The restaurant was on the top floor of the hotel with a nice view of downtown. There was a small bar near the entrance. A handful of hotel visitors were enjoying complementary drinks and watching the Olympics on a flat-screen television.
I was greeted by Melody, a transplant from Erie, Pa., who doubles as a bartender and a server. When I mentioned I had a food voucher, she offered condolences for my scrambled travel plans. She also offered me a free beer.
Glass in hand, I picked a table in a corner of the restaurant, ordered a spinach salad and went back to reading a book about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the long struggle to get the country to live up to its ideal that everyone should be treated as an equal child of God.
I couldn’t help but think about my 10 days in Arizona watching the state legislature debate and ultimately pass a bill that would allow business owners and individuals to refuse service to anyone on grounds of religious freedom. The impetus was a New Mexico case involving a photographer who refused to take photos of a gay couple.
The bill was promoted as a religious liberty issue. Opponents pointed out that it was the definition of discrimination — certain people singled out for unequal treatment.
And the bill doesn’t apply only to sexual preference. It would allow anyone to refuse to serve anyone so long as they can justify it as an exercise in religion. There would be no requirement that the person refusing service is being consistent in their practice. For instance, they could refuse to serve someone who violates one Biblical injunction while readily serving those who violate many other Biblical injunctions.
Isn’t this discrimination counterfeiting as religion? Personal prejudice cross-dressing as devotion?
And I couldn’t escape the delicious irony in all of it: The bill was promoted by those claiming to follow a Jewish rabbi who insists that his followers should love without hesitation or reservation and serve others without condition or judgment.
Is it any wonder why so many people throw up their hands and run away from what sometimes gets passed off as religion? Why is it that those who describe themselves as non-religious often grasp the spirit of religion far better than those who go to church religiously?
As those thoughts went through my head, another glass of beer showed up at my table. During one of her passes down the aisle, Melody noticed that I was nearly finished with the first one and went out of her way to bring me another.
She showed me an act of kindness. She did it without asking any questions about my beliefs, my lifestyle or my values.
She saw I was thirsty and gave me a drink. That’s all.
When I was thirsty, you brought me a beer. When I wanted a photo, you took my picture. You did it with kindness and without question. You showed me what it means to serve unconditionally.
You lived those words: Love one another.