Sunday, December 4, 2011

Nice or good?

December 4, 2011

Dear friends,

The old hotel has a fabled history. It shared the early days of the city’s tumultuous beginning as a mining town. Now it sits sedately on its oddly angled corner, neighboring companionably with its old friend the Methodist Church. The two of them remain elegant brownstone anomalies among the steel and glass towers that have grown up around them.

Among the traditions observed at the hotel is Holiday High Tea.

Arrival for High Tea itself retains a bit of old ceremony. The doorman [in splendid uniform, of course] solemnly commits the care of one’s automobile to a valet. Then with an official welcome, he carefully shepherds his charges through the heavy revolving door into the formal old foyer. Even when suffering from what must have seemed to that old building to be frivolous holiday finery, the beautiful space of that old entry managed somehow to retain its discreet gravitas: we had arrived at an important place for an important event.

Directly off the foyer (walking with sedate dignity, of course), we entered an equally dignified dining room now glowing with small lights and ribboned wreaths, pots of poinsettias a thread of red and gold at the edge of the greenery on the stairs. There an elegant hostess carefully seated elegantly dressed people at elegantly set tables where they were served with elegantly prepared tea—cucumber sandwiches, scones, tiny tea cakes with elegant frosting, and carefully brewed tea in thin china cups.

One does not hurry at High Tea.

Grandmothers carefully monitored small girls in velvet dresses. Mothers and adult daughters observed High Tea while they talked about shopping and holiday events. At the same time, without words, they celebrated family through the High Tea liturgy that played out the traditions and values of a vanished time. A small number of men were present too, of course--grandfathers, fathers escorting daughters to a special holiday treat, employers with assistants and secretaries being gifted with time and tea in an old and courtly environment. And business colleagues came—men and women treating themselves to brief holiday refuge from the coffee and corporate efficiency of their business world.

High Tea was a holiday adventure for me, the generous gift of a friend.

I shall enjoy the gift often in years to come, revisiting the beauty of that old building and the elegant memory of High Tea.

The gift left me with more than a memory, however. It left me with a question.

How does the environment in which we interact shape our relationships?

In the beauty and elegance of that time at High Tea, was I watching good people, or nice people with good manners? Can one distinguish between the two?

Do two nice people with elegant manners automatically produce a good relationship?

When Paul wrote the Galatian Christians that the presence of the Spirit of God within them would produce goodness, somehow I don’t think Paul meant that the fruit of the Spirit was simply an increase in nice manners.

While I firmly believe that good manners are one of the by-products of faith-based living, I do not think that good manners are necessarily evidence of goodness as a trait of character.

I understand and accept that good manners are a prerequisite for attendance at High Tea. I also fervently wish for an increased abundance of good manners at many other functions in life that I am required to attend. Nevertheless, I make a distinction between obedience to directions from Emily Post and conformity with goals of the Spirit in terms of the person God means for me to become.

Thinking with you about goodness as something essentially different from those hallmark social behaviors that make us acceptable participants at High Tea.

See you next week.


1 comment:

  1. And sometimes, being good actually requires not being nice. That's the hardest part.

    So glad you had that lovely holiday outing. I hope your winter season is punctuated with happy, warm, bright interludes.