Saturday, August 2, 2014

on dinner parties.

"So when we want to know about a person’s friends and associates, we look at the people with whom she eats, and when we want to measure a someone’s social status against our own, we look at the sort of dinner parties to which he gets invited. Most of us prefer to eat with people who are like us, with shared background, values, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, beliefs, and tastes, or perhaps with people we want to be like, people who make us feel important and esteemed. Just as a bad ingredient may contaminate a meal, we often fear bad company may contaminate our reputation or our comfort.

This is why Jesus’ critics repeatedly drew attention to the fact that he dined with the wrong people. By eating with the poor, the despised, the sick, the sinners, the outcasts, and the unclean, Jesus was saying, 'These are my companions. These are my friends.' ”

-Excerpted from the always thoughtful Rachel Held Evans

This means something to me because at the moment, I work at a very fancy restaurant, taking reservations and catering to mostly the rich, the extremely privileged, guests who at times appear to be overly pampered and pretentious people. There are those who dine at this restaurant to say something about who they are and what they deserve; they dress nicely and request tables in certain sections to see and be seen. To eat there inevitably makes a statement about their socioeconomic status, but also about their values, their tastes, what makes them feel valuable or important.  Perhaps this should not come as a surprise, but it is often the very successful who don't seem to actually feel very valuable, somewhere deep inside.  I often interact with people who seem to be using their position of power and importance to re-gain a feeling of significance: I am important, you have to do what I say, they tell me, but really, I suspect they're trying to re-assure themselves of some degree of worthiness.

When I read about the religious elite criticizing Jesus' choice of dining companions, I think of the people who call the restaurant to complain about being seated near a table where someone was wearing a tee shirt.  I want to say, Life's too short.  Get over it, or, You don't count as more of a human being because you have a tie on.  Instead, I roll my eyes while saying something brief and polite: "Your message will certainly be passed along."

Yet here's the rub: like the people who eat at the fanciest restaurant in Seattle, I tend to be drawn to people and situations that make me feel important or comfortable. I don't remember when I last invited someone to dinner at our little apartment who had significantly different values or socioeconomic standing or beliefs.  Almost all of my friends are white, American, college-educated, employed, and somewhere on the spectrum of evangelical.  And as much as I desperately want to be like Jesus, who resisted the allure of power and revealed God's upside-down Kingdom in every choice he made, I tend to fear bad company.  I am usually attracted to those who make me feel intelligent or hip or clever, or at the very least, lucky to be around someone who holds such qualities.  I'm hoping to not just talk about this disappointing tendency in myself, but actually take steps toward changing it, toward finding beauty in a dinner party where not everyone agrees or gets along or even feels completely comfortable.

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