How building the perfect social circle can be like building the perfect burger (Luminous Friday)

[During June, Friday posts will be devoted to the topic of how we relate to one another. This theme draws from chapter 5 of Luminous, Being Present with One Another.]

Chapter 5 of Luminous focuses on our relationships with people, and I zero in on our culture’s most widespread relational sin: bringing our well-trained consumeristic reflexes into our social lives. Without thinking twice, we treat people like they are products, here to cater to our wants and needs. I call it social consumerism.


This morning I will share a story I liked but had to edit out of the final manuscript of Luminous in order to lower my word count. The story is about how building the perfect social circle can be like building the perfect burger…

One day one of my friends took me to lunch at a restaurant he had recently discovered. I had no idea what I was getting into. It was my baptism into a whole new realm of burger design and creation. The restaurant’s name is The Counter, and its specialty is “Custom Built Burgers.” In an age of customization, The Counter takes burgers to a delicious extreme. The menu looks like a chart and walks you through five steps to build the burger that is perfectly suited to your tastes that day.
  1. “Choose a burger” – you start with the star of the show, the meat. You can pick from five different meats in three different portion sizes, and opt to have it either on a bun or in a bowl.
  2. “Choose a cheese” – there are a dozen different varieties to select from.
  3. “Choose up to 4 toppings” – This one requires a lot of thought, because there are 30 toppings to choose from. Here’s a combo I might put together if I’m wanting to go healthy: organic mixed greens, red onions, avocado, and sprouts. Or if I want a burger so messy I can’t pick it up with my hands, it could be: chili, jalapenos, guacamole, and applewood smoked bacon.
  4. “Choose a sauce” – There are 21 options for picking just the right way to complete the flavoring of your burger. Chipotle aioli… garlic aioli… horseradish mayo… regular mayo… peanut sauce… even apricot sauce. You get the point.
  5. “Choose a bun” – five different options here.
(Are you getting hungry?)
 It might take you ten minutes and dozens of decisions to work your way through The
Counter’s extensive menu. During the process, you play the part of a sophisticated product engineer, imagining different ingredients combining with one another, dropping one ingredient out and inserting another in its place as you search for the perfect blend of tastes and textures. But the myriad of options is part of the fun. And trust me, the burgers do not disappoint.
 Whereas people from other cultures might find The Counter’s menu overwhelming, we love it. We have grown accustomed to having things just the way we want them. We like a lot of options, and we particularly like one word that stands out on The Counter’s menu: “Choose.” Choosing from among options is an exercise that appeals to us, and we can apply this approach to relationships without even thinking about it.

The point? Don’t treat people like burgers.

Paul warns against “biting and devouring” other people and urges us instead to love our neighbors as ourselves (Galatians 5:14-15). In coming posts I will talk more about how to turn from social consumers to social servants.

Note: Throughout 2014, my Friday posts will be excerpts and thoughts from Luminous: Living the Presence and Power of Jesus (IVP, 2013). My hope is that these posts launch you into the weekend in a Jesus-centered way. 

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