Giving a Pizza Tip: It’s Not So Simple
Natasha hard at work
Who knew a congregation’s generosity could be so controversial? Well friends, I had a feeling (which makes me think of that awesome Black-Eyed Peas song, BTW). You may recall last week’s blog about a church who collected money for a $1,046 tip/gift and gave it away to an unsuspecting Dominoes Pizza deliverer. Little did I know that writing about this would cause one person to become so outraged that she said, “I think this is idiotic considering all the great needs out there for spending donations wisely and not throwing money away randomly. Unsubscribe me from this list please.” Well that set me straight. At least she said “please.”
There were a couple of other pushbacks from two people whose opinions I greatly admire. The ever-thoughtful Rev. Clay Andrew wrote me and observed:
“This [pizza story] is great in theory, but as I reflect on it a few things rub me the wrong way, or at least raise some questions for me. Bringing the pizza delivery person on stage puts them in a hugely awkward position, doesn’t it? I mean, I guess I’d get on stage for $1000, but this lady was dragged up on stage before she knew why. And couldn’t the $1000 tip have been given without the need for the whole congregation to be watching? That makes it feel to me as though the point here is not ‘Let’s help someone’ but ‘Look how awesome we are.’ That is, it seems to me to be less about generosity than about self-congratulation.”
Exploiting someone for your own benefit is awful. But fortunately, Rev. Andrew found out via a Washington Post story that Natasha knew she was going on stage for a presentation and volunteered to do it…this was no “set-up.” In fact, Natasha had just been evicted from her apartment because she had pneumonia and missed a week of work. She desperately needed that money for her and her son to stay in their home.
As Rev. Andrew said, “I would say that my concerns about emotional manipulation (of the delivery person) and self-celebration (by the church) still hold, but I can say that in this case there was certainly some good that came out of it.” Fair enough.
Rev. Jeremy Hajdu-Paulen sent a follow-up article on the pizza tip from Patheos and echoed some of Rev. Andrew’s apprehension adding:
“My concern with stories like this one is that it provides a little emotional ‘hit’ but what then? So we feel good and it is moving, but then...what? I'm not saying it is true in this case, but when charity borders on sentimentality, then I start to squirm. Even mission trips can too easily devolve into self-centered experiences about ‘helping poor people’ so that we can ‘feel good about our blessings and how lucky we are’ and end up objectifying and using poor people for our own feel-good experiences. When, of course, mission trip experiences IMHO need to focus on issues of justice, working alongside people, challenging our own assumptions, building community with people across socio-economic lines, etc.”
In my early days I would have proudly said charity was bad and justice was good. I now see the need for both. Some people do need a Band-Aid, some people do need food from a food bank, and some people just need that one big tip on a pizza delivery. But it’s also true that we as a people of faith need to be about justice, to fight oppression, work for living wages, and figure out the systemic changes that need to be made to make homelessness and hunger and a whole lot of other awful things a thing of the past. Every now and again, someone’s act of generosity – a little charity if you will – can be the inspiration we need to keep on fighting that good fight to make God’s kin-dom come “on earth as it is in heaven.” Thanks to all of you who made this a much richer conversation about something other than pizza.
Perhaps we’ll let Natasha, the recipient of the crazy big tip, have the last word: “It definitely opened my eyes up that there are still good people in the world,” she said. “I’ve been bitter about humanity in general … maybe I need to start going to church. Maybe this is something, God was trying to open my eyes.”
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past decade, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over $2.5 million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. She is thinking about becoming a Dominoes employee…just to see what kind of tips she can get. She served as the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Lay Leader from 2008-2012. Her position with the Conference is funded through a generous grant from the Collins Foundation; she is available to consult with churches in Oregon and Idaho. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.