And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2, ESV)

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:19, ESV) 

I’ve worked in restaurants on and off for ten years. I know. It’s too long.

When I moved to the city, I swore up and down that I would never work in a restaurant again. Then I worked in a couple of offices and did not love the inflexibility of the hours and the return on investment. Your hourly wage didn’t change week to week, and I guess there’s something to that. Working for tips is a bigger risk, but when it’s good, it’s really good. And so I went back.

At the time, I was auditioning for shows and the amount of time commitment required for a solid payday was too much to resist. Plus, if I worked dinner, I could go to auditions in the morning before work.

My friend Marley got me in at this Indian place she worked down in SoHo.

Let me tell you a little about Marley. She and I met back in North Carolina. She was a freshman at the high school where I was a Young Life leader. In case you aren’t familiar with the organization, Young Life is a Christian outreach organization for high schoolers. Leaders (usually college students, but not always) go to a local high school and meet students, build relationships, and then take them to a weekly event where they get to hear about Jesus. Marley was one of these high schoolers I hung out with.

It’s not as sketchy as it sounds.

But the whole point of Young Life is to build the relationship and foster the relationship whether the high schooler ever has any interest in Jesus or not. When I started leading, Marley was brand-new to the school, and she was basically the only girl in our little group of friends who did not attend church. She was very open about it. Even if she weren’t, you could tell by the questions she asked.

Because Marley didn’t grow up in church, she asked different questions and had different answers from the other girls. She thought about Jesus differently.

She wanted to talk about Jesus and spirituality, but she never committed to Jesus. But Marley is a deep and thoughtful person, and we have remained friends. Now that we’re both here in the city, the dynamic is different. We got to work together; we are both singers and songwriters. And now we can drink together, so that’s a fun thing.

I don’t work at that Indian restaurant anymore, but I’m still friends with most of the people I worked with. In fact, one of them is doing sound for my podcast.

I think us churchy people get a little up tight about non-churchy people. The Pharisees were always ragging on Jesus for hanging out with the “wrong sorts of people.” There is obviously merit in surrounding yourself with people who also love Jesus. But non-churchy people have a lot to offer. I think Jesus was onto something by hanging out with people who aren’t so caught up with the self-righteousness and legalism of the Pharisees. 

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never had the antagonistic “you’re a Christian, that’s dumb” sort of conversation that evangelicalism warned me about. In fact, all of my friends who aren’t jazzed about Jesus have been very respectful when we’ve had spiritual conversations. They ask great questions about what I believe, not to trip me up, but because they care about me and they know my faith is important to me.

Christians don’t have a monopoly on caring about our fellow human beings.

Pretty much all the people who I still keep in touch with from the restaurant read this blog and frequently send me encouraging texts. They are interested in what I am doing, not because they think there’s some sort of eternal pay off for them, but because they are genuinely interested in me. And that has been a gift.

I think about Jesus and my faith differently because of my non-believer friends. It forces me to think about the things I take for granted, to consider why I make the decisions that I make. As Jonathan Merritt puts it in his book Learning to Speak God from Scratch, I have to think, “What am I saying when I’m saying what I’m saying?”

It is a constant challenge and a constant joy.