for want of a comma, seriously

I could tell you how my brain got from one thing to the next, but that would take a lot of words, plus make you dizzy. Let’s just start by assuming there was a reason I was sitting in church on Easter morning thinking of violence and death. It didn’t help that there was this note in the list of Easter lily acknowledgements:

“Easter flowers placed in the sanctuary in loving memory of… the victims of Newtown, CT, Standard Gravure, and all other gun massacres by Jim and Jen Smith.”

I was immediately cast into wondering what other gun massacres the Smiths had committed, and whether they had been apprehended. Then I began to ponder the power of a comma. (This being a UCC congregation, the comma has taken on larger theological meaning, and could have been employed to great effect this morning.)

Massacres in my head, we then moved to the children’s sermon. At the risk of ex-communication by my friends and family, I confess that I am not a fan of children’s sermons. Generally, it is a time when some well-meaning member of the congregation or ministry staff tries to foist some analogy on little folks developmentally unprepared to digest such a thing. And thus, children depart from worship believing nothing more than God is a flashlight that never needs a new battery, or turning 100 gallons of water into wine is a cool thing. Ok, that last part is true, but the battery thing isn’t really helpful.

As I listened to the children’s sermon, there was a lot of talk about a dead guy not staying dead no matter how hard people tried to kill him, and a tomb that wasn’t very effective, and that people who are dead come back to life, so we don’t ever have to be sad. That’s when my mind wandered to video games, and I began to ponder who does the most damage to children’s minds – the video game industry or the church.

At some point, we began to pray, but I really don’t remember what about.

The primary problem with children’s sermons, however, isn’t that we cannot adapt theology for children; it is that we rarely bother to adapt it back to adults. Thus, we end up with adults who can’t imagine how to read scripture except literally, and who think the most important thing they can do to live their faith is to be nice. Which has very little to do with Jesus and why he was murdered by the state on behalf of the religious traditionalists.

Church exists for this: to be God’s partner in mending this broken world. Perhaps we could start by teaching grown-up theology to grown-ups, and expecting revolutionary things to start to happen.

So here’s my recommendation for congregations who want to be “relevant”: Find a sitter for the kids (perhaps someone who will tell bible stories without feeling a need to make analogies); and then start having some well-punctuated adult conversations. And if there happen to be 40 or 50 jugs of wine nearby, so much the better.

tipping out

Did I ever mention I used to work in a bar? When I was in school, I was a busser and barback at Petticoat Junction in Austin. I mostly enjoyed the work. I met strong and beautiful women, learned to two-step, and was quite entertained by closing-time Patsy Cline impersonations when Philip, the bartender, would stand on the bar and let it loose.

Life as a barback is about washing glasses, slicing limes, making sure the liquor rack is always full; in my case, it included recording tax numbers off empty bottles to keep Texas ABC happy. The pace can be unrelenting. I was paid minimum wage, but each evening the bartenders would thank me by sharing their tips – “tipping out.” They each put 10 percent into a pile, then divided it among us who didn’t get tipped. It was rarely more than $5-8. For me, it afforded the luxury of joining the other employees for breakfast at Katz’s Deli after closing time. (“Katz’s Never Kloses.”) For others, it was bigger, a few gallons of gas in the car or making the rent.

I mention this, not because I’m feeling nostalgic, but because in Louisville, the practice of tipping out has been in the news. Servers at iconic Lynn’s Paradise Café claimed they were fired for refusing to bring large amounts of their own cash to work, cash that they said they were required to share with bussers, food runners and others. Today the news is that servers at another place, Doc Crow’s Smokehouse and Raw Bar, have filed a lawsuit claiming they were forced to share tips. For the record, Kentucky law prohibits restaurants from requiring this.

It is ironic that this issue is arising among the lowest paid workers in the country. According to a 2012 special report by the Food Chain Workers Alliance, food workers face higher levels of food insecurity than the rest of the U.S. work force, and use food stamps at double the rate of the rest of the workforce. One in 6 Americans works somewhere in the food industry, and 7 of the 10 lowest paying jobs are in direct food service.

“I earned it myself, I’m keeping it” is a myopic epidemic in America, but it hardly is about waiters. We are regularly reminded that those with wealth earned it all by themselves. Truth is, everything we do, every bit of low level work performed by the untrained or unlucky or unwealthy – or those happy enough to wash glasses and slice limes, or to order doughnuts for the next board meeting, or type, file, guard, repair, stock, sort, deliver, drive or clean – every bit of it contributes to the wealth of the wealthy.

Perhaps business owners could take a look at their own ledgers. Instead of insisting on profit-sharing among those at the economic bottom, instead of enjoying the fruits of regressive corporate tax policies or employment laws, they could engage in profit-sharing WITH those employees,.

I applaud Kentucky Jobs with Justice and the Service Workers for Justice for bringing this issue to light. There’s a lot of sharing that needs to happen; let’s not be deluded into thinking it should begin with the ones who work for tips.

I have no sense of humor.

So I’ve been told. Again.

It was to be expected. I even warned you in my “about me” section: I’m a serious person. I take things seriously, often looking for underlying realities or subtleties. And let’s be honest: women and others who want – who insist on and work for – equal rights for all people, have long been accused of lacking a sense of humor.

This time, the offense was an image posted to a design school forum in which I am required to participate. A sexualized pair of ice cream scoops, accompanied by a not-so-innocent invitation. Not a particularly clever design – any 14-year-old boy could have done it. Most probably have. In this case, it was posted by a female student. I asked that it be taken down, inappropriate to the class forum. That’s when I was labeled. No sense of humor. But not just that. I was also a bully for making the request, perverted for noticing the anatomical allusion, and moreover I was a clear representation of “what’s wrong with this country.” It was a big day for me. The epithets piled up. Even my female classmates joined in, labeling me and defending the post, calling it funny, clever, hilarious.

Later that evening, in another arena of my work, I interviewed students for summer internships. One student, a serious young engineer who wants to dedicate her life to making clean water available in impoverished and exploited countries, indicated she’d also applied for engineering internships, but didn’t expect to get hired. “They said they aren’t hiring women this year; they have enough.”

And in the news, Ashley Judd is considering a run for the U.S. Senate. Rather than critiquing her approach to social problems – the foundation for which has come from her childhood in poverty, her graduate education in the Ivy League, and her extensive travel to deprived and forgotten areas of the world – the recent conversation has focused on her movie career (she’s merely an actress) and the occasions when she’s played roles in varying degrees of nudity. But I know Reagan was an actor before he was president; Jesse “the body” Ventura was a pro-wrestling villain before he was governor of Minnesota; Arnold Schwarzenegger was a body builder before… well, you get the idea.

The movement isn’t done. The battle isn’t over. Women are still held to a higher standard, still met with resistance at the highest levels, and, Hillary Clinton, Rachel Maddow and Condoleezza Rice notwithstanding, still thought to be lightweights in realms requiring serious thinking.

We are always, always telling other people what to think of us and how to treat us. More than my frustration over the barrage of criticism that befell me for my request that the class post come down, I am frustrated that my classmate has done herself and the rest of us one more disservice.

Or maybe I just have no sense of humor.