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