Please Tell Me It Isn't So

for the week of August 20, 2001
by Rubel Shelly

Barbara Ehrenreich has written an engaging but disturbing book about the plight of people trying to get by at the low end of America's economy. Nickel and Dimed narrates some of her experiences in the minimum-wage workforce.

Ehrenreich found out that even the most "unskilled" job does indeed require both mental and physical effort that leaves one exhausted. Yet she also learned that only one job at that earnings level is insufficient for getting by at a standard of adequacy that most human beings need. She also found out that people working at the lower end of the economic scale take a disproportionate amount of abuse.

In describing her experience as a waitress making $2.13 an hour in direct wages and depending on tips to boost her to a livable income she points out that certain groups are harder to deal with than others. Predictably, fraternity guys with a few beers in them make her List of the Unpleasant and Dreaded. But I was shocked to find out who was at the very top of her list.

The worst, for some reason, are the Visible Christians like the ten-person table, all jolly and sanctified after Sunday night service, who run me mercilessly and then leave me $1 on a $92 bill. Or the guy with the crucifixion T-shirt (someone to look up to) who complains that his baked potato is too hard and his iced tea too icy (I cheerfully fix both) and leaves no tip at all. As a general rule, people wearing crosses or WWJD? ("What Would Jesus Do?") buttons look at us disapprovingly no matter what we do, as if they were confusing waitressing with Mary Magdalene's original profession.
Straight from church to stiffing a waitress? Wearing a cross and being so utterly insensitive? Treating people so differently from him while wearing the question "What Would Jesus Do?" on my person? Please tell me it isn't so!

But I've occasionally left extra on the table after noticing that people in my after-church or lunch-during-church-conference group paid a tab, picked up their change, and left nothing for our server. I'm not more righteous. I've just had a son who worked as a waiter in college and told me his own horror stories.

If you're going to be rude and insensitive to anyone today, whether at work, at home, or in a public place, at least be thoughtful enough to remove any "Visible Christian" paraphernalia that could wind up reflecting on Jesus.

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