Those Guys are Awesome

Like many Americans, I spent a small slice of my life in the service industry. Several summers waiting tables, and nearly a year at hotel. I could spend days telling stories–good, bad and ugly–of the people i encountered in that time of my life. But in the interest of the broader message here, I’m going to share just two:

The Bad Tip:  It was a Sunday lunch shift. The ‘after church’ crowd who, in southeastern Kentucky and elsewhere in the Bible belt, are also known as the worst tippers ever. Seriously. So this one family–huge family–has asked for 84 refills (of sodas already served in mason jars–this was that kind of place), and left an epic mess of peanut shells on the floor (also that kind of place) and generally ordered one of everything on the menu. They paid and left, and with my receipt–on which they left no tip–was this note.

Here’s a tip. Service! Don’t bring the check out before asking if the customer wants dessert (–side note; when you’re used to working the  lunch shift, this is what you are trained to do. If someone wants dessert, you can always print another ticket, but it’s more likely they’re in a hurry). Server seems out of it. (um, the guy i was dating at the time was turning out to be a drug dealer? so yeah, i had some stuff on my mind). Not fully awake! (it could be that my eyes were red and puffy because this *%&$# has been blowing cigarette smoke in my face for two hours. Also that kind of place.)”

No, he did not try to have me fired. But seriously, what a rotten day. So let’s not dwell there. I’ll tell you instead about:

The good tip: Two guys passing through town for business came in for a late lunch. They were literally my only table for about an hour. They didn’t order anything complicated. I brought them refills, made small talk, etc. Took them their bill which was about $20. They handed me a $50-dollar bill and told me to keep the change. I laughed because i thought they were joking. I went to ring them up. Came back with their change. They were gone.

I’m no math wiz, but that’s like, 150% tip! And i remembered thinking that one of several things must be true. 1–they were super rich and it made them feel powerful to throw that kind of money around. 2–i must be looking super hot today. and/or 3–those were some really, really nice guys who genuinely wanted to make my day, even though i was a stranger and they’d probably never see me again.

I lean toward some combination of i was looking hot and those guys are just awesome. But I’ll tell you what did NOT occur to me, not even for a second, when wondering what would prompt such generosity. It never crossed my mind that “hey, those guys must be Christians.”

Because really–how often do you think those guys are awesome, and follow it up with, they must be Christians!

I’m guessing almost never. In fact, I think many of us who are Christians spend a great deal of our time articulating the finer points of “–but I’m not THAT kind of Christian.” I’d venture to say that we spend more time trying to defend our ‘brand’ of Christianity from bad rap, than we do actually living our Christian faith. And therein lies the problem.

One server’s ‘bad tip’ story went viral in the media this week.  Because in her case, the rotten customer was not just a Christian–she was clergy.  The situation has escalated to the point that the server lost her job. And i have a feeling we have not heard the end of it.

Notice that when something specifically “Christian” makes the news, it is never in the context of those guys are awesome. It is always something like this business, or some Mark Driscoll brand of ugliness, or some other episode of sanctimonious nonsense, where Christians are hollering about something the rest of the world doesn’t care about, and demanding it be made into law. Like the Tennessee politician who (i’m assuming) is all about free speech, but wants the word ‘gay’ banned from the public schools. You know? That guy. He is our ambassador to the world.

So when the bad tip story hit my newsfeed, my initial reaction was the same as that of my colleagues–not this again. Not another bad Christian story that we have to fight to overcome; another embarassing, public display of unChristlike behavior, from one who should be an example of love and grace in the world. No wonder people hate the church. No wonder nobody takes us seriously.

And then i thought–i’m sure glad the worst thing I ever did has not become a media superstorm.

Because really, much as we try to reflect the image of Christ in our actions, and distinguish ourselves from ‘those kinds’ of hypocrytical, narrow-minded Christians–don’t we all have our moments? Just saying. I’m not, in any way, defending what that pastor did. However, I sincerely hope she has some good friends or colleagues to take her aside and say, “sister–take a vacation. Get a massage, do some yoga, call your mama, go on a spiritual retreat…and try to come back refreshed for the work of the Lord. Because this ain’t it.”

Thanks be to God, it isn’t all on me to make or break the work of Christ in the world. But let this story remind each of us, who claim faith in Jesus and service to God, that much is riding on our behavior. Every word we speak, every move we make, every check that we sign, someone is watching for us to prove or disprove their assumptions about us. It might not be fair, but it is absolutely what we signed up for.

I’m declaring this to be 150% day. Go have lunch at a place where they know you.  Be gracious. Say please and thank you, enjoy your meal, greet your neighbors, express gratitude, engage the staff. And then leave a big, fat tip that nobody is expecting. You don’t have to write a note that says ” Jesus loves you! And i do too! {insert smiley face here, and dot that i with a heart.} There’s no need for that. But act like the person you want people to meet when they come to church. Leave everybody in the place thinking, hey, that guy/girl is awesome! And maybe next time, they will want to find out why…

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About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...

  • http://goandtellwithgrace.wordpress.com Robin LaBolt

    I too, am a pastor who worked for ten years as a server. I have my horror stories as well, many from the church crowd on Sunday afternoon. I have awesome stories too, such as the one you just wrote about. I learned a lot about people, but most importantly, I learned in a big way how to treat others. I see those ten years as great groundwork for my ministry. Thank you for sharing this. I have really enjoyed your blog.

    • http://www.irreverin.com irreverins

      amen to that. you can learn a lot more about people by waiting tables than you can ever pick up in seminary! thanks for reading, and blessings on your ministry.

  • http://hchristianchurch.wordpress.com dianewitherspoon

    Very Good! Daughter was a waitress – so I always take “care” of them!! Doesn’t hurt – makes me feel good, too!!!!diane w

  • http://www.facebook.com/pamela.s.hawk Pamela Stone Hawk

    Impressive article. We need more people in the world like you. God bless.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joel.fb Joel Shuflin

    Now you’ve got me thinking about the category of “hypocritical, narrow-minded” kind of Christians. Samuel Johnson put it well when he wrote about the misuse of the charge of “hypocrisy” in Rambler No. 14: (Thanks Wikipedia!)

    Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.[2]

    Our modern equation for hypocrisy seems to be: Hypocrisy =person’s zeal+fervor-about-a-principle – ability-to-live-the-principle (where a higher negative number means the highest hypocrisy. )

    When Jesus called out the lawyers and Pharisees as hypocrites and “viper’s brood”, I don’t think it was because they failed to live up their own standards, it was them thinking that their success in those standards (or their self-perceived success) seemed to give them some advantage in separating themselves from those who “don’t do things as well as we do”.

    Which I guess means that when we spend our time trying to tell others we’re “not THAT kind of Christian”, as if being some “other kind of Christian” makes us more qualified to be called Christian… well, then we run the risk of becoming one of those “open-minded hypocrites” who want to welcome everyone (except narrow-minded hypocrites), who think that everyone deserves a voice (except those who aren’t as open minded) who think that everyone can believe whatever they want (unless they believe that what they believe is smack-on-the-nail true).

    And who wants to be one of THAT kind of Christian, eh? :)

    PS — I think it was 1,2, and 3 all combined.

  • Bob

    I agree folks in Eastern KY are terrible tippers. In my early years it always seemed as if that those waiting tables in Eastern were paid a fair wage and not many folks were reading Amy or Emily Post write ups. It just took us a little while to get into the 20th century. I bet the old folks back in Ireland didn’t tip well either and that is where most of the folks in the Eastern part of KY originated from.

    I love your blogs and cannot defend the Pastor that wrote such a weird thing on a pay ticket. She must have been having a bad day. Jesus has judged that deed I am sure and he will be the judge of her punishment and I am reasonable sure she is getting lamb blasted from all sides now. I feel that her comments will not help any of us in reaching more people and and telling them about our God, but Jesus never said our lives would be a bed of roses. He did say that if our load got to heavy that he would help us bear it. It does seem to me that our ability to continue his work, is getting very hard to do, as we compete with all of the new things in the modern world that are so interesting to the youth of today. We must come up with a new twist for getting youth into our churches is the way to grow.

  • Will

    We often feel like we have to compare our beliefs with “their” beliefs and we filter everyone’s actions through our own specific lens. We tend not to give credit when something “good” happens but we sure are good at keeping score when something bad does. Great post :-)

  • Worthless Beast

    I actually, sometimes, see my brain’s insistence on believing in God and Christ in the same light as I see my bipolar disorder. “I’m crazy, but I’m not THAT kind of crazy!”

    - Every time there’s some kind of mass homicide in the news, people in the news immediately start armchair-diagnosing the suspect/killer and talking about how the whole 1/4 of America that’s a bit off-kilter in the noggin ought to be pre-emptively locked up, nevermind that most of us are pretty meek (at least when we’re on our meds).

    Sometimes, “belief in God” in this age feels a lot like that to me… on the defensive, an “I can’t help that my brain is crazy, honest!” and “I try to manage my symptoms and try to be a good person!”


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