Thursday, August 28, 2014

On Performing Introverts

"If you had a simple more personality, you'd get a better tip." - Anon.
That was a message scribed beneath one of my receipts today and, frankly, I think it's a load of bull for a couple of reasons.

1. It's not my job.

As a waiter, my job is to be a chameleon. The only times I should be noticed are when I'm taking orders, delivering food, and managing payment. clearing your table, refilling your drinks, making quick checks that all is okay should be done quickly, efficiently, and discreetly. If you want to chat or otherwise engage with me, that's fine; I can be an excellent conversationalist when needed, but that's not my primary role.

Following suit, I understand that many waiters show a modicum of personality. Some are funny, garrulous, obsequious, or complimentary, but I can guarantee that these displays are not part of the job description - they are the measures we take to try to ensure a good tip. Just like the free bread (another grief for another time), we should not be expected to open up and engage like old friends. We're not. You're my customer and I'm trying to sell you enough food to make a good tip. I am no Saartjie Baartman redux, required to regale you with stories and oddities from my African childhood. Neither am I some Dickensian guttersnipe trying to beg a penny off of you with a sob story of my dreams and aspirations. I am a professional and will not be required to sell myself in such a manner.

2. I am an introvert.

That being said, sometimes I do engage with tables, but not from trying to get a tip. See, I am an introvert. I can be a functional extrovert, but I am still an introvert. Every day, I have a pool of "extrovert hours" at my disposal. such hours have grown, due to necessity, but they can still be depleted.

Working as a waiter depletes these precious hours. In a normal night, I can make it through the entire shift. However, being forced to deal with unpleasant customers, rudeness, impatience, neediness, and the like drains these hours faster than normal. Fortunately, good conversation on matters intelligent, pleasant, and entertaining slow down and, on occasion, slightly refill my pool.

So, don't be offended if I don't stop and talk. In fact, you might want to ask yourself, "Am I presenting an open, welcoming air?" That could be the reason I'm not hanging around.

In short, tip me for what I do or don't do, not for whether I act.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Missed Detail

So, I know there's a fair bit of chatter about the state of the Church, especially in the Western world, what with the general sense of apathy and decline stemming from a lack of understanding, from both non-Christians and Christians alike, about the nature and role of the Church.

Many tout all the good, humanitarian, and fuzzy aspects, notable a very vague sense of love and "looking after orphans and widows."

Now, looking after orphans and widows is correct; that is an admonishment found in James Ch.1, but that's only part of the admonishment. The full verse says:
"Religion that God, our Father, accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." - James 1:27, NIV
So, yes, we are supposed to be looking after the poor, the hungry, the needy, but there's a second clause, one that is supposed to separate us from just another charity - living apart from the world.

By this, I mean that we, as Christians, are to be engaging the world, but not entranced or sucked in by it. we are not to be indulging in the world's sinful ideals and fantasies, but remaining clean from them.

I like to think of it as a pig farmer. Every day, he dons his coveralls and wades into the muck of the sty to tend and treat his pigs, but at the end of the day, he leaves the sty, removes his coveralls, showers, and eats his own food. He does not live with the pigs, rolling in the filth and eating their slop, but yet he is there every day, tending to them and raising them.

In a similar way, we need to be acting as Christians - going out and tending to the world and its needs, but at the end of the day, not dwelling in and receiving sustenance from the world, but from God, his righteousness and holiness should be what sustains us in our work, what pushes us forward, and what refreshes us at the end of the day.

On "Children of the World" and Short-Term Missons

So, those of you who are facebook friends may ave seen me bemoaning the misunderstood nature of charities like the Children of the World choir and the role of youth group missions trips. So, in an attempt to clarify where I stand once and for all, I give you my explanation:

On missions trips, I feel that their main role is to help missionaries to meet a task they would otherwise be unable to, due either to a lack of necessary skills or manpower. Examples of this would be disaster relief, healthcare trips, church building, or surveying. Conversely, what I see happening often, especially with youth trips, is that there is not much of a need that is met. Yes, there is exposure and growth from the team's side as they see and experience the great commission and there is community built between the local church and the sending church, but there is often little true progress or achievement and it can end up draining for the receiving missionaries. 

A good example of a large team of students being put to good work is from about 6 years ago, when a professor from Southeastern, took some students to do evangelism work. As part of the trip, they did some surveying, some work with local churches, and they cleared a field. This field, you see, belonged to a school some of my parents' colleagues were trying to start a program with. Normally, it would have taken a month or more to clear the rocks from it and make it usable, but these students did it in a day. As a result, the school allowed the missionaries to run their after school program. 

So, as far as youth trips and other trips go, they have good use and purpose, but they need to be done well and not foster a poor first world - third world perception, which is my second point.

My beef with the Children of the World choir (and other projects like it) is that is exploits the third world and presents a false representation of these nations and cultures. Every time I see them perform, I am reminded of a song by Johnny Clegg, titled "Third World Child," in which the chorus goes:
"Learn to speak a little bit of English | Don't be scared of the suit and tie | Learn to walk in the dreams of the foreigners | I am a third world child."
I know that many of these charity projects do good work. CotW provides good education and quality of life for these kids and brings awareness of people in other countries. The negative is the way that awareness is presented and processed. To me, it looks like the image presented is that they've taken these kids from a poor environment, clothed them, taught them, and are now showing them off. There's no celebration of the individual cultures; it's all homogenised into the American Church experience. The image portrayed, then, is that we, the first world, need to go into the "dark," "lost" third world and give them what they need to be like us, that we need to intervene. What is needed isn't intervention, but investment. We need to send skilled, trained individuals from the first world to train those in the third world in necessary, marketable skills: digging well, building houses, farming, pastoring, etc. In doing so, we encourage self-reliance and foster growth of the local GDP, enabling it to develop, while not forcing an American perspective or ideal overtop the ideals, flavors and actual needs of the particular culture. 

A classic example is Haiti - when the disaster struck, we responded correctly, providing needs. However, we've stayed way too long. It's been a number of years since the earthquake and we're still going and giving supplies. Why? Well, we see that everyone's still poor and needy, but the issue is that they're still poor and needy because there's no incentive to change. After all, the US is always sending people with stuff they need.

So, in a nutshell, my biggest grievance is the objectification of the third world and the reaction thereunto. Second is the manner in which youth missions trips, while beneficial to the team members, often do not benefit long-term either the missionaries or locals.