So, a few weeks ago, I was visiting with some friends and family near Philadelphia. One morning, on my way into Starbucks, some rather pushy Girls Scouts confronted me, while manning their cookie stand, set up outside the front door of the coffeehouse. Now, I don’t know about you, but I love me some Girls Scout cookies! Even though they sell these little sugar, caramel, chocolate, coconut and peanut butter filled nuggets of hope and sunshine at the absolute wrong time of year, they still sell tons of these things. Did you know that they still sell over 150 million boxes of these suckers a year! Recently, I ate an entire box of Samoas (my favorite), on the way to Lancaster to hang out with my friends at Manheim BIC. This is much easier to do these days, as the number of cookies they put in every box has shrunk; yet, for some reason, the box has stayed the same size. Someone should tell the Girl Scouts not to sell them during lent or leading into spring, for those of us who haven’t worked off last year’s cookies, and are in training before summer gets here.
However, the truth is, that I am no longer permitted to buy Girl Scout Cookies anymore. At least, I can’t buy them from strangers anymore. This will be the second year that my daughter, Annsley, who is a Girl Scout, is selling cookies. So, I am bound, under the father-daughter code and punishable by death, (Mother-Father code) obliged to buy ALL of my Girl Scout cookies from my daughter. Last year she wanted to sell 100 boxes, in order to get her 100-box merit badge. This year she raised the stakes considerably! The conversation went something like this:
Annsley: “Daddy, can I get the Girl Scout pajamas this year? I really want to sell enough cookies to get the pajamas.”
Daddy: “Sure Annsley, how many boxes do you need to sell in order to get the pajamas?” I responded in a supportive fatherly tone.
She dragged her little finger across the wrinkled and worn pages of the glossy catalog until she came to the picture of the pajamas, to find the all-important number. She responded in the broken mathematical rhythms of a seven year old.
Daddy: “Honey.” I responded kindly, “You aren’t reading that number right. Did you mean 1-5-0? Or, are you reading how many boxes you need to sell to win the aircraft carrier?”
Annsley: “No Daddy!” She wrinkled her forehead. (This is never a good sign.) “Girl Scouts don’t win aircraft carriers!!!”
This time she repeated herself with a little more confidence, accompanied by a hint of annoyance at my inability to grasp simple 4 digit numbers.
Annsley: “It says right here, 1-5-0-0!”
How can that be? One Thousand Five Hundred boxes of Girls scout cookies? For pajamas? So, in disbelief, I politely asked to see the catalog, which was quickly followed with an, “I told you so!” Low and behold, the going rate, these days, for Girl Scout pajamas is 1,500 boxes sold! So, if we do some quick math, 1,500 boxes @ $3.50 a box for a grand total of $5,250.00 worth of Girl Scout cookies… for Pajamas? Aren’t there child labor laws to protect children (and me) from this kind of thing?
But, I digress. So, when the girls in front of the Starbucks gave me their cute little, Amway inspired, sales pitch, by asking me in choral unison, to buy some cookies, I politely responded: “Sorry, I already ordered cookies from my daughter who is also a Girl Scout.” One of the more precocious girls, with fire red hair, pulled into tight pigtails, looked at me square in the eyes and said: “Just one box? Please?” I looked at the father, who was flanking his daughter on the right, fully expecting him, at any moment, to jump to my defense, (Father-Father Code) explaining to his daughter the age-old familial hierarchy of ordering Girl Scout cookies. Yet, he just looked at me as if to say: “Sorry, you’re on your own buddy.” So, I started to explain to these girls that my daughter wanted to win Girl Scout pajamas, which was 1,500 boxes, which should be enough to buy an aircraft carrier, but that the Girl Scouts don’t giveaway Aircraft carriers, and that if I bought cookies from them, that my daughter and wife would find out and they would make me dress up as a Girl Scout and go door to door, in my neighborhood, to sell cookies as penance. At this point, it’s important to note, that the father started to get concerned for his child’s safety and wished me good luck and sent me on my way.
So, we decided to let Annsley sell her cookies to as many people as she wanted, not pushing or discouraging any entrepreneurial sprit, but allowing her to discover just how challenging it would be to sell 1,500 hundred boxes of cookies. Somewhere around 100 boxes Annsley decided, on her own, that she would just go for the 100-box badge again. She wasn’t willing to invest in the time and social cost of 1,500 boxes of cookies, when the return on her investment was pajamas. In case you are wondering, the record for one Girl Scout, selling the most cookies in one year was set in 2008. Jennifer Shappe, from Detroit Michigan, sold 17,328 boxes of Girl Scout cookies. The prize? You guessed it, an aircraft carrier. I think I am a terrible parent!
As I thought more about the 100 box-badge, it made me think about how, at times, I have reduced my faith down to “spiritual” merit badges. I have proudly sewn into the blazer of my Sunday best: my church attendance badge, my missions trip badge, my youth pastor badge, my good language badge, my volunteer badge, my Bible memorization badge, my prayer badge, invite a friend badge and my seminary badge.
God never intended for us to get to know him through earning spiritual merit badges.
My daughter has a “special” badge that is ironed on the inside of her vest, that was a gift form her dear old dad. You can’t sell enough cookies to get this badge from the Girls Scouts. And, to my knowledge, she is the only Girl Scout in the world with this badge sewn into her Girl Scout vest. It was a gift that I gave to Annsley just cause I love her. She didn’t have to earn it. Yes, it’s a Philadelphia Eagles badge! Hey, she’s MY daughter, back off!
That Eagles badge reminds me that God avails Himself to us freely and gives us the gift of Jesus, his perfect life and incomprehensible death. He does this so that we don’t need to sell spiritual cookies, and that we don’t need to obtain spiritual merit badges. We live in a world full of merit badges, and even the church itself falls into the trap of “doing” for God as opposed to the practice of “encountering” God. Don’t get me wrong, doing is important, but only for the right reasons. We are called to serve others and follow God through works and obedience and all the other tasks I mentioned before. However, we do them “In view of God’s mercy” (Romans 12:1), not to win God’s mercy.
That’s why I love the definition of grace as, “UNMERITED favor”. Grace is the promise that God finds merit with us (through Jesus) even though we don’t deserve it. The beauty of grace is that it reveals that no amount of merit badges will save us. I mention this because of the most popular “spiritual merit badge” out there today, “The Good Person Merit Badge”. The theological and epistemological belief behind this badge is that, after we die, God will hold up our actions and deeds on a really big scale, closely resembling the one on the TV show The Biggest Looser, and that if our good deeds outweigh our bad actions, we are in!
I know lots of people (Christians too) who believe and practice this type of theology, which is fine. I just want to go on record that:
1. This is not what the Bible teaches (Romans 3:23, 6:23, 10:9-10, John 14:6)
2. Who determines what is good enough? And, is a 73% “good person rating” good enough? Does God grade on a curve? Do I get extra credit for teaching Sunday School?
Free gift! Jesus life and death on a cross was a free gift! If you have accepted Christ you have been given the best badge of all: The “Grace” badge!
This badge comes with a few “gifts” of its own too. No, it’s not an aircraft carrier. Not only do we get to spend eternity with the creator of the universe; I am pretty sure we get a sweet pair of pajamas out of the deal too!