October 17, 2017

Double Points in Heaven

My parish is a busy place. Multiple communities – with varying degrees of involvement and investment in the religious life of the congregation – use church space for a wide range of beneficial purposes. Kids play basketball and learn instrumental music and traditional dance. Korean drums vie with tuba-driven banda rhythms. The food for festivals and fundraisers is prepared in the kitchen – everything from specialized triangular tamales (the claim to culinary fame of one small town in the mountains of Oaxaca) to a Japanese American take on manju pastries filled with a delicious paste of sweetened lima beans.

It all sounds amazing and beautiful and it is… until someone leaves a mess. Dancers find crumbs on the stage. The basketball team finds discarded plates of tamales in the parking lot. A door gets left open. The trash doesn’t get taken out. In a place as busy as ours, it’s all bound to happen at some point.

What happens next is key. As more and more of our churches share space – by choice or by necessity – with community groups, other congregations, multiple cultural and linguistic communities within one congregation and so on, opportunities for mess multiply in the night. Our rule of course, like just about anywhere, is that everyone should clean up after themselves. But unclaimed messes happen. As the rector, I find myself under near constant pressure to adjudicate and punish the offenders. I get preemptive messages from groups who want to make sure I know that it wasn’t them. Some longtime members take it all as evidence that community ministry is way too much trouble and risk.

So I have started promising double points in heaven. I don’t think I’m actually probably going to be in charge of the heavenly point scheme when it comes to that, but I’m trusting that Jesus will back me up. Double points go to anyone who skips straight to cleaning up someone else’s mess. Do not pass go. Do not take a picture with your cel phone to document the transgression. Do not speculate about who it might have been. Do not issue a statement denying responsibility. Do not bring up past transgressions. Just close and lock the door, take out the trash, pick up the plate, sweep up the stage. And pray that when you forget to take care of something in the future, someone else will do likewise.

Double points in heaven. I’m pretty sure that this was a least part of what Jesus was talking about with turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, laying down our lives for our friends. It’s how we become community. Nothing knits us together like deciding that your messes are my messes and praying that you will take on my messes as your own.