By Chris Raymond
Chris works in Quantitative Strategy at Veterans United Home Loans in Columbia, MIssouri.
After graduating from Mizzou, he spent nine years in academia, first in New Orleans, and more recently in Northern Ireland. When he is not crunching numbers, he can be found with his wife, Haley, walking their dog, Leila.
A few summers ago, I was lucky enough to travel to Greece. I spent a lot of time in undergrad studying ancient Greece, dreaming of one day being able to visit and see the sights for myself: to climb the same steps that Pericles had taken to reach the Parthenon, walk the portico where the Stoics had debated just out of reach from the hot Athens sun, view the theatre stage where Aristophanes’ plays entertained the city, and spend an afternoon on the grounds of Aristotle’s Lyceum. Touring these ruins was everything I had hoped for and more.
But the part of the trip that made the deepest impression on me was the night spent in a small family restaurant at the bottom of the hill leading to the Parthenon. It was conveniently located just outside the major train station where all the tourists who had just arrived in downtown Athens from the airport would walk by on their way to the hotels and attractions nearby, and so it likely did a lot of business. By chance (one that is fortuitous to this story), on the evening my wife and I dined at this restaurant, several passing thunderstorms convinced us to eat inside rather than sit on the patio, where it seemed the restaurant did most of its business during nicer weather.
I mention that it was a family restaurant because this fact became clear the moment we entered. Most of the servers bore a striking resemblance to what I gathered was the patriarch of the family, who gave directions to the wait staff throughout the night, sometimes in rough fashion (one can get away with this when dealing with family), and other times in more familiar fashion, as he did when kissing goodbye one of the young waitresses (in a way that Greeks do with family but not employees) as she left her shift early for some event on the town. Beyond these clues, there was also the fact that most of the staff could be found in one of dozens of family photographs the restaurateur proudly displayed on the walls of the dining room.
The owner of this restaurant was clearly very proud of his family because these photos were hung next to other markers of pride on the walls. Along with the photos and maps of Greece giving special attention to the myriad islands in the Aegean Sea (Greeks revel in their heritage as a sea-faring people), the Greek flag adorned the walls in ways that would be familiar to Americans but repulsive to most (non-Greek) Europeans. All this is to say that this restaurant owner held his family in roughly equal regard to the pride he took in being Greek.
But it was the item that the restauranteur held in even higher regard that struck me profoundly. Just above the “No Smoking” sign—the only sign in the restaurant printed in English rather than the Greek alphabet, under which an old man sat the whole night smoking cigarettes—was a painting of Jesus in the traditional Greek style, reverently displayed on the wall. The location of this painting, displayed at a height above all others, suggested that this restauranteur held his faith dearest of all. The fact it was displayed right above the “No Smoking” sign that everyone who either dined inside the restaurant or merely used the restroom passed by on their way out meant that all who visited would see this painting.
Anyone who dined inside long enough to see that this was displayed among a collection of the other parts of his life that he held most dear would recognize the importance of his faith.
When I thought about it, I realized that this seemingly small act was a powerful statement.
Not only does passing by this painting several times a day help to reinforce his own faith (reminding him of the beauty God has given us in this world), but this man was performing an act of confession that has a big impact, evangelizing his faith to the thousands of visitors from around the globe who dine at his restaurant every year. Even though I doubt he could communicate verbally with most of his patrons—he could read the English-language menu when we pointed to our order, but showed no interest in speaking it, while my pronunciation of the kebab plate in Greek led him to refer me back to the English menu—this restauranteur was able to communicate the deepest values and beliefs he held most dearly by the simple choice to hang a piece of art.
All this demonstrated the importance of the choices we make on the seemingly small issues every day. While we are most consumed by the big decisions, the simple choices are often the most consequential because they can reinforce (or totally derail) the conditions that make reaching the bigger goals possible. In this example, if choosing to place a painting of Christ on the wall reflects this man’s hierarchy of values, and if his values led him to share his faith with the world in the only way he can communicate it, then my sharing of this story is a testament to the impact of his choice to hang a painting on the wall. If this man can accomplish his goal of evangelization by choosing to perform a simple everyday act, then what excuse do the rest of us have?
I think back to this man and his restaurant on warm summer days. It reminds me to keep making the simple choices that may produce virtuous cycles and lead to bigger changes. It was with this in mind on one of those occasions reminiscing about this man and his restaurant that I acquired a painting of Christ in the Greek Orthodox style to hang on the wall in my house. I am excited to see what comes of this simple choice.