Friday, September 02, 2005

The Economy of Hospitality

[Dear readers: I moved this up because I think it got buried under a ton of other postings, and it was long, and I was hoping some of you got the chance to read it. I'll try to slow down the postings because I hope you'll also have a chance to take a look at the Harper's article of May, 2005 referenced in "Get A Cup Of Coffee and Read This" -- P.B.]

After spending another weekend traveling for professional reasons, it occurs to me that hospitality is currency for those who are not in the lucrative professions.

Let me try to explain.

If I had traveled, say, as the keynote speaker to a corporate convention, I would have flown first class, stayed in swanky, sterile hotel rooms, expensed every bit of food and drink that passed my lips, and been whisked from place to place in a car with a driver.

But that's not the life I've chosen; nor is it the life I want. I am not a corporate bigwig. I am a minister and therefore a servant. It's really, really hard for this Material Girl to remember that. All that affluence in my formative years doesn't help. But still, I try. As Howard Thurman wrote, "Keep before me the moments of my high resolve."

What I did this weekend was travel to an ordination at the request of one called to the ministry from out of our congregations -- someone I worked with when he was a lay leader and someone I love and care about. He asked me to preach the sermon, and I accepted the honor.

I searched for low fares on I left sufficient kibble in the bowl for the cat, drove my 8-year old Honda to the airport an hour away and parked in remote parking (cheaper). I ate a ham and cheese sandwich between flights and God only knows where that receipt might be. I made sure to pack a small enough suitcase so that I could carry it on to all the flights.

Friends picked me up from the airport. We had wonderful $5 bowls of pho for dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. They bought me dinner, kept me up with beers and delightful conversation (no, wait- I kept them up) until 11:00 pm, and fed me breakfast the next morning. I slept in their comfortable guest room.

The next morning one of my friends delivered me at the appointed hour to a local church, where I preached the morning service. For that, I received $150 (the sermon was one I'd given before, and I spent between 3-4 hours revamping it, preparing the other words I would say in the service, and talking on the phone with the lay liturgist). I was taken out to lunch afterward by a friend and colleague.

I took a nap, shook the wrinkles out of my next outfit, and had a shower at home of same friend and colleague before the afternoon service. I arrived back at the church, participated in the ordination service (the sermon had taken something between 8 to 10 hours to write), and had dinner afterward with more friends and colleagues. Total cost: $20.00. Two beers and bratwurst.

Because I am terrified of tiny planes, I hitched a ride with good friends (some of the ministerial colleagues who had been at the service) to their house a couple of hours away near my hub airport, which would save me the terror of climbing on a tiny prop plane the next day. Their invitation to come home with them was instant, genuine and enthusiastic. I stayed up talking until about 1:00 a.m., was nourished by the company and the big glasses of water we drank (it had been so hot in the church that I soaked through my clothes and made puddles in my shoes), and slept until 10:00 a.m. next morning. Upon rising, I had friends to talk with, their fresh coffee to drink and their biscuits and eggs to eat, and a comfortable backyard to sit in and listen to the birds. I knew the house, as it had been previously inhabited by a dear mentor and his wife. Therefore, the very house felt like a friend.

I was driven to the airport in good company, got on my flight, picked up my car, paid about $40 for parking, and drove myself home.

The total cost of the trip was something like $500. The so called "profit" from the trip was the $150 preaching fee (minus a few ham sandwiches, some bottles of Dasani water, a bag of Doritos, and about $10 worth of tips). The hidden "cost" was giving up a few days of vacation, and of course the great labor of composing the sermon.

In corporate America, the same trip may have cost a company close to $4000 (airfare, driver, meals, hotel). The keynote speaker would have been paid at least that (maybe far more: what do I know?). The profit to the speaker, therefore, would have been thousands of dollars free and clear. The missing elements would have been: dinner and an overnight with 2 friends, the experience of meeting an entire congregation and sharing two emotionally bonding services with them, lunch with another friend, renewing ties with a beloved former congregant (now minister) and at least 8 other admired colleagues, having the honor of becoming a tiny part of the history of our religious Association (in that the Certificate of Ordination will be kept on file at our association headquarters), sharing the lore of my profession over a wonderfully rowdy dinner, and a subsequent "sleepover" with two favorite people. I like to think, also, that some of the sermon might make it into the folklore of our generation of ministers.

So who walks away richer after such a weekend? The corporate keynoter, or the minister?

It really depends on your definition of currency.


Blogger UUpdater said...

I am confused regarding your accounting. Profit is defined as the amount of income in excess of the cost of the endeavor. So, if you spent $500+ in travel and other costs, and recieved a $150 honorarium, then the profit from the trip is negative $350 (otherwise known as a loss). Did I follow this correctly?

I would like to point at ahead of time I am not asking to "tease" you if you got your accounting terms incorrect, but rather to "look out" for you. For some reason I had a mental image of you reporting this endeavor to the IRS as $150 profit that you need to pay taxes on.

On another note your post reminds me of a conversation some friends and I had regarding creating a board game called "the Game of Real Life". Basically a take off of the game of Life in which the object was to lead a deeply fulfilling life and not simply try to accumulate wealth, with a side bonus of possibly having multiple winners. You are right, there is way more to life than money.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

You've very dear to be concerned: it wasn't clear. But yes, I will be reimbursed for travel expenses by the church I travelled to.

Blogger Kim said...

And it is obvious which kind of currency you consider more important -- by becoming a minister you "put your money where your mouth is". As somone who is not a minister, I find I get odd comments at work about "I don't know what motivates you." and "How can you forget to pick up your paycheck?" Our culture is so materialistic, people don't even recognize what it is to be not focused on material wealth. An interesting phenomenon.


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