Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Son of Man Came Not to Be Served, But to Serve

This has been bugging me for a couple of weeks now, so what the hell, I'll write the post.

My Facebook friend the minister posted this to his status:
Watched the look on host's face at the restaurant when a couple came in at closing. Waiter was gracious. A lesson in mercy to those of us who want to grump...
That got five Likes. One of his friends commented:
I love the places that let us stay for "hours," even as they're closing. They're cleaning up but keeping a respectful distance from us while we sit enjoying a good meal and good conversation. In such rare places, I always leave an especially good tip.
(Why was "hours" put in quotes?) My friend replied:
It's called hospitality...grace. Most hospitable place I ever was? A bar in Tipton, Indiana on a snowy night when a couple pastors and I went in to watch IU-Ohio State. Wow...they treated us like kings - even when we were drinking diet cokes!
I don't want to make a very big thing of this, but given some of the attitudes my friend has expressed in the past -- was he eating "the pie of sacrifice" in that restaurant, I wonder? -- I still think there's something here that's not quite right.

Looking at his first remark more closely, I see that my friend didn't specify what he saw in "the host's face when a couple came in at closing." I supposed that he was contrasting the host's expression with the waiter's gracious one, though I could be wrong. But let's suppose that the host did grimace involuntarily when the couple came in at closing time. Maybe the host had a partner or child at home who needed his presence and attention, and it bothered him to realize that he was going to be delayed even more. Maybe he was a graduate student with an overdue dissertation chapter waiting for him. Maybe he'd just been on his feet for twelve hours. Or maybe he was just a mean old grinch; if so, he mastered himself enough to seat the last-minute stragglers.

See, I work in the food / hospitality industry. Where I work, we do try to be gracious to the lateniks, who also have classes and other time pressures, but there comes a time when we must close. People who've been eating "the pie of sacrifice" all day need to go home to their families, or their studies. (This is less true of me than of most of the people I work with; but I'm not a good American, because I know Everything isn't just About Me.)

But I'm also, often, a customer. I always remember that the people who are working in the restaurants where I eat are people like me, workers like me, people who have lives outside their jobs. If I come in late, I make sure they know I know it, and I try not to abuse their professional hospitality. "Grace" goes in both directions, but you'd never know that from my friend's remarks or his friend's comment. (Big tips are the least you can do, but a Christian isn't going to tell me that money is "grace", I hope.) I'm an atheist, and "grace" in this sense is not part of my vocabulary, but the concepts involved here are human and universal.

It's not just the hospitality industry, of course. Employers have often taken the same line with employees -- in the good old days they sometimes put it in explicitly Christian terms, nowadays it's psychobabble. Slave-owners stressed the passages of the New Testament that exhorted slaves to obey their masters conscientiously, and to remain in the state in which they were called. (How convenient, and significant, that there were so many such passages in the New Testament, and none that contradicted them.) Grace is something you can expect yourself to show; you have no business demanding it of others. Then it becomes something other than grace.