Sunday, January 13, 2008

Familiarity, Contempt, and the Way of the Barkeep

“Ive missed this place!” the Younger exclaimed as they doffed their coats and shook the snow from their boots. “Not that the Rusty Parrot wasn’t, uh, an interesting place to hang out, but this place is still my favorite.”

The Elder sighed contentedly as they settled into the welcoming booth by the window. “Yes, although I must say that I prefer the outdoor patio. Not that I
m suggesting that we go there now,” he quickly amended, as the snow swirled by the windows. “But Ive always enjoyed the outside setting the most.”

The Younger glanced at the outdoor patio area, recalling the many times spent there the previous summer, and noting the now-barren trees and gathering drifts. “Yeah, I guess no matter how many other places we
ve been, this will always be my ‘home pub’—after all,” and his voice took on a mock radio announcer’s tone, “this is our historic and traditional meeting place for all things theological and ale-related.”

The Barkeep stopped by their table at that precisely appropriate moment, delivering their usual choices without them even having to order. “Home is where they know ye,” he quipped in his thick Irish brogue, almost under his breath, as if he were talking to himself, before retreating back to the bustling bar.

The Elder laughed, as they both took appreciative sips of their favorite brews. “There is something to be said for the familiar and traditional, isn’t there?”

Noting a subtle change in the Elder’s tone, the Younger fixed a more studious gaze on his friend. “Why do I get the idea that you’re not just talking about getting our beers hand-delivered by our crusty Irish Barkeep?”

“Because you’re observant and discerning,” the Elder replied, raising his glass in tribute. “Or possibly I’m pathetically transparent and clumsy when it comes to subtle segues.”

Taking another sip, he continued, “But now that we’ve crossed that line, let’s just dive in, eh?”

The Younger nodded, glancing briefly at the Barkeep as he continued serving those lining up at the bar. “So, let’s not just dive in. Let’s dive deep, if you’re feeling up to it.”

The Elder paused, drink half-way to his lips. “Oh, so now who’s lacking a certain sense of subtlety?”

“I want to hear more about your views on the five-fold gifts in Ephesians 4,” the Younger blurted, elbows on the table, suddenly all business. “You’ve mentioned that too many people ‘air-lift’ that passage to suit their own agendas, without taking the broader Scriptural context into consideration. You’ve got to admit, that’s a provocative statement.”

The Elder took another sip, collecting his thoughts. “Well, let’s just say that too many people look to that passage almost in isolation, and build scenarios which—even if unintentional—are power-based and hierarchical, which in my opinion does violence to what was intended.”

“Violence?” The Younger drew the single word out slowly, eyebrows raised.

“What if we took Philippians 2 as a thesis statement on, say, apostolic ministry,” the Elder continued, hearing but not acknowledging his friend’s comment. “You know, that famously quoted section about having the same attitude as Jesus, the Servant? The Servant who gave up His power and position in order to do His Father’s will. Would you say that’s only about His life, or is it a pattern for us to follow?”

The Younger was ready for this question, “Well, didn’t Paul start by saying that we were supposed to follow His example?” He paused for a moment, frowning into his pint, before continuing. “But wouldn’t that mean apostolic leaders were serving by just being apostles?”

The Elder beckoned to the Barkeep. “My good man, I think we should order some food—this is likely to be one of those nights.”

The Barkeep wiped his hands on a towel as he replied, “Two curry fries, coming up.”

The Elder turned his attention again to their conversation. “Yes, you could say that apostles were serving just by acting as apostles, but you’d still have to define what ‘serving’ as an apostle would look like. Why would we assume that their service meant having a ruling function? Too many people want to define ‘apostle’ as a position of power and recognition. What if we look to the words of the Master and the original disciples —who of course would later become ‘sent ones,’ which is the original meaning of the word apostle?”

The Younger caught on instantly. “Ah yes, your favorite leadership passage in Matthew, right? The one that says the rulers of the Gentiles ‘lord it over’ others but disciples of Jesus must never imitate that?”

The Elder nodded, smiling. “Do I repeat myself that often? Well, some things are worth saying as often as it takes, I guess. I’d like to suggest that genuine apostles don’t need to trumpet their status or try to get people to agree to be ‘under their authority.’ They just serve and people recognize their authority, based on character and not on their need to have people ‘submit’ to them. But if you want another potentially provocative statement, try this:

“Genuinely apostolic people might actually be held in contempt by those whose mindset is caught in an authority-based understanding and agenda.”

The Barkeep suddenly materialized at their table, two aromatic plates of curry fries in his hands. “Hey y’go, gents,” he said, placing the enticing dishes in front of each of them. “Curry fries like they serve in the Old Country. More ale?”

As they immediately nodded in affirmative, the Barkeep headed back to his bar to draw the ales. “Now, consider the ways of the Barkeep,” the Elder intoned, imitating his friend’s earlier approximation of a radio announcer. “He never asks or requires that we recognize his authority or that we ‘submit’ to his position. Yet would anybody in this place doubt—even for the briefest of seconds—whether he is fully in charge of this bar, and rightfully so?”

The Younger watched as ale swirled in their glasses. “No, I don’t think anybody could miss the King of Crusty.” He laughed and turned back to the Elder. “But I don’t think I follow you.”

The Elder chewed reflectively on his helping of curry fries. “Well, does the Barkeep serve everyone? Does he come alongside and find out what would best aid his patrons in ‘succeeding,’ and then give them what they need?”

Receiving an affirmative nod from the Younger, he continued, “The Barkeep works hard to serve his patrons—his ‘flock,’ if you will—and without his expertise and sense of business and social savvy, this place would utterly fail.”

The Younger concurred, chasing curry around his plate with the last of his fries. “I’d say the food just wouldn’t be the same. Man, I love pub grub! But how does what you’re saying fit with not recognizing or appreciating genuine apostolic ministry?”

The Elder leaned forward, adding emphasis to his words and tone. “So, we agree that the Barkeep is the authority in this place, who serves the people who come in here. Yet how many people would consider the Barkeep ‘beneath’ them socially, as if him being their servant puts him farther down the scale of worth?

“Would their familiarity with him and his work actually breed a certain level of contempt for his position of servant-hood? How many people do you think would clamor for a leadership position that might result in being taken for granted, or worse, held in contempt? And yet they would be missing true servant leadership completely.”

The Younger drew a deep breath, shaking his head with a smile. “Wow—you’ve just created a whole new metaphor for leadership: the Way of the Barkeep. What will that lead to, do you think?”

“A decent tip, maybe,” the Barkeep suggested, once again materializing out of nowhere, their second round of ale now ready.

“But that’s just me thinkin’ out loud,” he added over his shoulder as he threaded his way back to the bar. The place was getting quite full, and there was a great deal of serving to be done.