Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Toys of Summer (Winter Edition), PART 2: "4D Cityscape Time Puzzle"

Click here for intro and PART 1.

4D Cityscape Time Puzzle: USA


"4D Cityscape allows you to build the history of the USA over the 4th Dimension of Time. Starting with the base layer, our unique jigsaw play showcases the evolution of the USA - based on territorial expansion from the year 1783 to 1900's. You then assemble the 2nd layer 'modern' jigsaw map - which showcases the formation all 50 states in a time sequence based on each State's date of established statehood. The third layer is constructed using the 4D Time Poster where 93 of the most famous US monuments & buildings are placed into the puzzle in the order that they were constructed.

The puzzle includes 93 plastic building replicas that depict the Country as far back as 1450 to modern day. The puzzle includes such iconic structures as Arches National Park, Mount Rushmore, and the St. Louis Arch. The buildings fit into pre-cut holes in a traditional 2D jigsaw puzzle that form the country's layout and Rocky Mountains. The product includes a Time Poster that directs you through time as you rebuild America’s famous history. Ages 8+."
(from 4D Puzzle Website)

It's part puzzle, part timeline--and all learning.

The good things about this product are very good.  The first layer is a visually engaging map, with each land acquisition of the United States distinguished by its own color and faux-texture.  The map is loaded with names and dates, and includes natural and man-made borders.  The second layer—pieces made of foam—lays on top of the original layer and depicts the US as it exists today.  Then you fit tokens representing landmarks (mostly man-made) into their appropriate pre-carved spots in the foam layer.

Each layer conveys loads of information about the geography and history of the United States.  This is one of those great “you can’t help but learn” toys that I’m a big fan of; if kids are going to do puzzles, why not make them do puzzles that will trick them into learning cool stuff?

The painful thing about this toy is that the “CONS,” though minor seeming, were actually pretty annoying.  Furthermore, they seem like they could be easily fixed. We’ll start small, and work our way up.

First off, the Gateway Arch does not straddle the Mississippi River.  Yes, we all wish it did.  That would be way cool.  But it doesn’t.

Next, the puzzle pieces on the bottom layer are small and very uniform.  Do puzzle enthusiasts consider uniformity of pieces to be just another element of a puzzle’s degree of difficulty?  To me, it was annoying.  When 4 people spend 5 minutes studying the connection of 2 puzzle pieces and still can’t come to a consensus as to whether they actually fit together—it just seems like overkill.

Do they or don't they?

Next, the tokens: I thought they’d be akin to “Monopoly game pieces.”  Not quite.  They weren’t metal.  They were plastic, and came connected to frames.  Breaking each token away from its frame was tricky.  And after the pieces were broken free, most retained pokey, plastic nubs at the points they were attached to the frame.  These pokey nubs had to be sanded off in order to fit the token into its spot on the foam layer of the puzzle.  And I think we can all agree that when you’re reading a description of a toy, the phrase, “These pokey nubs had to be sanded off,” should be a red flag.  Forget metal Monopoly pieces—in my daughters’ room there are literally hundreds of plastic toys, tokens, and chips that won’t cut you.  I’m pretty sure the information on the map is public domain; is cardboard (level 1) and foam (level 2) that expensive that the monument tokens have to be the same quality as the bottom-shelf prizes at Chuck E Cheese?  With a price tag near $40, this toy is like one of those big-budget Hollywood movies with no special effects or car chases.  Where did the money go?

Full disclosure: My giant thumbs probably didn't make the sanding process any easier

Anyway, as you can imagine, a lot of questions go through a man’s mind when he’s sanding the nubs off plastic replicas of 93 American landmarks.  Do puzzle enthusiasts consider sanding plastic nubs to be just another element of a puzzle’s degree of difficulty?  How can we as a nation have the vision and skill to construct the Golden Gate Bridge, but struggle to create a 1-inch plastic replica of the Bridge that doesn’t cut your finger if you don’t sand it closely enough?  Wouldn’t it be quicker for me just to build full-sized replicas of all these landmarks?  Why does America have so many landmarks in the first place?  What’s wrong with us?  And so on.

Speaking of the landmarks, I can’t fault 4D Puzzle too much for going all “MLB All-Star Game” on us and including representatives from every state.  Kids want to cheer for their home-state landmark.  I get that.  That said, when you have 43 “extra” landmarks to work with after you've handed out the “participation trophies”, should something like this really happen?

Hint: Count the spots for landmarks

I’m not saying Mississippi isn’t an awesome state or anything.  But even Mississippi apologists would admit that their love for the state is not landmark-based.  It seems like this conversation should have taken place before the puzzle went to print:
4D CEO:  Did you develop a criteria for deciding how many landmark tokens go to each state.
PUZZLE MAKER:  You bet we did.
4D CEO:  Do California and Mississippi have the same number of notable landmarks?
PUZZLE MAKER:  Yep.  So says the criteria.
4D CEO:  Destroy the criteria and start over.  And never speak of this again.

The most disappointing component of this toy, though, was the informational poster included with the puzzle.  It had pictures and dates of each landmark, but it was surprisingly short on, well, information.

Here's proof.  It's a sample section of the information poster regarding the landmarks:

For comparison's sake, a few years ago, we bought the monkeys a National Park Memory game.  This memory game also included an informational poster.  Here is a sample from that poster:

I realize the print looks a little small, so here's the entry for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial ("the Arch" to you and me) in readable form:
"Jefferson National Expansion Memorial consists of the Gateway Arch, the Museum of Westward Expansion, and St. Louis' Old Courthouse.  The 630' stainless-steel Gateway Arch gives St. Louis, Missouri one of the world's most unique skylines.  Designed by architect Eero Saarinen in 1947, the Arch was built between 1963 and 1965.  It is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, a unit of the National Park Service established to re-tell the story of America's century of westward expansion."

It's not the most thorough description ever, but at least it's something.  On the other hand, here's what we know about landmarks from the 4D info poster:
1) their names
2) their home states
3) the dates they were either started or finished

The blank space after 4) is on purpose, for dramatic effect. Pretty powerful, right?

Of course, even this sparse information is more than kids will learn putting together a puzzle of, say, Sponge Bob. But how much effort would it have taken to include even 2 sentences about each landmark? Is “additional knowledge” seen as the 5th dimension?

Ideally, this additional information could tie together the layers of the puzzle. For example, the description of the Gateway Arch could mention the Louisiana Purchase (which is clearly designated on layer 1 of the puzzle).  Nope. Instead, we learn that the Arch was built in 1963. That’s all you need to know (oh, and that it straddles the Mississippi River).

4 stars out of 5
A 4-star rating may seem inconsistent with how down on the puzzle I seem to be.  I am torn, for sure.  It’s a 5-star concept with a 2-star execution.  It’s like they invented pizza, but settled on St. Louis style thin crust pizza as though that was the end-all, be-all of pizza.  Why settle?  Why not tease this out to see where it goes?

Like pizza, the idea of the 4D puzzle is nearly impossible to screw up, no matter how hard it seems like they’re trying to.  And at the end of the day, hey, they invented pizza!  With much ambivalence, I give them their props.  If they had metal pieces and a paragraph description of each monument, I’d probably give them another 40 bucks for any of their other 4D puzzles.  Until that day, I just need some time to sort out my feelings.

Next up:


Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Toys of Summer (Winter Edition), PART 1: "Squishy Baff"

The household of The Hungry Preacher has experienced an influx of toys and games over the past couple of months.  We partook in Christmas celebrations well into January; and in early February, Monkey 2 commemorated turning 7 years old by fluttering her maternally-inherited eyelashes and coaxing scores of loved ones to shower gifts upon her.  (If this didn’t work, she was prepared to flex her paternally-inherited biceps.  Booyah!)

For the next week or so, on this very website, I will post my first-ever product reviews of some of the more notable toys.  I’ll begin with perhaps the most notable of all.

Squishy Baff


Level of joy conveyed in this image is not typical.  Your experience may vary.

"Turn ordinary water into glorious colorful goo and then back again. Create fun goo adventures, while feeling it squishing between your fingers and toes! It's safe, fun, and doesn't leave stains or residue. When you are done playing, simply add the dissolving powder and watch it go down the drain!" (from Squishy Baff website)

Pour pink crystals into your bath to make the water turn gooey.  Play accordingly.

The goo-dissolving solution did, in fact, dissolve the goo.  Whew!

I was raised to believe that if want to bathe the way God intended, you need at least a foot of water.  And if you’re splashing around in less than eight inches?  Goodness, don’t even call it a bath!  Biased as such, I cringed when I read that the recommended water depth for using Squishy Baff is 3.5 inches.  Never mind that the bathtub on the Squishy Baff website is filled to the overflow drain, and that the goo is mounding.  Emboldened with what I now realize was false hope, I filled our wider-than-average tub with about 4 inches of water, and poured in the powder.

My test subjects were ready and excited.  We all hovered over the edge of the tub and waited.  And waited.  And stirred.  And waited.  Once I realized the gooiness of the water was probably maxing out, I instructed the monkeys to climb on in and play with the goo as best they could.

The clearest way I can describe the substance in the bathtub is to tell you to imagine about a half-inch layer of Osetra Karat Amber Russian Caviar mixed with 4 inches of water.  Each bit of goo (like each piece of caviar) was its own entity, but the goo particles did not bond in any useful way with each other.  About three minutes into the Baff, my girls were asking, “Is that it?”  I assessed, then somberly admitted, “Yes.  That is it.”

Fortunately, our pack of Squishy Baff came with 2 packages of goo particles.  I should have just added the second pack to the first bath.  Instead, I told the girls, “Next time, we’ll use less water.”  “Next time” ended up being last night.  I used about a third less water and—whaddaya know?—the goo was substantially more viscous.  This time it was like caviar mixed up in Malt-o-Meal (AKA, "the breakfast of Saudi polo champions").

Apparently, the consistency of the goo makes all the difference in the world for bath time enjoyment, as my girls did indeed “Create fun goo adventures.”

I should note that a key plot-element of these “goo adventures” involved blobs of goo being splattered on the wall and on all the edges and ledges of the tub.  Clean-up was neither “a breeze” nor “a snap”.  It was more like “payback,” if you’re familiar with the corresponding phrase.  Finally, for the record, there is nothing about a Squishy Baff that remotely serves the purpose of an actual bath, which 9 out of 10 fuddy duddies agree is “to get clean”.

All in all, Squishy Baff overpromised and was nowhere near worth the trouble to me, but did provide moderate enjoyment for the participants once the proper consistency was established.

2 stars out of 5

Next up:
4D Cityscape Time Puzzle


Friday, February 8, 2013

Writing Is Hard

"Writing Is Hard"
     -The Hungry Preacher, 2013

For the past few years, we have sent out Christmas cards that included a “family update letter,” written by yours truly. If you didn’t receive a Christmas card from us, assume that it is either because:
-we don’t know you
-we don’t have your address

Please let me know if you think that we have intentionally not sent you a Christmas card in order to communicate our disdain for you, since this is almost certainly not an accurate assumption, and I would like to have the opportunity to throw myself under the bus for allowing this painful oversight to take place; furthermore, I would like to bestow upon you ex post facto whatever holiday joy you feel I robbed from you by not sending you a Christmas card. Are we cool then? Good.

Perhaps I’ll copy the entirety of the letter at the end of this post. For now, here is the paragraph from the letter that I want to focus on:

Year 1 of “” was a huge success in terms of writer output. Year two has been more sporadic. I have been more pleased with the quality than the quantity of my posts. I do still believe that writing is an area that God has called me to pursue, and until I have more specific direction, blogging is a good way to dabble in a variety of topics while keeping friends and family updated on life events. But I need to be more consistent. I hope to look back on year 2 of writing/blogging as a bump in the road which I learned from. In the meantime, high view counts and reader responses are always good motivators. :)

In case you’re counting, this post will bring 2013’s total post count to 3. That’s not the consistency I was going for.

I have all sorts of reasons why I haven’t been writing. But a phrase that I usually believe to be true is: “We make time for what we want to make time for.” Maybe that’s the problem: I don’t want to make time for writing. It’s too hard. But not making time for it is deeply unsettling to me; if I go a month without having written very much, I feel like Buddy in the movie “Elf” after he discovers that he’s not really an Elf. It’s like he’s not living the life he’s supposed to be living. In other words, for as hard as it is for me to make time for writing, I want to have made time for writing. I’m starting to think that the latter requires the former.

When I said that making time for writing is “too hard,” I mean that in every way possible. It takes the proper alignment of mental and physical focus; it takes changing the way I schedule my time; it takes doing difficult things like ruthlessly prioritizing tasks around the house. These are things that are hard for me. I know: Waa, waa, waa. It’s OK if that’s what you were thinking—I’m thinking it, too. Maybe I feel OK whining a little bit because of a book I’ve been reading. It’s by a guy named Aaron Likens. He has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome as an adult. The book is pretty much a collection of stories explaining why things are so hard for him. Several times he says things like, “I know how lame and whiny this sounds. But I’m just saying that this is how it is.”

I don’t know if I have Asperger’s—probably not. But there are a lot of elements of his story that I can relate to. If my personality had to be described in terms of already-established labels, I probably have a hybrid of Asperger’s and ADD; neither is full-fledged, but striking elements of both are present. So some things are hard for me. I’m not doing anyone any good by pretending otherwise, even if admitting it seems like whining (or, for that matter, even if admitting it is whining).

If “things are hard” is how I was going to end this post, well, it wouldn’t be a post. It would just be some ramblings that I decided to bury. But the landing point of these previous paragraphs is that I’m going to try something a little different from what I’ve been doing, since what I’ve been doing has stopped working.

For me, I need to realize that if something is hard, that means it’s not "just going to happen". It will take effort and a plan. And, in this case, it might take revamping a plan that has stopped working.

What I’m proposing for myself is pretty simple: An hour a day of writing, until the last day of school for the girls. Then I’ll reassess.

This is strikingly unprofound, but it’s a tweak to how I’ve been approaching writing. My previous goals have involved “post quotas”, usually 2-3 a week. My brain is getting frustrated with this, because sometimes actually finishing a post is not within my power to do, at least not within a set amount of time. Conflicts come up. Things happen. And every once in a while, I’m a little more long-winded than I thought I would be. It is very frustrating for me to sit down with a block of time and think, “I’m going to have a post done at the end of this block of time,” and then have it not happen. Even if I wrote a bunch of stuff, because I didn’t meet my goal, I feel like I have wasted a block of time and accomplished nothing.

But an hour a day? Of just writing? And feeling good about just having written for that long? I think I can do that. As a bonus, I expect “more posts” will be a happy by-product of this shift of focus (but I only expect this in the back of my mind, since actively expecting “more posts” is not that different from making it a goal, which will likely lead to frustration and demotivation if it doesn’t happen).

Another difference is that I am not making this an open-ended goal. I will write for an hour a day until the end of the school year. Then I will reassess. Maybe I will change things then: writing more, writing less, writing not-at-all. I can’t see that far into the future. But for 3 months, an hour a day is doable.

So that’s all. Conveniently, I’ve been writing for an hour. Later.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Waiting for a Message from God

I used to wait tables (off and on, for about 5 years). I also used to be a Christian pastor. So you can imagine my excitement when one of the headlines on my Yahoo home page teased something to the effect of “You won’t believe the message that a pastor left for a waiter!” I clicked. I read. I cried on the inside.

Apparently responding to automatically being charged an 18% tip, some pastor wrote on the charge slip, “I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?”

I read the initial report yesterday morning. Several times throughout the day, the story popped into my head. Each time, I shook my head and thought, “Why? What is to be gained, O brother in Christ?”

I got home that afternoon, and the story was still a headline on Yahoo. Only now, the waitress had been fired for posting the picture of the charge slip. Also, the pastor had been identified. My “brother” was actually a “sister,” and Pastor Alois Bell actually resides in my home city of St. Louis, Missouri. And there you thought that only Catholics had a voice in St. Louis! It seems that we Protestants were just waiting for the right situation to let our voice be heard.

A couple of clicks later, I discovered that not only was the pastor a Christian residing in St. Louis, but the Applebee’s where this incident went down is about 20 yards from my home church. (Just in case you think this will end with me discovering that it was my pastor who wrote the note… uh, no. That’s not where this is going.)

It’s a little surreal when an incident that took place at an Applebee’s on the same block as your church is the fourth “most trending search” on

In the past, I’ve wanted to write posts on current events, but I always wait too long to write them, and they stop being current. I was worried that had happened again, since I started this post on Friday, and now it is Monday, the day after Beyonce, commercials, Harbough v. Harbough, the blackout, and the retirement of Ray Lewis. Oh, and just for good measure, scientists found the remains of King Richard III under a parking lot in Leicester, England.

Rest assured, this information on the Applebee’s incident is still out there. It’s still the most popular story on, and easy to find on (for example) yahoo, usatoday, cnn, msnbc, foxnews, huffingtonpost, and (soon)

Having done my research, I can fill in a few more details.
What I believe to be factual details:
-Alois ate at Applebee’s in a party of either 8 (5 adults and 3 kids) or 10 (5 adults and 5 kids)
-Her bill was $34.93, and an 18% gratuity of $6.29 was added to that amount.
-Alois scratched out the $6.29 and wrote her message.
-Alois was alerted by a friend to the viral nature of her note, and called the Applebee’s to complain. A server—not the one who waited on Alois—was fired for posting the charge slip online.
-Alois has expressed something like regret over this incident. In an interview on a local station, she said, “I don’t know why I wrote it. It was a lapse in judgment. That was how I was feeling at the time. Would I do it again? No, I would not. And this didn’t even have to go this far when there are so many more important things we could be speaking about.” [note: I did not transcribe a couple of “um’s” in this quote, but believe it is an otherwise accurate rendering] In an interview with, she said, “My heart is really broken. I’ve brought embarrassment to my church and ministry.”

Some things that are less clear:
-If Alois was “allowed” to scratch out the included gratuity—legally and/or according to Applebee’s policy. I.e., is refusing to sign for an included gratuity the same as pulling of a “dine and dash”?
-How many people Alois was paying for. $34.93 seems like a lot for one person to spend at Applebee’s, but not very much for a party of 8 or 10.
-If Alois left a cash tip. She says she did ($6.29) because she felt bad after writing her note. If she did leave a tip, then she obviously didn’t stiff anyone, contrary to almost every media report. In fact, if her scribbling out of the automatic tip had no bearing on what she was being charged (which may be the case), she may have accidently double-tipped her server.
-If Alois was trying to get her server fired when she called.
-If the server who waited on Alois was fired or disciplined, or if those actions were reserved only for the server who posted the message on the internet.

If I was waiting for something exciting to happen right in my back yard, this might be as close as I get—and it’s a topic whose sides I am familiar with. So, without further ado, my consciousness will commence streaming right now:

1. The media has, for the most part, not reported (let alone confirmed the existence of) Alois’ cash tip. Some of the other details have varied, as well. One report said that Alois was in a party of 20 and ran up a bill of about $200. It seems that the media has viewed this story as titillating enough to report, but not significant enough to, you know, check the facts on. It’s interesting to me that there exists a type of story that can be both important, but not THAT important. There may be more of these types of stories than I realize.

2. No matter what unrealistically generous explanation I could come up with for Pastor Bell’s note (I’ve decided against putting “Pastor” in quotes, unlike many sites reporting this story), I still wondered, “But what were you thinking?” When she finally got her turn to speak, she claimed that she herself didn’t know what she was thinking.

I’m skeptical. See, when I say, “I don’t know what I was thinking,” it’s usually because, a) I do something so spontaneously and mindlessly that I don’t even feel like any conscious part of me actually decided to do it (like grabbing the tongue of a dog), or, b) I fail to do something that I should have thought to do (like shovel the walkway after it snows). To say “I don’t know what I was thinking” regarding something that takes initiative and thought, like writing a note?  It sounds like a euphemism for “If I were to say what I was thinking, it would sound so much more worse and/or embarrassing than it seemed at the time, I just can’t bear to speak it.”

For example, maybe she was thinking that this note would be funny. I agree that it is embarrassing when you try to be funny and end up doing something SO the opposite of funny that no one even realizes that you were trying to be funny. When I do that, I prefer to say, “I don’t know what I was thinking” than “This was an attempt at ironic humor.” Or maybe she was trying to glorify God with her words, letting her unsaved server see how God wants to be involved in every part of your life, including your bank account. That would be another embarrassing misjudgment. On the darker side, maybe Alois was angry and resentful about having to tip 18% and figured she would take out her anger on someone who had nothing to do with setting the policy.

Regardless, I would bet that, deep down, Alois knows what she was thinking but can’t bear to say it. I understand and even empathize.

3. Servers can usually tell if their patrons are Christians. Servers usually don’t like waiting on Christians, because they are regarded as poor tippers and because they often don’t drink alcohol (keeping the check low). Servers usually prefer not to wait on tables with children. They are high-maintenance, low pay-off. If you are a server and your host regularly seats large parties of Christians with children in your section, your host may be trying to tell you that you need to tip your host a little more generously (or that your host just doesn’t like you). Chains like Applebee’s might have safeguards against this kind of expression of grudges. I don’t know.

4. As a server, I didn’t mind waiting on parties of Christians with children (in moderation), because there were some non-financial benefits. For example, it gave me a chance to practice joyfully serving others even when there were no financial benefits for doing so. Also, it gave me a chance to “spy on” my Christian brethren to see how they treated people like bussers and servers outside of a church context. And, every now and then, Christians would tip pretty well (although this almost NEVER happened in large parties; my best chance for getting an especially large tip from a Christian was if they were in a party of 2).

5. Most servers care--at least somewhat--if their patrons enjoy their dining experience, even apart from how well they are tipped. Of course, this varies greatly. I have seen servers politely thank a party, wish them a good evening, then walk into the waiters’ station, look at the charge slip, and cuss out the people they just smiled farewell to. This is the exception. More often, servers will just kind of shake their heads and wonder why people can be so friendly and still so stingy. Most servers consider a 15% tip to be pretty stingy. They just do.

6. I do not love the tipping system here in America, but I do not hate it, either. As a server, I liked feeling (perhaps naively) that I could influence how much I made on any given evening by how well I did my job. As a patron, having to tip prevents me from eating out more often. Because I know—and have known for a long time—that the tipping system, love it or hate it, exists. It is beyond ridiculous for me to go out to eat, then act surprised or put out by having to tip. An automatic gratuity for large parties is also not a recent development. It has been around for at least 20 years (maybe 30). The 18% automatic gratuity has been around for at least 10 years (maybe 15 or 20). If I don’t like it, I can eat at McDonald’s or St. Louis Bread Company or Fuddruckers (and I do).

I do not believe that the quality of food at a restaurant like Applebee’s is light years ahead of any of those restaurants I just listed (even McDonald’s!). So why would someone choose Applebee’s over any of those restaurants? I think—and this is just my opinion—most people like to be waited on. It feels good telling people what you want and having them get it. I’m not passing judgment on that. I agree that it is a good feeling. But I doubt most people would admit it quite that way, especially people who resent tipping, because to do so would effectively amount to, “I came here to be waited on hand and foot, and I resent having to pay for it.”

(As an aside, I wonder if for some people, on some level, “having to tip” destroys the illusion of feeling like they deserve to be pampered like a king.)

7. When I do eat out, I see it as a chance to bless my server—and perhaps even to reflect God’s love and generosity to them. Nine times out of ten, my server will either do their job well or demonstrate a sincere desire to personally connect with me as a person. In other words, they either perform or they care. Sometimes both. Rarely neither. So nine times out of ten, I feel pretty good about blessing them with a couple of extra dollars.

Minimally, I know that a couple of extra dollars can actually make their day. That’s a trite phrase, but it is true. I’ve had it happen. There were days when my boss was mad at me, patrons were rude and demanding, the table I almost had seated in my section ordered a $65 bottle of wine, and so on. And that’s just at the restaurant. A lot of servers—like other people—have crappy things going on in their lives outside of work. As a waiter, there were days when getting a $3 tip on a $12 bill really was the highlight, and really was what I would go home and tell my wife about, and really did spark in my soul a measure of perspective, gratitude, and hope. What did it cost my patron to bestow these things upon me? $1.20. On a $12 bill, that’s the difference between a 15% tip and a 25% tip.

As a patron, I know that I won’t miss that $1.20. In fact, I cannot remember a single time regretting tipping a couple of extra dollars. It is money I don’t miss. On the other hand, as a waiter, I can probably rattle off a dozen times when I felt truly blessed by someone adding an extra $1, $2, or even $5 to their tip.

It seems to me that Christians, of all people, should jump at this opportunity to bless people in this way. It’s easy. It’s cheap. It’s almost guaranteed to encourage someone. And it seems, you know, kind of Christian-y.

Which brings me to the last reason I tip well when I eat out. Remember #3 above? The one about Christians being regarded as poor tippers? This reputation exists for a reason. I think that sucks. Like, really, really sucks. What a completely sucky reputation for an entire religion to have—especially one based on the gracious outpouring of God.

So I tip well because of the debt that my brothers and sisters have incurred by tipping poorly. It’s not fair that I have to do that. Neither is life. Neither, it so happens, is Christianity. The God of the Bible does not give us Christians what we deserve. He gives us infinitely more. It’s not fair.

In short, I see tipping as a chance to:
-offer hope and blessing to someone who needs it
-adjust a well-earned perception of Christians being stingy
-imitate the unfairness of God

All for a couple of bucks. What a deal.

8. Alois’s efforts to fix this situation, while ringing more sincere than, say, Lance Armstrong’s, are still a work in progress. I already talked about, “I don’t know why I wrote it.”

She goes on to say, “It was a lapse in judgment. That was how I was feeling at the time. Would I do it again? No, I would not.” Right… See, the problem is that everyone already thinks that that’s how you were feeling at the time, which is why everyone is so mad. And saying you would not do it again? If you had added, "Because I hurt another human being," that would be a step in the right direction.  But it kind of seems like you "wouldn't do it again" because "doing it" in the first place brought high levels of inconvenience upon you.  So, yeah.  In that case, only a masochist would “do it again.”

Alois continues with, “And this didn’t even have to go this far when there are so many more important things we could be speaking about.” Though you didn’t say exactly what those things are, I couldn’t agree more. We could probably agree that, for example, "sex trafficking" is one of those "more important things". Here’s the thing, though: Nobody is talking about your note instead of talking about sex trafficking. They are talking about your note instead of talking about the Kardashians or the Golden Globes or how their day at work was. Your note already IS the "more important thing" that they are talking about. And the victim that people feel like they are defending is the server that got fired. For the masses, this injustice is more immediate than sex trafficking because everyone knows a server. Your note has not distracted anyone from “more important things."  It has distracted them from less important things, and because of that, it has allowed them to feel like they are fighting injustice more than they actually are.

If you really want people to talk about sex trafficking (or the grace of God!) you can’t bring these things up in such a way that seems like you are using them to deflect indignation directed at you. If you really want people to hear what you have to say about sex trafficking (or the grace of God!), you need to generously tip your server. Then people will listen to you.

What appears to be the most recent quote from Alois reads, “My heart is really broken. I’ve brought embarrassment to my church and ministry.” This quote sounds like something is sinking in.

Alois, I feel for you. On the one hand, I don’t believe you were kind and generous to your server, and that should be embarrassing for a Christian; it’s not so much that you don’t deserve the backlash you received as it is that all Christians deserve backlash for the bad things we do, and for some reason most of the rest of us don’t have to experience it in quite this manner.

On the other side of the coin, people have been mean to you, and that’s no fun. People in this country tend to build up large supplies of moral indignation then pour it out all at once on situations that strike a genuine collective chord, but are curiously removed from “more important things” (think: the backlash directed at Kanye West for dissing Taylor Swift at the Video Music Awards a couple of years ago). You are probably not the devil incarnate. You are probably a generally sincere Christian that let an unsanctified spot of evil slip out in an unfortunate way. We all do it. Why your slip made it onto every major news outlet in the country, I don’t know.

Fortunately, for what you have done, God offers grace; for what has been done to you, God offers comfort; and from the midst of the wreckage, God offers opportunity.