The Power of Hospitality - Teena Dare
Over 15 million people in the United States work in the hospitality industry today. You may not typically think of working in hospitality as a particularly powerful job, but this work holds great power when we connect it to God's hospitality and God's powerful welcome to all people. Our guest today, Teena Dare, spent 10 years in the restaurant industry, where she learned to love the rhythms of hard work and hospitality.
Teena has written about hospitality on her blog, shakingspirits.com, and she's hosted many conversations on the Faith, Work & Rest podcast. Teena was recently featured in The Missional Disciple: Pursuing Mercy & Justice at Work, a six-week workbook and video course exploring the intersection of mercy and justice at work. The course was created by the Global Faith & Work Initiative at Redeemer City to City, and is available for purchase. You can learn more at www.globalfaithandwork.com/missionaldisciple
- Genesis 1-2
- James 2:1-9
- Romans 12:13
- Luke 22:7-21
- The Missional Disciple: Pursuing Mercy and Justice at Work
- Teena Dare's blog, ShakingSpirits.com
- Faith, Work and Rest podcast
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Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.
Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.
LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.
MR: I’m Mark Roberts.
LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.
Over 15 million people in the United States work in the hospitality industry today. You may not typically think of working in hospitality as a particularly powerful job, but this work holds great power when we connect it to God's hospitality and God's powerful welcome to all people. Our guest today, Teena Dare, spent 10 years in the restaurant industry, where she learned to love the rhythms of hard work and hospitality. She has written about it on her blog, shakingspirits.com, and she's hosted many conversations on the Faith, Work & Rest podcast. Teena was recently featured in The Missional Disciple: Pursuing Mercy & Justice at Work, a six-week workbook and video course exploring the intersection of mercy and justice at work. The course was created by the Global Faith & Work Initiative at Redeemer City to City, and is available for purchase. You can learn more at www.globalfaithandwork.com/missionaldisciple. Teena Dare, welcome to the Making It Work podcast.
Teena Dare: Oh, it's so good to be here.
LA: It's so good to have you. So I wanna hear about your experience first and foremost. You worked in the hospitality industry for over a decade. How did you get started, and what was it like?
TD: Okay, my first hospitality job goes back to when I was 15, and a friend of mine, her family friend, helped to run a little event space that hosted weddings and similar things, and it was kind of out in the country. And she was like, "Come work a shift with me." It was like a 10-hour nonstop shift, and the night ended with us in the closet drinking sparkling cider, being all like 15, you know? [laughter] And it was just so much fun, just the energy of being... Working with people and for people and just being amongst celebration. I think I was pretty hooked, yeah, at that point.
LA: Now that doesn't sound like a great time to me, like, "Come work a shift! Just work a little 12-hour shift taking care of... " so there must be something in you, the way that God made you, that you really responded to this type of work.
TD: Yeah, I... I've reflected on this. I think we're obviously all formed uniquely by God and then by our upbringing, and I've reflected a lot on my mom, and she used to just host the best parties. Like, going back to birthday parties, it was all out every time. And I remember in eighth grade, I had just moved to a totally new state. And I was... Is this school small enough where I'm like, "Who do I invite to my birthday party?" and my mom's like, "Invite all 60 of them, whatever." And a couple of the kids at that school that I extended invitations to were just over the moon, like, I won't forget it. They had never been invited to a birthday party. They were the ones that are left out, you know? And I don't even think they came, but just the joy of being extended that invitation, that hospitality, that welcome, of being included... Yeah, I can just trace back that love for inviting, including, celebrating, being with people.
And so, I ended up in the hospitality industry kinda by accident, you know? I made good enough money. I could rely on my people skills and conversation. It was enough energy to keep my mind kinda focused. And then it wasn't something I intended on doing for more than a few years through college until I got what, a lot of times in the industry, we would call the “big girl job” or the “big boy job.” But it's really sweet, as I reflect back on the journey, seeing how much God put me there. It wasn't I found it by accident, but he had intentions to place me somewhere that really matched up so well with how I was knit, and how he longed to reveal something to the world through my work, so... Yeah, it's sweet in retrospect, but it was not like, "I'm gonna work in restaurants for 10 years, and I just can't wait to do this meaningful work." That was... Yeah, that took a long time to have that mindset.
LA: Well, I wonder if some of it is kind of this prejudice of how people would say, "Well, once you get your big girl job... " And I wonder if that level of downgrading the work, even while you're in the work is probably not helpful to those doing the work.
TD: Absolutely. That is the thing that as I've reflected and walked this journey for myself. I am the type of person who tries to find meaning in everything. You know, I continued on to study theology, and it's just like, how I engage the world. And so, I was like, dogged to find the meaning. And through some really beautiful mentorship, thankfully was directed to see in the biblical story, hospitality not being secondary or an addition or something that you just do to get by, but something absolutely fundamental and central to God's character. But 100% as I look back, I just see the incredibly damaging effects of our culture that has this unspoken, but extremely rooted hierarchy of the types of work that we value, of the types of work that are meant for people that have the potential, you know?
It's sort of like, if you have potential, you don't stop here. This is only a stop along the road on your way to X, Y, Z. And that work is usually more knowledge-based, usually involves technology, perhaps as creative, but the everyday work of showing up and extending hospitality. Yeah, and it's amazing to think about the little ways that it would come out. Guests, would say things like, "Oh, so what else do you do? You're pretty smart. So, what do you... You're in school, or, what's your... " like, “talk to me.” And there was a time... Most of the time I was in school, but when I wasn't, it was an interesting thing to be like, "No, this is the work. This is what it is."
LA: Mark, I'm gonna ask Teena in a minute from her theological studies what really came up for her in the connection between the work of hospitality and her study of the Bible, but I wanna put you on the spot, Mark, and I want you to guess what she's gonna say [laughter] based on what... There are so many, but what would you pull out of scripture to highlight just how important this work is?
MR: Yeah, that's a good question. And you can answer it sort of really big picture, just looking at how God is gracious and God makes His grace known to us. And you know, God's... You know, there's a passage in Romans that says, welcome one another as God has welcomed you. So, you could totally do big picture or you could do really like a focus thing. So there's a verse in Romans, I think it's 12, you would know it [chuckle].. Where it says, extend hospitality... What is it? Practice hospitality and also to strangers or something. In other words, do this for people within the church, but also for others. So, if you just wanted a verse, which says...
LA: You're right, it's Roman 12:13, Mark.
MR: Thank you. Thank you.
LA: You got it.
MR: If you just wanted a verse that says, do this, you got a verse. Or you have sort of the whole story of how God treats us and how hospitality is a sort of a lived embodiment of God's way of being with us and we're being like God. So, I don't know, [chuckle] Teena, what you're gonna do, but I'll be interested... But you... There's just so much, so your point that this is not just some little thing, but this is really a big part of who we are as Christians and who we’re to be, is just, is right on. So, are we gonna ask her now, Leah?
LA: We're gonna ask her. This is the big reveal.
LA: Teena, what would you pull out of Scripture to reflect just how important the work of hospitality is?
TD: Okay, I already gave you warning that I'm a theology nerd, so I'll try and keep it as brief as possible. But I really love biblical theology, so how God reveals Himself through His story, and just the way that the story is crafted with kind of a beginning and middle and end. And so, thinking about Genesis 1 and 2, I used to struggle with theology pulled from them, 'cause then I think it's only two chapters. But when you think about any good story, the setting absolutely is integral to the whole story, and so we always come back to the setting. We always come back to the stage that's being set, because everything is pulling from that. And I think the same is true for scripture. And so, when you think about God creating the world and just the incredible intentionality, beauty, rhythm that he's working with, the way that he plays with light, that winter light that sets way too soon, but the way it comes through the trees.
And the way he provided for food, not just... You know, we see the grace of manna in the desert, but the food that most of us get to enjoy is just like the variety and the color. And I mean, if we never had any art museums, just the very act of creating food and eating would be an artistic experience of God as the beautiful creator. And so we see that hospitality set up, that he created a world to provide for our needs, but do so in a lavish way. But then as the story continues, we see that that is personally extended to us by the very body and blood of Jesus. And so, there's this personal extension of coming near us and this all happening around a meal. And that the most sacred sacrament, depending on our traditions, might look different, but that it's the very everyday stuff that God used. It's the everyday life of a human being and the everyday meal that we share that reminds us of this God who is in all things and created all things, and then came to us and offered us this gift. And so, as a server, just the...
Just the comparison is wild, right? Like, we get to set up the space as a welcome space. We get to literally with our hands and in relationship, extend these gifts of bread and wine, and do so in a way that shows up fully embodied and actually motivated by love. And I think that's the thing that's transformational in an industry where most people just see it as this exchange of, "I'm gonna try and do a really good job, so you tip me really well, and you'll probably punish me if I don't with less money," and just this consumer exchange. But to do it with just the heart of really seeing people and loving them and caring about them, and longing to enter into these intimate moments of a meal, I just think is like, infinitely transformational in today's world, probably more than ever.
MR: So there you go, Leah, there's like the big picture. But focusing though was Jesus in the Last Supper, which I have read your piece on the table, so I sorta could guess that, I didn't give away your punch line, but I mean, what an... I mean, that's one of the strongest sort of supports for the importance of hospitality. And then you were also... But toward the end, really emphasizing it's a way to serve and care for and love people, which is so...
MR: I remember literally the first time in my life it ever occurred to me that a server in a restaurant could do this. And I was in grad school, I was literally coming back from LA, back to the East Coast, I'd flown, it was a late flight, I was super exhausted. I was taking a bus really from New York to Boston. I was in a terrible mood, I was sad, I was tired, and I was in New York City, and right by the bus station there's this restaurant, okay. And you can just imagine super crowded, and I go in there and I finally get a table and I'm just about as low as I could go. And a woman who waited on me was so kind to me. I mean, I choke up now, I choked up then. It's like, she could sense. And she was an older woman who I'm guessing had been working a long day.
MR: But the way she treated me, it was just like God's love pouring out to me. Even to the very end when I left, she said, you know, "God bless you." I think she called me honey or sweetie. [laughter] God bless you, she tells me. And He did, through her, and literally it was the first time I thought, "Oh my gosh, that was so amazing." And as you can tell, I've never forgotten it and I've stayed... It stayed with me. And this is the kinda thing you're talking about. Now, obviously, you won't have always those kinds of moments, but you describe so many other ways in which serving people well is an act of love. And I just think that's such a great encouragement to so many of us.
LA: Teena, have you had those kind of experiences that feel transformative, either to you or to the people that you serve?
TD: Yeah. I think oftentimes it's been just when I have the internal presence of mind, like the internal... I love the phrase Coram Deo, just living our lives before the face of God, like that awareness of his presence that of course is always there. Awareness of how sacred that moment is, has... Just felt transformational and recognizing... 'Cause you know, I remember guests who have left notes on receipts and just things that clearly like... They experience something in our interaction and in their experience that was worth stopping and taking a pen to paper. And sometimes those things can just be like, "Oh cool, they left a note." In the hustle bustle, but the slowing down to really connect with that reality and just... And even, I think in some of my more vulnerable moments, being out to eat in times of grief in particular, and showing up to a restaurant, just feeling totally spun by grief and imagining the server's experience of us, you know?
And just thinking about, "This person is just showing up to serve us, they have no idea what just happened in our life, like, what we're going through, and here we are." And those moments too, and being on the receiving end of it has made me more conscious of just this reality of we have no idea when we interact with people... And this is true for anyone, right? 'Cause this is about human interaction, but just serving everyone as if this was an intimate moment of deep celebration or of grief, you know? And of just getting through to the next meal and... Yeah. And I think there was a turning point though from just the really hard fought struggle to have that heart of service deep in me instead of resentment and bitterness towards my coworkers or the guests that treated me like junk, or whatever, like that, that really fundamental struggle with God as a 23 year-old about to [laughter] break something over a table and just like, "Jesus, form yourself in me."
To this shift of this awareness that there was something about the way that I treated people that clearly received hospitality in a different way than others. And that was kind of the shift that you mentioned the Missional Disciple workbook of seeing the work of hospitality not just simply as this beautiful way to love people and serve people but to actually practice this thing that sometimes feels so elusive of justice and mercy. I think about James 2 and this dialogue about not showing partiality in a church setting to those with more money or privilege and it is like a stern very direct exhortation. And there's this sense that God takes this really seriously. And so something that I experienced to a greater extent in some restaurants than others was a judgment on guest based on a number of factors and the judgment was usually how needy will they be and how well will they tip? And fighting to shuffle off tables that we expected not to tip well. And just the way that we would use... That servers or managers or whoever would use language that was pejorative or racist or dehumanizing in some way simply based on what we expected to receive from them.
And I vividly remember a moment where I made a comment that was along those lines and one of my co-worker was like "Teena I can't believe you said that" and it was not a bright moment for me in any way but it was also affirming in the sense that "Oh I had become known as someone who didn't speak that way about people" that didn't participate in that culture of judging based on something that I expect to receive in return. And that was sort of this wake-up moment of this matters and I need to not just accidentally most of the time do this but actually lean into this intentionally as someone who follows Jesus and leans into the heart of God who looks after those who are on the margins who are least and last and left out. And actually show them hospitality in a way that maybe just is so far from what they're used to experiencing and just how much that embodies the heart of God. So that was a big moment for me in the journey.
LA: I assume it's not abnormal for a staff at a restaurant to be trash talking the patrons probably that's something that goes on. And I wonder if it happens more in this industry than in other industries because of the sense in which servers are kind of powerless to some extent. They're coming into the hierarchy where they're literally serving others so there's a power dynamic already there. And then there's a way that you could negatively take back your power by cutting someone down verbally even behind your back. I wonder if this better way of taking back power, this way of connecting service to God's power because you're doing God's work through your work is a proof against this kind of negative separative use of power in that workplace?
TD: Yeah absolutely. I think that's so well said I think that the way people are treated, it breathes that same type of mentality. And just going back to this culture of exchange when this consumerism of "I'm coming to take from you and I have the power as the consumer because I can withhold money I can give you a bad Yelp review. I can destroy you, I can harm you if you spill ranch on me or if you miss my order." And so this is just stressful sense of... It takes away the ability for most people to show up with just this love, this eagerness to truly love and show up and serve. So a couple of things that I started doing along the way practices disciplines to form. Because no matter how much in your head you can say the right things you're being formed by a culture much stronger than the words maybe that you're repeating. And so not looking at tips from tables so that I wouldn't connect that person with whatever tip they gave me and so just putting them away right away and not letting that affect me emotionally, not letting me have a memory of that person or confirm the bias or whatever it may be.
But then I remember this moment where I had this guest I was a bartender at the time and they were so needy [chuckle] and so unsatisfied and everything in me just wanted to be like just... Whatever it was. But I saw that person and I started to think. You know what I wonder how often they come out and do this. I wonder how important this experience is for them. I wonder how much it's been built up for them and they just want it to be something that is what they imagined and what would have got for me to forget that person next to them for a second who comes in every day and has the privilege to do this all the time and just lean in to this person's neediness but allow the Spirit of Christ to actually form in me a love for them and a desire to serve them and enter into that little death.
The little death to myself and to my pride or whatever it is. And man, I will never forget that is one of the most joyous experiences I ever had in serving a guest because all of a sudden the power struggle was gone and I saw that the narrative of culture that I had less power and these subtle and not so subtle comments and all these things that I absorb. That because our God died, because the God of the whole universe came and laid out his power and gave himself over to be resurrected and that is our dance as Christians. That as we do that then we find joy and life and love and then all of a sudden we can experience the reality that we are not powerless. We are not less than, we are not what the world says we are. Yeah I could go on but [chuckle] I think that power dynamic is so huge and there's something really important in the Gospel for work that is seen as less than.
LA: It's such a beautiful way you describe it because as you talk I see the amount of joy that you have talking about the work of service. And I imagine for those in the service industry you're often working amidst people who do not feel that same level of calling to their work. So tell us what that's like to maybe be one singular server for God in an environment with a lot of other undercurrents.
TD: Yeah. Yeah it was an interesting process to work at different restaurants. It was really... The people that actually led me in the joy of it were not Christians. They were creative and they love the work of making beautiful drinks and creating things and they worked in an environment in a setting with some really, really great leadership. A James Beard Award-winning restaurant group that just lived this heart of service. They would talk about in the C-suite or whatever they were called of like "We exist to serve our employees. We exist to serve" and there was just this honoring. There was like, "You get what you need financially. We're gonna provide the resources that you need. We're just gonna honor you and we're gonna honor our guests." And I think a lot of the disempowerment comes from not having everything you need to give the experience that you might like. It's just this subtle downgrading in every way that you're powerless to change and so being in a setting where from the top down there was a value of this type of work really changed the way that everyday employee servers and hosts and line cooks I think engaged and experienced their work. Partly because they didn't have to have two three jobs to survive. There's a very much of financial component to it. So that was really interesting to just see the power of culture within a larger industry.
The other thing I would say is I learned in that setting the incredible potential for our words that speak a different story. You mentioned, Mark the... One of my... It's on my blog it's called... I just named it The Table and there was a point where I started writing and reflecting on my work in hospitality and I just wrote this article that was a narrative of the experience of a server setting the table and welcoming guests. And then the wedding feast and Jesus setting the table in anticipation for that, the day we look forward to when we meet him face-to-face and it was so crazy, guys. [chuckle] I wrote this and my co-workers almost all of whom were not Christians were just... It was printed up on the wall. They were so deeply encouraged and just enraptured by my words and it was very Jesus-y. But it was the fact that I was saying something about the work that we all do and I was saying that the work that we all do is a part of a bigger story and it matters and it's beautiful and it has value.
And so that was one experience but each time I had left a job I wrote something just about the value and the beauty of the work the symphony of what we do together. And it was just... I had managers saying that was the most meaningful thing I've ever read. And it's not because I was doing something awesome, it was simple stuff. But it just was eye-opening of in industries where people's work are devalued. There is such an opportunity for us to speak a different narrative and a different truth and just to say like "Hey what you're feeling is not the true story" God's story is different and God's story sees your work as valuable and a part of something incredible he's doing in the world and so that was... So this is 10 years into the journey [chuckle] so it took a while to get to that point. It definitely was exhausting and I'm sure my husband in the beginning of the journey just got all of the throw-up of the daily work in the restaurant and being ground down by just the attitude and the culture but yeah. Through it I saw some beautiful just redemptive work that God longs to do and is doing.
LA: So I wanna close Teena with asking you what advice would you give to someone who is... So maybe someone who's waiting for their big girl job or big boy job? Maybe someone who's entered the service industry who doesn't wanna stick or sees it as a means to an end. What advice would you give to redeem that time in a way that is... That both serves the customers the people they are serving but also serves the server. Serves the person who's doing this work?
TD: Okay I'll say three brief-ish things. The first is maybe you found your big girl job or big boy job. Just consider what seems crazy. What if this is an industry that God wants you to stay in and maybe you switch jobs a little bit within but just consider wherever you are is it possible that there's more for you there? The second thing I would say is whether or not... And I think maybe for some people that's too stressful. No I cannot stay in [laughter] this forever and that's okay. But in the meantime what does God wanna do in you and through you that he can't do in another setting? I think often of the parable of God giving us little and depending on how we steward that little and thinking here of power or authority. Then he graces us with more and some people have a lot of power that haven't stewarded little well but if we really wanna walk in the true meaning in of godly power. I think we have to steward the little well and that is a formative time to prepare us for whatever might come next. Of that feeling of being the man on the roadside and not always the good Samaritan.
'Cause when it comes time for us to be the good Samaritan or to do whatever it is we need to still be in touch with what it feels like to be vulnerable and not just constantly feel like we wanted to get out of that so badly so that we could have something different. But if we press into that and connect with that experience and serve well in it. We're able to see people differently and lead people differently.
And the last thing that I would say and this one's big for me because this is one of those things in retrospect that I'm like "Oh my goodness." But I think so many of us long to figure out ways to be in relationship with people that are different than us. To meaningfully enter in with people whatever on the margins or with struggles or challenges different than ours. And when I think back on my time in the restaurant industry I was never so connected with and proximate to people with very many layers and barriers to flourishing as I was then and I certainly found joy in interacting with them knowing them spending time with them conversing which is amazing.
If that's what you're doing that's incredible, then I'm not down-playing that at all. But I just think about how hard it is how hard it feels right now in my... This life to be in proximity with people with... Whether it's someone learning the English language or struggling with the realities of being separated from family and not having the privilege of traveling back and forth or coming out of incarceration and figuring out how to rebuild their life, that was just every day. And so thinking now I was like "Man what an opportunity if you're in a position or an industry that brings you in proximity with those people who I think yeah as Christians it's a privilege to walk with and have relationship with." Don't overlook that. And the further you maybe move up the chain or whatever it might be or move away from the industry you're in. Yeah it might also move you further away from the people that God is deeply at work in and longs for his people to join him in that work.
LA: That's a really beautiful place to end. Thank you so much. Teena Dare thank you so much for sharing your work and your faith on our podcast today.
MR: Yeah. Thanks Teena. That's been a great conversation.
TD: Thanks so much for having me.
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