Friday, July 31, 2009

medium-rare grace

Before I was a music teacher, or at least a full-time paid music teacher, I used to wait tables at Outback Steakhouse.

Waiting tables is quite possibly the worst job in the world. I'm serious. I read about a study recently that claimed employees in the food service industry were the most likely group to suffer depression. I can totally believe it. It's so bad because people are so picky about their food. I mean, it's just dinner. You had one last night and you'll have one tomorrow night. That's a good thing about being in this country. I'm convinced that, besides money, people are most picky about their food.

Because of all the pickiness, servers suffer a whole lot of abuse. Many customers have a strange way of making their displeasure a personal issue. After a while, it's enough to really wear on you. At least it was for me. Some people may have an easier time dealing with it, I don't know.

Would you be surprised if I told you the absolute worst demographic to serve in a restaurant are Christians? I'm speaking in generalities, but one of the worst things for a server is to head out to take care of your tables and finding them bowing in prayer, blessing their food. You just know you're probably going to be run around like crazy, listen to lots of complaints, and at the end of the meal, these folks will find some sort of reason to tip poorly.

I'm not making this up. Talk to servers in any restaurant and they will tell you the same thing.

I'll never forget serving a big family one time that returned thanks in one breath and berated me for their steaks not being well-done in the next. I was trying to explain that what they saw was not "blood," but was juice. The lady jumped up and just short of shouting said, "Look here, boy. Blood, blood, blood!"

What can I say to that? Not much.

Sundays are absolutely the worst. Christians come in droves from God's house to the steakhouse, filling up eateries with prayers and forced evangelism. Religious tracts too often take the form of American currency.

For people who supposedly have been radically transformed by grace, they seem to have little room for its manifestation in this area of their life. I'm the customer and my faith has no bearing in this matter.

We preach salvation by grace through faith, but when it comes right down to it, we're uncomfortable with that. We would much rather it be by grace through faith and not drinking, smoking or chewing. Adding extra-biblical, pharisaical elements like these gives us some stability we feel we need. In the end, we still trust ourselves more than Christ.

Because we don't feel like grace is, or at least that it should be, sufficient, the way we treat other people is affected. The grace that has seared our beings gets lost in translation when we deal with servers or other drivers or the lady in line ahead of us at Wal-Mart who pretends not to realize we're there even though she has 3 baskets full of those individual cans of cat food and we just have a small container of sour cream.

And I've got to let grace rule how I deal with others.

I wish I had the kind of grace my poodle has. I lock her up in a kennel for hours sometimes, but she doesn't care. If I accidentally step on her foot, she still runs for my arms. She keeps no record of wrongs. She just loves me pervasively.

If you want your server to notice a difference in you, lavish them with grace. Tip twenty percent always, even if in your gut you feel they don't deserve it. Say "please" and "thank you." Don't act like tomatoes in your salad or flies on your table are the worst things that ever happened. Above all, don't leave tracts. I'll say it again: don't leave tracts.

Honestly, religious tracts are not effective evangelism tools and usually find the trash before the first page is read, but if you must leave one, don't leave it unless you have also tipped over twenty percent. That's right, overdo it. The type of Christianity that ignores physical needs and targets spiritual ones is fruitless. As far as servers are concerned, the gospel won't keep their phone connected or buy formula or fix their car.

Some years ago, CBS news anchor Dan Rather somewhat strangely ended a week of newscasts with one word: courage. If I were to use a word like that, it would be "grace." I remember when my second niece was born and I heard she was named "Grace." I remember thinking that was just the most wonderful, perfect thing to name a little child.

May I wear that name, too.



Michael Egan said...

I've often thought of confronting the "after-church" or obviously Christian tables who make it clear, then tip poorly. I want to just sit down and explain politely that their actions turn people off from Christ, and remind them of the importance of loving their neighbor. Unfortunately, my ultimate fear of confrontation and offending cause me to just smile and move on.
I need to get out of the service industry.

Tiffany said...

It is also true that Christian conventions are the ones people hate the most. The people who clean up after conventions and sporting events would rather clean a stadium after it was filled for a football game than after a Christian woman's conference.
Sometimes I think more people need to work in jobs like these to really understand the effect their actions have.

jaigner said...

Thanks, friends. Yes, I believe this is a huge problem and goes way beyond behavior in one area.

Mike, yes, you need to get out of the industry. Maybe you should sell cars.

Daniel said...

Great post, Jonathan.

Chuck King said...

Maybe someone - ahem, you, Jonathan? - should write a tract for Christian food staff to give Christian diners?

stephy said...

Tracts as American currency...seriously.
Ahhh grace. So crazy.