The painting in the photograph below hangs in The Loveless Café—which, even though it sounds like a setting from a Carson McCullers short story, is actually a diner on the outskirts of Nashville, TN. Offerings there range from a full Country Breakfast to Fried Catfish and Barbeque. Gravy is plentiful. And the biscuits are amazing. Even people who don’t eat meat leave feeling full—very full!–and satisfied. The walls are lined with autographed photos of celebrities, many of them from the world of country music. The folks who work there make all visitors feel at home, and the line of people waiting for a table often spills out into the parking lot.
There, in a side dining area, on a wall by the passageway to the rest rooms, hangs the painting you see above. It is a rendering of Jesus giving a blessing. The text at the top says, “Quit Your Meanness” and below are the words, “Do Right Not Wrong.” At first it seems contradictory: The Loveless Café is a happy place, where people are gathering and being fed. Why would such a reminder (not Scriptural, but perhaps a summary/interpretation of what Jesus might want to say about how we treat one another) need to be posted in the midst of an experience of abundance?
The artist may or may not have intended it this way, but that particular painting in that particular place is a commission of sorts. It serves as a reminder of the expansive reality offered to us when we gather at the Eucharist; when we are fed and sustained to show up for our lives. Those moments of God-given nourishment when we can most easily access strength to center ourselves in doing right by others; quitting any meanness we might find surfacing in our words or deeds.
It was telling that this painting was not the first thing customers encountered at the Loveless Café. They didn’t see this message when they were hungry and focused on their immediate needs. Most diners saw it when they were on their way out. As it should be. Doing right is not the prerequisite for getting fed. Whether it’s Communion, community, connection, or just really good biscuits, being fed strengthens us in our attempts to quit whatever shrinks our souls and choose instead to walk in the way of God’s bountiful Grace.