Friday, February 1, 2013

Clergy Already Have An Imagine Problem, And Now We Have This

When I was in seminary I worked for Kinko's, and one day a member of the clergy came in wearing their collar so it was obvious who and what they were.  They then proceeded to be belligerent, rude and several other very uncharitable things, treating the staff like they were trash and certainly of a much lower personhood than this minister was.  After they left the staff looked at me, the one training to join that group, for some explanation, and I had none.

That experience left an impression on me, and one I have also tried to convey to others, that when you are a pastor, especially if you can be identified as such, that you are always on.  Maybe that person was having a bad day, although they were always like that so I doubt that, but even if you are then take your collar off, or go lock yourself in your office, home or sanctuary until you can be civil and treat people with decency and respect, because it reflects not just on you, but on other clergy and on the church in general.

I was thinking of that story when I first heard of the story, which I'm sure most of you have already heard, of a receipt left at an Applebee's restaurant in which an automatic gratuity was added, and the person crossed it off and wrote "I give God 10%, why do you get 18."  And as if that is not arrogant and ignorant enough, they then inexplicably wrote pastor next to their name, I guess to somehow justify what they were saying.

The server who posted the receipt online, on an atheist section nonetheless, did not blur out the persons name and so this pastor was tracked down and identified as Alois Bell, who later said "I've brought embarrassment to my church and my ministry."  I think that might be an understatement, because she has also brought embarrassment, again, to clergy and Christians as a whole.  And then to make matters worse, she complained to Applebee's who have now fired the server.

Now we might discuss the entire idea of tipping, but the simple fact is under the current system the only way servers make money is through tips.  I know there are lots of people who complain about having to tip servers, and who do so sparingly, but they are people who have never waited tables for a living.  The minimum wage for tipped employees is $2.13 a hour, and yes you read that correctly.  I don't know anyone who has ever worked for tips who doesn't tip very well, even if the service is absolutely terrible, and yes this includes me.

But the terrible fact is, restaurant employees know that the worst time for tips is if they see everyone at a table bow in prayer before a meal, the tip has just gone down significantly, and on Sunday mornings.  In his book, Justin Lee recounts his first job in a restaurant:
"Sundays are the worst," one of the servers explained to me. "That's when the church crowd goes out to eat."
"What's wrong with the church crowd?" I asked.
"Oh, honey," she said. "They're usually the most demanding, and they're always the worst tippers. I guarantee you, if you see your table praying before the meal, you can mentally subtract a third from your tip."
Standing nearby, the manager cracked a smile. "They already gave at church," he said. "They don't have any money left." 
I'm sure that this waitress would have been fine taking the 10% that Rev. Bell gives to God, instead of the small 18% of the bill, mandated, it should be noted, by the restaurant who fired her not by the waitress. If there were problems with the service and you don't think they deserved that tip, then please raise it with management, but don't make this a "God" issue, because God has nothing to do with it.

And it's not just servers in restaurants who experience this type of behavior.  I knew someone who worked for the City of Santa Fe and he said he knew he was really going to hear it whenever someone began the conversation by saying "I'm a Christian...."  As soon as those words were spoken he knew he was about to hear a tirade and words unlike he would hear from anyone else, including drunken sailors.

We have enough image problems without things like this happening which only perpetuate the negative image that so many people have of the church and of clergy in general, and the fact that this story has gone on so long only highlights that reality.   And where is the sense of radical hospitality, or any hospitality, in this message?  Is this what we are called to do?

Every morning I pray a prayer while I'm in the shower, and the last line says "I pray that I might live as your child today and honor you in all that I do."  Am I always successful at that?  No. Sometimes I fail miserably, just ask my family, for which I give thanks for grace and mercy and extend that to all involved in this situation.  But maybe if all of us who proclaim Christ were to not only say that, but to live it out, then the perception of Christians and of Christianity would be radically different.

If we tried to live so that the glory of God would be manifested in us and our actions I think the world would be a different place, and instead of slandering God's name with notes like this, Rev. Bell might instead have given more money, and written simply "May God bless you today and every day."  I know that God's grace is with Rev. Bell, and I hope she truly knows what a terrible mistake she made, and maybe next time she, and all of us, will simply extend God's grace and God's radical hospitality to those we meet as well.

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