Monday, August 23, 2010

What We Give Up When We Hate

Probably fifteen years ago now, this fellow, we'll call him "Pete," asked me for a quote on a printing job, his sister's wedding invitations. He was in the industry, worked for a pre-press shop out-putting film, and he knew me as a client of the shop he worked for. So I gave him the estimate and, seeing at it was for his sister, I gave him the usual 20% discount that people in the trade give each other. The estimate was for about $350-. But the job did not come in as quoted. It was larger, more complex, in short it wasn't the job I quoted on. And it came in at a rush, the invitations needed to go out promptly, so I expedited the job without ever having a chance to talk to him about it not matching the spec's quoted. And, when it was done, I billed it out for what it was worth, about $600-. His sister picked the job up and thought it was lovely, and I sent the bill on to Pete.

That's where the trouble began. His take was that the bill was about $250- over estimate, whereas my perspective was that the job was about $250- more work than the job I had quoted on. He put up quite a fuss and, rather than argue, I just told him to pay me what he thought he owed me. He cut me a check and I washed my hands of the matter.

I thought I was through with this, but it was not to be. He was not a person I had to see at work, and so I did not. I avoided him, kept it superficial when I ran into him, and in general just tried to drop it. But then I was at a party, a real nice catered affair, and Pete came up to me and acted like we were still pals. So I told him in no uncertain terms: "You can be my friend, or you can rip me off, but you can't do both." He was shocked, he thought the matter was settled. The next week I received a packet in the mail consisting of copies of all the estimates, my final bill, and a letter justifying his conduct. Naturally, there was no mention that the job delivered did not match the specifications of the job quoted.

About six months after that I ran into him again at the Critical Mass bike ride. He tried to ride next to me and I told him to "get lost." (Actually, I used a more common phrase maing profane reference to fornication.) He thought his letter had cleared everything up, but I gave him a real reaming, explaining in rather profane terms why he was just dead wrong about this.

Much to my utter surprise, the next week I received a check from him through the mails for the disputed $250-. Wow!

Didn't see him again until election night. I had done some printing for a lady lawyer who was running for judge and she had invited me to an election night party. Since her husband owned the nicest bistro on the North Side and, as the party was to be held there and, as I had worked all day as a judge of election without a break, I thougt I might stop by for a beer and maybe some escargot. But Pete was there. He came right up to me and acted like we were friends again. But I stopped him short: "Remember buddy, I told you that you could be my friend or rip me off, but you couldn't do both!"

He staggered back, "But I sent you the check!"

"You can't make me cash it!" I snapped, "I'd rather go on hating you than cash that check!"

Pretty straight-forward deal, wasn't it?

By refusing the $250- I had every right to keep on hating him, didn't I? He can't buy back my friendship, can he? No! I have principles. My hatred is worth more to me than venal money.

But really, I had left Christ out of the equasion. Whenever we chose not to forgive someone (no matter how "justified" we may feel) we reject Christ's mercy. Only by forgiving can we have any hope of being forgiven.

It's a hard teaching, but there it is.