just mediocre results if we mix the two.  The Director of the Sharing Center didn’t get the results he really wanted because he mixed systems, and what’s worse was that he played right into Satan’s plan to damage the Sharing Center by unknowingly using the wrong system!  Does it seem logical to you to expect God-like results by NOT using God’s methods?

Me, neither.

In the World’s System, it has to be “survival of the fittest” because there isn’t enough to go around.  Thus in the World’s System you find things like competition, selfishness, blame-shifting, de-personalization, embarrassment and reputation protection, pridefulness, power grabbing, deception, character defamation and fear.  Satan is the father of lies, the greatest deceiver, whose pridefulness got him permanently banned from Heaven, and he roams the earth to seek whom he may devour.  Satan ruins a good thing by ruining those doing the thing.  His goal is to have everyone worship him and to prove himself a better god than God.  Prior to the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, Satan held the power of death.  He steals, kills, and destroys.  Thus, decay of any kind indicates the World System dominates in that area.

But the Kingdom System is designed for overflow; there’s more than enough for everyone, so there’s no need to compete, backstab, strain or fear.  Everyone can be patient, giving, courteous, calm, and successful.  God is the All-Sufficient One, whose resources never run out because He creates what He wants with a spoken word.  His riches are so extravagant the streets of Heaven are paved with gold, and the descendants of Abraham (whether biological or adopted) are the heirs of the whole world and everything therein, through Christ.  They also are given all of Christ’s inheritance, which extends beyond Earth.  Christ is energized by giving, not depleted.  God does not give us the spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.  Life, love and growth are inherent in this system, so where thriving is going on you’ve found evidence of the Kingdom System operating.

Thus, when you hear someone say, “Sorry, we’re all out, there’s nothing more I can do to help” which System do you suppose they’re operating on?  When it comes from people who supposedly are representing God’s work, it’s like a polite and well-meaning cop-out for “we haven’t fully committed to the Kingdom System yet or bothered to sufficiently operate our faith.”  It’s a mixed message, and that’s unfortunate for both the people in need and the God who could have helped them.  In our Sharing Center example we can tell by what the people said and did, and by the results they got, what they know, truly believe, and what system they’re operating on.  That’s what’s happening at the roots.

Snack, Attack

Can we break through this?  Yes!  As indicated above, getting more education about how the two systems operate and differ goes a long way, and committing to the Kingdom System 100% improves results too.  A willingness to take an honest look at thought, belief, and behavior patterns–even at the root–will uncover things that aren’t working, so that with guided training (such as the Produce Principles) and some practice something better really can be done.  “The Word works when you work it,” because God’s system is objective and fair for all.  You don’t have to participate, but anyone who wishes to can.

Can we scale it up, too?  Yes!  In the Old Testament, we read accounts of God doing exactly that with the newly-minted Nation of Israel post-exodus.  When Bad Apples grumbled too much, He separated them from the bunch to prevent spread of spoilage.  If they cut it out, He let them back in.  If they went totally rotten, He got rid of them completely.  (At one point, the earth opened up and swallowed a bunch of them whole.  Yikes!  That’s some composting!)  He spent a good amount of time trying to break people of their old beliefs and ways, the ones they picked up by being slaves to a brutal Pharaoh, replacing the Egyptian System with a new system.  He even used Abraham, their familiar and well-loved ancestor, as an example so they could feel confident about making the switch.  Unfortunately, they had a hard time committing–in fact, at one point their reaction was “Nah, thanks and all, but we’d rather have a system like everyone else has.”  You can read about how well THAT turned out for yourself.  Most of the Bible is a cause-and-effect testimony of people’s choices, including the part where God says “I’ll give you a hint: choose this way.”  Did you hear about the guy who ended up eating grass like a wild animal?  Egad!  Apparently Nebuchadnezzar didn’t get the hint.

So I hope this piece gets you thinking about what kind of apple you are, and how you relate to God and the Bunch.  I also hope you’re better able to decipher the Systems at work around you, whether at the surface or the root, and that you feel empowered by having a choice!  If the world hands you a sour apple, what will you make of it?

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