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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tips for Jesus? No Thanks



Maybe I'm over Thanksgiving. Maybe the Scrooginess of Advent is setting in. Or maybe I'm just looking for a fight. But I want to go on record (for what it's worth) as being against the idea that lavish, flashy, over-the-top tips for servers is a good, Christian idea.

Yep, I said it.

Here's an article from NPR about people leaving HUGE tips for their servers and only identifying themselves as @tipsforjesus. I've seen some colleagues post on Facebook about how wonderful this is. But I'm not so sure.

One of the two checks that "TipsForJesus" signed at a restaurant in South Bend, Ind., on Oct. 19. The anonymous givers added $5,000 to each of the bills.

What makes us think that the Christian thing to do is dump a bunch of cash in the hands of someone who works waiting tables? I waited tables. I got some fabulous tips, and I got plenty of crummy ones. One group of 12 made me so angry that I almost chased them out the door and threw their pocket change back at them. I only worked as a server for a brief while, and I never made a serious effort at it, but I still know a little bit of what it feels like. I would have done backflips if someone had left me even a $200 tip. I get what it means to open that little black folder with hope in your heart that the number on the signed receipt will make you smile. Still, though, I might not be the right person to judge, but I think that money would be better spent in at least a dozen other ways.

How much more could that $10,000 do if it was given to a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter or an organization that specializes in micro-finance? How much more could be done with that $10,000 if it was given to a church? A community resources center? A political action committee that is focused on raising the minimum wage?

Yes, Jesus talked a lot about money. Yes, he talked about the Kingdom of God as a place where people aren't rewarded based on the world's criteria but as God sees us--with shocking equality (Matthew 20:1-16). And, yes, it's nice (cute? sweet? astounding?) that a rich person would give a presumably less rich person so much money, but is the result really the manifestation of God's reign here on earth?

Most of us (me included) are asking ourselves, "What sort of person does that?" We're wondering what "AshleyS" did with the money. We might even speculate as to the motives of @tipsforjesus. But I haven't heard anyone talking about the kingdom or the laborers in the vineyard or how this stunt brings us closer to the good news of Jesus Christ.

I feel certain that Jesus was a good tipper--starting at 20% and only going up from there. And I'd like to think that he's the kind of person who even tipped a little bit more when the service wasn't all that great because he assumed that the person waiting tables was having a tough day and needed a pick-me-up. But I don't believe Jesus would have left a tip like that--at least not if he was going to sign his name. Even if we don't know who @tipsforjesus really is, this story is still all about that person or group of people. It's not about Jesus. It's not about the server. It's not about transforming unjust societal structures so that the world we live in looks more like God's kingdom. It's just about someone throwing a lot of money around in a seemingly generous way to get attention for all the wrong reasons.

10 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Obviously this generous person is very wealthy and many wealthy people spread their lagacy wealth through caritable foundations, food banks, homeless shealters and by judging this generous person by this particular action shows a bit of incontinence not know that they obviously very well donate to these charitable organizations.

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    1. Thanks for leaving a comment. I agree that many wealthy people do many wonderful, generous things. And, no, I have no idea in what other ways this person helps, but that's the point of my post. Simply leaving a big tip, taking a picture of it, and posting it ostensibly in the name of Jesus does not mean that it's a complete Christian act. Is there anything wrong with the gift? No, of course not. I wouldn't begrudge the individual his or her generosity, but there needs to be more. What is this person really trying to do? A few isolated acts of generosity are wonderful--but only in and of themselves. Jesus would want us to do more--by addressing the systemic problems of the working poor.

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  3. a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.

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  4. The tips are lavish, so what? Would you prefer they were not given at all? For what possibility benefit would you choose to pick apart an unmerited gift? Are we not the recipients of the most unmerited gift of all?

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    1. Thanks for your very, very thoughtful comments. I LOVE the quote of the woman and the alabaster jar of ointment. That's something I hadn't considered. But my blog post is not critical of the tip. I have no problem with the tip. Such a lavish gesture of generosity is laudable. But it's not enough. My criticism is of all the Christians who are jumping on the tipsforJesus bandwagon without asking the deeper questions. One act of generosity is not enough. Instead of simply reposting a picture of the receipt and saying, "Hooray for Jesus!" we need to take it a step further. Doesn't the woman's lavish gesture play a role in a much bigger sequence of events--passion, death, resurrection? Shouldn't the tipsforJesus thing be only the first step? Again, my issue isn't with the tip. I'm critical of everyone who thinks the story stops there. Again, thanks for the dialogue.

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  5. The complaining about this person giving large tips to individuals reminds me of Judas complaining about Mary pouring the expensive oil on Jesus feet. Judas thought that the money the oil could be sold for could be better used, but Jesus said that she did a good thing. I'm going with what Jesus thought. Keep up the good work @tipsforjesus

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I consider it a badge of honor that I'm compared with Judas. What a polarizing figure! As you'll see from my comments above (and from the original blog post), I am not critical of the person's generosity but of those who celebrate the lavish tip and refuse to take the conversation further. Keep up the good work? For what purpose? So that one server at a time might be given huge gifts? What does that really accomplish? How many other servers are still working for next-to-nothing wages? How many other people work and work but are stuck in poverty? Yes, let's celebrate the tipsforJesus action as the first step in a long, long series of events. If we're only interested in the momentary heart-warming experience of seeing an Instagram photo of a receipt with an extravagant tip, we aren't actually being Christian at all. Jesus cares for the millions of working poor people across the planet. Simply signing a generous receipt with Jesus' name does not make it a complete Christian act.

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  6. Hello, here's a project that really need financial support, see our blog and if possible, help us help needy people evangelizing them!
    http://evangelhoamigo12.wordpress.com/

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  7. I also had considered the story of Jesus being anointed with costly perfume...but I notice the above comments stop short with the full Scripture. The passage reads: "While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

    When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

    Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you,a but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

    I think one key here is that Jesus said "the poor you will always have with you"....to me meaning to address the disciples letting them know that in the future there would always be more money available that could be given to the poor, because there will always be the poor (as well as the wealthy) among us. But Jesus' greater point was that He would not always be physically among us. Therefore the lavish act was indeed a "beautiful" thing being done to the Son of God before His crucifixion and burial.

    In a sense, it is also a beautiful thing to leave a lavish tip for someone, I get that and certainly the tipper has the right to do so. But I also agree that in the bigger picture of things, we as Christians need to be committed to changing unjust social structures and systems that contribute to poverty. In a practical sense, the money very well could have gone a lot further in other ways.

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