Culture At Large

Tipping as Witness

Bethany Keeley-Jonker

I recently encountered this blog post by a Christian psychologist Richard Beck.  He writes, provocatively, “The single most damaging phenomenon to the witness of Christianity in America today is the collective behavior of the Sunday morning lunch crowd. Never has a more well-dressed, entitled, dismissive, haughty or cheap collection of Christians been seen on the face of the earth.”  He admits that he exaggerates, but I agree with him that he has a point.

Though I’ve never been a restaurant server, I’ve seen this complaint before: the after-church crowd are rude, demanding and stingy.  Ever since I heard about this, I’ve become more conscious of the way I treat service workers. My sense of Sabbath makes me feel a little guilty about eating out on Sundays at all, but I’ll admit I do it anyway, sometimes in large groups. These large group, split the check situations are notorious for tipping problems, it’s complicated math, you think maybe somebody else will make up for you if you short the bill a little.

This brings me to this question: how would Jesus tip? My first thought is that Jesus might be the server, but of course service in the Bible was different from how it is today. We can think about some general principles Jesus exhibited though. Jesus thought it was important that people be treated kindly, he frequently treated outcasts with respect and kindness. If we follow this example, we should certainly be kind to service workers.  Jesus also cared about people getting enough: he made sure there was enough wine at a wedding, he miraculously fed thousands. I wish our restaurants paid their employees enough that they could survive on their wages alone, but they depend on tips, so we should be aware of that.

I think it’s best to think of our interactions with other people in two related ways. First, if this person knows I am a Christian, how is my behavior reflecting what that means to me? Second, I think it is our job in the world to show Christ’s love to others, and that love does not necessarily need to be linked to an explicit presentation of the gospel. This is more radical, but I was really persuaded by this perspective at a church I used to attend in Grand Rapids, where we took a few Sundays and participated in service projects. When people asked why we were doing it, we were supposed to say, “We are trying to pass on the love God has shown us” or something similar. The leadership of that church were convicted that God’s love for us ultimately comes in extravagant generosity, no strings attached.

When I think about this attitude, it makes it a lot easier for my natural tightwad to put an extra dollar in that jar or on that table. What better use for a few dollars than to repeat God’s generosity toward others?  Perhaps our best witness is when we are most aware of the gifts God has given us and sharing those with others. Maybe next, I can work on showing this same grace when I’m driving my car...

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