For four years I was an Assemblies of God minister and a monk with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at the Little Portion Hermitage. This is an excerpt from my book, Taking Off My Comfortable Clothes: Removing Religion to Find Relationship.
- A religious community has much in common with any group of people, be they a family or a local church group. Foremost among these commonalities is a myopic view of the terrain, often showing itself under the title of “It’s not my job.”
- While I lived at the Little Portion, one of my jobs was to sort the recyclables. We had two receptacles in the kitchen—one for trash and the other for cans. I would try to tend to both as frequently as possible, but sometimes I didn’t get around to it in a timely manner, and it was then I began to formulate my understanding about people’s attitudes regarding things they didn’t own.
I remember watching an individual approach the recycling bin in the kitchen with a can in his hand. Since I had been remiss in dealing with the receptacle, this person found it overflowing. I then watched him as he placed his can high upon the pile, balancing it in such a way that defied gravity, only to walk away satisfied that he did his job. I guess it never occurred to him to pick up the can and carry it fifteen feet out to the recycling area. Oh, that’s right, IT WASN’T HIS JOB!
Let me share with you a nice little motto to live by: “See a need and fill it.” Yes, even if it isn’t your job. Yes, even if nobody but you and God sees it. Yes, even if it means not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing. By the way, this passage in Matthew does NOT mean that you don’t tell anybody about your good deeds – it means you don’t even tell yourself! In other words, quit patting yourself on the back because you went the extra fifteen feet and try to remember, we’re in this together.
Before I moved to the community, I talked with John Michael about bringing my hand tools to help in the various building projects. He suggested I leave my tools at home, because community property is not always taken care of in a respectful manner. But I’ve found that to be true in a number of places, whether its dad’s car the teenager is driving or a National Park we are visiting. Barbara and I were talking yesterday about the number dishes and knives that have found their way out of the church kitchen and into the homes of their new owners. We decided never to bring something to church we weren’t willing to part with. It is sad but true.
Having common values regarding common property is difficult to teach. Creating a culture of common ownership and the belief that we should treat everything we touch as if we answered to God is difficult, but attainable. Maybe the next time you borrow your neighbors saw or lawnmower, you’ll consider treating it as if you had to return it to God and get His approval on its condition.