Not Always Right … but strangely familiar

Sometimes I’ll be just tootling along, minding my own business … and come across something that makes me cringe.  Such was the case a few days ago.

It was Sunday afternoon, I was relaxing in the office at Chez Anselmeau, and decided I wanted to read something humorous.  There’s a website called Not Always Right that features transcripts of actual conversations between customers and service workers in various establishments — restaurants, stores, call centers, what have you.  The transcripts are submitted by the service workers, and consist of the dumb, unreasonable, uncomprehending or just plain loopy things customers have said and/or done.  (Thus the title — because in these cases, the old bromide “the customer is always right” has been clearly demonstrated to be false.)  I’ve worked in a variety of customer service positions in my time, and I have always been of the firm belief that a patron’s request should be accommodated within reason (much to the chagrin of some of my bosses, who didn’t really consider the point of “customer service” to be serving the customer), but there are limits, and sometimes said patron tries to cross them.  Anyway, I find it fun to read accounts of customers who are even more difficult, strange or clueless than some of the ones I used to deal with.

So I was having a good ol’ time reading the stories at Not Always Right … until I got to one in particular that wiped the smile off my face.

According to a young lady who calls herself Amy, this actually happened to her at the restaurant where she works as a waitress in St. Mary’s, Georgia, USA (the name of the establishment has been removed by Not Always Right for legal reasons):

Me: “Hello, and welcome to [restaurant]. I’m Amy, and I’ll be your server today.”

Customer: *glares at my necklace, which happens to be pentagon shaped* “No! You worship the devil! Get me a Christian to serve me!”

Me: “I don’t worship the devil. Actually, I–”

Customer: “I wont hear your witchy talk devil girl!” *sticks her fingers in her ears while her husband just gives me a smile*

Me: “I’ll just go and see what I can do for you.”

(I go to my manager and tell her what’s going on.)

Manager: *to me* “Oh, for Pete’s sake. Here, just put my necklace on.”

(The necklace is a cross. I go back to the table.)

Me: “Hello, and welcome to [restaurant]. I’m Amy, and I’ll be your server today.”

Customer: “Oh, thank the Lord. You should have seen the evil girl who was just here, with her black hair and wicked eyes!”

(She never noticed I was the same girl. Her husband never said a word, just had a weary look on his face. By the way, my hair is red.)

Now, I wasn’t there, so of course I can’t be 100% sure of the dynamics involved.  But I think, based on personal experiences and some clues in the text, I (or you, for that matter) can make an educated guess.

First, the clues.  Amy is wearing a pentagon-shaped pendant — not, as far as can be told, a pentacle (the star-in-a-pentagon often used as a symbol for Satanism or witchcraft).  She in fact specifically says that she is not a devil-worshipper (Satanist).  The customer reacts strongly to Amy’s presence because of the pendant, and demands that Amy “get me a Christian to serve me.”  When Amy leaves and returns wearing a necklace with a cross pendant (borrowed from her manager), the customer reacts in a different manner, says “thank the Lord” and mentions the “evil girl who was just here” with a non-matching description, not realizing that it’s the same person.  Throughout both exchanges, the customer’s husband affects an attitude that seems to imply a) sympathy with Amy, and b) that this is not an atypical reaction by his wife.

(As an aside, I wonder what the five-sided pendant actually signified.  Maybe it was just a piece of metal with a picture on it that just happened to have five sides.  Maybe her boyfriend is in the Army and works in the Pentagon.  Maybe she owns a Chrysler.  Maybe it’s a church thing — I know Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven program has five stated purposes.  Or maybe it’s New Age, who knows?  We at least know she doesn’t worship the devil.  Okay, where was I?)

Now, personal experience.  I’ve been involved in some capacity with evangelical Christians for at least a quarter-century, well before I gave my own life to Jesus.  I knew many in high school, in college, in various workplaces and various congregations.  And I’ve met a … let’s say a disproportionate percentage who act not that much differently from Amy’s customer.  The woman who cut off my wife’s prayer request because she didn’t believe in “negative speaking.”  The man who interrupted an intense discussion I was having with a couple of friends to tell me about a book he’d just bought — and kept interrupting even after I asked him to refrain, even after I said, “please, not right now.”  The woman who quit her spot as a Sunday school teacher with much fanfare, then told three different people in leadership about it while giving three different (and contradictory) reasons for her departure.  The man who tried to show off to a fellow pastor by chewing out a stranger, because his victim had been baptized using a different formula than the one of which he approved.  The woman who during a Sunday service insisted on praying louder than the person leading the prayers (who was using a microphone, no less), and became even more obnoxious when someone asked her if she could tone it down a little for the sake of those around her.  I could go on (and on, and on, and on …), but I think you get the idea.

Furthermore, from my own time in customer service, I know that some of the hardest people to deal with are those who are the most public about their Christian faith.  Despite the clear statement of Scripture that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) and “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9), I have seen so many people who claim to belong to Jesus yet act with an arrogance and a sense of entitlement worthy of Donald Trump.  Furthermore, they often claim to be proclaiming their faith as a “witness to the world” while treating those outside their circle with contempt.  (I recall a survey of restaurant workers where those polled stated that “visible Christians” were by far the worst tippers on average — even worse than drunks.  This has affected me to the point that when eating out, I almost always tip more than the expected amount.)

Suffice to say that when I showed the above transcript to my wife the Supermodel and said “we know this woman!”, she immediately understood that I didn’t mean that particular female in St. Mary’s, Georgia — we have encountered plenty of her “brethren” in California.

And with that in mind, I think I can fill in some of the blanks.

A woman and her husband come to this particular restaurant.  The woman is a professing evangelical/Pentecostal/fundamentalist/whatever, but of a strain where she and her fellow travelers believe (and act) like they’re made of a better brand of clay.  Her husband is “unsaved,” but is willing to tolerate his spouse’s eccentricities for the sake of keeping the peace.  (You may read the word “henpecked” in there if you like.  Clearly, the missus holds the whip hand here.)  A young waitress who’s wearing a necklace with a pentagonal pendant comes up to take their order.  The woman, in what she probably believes to be an act of righteousness, refuses to have any dealings with the possessor of such an item, since “everyone knows” a pentagon is the sign of witchcraft and the devil (and maybe the Democratic Party, I’m not sure).  After an attempt to explain the woman’s error (which is refused with that universal sign of maturity, the fingers in the ears), the waitress leaves to consult her supervisor.

Said supervisor is apparently a Christian of some sort — anything from divinity school student to occasional attendee is possible here.  He has also dealt with this sort of thing before (Georgia is in the so-called “Bible belt,” so not surprising) and knows just what to do, handing the waitress his pendant cross.  She dons it (it doesn’t say if she took off her own necklace), returns to the woman’s table and re-introduces herself, using the exact same words she has before.  The woman not only doesn’t recognize her (did she only see the pendant and not the person behind it?), she becomes immediately grateful that a Christian is now serving her, rather that some other girl whose hair color she can’t even recall correctly but whom she’s sure was the Wicked Witch of the Southeast.  At no time was the waitress anything but polite, or the woman anything but rude.

I’d be willing to guess you got a similar mental picture, huh?

Which raises a series of questions.  What kind of “Christian” thinks that they can banish someone from their presence on the basis of their jewelry?  For that matter, what kind of “Christian” fails to notice the person behind said accessory, to the point that they don’t even recognize them as the same person they were talking to a minute before?  Since this person seems to be of a type with many my wife and I have dealt with in the past, what does it say about the quality of teaching and discipleship in the American church that we’re raising up a crop of such harridans?

And (seeing those three fingers pointing back at me) what can I do to make sure that I don’t act like one of them, that I treat people as Christ would?

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