Take Uber to the Temple

While awaiting my Uber car in Minneapolis the other afternoon, I received a message saying Uber was initiating rush hour surge pricing. Almost immediately, the driver who had committed to taking me to the airport cancelled – no doubt with the intention of replacing me with a higher ‘surge’ priced fare. Needing to catch a flight, I tried again. This time all that was immediately available near my hotel was a far more expensive “Uber black car”. The driver got me to the airport promptly and comfortably, though hardly economically.

The next day, my son to whom I’d related the incident, urged me to report it to Uber. Using the app on my phone, literally within less than one minute, I registered my disappointment about the first driver’s cancellation. Less than six hours later, Christian at Uber contacted me, crediting me the difference between what I paid and what I would have paid had the first driver honored his commitment.

By contrast, a few months earlier I endured an unpleasant and unnecessarily expensive experience in a licensed taxi in Washington DC. I noted the driver’s name and number as well as the complaint number for the Washington DC Taxicab Commission. The next day, I tried to register a complaint. For five minutes, I carried on with my work while the phone rang. When it was finally answered, I was put on a series of holds during which time I nearly finished writing a column for the Washington Times. (It was about prayer not taxicabs though it became clear that the former might be needed for a ride with the latter.)

When I finally reached a human being, I was told to make my complaint in writing on an official complaint form. I kid you not. I decided to do so though I didn’t really expect a response. I am still waiting.

It is easy to conclude that because Uber is a private company it is able to provide a far more satisfactory customer experience than the quasi-governmental Washington DC taxi system. (Absurdly, it is comic-but-true that the DC taxicab commission has recently been renamed the Department of For-Hire Vehicles, reporting to the mayor of Washington DC. That should help.)

But simply calling Uber private and the other governmental doesn’t really explain the vastly different levels of care for the customer.

What might help explain this difference is a fascinating Bible verse which I have translated accurately from the original Hebrew.

“And they shall make me a sanctuary and I will dwell inside them.” – (Exodus 25:8)

Surely the correct way for this verse to have concluded is, “…and I will dwell in it,” rather than “inside them”? Build me a sanctuary to dwell in. But no, build me a sanctuary in which I shall not dwell because I prefer to dwell inside them.

This idea that God cannot be constrained anywhere, not even in a special custom-made sanctuary, is repeated centuries later when King Solomon is dedicating the Jerusalem Temple.

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You, much less this Temple that I have erected.” – (I Kings 8:27)

Even the evil but brilliantly perceptive prophet Balaam recognized that Israel’s greatness was not its large golden sanctuary which from his vantage he could clearly see, but its myriads of tents, each housing its own family. This is what his vision of Israel looks like:

“Balaam raised his eyes and saw Israel dwelling according to its tribes, and the spirit of God rested upon him…[and he said] “How goodly are your tents Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel.” – (Numbers 24:2,5)

Israel certainly needed the Tabernacle and its Holy of Holies, but somehow its strength lay, not in the large central institutional structure, but in its families.

Edmund Burke was a British Member of Parliament whose words might shine some light on the theme of this Thought Tool. In 1774, he delivered his influential Speech on American Taxation in which he denounced the policy of taxing American colonists against their will. Though he never visited North America, Burke became an inspiration to the cause of American independence. In 1790, he wrote Reflections on The Revolution in France which contained this phrase, “…to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love for our country…”

God cannot be constrained within even the most glorious edifice, partially because He is present within every family and in every home that welcomes Him. Loving ‘the little platoon’ as Burke puts it, means recognizing and appreciating our closest connections rather than ignoring them in favor of the central edifice.

One of the eternal arguments about how human society should best be organized revolves around whether or not family is paramount as the most fundamental unit of society. Who shall be the chief authority in the life of a growing child? His or her parents or a governmental agency. It is clear to see the sad direction in which America is moving.

Successful businesses recognize this and do their best to decentralize authority. If a customer is unhappy, can the ‘local family’, the nearest point of contact have the authority to fix it or must the request go in writing all the way up to the centralized authority? Bringing authority, in the form of God in Israel’s case, into the local level of every family is still today the source of strength of Israel. Bringing authority into the local level of business is the source of many a business’ strength as well. Thanks, Uber.

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