Only a Receptionist

Call the Midwife Jenny (3)Last night, my wife and I watched another episode of the BBC television show, “Call the Midwife.” In this segment, the doctor had to be away from the office because of an emergency, and his wife, who functioned as the receptionist, was running the clinic. When the patients realized the doctor was gone, they refused to let her help them because they were totally unaware that she had worked as a nurse for ten years. In their eyes, she was “only a receptionist” and they bolted for the door until a doctor or nurse was there. The next morning, the “receptionist” was dressed in a nurse uniform, and when she opened the door to let the clients in, they saw her as a professional medical caregiver, and accepted her expertise. Even though she was the same person, respect came with the right uniform.

This concept was the basis of John Molloy’s 1975 book titled Dress for Success, and the sequel two years later, The Woman’s Dress for Success. The average person is highly influenced by other people’s outward appearance, and most of us aren’t able to see beyond the surface. If people look good on the outside, we think more highly of them. But if their appearance isn’t impressive, we think less about them and, too often, we treat them worse.

This interpersonal dynamic can be seen in the Bible, too. In 1st Samuel chapter 16, the Lord told Samuel to go to Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse’s sons to be the new king. When Samuel saw Eliab, he was impressed, and thought this must be the young man who would be king. But the Lord said to Samuel in a now-famous verse, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

It seems people of every generation have to re-learn this lesson. It took a vision from the Lord to bring Peter to the point of admitting that “God shows no partiality.” James had to remind the church not to treat wealthy people better than the poor when he wrote, “My brothers and sisters, believers in Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.”

It’s important for us to dress appropriately for work and business appointments. It does make a difference how people see us and think about us. But Christians are called to be different. We can grow in our relationship with Christ and ask the Holy Spirit to help us see people through His eyes, to see beyond the outward appearance and see the heart, the real person. We are called to treat all people with dignity and respect, no matter who they are or what they look like.

The apostle Paul tells Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because he is young. I think it would be fair to replace “young” with a number of other possible factors. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are poor, darker skinned, an immigrant, a woman, a senior citizen, or unemployed. The apostle continues, “Instead, set an example by the way you live and the way you conduct yourself.”

Only a receptionist? Only a teen? Only a woman? Only an immigrant? Only a farmer? When I mentor people, I remind them never to use the word “only” when talking about themselves or others. As Christians and as human beings, we have an opportunity to get beyond superficial appearances and circumstances when it comes to how we treat people and how we value them.

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The Old Chevy

1When we drove up to the historic motel on Route 66, an old Chevy parked out front caught our eye. It had to be more than sixty-five years old, and though the paint was faded, worn-off, and rust-eaten the car still exuded a certain charm and beauty. A couple of the tires were flat and one window was permanently open. Yet, it had a stately dignity that spoke of a time when it ruled the road.

Once upon a time, this automobile was the lifeline for an entire family. Dad drove it to work; Mom took it shopping. Weekends were for family outings, and Sundays for going to Church. Each summer she took her family to a far-off destination, and special occasions saw her at family get-togethers. The kids learned to drive behind that huge steering wheel, and longed for the day they might get a car of their own: something new, shiny, and fast, with the latest technology.

But the old Chevy had long ago been discarded. Removed to the junkyard, where it sat for a decade: unwanted, untended, and ignored. Just taking up space.

Sometimes we look at people that way. We have no time for the elderly, no interest in what they have to offer or what they’ve accomplished. They had their day in the sun; now it’s our turn. We look at people of different ethnicities similarly. We too easily disregard their importance, their feelings, their dreams and ambitions, and what they can contribute to the community or the church. We treat children as though they were worth less than adults, and teens as if they should be banished to a remote island.

The Bible, on the other hand, tells us to honor people, value them, and care for them. To look for the beauty and the charm that are still there in every human being. Romans 12:10, for example, says to honor and give preference to one another.

James 1:27 reminds us that “pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their affliction.” In other words, we’re supposed to honor those in society who are helpless or in less fortunate circumstances.

The writer of Job adds to this discussion by recognizing the dignity of the common person and by identifying with the hireling and the slave. “Do not mortals have hard service on earth? Are not their days like those of hired laborers? Like a slave longing for the evening shadows, or a hired laborer waiting to be paid?”

In context, Job is saying there’s no difference between the rich and the poor, the master and the slave, when it comes to how hard life can be. We all want rest at the end of the day, we all want a better life for our family, we all have hopes and dreams, we all need love and friendship, and we all crave acceptance and respect.

The apostle Paul summarizes in Philippians chapter two, where he simply says we are to value others above ourselves.

The woman who owned the roadside hotel told us that a lot of her customers express an interest in old cars and the way life used to be on Route 66. So, she called a friend who had a junkyard, and asked if there was an old car she could buy. Her friend gave her the Chevy and brought it to her motel, where it has attracted attention and sparked conversation among people from all over the country and all around the world who see the car while driving by.

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