I spent today in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco with 8 of our middle school and high school youth. We went into San Francisco to serve lunch and dinner at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church. The youth did an awesome job serving over 700 meals at lunch and close to 800-900 at dinner. If any of you have ever been to Glide and worked in the kitchen, you’ll know they have an amazing food assembly line that gets set up, and things go very, very quickly.
During lunch, my job for 2 hours was to place the plastic cup on the napkin, and pass it down the line. A pretty simple job – but when things were really flying, you had to be pretty quick about it. During one of these rushes, I picked up a plastic cup and happened to notice that it hadn’t gotten thoroughly cleaned by the dishwasher. It wasn’t really dirty, but it was clear that it wasn’t as clean as the rest. But I saw the rest of the trays coming my way, and another was already being handed to me, so I figured it wasn’t that big of a deal. I placed the cup on the napkin, and just kept working.
About five minutes later, one of the clients at Glide tapped me on the shoulder, and asked, “Excuse me, do you think I could get a clean up?”
Wow. I felt pretty horrible. I realized that what went through my mind in that split second as I placed the dirty cup on the napkin was, “It’s good enough.”
Good enough…good enough for homeless people? Good enough for people who are getting a free meal? What was I thinking? If I was at a restaurant, and I had received a dirty cup, I’d make a stink about it. I’d make sure I got a clean cup and probably would be annoyed about the hassle as well. And here was this person in need of a free meal, very politely asking me for a clean up.
Of course they wanted a clean cup – everyone deserves a clean cup. Here I was, having swooped down from the suburbs of Livermore, and I thought I could determine who deserved a clean cup. In my own way, I was being “the man” – being part of the system that dehumanizes these needy people on a daily basis. By denying him a clean cup, I was taking away a part of his humanity.
Everyone deserves a clean cup. Everyone deserves to be respected and shown love, care and compassion. Everyone deserves the basic things in life, like a meal, shelter and a clean cup. How are you enabling people to live out their humanity today? How are you taking away people’s humanity today?