Paying Well: Let the Corners Go

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I’ve never worked in a service industry that involved tipping. But I’ve heard the horror stories. Some of the worst involve church groups who refuse to tip well, which makes me glad I haven’t had to work for tips. Because of my job, I spend a lot of time on the Internet, and so, frankly, I don’t need another reason to be exasperated with my people.

But I do ride in cabs sometimes, and I frequent establishments where I need to tip. New York City, where I live, technically follows the 15- to 20-percent tip rule, like most of the rest of the United States.

When I moved here, it was also the first time I lived on my own, and the first time I had an adult-sized income. I could afford to sit down and eat at a restaurant, or to hop in a car and let someone else drive me somewhere. They’re all small investments—a cab ride across the width of the island of Manhattan always rang in at less than eight dollars—and I enjoyed the freedom those small luxuries could afford me.

Yet I didn’t exactly know what to do at the end of the meal or the ride. Did I tip at fifteen percent? Eighteen? Twenty?

My impression from past experiences had been that “tipping is for good service,” and that therefore I should weigh the service I had received from the provider against some scale that went from bad to okay to great, and tip accordingly. Did he smile? Was she cold? Did my food come out of the kitchen as quickly as I wanted? Was the driver on the phone the whole time?

Modern-Day Gleaning

Near the end of his book Playing God, Andy Crouch lays out what he calls the “Sabbath ladder,” a few considerations for Christians who want to use their power well. In that chapter, he talks about things like observing the Sabbath, making room for others to take rest, sabbaticals, and other regular releases of our own power that help us remain more reliant on the Source of power.

Crouch links the first rung on that ladder to the Biblical practice of “gleaning,” which you’ll remember from the book of Ruth. In it, Boaz’s fields are not reaped to their edges, gathering every last bit of their precious earned income, of the power that they had rightly earned. Instead, the workers left the edges unreaped, and the poor—in accordance with the law—were allowed to come and glean from what was left over.

This practice—of gratefully, voluntarily giving up some of one’s earned abundance to someone to whom it did not belong, with no expectation of return—isn’t a perfect match for tipping, which is expected, at least here, and which is earned by the work the service provider does.

The Difference Between 15 and 20 Percent

I hadn’t read Playing God yet, but I’d heard a sermon somewhere that set me thinking about this idea. Early on, I realized that the difference between a tip of 15 and 20 percent on, say, a $25 meal comes out to $1.25.

I’ve been very blessed, in that so far in my adult life, $1.25 is never the line between starvation and nourishment. I don’t even notice $1.25. I probably have far more than that in the pile of change in my desk drawer at work. But for others, it can make a big difference. It can pay rent or buy groceries or cover kids’ dental bills, things I don’t have to worry about, for reasons that have nothing to do with my own perceived awesomeness.

Realizing that changed things for me. Sure, I could round down when the service was inadequate. After all, I earned that $1.25, and I’m pretty sure some financial guru would tell me that hundreds of $1.25s can add up to some kind of investment in my 401(k).

But I think maybe that extra bit could just be part of participating in the practice of gleaning, and I’ll be honest: every time I tip the full amount, I am reminded that this money isn’t mine anyhow, nor am I somehow righteous for giving it away. I could be poor tomorrow. I hoard more than I ought. But my money belongs to someone else, and letting the corners go a bit reminds me that I ought to do that in much larger ways.


Paying Well

After we published a week of content with the theme heading Making Money, we received a message encouraging us to consider the flip side, as well. What about Christians who fail to pay well, who complain about leaving a tip or who balk at paying an honest rate, especially when doing business with other Christians? What does the Bible have to say about this, and what is fair to expect when doing business with Christians and non-Christians alike? Is there a difference? Should there be? What has been your experience? Join us for this series, Paying Well, as we consider personal stories and biblical instruction for leading well as Christians in the world, especially when it comes to determining what to pay.

Featured image by Franck BLAIS. Used with Permission. Source via Flickr.