The Lie of the Lamb

Originally Published: September 18, 2002 

You know the lines are blurred when your tire and auto store is offering advice about God.

I had my back to the picture windows, sitting in a crackling sun-dried vinyl chair, nursing my Washington Post so it would last me an hour. I was a little over-due for my oil change and feeling guilty about it. I felt the least I could do was wait patiently for the full service, which included a 31 point safety inspection, tire rotation, and, most importantly, the promise of a thorough vacuuming of the front floor area. Full service no longer included vacuuming of the back floor area, I was told.

The chair in front of the window made an angry crunching sound as I leaned back.  There had been a disheartening article in the Health section. My titanic non-profit health insurance provider, CareFirst, was coming under investigation as it tried to merge with ambitious for-profit WellPoint. Seems that the top executives of CareFirst were slated to receive between $14 – 18 million apiece in what was being called “severance” pay. This would amount to $78 million if all ten left. No one seemed really keen on this idea except the executives themselves. The word “reprehensible” was used, as were the phrases “excessive compensation”, “cooking up a scheme”, “disrupting the fragile health care system”, and “starts looking like Enron.”  The CEO appeared stoically impassive in the photo, perhaps busy calculating just what kind of happiness $18.6 million was going to buy him. 

  I looked gloomily around the waiting area, hoping for a distraction. And right there, between Coolant Corner and the Coke machine was a prominent display labeled,

 “Spiritual Resource Center”

One lone pamphlet projected its message across the room:

“Peace with God”

There were more racks, perhaps eight of them. All were empty except for a Styrofoam coffee cup that had been wedged into one. I wondered if the pamphlets were seldom replenished, or if recently there had been a mad run on religious flyers; desperate, spiritually bereft people plucking fistfuls of them, anxious for their own Peace with God to begin. Piled on the shelf below were free Holy Bibles. On closer inspection, I saw it was not merely the Holy Bible, but, as the curious cover graphics conveyed, the Holy, Holy Bible. There were at least twenty, in both English and en Español. Apparently there was not as much call for these books. Time-conscience truth-seekers perhaps judged it was a quicker road to heaven with the pamphlet Cliff’s Notes version.

There was a separate stack of books under the heading, The Shepherd’s Guide. They also turned out to be free for the taking. “The Christian Business Directory: Where Christians go to do business.” On the cover was a pastel drawing of a grinning shepherd, an impassioned gleam in his blue eyes as he held a lamb tightly to his chest. Clearly, Christians, including animal lovers, were encouraged to patronize only the businesses of the eternally saved. They’d be paying retail, of course, but even salvation is not without its down side.

 This was great – I was feeling more blessedly distracted by the minute. Our faltering healthcare system aside, the surreal possibility that people might seek spiritual guidance while awaiting an oil change was a revelation to me. And apparently there was even a sort of holy kickback for participating stores.

With interest I noticed the faded company Mission Statement posted behind the service counter: 

“To please God with the quality of our work.”

From on high, a cutout of the pious, lard-colored Michelin Man, arms out-stretched, looked down from a halo of dark, slick tires.

Considering for a moment the unfortunate name Craven Tire and Auto, I didn’t wonder at their need to seek spiritual restitution through good works. Actually, having the fear of God in my mechanics reassured me – even if the fear was not universal among the Craven employees. A large sign posted a few feet from the Mission Statement made it clear that Craven Tire and Auto was “not responsible for any lost or stolen items left in vehicles or any damage to vehicle beyond our control.”

But I figured my chances for quality, God-pleasing work were good. As a car ignoramus, I am always convinced that I am being duped. “So yeah, we refaced the oil, and wanked the sparks, cranked the points, lubed the rotator cuffs and changed the noise filter. We even revolved the tires, you betcha! That’ll be $175. Have a swell day!”

When the man behind the counter finally called my name, I walked over with confidence.  I remembered that the Mission statement had also instructed the employees to, “love thy customer”. I was finally in a place where I had the Big Guy in my corner, right there in black and white. 

The man smiled, started to ring me up, and then paused. He showed me an old screw he said they’d pulled out of one of the tires. They’d gone ahead and patched the tire for me, ‘cause, well, a few more miles on that baby and, hey, who knows? What with the kids in the car, and the crazy way people drive around here… so, anyway, it’d just be an extra $19.99 for the patch. 

As I drove away, my feet crunching into the unvacuumed floor of the driver’s side, it occurred to me that I really should have taken the screw with me – at least then he’d have to find a different screw to show the next ignoramus. 

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