US Bank “Blessing” Brouhaha; Not a Hill to Die On? – UPDATE

Over at Kathy Shiffer’s place, she links to a story about a woman who goes beyond “Have a Nice Day!” and is suing US Bank, for her “right” to do so.

Except, from the story at Christian Today, it kinda sounds like this woman was making a pest of herself and her faith, not merely wishing blessings but putting people on the spot, too:

The former Walton branch employee had worked for the bank for over 20 years. She said that she started saying “have a blessed day” to all of her customers beginning in 2009.

“I don’t think there’s any better kind of day you can have than a blessed day,” she told Fox News.

In 2011, she was told to stop wishing customers a blessed day and was issued a Code of Ethics violation.

“Effective immediately you will no longer discuss the subject of faith or religion with customers and co-workers alike,” the notice read.

The reprimand also alleged that Neace asked a customer: “Did you take the Lord’s name in vain?” and began talking to the customer about Jesus.

Months later she was written up again after a customer wished her a blessed day and she replied: “Thank you, God bless you too.”

Soon after, Neace reportedly complained about a situation at the bank and then joked with her supervisor about going back to saying “have a blessed day” and getting fired. A day after that, Neace was fired by the bank.

Her attorney, Jeff Blankenship, said that U.S. Bank’s actions were a violation of her First Amendment rights.

Cue the Christian outrage:
“It’s intolerance against Christians, that’s what it is!” And “this is genuine persecution!” (seriously?) And “I will never step foot in a US Bank again, that’s what I’m going to do!” Words to that effect abound in comboxes and social media threads.

Is this really the hill some U.S. Christians want to die on, though? That someone in a place of business is not being allowed to wish people “a blessed day”?

If so, are these same Christians going to take it well, when a cheerful bank teller ends a transaction with a Wiccan “Blessed Be!” (or the Gaelic “beannacht ort” preferred by some); will they be fine hearing a religious Pagan say “May the gods bless you!” or “May Hecate have your back!” as they conclude their deposit? Will they be okay with “May Allah smile upon you” at the drive-through or with hearing a cheerfully atheistic, “Enjoy your godless day!”

This all puts me in mind of Saint Therese, who was fervent in her faith but often as not blessed others by interiorly lifting them up to God in secret, keeping it between God and herself, as it were. This quiet act of asking the Lord to bestow a blessing upon the other would become, then, an intimate exchange between the Bridegroom and the Beloved — quite possibly a more efficacious prayer than one spoken in a business setting, where its reception may be uncertain, or even unwelcome.

Offering a blessing interiorly would certainly keep it real and prevent it from becoming as trite, automatic, mindless and meaningless as “Have a Nice Day!” And too, an interior offering seems to me an altogether more loving, courteous and grace-filled way to bless another because it doesn’t put them on the spot; it does not risk making someone feel awkward, or forced to respond in kind when doing so might not conform to either their nature, or their faith, and thus lead them into an occasion of sin.

This bank teller said, “I don’t think there’s any better kind of day you can have than a blessed day.” Well, neither do I, and a world where everyone is constantly offering blessings, or good wishes, or positive feelings to each other from their religious perspectives actually sounds like it could be a good thing, doesn’t it? Bring on the blessings from Jesus, and from Muhammed and the Goddess and the Buddha and Kwan Yin, because people actively blessing each other are not people actively warring against each other, after all, yes?

But how to then deal with, say, a satanist smilingly wishing something upon you while calling evil “good”?

Personally, I don’t need my bank teller to orally bless me
, or to ask me to declare myself, or to openly speculate on my sinfulness, gauge the state of my soul or pleasantly proselytize me in any way while I’m trying to make a deposit. If she were to silently ask the Lord to bless me, however, I can only imagine that the Lord would bless her, in return, for the generosity of her spirit, for she would be doing exactly as Jesus had taught: making her prayer in secret, without drawing any attention at all to herself, or in anyway showcasing her own holiness.

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Saint Catherine of Siena wrote about the “interior cell” — the “room” she created within herself for intimate prayer between herself and heaven. Saint Teresa of Avila, too, wrote of the “interior castle” within which the most intimate and far-reaching prayer would find voice.

We have plenty of opportunities, throughout the day, to pray for each other, to ask God’s blessings upon each other, and no one ever has to hear about it when we do. All prayer resonates and rebounds. You cast a quiet prayer out to God, and like a pebble upon the waters, it ripples outward in silence, touching places one cannot see. If you really want to bless someone, then whether your place of business says you may do so orally or not is completely irrelevant.

If all of this sounds like I am “urging defeat in the face of persecution”, read John Allen’s stark reality on the global war on Christians, and consider what real persecution looks like. It may be coming, yes. But maybe sometimes, a bank transaction in a pluralistic society is not the place to look for it.

And if it is coming, then perhaps American Christians need to explore the subversive freedom (and great power) that comes from prayer offered completely unbeknownst to anyone but the soul itself, and the Creator. If we fear a future where open prayer will be oppressed, we’d better tidy up our interior cells, in preparation. That will require silence. And practice.

Via Ed Morrissey
, a scope-wise more serious first amendment issue.

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  • GadsdenJazz

    In my experience, the folks wishing me to “have a blessed day” are being rather disingenuous and are wishing me the exact opposite. I can’t get real excited about it; I just kind of move on and try not to let the sour mood infect me.

  • Laurel

    I agree with you totally. Such a silly thing to call “persecution”. It is a business and it can require the kind of interactions its employees have with the public, (at least the ones that are out loud). However, if you live in the South, expect to hear “bless your heart” at any time whatsoever, pretty much anywhere. I admit, it does feel nice to hear it.

  • Nancy Ward

    Since all blessings come from God it seems unlikely that we would make an issue of the way that he does this. Yes, he uses us to bless others, and others to bless us but it doesn’t have to be persecution if it doesn’t happen out loud.

  • FW Ken

    Maybe I’m a heathen at heart, but anyone, Christian or not, who offers me a blessing has my gratitude. My God sees the heart, and takes to Himself all good intentions. Sure some people are obnoxious and showy with their religion (maybe that’s the case with this woman, maybe not), but a lot do care about my well-being, temporal and eternal. Kindness is a great thing, both to receive and to give.

    So wish me the blessings of the goddess (es). Wish me a “blessed day”. Wish me Allah’s blessings. I’ll smile, thank you, and pray silently that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ will reveal Himself to you.

  • MeanLizzie

    I feel the same way. But this isn’t about that. This is about ppl carrying on in defense of this woman’s behavior, and whether they’re willing to defend everyone’s right to bless everyone else. :-)

  • vox borealis

    YEs, this all seems overblown. However, what does it say about our socity that we have come to this (from the article):

    Months later she was written up again after a customer wished her a blessed day and she replied: “Thank you, God bless you too.”

    She was reprimanded for replying in kind to a customer? Seriously?

    As for the general question:

    If so, are these same Christians going to take it well, when a cheerful bank teller ends a transaction with a Wiccan “Blessed Be!” (or the Gaelic “beannacht ort” preferred by some); will they be fine hearing a religious Pagan say “May the gods bless you!” or “May Hecate have your back!” as they conclude their deposit? Will they be okay with “May Allah smile upon you” at the drive-through or with hearing a cheerfully atheistic, “Enjoy your godless day!”

    None of these would bother me at all, if I thought they were sincere. What should I care if a seemingly devout Muslim says “May Allah smile on me”? Even if it did bother me, itr wouldn’t bother me enough to complain about it, and I surely would not want the person fired for saying it.

    The only exception might be the hypothetical atheistic rejoinder, which surely would be meant to antagonize (I have known many atheists, and not a one would go out of the way to “bless”someone in the name of no God…it’s a silly example). Oh, and I think that neo-paganism and wicca are ludicrous on the face of them. So any such blessing might cause me to burst out laughing. But I wouldn’t be much bothered.

    When did we become such a thin skinned society?

  • MeanLizzie

    I imagine after her questioning a customer about taking the Lord’s name in vain, they were particularly leery of her, but the crux of the story is the un-described “situation” or “incident” at work that had her tell her supervisor she might as well say get back to offering blessings. We need to know that’s about? Was it a Wiccan offering a “blessed be” and getting away with it? Or was she being insubordinate? We don’t know. Another reason for people to not flip out and start declaring anathema on the bank! :-) As to when we became so thin-skinned, that happened when ppl figured out they could get others to fall in line by declaring themselves insulted and flinging out labels. But I am very disappointed to see Christians doing it.

  • KyPerson

    I get wished a blessed day a lot. I think it’s a southern thing. I am always grateful for it – I can use all the prayers and blessings I can get.

  • Lynn Perrizo

    Golly, what happens when someone sneezes!

  • Theodore Seeber

    I have replied in kind to Wiccans in the past and will in the future. This is about religion being pushed out of the business world entirely, and yes, it is indeed a hill worth dying on.

  • Theodore Seeber

    We’ve been attacked for so long, that retreat from the attacker is a quite rational response.

  • Theodore Seeber

    Yes, I am willing to defend everybody’s right to religious liberty.

  • BT

    Yes, the workplace is where you DEMONSTRATE your faith through your ethics and love for others, but it’s appropriate to follow your employers wishes on how that gets expressed otherwise. Some common sense is called for. I don’t proselytize at work, but everyone still knows where I stand on matters of faith. You don’t have to be silent – you just have to know how to talk about faith judiciously and with some sensitivity.

    In this case, it seems like this particular “have a blessed day” is innocent enough – except for the fact that this person seems to have established a pattern and been warned. In cases where a person has habitually crossed the line, that person just doesn’t get much slack past a certain point.

  • GHM_52

    I get your point and it is a valid one. Some Christians seem to like to practice an “on your face”, aggressive Christianity which is at odds with Christ’s teaching. No wonder so many people dislike Christians! Instead of evangelizing, these types prefer to sermonize. As you so aptly put it, their religiosity appears to be external so that others may see how holy they are. Since I am not God, I don’t know if this particular bank teller is at fault or not. But, the case appears to be more complex than what she paints it to be.

  • FW Ken

    Apparently I don’t read the comboxes where this sort of kvetching goes on. That’s a practice I will maintain. :-)

    I will say that upon re-reading, it sounds like this woman had a complicated relationship with her employer, maybe the bank, maybe her branch manager, who knows. I would opine that this isn’t a first amendment issue, since it’s not the government controlling her speech.

  • Yonah

    In my experience, those who say “have a blessed day” are genuine working class people who authentically understand themselves to be doing good unto others in a general way not out of sync with that version of generality which upper class people have termed “American civil religion”. The saying could apply as broadly as one needs it to be.

    With support of US Bank on this one, I think two things are going on:

    1) A defense of corporations’ prerogatives…ironic now, since suddenly they are religious actors.

    2) A call for separation from and suppression of working class culture and idiom.

  • Adam Frey

    I think it’s worth remembering that the Church reads the 5th commandment (or is it the fourth?)’s obligation to “honor thy father and thy mother” expansively to include obedience to one’s superiors, including civil government and one’s employer. There is, of course, an upper limit on these things: if your parents or the state order you to commit a mortal sin such as murder, you have a higher obligation to God and a duty to disobey. However, the obligation to disobey is a *very* high standard and this situation doesn’t reach it. I think most sensible priests would tell you that if your employer tells you to stop preaching in the workplace, you’re obligated to either do it or seek alternate employment. You can continue to bless your customers in your heart or in your personal prayers. There is no affirmative religious obligation to bless your customers out loud.

  • retiredladyann

    Have heard that US Bank funds the Chinese army. Is this a myth or a lie or someone’s imagination? At any rate, we don’t bank there. My favorite “blessing” is from a totally handicapped women who spent much of her life in a wheelchair. She always said, “Make it a good day!” Puts the ball in our court and reminds us that WE are responsible for a good or not-so-good day in most cases because we can choose to be a blessing (unspoken) to others by the way we treat them-as another Jesus in our lives.

  • Manny

    I disagree on being fired for just saying “have a blessed day.” Now Ms. Neace went beyond that and I think it was appropriate to let her go after her multiple warnings. But I disagree with you. Bank tellers should all bless people. Everyone should bless people. How do you think “God bless you” came about after a sneeze. Should we do away with that? No. The atheists are wrong for pushing this. And Christians should not buckle here. This is a fight worth having.

    By the way, I had extensive back and forth’s on Kathy’s blog on this.

  • Manny

    Me too. Great comment Ken.

  • Mike17

    On Maundy Thursday a bank employee asked if I was doing anything special over Easter so I told him about the Good Friday service and the Easter Vigil Mass. If he had asked about these services would he have been guilty of breaking the code of an employer who took the same line as US Bank? Anyway, I thought that it was a useful reminder to the employee what Easter is all about.