Chick-fil-a, A Love Story

When I walk into a Chick-fil-a, I feel like I’m with my people. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that my people would never step into a McDonald’s. Man, my people have been thrown out of McDonald’s before. I won’t tell you which of my people.

It’s just that when I walk into a Chick-fil-a I feel like I’m back with some of the folks who helped to shape me. I worked at the Chick-fil-a in Southlake Mall, just south of Atlanta, Georgia for a few years during high school and college. David ran the place. You were just as likely to see him emptying a trash can as you were to find him in his office. He showed me that no one at Chick-fil-a, even the really important people, were too important to take out the trash. Renae and his brother Brent were assistant managers. If they saw us standing around not doing anything, they would always yell, “If you got time to lean, you got time to clean.” I hated hearing that. But now, a couple of decades later, I’m sure glad that I did. Sam was there too. We spent a lot of time together busting up boxes and unloading trucks out back while singing old country music songs off key.

People told me that once I started working at Chick-fil-a I would get sick of the food and not want to eat it anymore.

They were wrong.

But now that I’m older I’ve had to cut back on the number of chicken sandwiches I eat. In my diet, waffle fries have been replaced with organic, free range unicorn fur. But last week I was on vacation so I put the unicorn fur to the side and took my family to the Chick-fil-a in Panama City Beach, Florida. As soon as I walked into that store, I knew that I was with my people. As crazy as it sounds, I looked behind the counter for David, Renae, Brent and Sam.

They weren’t there.

But in a way, they were.

The guy who took my order was wearing a tie. That meant that he’s pretty important on the Chick-fil-a chain of command. But he wasn’t too important to stop what he was doing, take my order and tell me, “Go Dawgs” when he saw my Georgia hat. I learned that he was from Henry County, just below the Chick-fil-a where I worked and just above the place where I live now. I asked him why he moved out of Henry County.

He looked at me like I was crazy.

“I had to get away from the traffic.”

He made a good move.

There was another lady behind the counter. She too was wearing important clothing. But she was working on filling up cups with sweet tea like her life depended on it. I’m sure that whatever managerial training she had in the past didn’t focus too much on the proper way to fill a cup with ice and tea. But you wouldn’t know it from watching her. She had obviously learned the lesson well that I had learned from David all of those years ago. No one is too important for the job that needs to be done.

While I was eating, I noticed another worker. This girl was wearing the standard issue uniform and she was sweeping nugget crumbs out from under the booth behind us and piling it up next to her. I’ll bet ten people walked through that pile and spread it back out all over the floor. She never said a word. She just swept it back up each time. One day she’ll probably run a Chick-fil-a of her own and get to wear important people clothes. But she’ll still sweep the floor.

Eventually, we walked out of that Chick-fil-a and back into the rest of our vacation.  A few days later, my in-laws stopped in and volunteered to watch the kids so that my wife and I could go out on a date. I don’t take these opportunities for granted so I did my research. I stopped at every beach side restaurant I could find and asked for a menu. Pretty much every one of them said something like this.

Chicken Flëur de la Crępe Scallops 

A one ounce portion of lightly grilled chicken fused with two sprinkles of scallops with a side of Flëur de la Crępe shipped in from a tiny fishing village in Germany.

$72.50

So for our date night, my wife and I went back to that Chick-fil-a in Panama City Beach, Florida.

It was all her idea.

I promise.

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Watch What You Say At Chick-fil-A, Cuz

A Chick-fil-a manager has made a splash on social media because of a list of words and phrases he is forbidding his employees to use. Eric, the manager, doesn’t want his employees accusing each other, or customers for that matter, of having Ebola. He doesn’t want them referring to others as cuz or Felicia or claiming to be legally blind.

As you can imagine, the Internet has gotten its collective undergarments in a bunch over this. Eric is the bad guy. He’s taking away his employee’s right to free speech. He’s on the wrong side of history. He’s racist. He’s homophobic. Boo, Eric!

But I say that Eric deserves a big hooray! We’ve all been in stores before where employees  fall all over themselves not to help you. And the one who loses and has to help you has the communication skills and business sense of a bucket of hammers. Eric is trying to stop that. Again, hooray for Eric! And we wonder why the Chick-fil-a parking lot is always full while the crowd over at Hardee’s is just a tad larger than what one would find during the 2nd quarter of a Georgia Tech football game.

Along with saying hooray for Eric, I think that we should carry this plan out in other areas of life. More leaders need to demand proper verbalization and respect from their employees. So with that in mind, and in honor of Eric, I’ve developed my own list of words and phrases that should be phased out in certain areas of life.

The Media

You shall no longer use the phrases boots on the ground, from Wall Street to Main Street, Breaking News, News Alert, Breaking Now or similar variations. I’m looking at you, Fox News. If even 15% of your News Alerts were actually worthy of your hype, we’d all be living in The Walking Dead right now. No one needs to hear a Fox News Alert about how Eminem said something meant to Anderson Cooper.

Church

The word, fine shall no longer be used in church buildings. When you go to church you will be asked how you are doing. This cannot be avoided. But the same old answer can. If you don’t like the question, just give it an honest answer and you probably won’t be asked it again.

Greeter: “Hi, Chuck. How are you?”

Chuck: “Terrible. I stayed up all night in a fit of rage after watching my favorite team, the Auburn War Criminals, fumble away a certain victory. To settle down, I spent a few hours listening to Ray LaMontagne on vinyl. That sent me into a bit of a funk and the next thing I knew it was 10:00 in the morning. I figured that this was as good a place as any to sleep so here I am. How are you?”

Problem solved.

Sports

Athletes, fans and coaches shall no longer be allowed to use the following words and phrases.

“One game at a time.”

“It is what it is.”

“I was misquoted.”

“I apologize to those who may have been offended.”

“Not guilty, your honor.”

“At the end of the day.”

“War Eagle.”

“Roll Tide.”

In other words, there will no longer be any sports interviews and ESPN will have to cut back to two channels and only show the games without their standard six hours of commentary and debate.

You can see my plan working already!

Eric, thank you for your example. Don’t listen to all of the naysayers. Continue to hold your employees accountable. Know that we are all behind you on this one. And together we will never forget one of the most important phrases known to mankind.

“Eat more chicken.”

I Never Got To Meet Truett Cathy

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I never got to meet Truett Cathy.

On Sunday night, my wife told me that Mr. Cathy wasn’t doing well.

On Monday morning, I got the news that he had died.

I felt like I had lost a life-long friend. In a way, I did.

My first job, as far as the IRS is concerned, was at the Chick-fil-a in the Southlake Mall on the south side of Atlanta, Georgia. I grew up eating at Chick-fil-a. When I started working there people told me that I’d never want to eat a Chick-fil-a sandwich again. They told me that having them for break everyday and seeing all of the dirt and grime back in the kitchen would bring a quick change to my dietary habits.

They were wrong.

I did eat Chick-fil-a everyday at work. It never got old.

And there was no dirt and grime in the whole store. You could eat off of the bathroom floor in that place.

That doesn’t just happen. The brand of excellence one consistently finds at Chick-fil-a is the result of the strong leadership of Truett Cathy. And it’s the result of a lot of hard work.

I didn’t really appreciate working at Chick-fil-a until I left. Some of the managers were tough. One always said, “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.” I hated that. But I was learning something, indirectly, from a man I never met.

I was learning the value of hard work.

Years later, long after my working days at Chick-fil-a were done, I was having lunch with a man who was in charge of a ministry that provided housing for kids with no place else to go. He was telling me all about his passion and his mission. After lunch, he took me on a tour of his place. There were little houses everywhere. As we drove along, he would stop to tell me something about each one. One house was for unwed young mothers. Another one was for boys. Each house had something that set it apart from the rest.

But there was one constant.

Truett Cathy.

“Truett gave us the washer and dryer for that house.”

“Truett paid for this one to be remodeled.”

I learned something else that day from the man that I never met.

Hard work and the rewards that come with it serve a greater purpose than simply having more stuff than the other guy. Followers of Christ use the fruit of their hard work to love God and their neighbor. Truett Cathy was a hard worker. And that hard work really paid off for him. But above any of that, Truett Cathy was a follower of Christ.

It’s easy to think that God’s two favorite jobs are pastor and missionary, as if people in those positions are the only ones who can be serious about following Jesus full-time. Truett showed us the truth. He showed us that, while they have their own place and function, a chicken sandwich can bring just as much glory to God as a sermon. Especially when that chicken sandwich is crafted with excellence and its fruit benefits “orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27).

I’m sorry that I never got to meet Truett Cathy. And I’m sorry that my kids will only know him through second-hand stories. But at least they can still reap the benefits of his chicken sandwich.

And maybe even one day, like their dad, they too can learn valuable lessons from Mr. Cathy.

A man they’ll never meet.

Here on earth, at least.

Blowin’ Snow On The South

Wimps.

That was the word used in a northern newspaper headline to describe people from the south. Just because we don’t know how to drive in a couple of inches of snow.

The south can’t get a break. If a heavy thunderstorm comes within 30 miles of New York City it’s all the media ever talks about for a month. There are even benefit concerts with Bruce Springsteen headlining. And it’s never just a New York problem. The talking heads on the news are sure to remind us that New York’s problem is America’s problem. And whoever happens to be New York’s mayor/governor/czar is, by default, America’s mayor/governor/czar.

On the other hand, when a rare snow storm shuts down a few cities in the south, it’s because we’re backwards. And we’re wimps.

I wasn’t aware that not being able to drive in the snow classified one as being a wimp. Quickly, here is a list of a few people who I’m quite sure would not be able to drive in the snow.

1. John Wayne

2. King David

3. Bruce Lee

So, if in fact we are wimps, at least we’re in good company.

And backwards?

Talk to me in six months when the news is reporting about a “heat wave” that is ravaging New England with highs in the mid 80s.

“But you don’t understand,” I’m reminded by my friends from the north. “Most of the houses up there don’t have central air conditioning.”

Interesting. And we’re the ones who are backwards?

But maybe being called a backwards wimp isn’t so bad.

Especially when a “backwards” man in Alabama named Mark Meadows reopened his Chick-fil-a restaurant during our little snow storm so that he could cook chicken and hand it out, free of charge, to stranded motorists. When asked why they were doing this, one of Mr. Meadows’ employees said that helping those in need was more important than earning a dollar.

And how about the wimpy students just north of Atlanta at Kennesaw State University? They spent Tuesday afternoon pushing cars out of ditches and up hills. On Wednesday, they woke up early to do it all again.

Strangely, all of this generosity happened without the prodding of some new government program. No federal tax dollars were spent when those kids pushed cars, Mark Meadows reopened his store and dozens of Home Depots turned into temporary shelters. How does something like that happen without government intervention in such a backwards part of the world?

While it is true that southerners aren’t the best at driving in the snow, that wasn’t really the problem that caused the rest of the country to look down their collective noses at us. The real culprit was the poor planning of bureaucrats and elected officials. I’m sure that nobody up north can relate to the misguided actions of a few government officials negatively impacting the lives of thousands of people.

With the exception of a brief stint in Louisville, Kentucky, I’ve lived in the south all of my life. Sorry. Louisville is a nice place but it’s just not the south. When you order sweet tea in a restaurant and they inform you that there is sugar on the table, you officially are not in the south. Anyway, I’ve lived most of my life in the south. It’s far from perfect. But it is home.

I’ve got friends down here that may not be much for driving in the snow but are sure enough good at building sheds in their backyard with their own hands, fixing Jeeps and checking in on widows when it starts to get cold outside. There are a lot of words I could use to describe these men. Wimp is not one of them.

I’ve preached a lot of funeral services. At most of them I stand in a room with the family to say a final prayer before the service begins. The funeral director is always very clear.

“I need the family to come into this room over here so that the preacher can pray with you before the service begins. Just the family.”

Most of the funerals I preach are for white families. But at a lot of those funerals, when I pray with “just the family” there are several black men and women in there with us. Just the family. The kind that runs deeper than skin color. That is not to say that race relations are everything that they are supposed to be in the south. Far from it. But maybe the south isn’t quite as backwards as one might think.

By the weekend all of our snow will be gone. But you’ll still be able to smell fried chicken when you drive through the center of the town where I live. And the next time it snows, some of us will have a hard time going up a hill or getting our car out of a ditch. That’s okay. Because while we’re waiting on a friend to show up in his 4-wheel drive and pull us out, we’ll probably be able to get some free chicken.

If that’s backwards, I’m okay with that.

Besides, I never was much of a Springsteen fan anyway.

The New Gluttony

People are obsessed with food. I learned this in high school when I had a job at Chick-fil-a. Before I got hired, a friend warned me.

“Look out, people turn into jerks when it comes to food.”

He was right. Apparently people don’t like it when you give them soda water instead of Sprite and run away from them when you see them coming to your register with a confused look and 41 coupons. Jerks.

It’s been twenty years since I had that job and not much has changed. We’re still obsessed with food. But it may not be the kind of obsession you think.

The kind of obsession that first comes to mind is gluttony. Drive by a Golden Corral right now and tell me what you see in the parking lot. I’ll wait here.

Okay, what did you see? About 130 cars in the parking lot, right? Go back in two hours. Same thing. And, no doubt, some of those cars you saw two hours ago are still there. If you dare to walk in, you will find at least one guy in his pajamas, socks and Crocs trying to figure out how to rescue the mashed potatoes he accidentally dropped in the chocolate fountain.

This dangerous obsession with food is what we call gluttony. It’s probably the first thing that came to your mind when I mentioned our obsession with food.

But there is another form of gluttony. The New Gluttony. The food obsession is still there. It’s just that the typical results aren’t. The New Gluttony isn’t concerned with mashed potatoes and chocolate fountains but rather body mass index and all-natural, gluten free pita chips.

The issue isn’t the food. It never is. The real problem is the heart. Old school gluttony convinces my heart that one more trip to the buffet will satisfy me. The New Gluttony promises the same result with one more trip to the health food store. But the difference with New Gluttony is that it tends to make me look down on all of the food pagans who aren’t quite as health conscious as I am and dare eat at Hardees.

Take Maria Kang, for example. She is the mother of three kids and she likes to work out. She’s also not too happy about the fact that you’re not working out. That’s why she posted a picture of herself in minimal workout attire on Facebook with her three kids under the headline, “What’s Your Excuse?”

Translation: I’ve had three kids and I’m in shape. Why are you so fat?

You can imagine how this brought joy to the hearts of moms everywhere.

“Yippee! Another crazy standard to live up to. When can I start?”

Food is a gift from God. Some people like God’s gift of pork chops wrapped in bacon and marinated in various pig juices. I’m not one of those people. Others like God’s gift of Newman’s Own cereal. That’s me. But who cares? We’re all different and we all have different tastes in food. Gluttony, either the old or the new variety, is the result of worshiping the gift instead of the gift giver. In their own unique ways, both forms of gluttony prevent us from enjoying the gift of food by making us slaves to it.

The pork chop eater and the Newman’s Own disciple have at least one thing in common. They will both die. And when they do, God will not ask for their body mass index or if they had a good time with the chocolate fountain.

His concern will be worship.

And if we worship anything other than him, no matter how enjoyable or healthy it may be, there will be no excuse.