By now most of the Internet faithful have heard the story of the pastor and the waitress. Basic facts go something like this: pastor and a large group eat a meal at Applebee's; pastor and large group ask for separate checks, presumably to forgo paying the 18% included gratuity (even though one credit card paid allegedly for all); pastor crossed out included gratuity and wrote that she gave God 10%, so why did the server need 18%; server called out pastor's cheapskate behaviour by posting a copy of the receipt on the Internet; pastor called for staff to be fired; Applebee's fired waitress; Christian ministers take yet another black eye for behavoiur that is completely contrary to the Gospel. To read the Huffington Post take on the situation, click here.
I'd like to ask the pastor several things, because I'm angry at her actions. I'm angry that she felt compelled to identify herself as a "Pastor," while doing something completely unpastoral. Pastoral actions are caring, honest, and vulnerable. They are not self-serving and greedy. Pastoral actions meet people where they are; they do not lecture or shame another. She does, however, validate a rule I have that anything or anyone who needs to identify themselves or their organization as "Christian" likely are not going to exhibit very Christian behavior to those who are a smidgen different then they.
I'd like to know if she asks her congregation to give only 10% as a tithe, or does she ask them to give what they are called to give after prayer and reflection. My experience is that some people generously give as much as they are able, and perhaps that is 2% and maybe it's substantially more. I'd also like to know if she really does give 10% of her total income to God. And I wonder if the church credit card paid for that meal.
But what really makes me angry about this entire situation is a glaring example - again - of Christians exhibiting cheapskate behaviour with God's generous love we are called to share with the world. As much as I'd like to sit in judgment on this pastor, what really catches me is that I, just like her, have been cheap with the generous love God has lavished on me. We all have. We may not have left written evidence of our cheapskate love that got posted on the Internet, but we're all guilty. And our actions have caused as much pain to others.
God's love expressed over and over again in Holy Scripture, in the lives of the saints and sinners, and in the mundane details of our lives, overflows with generosity. God gathers us in Her arms, tells us we are beloved, tells us that all of God's children are beloved, kisses our foreheads and seals our hearts, and sends us forth to share that generous love with all whom we encounter. We decide that God's love is a limited commodity, only to be shared with those who are like us or worthy of love or who like the same hymns we like or pray to God in the same language we do, so we go forth into the the world and share that message.
Maybe you've heard it. Goodness knows so many people who have been cheated by the church have heard the message of cheapskate love.
One incarnation of this cheapskate love goes like this: God loves me and will forgive my sins, whatever their gravity or awfulness, because they are really not so much sins as character quirks. But YOU? Well, your sins, are another matter. For you to experience the unbounded generosity of God's love, you must be made to feel shame. You must be made to feel humiliation and exclusion. You must earn God's love. The holy cheapskate demands a forgiveness for herself that she is unwilling to extend to another. The holy cheapskate views himself as justified in his wrongs while holding others to a less generous standard of human frailty. In case you're wondering where Jesus stands on this exact matter of being a holy cheapskate, he squarely addresses this point in a parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew.
Of maybe we've received a generous gift and privilege for which we've done nothing to earn. In this county, many of us received privilege simply because we were born into a certain economic category or race or ethnicity. A reality in many cultures is if you are born a heterosexual male of the dominate ethnicity, you inherit more power and status than females and/or those who are lesbian, gay, and minority - a privilege that person has done nothing to earn or deserve other than be born. That power is a gift of the culture. Unfortunately, many fail to recognize what they've received and act as if they've earned everything they have in their lives. The cheapskate voice here says things like, "I built all of this. Why haven't you been as successful as me? You should work harder, apply yourself more, and quit being lazy," with a complete failure to recognize the inherent prejudice that exists in every culture. The holy cheapskate stands high upon a pedestal, watching those who stand in the ditch, and refusing to help lift another up. Jesus has something on point to say about this, too.
Our holy cheapskate selves see God's love as something that is ours to parse out, when it simply is not. God's love is God's. Our job is to fall into that love and to let it flow through us freely and wildly, not to act as a dam that controls this holy love and to reduce it to a mere trickle based upon our own fears, prejudices, and doctrines. God's love is generous and there for all.
For all! It isn't only 10% available for certain people and 18% available for others and 100% available for a small minority. Straight or gay; rich or poor; powerful despot or oppressed minority; saint and sinner - God loves you. Period. No exceptions, no qualifications.
We are called to feel this generous love for ourselves and to share that generous holy love with the world. We have no right to be cheap with God's love. Ever. And when we are cheap with love (and we all are at times) we need to remember WE are being cheap with love, not God. I pray we refrain from invoking God's name to justify our cheapskate actions.
So if you and I can't love someone with generosity because of our own prejudices or wounds, we might begin by saying, "I have trouble loving you," instead of, "God says I don't have to love you because you are a (fill in the blank of the current prejudice)." I'm not quite sure God says we don't have to love anyone (see the Parable of the Good Samaritan). And if we are struggling to forgive someone who has wounded us, I wonder about the healing power to our own souls if we said, "I have been so hurt by your actions that right now, I can't forgive," instead of saying, "God thinks you're a sinner."
As Christians, above all, we are called to generous, ridiculous love. At times we can share that love; at other times, we fail and become cheapskates. God still loves us. God still kisses our wounds that choke our ability to love our neighbor as God calls us to love, and She sends us back out into the world to love and serve, reminding us to be generous with a love that has no end.
And reminding us when we are cheap and don't want to tip a server, stay at home to eat a meal.