Director of Hospitality & Catering
When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.
Luke 14.12-14a (ESV)
I suppose there is a logic which makes sense across most cultures: The people who are about to eat at this sort of table [see: photograph]—a table featuring this sort of food and this sort of drink—will not suffer from any real surprise.
The reality is, they can afford to eat and drink exactly like this. After all, they are the clients in a business-client relationship. They are the ones paying (clear one's throat: overpaying) precisely for this sort of table and for this sort of food and drink.
For several months now, I've found myself classically stuck in the unsettling throes of a hard vocational transition. At 42, I'll just say it, I'm coming off easily the most difficult, most disappointing, most depressing year of my life.
Since December, in an effort to make at least a few practical ends meet, I've occasionally worked for a small business in Richmond, Virginia, that provides servers, bartenders and the like to high-end catering companies. Recently, on an otherwise normal Monday night, I attended a training workshop for one such company at its sparkling new exposed-brick facility off Broad Street in the city.
While admiring the beautiful decor options for would-be brides and their upcoming "wedding event," hearing a variety of managers offer relatively inspiring speeches sprinkled with the word "global," and pondering the truly elevated levels to which food, drink and service have risen, I became privy to the standard hospitality-industry rhetoric. For example, here is a truth of biblical proportions and propagated with unwavering conviction: "Never say No to the client."
[Everyone nods in agreement.]
The logic goes, the client is paying for our right to exist. For my right to exist. Never (ever) forget that your identity is predicated on this almighty transaction and exchange.
And, of course, it's all quite true—at least in the context of this sort of hospitality, catering and event production. There is good money to be had in never saying No to those who can afford this sort of relationship.
Sufficiently re-indoctrinated into the finer points of serving, I walked out into the night. My heart gear-shifted. I thought about those people—the ones who could never afford what is being provided (for a set fee) in the above photograph. They are—as they surely must know—powerless to arrive at that sort of table. In fact, I'll just say it, in this season of pronounced personal hardship, I sense an especially meaningful kinship with people who understand (even if they dislike or would like to change) their powerlessness.
I am those people, I say to myself, as I flash to an old, old story told by Jesus of Nazareth [see: above].
In this particular story, the script for a high-end catering business gets flipped. The logic of the hospitality industry gets reversed. Central characters in the event production get decentralized. The fringe characters—the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; those who wear their inescapable brokenness much more visibly—are the ones getting the surprise invitation: Come to a table you could never afford.
I'm convinced Jesus would make an absolutely lousy Director of Hospitality and Catering. Not even Jesus could save Jesus from getting fired after approximately one day on the job. Because, at the end of the business day, there is no money to be had in saying Yes to those who can't afford this sort of arrangement or relationship.
Then again, thankfully, Jesus re-creates the party. He brings his own sort of table—with his own sort of food and drink. Apparently, what he really wants is to give anyone and everyone their true humanity.