Well, it wasn’t pizza exactly–or a mission. It was spaghetti and meatballs for lunch at a new pizza joint near where I live. About two months ago I noticed work going on in this long vacant spot in a strip mall. At first I thought it was just a carryout place (take-aways, for my friends in the UK). However, when it opened last week I could see they had some tables.
Initially, Bearno’s Pizza had the look or a mom & pop type business. You know, the kind that opens with lofty aspirations and then closes three months later because they couldn’t compete with the big chains, and takes the family’s nest egg down the drain along with their hopes and dreams of a brighter future. In another strip mall across the street I’ve seen five ice cream and frozen yogurt places come and go over the past twenty years. Only a TCB place made it more than a year. Most were gone in three to four months. When I see that happen it always kind of tugs at my heart, because I know there is some real pain tied up in those failed businesses.
Anyway, Bearno’s was a bit of a surprise. It was much larger inside than it appeared from the street. It was narrow but quite deep and the heavy wooden booths and high top tables had the look of quality. Overall, the place was furnished nicely and its two dining rooms each had several large plasma televisions. An attractive hostess leading me to a table was not what I’d expected.
The menu advertised “Sicilian Pizza.” It was brought to me by a very sincere and overly chatty young man with some cutesy young man name like Chase or Shane or Zander. In any event it wasn’t Guido or Luigi. The menu had “gourmet” pizza plus all the standard fare of Italian restaurants–subs, lasagna, various pastas with marinara sauce and meatballs or sausage. It wasn’t priced like “fine dining” but it was pricier than a mom and pop eatery. It had some very reasonably priced lunch specials. I ordered spaghetti and meatballs.
And now we get to the point of this story: The waiter, who appeared to be about 19 or 20, started asking me questions. “Have I lived here long?” That was the first. To be polite I answered and asked him if he’d lived here long. After several questions he then obviously felt it was his duty to reward me with info about Bearno’s. It is a small chain based in Louisville. We’ve all heard of New York-style pizza, Chicago deep-dish pizza, and now according to the young waiter, there is Louisville pizza. He tried in vain to explain the how Louisville pizza was unique. To me it made about as much sense as say, Mayor LaGuardia’s New York Fried Chicken.
Anyway, the kid and his questions reflect something I’ve noted amongst servers over the past 5 or 6 years–an almost complete lack of boundaries or decorum. They want to be your buddy. Sometimes I’ve even had them sit down at the table while taking your order. They ask personal questions, and then tell you facts about their life that you really don’t want to know. . .”TMI. . .TMI” is my silent scream. Is this all a new ploy to get better tips? Or is it simply a reflection of the faux relationship building of the Fb, Twitter generation–the generation of connectivity. Anyway, this particular server seemed rather nervous and insecure. Perhaps I was his first customer ever.
Mercifully, another customer came in and the boy had to leave. By and by a waitress showed up with the spaghetti–revealing another trend which perplexes me–tag-team servers. Anyway, I was happily mangia-ing away on the excellent spaghetti and checking emails on my tablet when the kid came back. He asked if I needed anything: “Nope!” He looked a bit disappointed, but undeterred, he proceeded to start chirping again. Again, I was saved by a new customer arriving.
Okay, excuse my grumpy old man, old school rant–I’m still getting to the point–in the process making excuses for myself. Perhaps, it’s because I’m a professional counselor, a PSYCHO-therapist, if you will, I’m all talked and listened out. I’ve been doing this for 40-years and like any better than average counselor I listen a lot more than I talk. When I start talking as much as my clients, then I know that it’s time for a vacation. In addition to my clients I’ve got some pretty intense friends that I dialog with on a regular basis. And so on most days I don’t have a lot of tolerance for chirpy clerks and servers.
And that IS the point: Jesus always had time for the people in his path. And on the occasional days when I take my role as a Jesus-follower seriously I know it is my job to see people as HE saw people–to affirm them and to love them. And I can’t do that unless I dialog with them.
I have no idea what the waiter kid’s agenda was–probably tips. But maybe he was insecure, having a bad day, thought I looked like a nice man, reminded him of grandpa, needed to talk, etc.–who knows? But I do know that my role is to show him more love than I did–at least to listen to what was on his mind and see if he had some need I could fill. I know that there are no random encounters in God’s economy. Every encounter is potentially a holy introduction.
Witnessing is as natural as breathing for some believers, or at least it seems that way. It’s not my thing. I don’t know that I’ve ever led anyone to the Lord. Maybe I’ve said something which created a spark–and hopefully my books have been a witness. But getting someone to recite the sinner’s prayer has always seemed terribly artificial–and yet I came to know Jesus thru the sinner’s prayer. It was in a book about end times written by Tim LaHaye way back in 1979. It was kind of a private thing–no door-to-door salesmanship involved.
I’ve been on six short term mission trips, and served in a homeless ministry for several year. I’ve also taught classes on coping with depression at my church. I know that in those settings I have to reach beyond my shy, reserved-guy, comfort zone and I have had some success in that–on several occasions feeling something like an anointing. I suppose, the Holy Spirit flowing thru me.
So I ask myself, why can’t I be a pizza missionary? Why can’t I do a little low-keyed evangelism over lunch? Why can’t I see people as Jesus did? I ain’t Him, but I can do a better job than I’ve been doing–helping them see the Jesus in me and to looking for it in them. It’s there.