Thursday, November 17, 2011


Although I'm a counselor, I don't use a couch like the one in the comic below (and I don't know anyone who does).

Even so, I still collect comics showing this style of therapy. I get a kick out of them, despite the unrealistically stereotypical counseling office.

This one's especially fun:

Comic by Dan Piraro.

But the more I look at it, the more conflicted I feel.

Do I:
a) love it because of the personal style statements the therapist is making?
b) cringe because of the misspelling in the speech balloon?
c) suddenly feel the need to equip my office with that chair?
d) all of the above?

If you guessed d), you win a prize — a free therapy session in the egg-shaped chair!

Now I'm off to the Men in Black online catalog to find one...


Saturday, November 05, 2011

The tipping point: part 2

If you read part 1, you know I feel strongly about the subject of tipping.

Writer and psychology prof Richard Beck seems to feel pretty strongly too:

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.
— Richard Beck, The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity
What do you think — too strong?

Beck goes on to admit he's exaggerating. He knows he can tend to be over the top when he makes a point. (In the comments on a recent post, he wrote, "I have been asking a lot of categorical questions. And those tend to come across as provocative 'bombs'.... All told, however, the questions I'm asking come out of a soft space; thinking about how people are hurt and trying to ask questions about the things doing the hurting.... For the most part, my pique comes from my compassion. I want to make those who are not seen, seen.")

Modeling a balanced approach to tipping.
Beck may have been exaggerating, but I will tell you, it's a big thing for me. Last April, a well-known money columnist wrote on this topic, opposing the 20% tipping standard because, combined with increased restaurant pricing, this amounts to a raise for servers at a time when other professions aren't seeing raises. Yes, I left a comment. I tried to speak truth with grace. (I had to rewrite my comment a few times to make sure the grace was as evident as the truth.)

So yes, I tip well. I view it as a moral imperative. There's James 2:14-17, if you'd like a Bible passage to work from.

But I think there's more to this issue than money.

Our pastor at Mars Hill once interrupted his sermon to ask if there were any restaurant servers in the congregation. When a few hands went up, he asked if they'd be willing to come up and talk about their experience. Two women stepped up to the platform, and Rob asked them how they felt about waiting tables on Sundays. Both servers agreed Sunday was the least popular day to work, because the after-church crowd tended to be poor tippers.

I was glad he was addressing the issue, but for my part, Rob was preaching to the choir. I was already convinced that tipping was important, and I felt like I practiced it pretty well.

And even as proud as I've been of my tipping practices, a few years ago I realized (thanks to my son) that I still tended to treat servers like servants. I mean, I was polite, but not especially engaging — as if I was caught up in this big disparity of role or status. Or maybe I just allow my natural introversion to take over. Regardless of the cause, the effect is the same.

After my son came to faith in Christ, I noticed he would look servers in the eye and ask them how their day was going — and not just servers in restaurants, but cashiers in the grocery store and various other people he'd come across. It was amazing to see their response — they'd light up at the fact that someone asked about them — as if they were accustomed to taking off their humanity when they put on the apron.

But what does our faith in God have to do with our treatment of other people? In the same article, Richard Beck fires off some sardonic words to make the connection:

...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.
This topic came up yesterday in a different setting. I took a friend for a pedicure as a little thank-you for her help painting my living room. As we sat in the pedi chairs and chatted, the woman doing our pedicures joined in — and then immediately apologized for interrupting. I told her she was welcome to join our conversation, and the three of us chatted like old friends. But evidently this isn't always the case for her.

I know we like to pretend we're not class-conscious, but let's face it — we are.

Going back to James' letter:

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
James 3:9-10
James is echoing the words of Jesus, who summed up the Hebrew law as two intertwined commandments: love God, and love your neighbor. He's asking, can we really claim we're loving God if we're vile to His image-bearers?

My faith is the result of God's lavish generosity. My understanding of that needs to work its way out in the way I treat strangers, outsiders, those who rank lower on the social ladder... people I view as beneath me.

And that, friends, is the point of this tip.


Friday, November 04, 2011

The tipping point: part 1

Years ago, I was at dinner with a friend. After a good meal and a great chat, we got ready to settle the bill.

I don't remember how it happened, but I saw how much my friend added for the tip.

I know. It's as rude to watch a person pay their restaurant bill as it is to watch them enter their PIN at the ATM. But evidently I was just that rude.

And not only was I rude enough to look, I was rude enough to comment on it.

The tip seemed low. That surprised me, because my friend was a very sweet and considerate Christian woman, the type of person known for her gracious spirit and gentle demeanor.

She was the type of person I wanted to emulate, because I'm... well, I'm the type of person to watch someone pay a restaurant bill and then comment on the size of the tip. You might say I have a few rough edges.

When I asked her about the size of the tip she'd left, she replied, "Why would I give the waitress 15%* when I only give God 10%?"

* This was quite a few years back — I think 20% is customary for tipping now.

I knew my friend to be a wonderful person. I was sure she had heard that rationale somewhere, and just hadn't thought it through. So (because I'm helpful like that) I pointed out the logical flaw in her argument, explaining that her church offering of 10% was calculated on her entire income, and 15% was only based on the dinner check.

And then I followed up with another question (again, helpful!), asking if she'd ever worked in the food service industry. She said she hadn't, so (because I have, and I'm helpful) I explained how hard servers work, and how little they make in hourly wages. (In a typical restaurant, tips are what a server lives on, because the check is laughably tiny.) And moreover, I went on, in a midprice restaurant such as that one, the difference between a 10% tip and a 15% tip would be less than a dollar, and that dollar would make a bigger difference to the server than it would to my friend.

Now, it might seem the moral of this tale is "Ask Pam to dinner and you'll get a lecture." But that's only a sub-point.

Earlier this year, I read an excellent devotional article by my friend Tim Gustafson, tackling a sticky issue: the after-church crowd's reputation as poor tippers. In the article, Tim quotes his pastor: “You are representing Jesus. If you go out to eat, tip generously.” Would that all pastors would preach the same.

To further define that, I'd say "generously" means 20%, at least. I typically calculate 20% and round up to the next dollar. Why so much? A server's tips depend mainly on their tabs and their turnover. Since I usually order water, and I drink a lot of it, the server makes lots of trips to my table to refill my glass, but my drink doesn't show up on the bill. And if I'm involved in a lengthy conversation — which I often am — the table doesn't "turn" as quickly. Since my dining habits cut into both the tab and the turnover, I try to compensate. (Also, if I'm using a coupon, I tip on the amount before the coupon was subtracted, because the tip is on what the server brought, not on what I'm paying for.)

So, maybe being able to tip generously while staying within your budget means ordering the chicken Caesar salad instead of the steak. Do it.

But there's a bigger point to this. For that tip, you'll want to come back tomorrow.


(I still haven't figured out the tipping etiquette for coffee places. So if you ever run into me at Starbucks and you see me pass the tip jar as if I hadn't seen it, that's why. Maybe one of my readers is or has been a barista and can help me out?)