Friday, January 6, 2012

A New Year's Resolution: Don't Be a Jerk

Last week, I shared with you a call to examine your life and think about how you are representing Jesus in your own life- are you doing things God's way or your way? I thought I would expand on that point this week by sharing an example from everyday life. This one comes from blogger Professor Richard Beck of Abilene Christian University who writes over at the Sojourners Blog. In his latest post, He observes how Christians' behavior in our daily life doesn't always line up with the Gospel:
One can fill a life full of spiritual activities without ever, actually, trying to become a more decent human being... Many churches are jerk factories. Take, for example, how Christians tip and behave in restaurants. If you have ever worked in the restaurant industry you know the reputation of the Sunday morning lunch crowd. Millions of Christians go to lunch after church on Sundays and their behavior is abysmal. 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.

I exaggerate of course. But I hope you see my point. Rather than pouring our efforts into two hours of worship, bible study and Christian fellowship on Sunday why don't we just take a moment and a few extra bucks to act like a decent human being when we go to lunch afterwards? Just think about it. What if the entire restaurant industry actually began to look forward to working Sunday lunch? If they said amongst themselves, "I love the church crowd. They are kind, patient and very generous. It's my favorite part of the week waiting on Christians." How might such a change affect the way the world sees us? Think about it. Just being a decent human being for one hour each Sunday and the world sees us in a whole new way.

But it's not going to happen. Because behavior at lunch isn't considered to be "working on your relationship with God." Behavior at lunch isn't spiritual. Going to church, well, that is working on your relationship with God. But, as we all know, any jerk can sit in a pew. But you can't be a jerk if you take the time to treat your waitress as if she were your friend, daughter or mother.

Ouch. That hurts to read. But as a former waitress, I resonate with Beck's words in a very real way. In the summer of 2008, I worked as a waitress at Hoggy's, a BBQ restaurant in Dublin, OH. (By the way, I highly recommend their BBQ and all their sides. I loved Hoggy's food and still do. If you're in the Columbus area, it's worth a try!) And I actually worked the Sunday lunch crowd on a regular basis. I would listen to the podcast of Marsh Chapel while I did chores until church was out, and then the customers started coming. The Sunday lunch crowd is indeed stingy. Getting stiffed by so many people in one shift really hurt my pocketbook. By the time I reached the end of the summer, I had $25 to my name.

Beck makes an excellent point. Every time we are mean, sarcastic, selfish, or stingy in public, we ruin our own Christian witness. This includes cutting people off on the road (especially if you have one of those Jesus fish on your bumper!), cutting in line at the grocery store or coffee shop, and being rude to a customer service representative on the phone.

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When we profess a "love thy neighbor" faith but behave just like everybody else, we show others that we don't take our faith- or the Bible- seriously. Christ calls us to be mindful of our words and actions so that we don't just practice our faith on Sunday morning, we practice it through the rest of the week.

Oh, and a word about tipping: many companies in the service profession don't pay their workers minimum wage. Restaurants, hair salons, taxi companies, and spas are legally allowed to pay less, because they expect that the customers will tip enough to cover the rest. When we as consumers don't hold up our end of the bargain, that becomes a justice issue. It's not fair for our sisters and brothers in service professions to be paid less just because of the industry in which we work. My hairdresser, Claudia, is a genius. She works at Supercuts, where the haircuts are $16 and $18. Obviously, her tips aren't going to be big: 15% of $16 is only $2.40. She mentioned to me that she lives in government subsidized housing in Boston's urban core. Of course she has to live in subsidized housing- she doesn't make much! Claudia told me on Monday that the customer before me had required a lot of time and effort, and he left without giving her any tip at all. How terrible! As a former waitress, I know how that feels, so I always make sure to tip Claudia 18%. She always does an amazing job on my hair, but more importantly, she is God's child who deserves a living wage.

If we are concerned with what concerns Jesus, we will be concerned about low-wage workers. We will be concerned about whether our actions are communicating God's love to everyone- even those in the service professions. Our prayer lives and our behavior outside of church should align. As you have been out and about recently, have you noticed the way you treat others? Are you as aware of how you behave as you are of your prayer life? Do you think your witness stands  up to the "jerk test"?

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