It's Sunday so let's talk about God and church!
I haven't blogged about either for a while. Since I'm apparently on a current events bent, the topic of The Applebee's Receipt
is the perfect shining example of why I, and I suspect a lot of other people, don't get on board with organized religion of any genre, but especially the Christian religions. For reasons that elude me, it seems to be the Christians who suffer from mind blowing hypocrisy more frequently or at least more obviously than other religions. I've encountered some very self righteous Buddhist wannabes, and the occasional Hindu enthusiast who just...gets it wrong...but in my experience Christians reign supreme in their high and mighty hypocrisy.
Regardless of your religious beliefs, it is always a sad thing when the deplorable behaviors of a few taint an entire group. To wit, Muslims have taken a beating over the actions of a few less than ideal followers of their faith. And Catholics have taken a beating over the actions of a few (okay, quite a few) pedophile priests. And non-Catholic Christians have to endure the fallout from the Jim Bakkers and Jimmy Swaggarts. The "do as I preach, not as I do" undercurrent that seems rampant among religious leaders raises eyebrows and raises questions about organized religion.
I am compelled to present the other side of the ugly underbelly of organized religion. I was fortunate to be raised in a church with leaders who were Bible-abiding, giving, insightful, intelligent, sincere people who were tireless in their role as spiritual leaders - not just for our congregation but in the local community. They led by example and quietly followed their chosen lifepath of doing God and Jesus' work. Because my hometown is so small, the Methodists and Presbyterians shared resources including buildings, choir directors and yes, even ministers. The Methodist and Presbyterian churches were/are Wesleyan based, which means, among other things, that humility is a core value. You don't go around bragging. About anything, especially religion. Putting on any kind of air, being holier than anyone, is a horrible thing because, we're all God's children and love and the Holy Spirit is about including
, not excluding
, our brothers and sisters, no matter who they are or what they do or do not believe. Regardless of your religious beliefs, that's a good way to view life and the people who share the planet. My church always had to have fundraisers for things like a new furnace or a new roof because most of the church's money went to community projects that helped and enriched lives other than those who belonged to our church, and not to things like a church gymnasium or a new car for the minister.
Around the time I was 8 I discovered not all churches were like mine, and not all religious leaders were kind, thoughtful, insightful and trustworthy. I learned that some churches were money-making businesses that earned profits that they didn't roll back into the church and community. And thus began my dissent from organized religion. My
church experience was good, very good, but my wide-eyed innocence was shattered with one visit to a church of another religion where I saw some of the most opulent displays of wealth I'd ever witnessed. My parents were out of town for a few days and I stayed with an elderly neighbor. She took me to her church for Sunday service.
The only place I'd seen huge, lush tapestries and beautiful paintings and gilded statues and intricate stained glass was in museums and at some of the historic houses my parents took me to visit on vacation. I had no idea that just down the road from my own church was a place that housed such opulent splendor. Even their pews were ornately carved and gilded. And their pews had comfy velvet cushions with gold braid trim! They had gold embossed leather bound hymnals held in fancily carved racks, and there were enough to go around for everyone, so you didn't have to share your hymnal. Their collection plates were shiny gold, ornately carved and so heavy I thought they were made of real gold. I noticed no one put cash in the collection plates, everyone had fancy envelopes with their names spelled out in embossed letter with gold ink next to a fancy illustration of Jesus. My parents gave me a dollar to put in the collection plate, so I did as they instructed me and placed it in the collection plate amidst all the fancy envelopes. I also had my first encounter with religious bigotry during that visit.
I was told, in no uncertain terms by our elderly neighbor, that I was not allowed anywhere near the altar, and I would not be allowed to take communion. I was told to sit quietly in the pew while everyone else went to the altar for communion. I'd taken communion at my church plenty of times, I didn't understand why I wasn't allowed to do so at that church. Jesus was depicted all over the place in that church, he presided over the congregation from all vantage points in the church. I knew what Jesus was about, I was fast-tracking my way through Sunday school and loved the concept of communion. At first I thought maybe I wasn't allowed to take communion because I was a kid, but, nope, other kids were going up to the altar. So I sat there, confused and alone in a pew while everyone else was up partaking of the blood and flesh of Christ. I'd never felt embarrassed in church. Church was one place I always felt safe and confident and accepted. So this was a whole new level of emotion for me and I was not prepared for it.
The other kids of this church saw me sitting alone in the pew and pointed and snickered at me. After the service our neighbor stayed to chat with other elderly people. She plunked me down in a chair with a cookie and a napkin and went on her way to socialize. The kids who pointed and laughed at me during the service at me came over and teased me because I had to sit by myself during communion and now I had to sit by myself after church. They told me I wasn't good enough for their church and that Jesus wasn't in me because I didn't take communion. From there they started calling me a sinner and from there I was told I was going to go to Hell. Yeah. These were some really nice kids.
I didn't know them because their church had a school, and they attended that school. They had their own sports teams and Scout troops, so those kids never intermingled with the rest of the kids in the community. I knew they existed, they lived in the same neighborhoods, shopped at the same grocery store and pharmacy, but, they only played with kids from their church and church school. Until that day I never understood why. Reality came crashing down on me: I wasn't good enough for them, and they thought I wasn't good enough for Jesus.
I made my way to a bathroom, which was also fancy and ornate and smelled like the expensive perfume my mother only wore on very special occasions - mainly fancy dates with my dad. It dawned on me that most of the women in that church smelled like that perfume. They wore their most special perfume to church! My mother and the other women in my church rarely wore perfume to church. Some of the older women smelled like dusty lilacs, but the prevailing sent in our church was an aromatic mix of musty paper, Pine Sol, furniture polish and Ben Gay. My church's bathroom was on par with the bathrooms at school - clean, efficient, utilitarian - two stalls and two sinks with small mirrors over them, two bars of soap and a paper towel dispenser. This
bathroom had a large antechamber with fancy divans and two huge mirrors framed in carved wood. There were beautiful paintings of the most gorgeous angels I'd ever seen. There were two vanities with tufted chairs, and the vanities held all sorts of lady items like lotion and bobby pins and hair spray and nail polish. The bathroom part of the bathroom had at least six stalls that were like mini rooms, they were enclosed from floor to ceiling and had heavy wood doors. Their sinks were pink with gold flecks (I presumed it was real gold) and they had liquid soap dispensers and real cloth hand towels. There was a hamper discreetly tucked under the counter where I ascertained the used hand towel was to be placed. I was still upset about being called a sinner and not good enough for Jesus, and fighting back tears when I entered this lavatorial splendor. I made my way to one of the stalls and cried. I was a stranger in a strange land, my parents were out of town, and even Jesus didn't want me.
It's the first time I remember feeling depressed. At the time I didn't know that's what it was, but that church, and being excluded - made to sit alone during communion - and then being teased to the point of being called a sinner and not good enough for Jesus remains one of the low points in my life.
I pulled myself together, I had to be brave like my parents told me to be. I went back out to the social area and found our neighbor. On the way to the parking lot she showed me the church's gymnasium and indoor pool. I assumed it was filled with holy water. They got to swim in holy water. That was the last straw for me. Some of the kids who teased me were entering the pool area. They got to go swimming after church...at
church, in holy water. They made faces at me and yelled out, "Bet your church doesn't have a pool!" Our neighbor just told me to come along and I dutifully followed her to the parking lot. I knew my parents were going to be home in a few hours and I could not wait.
After my parents got home I raced to my room where I cried for days. I was inconsolable. My parents tried to explain it all to me but I couldn't wrap my head around anything that they told me. Jesus was everywhere in that
church, I loved Jesus, I was a star pupil in Sunday school, I knew a lot about Him, I'd never committed any sin in my life, that I knew of, anyway, why wasn't I welcome there? And that was when I started questioning myself and my religion. That church was a big Jesus church, I loved Jesus, I thought I should have been welcomed with the open and loving embrace my church gave to visitors. But instead I was excluded and teased and accused of being a sinner by kids who didn't even know me.
The following week I returned to my church. How had I not ever noticed how Spartan and cold it was? Why were our hymnals so old with pages falling out of the bindings, and why did I have to share a hymnal with my brother or whomever was seated in the pew next to me? Why were our pews so uncomfortable and would it kill us to have a statue of Jesus somewhere? Our collection plates were light and lackluster and often coins, not fancy embossed envelopes, were placed in them. I didn't really know about rich and poor, I'd never really thought about it, especially in the context of church. But after spending a week crying about being a sinner and Jesus not being a part of me and assessing every aspect of my life trying to figure it out and make sense of what happened, I was suddenly acutely aware of everything. Maybe we were poor. Maybe our church was a church for poor people. Compared to that other church it certainly seemed that way. Jesus was supposed to love everyone, but of course He'd like the people who had more money to spend on decorating their church with all sorts of depictions of Him, surely He'd prefer those people over people who went to a church that didn't even have one statue of Him. All we had was a large wood cross over the altar.
Obviously I eventually sorted out the differences between the churches and realized that we spent our money to help the community rather than buying artifacts to adorn our building. I realized those kids were mean, misguided bullies who hadn't learned that Jesus is about including
, not excluding
. But it took a while for the sting of that experience to subside. My parents always told me bragging wasn't nice and that it hurt other peoples' feelings, so I'd stayed away from it, but now I had a real-life lesson. I decided boastful pride, especially in Jesus' name, was the most hurtful thing a person could do. To this day my spine stiffens and nostrils flare when someone brags about their religion or church, especially when money enters the conversation.
So, a pastor and 19 of her friends walk into an Applebee's...
Like most dining establishments, Applebee's has a policy of charging an automatic gratuity for parties with more than 8 guests. There are several reasons restaurants do this, primary among them is that parties of 8 or more generally monopolize at least two tables and the server for those table for the duration of their visit. A server is forced to focus their attention on what is effectively two (or more) tables whereas if the tables were the usual separate guest parties two (or more) servers may divide the workload. In the case of the pastor's group of 20, the presumption is that they used five tables. That may have constituted the server's entire section. So instead of the usual five tables with four guests each, dining at staggered arrivals and departures, the server had to take 20 orders at the same time, bring 20 meals to the table at the same time, and remove 20 dishes at the same time. More work, more effort, more juggling of time and tasks to ensure good customer service for the server. Oh. And. While those five tables were being used for the party of 20, the restaurant may have incurred a back-up in available seating, causing other patrons to wait longer than usual for a table (see above, non-staggered arrival and departure). Oh. And. It also slams the kitchen (see above, non-staggered arrival and departure). So. Those are the main and usual reasons restaurants charge an automatic gratuity for parties of 8 or more. Regardless of the reasons, this is such a standard restaurant policy that claiming ignorance of this practice is to claim either a) you've never actually dined in a restaurant, or b) you're a liar.
I'm going to say this to educate the people who may have never worked in the service industry. It's very common for servers and bartenders to work for tips. Restaurants are exempt from minimum wage laws regarding any staff who earn tips from patrons. So servers and bartenders (and valets and bus staff) are often paid $3 - $4/hour, and sometimes nothing at all. Think of it as working on commission. So if someone doesn't leave a tip, in many cases the server has worked for free. I didn't realize how few people didn't know this until I mentioned it to a couple friends a few years ago. They presumed that everyone, no matter what their job, earns at least minimum wage, and the tip is just a "bonus" that a patron can choose to bestow. Since I enlightened my friends one has been more generous with her tips, the other remains steadfast in her borderline degrading amount of tipping.
That's a little restaurant 101. Consider yourself educated and enlightened. Go forth and drink and dine.
I'm not fond of the trend of wait staff publicly slating patrons who leave insults on their checks. That's not to say I agree with patrons insulting wait staff - I do not. But. Tit for tat is petty and only serves to lower the integrity of two people instead of just one. Basically, two wrongs don't make a right. I cannot tell you how many insulting comments clients have written on proofs of marketing pieces I've worked on. It's kind of shocking what otherwise professional, articulate people will write on a sticky note adhered to an ad proof. Often the comments show the ignorance of the client - they're too stupid to realize the reason their logo isn't 38% larger is because the ad space they purchased is too small to accommodate a logo even 2% larger. (There are marketing people who post stupid client comments in public forums. I don't agree with that practice.) The customer or the client are not always right, but, as an employee your job is to remain professional and hold your behavior to the integrity of your employer. Part of your job is to smile like you mean it and behave as if the customer is, in fact, right. (Unless we're talking about sexual/racial/gender/threatening harassment, in which case nothing less than a public flogging is appropriate.)
Then someone went and brought God into it.
The comment written on the receipt is, "I give God 10%, why do you get 18?"
And this is where I raise an imploring hand to the Heavens and say, "See? See? This is a symptom of organized religion. This is a symptom of the self-righteous hypocrisy that runs rampant amongst people claiming to be Christian! This is the behavior that give you a bad name! This is why people don't want anything to do with church!"
Obviously I have deeply rooted issues regarding money, God and church. There's a part of me that will always be that little girl who was made to sit alone during communion. The lavish, showy adornments in a church that excludes non-members will always be symbolic of the perils of mingling money with religion. The money is channeled into procuring fancy items that are supposed to prove how much they love God and Jesus. Tapestries are lovely, and if someone donates one to a church, rock on, but, instead of using church funds to procure tapestries, why not donate that money to those less fortunate? WWJD? I can't speak for Him, but I want to believe He'd prefer to have the money spent on an after school program for kids whose parents can't afford babysitters, or helping someone in the community who's fallen on hard times, or on cancer research or...you get the point.
I don't know what type of church Pastor Bell leads, but I have to presume it's not Jewish or Christian. Because unless something's changed since I went to church, the Judeo-Christian God doesn't accept cash. His currency is souls.
But let's run a few hypotheticals on giving God money. Why? Because I'm dying to know how the cash is exchanged. Is there a secret vacuum tube delivery system like at bank drive-ups? Do you have to put a deposit slip with your name so God knows it's from you, maybe one of those fancy embossed envelopes like I saw in that church when I was a kid? Or is there some clandestine drop-off arrangement, like drug dealers and spies use? Small, unmarked bills wrapped in tin foil and placed in a paper bag inside a hollowed out fallen tree branch under a bridge...or in a Cool-Whip container inside a plastic grocery bag left in a trash bin in a WalMart parking lot. Does God Himself pick up the cash or does he send Jesus or an angel to do the pick up?
What I presume Pastor Bell actually means is that she gives a church (presumably hers) 10% of her income. Remember: Churches are non-profit charities and exempt from taxes, so that 10% is free and clear money for the church. And yes, churches have maintenance and upkeep and utilities and that all costs money and so, yes, the profit margin on those 10% tithes is diminished. And there are mission and outreach programs, you know, the programs and people who are doing God's work, and those programs need funding.
But what she gives her church
is her choice and is completely irrelevant to the person who waits on her and her 19 friends at Applebee's.
She's implying that in charging an automatic 18% gratuity the server and Applebee's are saying they're worth more than the 10% she gives to her church.
The reality is that the only person who's holier-than-thou is the pastor.
People who have no right stand at a pulpit and lead a congregation in God's (any god's) name for $500 please, Alex.
As this story unfolds all I can think is WWJD? And I only mean that half-sarcastically. Because really, what would
First of all, he wouldn't have entered a dining establishment with 19 of His flock if they couldn't pay the gratuity. Jesus was handy with water, wine, fishes and bread, so this sort of thing wasn't much of an issue for Him. But let's just say He took the disciples out to supper, and the bill arrived and He realized He didn't factor in the automatic 18% gratuity. The group all checks the pockets of their cloaks. Judas (who has horrible table manners - he puts his elbows on the table and spilled salt all over the place) takes up a collection but then bolts with the money. So now there they are with a messy table and not enough money to cover the 18% gratuity. WWJD? I'm not sure what He would do, but I know he would not
do. He would not get all high and mighty with the pen and leave a self-righteous comment for the innocent server. Why do I know Jesus would not do this? Because Jesus was pretty clever with the PR. He was all about spreading the word of God in order to convert and save souls, and bringing God into a tip for a meal is not going to endear anyone to the cause.
I respect other peoples' spiritual and religious beliefs, I truly do. But. Bringing God into a financial transaction at a restaurant
is not behavior that I can respect. Jesus is about acceptance and forgiveness and all the way around those are the best solutions for everyone involved in this.
I don't agree with posting the receipt online, the server was obviously scorning and humiliating the pastor and that's not helpful. It's also unprofessional. And, yes, the pastor did a very unchurchlike thing (again, presuming hers is a Judeo-Christian God). Like those kids who teased me at that showy church, this pastor is a God bully. High and mighty and holier than thou, presuming she has God on her side because she spends money (10%!) on church. And exposing the pastor's sentiments, offering insight into this religious leader's soul, is leading to conversations that may ultimately prove helpful for those who feel a need to brag about their religion and the money they give to church.
But. There is no positive outcome for anyone involved. And the biggest loser is God, because pastor Bell is an appointed leader in one of His churches. Is her behavior on par with Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart? No. But. For those of us who've parted ways with organized religion, she's just more proof that the most unholy people you'll ever meet are members and leaders of churches who exclude rather than include, and confuse money with piety.