On Thursday night, Nick (my husband) played (his original music) at a legit venue for the first time since we’ve lived in St. Louis. He has played at a coffee shop a couple of times, but never as a performer recognized as such. There was a simple stage, a sound check, and an opener. We got to the venue about an hour early to set up and get a vibe. We chatted with the bartender before people started to arrive. A friend (from the seminary we attend) played a set of his own music to open up. Friends (mostly from the seminary as well) trickled in over the course of the next hour. When it was time for Nick to start playing, someone who worked at the venue came onstage and gave a short, seemingly out-of-the-blue speech about the fact that during the show with an obviously largely Christian-seminary-crowd, the bar was making the least money in tips than it ever had before on similar nights. He addressed the idea of generosity and basically spoke against us for a little while. And then Nick had to start playing (for his own CD release show) in the midst of the subsequent atmosphere.

At first, it made me feel super unwelcome, like we were almost being asked to wrap things up and leave (before the main act had started). At the same time, I started to feel terrible. So terrible. Such a sinking feeling in my stomach. Nick and I were each given two tickets for free drinks since he was an artist and I was taking cover charges at the door. I hadn’t had the opportunity to tip or buy my own drink. But I have known for a long time that in the restaurant industry, Christians have the worst reputation as customers and specifically as being terrible tippers. That has always informed the way that Nick and I try to extend generosity when we tip (besides the fact that it’s a decent and normal way to behave, no matter who you are). Nick has also worked at three or four restaurants in his life, and he understands what it’s like to rely on tips on your shift.

The speech we should want people to give when a group of Christians comes into a neutral space is quite the opposite from the one this man had to give last night. It should be, “You Christians have been the best-tipping crowd we’ve ever had, and that wasn’t what we were expecting! Thank you for living up to the standard of generosity that you’re supposed to have!” We should be living in a way that shows people who don’t share our beliefs that we actually let our faith inform our way of being in the world, everywhere we go. As I sat and listened to Nick play his set (very graciously and positively and addressing the bar in a congenial way, seemingly unfazed by the speech) I started to get pissed. We invited this crowd to a bar we had never been to before, and they were representing us, our school, our faith, and ultimately our God. I wish they had thought about that when they decided not to leave a tip (those of them who didn’t leave a tip…probably better just not to buy a drink in the first place). I had used my drink tickets, so I went ahead and bought a beer.

After Nick was finished, he wanted to buy a drink as well, and a couple of our friends stayed back with us as we sat at the bar and chatted with the two people who had been working that night. We addressed the issue right away – we apologized for the way they had been stiffed, and made it clear that we weren’t on board with that. The lady that we had talked to early in the evening told us a couple of comments she’d overheard from the guests. One person commented to another that they hadn’t tipped and that their friend shouldn’t feel bad about not tipping either. One person questioned the bartender’s sexuality based on her short hair. I was horrified!! We personally knew all but three of the people who’d walked through the door – albeit we don’t know all of them as close friends. I couldn’t believe that some of my friends/acquaintances had behaved so poorly, especially in light of the speech from a person who directly said that he had grown up in the church. What a terrible impression we confirmed for him.

Our conversation – the six of us – after everyone else had left was really helpful and hopefully healing to the employees. They had gotten a terrible view of Christianity from our group that night. They expressed their gratitude for all the music, and for the four of us who stayed and tried to make amends and just talk as people. We listened to their thoughts about faith – some direct challenges and even really offensive accusations…but we didn’t argue or belittle. We tried to listen and be honest when we were asked questions. The guys exchanged phone numbers. We gave them most of the money we’d made at the door as our tip (something we weren’t necessarily guaranteed from Nick doing a show, and something that Nick does anyway when the tip jar is low). It was my favorite part of the night. And I was so proud of Nick for playing his really evidently Christian music without shame after being ripped, and for treating the staff so well, and for acknowledging with honesty the need to make up for the animosity they felt that night. I was grateful to have friends who stayed behind with us – I think it was really important for the staff to see that we weren’t the only people who could be kind to them and act normal. There are more than just two Christians who know how to love.

As I read that, it seems like I’m ranting and tooting my own horn here…but I am not trying to make us look good…I’m really trying to process being appalled and heartbroken…

When someone says to you that they were starting to heal and think about the Christian faith again, but your audience made them question whether they wanted to do that anymore, it is a big deal. Our behavior has consequences, and I want people to know that they leave an impact. Whatever your intentions, and whatever you think about your own money…Christians have to be the perfect example of human beings – we have to be extra generous and extra loving, because there is a stigma attached to us when we walk into the room. I think people are still used to the privilege of being accepted everywhere and having the freedom to behave how they like.

I’m not accusing anyone in particular of wrongdoing…but I was so embarrassed and so upset…and I wasn’t even on the receiving end of any comments or carelessness. The guys and the bartenders did one round of shots together to finish off the night, and we all hugged it out. I’m so glad that they were generous-spirited people, open to talking to us even though they didn’t have to trust us. I’m so glad we were able to have an open conversation about how they felt and what they saw and heard. I’m so sorry that Christians are so culturally clueless and blind to the way they affect others. I’m so glad that Nick’s music was still beautiful to them. It really was the kind of night that Nick wants his music to facilitate…just not in the way we expected.

It’s time to pray that we’ll have further interactions, conversations, positive experiences, friendships, with this place and the people who work there. It’s time to pray that they remember the way they were treated and respected at the beginning and end of the night. To pray that they know they are loved by God, and that their hearts might be opened. This should be our prayer for everyone we encounter, and I thought that Christians understood that…at least the ones who go to our seminary…perhaps I am just naïve. I’m usually cynical, and this whole incident isn’t helping with that. It is our actions that show who we truly our, not merely our words. Dumbledore says it. The Bible says it. We’ll be known by what we do.

Like I said, there were plenty of our friends there who were being perfectly kind and normal. And like I said, the speech was pretty brutal…it hit people the wrong way in general. The bartender made a caveat that the women were doing great (once the women started to arrive, she said, the tips started rolling in generously). We were a group of graduate students who generally look like we have it together but actually can’t really afford to spend money on drinks. Perhaps we shouldn’t have invited people to an event where they had to pay a cover as well as purchase drinks. It’s complicated, right? But in another way, it’s not complicated at all. Not to the two people we should have been most conscious about in that space.

I wanted a space to process this, so thanks for reading. Here are some quotes from a book we read at this seminary about living as Christians in a world where Christianity turns people off.

“Respect and graciousness are to flow from a heart that is being changed by the way God has come to meet me in Christ; they must arise from genuine love and a proper regard for my neighbor’s true dignity.” – The Heart of Evangelism, page 195

“Christians, above all people, should be aware that we need to earn respect from unbelievers by our life of service to the community.” – The Heart of Evangelism, page 144


siberia is a tundra of sound

I have been reading a lot. And listening to an overwhelming amount of music – both wonderful goals I’ve reached since graduation a year ago. A YEAR AGO. I graduated a year ago? ha, who am I?

We slept in today, which was awesome. Slept in until 9:30. It was glorious. Didn’t have my coffee until 1:00, so you know I’m restin’. One goal I’ve failed abysmally is the writing goal – the scariest, most important, most make-or-brake-my-identity (I know not really because I’m a child of God, but it’s where I seek my identity most often). This post is something I wrote a couple weeks ago, about the music that has been flowing through my veins lately. As I listen to Alt-J because you can’t help but feel legit while you do.

I’ve been reading so much about God’s faithfulness to his people, and reminding myself of the importance of memory. Remembering this great story and the blessings of God along the way. He provides and he follows through on his promises. I can trust him to be there. I can even trust him to care and to uphold me. I don’t have to carry 90% of our relationship. He carries it, actually. He can be trusted, and I need to remember the proof of that in my life. Or else nothing will change.

I got really happy when everything about gratitude clicked for me (at the same time that everything in my life aligned to allow gratitude to blossom pretty effortlessly). And I realized that you have to do the work to produce contentment – the work of humility and gratefulness – joy doesn’t just happen. Peace doesn’t come from trying to be peaceful and quiet and calm. It comes through Jesus, repentance, forgiveness, the realization of grace.

Jesus humbled himself to the point of death on a cross.
“Not too proud to wear our skin, to know this weary world we’re in – humble, humble, Jesus. Not too proud to bear our sin, to feel this brokenness we’re in – humble, humble, Jesus. Not too proud to dwell with us, to live in us, to die for us – humble, humble, Jesus. We bow our knees; we must decrease; you must increase; we lift you high…”

That’s from Audrey Assad’s song “Humble,” which has been playing a lot lately. Remember who Jesus was on earth – who he still is for us. I don’t know why I love this next one so much…I just keep going back to it. I think the images and the feel of it – it connects, especially these words:

“And through it all, I stood and stumbled, waded through my thoughts and heart / Yeah through it all, I fooled and fumbled, lost to the poet’s frown. I fought the wolves of patience just to let it lie down / See these waters they’ll pull you up, Oh if you’re bolder than the darkness / My, my, let these songs be an instrument to cut, Oh spaces ’tween the happiness and the hardness / / Strong hands to hold good friends that I never lost / / What we found down these roads that wander as lost as the heart, is a chance to breathe again, a chance for a fresh start…”
(“These Waters” / Ben Howard)

There is a chance to breathe again if the waters pull me up and I’m bolder than the darkness and the poet’s frown turns into a believer’s joyful grin. There is that to get over – and to accept – that standing-stumbling, fooling-fumbling stuff. There is happiness and hardness, but I get stuck in between.

“I’m too proud to ask, too broke to eat, too weak to bow, too strong to bleed…

Can you sing over me…words of comfort?
Can you satisfy me…sweet honey?
Can you break through me…strong hands?
Can you undo me…enough to heal me?

You take the weight…from my shoulders
My hands were clenched…now they’re open
I’ll take your goodness…poured from the sky
Food from the ravens…water from the dry…well”
(“Too Proud” / Enter the Worship Circle)

This is just how I am – too proud. The opposite of everything in that Audrey Assad song. I want words of comfort, satisfaction in God. I want him to break through my heart and undo me enough to heal me – I just wonder if he even can – if there’s not too much rubble and scab there to be fixed – but he has the almighty balm. I always forget. My hands were/are clinched – I clench my teeth and my face and my shoulders. Take the weight – palms up – I am the dry well really…

That has been the most astounding part of the internship. How dry I always feel, and how good things still happen and I feel like God still uses my presence sometimes. But I’m literally the least of these – the broken vessel – the bruised reed. I’m so out of it when it comes to my spirituality. And you would think that this job would require more than that – and it does, and I do fine, but I feel like a fake.

I have felt so unsure – abandoned – unacknowledged – forgotten – depressed – anxious. I prayed so much for growth – for hard humility and to be taken away from my comfort zone. Why don’t I remember those prayers right away when these things start to happen? I know that God will give us trials and strengthen our faith – if we trust him, if I’m one that perseveres.

“’Lord, why is this?’ I trembling cried. Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death? ‘Tis in this way,’ the Lord replied, ‘I answer prayer for grace and faith. These inward trials I employ, from self and pride to set thee free, and break thy schemes of earthly joy that thou mayest seek thy all in me.’”
– I Asked the Lord – John Newton (Laura Taylor, Emily Deloach)

I just feel that so big – this entire hymn. The Lord answers those prayers for faith and trust and growth and grace and humility by making us humble ourselves and by trials – mainly inward, especially for me. He does make us humble, and we’re then faced with the question of whether we really want what we asked for – if we wanted it in the first place. And the answer is yes, but only when I consciously notice – on the regular, I don’t want that. I’m too proud.

I’ll leave off with the lyrics of the first song from Josh Garrels’ new album that struck me, and after that, the video of the one that I’m crying about right now because it’s painfully beautiful, and I can’t stop listening to it…

one –
“Lift up your shoulders child – breathe in – Carry the weight of love you’ve been given.
Storm is passing by – light breaks in, as you learn to sing.
Every color can be unwound, woven into a wave of beautiful sound.
Open the heavenlies and shake the ground, and change the world.
So let all the creatures sing praises over everything – colors are meant to bring glory to the light.
Voices might fade away and begin – become a tapestry we all are in.
No one will ever be forgotten – there’s a place for us.
So let all the creatures sing praises over everything – colors are meant to bring glory to the light – glory to the throne.
This is our story, this is our song – we’re telling it slowly all life long –
of a Savior and what He’s done. It’s a mystery…”
(Colors / Josh Garrels)